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Air, copper, fiber – why you need a smart network expansion

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European Aviation Network, (Super-) Vectoring, FTTH, 4G, 5G, Narrowband IoT – Telekom’s network expansion takes many forms. It’s no wonder we get caught up in the web. So, why so many? Let’s take a brief trip through Telekom’s networks.

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Our network lays the basis for digitization.

Having the best connection anywhere, anytime – in the end that’s what we want. But what exactly is “the best connection”? Even if the first response is: “the fastest possible” – I don’t believe that this is the final answer. In fact, it depends much more on always having the right network at your disposal. Sure, if I want to stream an important match of my favorite football team in HD live, I need a high data throughput which means high bandwidth. And I need it continuously for nearly two hours. When we speak about self-driving cars in the near future, instead of high bandwidth, the fast data transfer is key – in other words, we need low latency. Rubbish bins contacting the waste collection services themselves barely need any data throughput. A fast reaction time isn’t a prerequisite in this scenario either. Instead the network should be as energy efficient as possible, enabling the sensors in the rubbish bin to last for at least a decade.

These examples showcase that we don’t need a “one size fits all” network, delivering in the same way in every scenario, but rather many different manifestations of the network for different applications.

2006 vs. 2016, or: the story so far

Let’s look at the hard facts and compare mobile communications in Germany in 2006 and 2016:

Of course 7.1 gigabytes may seem like a rather small amount to some. This refers to the fact that the statistic includes all SIM cards in Germany, irrespective of whether they were required for mobile phone contracts, prepaid lines or merely for machine-to-machine communication. SIM cards which transfer little or no data volumes are also included in the statistics. Nevertheless, it is clear how sharply the volume of data used has increased.

Fixed networks are showing a similar trend:

  • According to Statista, the overall volume in broadband internet traffic has risen from 1,100 million gigabytes in 2006, to 13,800 million gigabytes in 2016
  • The number of broadband lines has risen to 32 million, according to Statista.
  • The average annual consumption of data volume per broadband connection has thus multiplied by almost a factor of six from 73.3 gigabytes to 431.3 gigabytes.

Why bother with all these calculations? Because they demonstrate to what extent the surfing behavior of Germany has changed in just ten years. In 2006, using WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger on the move in everyday communication was still inconceivable - WhatsApp was only established in 2009. Browsing TripAdvisor restaurant reviews on holiday, navigating with GoogleMaps, posting photos on Instagram and Facebook or catching a Youtube video on the move – in 2006 all that was still unimaginable. But today it is a fundamental part of our everyday life. Along with a growing variety of applications, ideas were evolving about how industry can benefit from mobile internet. Many of these concepts can be condensed into the terms “Industry 4.0” and “smart city”. From the industrial plant controlled through the network to smart parking spaces and rubbish bins, everything is conceivable and to an extent, already a reality.

Telekom is at the cutting edge of these developments. Our network is the foundation facilitating this multiplicity of applications and it is taking on the exponential development of data volume described above as well as the diverse demands. This requires above all massive investment in the further development of the network.

From the air to deep underground – expansion in all directions

The foundation of the network expansion is optical fiber. Telekom’s fiber-optic network in Germany has more than doubled in size from around 224,000 km in 2007 to a length of 455,000 km in 2017. Telekom has by far the largest fiber-optic network in Germany – and it’s growing every day. This is expensive and complex to implement. Every kilometer of optical fiber laid costs an average of 70,000 euros. In order to quickly facilitate as many people as possible with higher bandwidth, the roll out must be done intelligently. Through Vectoring or Super-Vectoring, highspeed of up to 100 to 250 Mbit/s is achievable for a large number of customers. In this case civil engineering works for fiber-optic deployment are only required from the switching center to the grey roadside connector boxes. This lowers the budget and enables a much more comprehensive supply of high bandwidth than with optical fiber right up to individual houses. Telekom’s goal is to supply around 80 per cent of Germany with a minimum of 50 Mbit/s broadband internet and is the only company to set itself such an ambitious objective.

Hereby, we are not only creating better broadband for lots of people, but also laying the ideal foundations for the next communication standard: 5G.

As explained above the requirements for the network will be more complex in future:

  • Customers want to be online while flying – that’s why together with Inmarsat we are rolling out the European Aviation Network
  • More and more customer want to be online on the go. To meet their expectations, on the one hand we are optimizing our portfolio with services like StreamOn in Germany. On the other hand we are continuously expanding our mobile network e.g. by rolling out the 900 MHz spectrum  in Germany.
  • Of course we know that the requirements get even more complex in future. That’s why our technical department is heavily involved in developing the upcoming communication standard 5G. Our newest achievement: we went live with Europe’s first 5G connection.
  • In parts, our network is even now 5G Ready: sensors in rubbish bins and beneath parking lots need a power-sufficient network for the sensors lifetime to extend to 10 years and more – we roll out this Narrowband IoT network right now across Europe. This will be an important part of the future 5G standard.

Outsiders could get confused if it comes to our network expansion, I completely understand that. But, to put it in a nutshell: we do our very best to meet the different requirements out there regarding our network. And – in my opinion – we are damn good in doing so!

For those of you who want to keep abreast of the network expansion in Germany on a daily basis, my colleagues from “Telekom Network” are the right port of call. Follow them on Twitter or Youtube.

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