Spectrum licensing: local and private networks in Germany06.10.2020
Licensing for local and private networks
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Different from previous mobile technology generations, the fifth generation (5G) presents opportunities often discussed in terms of the new use cases and applications they enable. This is especially true for 5G usage scenarios for industrial applications, which require high bandwidth and low latency over a small coverage area. These types of applications have caused some regulators to consider offering spectrum to non-traditional players for private networks to support localized 5G applications. Proponents of this approach cite many benefits in terms of network management and customization. However, traditional telecommunications operators have pointed out some of the risks to this licensing approach (GSMA 2020).
After weighing the arguments in favour and against it, many regulators have deemed the potential benefits to be relevant to provide spectrum licences for local private networks. This approach seeks to encourage the deployment of industrial 5G use cases while national 5G networks are being deployed at a more measured pace. Many regulators are issuing these licences on a first-come, first-served basis where possible, which is aligned with policy goals to promote access to spectrum for quick deployment and adoption of new 5G applications. For example, Germany has been a proponent of local licensing and provides some information on how licences have been assigned for local private networks to support 5G applications.
5G local licensing in Germany
Source: BNetzA 2019a; Image by redaksiyon licensed under CC BY-NC.
Germany is one of the frontrunners in 5G local network licensing, which plays a key role in the country’s larger 5G strategy for industrial applications. The government has several initiatives to support the development of Industry 4.0, which aims to develop innovative uses of digital technologies in industry. In particular, the PAiCE technology programme funds industrial pilots using innovative digital technologies and the 5G Campus network guidelines for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) provides guidance for SMEs on how to construct and operate 5G local campus networks. These aim to help develop industrial 5G capacity and prepare for local private 5G networks. Integral to the successful development of Industry 4.0 is the Bundesnetzagentur’s (BNetzA) actions to release spectrum for local licensing in the 3.7-3.8 GHz band and its similar plans for the 26 GHz band.
The use of the 3.7-3.8 GHz band for industrial applications
Source: BNetzA 2020.
In November 2019, Germany opened 100 MHz in the 3.7-3.8 GHz band for 5G local spectrum licences. Interested applicants could apply for up to 100 MHz of spectrum, in 10 MHz blocks, using time division duplex (TDD) for use in a defined coverage area. Applications had to include plans that demonstrate that the spectrum requested would be used efficiently to ensure effective use. Licences could be granted for up to 10 years, with the possibility of renewal until December 2040 at the latest. Users must ensure interference-free use, including by coordinating with other geographically near local users and protecting existing users in the band (e.g. FSS earth stations). The spectrum must be used within one year of assignment and any transfers must be approved by BNetzA (BNetzA 2019b).
BNetzA has endeavoured to make the local licences available to a wide audience and has set broad eligibility requirements and annual fees tied to criteria of use. Annual fees for the use of the spectrum apply and are calculated according to the amount of bandwidth, the size and location of the coverage area requested, and the duration of the spectrum licence (BNetzA 2020; BNetzA 2019b).
Applications can be submitted at any time and are being processed on a rolling basis, according to existing usage and availability of spectrum requested. Under BNetzA’s rules, information on local spectrum licences will be made available to parties with a legitimate need to access licence details, such as for coordination purposes (BNetzA 2019b). Several industrial players have already applied for local licences, including Bosch, Siemens, BMW, Volkswagen, BASE SE, and Deutsche Lufthansa.
Plans for using the 26 GHz band
BNetzA is also considering allowing the use of the 26 GHz band for local private networks, having issued a preliminary consultation in 2018 and a subsequent consultation, ending in February 2020 (BNetzA 2020). The most recent consultation presents BNetzA’s proposed draft framework for the 26 GHz band, in which various 5G applications could be supported (BNetzA 2019c). After considering the existing users in the band, BNetzA proposes that the intended applications be split into two sub-bands:
The proposed additional local users must operate on a non-interference basis and protect existing services in the 26 GHz band. BNetZA will consider the added complexity of coexistence with existing services during the assignment process, noting that indoor-only local assignments will have a lower risk of interference with existing services. A licence will only be assigned if use would not cause harmful interference, and licence terms may stipulate conditions to protect existing users. The framework proposes to assign spectrum in blocks of 200 MHz, although smaller blocks in multiples of 50 MHz can also be requested. Applicants should state the start and end date of use and licences may be issued for up to 10 years, with the possibility of renewal (BNetzA 2019c).
This case study brings an effective example of local licensing for private networks. Noting that this is an ongoing process, BNetzA is reviewing the consultation responses and may make amendments before opening up the band to local licensing.
Bosch. 2019. “Bosch Applies for Local 5G Licenses.” Press release, November 21, 2018. https://www.bosch-presse.de/pressportal/de/en/bosch-applies-for-local-5g-licenses-203328.html.
BNetzA (Bundesnetzagentur). 2019a. “Application Process for Local 5G Campus Networks Started.” Press release, November 21, 2019. https://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/DE/Sachgebiete/Telekommunikation/Unternehmen_Institutionen/Breitband/MobilesBreitband/Frequenzauktion/2019/Auktion2019.html?nn=268128.
BNetzA (Bundesnetzagentur). 2019b. Administrative Regulation for Frequency Assignments for Local Frequency Use in the Frequency Range 3700-3800 MHz. https://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/Sachgebiete/Telekommunikation/Unternehmen_Institutionen/Frequenzen/OffentlicheNetze/LokaleNetze/20191119_Verwaltungsvorschrift3.7-3.8GHz_pdf.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=2.
BNetzA (Bundesnetzagentur). 2019c. Drafting the Basic Framework for 5G Applications in the 26 GHz Range (24.25-27.5 GHz). https://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/Sachgebiete/Telekommunikation/Unternehmen_Institutionen/Frequenzen/OffentlicheNetze/LokaleNetze/20191220_EntwurfGrundlegendeRahmenbedingen26GHz.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=3.
BNetzA (Bundesnetzagentur). 2020. “Regional and Local Networks”. https://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/DE/Sachgebiete/Telekommunikation/Unternehmen_Institutionen/Frequenzen/OeffentlicheNetze/LokaleNetze/lokalenetze-node.html.
GSMA. 2020. Mobile Networks for Industry Verticals: Spectrum Best Practice. https://www.gsma.com/spectrum/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Mobile-Networks-for-Industry-Verticals.pdf.
Siemens. 2019. “Siemens and Qualcomm Technologies Set Up the First Private Standalone 5G Network in an Industrial Environment.” Press release, November 26, 2019. https://press.siemens.com/global/en/pressrelease/siemens-and-qualcomm-set-first-private-standalone-5g-network-industrial-environment.
Stupp, C. 2020. “German Industrial Firms Plan to Build Private 5G Networks.” Wall Street Journal. April 6, 2020. https://www.wsj.com/articles/german-industrial-firms-plan-to-build-private-5g-networks-11586191739.