98% Wireless Broadband Coverage A Requirement After The German Spectrum Auction

As reported in the previous post, another spectrum auction has started in Germany this week, this time with only 3 companies being allowed to bid for the spectrum. Two things make this spectrum auction especially interesting for me. First, all of the GSM 900 spectrum and quite a bit of the GSM 1800 spectrum is re-auctioned as the licenses awarded a decade or two ago are expiring. So it's going to be interesting to see who wants to acquire how much spectrum in the pretty narrow GSM 900 band that is not very suited for broadband Internet services because it will have to be used for continuing the GSM narrow-band service there for the foreseeable future. The 1800 MHz band is a different beast as it's broad enough for high speed Internet services of several network operators and already used in Europe for that purpose in addition to GSM.

The second interesting thing for me in this auction is that the German Regulator (BNetzA) requires each company that acquires spectrum in the new 700 MHz (digital dividend 2) band to cover 98% of the population with their mobile broadband Internet service with a speed of at least 10 MBit/s per customer on average, and 50 Mbit/s per sector of a base station. The later requirement means that at least 10 MHz of spectrum has to be used per sector. For the details have a look at the 250+ page rules and requirements document for the auction.

Today, we are still quite a bit away from that goal. According to the regulator's report for 2014 that was published a couple of days ago, 92% of the population is now covered by at least one LTE network and the market leader's LTE network covers 80% of the population. According to the auction rules, EACH network has to cover 98% of the population in three years time, however, so from that point of view there's still some work to be done.

And finally I also find it quite interesting that the rules also go into the details of what statistics each network operator has to annually deliver to the regulator, including the requirements to supply SIM cards and methods for the regulator to make their own assessment how well each network is deployed.