The development of 5G is not simply haphazard. Politicians and authorities have defined the conditions and have subjected procedures to testing. Now, it’s up to the operators to build up the 5G network systematically. Read on for an overview of the auction of 5G frequencies to the current status quo.
To consumers, 5G mobile communications are still new – but bodies such as mobile network operators, research institutes and the relevant authorities have already been dealing with this issue for years. They are carefully laying the groundwork for the development of the network. Let’s take a look at the process and see where things currently stand.
In summer 2017 the Federal Government settled its 5G strategy, thereby laying the foundation for the state’s involvement in the expansion of the mobile network. The strategy sets out five key areas of activity:
To offer 5G, network operators need additional frequencies. In 2019 these frequencies were put up for auction, as with previous generations of mobile communications. The so-called 5G frequency auction ended on 12 June 2019. Four mobile companies – Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica Germany, Vodafone and 1&1 Drillisch – each took a share, in total paying around 6.6 billion euros. The money is being used for the expansion of the digital infrastructure in Germany and for the “DigitalPakt Schule” (Digital Pact for Schools).
Following the auction, on 2 August 2019, the Federal Network Agency decided the specific allocation of the 41 blocks of frequencies – all from the 2-GHz and 3.6-GHz frequency ranges – that had been discretely auctioned off. The agency also set out strict coverage requirements for developing these blocks, to make sure people would benefit in every part of Germany.
To enable the Federal Network Agency to closely monitor the fulfilment of these coverage requirements, the network operators are under a particular obligation to report on the progress of the network’s development. If they are too slow, thereby failing to satisfy the coverage requirements, the operators risk fines and penalties.
In summer 2019 the responsible federal ministries developed a catalogue of measures for implementing the instructions from the coalition agreement. The measures identified here form the basis of the mobile communications strategy of the Federal Government. Important areas of activity are:
It is clear that during the initial phase of development, mobile companies are focusing on cities, towns, other densely populated areas, and commercial and industrial areas. At the same time, it is also important to improve the supply for rural areas and transport routes such as motorways, railway lines and canals.
Numerous companies have already declared their intention of building up private local 5G networks (so-called campus networks) independently of the expansion of the public mobile networks. The provision of 5G frequencies in the range of 3.7 to 3.8 gigahertz for the development of campus networks has laid the foundations for companies to construct 5G networks precisely tailored to meet their individual needs. Thanks to moderate fee structures, it is easy for companies to make active use of this opportunity, especially as regards applications relating to Industry 4.0 and agriculture and forestry. This will encourage the digitalisation of industry, commerce and society while providing a very practical demonstration of the possibilities provided by 5G.
For regions with so-called “black spots” that still do not have good network coverage by 2024 there will be a special support programme. Around 1.1 billion euros from the frequency auction are being channelled into the construction of up to 5,000 mobile communications sites. Once these are active, 99.95% of German households and 97.5% of the total area of the country will have 4G. That’s a major step towards full coverage, laying the cornerstone for the 5G network of the future. An existing 4G network can swiftly be upgraded to 5G.
To speed up the development and take the pressure off communities, the Federal Government is going to found a mobile infrastructure association. With comprehensive planning, this will help to achieve the goal of extensive coverage with mobile voice and data services. The association is intended to drive forward the funding procedures in black spots and act as the link between the parties involved.
The planning and construction of a mobile network are essentially the responsibility of the mobile companies. They choose the sites for cell towers – having first planned out their network and coverage. Meanwhile, the network operators have been pledging since 2001 to coordinate closely with communities on network development, proceeding only with their agreement and involving them in the choice of sites. The operators’ planning processes are computer-assisted, using a technology that takes into account topographical conditions, buildings and vegetation alongside the estimated volume of communication and the data rates required.
Electromagnetic fields are a further central factor influencing site selection. The Federal Network Agency monitors whether all regulations are being complied with, to protect people in the vicinity of radio installations. Before an installation can be brought online, its operator must successfully complete a site certification procedure with the agency. Certification is only forthcoming once it is sure the installation complies with the legal limits for protecting people in respect of electromagnetic fields.
Operators of installations have to disclose many details. To apply for a site certificate, they have to submit the technical specifications of the radio installation together with an assembly sketch and a site plan. Once the authority does issue a site certificate, this is valid only for the operating mode specified in the application. Any mode of operation diverging from the site certificate issued must first be approved by the Federal Network Agency, which will do so by granting a fresh certificate. The agency carries out checks of sites at irregular intervals and without giving notice – per year, the inspectors examine around 15 per cent of the sites holding certification.
The network expansion is in full swing, yet one key principle remains paramount: thorough examination always takes precedence over speed.
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