Industry 4.0 can only succeed with industrial frequencies

CHRISTIAN JUNG

Everybody is talking about the new 5G mobile network. It is now commonly accepted that 5G needs to be implemented quickly. This would allow the much-vaunted “Internet of Things” to become a reality. The first step is the spectrum auction planned for the spring. Too often, however, we only think of consumer applications such as smart fridges and driverless vehicles when it comes to 5G. Yet 5G is even more important for industry in a competition-oriented social market economy.

Why? Large companies and SMEs want to be able to use the new standard independently – without an intermediary mobile network provider. The buzz word is “Industry 4.0”, in other words everything that is related to the manufacture of products, machines, vehicles and systems in the future. This also encompasses the production of media content and events. It requires industry to have secure access to 5G frequencies. In order to achieve this, the Federal Network Agency has reserved the frequency spectrum between 3.7 and 3.8 GHz and will not auction these 100 MHz off to mobile networks. That is good news for the German economy. Germany is showing greater foresight here than many other countries. And yet it is already becoming apparent that 100 MHz will be nowhere near enough.

This is also suggested by comments from the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association (ZVEI) in a statement published by the Federal Network Agency, in which they claim that “at least” 100 MHz will be required. Although 5G is a project for the future, the demand for suitable frequencies is already growing. Companies are not only interested in setting up campus networks on their own production sites. There is also demand for “nomadic applications”, in other words local networks operated on a short-term basis, for example at trade fairs or cultural events.

The Federal Network Agency is not giving sufficient consideration to these applications when it plans to allocate spectrum in staggered blocks on a request basis and for periods of up to 10 years. What happens when a network is only required for 10 days? While frequencies cannot be stockpiled, and non-users lose their frequency, being able to prove this is difficult and takes a long time. Legal disputes block spectrum for even longer periods. That is why an automatic solution for frequency allocation for local applications should be considered. This could happen via a platform, ensuring efficient use of the spectrum and safeguarding competition.

Furthermore, even the total 100 MHz already reserved will not be sufficient. That is why the spectrum between 3.8 and 4.2 GHz urgently needs to be made available for industrial usage. This sector needs straightforward and fast access to this part of the spectrum. What’s more, use of this must be reliable and cannot be disrupted by others.

In all of this, Germany should not only be leading the way in Europe, but should also be aiming for international harmonisation. In the United States, the area between 3.5 and 3.7 GHz can already be used flexibly for a variety of local and regional applications – so including Industry 4.0 – via a modern frequency regulation framework known as “Citizen Broadband Radio Service” (CBRS). This is to be supplemented by the spectrum between 3.8 GHz and 4.2 GHz upon conclusion of the public consultations currently underway. It is not only the viability of US industry that depends on these frequencies. Anyone who wants Industry 4.0 to succeed in our social market economy needs to provide our industrial sector with this infrastructure. Otherwise, 5G is in danger of failing here – and thriving elsewhere, for example in America.