Total Telecom had the pleasure of speaking with Sunrise CTO, Elmar Grasser, to discuss the Swiss operator’s 5G rollout so far amidst the backdrop of a pandemic-shaken 2020

When it comes to 5G, Switzerland is the most advanced market in Europe, with fierce competition between the landlocked country’s three major operators for national supremacy, Swisscom, Salt, and Sunrise. This is a country where the starting gun on the 5G race was fired even before the 5G spectrum itself was auctioned in February 2019 and has only grown more intense throughout 2020. 

But, every race has a winner and recent studies by the likes of analyst firm RootMetrics are showing that Sunrise’s 5G network is a cut above the rest, delivering the fastest 5G connectivity in the country. Furthermore, the company has spent 2020 rapidly rolling out the new technology, so many more Swiss citizens can enjoy these impressive speeds.

“The main focus in 2020 was really to rollout 5G on 3.5 GHz,” explained Sunrise CTO, Elmar Grasser. “We have 100 MHz of 3.5 GHz spectrum and we have used this advantage to roll out the technology quite heavily across the country and the benchmark drive-tests have also shown that we have the fastest 5G network in Switzerland.”

2020 itself has been one of upheaval for Sunrise. Beyond the obvious pandemic disruptions which have affected operators around the globe, Sunrise was also acquired by Liberty Global late last year,  who intend to merge the operator with UPC. Combined, the pandemic and this merger have made the need for high quality 5G connectivity more clear than ever.

But what is the key to creating such a state-of-the-art network, especially during a pandemic? For Grasser, the answer lies in exceptional infrastructure.

“We have seen over the few years that investing in infrastructure is actually a business case, especially in Switzerland where quality plays a very important role” said Grasser. “We have consistently focussed on having really good infrastructure. Our high network quality has helped us to gain a lot of market share, especially in the B2B market – and our customers definitely appreciate it too.”

Asked if the pandemic itself had drastically changed the company’s 5G plans for 2020, Grasser replied that the most noticeable change had actually come in the form of a more accepting mindset from the Swiss population as a whole, even 5G sceptics. High quality, next generation connectivity is beginning to be looked at almost as a necessity.

“I think it changed the mindset of the whole population. Everyone suddenly realised just how important it is, in this context, to have a very reliable mobile and fixed network connection. People took it for granted for a very long time,” he said. “There is quite a bit of scepticism in the Swiss population surrounding 5G, but I think even they understood that telecommunication infrastructure, at the newest state-of-the-art level, is extremely important. I think that’s started to change the mindset of the population and will also help politicians to better help us with the rollout.”

Of course, these benefits from more widespread, high-band 5G connectivity are not only being felt in the consumer market, but are increasingly piquing the curiosity of industry players. With the rapid digitalisation experienced by so much of Europe during the pandemic, industries are beginning to understand the immense value that new connectivity solutions can entail.

Grasser noted that Sunrise runs a Joint Innovation Centre with their partner Huawei, where industry partners can collaborate and explore new use cases, not only using 5G but also 4G.

“We see a lot of interest, especially from industry partners, to using this new technology and its new capabilities,” said Grasser. “They are also trying to find the specific ways of working with us and 5G – it’s not just the connectivity that matters but the solutions behind it. We are working with industry partners to help them provide these types of solutions.”

So, with the fastest 5G network and their rivals hot on their heels, what is the next step in Sunrise’s 5G journey? 

“We will emphasise coverage. We will continue to rollout our 3.5 GHz spectrum across the country to go even further in population coverage. In the core network we’re going to introduce standalone architecture and we are looking forward to exploring its capabilities.” 


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