The 5G network – From technical requirements to legal challenges
1. The 5G network for Europe
In September 2016, the European Commission invited1 the Member States to develop national 5G strategies as part of their broadband plans. The Austrian Federal Government has set itself the goal of implementing the 5G strategy in three ambitious phases:
Phase 1: By mid-2018, preliminary commercial 5G tests were to be implemented.
Phase 2: By the end of 2020, the Federal Government set its interim goal of achieving almost nationwide availability of ultrafast broadband connections.
Phase 3: By the end of 2023, 5G services will be available on the main traffic connections, and by the end of 2025, the goal of almost nationwide availability of 5G will be achieved.
At the beginning of March 2019, the competent supervisory authority (RTR) conducted the procurement procedure for the 5G "pioneer band" auction. The three major Austrian mobile operators (A1, T-Mobile and Drei) acquired licences for the frequencies in all 12 regions put to tender. Based on these frequencies, one of the companies has already commissioned the first 5G mobile stations in some selected Austrian regions.
But what exactly does 5G mean?
5G stands for the fifth generation of mobile communication standards. With the first generation we were able to talk to each other; the second generation (which was considered a big breakthrough), allowed us to send text messages. This was approximately in 1992. 3G in the early 2000s was a game changer which gave us broad data and allowed us to use the internet. We are currently surfing and telephoning on a 4G network, also known as Long Term Evolution (LTE), which is basically a faster version of 3G. However, with 4G we are still managing content (e.g. e-mails, news, blogs, etc.). With the next generation 5G we will also be managing objects (e.g. self-driving cars, IoT devices, smart homes). The new 5G technology transmits data significantly faster and offers remarkably shorter response times than previous mobile communication standards. The fields of application include industry 4.0 and automated driving, among others.
Technical requirements for the implementation of 5G
5G technology uses a mix of frequencies combined with shorter wavelengths (millimetres instead of centimetres, as used in 4G networks). The problem with shorter waves and higher frequencies is that the range is not as far. Thus, the technical implementation for the rollout of the 5G network requires a drastic increase in the number of transmitters. In addition, fibre optic expansion is important, because in the absence of a connection between the mobile radio stations and the fibre optic network, the many benefits of the new technology cannot be fully exploited.
The advantage of 5G will be a high-quality band capable of transmitting more data in less time. 5G will increase the (theoretical) data rate from 1 Gbit/s to 20 Gbit/s. In theory, latency (i.e. the time interval between cause and effect, or the delay between sending and receiving information) will decrease from approximately 50 – 100 milliseconds to one millisecond. This almost real-time communication is key to enabling smart cities, smart workspaces or smart homes. It is also crucial for autonomous driving, where cars communicate not just with each other, but also with sensor traffic lights or drones. The short latency will also increase the number of "smart factories", since it enables better coverage of IoT2-based technology (e.g. all machines from a factory connected to the network can align their processes).
How to improve frequency efficiency
The current 4G network mainly uses special frequency bandwidth (800, 1800 and 2600 MHz). Since frequency bandwidth is limited and must be shared with other technologies (such as terrestrial television DVBT-2), frequency optimising methods are essential. Fifth generation technology will offer very high bandwidth and various new advanced features, making it more powerful than 4G. To achieve the 5G standard, a bundle of improved technology was necessary, introducing methods for a better and more efficient use of frequencies. For example, the "Information Centre Mobile Radio" controlled by Telekom Deutschland and Telefónica Germany provides an excellent overview3 of the following methods for optimising the use of frequencies:
4.1. Carrier aggregation
From a technical standpoint, ultra-high bandwidth can be achieved by so-called carrier aggregation. The bundling of the radio frequency ranges used by a network operator (channels in a frequency block) allows the data rate per user to be increased. Several individual carriers, i.e. frequency blocks, are assigned to one user. The maximum data rate per user is increased by the number of frequency blocks. The total data rate per cell is also increased by improved utilisation of the frequencies available to an operator. The disadvantage is that the high capacity is accompanied by a low range, since frequencies with a lower range are also used for bundling. Overall, these frequency bundling concepts are already implemented in 4G and will be further developed in 5G.
4.2. Small cells
Small cells are already being used today, especially in places with high user density. For example, small cells can eliminate bottlenecks in the existing network in pedestrian zones or in highly frequented squares. Small cells do not replace the classic mobile radio rooftop locations but complement them and intensify the network at locations with particularly high demand (so-called hotspots). More cells in a small area also indicate that the capacity, i.e. the number of possible simultaneous users with simultaneously high data rates, is significantly increased. Small cells are thus suitable for very high capacity requirements in small areas (city centres, event venues, fairgrounds, stadiums, etc). A small cell is a mobile radio cell with low transmission power and thus a resulting small coverage area, similar to a WIFI hotspot, but with integration in the general mobile radio network. The coverage radius is about 150 metres. Since these are installed very close to the users, a corresponding number of cells must be installed for an uninterrupted supply in an area such as a pedestrian zone. The antennas used are significantly smaller than conventional mobile radio antennas. They can be mounted on house walls, advertising pillars or public telephone systems. In the future, such cells may also be installed in lines along traffic routes, for example in street lamps.
4.3. Massive multiple input multiple output (MIMO)
Larger multi-antenna systems are used to increase capacity. Multi-antenna systems enable the use of multiple transmit and receive antennas for wireless communication. A special coding method uses both the temporal and the spatial dimension for information transmission (space-time coding). In this way, the quality and data rate can be significantly improved, while still using the same number of frequencies.
Beamforming means that the antenna direction is changed so that a maximum signal arrives at the desired location (end device). By bundling the radio waves, the signal is precisely aligned in the direction of the customer or the device instead of the usual circular propagation of the radio signals. During beamforming, the main transmission direction is aligned spatially so that each terminal device is addressed with the signal assigned to it.
4.5. Network slicing
Network slicing allows the distribution of a network for different purposes at the level of the entire network. A network operator can therefore provide certain quality features for a customer category; for example, with an assured data capacity or a certain reaction time (latency).
Legal aspects of G
Naturally, with new technology comes a need to re-examine the law, which will need to be adapted to the constantly changing world. A much-discussed example is the issue of liability when 5G networks allow self-driving cars to communicate with each other and their surroundings. Ethical regulation for algorithms is already discussed on an EU level. Nevertheless, the legal challenges should be addressed one at a time, beginning with the current frequency auctions, forming joint ventures to bundle know-how or installing the network, where property rights and ownership issues will need to be hurdled. There will also be greater complexity in cybersecurity, with 5G being broadly used for IoT services. Lastly, in-depth and cross-border knowledge of data protection and telecommunications regulations will help pave the way.
Authors: Nicolaus Neumann & Veronika Wolfbauer
Useful Links for "deep dives":
European Commission, 5G for Europe: An Action Plan (2016): https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52016DC0588&from=EN
Federal Ministry Republic of Austria Digital and Economic Affairs, 5G Strategy: Austria's way to become a 5G pioneer in Europe (2018):
Futurezone, 4G, 5G und LTE: Das sind die Unterschiede (2018):
Informationszentrum Mobilfunk (managed by Telekom Deutschland and Telefónica Germany), Wissenswertes zu 5G:
The European Commission’s High-level expert group on Artificial Intelligence, Draft Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI (Dec. 2018):
(1) "5G for Europe: An Action Plan", link copied below.
(2) Internet of Things.