Swiss carriers sacrifice speed for coverage gains

When we comment on 5G performance in Europe, we note that across most of Europe, average 5G speeds have actually decreased while 5G availability has increased. The story is much the same in Switzerland, with added pressures brought on by having to comply with strict EMF regulations.

key takeaways

  • 5G availability is active. Driven by regulatory obligations, 5G coverage is increasing in Switzerland, improving 5G availability and the country’s ranking among peers such as the Netherlands, France and Spain. In the first quarter of 2023, 5G availability in Switzerland was 54.9%, up from 33% in the first quarter of 2022.
  • 5G speeds slow. In terms of median 5G download speeds, Switzerland experienced the most significant decline among its neighbours, with the country’s median 5G download speed dropping to around 40 Mbps, from 172.69 Mbps in Q1 2022 to 132. .10 Mbps in the first quarter of 2023.. Sunrise’s 5G speeds fell the most among all Swiss operators.
  • 5G has a positive impact on QoE and NPS. Our QoE data shows that 5G offers better results for video streaming and web browsing than 4G and Wi-Fi. Also, net promoter scores (NPS) have been higher for 5G users than 4G users.

Switzerland leads its peers in 5G availability

5G availability chart in selected European countries

According to Speedtest Intelligence®, Switzerland has shown significant progress in expanding its 5G availability, with the percentage of users on 5G-enabled devices accessing 5G networks most of the time increasing from 33% in Q1 2022 to 54.9% in the first quarter of 2023. Despite operating with strict electromagnetic field (EMF) regulations, Switzerland has managed to implement 5G while still adhering to safety standards that protect the public from EMF exposure. Most of the countries of the European Union follow the recommendations of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), which are established at a level 50 times lower than the threshold at which damage to health has been demonstrated. However, the regulations of Switzerland are even stricter than those of the EU.

Swiss 5G performance lags behind its neighbors

Graph of average 5G download speed in selected European countries

In our recent article, we analyzed Speedtest Intelligence® data to classify 5G performance into four main groups: 5G leaders (> 300 Mbps), high performers (200 to 300 Mbps), improvers (< 200 Mbps), and values. atypical of 5G. Except for France, all of the countries in the chart above had average 5G download speeds below 200 Mbps, which puts them in the "5G Enhancers" category. While 5G speeds in Austria and Italy improved slightly, most of the countries we looked at saw year-over-year declines in average 5G download speeds. Switzerland had the most significant decline, going from 172.69 Mbps in Q1 2022 to 132.10 Mbps in Q1 2023. There are several reasons for the decline in 5G performance, including increased adoption leading to increased network congestion, economic pressure on operators, higher energy costs, and reduced purchasing power of consumers.

Sunrise 5G speeds fell the most as carriers focus on expanding coverage

Switzerland was the first European country to commercially launch 5G, doing so in April 2019. The country’s telecom regulator ComCom held a spectrum auction for bands including 700 MHz, 1400 MHz and 3500 MHz. By the end of 2024 , those with 700 MHz spectrum must make 5G available to at least 50% of the population, while those with the 1.4 and 3.5 GHz bands must make 5G accessible to at least 25% of the population in the same period.

In addition to purchasing new spectrum, operators can also retrofit spectrum from existing legacy 2G/3G networks to 4G/5G. Swisscom disconnected 2G in April 2021 and plans to shut down its 3G network by the end of 2025. This strategy allows Swisscom to repurpose its legacy spectrum for 4G and 5G networks, as “only 1.1% of mobile data traffic is still It runs on the 3G network, however, the technology occupies around 10% of the antenna capacity (ONIR)”.

Due to the legal conditions of ONIR, the transmission power of the cell site is limited and the operators seek to use it in the most efficient way possible. They had previously complained that the Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection Ordinance (ONIR) is ten times stricter than the European Union regulations. Despite these challenges, Swisscom achieved 5G availability of 61.7% in Q1 2023. Swisscom’s Q1 2023 results indicate that the operator covers 99% of the Swiss population with a basic version of 5G (using Dynamic Spectrum Sharing, which borrows capacity from your 4G LTE spectrum) and 75% with 5G+ (delivered using mid-band spectrum). The operator aims for national 5G+ coverage by 2025.

Salt, which shut down its 2G service at the beginning of 2023, announced that it covers 99.9% of Switzerland with 3G, 4G and 5G.

Sunrise has also discontinued 2G in early 2023 and plans to take down its 3G networks to free up spectrum and improve network efficiency. According to the latest data from Sunrise, the company provides high-speed 5G to more than 1,048 cities/towns and basic 5G to more than 96.7% of the population. Our data shows that Sunrise prioritized 5G coverage over performance. Sunrise’s Non-Independent 5G Network (NSA) promotes ENDC (E-UTRAN New Radio – Dual Connectivity). In situations where a 5G NR layer is not present, 5G coverage is reported on users’ devices, but those users saw decreased performance since their devices were still on 4G.

5G Average Download Speed ​​Chart, Switzerland, Top Carriers

Beyond Bandwidth: All Eyes on Latency

Bandwidth alone isn’t everything when it comes to a good consumer experience. Latency is just as important, especially for services like games, AR/VR, Metaverse, and other applications that require fast responses. Ookla has introduced a new metric called loaded latency, which helps identify the source of latency issues. Upload latency is measured during the data-heavy upload and download portions of Speedtest, which can reveal issues when multiple apps are running on the same connection. For example, high download latency can occur when someone in the household installs a large game, while high upload latency can occur when someone uploads a video to the cloud.

5G Loaded Latency Chart by Providers, Switzerland

Smooth gameplay with no stuttering or buffering is crucial for gamers, so low latency is important. In fact, high latency can cause the game to crash completely. According to a Deloitte study, 45% of people in Switzerland have played video games at least once in the last six months, which is lower than the European average of 55%. Swiss gamers spend an average of 8 hours per week playing video games, compared to the European average of 15 hours per week. While Swiss users may not be gaming as much as their European counterparts, the door is open for operators to promote gaming and other immersive experiences like AR/VR and the broader metaverse market. In early 2023, the Swiss Metaverse Association (Metassociation) was established as a public-private partnership to bring together major industry players, foster innovation and position Switzerland as a leading metaverse location. Both Sunrise and Swisscom are founding members of the Metasssociation as they seek new avenues to generate revenue.

5G offers better quality of experience (QoE) compared to 4G

Ookla’s Consumer QoE™ platform provides valuable insight into the quality of user experience across various services such as web browsing, video streaming, gaming, and video conferencing. Since digital services in Switzerland (e-banking, streaming, etc.) experience high usage, we looked at performance differences between 4G, 5G and Wi-Fi technologies for some services to see which generation of technology offered the best QoE.

A survey by showed that 89% of Swiss people use at least one video streaming service, with Netflix being the most popular, watched by 58% of Swiss viewers in 2022. For those who stream video, the The time it takes for videos to start and/or buffer is a critical factor to consider. Ookla’s consumer QoE data for March 2023 indicates a nearly 20% decrease in video start time when comparing 4G and 5G networks, with 5G users seeing much faster video start times than those of 4G.

Video experience graph in Switzerland (5G latency, 4G LTE and Wi-Fi)

5G offers browsing results comparable to Wi-Fi, making it a great option for browsing the web (and faster than 4G).

Swiss web browsing experience graph (5G, 4G LTE and Wi-Fi latency)

Video conferencing continues to be an integral part of everyday life. According to the IGEM Digimonitor 2022 study, 4.0 million people (61% of the population) use a video conferencing tool at least occasionally, and 1.1 million (18%) continue to video conference daily. According to Ookla’s Consumer QoE data from March 2023, fixed networks offer the best video conferencing experience, both in terms of latency and jitter, but 5G wasn’t far behind on either measure.

Swiss video conferencing experience chart (5G latency, 4G LTE and Wi-Fi)

5G has a positive impact on NPS

Net Promoter Score chart in Switzerland

Net Promoter Score (NPS) from Speedtest Intelligence paints a very positive picture of current 5G networks in Switzerland. NPS is a key performance indicator of customer experience, which classifies users into Detractors (those scoring 0-6), Passives (scores 7-8), and Promoters (score 9-10), where NPS represents the percentage of Promoters minus the percentage of Detractors, displayed in the range -100 to 100.

In our recent article, we found that 5G users, on average, rated their network carrier with universally higher NPS scores than 4G LTE users. The story is similar in Switzerland, where 5G NPS scores were almost ten times higher for 5G than 4G. Furthermore, just over half of Swisscom 5G users are developers (54%) compared to 33% for Salt and 32% for Sunrise.

We will continue to measure the performance of 5G in Switzerland. If you have access to 5G in Switzerland, take a Speedtest® on Android or iOS to report how your carrier is performing.

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