Portrait of Timotheus Höttges, Konzern-CEO at T-Systems; black-and-white-gradient

A question of will

Deutsche Telekom CEO Timotheus Höttges on Deutsche Telekom’s initiative to bring mobile telephony to the new real time communications standard: 5G.

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You could get the impression these days that the answer to everything involving digitization is 5G: coverage, dead zones, innovations, self­ driving cars... simply everything. For a company like Deutsche Telekom, that’s mostly a very good thing, because we are building 5G as the “network of networks.” By 2025, we plan not only to provide 5G service to 99 percent of the population, but to cover 90 percent of the country using various frequencies that are hopefully available to us. Where needed, we will offer speeds up to one gigabit per second. We will provide blanket coverage on the autobahn, federal highways, and railways. What is important is that the regulatory framework allows this and supports our investment. At the same time, LTE is a critical part of our strategy as it contributes to coverage and covers many applications. 

Deutsche Telekom’s networks are already set for 5G: At 311,000 miles in total length, we have the largest fiber­optic network in Germany – no fiber­optics means no 5G and no digitization. We expand the network year after year. We are THE fiber­optic company. More than 80 percent of our cell sites have already been connected to fiber­optic. And, by 2021, another 9,000 sites will be added to the 29,000 already in place around the country. Many of these will take care of what are known as white spots: dead zones that annoy practically everyone, including the 100,000 employees we have in Germany alone. That is about to change.

By combining fiber­optic coverage with cell site upgrades, we are ideally equipped for 5G and, in many locations, we are already 5G­ready. What that looks like and who can use it to what effect are things we are already seeing today in Berlin. A 5G test “cluster“ we built there is already achiev ing transfer rates of two gigabits per second and a latency of three milliseconds in the boroughs of Schöneberg and Mitte.

Why are we doing this?

Picture shows a field on which the glass fibre is to be laid, some points get a white screen

Deutsche Telekom is expanding its fiber optic network every year, not least to close the so­called “white spots” in rural areas.

Because we want Germany to have the most powerful digital infrastructure. We want to accomplish this goal together with the government and other companies willing to invest! We want to move digitization in Germany forward: together with the government by digitizing administration; together with industry by making Germany a viable location for the future. We want to make it possible for people to take part in digitization, both in the city and in the country. Broadband for millions instead of a digital divide. In short: 5G is a question of will. But it is a question posed not only to one (and by the way, almost always the same) network provider, but to many, many stakeholders beyond the industry.  

This is also why we want to use the infrastructure necessary for 5G together with other providers where sensible – especially in the countryside. For this reason, we are opening our fiber­optic network to other providers, just as we have recently done with Telefónica/O2. We are offering all of our rural cell towers and towers along traffic routes to our competitors for mutual use. Voluntarily. Because this is where the expansion benefits from both: competition between providers as well as cooperation where there is a win­win situation – for our partners and, above all, for the customers.

But 5G is not simply another network, it is a fundamental part of how our customers’ products create value. We need 5G for the Internet of Things, for controlling machinery or smart cities. These are all major challenges. I would even go as far as to say the prosperity of Europe depends on achieving what is called Industry 4.0. This is why we are offering industry the chance to take part in the construction of a standardized European platform – with know­ how and equity. For this reason, we are inviting German industry to a “5G user conference” to determine the quality requirements they have on our network regarding coverage, latency, and bandwidth. Projects critical to the success of industry will be given priority. 

To me, digitization is the greatest gift to today’s generation. It helps solve the underlying challenges our time: from mobility to climate protection, to health and education. We will soon be able to live together better in smart cities. Thanks to intelligent traffic systems, economical lighting and power, smarter waste disposal, fewer traffic jams, and better air and digital citizen services. With telemedicine, we soon will be able to reach everyone without a doctor nearby – whether in the German countryside or in medically underserved and hard­to­reach areas around the world. A digitally supported education system makes it easier to access information regardless of the country of origin, age, or place of residence. Machines communicating seamlessly with one another will take a lot of mindless and physically burdensome work off the shoulders of us humans.

Picture shows a mobile radio station in the middle of a green meadow on a mountain, in the background more mountains

Over the next two years, Deutsche Telekom will expand the network of its current 27,000 mobile communications stations by a further 9,000 locations.

Yet the availability of broadband services is not just a competitive and location factor for commerce and industry throughout Europe, but also for government services. This is why, together with the Fraunhofer Institute, the acatech Academy of Science and Engineering and the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, we are working on proposals for the consistent and rapid digitization of government agencies and administration, and developing ways to implement them in a collaborative manner.

We are doing this for many reasons, including the fact that 5G is not an end in itself. In recent years, we have continuously increased our investments in Germany up to a current 5.5 billion euros per year. I would like to maintain this pace. This is because I know that Deutsche Telekom has a tremendous responsibility in laying the ground work today that allows us to seize the opportunities of digitization tomorrow. And all customers should be able to get what they need, wherever they are. However, the world is not always that simple. Complex questions do not have simple and helpful answers. A second look is almost always worthwhile. 

One example of this is the comparison of countries the media very much enjoy making. According to this comparison, other countries are well ahead of Germany when it comes to mobile telephony. I would smirk at this were it not so aggravating. There is no such thing as the German network, rather, there are multiple networks of different quality. For mobile telephony in Germany, for example, there are three. Unfortunately, a large portion of course uses the weakest of these three networks. On average, then, of course Germany is behind. But this does not necessarily mean an individual customer is.

Another example is our society. A very complex entity, just like our markets. If I want to build a cell tower in Germany, first comes the citizens’ initiative, then monument and landscape preservation, followed by the Federal Network Agency, which surveys each tower individually. That all takes time. In China, there are fewer public protests against cell sites than here. They are simply built. No discussion. Do we want that? I believe it is right that we in Germany face the social debate and communally weigh what is good for the people. If you want to celebrate China’s infrastructural achievements, you need to put them in this context. But that is something often overlooked. 

We cannot discuss important issues while ignoring their context. There is a discussion of results, but less discussion about what led to those results. And, in the end, solutions are presented that may in themselves be compelling but can be utterly dysfunctional in the context for which they are ultimately conceived. Take the concept of national roaming in mobile telephony. What does it mean? It means that someone, in doubt, builds a tower and can then access all the towers of the other providers. This someone then has the best network in Germany. The problem is that, if national roaming were to work like that, providers would no longer have any incentive to build any more towers because then every competitor would come and access it. Everyone would be waiting on everyone else. This turns expansion into a game of pick­up sticks: The first to twitch loses.

Another example is the regional frequencies. The current spectrum auction for 5G is focusing primarily on a block in the high­frequency range. Short waves, high capacity, low latency, poor propagation. Sort of like VHF. A block of 300 Megahertz is to be auctioned off. Additionally, 100 Megahertz, or a quarter, is reserved for local and regional applications. This means the spectrum is being artificially shortened. I understand that businesses want to set up their own networks at their production facilities to link their machines together, but how much coverage do these facilities take up? One percent? Two? Even five? Would a quarter of the entire spectrum then not be available to 95 percent of the coverage area – and also not be available for rollout in rural areas? I say every production facility should be able to network its production. That is good for the economy. And we are happy to help these companies with our expertise. But we also need a solution that provides frequencies to the general public wherever they are not being used. 

Some would now say Deutsche Telekom’s view is selfish and purely financial. No, it is not. With us, there is always a tangible feedback loop between the company and what happens in society. Our actions are always borne out of our responsibility to society. Our incentive is to make it so people and businesses can be involved. Our customers have a right to be present for digitization. Whether professionally or privately. This is why we continue to expand.

Contact: bestpractice@t-systems.com

More Information: www.telekom.com/5G

Author: Timotheus Höttges
Photos: Deutsche Telekom

5G: Questions and answers around the model region Berlin

In Berlin it is already transmitting today, the communication standard of the future. The 5G test field in the capital extends from Neukölln to the Reichstag, for example. We accompany the Deutsche Telekom press spokesmen on a tour of the 5G area. They reveal a lot about the new technology, its advantages and the plan for its future.

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