5G in Germany: Huge opportunities – if we all start out together now

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An article by Dirk Wössner, Board Member for Germany and Managing Director of Telekom Deutschland GmbH.

Dr. Dirk Wössner, Board member for Germany and Managing Director of Telekom Deutschland GmbH

Dr. Dirk Wössner, Board member for Germany and Managing Director of Telekom Deutschland GmbH.

The world we live in today can no longer be divided into the digital and the analog. These days, many people are in “online” status almost constantly. Whether in private or business life, without the network, not much goes on. The very foundations of our everyday life are provided by broadband and mobile networks. And the 5G standard is set to play a dominant role in those networks in the future.  

There is no doubt that the sell-off of 5G licenses has cast a shadow on things.  The billions of euros that have been put into such licenses have left a hole in funding for investments in the mobile network. The proceeds of the auction could have financed the construction of 50,000 new mobile base stations and could have closed up many gaps in coverage.

The design chosen for the auction missed a number of opportunities. But that is water under the bridge. We are looking forward. And we are extremely happy with the frequencies that we purchased at the auction.  Deutsche Telekom has acquired frequencies to the value of 2.17 billion euros, made up of four frequency blocks in the 2 Gigahertz band as well as nine more in the 3.6 Gigahertz band. These frequencies will allow Deutsche Telekom to build a first-class 5G network for Germany. As early as the end of this year, about 300 5G antennae will already be in operation as part of Deutsche Telekom’s network.  

What we expect to achieve with 5G

As compared against its 4G predecessor, 5G offers us much more than a substantially larger network capacity.  It will also be exponentially faster, allowing almost real-time communication, because the delay in communications – referred to in the business as ‘latency’ – will be up to ten times shorter than in the preceding mobile system.  That low latency allows 5G to facilitate the growth of networking between machines over the Internet of Things. It will provide the spark that will bring Industry 4.0 to life. 

Such factors as edge computing and network slicing are making 5G even more powerful, as well as making its deployment in industry even more reliable. And safer. 

One important area of application of the new technologies, aside from in logistics and mobility, is in the digital transformation of manufacturing industries.  “Campus networks” are combining private and publicly available mobile telecommunications. A 5G-based campus network is set provide the future basis upon which thousands of individual sensors within a manufacturing plant can be networked together. And such developments allow the emergence of the “smart factory,” in which all machinery and planning processes are interconnected with one another. 

Whether it is the factory or the digital city of the future, thousands of devices spread out over a few hundred square meters will communicate with one another in real time. Only 5G offers the capacity to process and transmit that quantity of data.

Grappling with the potential uses of 5G

Something I hear quite often is how “it’ll be quite some time before 5G is available "at every milk churn.” And until that happens, so they say, it makes no sense to get involved in the 5G phenomenon. But the opposite is the case.

I can only encourage businesses and local government bodies to begin straight away to explore the potential uses of 5G.  

Because whenever we start talking about the digital world of the future, the topic goes far beyond simple connectivity. What we are dealing with is a completely new way of doing business. We are speaking of the need to rethink processes from the ground up. Because it is not just the entire value chain that needs to be digitalized: everything from innovation through manufacturing and logistics all the way up to sales marketing is set to be revolutionized. Anyone who intends to be a success in the coming decades is going to have to think and act digital. They will have to manage the available data centrally.  To provide and maintain an effective IT infrastructure. To operate effective in-house networks. And to employ people capable of working within this digital ecosystem. Otherwise 5G will remain simply a very fast network – but still “only” a network. 

The same applies to cities and local authorities. It does not matter if the issue is traffic control, waste disposal, sustainability or security – all these areas are set to be controlled digitally in the future. And everything controlled in this way will need a lot more than just connectivity. They’ll also need comprehensively new conceptual designs. 

Let me give you an example: we connect dozens of schools every year directly up to our fiber-optic network. Good quality thinking needs high-speed connections. But that is by no means the end of it. You can only get the best out of a gigabit-sized connection if the learning content is also provided in digital form. If schoolkids can use the right user devices. If the data can be communicated securely. If the teachers themselves possess the right digital skills.  What I am appealing for is to have a comprehensive overview. Otherwise all our good intentions will remain just that: good intentions. And valuable ideas will be no more than isolated pieces of patchwork.  

On the consumer market, 5G is going to take the entertainment industry into a new era of virtual reality. While its predecessor standards 3 and 4G transformed music and video respectively, 5G brings the physical and digital world closer together. Virtual and augmented reality are now providing previously unheard-of possibilities in the entertainment industry. I was in South Korea this year. What you discover there at every corner is that 5G is fun!  It removes distances. And it is at our doorstep.

Mobile telecommunications: substantially more sites needed to meet greater demand

Between 2014 and 2019 the volume of data handled by mobile telecommunications has increased more than tenfoldi and is set to continue growing at a two-digit annual rate in the coming years. 

Since 5G, operating on the newly auctioned frequencies, uses shorter wavelengths than LTE technologies, we in Germany are going to need the broadest possible rollout of a substantially greater number of mobile telecommunications masts. Deutsche Telekom alone is set in the future to build up to 2,000 new cell sites every year. 

To put this in context, over the last thirty years of developing our network we built at a total of 30,000 sites. So you can see that we are going to need both to build more and to build faster to be in a position to satisfy Germany’s hunger for data.

This means that our network build-out is set to remain an enormous effort. The industry and the political world carry a joint responsibility in this regard.  Mobile telecommunications operators in Germany now plan to build out their networks jointly in many locations – particularly in rural areas. A decisive precondition for this, though, is being able to rely on a clear regulatory framework and on pragmatism from the authorities. And there is still quite a bit to do in this respect. 

While everyone wants fast mobile communications, nobody wants new antennae built in their neighborhoods. But you simply can’t have one without the other. At the moment we’re searching for suitable sites for an antenna at several hundred locations. Sometimes it is planning regulations, sometimes environmental considerations, sometimes protracted local consultations that makes it difficult, or even impossible, to erect new masts. There are cases where municipal authorities refuse to make public sites available for the construction of mobile telecommunications infrastructure.

In Germany it takes an average of two years before a cell site can begin operations. The politicians are aware that network operators need their support in their efforts to build out the mobile infrastructure – the mobile telecommunications strategy of the Federal Government is going in the right direction. German mobile telecommunications operators urgently need the removal of red tape from approval procedures, the modernization of construction regulations and easier access to new locations. We want to build and connect people and companies Rather than wasting time in the waiting rooms of the bureaucracy. 

Deutsche Telekom’s position is clear: we want our German customers to #takpart, to be right up there in a position to take advantage of the opportunities that the digital transformation holds out for them. Whether they are business customers or consumers. We do not want anyone left behind. We are doing more for the country’s digital infrastructure than anyone else. We are Germany’s powerhouse of the digital revolution. But Deutsche Telekom is not going to get there on its own. That is why we are convinced that Germany needs to create the right framework and to have more faith in market forces. And that demands of us the courage to throw old paradigms overboard. An occasional change of perspective and a view of the situation abroad can be helpful. 

Now is the time for pragmatism and optimism. And I am looking forward to seeing it. 

i Dialog Consult / VATM, 21. TK-Marktanalyse Deutschland 2019, p. 25.

Dr. Dirk Wössner, Board Member for Germany and Managing Director of Telekom Deutschland GmbH.

Dr. Dirk Wössner

Board Member for Germany and Managing Director of Telekom Deutschland GmbH

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