Bad vibes Germany sets 5G auction, leaving providers and users unhappy

After telecoms providers had complained of strict conditions to buy high-speed data frequencies, industry lobbies joined the tribulation choir, saying the rules are too tame. They fear dead zones.
Doesn't always go where you go.

The leap to the next generation in mobile networking is so momentous it is bound to make everyone unhappy. Germany’s plan to auction off network spectrum for 5G goes too far for telecom providers and not far enough for industry users.

The plan announced Monday lays significant requirements on providers bidding for the spectrum, but stops short of the countrywide coverage industry thinks is necessary for uses like autonomous driving, Internet of Things and remote surgery.

The three main mobile providers in Germany – Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefonica's O2 – have until January 25 to apply to participate in the auction, which is slated to begin in the first quarter of 2019. Last week, the prospective applicants complained about the requirements for a nationwide roll-out of the current standard, 4G, and for giving network access to rivals who don’t offer coverage in certain regions.

An industry lobby group complained on Monday the auction plan doesn't go far enough because telecom operators won't need to guarantee nationwide 5G coverage. “The requirements run contrary to their goal to bring 5G as quickly as possible to individuals and to companies,” said Achim Berg, head of the digital association Bitkom, which represents IT, telecom, and consumer electronics companies.

For industry users the conditions aren’t good enough, particularly outside the metropolitan areas. The network incumbents only have to set up 1,000 5G cell towers or base stations each by 2022, and to offer 4G internet access along federal highways and important roads. The current 4G network of 48,000 tower stations – many in the same location, but owned by different operators – is still grossly inadequate to offer continuous connectivity across Germany.

Even though Germany has launched the 5G roll-out quicker than other countries, coverage will be unavailable outside urban areas for years to come. Until at least 2025, self-driving cars with flawless control over long distances will remain the stuff of fantasy.

“We are dependent on a seamless coverage from a communications technology,” said Markus Heyn, executive board member at Robert Bosch. “Otherwise, many of our mobility services and the development of autonomous driving will be at risk or simply won't be feasible."

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Daniel Delhaes, Stephan Scheuer, Martin-Werner Buchenau and Anja Müller contributed to this article. Darrell Delamaide adapted this story into English for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the authors: [email protected][email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]