Markkleeberg (dpa) – Smart farming, autonomous driving, Industry 4.0: digitalisation has great expectations. But it depends on how the expansion of the 5G mobile communication standard is progressing and how the network of radio stations can be more closely interconnected. The power poles, which are already present in large numbers across the country, are also becoming more and more concentrated. For example, the electric company Eon has set up a subsidiary in Markkleeberg near Leipzig to promote this activity. Other grid operators are already supplying masts for mobile communication. But it has pitfalls.
Until now, such antennas have been mounted on power poles, especially under the lines. In order to ascend to greater heights, they must also be installed in the tops of the masts in the future, said Carsten Lagemann, one of the managing directors of the German news agency Eon TowerCo. He mentions masts along highways, railroads, waterways or on the outskirts of cities as important locations. The advantages are obvious. On the one hand, the masts are already there and no building permit is required. Building a radio station there takes only half as much as building a new radio mast. “We can do it in six to twelve months.” And the whole thing costs only half as much.
The demand for new mobile radio stations is huge
Other electricity network operators also provide masts for mobile communication. “About 80 of our masts meanwhile are equipped with this,” said an Amprion spokesman. The 50Hertz overhead masts are already used in this way, especially in Hamburg. EnBW supplies masts for mobile communication, but according to Pascal Kuhn, head of strategy, broadband and wireless infrastructure, all he sees in this business is ‘silent music’. Rather, the company’s goal is to create a 450 megahertz alarm network – as a conduit for critical infrastructure facilities such as electricity and water management. It should work for at least three days even in the event of a major power failure.
The demand for new mobile radio stations is huge. According to Telekom itself, over 1,500 new locations are added every year. “In addition to building a nationwide 5G network, there is also network thickening, gaps and license filling,” explained spokesman Niels Hafenrichter. According to its own information, the pan-European radio mast operator Vantage Towers has an agreement with Vodafone, according to which 5,500 new locations in Germany are to be commissioned by the end of 2026.
According to company spokesman Robin Hagenmüller, high-voltage pylons can in principle be used. So far, however, less than 0.5 percent of the company’s approximately 19,400 radio masts in Germany are on poles. The disadvantage is the restricted access, for example in the event of disturbance from live mast lines. In addition, statics are sometimes insufficient, and access and power supply for transmission technology can be a challenge. Hagenmüller: “We currently rate the potential for further expansion as relatively low due to several limitations.”
An alternative to the requirements of nature protection
Eon TowerCo’s managing director, Stephan Drescher, knows about the limited access of mobile network operators to antennas on power poles. But his company combines all the services of Eon’s nine regional companies for network operators so that they only have one contact person. This also applies to power and fiber-optic connections from the substation. The first pilot projects are now underway in Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, which also include mast-tip antennas. The new locations are to start operating in early 2023. Further projects are being prepared in Saxony-Anhalt. In the medium term the target is around 300 mobile stations, in the long term 1000 or more.
According to Vantage Towers, existing power masts can be an alternative to new radio masts, for example in rural areas that have special requirements for landscape and nature conservation. Because there, new masts are often not approved at all or only under difficult conditions, and the application process takes a very long time.
However, the existing power poles are by no means the only alternative to building new cellular telephone masts. Antennas can often be found on house roofs or on food. “Especially in cities, mobile sites should blend in as closely as possible with the cityscape,” says Vodafone. In Cologne, for example, there are currently two street lamps that not only illuminate at night but also serve as antennas for mobile phones. And in Düsseldorf, the advertising pillars have been modernized to become 5G stations.