With the fifth generation of mobile communications (5G), providers want to offer ultra-fast mobile internet in germany as well.
But before the first cell tower could be rigged with the new technology, deutsche telekom, telefonica and vodafone, as well as newcomer 1&1 drillisch, had to pay billions a year ago for the rights to use the 5G frequencies. In the meantime, the first 5G stations are online. But the big push is still to come.
The auction for the required frequency spectrum was held on 12 december. June 2019 ends after 52 days and 497 individual bidding rounds. All in all, the four providers spent more than 6.5 billion euros, significantly more than experts had expected – also because 1&1 drillisch, as a newcomer among the network operators, was a lively bidder.
Providers are still struggling with the fact that they are being asked to pay in advance for the use of new technologies. But at least the result of the 5G auction was not as abstrusively high as in the summer of 2000 for the UMTS auction (3G), which at that time burdened the balance sheets of the providers with a total of 50.8 billion euros.
"The regular frequency auctions hang like lead weights on network expansion in this country," grumbles markus haas, head of telefonica deutschland, on behalf of the entire industry. In the spectrum auctions in germany, providers have so far paid a total of 65 billion euros "for a piece of paper to use the spectrum. "Every euro can only be spent once. Network operators lack the money for the fastest possible network expansion." With the auction lot one had around 50.Telekom has calculated that it will be able to build more than 000 new mobile sites and leave many patches of land unused.
But while network operators remained in a state of shock for years after the disastrous UMTS auction and the bursting of the internet bubble in 2000, the providers set about building the first 5G antennas relatively quickly after the end of the 5G spectrum auction a year ago. They are also not impressed by the fact that there were hardly any smartphones available at the time that could take advantage of the new technology.
Germany currently has around 80.000 cell towers. Many of them are already largely prepared for 5G. Only a few minor components need to be replaced or added there. With the higher bandwidths of 5G, however, the demands on the internet connection of the mobile radio stations are also growing.
Whereas for LTE (4G) a radio link was often sufficient to access the internet, 5G stations should ideally be connected to a high-performance fiber-optic cable. In addition, significantly more stations will have to be built for a nationwide rollout. But this will also be a process that will take until 2025. Telecom plans to build more than 40 new stations this year.000 antennas fit for 5G rollout on the 2.1 ghz frequency. The aim is to provide more than half of the population with 5G. But there will remain many white spots.
The expansion is complicated by the uncertainty as to whether the providers will also be allowed to use technology from the controversial chinese technology company huawei, which was used en masse in the expansion of the LTE networks. All providers emphasize that they will definitely not use systems from huawei for the 5G core network. Telefonica is relying on ericsson, while vodafone and telekom plan to decide in the coming months.
It is more difficult to do without huawei in the flat: "we rely on several manufacturers at the edge of the network. In addition to ericsson, this also includes huawei," says the head of technology at vodafone germany, gerhard mack. "For the 5G network in the flat, we have no plans to completely dispense with huawei antennas, because some of them are already 5G-capable and only smaller components need to be replaced."These systems can be upgraded to 5G with modest effort. "If we were forced to do without this manufacturer’s technology completely, we would either have to completely replace the existing technology at the affected sites or – even worse – rebuild the actual mast with a huge construction site."
With or without huawei: before private users throughout germany are able to use 5G seamlessly, the focus will be on expansion in the industrial sector and in research. In this country, companies, universities and other organizations are allowed to use 5G frequencies locally, for example, to deploy networked production processes on a campus, where the transmission of coarse data volumes in real time is an indispensable prerequisite. These applications work even if not all of germany is connected with 5G yet.
For private users, the providers are currently building showcases to illustrate concrete application scenarios for 5G. Vodafone has networked two gas stations in dusseldorf and erfurt with 5G. "In the future, drivers will be able to use such locations not only to refuel or charge their electric cars," says vodafone manager mack. "They could also use the time thanks to 5G to pump crude software updates down to the car."Other showcases focus on how online gamers can transfer data with as little latency as possible when playing games.
New impetus is also coming from smartphone manufacturers. In the android camp, the first 5G devices such as the huwaei P40 lite 5G are now on the market, priced at under 500 euros. And for apple customers, 5G will probably start this fall with the iphone 12.
However, customers who do not have a 5G device will also benefit from the 5G expansion, as LTE coverage will often be improved in one go. In the most recent study by the market research company open signal, germany was one of the countries, along with canada and japan, where download speeds have increased significantly in recent months. "Germany has caught up massively as a nation," says vodafone manager mack. "Although we are not yet in a leading position in europe. The netherlands and switzerland are better than we are. But we have caught up massively."
To further improve network quality, however, providers must install new antenna masts, which they often share with their competitors. But finding sites is difficult. This not only has to do with complicated approval procedures. The debate about the possible harmful effects of mobile communications on health has also been reignited. In confused conspiracy claims propagated especially on youtube, 5G is even blamed for the outbreak for the corona pandemic.
In the first stage of expansion, 5G will transmit in the frequency ranges also used by 3G (UMTS) and 4G (LTE). Numerous studies are available for this spectrum. Most scientists do not believe that mobile radio endangers health. The responsible authorities also see no reason to be seriously concerned. The president of the federal office for radiation protection (bfs), inge paulini, emphasizes: "the health effects of mobile communications are now well researched."There is no evidence of negative consequences if the radiation is below the legally prescribed limits.
In a second expansion stage, however, significantly higher frequencies with a wavelength in the millimeter range will also be used. In this frequency spectrum, even higher performance is possible. Research into possible health consequences is still in its infancy here, however. And a new frequency auction would also be necessary for this area.