Lower signal strength impacts the Swiss 5G experience

In our new analysis, Opensignal has observed that our smartphone users in Switzerland experienced worse signal strength when connected to 5G networks than users in neighboring countries — Germany, France and Italy. Also, we found a link between the quality of mobile signal strength and average 5G download speeds: the worse the signal strength, the slower the speeds. Switzerland has particularly tight regulations on mobile network electromagnetic emissions which have proved controversial among Swiss operators. 

Switzerland was the only country of the four where we saw more than 50% of the 5G readings with power levels placing in the “Weak” or worse categories (below -105 dBm) — compared to 38.3-39.7% of readings in the three neighboring countries. As a result our Swiss users experienced a comparatively diminished 5G mobile experience.

Opensignal compared average Synchronization Signal Reference Signal Received Power (SS RSRP) values — the measure of 5G signal strength — across four major European markets: Switzerland, Germany, France and Italy, between January 1, 2022 and March 31, 2022. We observed that Switzerland had a worse signal strength than other analyzed European markets — -105.9 dBm on average. This was significantly lower than in Germany, France and Italy, where it varied between -101.1 and -100.5 dBm. 

The average result of -105.9 dB would rate Switzerland’s average signal strength as Weak (higher than -115 dBm but below -105 dBm), according to Tutela’s signal strength categorization. Meanwhile, Germany, France and Italy all placed in the Fair category (higher than -105 dBm but lower than -95 dBm). Because of Switzerland’s electromagnetic field (EMF) regulations, we expected to see significantly lower average signal strength in the country. In fact, power level regulations for mobile base stations in Switzerland are one of the strictest in the world, 10 times lower than what the European Union prescribed for its member states.

To mitigate the geographical and population density differences across these four countries, we took a closer look at average signal strengths broken down by the distance between users and cellular base stations. However, we observed a similar story across all distance ranges — 5G connections in Switzerland generally saw inferior signal strength compared to Germany, France or Italy. For this analysis we used Timing Advance values and compared SS RSRP values for 5G connections using non-standalone access (5G NSA), in other words, the 5G connection required there to also be a 4G band connected at the same time. 

Our Switzerland users connected to 5G experienced a signal strength of -104.2 dBm within the range of 0-5 Timing Advance (less than 400 meters). This is significantly lower than what we observed in the other three countries, where power levels ranged between -97.7 and -97.9 dBm within the same distance. The signal strength deteriorated substantially for devices farther away from cell sites across all countries in our analysis. Still, our users in Switzerland on average saw signal strength 5.4 dBm worse than in Germany, 6.3 dBm lower than in France and 6.5 dBm lower than in Italy.

Worse 5G signal strengths hamper users’ average 5G download speeds 

Looking at the average 5G download speeds, we observed a close relationship between different categories of signal strength and the experience our 5G users had across different countries. Worse signal strength correlated with declining average 5G download speeds across the analyzed countries.

In the case of Switzerland, we saw a drop of 41.6% in average download 5G speeds between Excellent signal (above -85 dBm) to Weak (-115 dBm to -105 dBm) — from 306.4 down to 179 Mbps. Our users in other countries also experienced significant drops in average 5G download speeds, between the Excellent and Weak signal strengths. For example, Germany saw a decline of 55.9% between these two signal strength categories, France — 44.4%, while Italy — 46.6%.

In Switzerland, more users had lower 5G signal levels than users in other countries we covered in our analysis. Looking at the distributions of 5G readings by signal strength categories, Switzerland was the only country where we saw more than 50% of the readings with a Weak or worse signal — compared to 38.3% in Germany, 39.7% in France and 39.2% in Italy. By contrast, Switzerland was the only market in the analysis where we saw less than 20% of readings with Excellent or Good signal strength. 

Less strict power regulations could dramatically boost the Swiss 5G experience 

Mobile operators mitigate the impact of very restrictive power level regulations in Switzerland with an extensive densification strategy and spectrum sharing technology. This adds cost and ironically increases the number of cell tower sites. However, while Swiss operators try to keep up with other 5G markets, Switzerland seems to fall short compared to global leaders. In our latest Benchmarking the Global 5G Experience overview published in March 2022, Switzerland failed to make it into the top 15 global markets for 5G Download Speed and 5G Peak Download Speed. 

This is not surprising, given that the signal on more than 50% of 5G readings in Switzerland was classified as Weak or worse, as we saw in our analysis. With more relaxed power regulations and so higher power levels allowed, Swiss users could see a major boost in their 5G experience. This would allow Switzerland and its operators to fully realize 5G’s potential and compete for global 5G leadership.