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 Swiss and foreign manufacturers of special electronics and for importers or distributors as well as for the eligible 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 regarding their distribution and usage.
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.
Three 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: 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 circle of potential customers is limited to those authorities 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 may not be offered or sold.
Step 3: 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 who have obtained the relevant authorisation (as in step 1) can apply to OFCOM for type-approval of their radio equipment using the appropriate form. At this point 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. 5MB) or FTP (https://www.filetransfer.admin.ch/). For security reasons, access to other platforms is blocked. 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. All documents required for type-approval are assessed with respect to the legal requirements applicable at the date of their submission to OFCOM.
The above three steps are aimed at manufacturers or importers. The end customer, i.e. the Swiss authority eligible to use the equipment, is not necessarily involved. Communication at this point is between OFCOM and the relevant market players. Steps 1 and 3 are mandatory, while step 2 is optional.
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 or CIV/MIL), 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:
Type-approval cannot be granted for:
- Drone radars
Type-approval is not required for:
- Radio equipment operated exclusively on military frequencies (designated in the NFAP as MIL), provided it is operated exclusively by military authorities.
The above lists are not exhaustive. Radio equipment cannot be operated with more transmission power than specified in the European harmonised frequency ranges, even with type-approval.
Authorisation the operation of special electronics
An eligible Swiss 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. Annual fees are payable for permanent operating authorisation.
Export of jamming equipment
Jammers, 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 they would otherwise be in breach of Article 32 paragraph b of the Telecommunications Act (TCA).
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 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).