Germany rolls out TETRA and LTE

As one of the largest countries in Europe with a population of almost 82 million, Germany is a massive market for wireless technologies. George Malim explores its new nationwide public safety network rollout

Germany rolls out TETRA and LTE

In May 2010, Germany auctioned 360MHz of spectrum for use by cellular operators ranging across the 800MHz, 1800MHz, 2.1GHz and 2.8GHz bands, of which 2.145MHz was FDD spectrum.

Much of this was attractive, 4G/LTE suitable spectrum and many were watching the German auction in expectation of a government revenue generation bonanza as seen across Europe at the turn of the millennium when 3G spectrum came to market generating tens of billions of euros for national exchequers.

This time governments haven’t been so lucky in plucking money out of thin air. The German auction disappointed expectations, raising €4.4bn against a forecast from Barclays Capital that €5.8bn would be raised. Consulting firm KPMG was even more enthusiastic, projecting a sale total of €8bn.

German operators T-Mobile, Vodafone and O2 each spent between €1.3bn and €1.4bn, for which they gained between 95MHz and 100MHz of spectrum. Significantly, each of these operators won 2.10MHz of 800MHz spectrum, which is viewed as the most valuable on offer due to its favourable propagation characteristics, which enable cheaper rollout of mobile broadband to rural areas.

Rival operator E-Plus didn’t purchase 800MHz spectrum, deciding to focus on more economical, higher-frequency bands. As analyst firm Analysys Mason pointed out at the time, having an extra €1bn in the bank may turn out to be the wiser bet in the long-term, especially as network sharing and the MVNO market is likely to be even more widely accepted in the 4G arena.

‘Licences have been issued for 4G coverage and [rollout] has started to progress,’ says Rob Bruce, EMEA business development manager at Axell Wireless. ‘Germany will end up being an advanced country in terms of this infrastructure. One of the things the economic climate has and should result in is people rethinking the way in which they do things and how they use technology to deliver a similar level of service without having to throw funds at it.’

Universal LTE coverage

Although the prices achieved for the spectrum are lower than in the auctions of 10 years ago, the German government has learned its lesson from the slow and patchy rollout of 3G services following those auctions. Winners of new spectrum will have to deploy wireless networks in a series of pre-designated steps.

In the first step they must build networks to cover 90% of the villages that have populations of under 5,000 people. The second phase requires them to provide similar coverage to villages with populations of 5,000 to 20,000 and a third step demands coverage of villages and towns with populations of 20,000 to 50,000. Only once those three steps are complete can operators address the dense urban markets in which LTE early adopters are expected to live.

There is an evident and substantial cost to an operator in having to provision LTE networks for sparsely populated rural areas, especially since they won’t be able to cash in on the urban dwellers’ 4G usage until they have done so.

Perhaps E-Plus’ decision not to compete has been an inspired one. The German government’s approach certainly prevents a licence holder from simply building LTE networks in the centre of large cities and neglecting the rural population.

Building Europe’s largest public safety network

However, it isn’t just in the cellular market that Germany is pushing forward nationwide coverage. In common with other European nations, it is in the midst of a multi-year programme to upgrade the radio system of its security authorities and organisations.

The country’s existing Behörden Organisationen mit Sicherheitsaufgaben (BOS) public safety and security radio system was based on analogue technology that no longer suited operational and tactical requirements of the various services involved.

The new digital radio network, which will have approximately 500,000 users, will be the largest of its kind in the world. It is being set up for use by all the security authorities to ensure inter-agency communications both in day-to-day operations and in crisis and emergency situations. The network rollout is overseen by the Federal Agency for Digital Radio of Security Authorities and Organisations (BDBOS), which began work on 2 April 2007.

One of the complexities of building such a large network lay in the administrative structure of German government, which comprises the administrations of individual Länder – or regions – that form the federal government. Each Länder had to agree on the route being pursued which, in common with other European states, is a TETRA network.

‘One of the many complications is that Germany is a federal state and each of the Länder had initially to buy into the TETRA network concept,’ explains Tony Gray, regional business director with consultant P3 Communications. ‘They now have to put their own funding arrangements in place and justify any extensions to the core network, which is being funded by the federal government.

‘The 16 Länder have the option to expand coverage or capacity in their geographic area, so the rollout becomes quite complicated across the German states,’ adds Gray. ‘On top of that there are control room refreshes, so individual polices forces, agencies and even Länder are out for tenders on that. So, the whole of BDBOS is huge and diverse and is moving at different rates in relation to each other.’

The complexity of involving 16 administrations along with the federal government has led to an unusual structure for the network rollout. Instead of awarding contracts based on network coverage, a deal has been done with base station supplier Cassidian to deploy base stations.

‘The network is one of the later infrastructures to go in based on TETRA public safety standards,’ says Bruce. ‘It’s going to be the largest without doubt, but it is unusual in that it was based on the number of base stations [deployed] rather than coverage. The contract doesn’t allow for coverage.’

That has resulted in many building owners having to put in coverage themselves and, while the government pays for the public infrastructure, large site owners are taking the opportunity to upgrade their private infrastructure using their own funding.

‘The public safety environment in Germany has historically been based around small VHF systems, so site owners have taken the opportunity to upgrade not only the public safety system at their sites but also to upgrade their other systems,’ adds Bruce. ‘Public safety TETRA coverage is being implemented along with private technologies to save cost.’

The geographical area of Germany means that the BDBOS project will take some 10-15 years to rollout – and that’s not unusual.

‘Most of Europe has been going through rolling out a TETRA system. Norway is still going through the process and only relative newcomers to the European Union such as Romania or Hungary haven’t started. The key opportunity in Germany from a supplier’s perspective is that this is the largest single infrastructure project,’ says Bruce.

‘For example, the UK’s project started in early 2000 and is broadly complete now. It will take 10-15 years to complete the German project, even though it was committed to in the early 2000s.’

Cross-border interoperability

However, although the German project will not be completed for several years, some feel it goes further in integrating the disparate public safety agencies than projects in other countries.

‘Germany has taken a far more harmonised approach across all public safety and security agencies to get them to adopt BDBOS on a regional basis, rather than on an individual agency basis, which is what happened in the UK,’ points out Gray. 

The network will also integrate with foreign public safety organisations where necessary. Last year, Germany and Sweden conducted a successful cross-border digital radio test in the Baltic Sea, south of Sweden.

Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) – which is responsible for digital radio, the country’s coastguard and police and BDBOS – and the German Federal Police tested the use of the German and Swedish networks and communication between each country’s authorities and their respective command and control centres.

The German security authorities migrated their terminals into the Swedish network in the region around the cities of Ystad and Trelleborg in Sweden. To do so, both countries temporarily linked their TETRA networks during the test.

Speaking at the time, BDBOS president Rolf Krost commented: ‘The field test proved that the key services of BOS digital radio function across borders. I am confident that this will promote the development of an open interface connecting TETRA digital radio networks across Europe, enabling permanent communications between networks.’

Such interoperability is of critical importance to the German project because it borders nine other countries. Therefore, enabling seamless cross-border communications between police, fire and rescue services is a future goal for the system.

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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