Draft of basic framework for 5G applications presented

After a group of companies filed a lawsuit against award conditions by the German Federal Network Agency (FNA) to auction off national 5G frequencies – the next generation in mobile networks – the Administrative Court Cologne issued a decision on March 15, rejecting these preliminary legal protection proceedings and ruling that the auction will start on 19 March 2019.

Greatly anticipated, 5G – the 5th generation of mobile networks that is 200 times faster than the 4G networks currently available and will reach download speeds of up to 20 Gbit/s possible – is widely based on Long Term Evolution (LTE or LTE Advanced) standards, and is expected to dramatically change the communications market.

Much is at stake that these networks get it right. Predestined for industry 4.0 applications and autonomous mobility systems, delays will be particularly significant for mobility. In 5G networks, applications and systems will be controlled in the span of one millisecond or less instead of the current LTE rate of 10 to 100 milliseconds. Moreover, free spectrum bands are needed to operate a 5G network.

Hence, frequency ranges of 2 GHz and 3.4 GHz to 3.7 GHz have been designated for Germany.

Auction procedure for nationwide 5G use in Germany

On 14 May 2018, the FNA decided to auction the nationwide frequency usage rights, later publishing draft award rules and draft auction rules which were open for responses until 18 October 2018. The final draft of the decision on the award and auction rules for the 5G spectrum auction was published in November of that year, and shortly after submitted to the FNA's Advisory Council for consultation.

The application procedure for local, regional and temporary 5G use

In addition to nationwide spectrum usage rights, the FNA will make further spectrums available upon request in the 3,700 to 3,800 MHz bands for local, regional and temporary 5G use. On 15 August 2018, the FNA published in its Official Journal a draft application procedure for the allocation of frequencies in the 3700 to 3800 MHz range for local, regional and temporary 5G use. These procedures were submitted for consultation.

Basic framework conditions

Contrary to what was planned at the end of 2018, there is no longer a distinction between local and regional 5G radio applications. The differentiation between indoor and outdoor use and the band division between regional and local 5G applications from 80 MHz to 20 MHz will also be eliminated. Instead, the FNA now wants to proceed in the following way:

Step 1: Local 5G Applications

Only applications for local 5G frequency usage can be submitted. With this, the FNA wants to make 5G applications possible (e.g. for industry 4.0), assuming that this is primarily an internal application, and that no telecommunications services are offered to the public.

Applications for local 5G frequency usage should be property-related. However, the FNA defines the concept of property differently than in land law. Instead, a plot of land or several plots form a unit (see Official Journal FNA 3/2019, p. 282), which means that industrial parks, exhibition grounds and agricultural areas of several plots are also covered. Therefore, several property owners should also be able to submit a joint application for frequency allocation.

The FNA does not wish to set a regional upper limit for the application of allocation areas for local 5G networks.

Step 2: 5G applications for larger applications

Before allowing applications for frequencies for larger areas, the FNA would like to evaluate the application procedure for local 5G usage. The FNA plans to develop separate framework conditions for allocations of larger areas and to make them available for consultation.

Operator agreements

The FNA recommends operator agreements between frequency owners, which cover the synchronisation of networks and efficient coordination of frequency usage regarding antenna alignment or overlapping allocation areas. If operator agreements are not possible, frequency usage conditions set down in the respective frequency allocations should apply.

Frequency usage conditions

Frequency usage conditions for the 3,400 MHz to 3,800 MHz frequency band were harmonised in a 2008 Decision of the European Commission, and amended by the European Commission's Implementing Decision (EU) 2019/235 and the October 2018 ECC-Decision (11)06.

National frequency usage regulations will be based on the following conditions:

  • Frequencies will be allocated in 10 MHz integers.
  • Protective bands are not provided. Each allocation holder must, however, maintain a possible protective distance from adjacent nationwide use to avoid interference. This means that the necessary protective bands are at the expense of the operators of neighboring local networks.
  • Only Time Division Duplex (TDD) uses are permitted. Furthermore, the frequency holder must not interfere with certain radio applications (e.g. reception radio equipment for fixed radio via satellite in the frequency range 3,700 MHz to 3,800 MHz).

Finally, frequencies in German border regions are only available to a limited extent due to the necessity of frequency coordination with neighboring countries, which would entail contracts and agreements.

Application procedure schedule

The FNA has announced that it will publish the final general framework shortly before the frequency auction begins. The procedure for the allocation of the local 5G frequencies will then be initiated after the conclusion of the auction for the nationwide 5G frequencies.