Mobile communications strategy and 5G network expansion

Federal Government programmes promoting 5G innovation

An ambulance sends real-time data to the hospital while in transit, so the hospital staff can be optimally prepared to start the treatment. Turning this kind of vision into reality requires a financial stimulus to research and development. The Federal Government is promoting the development of innovative applications for mobile communications. Read on for an overview of current 5G projects.

Everyone benefits from a fast network – from the patient in a networked ambulance to the farmer sending autonomous mobile robots out into the fields. But digital technology does not just come about of its own accord. To generate fresh ideas, concepts and findings, science and industry rely on funding grants. This is why the Federal Government is investing many millions of euros, both into exploiting the opportunities presented by 5G mobile communications and into investigating their effects on people and the environment.

The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) is helping 5G pioneers

From research to concepts to implementation, the BMVI is pursuing a wide-ranging 5G innovation programme.

  • The first step, in 2019, saw the BMVI promoting six research projects run by universities and companies. These focused on a variety of fields. For example, some researchers are testing whether 5G can be helpful in emergency rescue and telemedicine. Further projects relate to the construction industry and the manufacturing industry, along with winegrowing and other areas of agriculture. These products are receiving funding of between 6.2 and 11.9 million euros.
  • During the next step, 67 towns/cities, regions and administration unions jointly received a total of around 6.2 million euros, which they used to develop concrete concepts for how their respective areas could benefit from 5G technology.
  • From 2021, ten project ideas received funding of up to 4 million euros each – money that can be used to transform their concepts into realities. In the port of Lübeck, for example, flows of goods will be recorded and processed via a 5G network. Remote-controlled gantry cranes will pick goods up from trailers that drive themselves automatically – all networked thanks to 5G. The supported pioneering projects stretch from the Baltic coast to Bavaria.

The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) is digitalising rural areas

Over half the German population lives in the countryside. This is why the BMEL promotes projects taking advantage of the opportunities that digitalisation offers to agriculture and rural areas.

  • The Federal Rural Development Scheme (BULE) is promoting hundreds of projects seeking solutions to present and future challenges in rural areas. Within the framework of this scheme, a special initiative is looking at potential applications for 5G. For example, faster mobile communications can create new options for mobility among the population in rural areas.
  • There are 14 digital experimental fields focusing explicitly on technological innovation in agriculture. Here, tests are carried out at agricultural holdings; these look at how digital technologies can help protect the environment, improve animal welfare and biodiversity and make farmers’ work easier. Around 50 million euros are currently being channelled into these fields. One example is the experimental field called Landnetz (Countryside Network). In the state of Saxony, researchers and farmers are testing 5G applications among other things out in the fields. Their aim is to find out how digital communication and cloud technologies can help farmers in their everyday lives.

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is promoting excellence in science

From artificial intelligence to quantum computers, the BMBF has many future-oriented projects on the agenda, with a number involving research into possible areas of application for 5G.

  • In the OTB-5G+ project, science and industry are working together to develop a new network architecture for 5G and generations of mobile communications to come – with practical relevance in a testing area within the Berlin city transport system. This means developments hit the street faster – literally – instead of remaining laboratory-bound.
  • The Health5G project is another example. Here, three testing systems are emerging that will use 5G technology to help patients in their own home, in hospital or in case of an acute emergency.
  • Another such project involves building a mobile container that has all the technology needed for a local 5G campus network. With this so-called 5G-Insel (5G island) on their premises, SMEs will be in a position to press ahead with the automation of their production processes. All three projects are receiving several millions of euros in funding.

The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) is focusing on sustainable digitalisation

The BMU is responsible for a variety of research projects addressing possible effects of mobile communications on people and the environment. Their findings are contributing to the performance of specialist functions and to science-based policy advice (also referred to as departmental research). These are organised and supervised by the respective specialist authorities responsible:

The Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) is conducting research into effects on people and the environment.

The BfS is the scientific and technical higher federal authority for radiation protection in Germany. For around 20 years, the electromagnetic fields generated by mobile communications have been one of its areas of focus. Over this period, the BfS has awarded many research contracts for assessing the expansion of the 5G network in terms of radiation protection.

  • The scientists at the BfS evaluate current international studies. This lets them reliably assess health effects of high-frequency fields – for example the issue of whether mobile communications affect fertility.
  • Since 5G can also involve frequencies above 20 gigahertz, the BfS has announced studies aimed at finding out more about potential effects of centimetre and millimetre waves on human cells.

The German Environment Agency (UBA) is combining technology and climate protection

Digitalisation affects our climate – and the two UBA research projects listed below are investigating precisely what the effects are. The agency is a subordinate authority of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

  • The UTAMO project at the Fraunhofer Institute aims to assess the effects of future mobile networks on the environment up to 2030. The focus here is on the energy consumption of end devices, network infrastructure and the server in the background as well as the use of resources.
  • Similar issues are tackled by the Green Cloud Computing project, a combined project of the Fraunhofer Institute and the Öko-Institut. The emphasis here lies outside the field of mobile communications, though one issue addressed is the carbon footprint of video streaming via various transmission methods. The project has also looked at the “air interface” of 3G, 4G and 5G. 

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) is supporting companies

More and more companies are using 5G campus networks – for example Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg. Companies use this “internal 5G” to network their company premises or production halls. A campus network is fast and secure, and companies can optimise it themselves to suit their particular requirements.

  • The Scientific Institute for Infrastructure and Communications Services (WIK), which is supported by the BMWi, looks at advances made by companies while setting up local 5G campus networks. On behalf of the Federal Network Agency, WIK identifies sectors and applications in respect of which campus networks deliver benefits compared to generally accessible networks. From this, the political and commercial spheres learn what works well and what obstacles there are to the use of 5G campus networks.

Incidentally, for the newly developed 5G applications to function everywhere, a good network throughout Germany is essential. To learn about plans for eliminating the last remaining black spots, please read this article. The network operators have been briefed clearly and are making investments. And should any dead spots remain, the expansion will be handled by the Federal Government’s mobile infrastructure association. This too is a major funding programme that will benefit many people away from the big cities.

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