Private 5G Spectrum Applications in Germany Offer Clues on Enterprise Demand – or Do They?

J. Marcus

Summary Bullets:

  • Private 5G networks using unlicensed spectrum could play a major role in the digital transformation of business operations, especially within industrial sectors. Having opened up the market, German regulator Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA) has already received 78 applications, all but four of which have been assigned.
  • A published list of private spectrum buyers is intended to let enterprises know who else has been approved, in order to avoid interference from overlapping use of radio frequencies in local deployments. So far, it is mostly network consulting and engineering specialists along with research and educational institutions that have gone public with their private spectrum applications.

In Who’s Winning the Wireless Private Network Race?,” Kathryn Weldon took a look at the various ecosystem stakeholders in private 4G and 5G networks and their various strengths, incentives, and abilities to capitalize on the market opportunity (particularly in the U.S., where private CBRS spectrum was recently auctioned). In this blog, we take a look at Germany, a regional market where global network infrastructure vendors expect early demand and where a list of entities assigned unlicensed 5G spectrum in the 3.7-to-3.8 GHz frequency band has just been published.

German regulator BNetzA said it has received 78 applications in the last 10 months, assigning spectrum to 74 of them, and it expects a large number of additional applications to follow, due to the level of interest expressed so far. Based on known deployments in Germany and elsewhere, and on the promise of private 4G and 5G networking for already-developed Industry 4.0 and campus network use cases, it is expected that industrial enterprises (such as smart factories, ports, and energy providers) would be on the list published by BNetzA this week. Indeed, the regulator cited Industry 4.0 as well as the agricultural and forestry sectors among industries showing demand.

As it happens, only about half of the spectrum buyers agreed to be listed publicly by the regulator, the other half opting for anonymity. Out of the shorter list of 38, only eight are actually manufacturers or utilities. Meanwhile, more than half – 20 – are private network providers/integrators, IT consultants, network engineering specialists, and network infrastructure or digital software/services providers, indicating either speculative or sub-contracted spectrum investments. Research and educational institutions account for another seven approved applications, with a few other venues and multi-enterprise campuses, and one public broadcaster, making up the rest.

  • Manufacturers & Utilities: Some household names like Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and ThyssenKrup are on the list, all of which have appeared in previous private 4G/5G vendor case studies from the likes of Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, and Telefonica. Others include manufacturers of electronic components and chemicals.
  • Network Integrators, Engineering Specialists & IT Consultants: With a long list that includes wireless network deployment experts, IT system integrators, and other consulting organizations, it is unclear whether these investments have been made on behalf of clients, for their own internal purposes, or for speculative purposes (future client needs). Companies include NTT DATA, Telent, Umlaut Communications, and many local market providers.
  • Network Infrastructure & Digital Software/Service Providers: On the infrastructure side, Huawei and Corning Services have successfully applied for spectrum, while Götting provides wireless data communication systems and sensors for automatic track guidance of automated guided vehicles (AGVs). As with the integrators and consultants, it’s not clear whether the spectrum is earmarked for specific client deployments yet.
  • Research & Education: Seven different universities or institutes have successfully obtained private spectrum assignments, some of which it can be assumed are for research purposes, while others are likely providing hosted co-creation campuses for industry and academia.
  • Other Campus Entities: Deutsche Messe, the home of Germany’s largest trade shows, and WISTA Management, operators of a science and technology park on the outskirts of Berlin, have also acquired spectrum.

What is evident from the public list is the lack of larger network operators, MVNOs, and other high-profile providers of managed network services (including wireline operators, mobile challengers from neighboring regions, and global leaders). Some of them have licensed spectrum on which they are building solutions in conjunction with 4G or WiFi connectivity, but it is likely most will see opportunity in private 5G solutions as well. They may have indeed applied for spectrum anonymously, choosing not to appear on the public list for competitive reasons. The redacted list of successful applicants may also include more high-profile enterprises wishing to keep plans close to the chest, particularly if they have not yet chosen needed ecosystem partners. For now, we infer the demand seems high from the supply side of ecosystem players, but more clarity is needed on who exactly in the Industry 4.0, agriculture, or forestry sectors is on board with these spectrum investments and what stage of development their various use-case and deployment plans have achieved.

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