German Telecom Regulator awards 5G private network licenses in the 3.7GHz to 3.8GHz band

Germany’s telecommunications regulator Bundesnetzagentur (Federal Network Agency or BNetzA) announced earlier this week that it has awarded 74 licences to applicants for deploying private 5G networks (called “campus or local networks” in Germany, or “lokale Netze”) using 3.7GHz-to-3.8GHz spectrum. This more than doubled the 33 licences it had awarded as was announced in April.

According to the BNetzA press release, the regulator expected the frequencies to be primarily used for Industry 4.0, “but also in the agricultural and forestry sector,” Jochen Homann, President of BNetzA, said in the press release, “by awarding spectrum for local 5G networks, we are creating scope for innovation for enterprises. There has been a great amount of interest in the spectrum, and we are anticipating a large number of applications still to come,” he added.

Editor’s Notes: 

  1.  Private LTE and 5G networks can ensure guaranteed connectivity and privacy (e.g. safeguarding data), while supporting a wide range of applications and usage scenarios. Small-scale private LTE and 5G-ready networks are also beginning to be deployed in industrial IoT (Internet of Things) settings – where LTE and 5G can fulfill the stringent reliability, availability and low latency requirements for connectivity in industrial control and automation systems, besides supporting mobility for robotics and machines.
  2. The Bundesnetzagentur is an authority under the responsibility of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. Its core tasks include supervising the energy, telecommunications, postal and railway markets. As part of its mandate, the Bundesnetzagentur ensures that as many undertakings as possible can use the infrastructure in these sectors so that consumers benefit from competition and favourable prices. The authority employs over 2,900 people at its headquarters in Bonn and Mainz and its 46 regional offices.

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In a separate document, BNetzA published a list of the names and addresses of 35 licensees. Presumably the other recipients have not granted the agency the permission to make their names public. There are system integrators (NTT DATA Deutschland GmbH), specialised engineering companies closer to core telecoms technologies (Rohde & Schwarz, Corning Services), car makers (Audi, Mercedes), broadcasters (Bayerischer Rundfunk), event company (Deutsche Messe AG which operates the Hannover trade fairs), etc.

Huawei – Germany, based in Düsseldorf, is also a recipient. It isn’t clear what the Chinese telecom network equipment maker will use the frequency for, but likely for 5G related R&D work.

There are a number of other companies that have publicly stated that they have bought spectrum for private 5G networks, but for whatever reasons their names did not appear on the BNetzA list. According to an earlier report by The Wall Street Journal, that group included car makers BMW and Volkswagen, the industrial conglomerate Robert Bosch GmbH, the chemistry company BASF, and the German airline Lufthansa.

Meanwhile BNetzA has just concluded the consultation process,  started  in July, on how best to make the 26GHz, specifically the 24.25 – 27.5 GHz, also available for “local 5G networks”. When this band is open to applications, BNetzA expects to see more active participation thanks to the high bandwidth this frequency can enable, especially from sectors like infrastructure development, Industry 4.0, and IoT.

On the other hand, when enterprises and public sector entities are actively building their own private 5G networks in countries where it’s permitted, one might question the 5G operators’ ambition to support business use cases with their public 5G networks, including the much hyped end-to-end network slicing capabilities which will only be achieved by a 5G SA core network.

Some network operators are building 5G private networks. Vodafone Deutschland for example has been working with Lufthansa Technik to build the 5G network at an aircraft hangar at Hamburg Airport. In most cases, mobile operators are entirely bypassed. Nokia said publicly that no operator was involved in its private 5G project for Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s national railway service.

By opening 5G frequencies to private bidders, BNetzA and its peers in countries like Japan and the UK are helping popularize 5G in the business world and expediate enterprises’ embrace of the new technology.  However, the telecom operators that have made big 5G investment may not be the biggest or primary beneficiaries. This means those 5G network operators need to ask themselves some hard questions on how to strengthen their value propositions to their business customers, especially when the transition to 5G standalone mode is just now beginning.

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Ericsson on 5G Private Networks:

The next five to seven years will see an explosion of 5G private networks catering to different industry verticals like automotive, ports, mines, manufacturing and a plethora of mission-critical services. Ultra-high reliability, ultra-low latency, 99.999 percent availability, and very high security are some of the characteristics 5G private networks will be capable of.

What are private networks and why are they so important for Industry 4.0?

Private 4G networks have been around for years, but they’re still few and far between. However, with 5G’s sub-millisecond latency, ultra-high throughput, the business case for the proliferation of private 5G networks is expected to be more widespread. 3GPP calls them non-public networks or NPN, and are intended for the sole use of a private entity, be it a big enterprise or government. Use cases for such private networks are:

  1. Mission-critical functions like public safety and national security, emergency response and government systems
  2. Digitalization of industries like oil rigs, mining, retail, and so on
  3. Enabling an Industry 4.0 ecosystem. For example, smart manufacturing, warehouses, and autonomous fleet management
  4. Critical infrastructure like ports, airports, healthcare, and railways

References:

https://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/EN/BNetzA/PressSection/PressReleases/2020/202009021_5GCampusNetworks.pdf

https://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/DE/Sachgebiete/Telekommunikation/Unternehmen_Institutionen/Frequenzen/OeffentlicheNetze/LokaleNetze/lokalenetze-node.html

https://telecoms.com/506639/germany_likely_-to_-see_many_-private_5g_networks/

https://www.ericsson.com/en/blog/2020/7/5g-private-network-operations