An article by Claudia Nemat, Member of the Board of Management responsible for Europe and Technology.
Internet giants, smartphone makers, software companies, and network operators will once again all come together in Barcelona at the start of March. Europe can feel like the focal point of the industry – at least for a week. One week, then most of the major trendsetters will head back to the United States or to Asia, at least most of them will. That is not good for Europe: We need European companies that can compete on the global market, especially in the digital economy. Otherwise, our only place in this global competition will be as a location for others to sell their services. With zero innovative power of our own. But Europe can keep pace and shape its strategic action areas, when we overcome barriers, break down silos, and emphasize the use of open platforms and standards.
What we really need are European initiatives and standards, especially for the issues that will be the focus of this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC). Apart from the all-encompassing headline of digitization, I see three key issues: 5G, eSim, and the integration of mobile communications and the fixed-line network.
I truly believe it is vital for Europe to be deeply involved in the next stage in mobile communications – 5G. It’s going to stand for extremely fast reaction times. Imagine barely touching play icon and a movie starting on your smartphone, in less than the blink of an eye. This requires even large volumes of data to be made available very quickly. The global alliance for these next generation mobile networks (NGMN) has ambitious plans. One member, Chinese equipment vendor Huawei, is talking about the first 5G networks for advanced testing in real life environments starting as of 2018, though expecting commercial deployment not before 2020. Already at the beginning of this year, they presented a test device for the standard that is to succeed LTE. Yes, it's still the size of a fridge, but don't let that fool you.
Huawei is also campaigning hard for a global 5G standard, forecasting it for 2016 or 2017. Others have more conservative plans, suggesting 2020 and later. But whether or not the industry meets these deadlines spot-on, we as Deutsche Telekom and Europeans are involved. We are doing our part to shape the new standard; we are right at the forefront of NGMN and we are powering ahead. In Barcelona, this alliance will present its 5G white paper, the industry's consolidated view of the end-to-end requirements for mobile network access.
The same applies for the second focus topic: eSIM, the embedded SIM card, which will be built directly into phones in the future. This will increasingly become the standard over the next few years. Device manufacturers like Apple want to install more and more reprogrammable SIM cards embedded right in their devices. The necessary technical information from the customers’ chosen operators will then be delivered securely "over the air".
We see this as an opportunity and for a number of years have worked with and on international bodies to develop an open eSIM standard. This is important in order to be able to fully capitalize on the benefits of the eSIM. For consumers, the eSIM will take hold because in the future, more and more kinds of devices will be connected to the Internet. Wristbands, watches and necklaces, but also clothing and shoes. Everything will be connected, but many devices simply aren't suited to carry SIM cards built they way they are today. And if we are all going to have five or even ten such wearables in the future, then the simplest thing will be to have one contract with a single service environment that users can activate on all their devices with just one click.
The eSIM also offers huge opportunities in the machine-to-machine segment. Inbuilt cards in cars or machines can be controlled, making it possible to increase the efficiency of processes and achieve greater scalability of business models. All this will only be possible if we as an industry work together on interoperable solutions and don’t get lost producing competing island solutions.
These two issues for the mobile industry will also affect our fixed-line network. The next developmental advances in mobile network access technologies are increasing the data volume that we will have to handle in our backbone networks. Our industry will therefore need to invest not only in access technology, but also in new architectures for the backbone networks – effectively the network's central nervous system.
Here too, we should look towards the US. No network operator in the United States would ever dream of using different network technology or control systems in New York than those in California or Florida. But in Europe, network planning today only ever extends as far as national borders. Why? Our industry is undergoing a fundamental transformation – the migration and of networks to IP means that whole new network technology will be rolled out over the next few years. We can and must think of network architecture without borders.
We want to overcome this anachronism. Deutsche Telekom is building a pan-European network – one network for one Europe. A network that does not stop at national borders. The way things are now, every technical innovation has to be introduced separately in each European country. That creates an enormous expense, since each country's network technology works differently. In the future, innovations could be rolled out to the network overnight across most of Europe. This adds a whole new dimension to the single market. As a European telecommunications provider, we can exploit Europe's economies of scale and thus compete on the global market.
The trend setters from the United States and Asia have the financial means and the market power. If we can break down borders in Europe, we can give them a run for their money.