Do we actually need the internet

Economy Minister Altmaier (CDU) has to perform real egg dances. Can Huawei help set up the 5G cellular network - and if not, how do we manage to set up a 5G network in Germany as quickly as possible? Time to ask about the meaning of it all.

Manfred Gößl, General Manager of the Bavarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, summed up the problem at his keynote speech in the TrendArena of the INTERNET WORLD EXPO 2019: The lack of broadband expansion in Germany is becoming an economic obstacle. 40 percent of all Bavarian companies, so Gößl further, have problems with their Internet connection, in the mobile communications sector it is even 60 percent.

Radio silence in the area

I see what that means in concrete terms every morning on my way to work. The railway line between Augsburg and Munich is one of the most frequented railway lines in Germany - and between the Mering and Pasing junctions, i.e. about half the distance, there is usually only EDGE, even making calls is a matter of luck. For Bavaria, the home of Infrastructure Minister Scheuer and Digital Minister Beer (both CSU), this is actually pretty embarrassing. And this route is not an isolated case.

This may illustrate the pressure to act on the federal government to finally dare to break free with 5G - complaints from residents against radio masts, fear of espionage by the Chinese hardware company Huawei.

But do we really need 5G? And do we need it more urgently than anything else? You can surf sensibly with your mobile phone, place orders, use location-based services and, if necessary, even watch Netflix videos at a megabit per second, it doesn't have to be 500. In his keynote a good six months ago, Gößl also warned against setting too high expectations in 5G: "We need 5G for the Internet of Things, it has nothing to do with e-commerce."

And now it's getting ticklish: Do we actually need the Internet of Things, and how urgently do we need it? Especially since the challenges for a 5G network should not be underestimated. Around 70,000 mobile radio transmitters were installed in the Free State in March 2019, Gößl estimated the need at around 500,000 in Bavaria alone - a state in which the cell phone near the border with Austria likes to log into an .at provider because Telekom, Vodafone & Co . Radio silence prevails.

Would such a dense network expansion even be financially viable? Every reader should check for themselves: Am I prepared to pay three times what I pay now for doubling the current bandwidth at home?

Demand-driven or supply-driven?

Internet of Things, autonomous cars, that all sounds very exciting. But sometimes I have the impression that these developments are not demand-driven but supply-driven. According to a study by the World Economic Forum, just 45 percent of all people in Germany would allow themselves to be driven by an autonomous car, in France it is only 40 percent. Of course, the auto industry is important for Germany, but do we really need a 5G network to enable the operation of cars that most of the people here don't want?

The situation reminds me of the development of car navigation systems around 35 years ago. Back then, engineers dreamed of radio beacons on every street corner with which the cars would exchange information and which would transfer the travel information from a central computer to the respective navigation system. But soon it was recognized that the investments in such a system would be far too large. Because before even one car could navigate in this way, the entire network would first have to be set up. Instead, the development focused on decentralized systems that function independently, the navigation system was born.

Resistance in the population

Proponents of the fastest possible 5G expansion argue that we would be economically left behind without such a network. But what does the developing and exporting nation Germany get from an infrastructure that it has to buy entirely in Asia? How does it protect itself against external access if it cannot control the tools for this? And how do we get the great resistance in the local population against infrastructure measures (rail and power lines, wind turbines, radio masts) under one roof with the expansion wishes that bypass the needs of the population and also the economy?

If you follow IHK man Gößl, a lot would be gained if broadband fiber optic connections were available across the board, and if a full 4G signal on the smartphone were not the exception, but the rule. I think there is a lot of truth in that.