Special radio equipment operated by authorities to safeguard public security

Radio equipment operated by authorities to safeguard public security but which cannot meet standard conformity and frequency requirements – referred to as "special electronics" by the authorities – is used, for example, by prosecution and law enforcement agencies for specific radiocommunications, signal blocking and radio telecommunications surveillance activities. Such radio equipment may only be operated by certain designated authorities. The information here is intended for manufacturers of "special electronics", for importers, distributors as well as for the concerned authorities.

Increased risk of interference

Given their specific applications, special electronics are unable to meet all the conformity requirements in terms of frequency regulation and standardisation, resulting in a substantially higher risk of radio frequency interference from such devices. For this reason, OFCOM has issued special provisions related to their access to the market and their use. The area of special electronics is regulated nationally; there is no international harmonisation. In the EU, for example, special electronics are expressly excluded from the scope of the Radio Equipment Directive (RED; 2014/53/EU) (Art. 1 para. 3 RED). There are thus no uniform regulations or standards for these systems.

Two steps to obtain market access for special electronics

Step 1: Authorisation for distribution on the Swiss market

Market players (manufacturers, importers or distributors) wishing to offer or make type-approved special electronics available on the Swiss market must first obtain authorisation from OFCOM using the appropriate form. Authorisation is usually granted and issued within two weeks. The applicant is charged a one-time fee of CHF 210. On request, OFCOM will provide the eligible authorities with a list of authorised market players.

Step 2: Type-approval of special electronics

Radio equipment categorised as special electronics may only be made available on the market after it has obtained a type-approval from OFCOM. Market players can apply to OFCOM for type-approval of their radio equipment using the appropriate form. At the same time, the applicant submits the technical documentation, especially the electromagnetic compatibility and spectrum efficiency test reports. The prescribed measurement methods and limit values for the tests – to be conducted by a testing laboratory in accordance with Article 17 TIO – are set out in the relevant technical and administrative regulations (TAV5.2, TAV5.3, TAV5.4). The technical documentation may be submitted by post, email (max. 20MB) or FTP  (https://www.filetransfer.admin.ch/). For security reasons, access to other platforms is not allowed. Once OFCOM has received and validated all the required documentation, type-approval can usually be granted within one to two months.OFCOM's fees for such type-approval are based on the volume of work entailed in the process. The assessment of the documentation required for the type approval is carried out at the point of time when all the required documents and information are available to OFCOM and with respect to the legal requirements applicable and in force at that time.The above two steps are aimed at manufacturers, distributors and importers. The end customer, i.e., the eligible authorities for to use of special electronics, is not involved. Communication at this point is between OFCOM and the relevant market players.

Demonstration of non-type-approved special electronics

Market players wishing to demonstrate non-type-approved special electronics to potential customers can apply for authorisation from OFCOM using the appropriate form (in accordance with Article 27a of the Ordinance on Telecommunications Installations [TIO]).  The measurements of the spectrum produced by the radio equipment at the antenna connection, i.e. conducted if only one band is active at the same time during the demonstration, must be submitted in advance. If several bands are active at the same time during the demonstration, these measurements must be radiated and carried out with the bands activated. The measurements may also be carried out by a non-recognised laboratory. The measurements must cover the most significant frequency range from 0.7 times the lowest to 2.0 times the highest operating frequency. Screenshots of the spectrum analyser are sufficient. The circle of potential customers is limited to those authorities and market players designated in Article 27 paragraph 4 TIO. This authorisation from OFCOM is restricted in terms of time and location. The presence of a technical manager in accordance with Article 32 paragraph 2 of the Ordinance on the use of the Radio Frequency Spectrum (RFSO) ensures that the radio equipment to be demonstrated is operated only by a specialist. The authorisation also specifies certain other requirements, such as keeping a list of participants at the demonstration and informing participants that the radio equipment being demonstrated that has not yet been type-approved may not be offered or sold.

Scope of the technical and administrative regulations (TAV)

TAV5.2: Permanently installed jamming equipment
TAV5.2 lays down the provisions for jammers installed on a permanent basis. Jamming equipment may only be operated in correctional facilities and prisons, on premises used by the Federal Intelligence Service (FIS), or on Armed Forces or military administration infrastructures. Within these areas, radio interference is only permitted within the specific frequency bands to be jammed. Moreover, there can be no radio frequency interference outside the perimeter of such premises.

TAV5.3: Mobile jammers
TAV5.3 lays down the provisions for mobile jammers. This covers all jamming equipment that does not fall under TAV5.2.

TAV5.4: Tracking and monitoring systems and data and voice radio communications equipment
TAV5.4 lays down the provisions for non-jamming radio equipment which cannot meet the essential requirements of the Ordinance on Telecommunications Installations (TIO) and/or the frequency use requirements on account of its specific applications.However, TAV5.4 is applicable only if no compliant radio equipment serving the same purpose already exists on the market.

Examples of type-approved equipment

In principle, type-approval is required or available for radio equipment which cannot fulfil the essential requirements and/or spectrum usage requirements and for which no alternative compliant radio equipment exists:

  • Signal inhibitors of all kinds, IMSI-catchers, etc.
  • Radio equipment on civilian frequencies (designated in the NFAP as CIV), irrespective of whether it is operated by military or civilian authorities
  • Radio equipment on military frequencies (designated in the NFAP as MIL) if it is operated by civilian authorities.

Type-approval may be granted under certain conditions for:

  • Drones

Type-approval cannot be granted for:

  • drone detection radars
  • omidirectional GNSS jammers

Type-approval is not required for:

  • Radio equipment operated exclusively on military or mixed military-civilian frequencies (designated in the NFAP as MIL or CIV/MIL), provided it is operated exclusively by military or civil protection organisation.

The above lists are not exhaustive.

Authorisation of the operation of special electronics

An eligible authority wishing to operate type-approved special electronics must obtain authorisation from OFCOM using the appropriate form. Operating authorisation can usually be issued within one month.

Export of special electronics abroad

Special electronics which are offered and sold by Swiss market players exclusively outside of Switzerland do not require type-approval. However, these market players do require authorisation in accordance with Article 27 TIO (see step 1) as otherwise  they would violate Article 32b of the Telecommunications Act (TCA) by manufacturing, importing or possessing jammers.

War Material Act (WMA)

OFCOM is not responsible for aspects of the War Material Act (WMA) and the War Material Ordinance (WMO). Nonetheless, it should be mentioned for the sake of completeness that in particular radio-jamming equipment also falls under the ML 11 category as defined in the WMO. Market players and the authorities designated in Article 27 paragraph 4 TIO are responsible for ensuring that all activities in association with radio-jamming equipment are in conformity with the provisions of the WMA. The authority responsible in this respect is the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

Specialist staff
Last modification 31.01.2024

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