Networker-in-Chief

Jochen Homann is the president of the Bundesnetzagentur, the national agency responsible for regulating, among other things, Germany’s telecommunications industry. He talks to Markets Germany about the opportunities and challenges presented by 5G.

June 2020

Jochen Homann, president of the Bundesnetzagentur © Matthias Jung/laif

Which sectors in Germany are going to see better competitiveness thanks to 5G?

Jochen Homann: I’m confident that 5G will enhance Germany’s global competitiveness. The process of digital transformation and 5G will open up new and innovative opportunities. Smart developments, such as automated driving, Industry 4.0 and Smart Cities, will revolutionize the telecommunications market. Even today, forms of artificial intelligence are coming into use almost unnoticed in numerous mobile applications. Digital technology is unstoppable, but it brings huge challenges for all concerned. One area where we’re really seeing this at the moment is mobile communications.

The 2 GHz and 3.6 GHz spectrum auctions last year led to unprecedented attention for 5G both nationally and internationally, reaching well beyond the telecommunications sector. The arrival of a fourth network operator, in particular, will sharpen competition on the German mobile market, which is a good thing for consumers.

There is still a need for ambitious goals – which we have – and determination on the part of all players from the spheres of politics, administration and business. I think we’re heading in the right direction. If everyone does their bit, Germany will be able to take a leading position in the global race for broadband coverage.

What are the greatest challenges in the rollout of the 5G network?

Homann: Companies are facing major planning and technical challenges as the next-generation high-speed broadband networks have to be 5G-ready.

The new mobile generation will bring with it a technological shift. Previous generations of mobile technology connected people, with 2G enabling phone calls and text messages, while 3G and 4G brought mobile broadband. With 5G, processes are linked in a way that allows them to communicate independently with each other, leading to completely new applications such as connected production lines, e-agriculture, smart healthcare, etc. These new applications place very high demands on the networks. For example, far higher data rates are planned, which will enable transmission speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second.

»If everyone does their bit, Germany will take a leading position.«

Jochen Homann

president of the Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA)

What sort of timeframe are we looking at for the expansion of 5G? What are the top priorities?

Homann: The spectrum auctioned last year requires companies to meet far-reaching coverage obligations. By the end of 2022, the established mobile network operators must each provide coverage of at least 100 Mbit/s for 98 percent of households in each federal state and for all highways as well as the most important state roads and rail routes. All other federal roads must have coverage of at least 100 Mbit/s by the end of 2024, while state roads, seaports and major waterways, and all other railway lines are to have coverage of at least 50 Mbit/s.

What are the key demands from companies with regard to the 5G network?

Homann: As in all other areas of the economy, businesses primarily want planning and investment certainty as well as regulatory predictability. The Bundesnetzagentur takes this demand very seriously, which is why it consults closely with all stakeholders in order to make balanced regulatory decisions based on open, transparent and non-discriminatory procedures.

Companies are also calling for simple, quick approval procedures. The improvements in this area are already becoming clear as some border regions that did not previously have mobile broadband have now received coverage.

The Agency for Rail, Utilities and 5G

Jochen Homann is the president of the Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA), Germany’s national network agency. Responsible for regulating Germany’s electricity, gas, telecommunications, post and railway markets, the BNetzA coordinated the auction of frequencies for Germany’s much-anticipated 5G rollout. As well as expanding faster much-needed Internet connectivity in rural areas, the development promises a major boost to several industrial sectors, particularly by allowing much faster networking of mobile devices, which will make Internet of Things networks vastly more efficient. 5G will also let companies introduce better internal online networks, enhancing the efficacy of automated vehicles and factory robots. The auction was not without controversy, though. The inclusion of Chinese firm Huawei led some critics to raise security concerns

Cable broadband Internet is being expanded as well. What kind of shortcomings are there at the moment and what effect will the expansion have?

Homann: The various expansion activities of companies, partly initiated by the implementation of the federal government’s broadband strategy, have ensured that more and more households have received high-speed broadband connections in recent years, but, despite this progress, rural areas are still lagging behind in terms of coverage. The principal reason for this is the variation in rollout costs in areas with different population densities. Expanding in the countryside is a particular financial challenge for companies because of the considerably higher costs for each connection. So in areas that cannot achieve coverage with private-sector funding alone, the government’s state aid programs are supporting market-driven expansion.

Some companies have security concerns because the Chinese firm Huawei might be involved in the 5G network. How can you allay these fears?

Homann: It is extremely important for Germany, politically and economically, that we roll out the 5G network as fast as possible, but industrial and security-related issues are equally important. With a view to security and the latest technology for telecommunications networks and services, the Bundesnetz­agentur revised its catalogue of security requirements in cooperation with the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) and the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (BfDI) and published it in 2019. Tighter requirements, particularly with regard to 5G, were announced in February 2019 in agreement with all authorities concerned.

The idea is that the security measures will form the basis of a high level of security coordinated with the BSI and BfDI. The advantage of this approach is that the measures will be expanded to cover all products and networks, so both existing and future technology beyond 5G will be protected even better than before.

Although it is never possible to completely eliminate risk, the additional security requirements will increase confidence in the reliability of the networks as well as that of manufacturers and system suppliers.

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