Private network spectrum strategy, Part 3: Germany’s BNetzA

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Around the world, regulators are exploring various strategies to spectrum management that makes room for private network allocations. At the recent Private Networks European Forum event, representatives from regulatory agencies in the U.K. (Ofcom), Sweden (PTS) and Germany (Federal Network Agency, or BNetzA) discussed their respective approaches to spectrum allocation for private networks, both as individual countries and in a pan-European context.

In this three-part series, each country’s private network spectrum strategy. See Part 1, which details the strategy of Ofcom in the U.K., here; and Part 2 on Sweden’s approach, here. This third story in the series focuses on private network spectrum strategy in Germany.

Germany has more than 215 private networks

Alexander Kühn, is BNetzA’s head of section on international and national spectrum management, and also vice-chairman of its International Telecommunication Union conference preparatory meeting (CPM) to WRC-23.

Germany has been one of the global leaders in allocating private network spectrum, with a 100-megahertz swath of midband spectrum at 3.7 GHz set aside for industrial, agricultural or similar private network use.

“In the history of private networks, we have already made available spectrum on general authorizations,” he noted—many companies have used Wi-Fi in production lines, for example, or proprietary equipment operating at specific frequencies. But enterprises, he said, “were searching for something else which is a little bit more secure and … maybe greater power, maybe a different technology; also, in different spectrum bands. … So we were … happy that there was already an interest in the market to look for the next step.”

In its spectrum planning consultations, Kühn said that BNetzA saw high levels of interest in private network spectrum from Germany’s manufacturing sector and other trades, from academia and universities which wanted to rapidly deploy 5G campus networks, and so on—with the frequent accompanying complaint that they couldn’t get such services from the local mobile network operators. As a result, Kühn said, German regulators opted to specifically strategize to enable highly localized private networks. It set aside 100 megahertz of prized midband spectrum “under the clear assumption that this is for local usage,” Kühn said, with rules in place that in fact prevent the spectrum from being sectioned off for both private and public telecom network use. “You are not allowed to provide any public telecommunication service … it should be private,” he added. Germany also took a “use or a lose it” approach, in that the spectrum has to be activated within the first year of the license, he said, and possession of the license can be re-assessed if the spectrum is not being used.

Kühn says that Germany sees local licenses as “property-based.”

“Everybody has the control in there and they have to take the control in the electromagnetic exterior as well,” he said. Kühn added that that local control includes coordination with neighboring networks to ensure co-existence—and that while BNetzA has a “strict rule” governing this, it is seen as a fallback, with coordination between companies preferable. He said that there haven’t been any issues so far, “so obviously, everybody is [technically] experienced enough to ensure that the networks are operated properly.”

Kühn said that every company that has applied for a license has been granted one, and that Germany now has more than 215 private networks, many of which are supporting manufacturing. “For us, it’s quite a good success and it pushed forward [innovation],” he added. “We have now seen also some further development in innovative solutions for particular private needs.” Three years ago, private networks were a topic of discussion but not a reality. Now that they can exist, he sees there is a shift in demand, as well as hotter technological competition between 5G and Wi-Fi.

Germany is also allowing private networks to operate in millimeter-wave spectrum at 26 GHz, where Kühn said that there is “enough capacity for everybody” and did not have to be specifically allocated. That hasn’t proven to be quite as popular as the midband airwaves. “Due to, from our understanding … the technological development, 26 [GHz] has not been grabbed by the market so far. But we are expecting that this will come up shortly, in order to … meet the demand of really high capacity networks on very localized usage.” He expressed confidence that this shift will eventually happen, and said that BNetzA is in the meantime focused on improving online applications for spectrum. He said that Germany would also be interested in a conversation around the potential harmonization of use of 3.8-4.2 GHz or other bands in Europe for private networks, because being able to use the same spectrum for private networks in multiple European countries “could provide a good stimulation to the market.”

For more insights on private networks or to view the entire European Spectrum Briefing session, check out the Private Networks European Forum.

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