5G is a hot topic at the moment. Some people are pleased because it allows promising new applications in the mobile Internet – from video streaming to the “Internet of Things”. Others fear that new transmitter masts could cause dangerous levels of radiation in the human body – even if there is no conclusive evidence or study to support this view. In recent weeks, both the German network operators and the German government have announced plans to expand the network. We have summarised the most important information here.
What’s 5G anyway?
5G is short for Fifth Generation. The name says it all: it is the fifth generation of a series of standards for mobile Internet and mobile telephony. Simply put, it is the evolution of LTE (4G). Users and operators expect 5G to deliver high data transfer rates and low latency. While 5G networks are already available in the US, Korea and some other countries, deployment in Europe has been slow for a number of reasons. These reasons include, in addition to costly and lengthy approval procedures, resistance from the population or a lack of capacity on the part of construction companies. In Germany, 5G is only available in a few major cities so far.
4G and 5G in comparison
Technical questions that make the subject more difficult
For an effective 5G network, a compromise must be found between range and transmission rate. The “fastest” frequencies only have a range of a few hundred meters. This is unproblematic in cities, but unreasonable in rural areas. For the lower frequency range, which would allow a larger coverage in the area, there are hardly any frequencies available. At the end of 2020, 3G could be discontinued in Germany. This way the frequencies previously used for it would become available. In other countries, such as Switzerland, 2G (EDGE) will also be discontinued. In Germany, 2G will continue to be used – for example for sending SMS messages and as a fallback option where neither LTE nor 5G are available. Of course, discontinuing outdated mobile standards poses problems for users who still work with older devices. Switching mobile networks completely to 4G and 5G only makes sense if all users can use it to make calls and SMS messages. Technically, it is possible to send SMS via LTE (SMS over IP). However, this has so far only been used to a limited extent. Switching completely to LTE only makes sense if all users can receive 4G. This requires network operators to improve network coverage. 5G is not a completely new invention, but a development of the 4G standard. Hence, SMS over IP should also work in the 5G network, providing even faster transmission.
Why is 5G even necessary?
There are two trends that have dramatically increased the traffic on the mobile Internet in recent years. One is video streaming services, from Twitch and Youtube to Netflix and Amazon Prime. These are becoming more and more popular. With the emergence of ever new services such as Disney+, this trend will not soon be over. On the other hand, there are more and more smart devices such as refrigerators, toasters, and more. These are summarized under the term Internet of Things, or IoT for short. And these devices also exchange information via mobile data. According to Telekom Deutschland, experts expect up to 100 billion networked devices worldwide by the end of 2020.
But 5G is also an important basis for other applications, such as the expected increase in data traffic due to the widespread use of RCS or autonomous vehicles.
Plan of the German network operators
One of the stipulations for the auction of the 5G frequencies at the beginning of 2019 was to close the gaps in the 4G coverage. These are still a major problem, especially in rural areas and along major traffic corridors. Although LTE should be generally available, there are still areas where not even 3G is received. The three major network operators – Telekom, Vodafone and Telefónica – intend to build and share up to 6000 radio masts in the next few years. The new provider, 1&1/Drillisch, will also be involved in the project, provided it makes an appropriate contribution to the costs.
…and the German government
There are some areas that would not be attractive or economically viable for network operators due to thin settlement. Thus, the Federal Government is approving 5000 sites in its possession for radio masts. Accelerated approval procedures are to apply to these sites. That way, these locations are to be covered as soon as possible with fast mobile Internet. Furthermore, the federal government intends to increase education and information so that fewer civic initiatives slow down the expansion of the network.
For the digital world of tomorrow, 5G is an important basis. However, due to various factors, so far the expansion in Germany has progressed rather slowly. Germany is still a long way from playing a pioneering role. At the same time, the requirements associated with the auctioning of the first 5G frequencies ensure that the gaps in 4G coverage are finally closed. This, in turn, is good news for both private and commercial users. Until the end of 2020 however, the use of 5G will probably only be possible in larger cities.
As is so often the case when new technologies see the light of day, it remains to be seen whether the hopes and dreams associated with it are fulfilled. The example of RCS shows quite clearly how far reality and desire can diverge. In the case of 5G, we will have to see whether the technology delivers what it promises. On the other hand, both the federal government and especially the network operators will have to implement their lofty goals with regard to 4G. So while developments are heading in the right direction, the current information should be treated with a certain degree of caution.