DT writes €20bn cheque to target 99% 5G coverage by 2021

Deutsche Telekom has unveiled a ‘plan’ to make 5G a reality, including a commitment to spend €20 billion by the end of 2021 to roll it out.

Should the plan prove to be a success, DT plans to have 5G to 99% of the population by 2025, while geographical coverage would be 90%. The team believe these coverage ambitions are achievable for 4G by 2021.

“The digitalization of Germany is a challenge for our society as a whole,” said CEO Tim Höttges. “Our part is the networks. We take this responsibility seriously, which is why we are focusing on investment, innovation, and partnerships.”

To fuel the 5G ambition, DT has connected 22,000 of the 27,000 mobile base stations with fiber, and will be adding at least 2,000 each year through to 2021 to take the total up to 36,000. Not all of these stations will be equipped with 5G equipment to start with, though this is a part of the plan which is murkier. The less details available, the less accountable DT becomes we suppose.

5G is only part of the connectivity plan, with the fixed network getting its own upgrades. One of the first aspects of the plan is to initially install fiber to the curb, before extending the fiber to the home at a later date. This approach has been criticised, though DT has pointed out it is a fairer means to improve connectivity for a greater number of residents across the country.

“Of course we could have installed fiber to the home directly, but due to the shortage of underground construction capacity and the high investments needed, we’d only be serving 20% of households at most, instead of the 80% we do now,” said Walter Goldenits, CTO at Telekom Deutschland.

Progress is being made in Germany, the team have laid the 500,000th kilometre of fiber across the country this week, though it does still lag behind leaders in the European market. DT claims 250 Mbps are already available to around ten million households, while the ambition is to expand this footprint to 28 million by the end of 2019.

DT searches for fibre efficiency with Fraunhofer AI

Sometimes there are stories which come along and prove stereotypes can be true. In the search for efficiency, Deutsche Telekom is turning to artificial intelligence to help with its fibre rollout plans.

Partnering Fraunhofer IPM, DT has unveiled a pilot project where artificial intelligence will look at images and information gathered by a measurement vehicle, before deciding what the best way to dig trenches and lay fibre will be. The pilot will take place in Bornheim, near Bonn.

“The shortest route to the customer is not always the most economical,” said Walter Goldenits, Head of Technology at Telekom Deutschland. “By using artificial intelligence in the planning phase we can speed up our fiber-optic roll-out. This enables us to offer our customers broadband lines faster and, above all, more efficiently.”

The measurement vehicle is equipped with 360° cameras and laser scanners, and will collect roughly 5 GB of surface data per kilometre. Depending on the terrain, the vehicle can cover 50-80 kilometres per day, collecting information such as the location of trees, the type of ground which will need to be dug up and if there is street furniture which needs to be accounted for. When deploying new infrastructure, engineers have to ensure the environment is returned to the same condition as before; various scenarios can have different impacts. Sometimes it could be more time and cost efficient to go the long way around.

“Such huge amounts of data are both a blessing and a curse,” said Dr. Alexander Reiterer, project lead at the Fraunhofer IPM. “We need as many details as possible. At the same time, the whole endeavour is only efficient if you can avoid laboriously combing through the data to find the information you need. For the planning process to be efficient the evaluation of these enormous amounts of data must be automated.”

The neural network used for this recognizes a total of approximately 30 different categories through deep learning algorithms, including trees, street lights, asphalt and cobblestones. The applications can even identify whether the pavements feature large pavement slabs or small cobblestones, if the trees deciduous or coniferous, or whether the trees roots will impede the engineers during the project. Once all these factors have been taken into account, the existing infrastructure is assessing before decisions are made and an optimal route planned for the new fibre.

Such a project will capture the attention of many around the world. The rollout of fibre has been staggered and slow to date partly due to the expense. Of course, the raw materials are expensive, though digging trenches and laying the cable is an laborious, costly and slow process. Telcos will of course be looking for new ideas to keep the cost down, though governments will also be peering across as they increasingly demand faster deployments.

Back in April, the FTTH Council Europe unveiled research which demonstrated quickly some countries were progressing with fibre rollout, though it also shed light on how woefully terrible others are doing. Latvia led the way with 50.6% household penetration, though Ireland’s was down at 1.7%. The research did not include the UK, though Ofcom’s estimates put FTTH penetration down at 3%; definitely in the woefully poor category.

German 5G auction set for early 2019, with some strings attached

2 GHz and 3.6 GHz frequency bands are to be auctioned out in the first quarter of 2019 to build 5G networks in Germany, there is no universal coverage requirement but something close.

In May the German telecom regulator BNetzA (Bundesnetzagentur, or Federal Network Agency) announced that a 5G spectrum auction will be held in early 2019. The delay from the original plan of this year was down to the disagreement between politicians who required future successful bidders should provide universal coverage, and the more pragmatic stance of BNetzA.

On Monday 17 September, BNetzA published the consulting paper for the auction. It does not require successful bidders to provide nationwide 5G coverage, but does ask for coverage of 98% of the households as well as sufficiently good coverage along the federal and state motorways.

“We need to be ambitious but also realistic,” said Jochen Homann, President of BNetzA, in the press release. “We are already setting demanding conditions to improve mobile networks. For example, we demand data transfer speed be doubled (in 3 years).” The guideline requires successful bidders to provide coverage to 98% of household with 100Mbits/s speed by the end of 2022 and 300Mbits/s by the end of 2025. “National coverage of 5G will be excessively expensive,” added Homann.

German 5G data rate requirement (002)

Source: BNetzA consulting paper, p.112. 17 September 2018

Apparently, this does not look to have gone far enough for the politicians. In addition to the requirements for universal coverage, the politicians also demand the national operators (Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, and Telefonica Deutschland) should provide access to competitors who do not have their own coverage. If this were to be implemented, it would open door to challenger MVNOs like United Internet (operated under the brand “1&1 Drillisch”) to 5G, offering a 4th operator legislators have long craved for.

“Attaching national roaming obligations to spectrum does help to support smaller operators and stimulate competition. So it would be an interesting addition to the license obligations to encourage a new entrant to participate in the auction,” Phil Kendall of research firm Strategy Analytics told Telecoms.com. “But politicians looking to plug a digital divide can’t just assume this is more about the stick than the carrot.”

The guidelines will go through BNetzA’s advisory board, which is composed of elected lawmakers, on 24 September, and final decisions will be made in November. The auction will take place in the first quarter of 2019, and lower band frequency more suitable for broader coverage will be auctioned in the next few years, according to the consulting paper.

 

DT moves to clarify T-Systems strategy

Following reports that Deutsche Telekom is cutting 10,000 jobs from its T-Systems division, the operator thought it was time to make an official statement.

Late last week the news leaked out that DT’s global services division was going to lose a quarter of its workforce. The division has apparently been struggling for a while and Adel Al-Saleh was brought in as CEO at the end of last year to sort things out. As is so often the case, it seems the first part of his strategy is to slim down his organisation and have a general reshuffle.

“Our strategy is in place: We are aligning ourselves to eleven portfolio units, we have initiated four change initiatives and are now implementing the plans,” said Al-Saleh. “This will turn T-Systems into a digital service provider for our customers. We will spend triple-digit millions per year on the growth areas, because the transformation of the company must not jeopardize our success where we are strong.”

The strategy has been somewhat paradoxically named ‘investing while saving’. This sounds a bit like what Ericsson has been saying for a year or two about returning to profitability while being careful to keep investing in R&D. This is a tricky but important balance as you can’t just cut your way to long-term growth; you need to sow the seeds for the future too.

Continuing the doublespeak theme the announcement confirmed that 10,000 jobs worldwide will be ‘affected’, with 4,000 ‘relocated’ and 6,000 ‘reduced’. The underlying narrative is all around efficiency, simplification and sorting the wheat from the chaff, including the elimination of no less than five management levels. The mere fact that T-Systems is able to do that speaks volumes about how badly-run it has been to date.

DT whacks up some 5G antennas in Berlin

German operator Deutsche Telekom has continued its crusade to claim 5G firsts by implanting some commercial 5G antennas in the middle of Berlin.

The six antennas – three in Leipziger Straße and three in Winterfeldtstraße and collectively referred to as a ‘cluster’ – are said to be compatible with 5G NR, and ready to rock once all the other 5G pieces fall into place. Nonetheless DT is already claiming this as a first European 5G data connection over a live network.

“We’re continuing on our strong preparation course for the rollout of 5G in 2020,” said Claudia Nemat, DT Board member for Technology and Innovation. “Today, right in the heart of Berlin, we’re taking the next decisive step – with the successful integration of commercial 5G technology into our network. We want to ensure that 5G is going to deliver on its promise of enhanced mobility, high speed and low latency.”

“5G New Radio in Berlin is another major step towards 5G for all”, said Walter Goldenits, CTO at Telekom Deutschland. “This 5G cluster in Berlin will serve as the basis for our future commercial 5G rollout in Germany. The antennas are providing important test results. At the same time, they are real elements of what will be our future 5G network. We are preparing the ground so that our network will be ready when the first 5G-capable smartphones appear on the market.”

The transmissions are using the 3.7 GHz band under a testing license. Huawei is the equipment partner and this seems to be a big deal for DT because they’ve done a video about it and everything. For a deeper dive into this check out Iain Morris’s take on it at Light Reading here.

 

DT continues to lie to itself with super vectoring

Deutsche Telekom has continued its rural broadband expansion with an additional 160,000 households, but is still claiming super vectoring is a suitable alternative to fibre investment.

The first 423 nearshore areas have gone live meaning 160,000 houses in the Brieskow-Finkenheerd, Dautphetal-Mornshausen, Waldfischbach-Burgalben, Schwabsoien and Wyk auf Föhr areas can now experience speeds up to 100 Mbps. This is the first phase of the broadband expansion project, focusing on the rural areas before moving onto the major cities. It’s an unusual approach tackling the farmers first, but we like the unusual every now and then.

“The nearshore roll-out program is a key part of our broadband strategy,” said Walter Goldenits, Chief Technology Officer at Telekom Deutschland. “That is why this successful start to the project is so important. As the single network operator, we are building super-fast Internet infrastructure for our customers right across Germany.”

The vectoring and super vectoring investments are nothing but a short-term fix for DT, which it seems very happy with. Once the upgrades are completed users will be able to experience speeds up to 250 Mbps, however that is no-where near the lightning fast promises of fibre. This might appease the German people for the moment, but short-term strategies like this are only going to cost the telco more when customers demand fibre speeds in a couple of years.

There are plans to lay 6,000 kilometres of optical fibre in approximately 7,200 nearshore areas, however this is not a number which should be deemed anywhere near high enough to satisfy the hungry digital appetites of the connected economy. DT can continue to lie to itself for the moment but it won’t be long before the strategy comes back to kick it. And hard.

DT boasts about vectoring upgrades but only fibre will do

Deutsche Telekom has been patting itself on the back again as it switches on vectoring upgrades for 309,000 households, but its fibre ambitions are still looking lowly in comparison to other telcos.

Following the upgrades, an additional 309,000 households can now experience up to 100 Mbps download and 40 Mbps upload speeds which has been put down to the work it has being doing in the vectoring space. While these numbers are encouraging, especially considering the countryside digital divide in Germany is quite notable, the speeds are not exactly glamourous when you compare to the potential fibre offers.

“Some of our upgrade projects serve tens of thousands of households, while others serve just a handful,” said Tim Höttges, CEO of Deutsche Telekom. “For us, every line counts. In Dießen, Haßloch, and Regenstauf, but also in Röhrmoos, Taucha and Willebadessen. No other company is investing as much in broadband expansion in rural areas as Deutsche Telekom.”

DT might be the most active at the moment, but don’t get too carried away; this is nothing more than a temporary measure to satisfy the masses right now. This should not be viewed as a long-term solution to develop infrastructure capable of supporting the sky-high ambitions of the digital economy; only fibre will do.

This is of course a moan Iain Morris from our sister site Light Reading has quite regularly. Germany is lagging behind quite a few other countries when it comes to fibre rollout. Of course, we can hardly criticise in the UK when you consider BT’s activities, but it is worth putting it into perspective when you consider the work Orange has been doing in France and Germany for instance.

Some might also point out that this is a sensible way of managing the expensive business of building a fibre network. Put the ground work in with fibre-to-the-cabinet work, offer a temporary solution such as vectoring to provisionally satisfy the bandwidth-hungry consumers, before moving onto the last-mile fibre projects in the future. It spreads the cost over several quarters while also meeting demand. This could be very German if you believe the efficiency stereotype.

The number of cities now receiving vectoring-based accesses is of course quite staggering. It does look very impressive but it should not serve as a distraction that this is not fibre and vectoring, even the super-vectoring which has been promised in 2018, will never match the performance of fibre.

Nokia’s German tour continues with DT Hamburg 5G project

Nokia, Deutsche Telekom and the Hamburg Port Authority are getting together to check out 5G in an industrial environment.

The project will grab a 8000 hectare piece of Hamburg dockland to take a closer look at some potential 5G use-cases in that sort of ‘real world’ environment. One of the things they’re going to try to get their head around is network slicing in an industrial setting, where IoT-ish applications and remote control may take precedence over awesome download speeds. Nokia has announced this only days after clustering with Telefónica Germany

The Port of Hamburg, we’re told, is both a logistics hub and a tourist attraction, hence the need for the kind of network flexibility only 5G can provide. People are, of course, entitled to spend their holidays how they want, but we suspect s significantly larger proportion of the port’s 5G network will be given over to industrial uses than facilitating social media uploads.

“This testbed in Hamburg is an important development step along the road to 5G,” said Claudia Nemat, Board Member for Technology and Innovation at Deutsche Telekom. “We need practical experience which we can get in the Port of Hamburg. Our goal is to understand how we can best adapt our network to customer requirements. The production industry and the logistics sector in particular are going to reap the benefits of 5G as a powerful lever for many applications.”

“The 5G field trial in the Port of Hamburg is thrusting open the door to a new world of business applications, with the potential to drive change in many areas,” said Peter Merz, Head of End-to-End Mobile Network Solutions from Nokia Bell Labs. “This is about making industrial processes much faster and more flexible. For the first time, all of this is going to be tested under live conditions in Hamburg – the importance of this project cannot be rated highly enough.”

“5G offers a level of security, reliability and speed never seen before in mobile networks,” said Jens Meier, CEO of the Hamburg Port Authority. “HPA is opening up completely new use cases. We can start gathering experience of this cutting-edge technology right now and shape the standard. This is going to benefit the whole City of Hamburg, not just the port.”

Another highlight of the two-year research project is the tortured acronym they felt the need to extract from it. ‘5G MoNArch’ stands for ‘5G Mobile Network Architecture for diverse services, use cases, and applications in 5G and beyond’ apparently, which is fair enough since 5G MNADSUCAB doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. There’s another of these in Turin, which seems to get more than its fair share of 5G action these days.

Telefónica Germany and Nokia form a 5G cluster

The stampede to acquire 5G allies continues with Telefónica Germany and Nokia agreeing to form nothing less than a 5G Innovation Cluster.

In this context a cluster seems to refer to a collection of labs that have agreed to play nice with each other. To make sure everyone knows where they stand the two companies have taken a leaf out of Huawei’s book and signed a memorandum of understanding, complete with compulsory photo of people in suits shaking hands.

“Our innovation collaboration in Germany follows a global agreement with Nokia to explore technologies on the path to 5G,” said Cayetano Carbajo, CTO of Telefónica Germany. “Having access to Nokia’s latest portfolio will enable pre-testing and understanding new technologies thus helping us to further enhance the user experience in our network.”

“This joint Innovation Cluster is a manifest of our long-standing excellent relationship,” said Marc Rouanne, President of Mobile Networks at Nokia. “We have a strong presence in Telefónica’s radio network in Germany and it is important that we work jointly to innovate on the path to 5G, preparing the network for future demand and business opportunities.”

Testing across Germany will focus on a lot of the RAN needs for 5G, including massive MIMO and that sort of thing. There were frequent references to 4.5G and 4.9G and, if for no other reason, 5G can’t come soon enough to put a stop all that talk. Various other boxes are expected to be ticked such as ultra-low latency and all that jazz.