Germany sets out fiber, 5G ambitions

The German government unveiled a new strategy that it hopes will drive the deployment of "gigabit" broadband throughout the nation in the coming years, with targets to provide fiber-to-the-home and 5G wherever people live, work and travel by 2030.

The new Gigabitstrategie, which was first presented by Volker Wissing, Federal Minister for Digital Affairs and Transport in March this year, has now been adopted by the government. Interim goals also include the aim of providing FTTH to at least 50% of homes by 2025.

(Source: Norbert Braun on Unsplash)
(Source: Norbert Braun on Unsplash)

One of the ways in which the government hopes to speed rollout is by eliminating some of the red tape that can often delay deployments of both fiber optic cables and mobile masts. The Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport (BMDV) noted that it currently takes up to four months for an application to install fiber to be processed.

The ministry said this is partly because there are around 12,000 different authorities with different requirements and forms. The plan is to introduce a simplified, online system that is standardized throughout Germany by the end of 2022. As things stand, an online portal is currently available in the states of Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate.

Other policies include the exploration of different ways of installing fiber, including above-ground deployments and micro trenching techniques. Here, the government is looking into using overhead lines and the wooden telephone poles owned by Deutsche Telekom throughout Germany.

In order to improve transparency, the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) is being tasked with setting up a "gigabit land register" as a central data hub that bundles together the relevant information about fiber and mobile deployments and makes this data available to those who need it. BNetzA has also already established a gigabit forum that promotes open discussion about the transition from copper to fiber.

Funding is of course one of the bigger issues. The government noted that the telecoms industry has already outlined plans to invest €50 billion (US$50.1 billion) in private fiber optic construction in the coming years. It has now commissioned an analysis to determine which areas require state support for high-speed broadband deployment.

Looking further ahead, there are plans to actively illustrate how companies, municipalities and public institutions can benefit from 5G. Open RAN also got a mention: "With Open RAN we make ourselves more independent from international companies and can introduce 6G faster in Germany," the government said.

Critical voices

Of course, not everyone is happy with what has been proposed. Although the policy has been broadly welcomed, some industry bodies such as Bitkom have criticized the strategy for not going far enough in simplifying planning regulations and ensuring faster construction processes. They also want to see greater commitment from regional states to ease current rules.

Both Bitkom and German broadband association BREKO also highlighted problems with state funding plans, citing concerns that excessive funding would tie up already limited construction capacity and tax money rather than activating private investment.

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"Instead of a clear prioritization of areas that are really in need, pressure from the federal states and Deutscher Landkreistag [regional association of rural counties] will open the floodgates for the most extensive funding measures possible from January 2023," BREKO said.

BREKO's managing director, Stephan Albers, said the Gigabitstrategie is "only worth the paper it's written on if politicians quickly find ways to implement it."

He called on federal, state and local governments to work together "to finally bury unnecessary bureaucracy," handle approval procedures more efficiently, and clear the way for alternative laying methods. Above all, he wants priority to be given to private, commercial deployments that tend to be faster than rollouts supported by state funding.

— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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