SZ Interview with Markus Haas:“You can't win a game just with goalkeepers”

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CEO Markus Haas spoke with Süddeutsche Zeitung about the next 5G wireless communications generation, areas without coverage, and the lack of a European digitalisation policy. This post contains excerpts of that interview. The full text appeared in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on 12 November 2018. […]

Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer has just demanded that every village must have the new 5G wireless generation in the near future. Markus Haas: In the next ten years, but not any time soon, we will certainly achieve a very large 5G coverage area. We need an honest, open dialogue and should not overwhelm ourselves with unrealistic notions that aren't technically feasible. Do we really need a full coverage 5G network in ten years? Markus Haas: Yes, we need the entire population to have fast internet, but 100% coverage won't be possible. We won't have 5G on every little street, neck of the woods or cul-de-sac. To do that we would have to build hundreds of thousands of antennas, which is neither profitable nor affordable. So what about self-driving cars or Industry 4.0 – would that still work? Markus Haas: Yes. For this we need a mix of technologies, including sensors, satellites and other things. At first we will also mainly rely on campus solutions, meaning 5G networks for local areas of application, such as the Munich Airport or industrial plants – in other words, small, secure areas that are easily managed and that we can learn from. Then we will expand to full coverage – probably not until the next decade. The available technology and usable spectrum can't do any more than that. Wishing for anything else is pointless.

Credits: Telefónica Deutschland
Markus Haas
There has been much criticism about the large number of areas without coverage. Markus Haas: We would all love to see full network coverage everywhere. But let’s not forget the developments of the last 20 years. Operators have paid 60 billion euros just for the licenses, and for a long time the population wasn't on board with expansion. Politicians and the general public didn't want us building a lot of antennas. That’s changed in the last five years. Mobile communications has become a part of life for the average person. That's a good thing. […] Germany isn't exactly leading the way in 4G. Do we even still have a chance? Markus Haas: Germany is a little like the EU: I can't win a game just with goalkeepers; I need strikers too. However, at the moment every institution is on the defensive: We are defending our system of values and our economic order in the political discussions about populism, our currency in the euro crisis, and the EU in the face of Brexit. All of the political players are mostly worried about defence at the moment; no one is really talking about the future. It's horrible and regrettable – to the detriment of our own future. China and the US, for instance, are looking from the outside in, and are thrilled that we are so self-centred. So are we finished? Markus Haas: No. We have access to all network technologies, and we have strong European providers for them. However, we shouldn’t set the bar too high or else we will fall behind as an industrial hub. I really want to use all our options. Unfortunately, the frequencies won't just be awarded; there will be auctions again in the next year. But the payment terms, the starting bids, the requirements and the regulations in general can be structured to give Germany a chance. If we set the right incentives, we will return to a top spot. The rules are to be defined in November. Markus Haas: I truly believe that everyone involved will find a way. I have been in the business for 20 years and the public discussion has never been so intense. Citizens and users are putting a lot of pressure on politicians about network expansion, but the momentum is different these days. Back then we said: “Hans in Luck,” because finance minister Hans Eichel got 50 billion in the frequency auction. But we're still paying the price, because we have this financial burden but not the infrastructure we'd like. We can't make that mistake again. What needs to change? Markus Haas: To name one example of many, the planned minimum bids in the auction are much higher than the last auction. They need to be much lower. The government doesn't have a cash flow problem at present. When the elections happen in three years, voters will think about whether we had better network expansion, not how much the government made on the frequency auction. […] There are a lot of complaints that wireless communication in Germany is too expensive. Markus Haas: The prices continue to drop in Germany too. We may not have the lowest price per gig, but consumers in Germany are also the most frugal. Everyone looks at their smartphones a hundred times a day, but the average revenue from a customer under contract is just 15 euros a month – 50 cents a day for wireless service. We have to finance the necessary network investments, licence fees and more from that. […]