Which cities will get 5G wireless first?

digitalizationWhere Germany stands in terms of 5G network expansion

If machines are to communicate with each other in real time or if we want to load films in seconds, we need a fast cellular network. But this is exactly where the problem is still. In order to make Germany's digital desert fit for the future, the mobile phone companies have now made a lot of plans for the rest of the year. Two thirds of Germans should be able to network with the fast fifth generation of mobile communications by December. The expert for industrial organization at the Institute of German Economy, Christian Rusche, is skeptical, as he tells ntv.de.

Even where 5G is already being marketed in Germany, the super-fast mobile communications standard is not yet included. Rural regions and large areas are far from being connected to the high-speed lines. "Here people can probably be happy if they get a little more power than the LTE standard, the predecessor of 5G," says Rusche. Germany has a range problem.

The high 5G frequencies can only be reached in the immediate vicinity. The same phenomenon is known from WLAN. "In order to create more network coverage, one tries to expand in the range of low frequencies in the range of 700 megahertz and 2 gigahertz - that covers a large area." In comparison: The bandwidths, which the hinterland is also hoping for, are 3.6 gigahertz . Because most people do not yet use a 5G-capable smartphone, Rusche does not see a problem at the moment.

"The funk has jumped over"

The goal was to supply almost all households in Germany with a minimum data rate of 50 Mbit / s per antenna sector by the end of 2019. This also applied to rails and motorways. For comparison: 4G delivers a data rate of 300 Mbit / s. However, the network providers Telekom, Vodafone and Telefonica have not even fully managed 50 Mbit / s. There are various reasons why the operators have not complied with the network agency's requirements, according to IW expert Rusche.

Telekom has so far connected almost half of all Germans to the 5G network. "The radio jumped over," writes the company on its Twitter account. "Around 40 million people can be there with 5G in over 3000 cities and communities." These include not only large cities such as Frankfurt and Munich, but also small communities such as Wallgau in Bavaria or Lampertswalde in Saxony. “Two thirds of the population are our next target. We want to achieve that this year, ”says technical director Walter Goldenits. 40,000 antennas should be there by the end of the year. For IW expert Rusche, Telekom is ahead. The group installed around 18,000 antennas in just a few weeks, setting an “exclamation point”.

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Telecom competitor Vodafone is pursuing similarly ambitious goals. With the slower LTE, the company has reached almost 98.7 percent of all households in Germany. But upgrading to the faster 5G cellular standard still takes some effort. Around 1000 antennas are currently radioing with 5G in Germany, with 7000 more to follow this year, the company reports. The aim is to reach ten million people with the super-fast mobile communications standard by the end of the year. "Vodafone is trying to solve a lot via the cable network and the mobile phone locations in the area are now being added soon," explains Rusche.

"Watching Netflix in HD in every field will last until 2025"

Competitor Telefonica is still a bit behind here. The Spanish telephone company does not currently operate any commercially usable masts. Nevertheless, the provider promises to network customers of the Telefonica brand O2 in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne and Frankfurt with 5G by the end of the year. According to Rusche, O2 still has some catching up to do with the Federal Network Agency's supply requirements. Telefonica was only able to fulfill its obligations in three federal states, which is why the network agency threatened with a fine of 600,000 euros.

The group cites construction delays due to the corona pandemic as one reason why Telefonica is slow to get going. The coronavirus was in 2020, but the failures are also in the time before, believes industry expert Rusche. One problem is the high bandwidths that the company offers. Because the higher the bandwidth, the more difficult it is to reach the mobile network in the area. "Frequencies that Telefonica offers in the 3.5 gigahertz range are therefore not suitable for area coverage," says Rusche. This is particularly evident in rural federal states such as Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where the O2 network coverage in the 5G area is poor. Rusche is also critical of the fact that Telefonica still has some catching up to do with the supply conditions. The fourth mobile operator 1 & 1 Drillisch is the weakest in the chain. He cannot yet offer his own network. Germany doesn't need to hope for him at first.

One thing is clear: Germany should have been further with the expansion of the 5G mobile network. So far, at best, industry has benefited from the super-fast network. Companies can use their own frequencies and networks to network machines. This opened up completely new possibilities, believes Rusche. The normal population, however, will still have to be patient, because "it will take until 2025 before you can watch Netflix in HD in every field".

The article first appeared on ntv.de.