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Michael Schwarz

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Safeguarding mobile coverage of the future

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More spectrum needed for mobile communications

What will mobile communications look like in the future? At Deutsche Telekom, we are asked this question daily in one form or another. It is therefore imperative for our services that we venture a look ahead.

With over 53 million mobile customers, the demands placed on Deutsche Telekom’s network are growing year by year. In 2021, Deutsche Telekom’s mobile network carried 1.83 billion gigabytes of data. That’s around 230 million gigabytes more than one year ago. Total mobile network data traffic grew nine-fold between 2015 and 2021. Assuming no change in consumer behavior, Deutsche Telekom expects to see an annual growth rate of 30 to 40 percent. On top of this are new technologies, like autonomous vehicles and augmented and virtual reality applications, which require additional network capacities and use significantly more bandwidth.

Graph showing how the volume of data used in mobile communications has multiplied since 2015.

Development of data volume used in mobile communications.

But what does this trend mean for the mobile network? As the leading European telecommunications company, we want to deliver the best mobile communications experience for our customers – anytime and anywhere. The multiple-award-winning quality of our mobile communications services provides the backbone for this.

But to ensure we can keep offering high quality in the future, not only Deutsche Telekom but also all European network operators will require additional spectrum resources in order to address the increasing requirements of mobile consumers. Policymakers and regulators play an important role here, as it is they who determine the framework conditions for awarding spectrum. Spectrum is a scarce commodity and must be portioned out across multiple players. In addition to that, telecommunications companies are not the only ones interested in utilizing spectrum: other players must also be factored in, including radio broadcasters, the military, and amateur radio enthusiasts. 

The role of policymakers and regulators in awarding spectrum

In Germany, a national Frequency Plan published by the Bundesnetzagentur outlines who is allowed to use which frequencies. The Frequency Plan governs which frequency bands are assigned to which applications. The Plan is based on outcomes of the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC).  The resolutions adopted at the WRC form the basis of a determination at European level harmonizing the technical conditions for using individual frequency bands. This harmonization makes it easier to coordinate frequency bands internationally and enables economies of scale to be leveraged in the procurement of mobile communications technology, including with regard to the availability of terminal equipment.

Finally, spectrum resources available in Germany are distributed among interested users by way of corresponding award proceedings. In 2019, Deutsche Telekom successfully acquired licenses for the 2.1 GHz and 3.6 GHz bands, over which Telekom’s 5G services currently run. Added to this are further frequency bands that are currently allocated to the mobile communications service and are intensively used for other mobile communications technologies, such as LTE or GSM.

Mobile spectrum: a precious commodity

At present, 990 MHz of spectrum in various different bands is available to all mobile providers in Germany. However, this does not correspond to the total amount of spectrum allocated to mobile services in Europe, as currently around 250 MHz is reserved by policymakers and regulators for other uses, such as for private industry or the military. This puts German network operators at a clear disadvantage compared to operators in neighboring countries of Europe.

Given the steadily growing data needs in the mobile networks, this spectrum scarcity poses challenges for German telecommunications companies. Medium term, it will only be possible to meet requirements – both on the part of customers and on the part of policymakers in respect of network performance in Germany – if further spectrum resources are provided. Policymakers and regulators are called upon to lay the foundations for fulfilling these requirements by making additional spectrum available for mobile communications in Germany and Europe.

More spectrum for mobile communications

The European Commission published its Digital Decade 2030 policy paper in March 2021, laying out its mobile coverage targets for Europe. One of its goals is to achieve 5G coverage for all populated areas of Europe. Additional spectrum resources must be made available if these targets are to be met. There are two particularly suitable additional frequency bands, the deployment of which will be discussed at the 2023 World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-23).

Sub-700 MHz frequencies

Frequencies below 1 GHz offer tremendous potential for delivering economically and ecologically sustainable coverage with a high-performing mobile network to large swaths of the country. These frequencies are thus particularly suited to rolling out 5G to rural areas. Specifically, this refers to the band at 470 to 694 MHz. This is currently used for terrestrial radio broadcasting. However, the European Commission is planning to carry out a usage review in 2025 as the basis for a decision on the future use of this band. The basic regulatory conditions for permitting the use of this band by others, such as mobile providers, security agencies, or the Bundeswehr, will be decided at WRC-23.

Additional 6 GHz spectrum

Alongside rising demand in rural areas, additional capacities will also become essential in urban areas in the future in order to cope with growing volumes of mobile data traffic. The only way to offer additional 5G capacities in urban areas is to utilize spectrum in the 6 GHz band – specifically, the frequencies at the upper end of this band between 6425 and 7125 MHz. This high frequency band has the advantage of offering plentiful contiguous spectrum which allows for particularly high bandwidths. 5G users thus benefit from download speeds that can easily reach over 1,000 Mbit/s.  Given this, the use of this band is particularly suited to densely populated areas with large concentrations of people.

A look into the future

As a mobile communications provider, Deutsche Telekom supports action by German policymakers and the regulatory authorities with the goal of freeing up additional spectrum. Further, we advocate for the release of further bands harmonized with the mobile service, to allow providers to address the growing demand for powerful mobile communications networks.

At the WRC-23, it is therefore of the utmost importance that representatives of German policymakers and regulators support the allocation of the 470 to 694 MHz band to mobile services, which takes into account the growing demands faced by mobile providers. Likewise, it is essential that the use of the upper 6 GHz band is guaranteed for the public mobile service. This is imperative for achieving the targets for 5G coverage set at domestic and European level.

Deutsche Telekom AG

Telekom uses these 5G frequencies in Germany

In 2019, Telekom bought its 5G frequencies at auction for EUR 2.17 billion. Barely more than one and a half years later, 64 million people in Germany can surf with 5G. Read now which 5G frequencies Telekom is using.

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