More spectrum needed for mobile communications
What will mobile communications look like in the future? At Deutsche Telekom, we are asked this question daily in one form or another. It is therefore imperative for our services that we dare to look to the future.
With more than 53 million mobile customers, the demands placed on Deutsche Telekom’s network are increasing year on year. In 2021, Deutsche Telekom’s mobile network carried 1.83 billion gigabytes of data. That’s about 230 million gigabytes more than a year ago. Total data traffic on the mobile network increased ninefold between 2015 and 2021. Assuming consumer behavior does not change, Deutsche Telekom expects an annual growth rate of 30-40%. Added to this are new technologies, such as autonomous vehicles and augmented and virtual reality applications, which require additional network capacity and use much more bandwidth.
Development of the volume of data used in mobile communications.
But what does this trend mean for the mobile network? As the European leader in telecommunications, we want to offer the best mobile communication experience to our customers, anytime and anywhere. The award-winning quality of our mobile communication services is the cornerstone.
But to ensure that we can continue to deliver high quality in the future, not only Deutsche Telekom, but also all European network operators will need additional spectrum resources to meet the growing demands of mobile consumers. Policy makers and regulators play an important role here, as they are the ones who determine the framework conditions for spectrum allocation. Spectrum is a rare commodity and must be distributed among several actors. Moreover, telecommunications companies are not the only ones interested in the use of the spectrum: other actors must also be taken into account, including broadcasters, the military and amateur radio enthusiasts.
The Role of Policy Makers and Regulators in Spectrum Allocation
In Germany, a national frequency plan published by the Bundesnetzagentur specifies who is authorized to use which frequencies. The frequency plan determines which frequency bands are allocated to which applications. The Plan is based on the results of the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC). The resolutions adopted at the WRC form the basis for a determination at European level harmonizing the technical conditions for the use of individual frequency bands. This harmonization facilitates the international coordination of frequency bands and makes it possible to achieve economies of scale in the acquisition of mobile communications technologies, including with regard to the availability of terminal equipment.
Finally, the spectrum resources available in Germany are distributed among interested users through corresponding allocation procedures. In 2019, Deutsche Telekom successfully acquired licenses for the 2.1 GHz and 3.6 GHz bands, on which Telekom’s 5G services currently operate. Added to this are other frequency bands which are currently allocated to the mobile communication service and which are intensively used for other mobile communication technologies, such as LTE or GSM.
Mobile spectrum: a precious commodity
Currently, 990 MHz of spectrum in various different bands is available for all mobile phone providers in Germany. However, this does not match the total amount of spectrum allocated to mobile services in Europe, as currently around 250 MHz is reserved by policy makers and regulators for other uses, such as private industry or the military. This puts German network operators at a distinct disadvantage compared to operators in neighboring European countries.
Given the ever-increasing data requirements in mobile networks, this scarcity of spectrum poses challenges for German telecommunications companies. In the medium term, it will only be possible to meet the requirements – of both customers and policy makers for network performance in Germany – if new spectrum resources are provided. Policymakers and regulators are called upon to lay the foundations for meeting these demands by making additional spectrum available for mobile communications in Germany and Europe.
More spectrum for mobile communications
The European Commission published its 2030 Digital Decade Policy Paper in March 2021, setting out its mobile coverage targets for Europe. One of its goals is to achieve 5G coverage for all populated areas in Europe. Additional spectrum resources must be made available if these goals are to be achieved. There are two particularly suitable additional frequency bands, the deployment of which will be discussed at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23).
Frequencies below 700 MHz
Frequencies below 1 GHz offer enormous potential to provide economically and environmentally sustainable coverage with a high-performance mobile network over large swaths of the country. These frequencies are thus particularly suitable for the deployment of 5G in rural areas. Specifically, it refers to the 470-694 MHz band. This is currently used for terrestrial radio broadcasting. However, the European Commission plans to conduct a usage review in 2025 as the basis for a decision on the future use of this band. The basic regulatory conditions allowing the use of this band by others, such as mobile phone providers, security agencies or the Bundeswehr, will be decided at WRC-23.
6 GHz additional spectrum
Along with growing demand in rural areas, additional capacity will also become essential in urban areas in the future to cope with growing volumes of mobile data traffic. The only way to deliver additional 5G capabilities in urban areas is to use spectrum in the 6 GHz band – specifically, frequencies at the upper end of this band between 6425 and 7125 MHz. This high frequency band has the advantage of offering an abundant contiguous spectrum which allows particularly high bandwidths. 5G users thus benefit from download speeds that can easily reach more than 1,000 Mbit/s. Given this, the use of this band is particularly suitable for densely populated areas with large concentrations of people.
A look into the future
As a mobile communications provider, Deutsche Telekom supports the action of German policymakers and regulators to free up additional spectrum. In addition, we advocate the release of new bands harmonized with mobile service, to enable providers to meet the growing demand for powerful mobile communications networks.
At WRC-23, it is therefore of the utmost importance that representatives of German policymakers and regulators support the allocation of the 470-694 MHz band to mobile services, which takes into account the increasing demands faced by mobile service providers. Likewise, it is essential that the use of the upper 6 GHz band is guaranteed for the public mobile service. This is imperative to achieve the 5G coverage targets set at national and European level.