How Deutsche Telekom is building 5G

Antje Williams, Head of Deutsche Telekom’s 5G Programme, talks to TMN.

One of the most high profile European operators in 5G R&D has been Deutsche Telekom. Speaking to TMN, Antje Williams, Head of Deutsche Telekom’s 5G Programme, said that the operator is building its 5G programme on four main pillars.

1. The first is its 5G:haus programme, which is a catchy name it has given to its innovation labs (“It’s not an actual house”, Williams explained, helpfully). These labs and test centres are where it demos and tests new technology, such as this from Stanford University.

2. Then there is a group looking at the overall architecture, defining where and how the network could be developed. The architecture group is about “pure thought leadership” Williams said, such as that which produced the 3-tier network slicing RAN demo the company showed at MWC. The essential aim is to define end to end slices across the core and radio network, extending the possibility of flexibility of services to the customer.

3. A business workstream looks at what DT will need (and doesn’t need) from the network in 10 years’ time, and this stream includes input from customers – to create a “big vision” of 5G.

4. Finally there is a standardisation group which takes input from the above teams and finds ways to push those requirements into industry standards groups.

Bringing all this together requires both a strategic vision of what an operator can do and can be in 10 years’ time, as well as understanding possible technical enablers. Williams said that is why she, without a core engineering background, was brought on to head up the 5G programme.

“5G will be about fundamental changes, it’s not about doing what we do today. We will not be able to feed ourselves with a business model that sells connection. This change requires a platform independent of the connection that can offer network functionalities – security, id management, low latency, data analytics – towards the customer,” Williams said.

“To convince the world of 5G we need to go beyond the traditional vendors and operators. It is use cases that really grab attention, such as our assisted driving trial with Nokia and Continental on the A9.

“That is why the most important aspect is to develop the architecture,” Williams added.

The operator has 18-20 vendor partnerships, and a clutch of vertical partnerships, as well as University and Research Institutes such as Stanford and TU-Dresden.

Williams said she does not feel pressure from the German government for DT to establish national leadership in 5G. Any pressure, she said, is felt more at a European level where the Commission is eager to see returns on the EUR700 million Horizon 7 programme of R&D.

It is also too early to state what impact 5G will have on Capex within the Group, she added – and was unwilling to state if there has been any internal expectation expressed as to whether 5G will entail,  or should or should not entail, a spike in capex.