The Dutch policy debate on 5G spectrum is caught in deadlock: there are opposing legitimate interests of Dutch telecom providers and the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) in the 3.5GHz band. The House of Representatives discussed 5G on 29 March 2018. The 3.5GHz band, the most promising of the three standardized 5G bands (700MHz, 3.5GHz, and 26GHz), is also the band that in the northern half of the Netherlands — above the ‘Amsterdam-Zwolle’ line that cuts the Netherlands in half — is fully reserved for MIVD’s satellite station in Burum, part of the National Sigint Organization (NSO; which since become part of the Joint Sigint Cyber Unit (JSCU). In 2016 there was a similar situation when telecom operators sought to improve 4G connectivity using the 3.4GHz band.
Below follows an unofficial translation of an article printed in the 4 May 2018 issue of Technisch Weekblad. (Note: translation was done in a hurry, I’ll check spelling/grammar in the upcoming weekend and make corrections if necessary.)
Dutch policy debate on 5G spectrum is in deadlock
The deployment of a nation-wide 5G network in the Netherlands may end up being seriously delayed because the most important 5G band (3.5GHz) is reserved for the Dutch intelligence services until 2026. The AIVD and MIVD eavesdrop on ether communications using their satellites in the Frisian place of Burum.
Telecom providers and other industry parties raised an alarm about this in the House of Representatives on 29 March 2018. Earlier, MP William Moorlag (Labour Party / PvdA) even argued that the MIVD antennas should be moved to drilling platforms at sea.
The National Frequency Plan prescribes that until 2026, only the intelligence services are permitted to use the 3.5GHz band on territory north to the Amsterdam-Zwolle axis. Licenses can be issued for territory south to that axis, but only under restrictions that it is doubtful telecom parties will be interested, according to 5G expert Toon Norp of TNO Research. Norp: ‘The discussion about the use of the 3.5GHz band has reached a deadlock. Both the MoD and telecom providers have legitimate interests.’
5G for cars
5G is the next generation of mobile data communication technology. The bandwidths are 3-10x faster than 4G, connections are established 20x faster (lower ‘latency’) and a million devices per square kilometer should be able to connect. 5G should thusly realize the internet of things. The low latency, for instance, is important for communication between self-driving cars. For smartphones, 5G is not a necessity, although the high connection/device density is an advantage. Dutch telecom provider KPN states: ‘4G connects people, 5G connects society’.
Whether 5G will indeed arrive at a large scale is uncertain. GSMA expects the share of 5G connections in the global data communications to grow from 2% in 2020 to 12% in 2025. More than half of the 750 telco chiefs interviewed by the GSMA mentioned ‘lack of a clear business case’ as biggest threat to 5G. The required investments are estimated at 150 billion euro globally on an annual basis. This is largely due to the fine-grained network of antennas that is required to achieve high throughput and low latency.
According to the standard, 5G will use three bands: 700MHz, 3.5GHz, and 26GHz. The 700MHz band, which has the longest waves, does not offer high throughput and is mostly useful to support a nation-wide network. The 26GHz millimeter band has very high throughput, but due to its short waves has a short range and can only be used for the last couples of hundred meters of a mobile connection. The 3.5GHz band combines the best of both: high throughput and good range. It is the presumed backbone of 5G, but is reserved for use by the MIVD.
Next year, part of the 700MHz band for 5G will be auctioned off, but that provides little solace according to Norp. ‘It is merely a very short band, just 30MHz wide. At most three operators can participate there, while the 3.5GHz band has hundreds of MHz of room.’
Norp expects that the 5G network for the 3.5 GHz band can largely be deployed using existing 3G/4G antenna locations. But simply using the 3G and 4G bands for 5G is not an option for the near future, because equipment manufacturers will first make their 5G equipment work with the internationally agreed bands. Notably the 3.5GHz band.
State secretary Mona Keijzer (Economic Affairs) announced she will present directions for solutions to end the deadlock, and to elaborate on those in her Digital Connectivity Action Plan. Norp hopes a creative solution will be found to allow telecom provides and the MoD to share the 3.5GHz band. At the longer term, the MIVD will no longer be able to control the 3.5GHz band. ‘Because Germany will use the 3.5GHz band for 5G’, according to Norp. Regardless of the Dutch government policy, the MIVD will have competition on the 3.5GHz band.