Germany’s 700MHz spectrum auction will be a first for Europe

29 May 2015

Germany is the first country in Europe to begin auctioning 700MHz spectrum, critical for creating wireless broadband services with 10km ranges.

Germany this week became the first country in Europe to auction low-frequency 700Mhz wireless spectrum that will boost wireless broadband availability in rural areas, making it possible to beam wireless up to 10km.

The process, which is expected to take 10 weeks, is vastly different to the 3G and 4G auctions that have netted tens of billions for the exchequers of various countries across Europe.

Instead, at a former US Army barracks west of Frankfurt, representatives of telcos like Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefonica Germany troop in and out every day to place bids that will amount to the grand total of €4.4bn.

The 700MHz band was used to carry the analogue signal of various regional stations before the switchover to digital.

In the last wireless spectrum auction to be held in Ireland in 2012, the 4G spectrum auctions of 800MHz, 900MHz and 1800MHz of old TV and 2G spectrum blocks raised a windfall of €854m for the exchequer.

White spaces and the fourth industrial revolution

However, in Germany the 700MHz spectrum blocks will mean broadband can travel further and penetrate buildings more deeply than the higher frequencies.

Germany’s government and its telecom regulator, the Bundesnezgentur, are hoping the auction will boost broadband take-up in rural areas as well as lead to the creation of smart factories in industrial areas like the Mittlestand – the backbone of Germany’s economy.

The Berlin government has launched Industrie 4.0, a public private initiative to power the “fourth industrial revolution” by connecting factories and businesses to the internet.

These smart factories will boost the competitiveness of Germany’s industrial manufacturing sector against low labour cost economies in Asia and the design and technological dominance of US companies.

The key development here is white spaces – frequencies of between 50MHz and 700MHz – usually old TV signal spectrum that can transform wireless broadband and Wi-Fi coverage in rural areas as well as provide low-cost mobile coverage.

For example, typical Wi-Fi at home can travel through a few floors and a few walls. White space broadband can travel up to 10km across fields, forests and through buildings.

Typical white space spectrum can range from 470MHz to 790MHz.

One of the largest white space technology trials was conducted in Cambridge in 2011 when Microsoft, Nokia and the BBC created a consortium. In 2013, UK regulator Ofcom announced a trial with 20 private and public sector organisations, one of the first of its kind in Europe.

For Ireland, which is about to embark on a €514m National Broadband Strategy to bring fibre to every premise, usage of white space technology should not be ruled out as a potential back-up solution for hard-to-reach areas.

Your move, ComReg.

Spectrum image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years