5G and Future Developments – Insights from VodafoneZiggo’s Mobile Networks Director André Beijen

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5G and Future Developments – Insights from VodafoneZiggo’s Mobile Networks Director André Beijen

André Beijen has an extensive career in the telecom sector, with more than 18 years of experience in networks, B2B, and more. His curriculum boasts a background in Applied Physics and Mathematics and familiarity with the Ministry of Defense, where he worked on cybersecurity. Now, as Mobile Networks Director, he perceives VodafoneZiggo as a company with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. “If there is an opportunity, we’ll jump on it, and I quite like it. It’s a very dynamic environment where there’s never a dull moment. I’m very happy here,” he states. In this interview, André gives insights into how VodafoneZiggo is planning for the future, the 5G rollout in the Netherlands, and his views about the industry. Sustainability is also on the agenda, as well as his firm belief that the young generation is the key to bringing innovation to the telecom sphere. 

   

Changing lives (for the better) with 5G – how?   

We all heard about drones delivering goods and autonomous vehicles. But what else is out there waiting for us? For André, seeing all these technological advancements in full use is a gradual process. He recalls a 90s TV commercial stating “Intel Inside:” “That is actually very prophetic because I think that, in the future, there’s going to be something like ‘VodafoneZiggo inside.’ We, as an operator, are becoming more and more an integral part of everyone’s lives and everybody’s processes,” he analyzes. Beyond new products or services, like a drone or a remote surgery, André sees connectivity between all things playing an increasingly prominent role in our routines. Consequently, one cannot do without connectivity anymore, and, accordingly, every industry is doing its own digitization and product development, “but connectivity like VodafoneZiggo provides, will be inside of all of them,” he predicts.    

As a co-creation space, the 5G Hub wants to see technologies like 5G have a real positive impact on society. André believes that 5G can be a game-changer for IoT, playing a significant role in enhancing such processes. He understands that some notable changes must occur in the industry for that to happen. For instance, he explains that the ultra-low latency and extended reliability provided by 5G are still not fully understood by many. People continue to look at this technology from a merely improved mobile broadband perspective when, in fact, 5G is and can provide a lot more than that.    

Despite so many enormous opportunities to change and improve the way people live and work in different sectors, he regrets how the industry can be conservative in several aspects. For him, the solution lies in establishing more partnerships with universities, as students can bring fresh insights and perspectives on how the industry works. “Most of the people I know in the telecom industry have worked there for 20 years or more; as a consequence, they work the same way as ever. I think we also need young people to shake things up,” he bets.

Andre Beijen

Helping shape a more sustainable future with 5G      

The marriage between technology and sustainability has been a puzzling topic for André Beijen for several years, as telecom and ICT in general demand huge power consumption. “Looking at all our data centers and radio equipment, I think telecommunications companies consume about 1% of the total energy of the Netherlands. And that’s no joke,” he emphasizes. As a result, that number only increases as users start using more applications and services. However, VodafoneZiggo already uses 100% Green energy for that and we are going to half our CO2 emissions before 2025.     

On the other side of the spectrum, it is visible that better connectivity results in less traveling; the COVID-19 pandemic case is the perfect example of that. Therefore, we see an increase in the need for reliable networks, followed by a proportional decrease in mobility as people communicate and enjoy personal moments virtually. As André remarks, “a few years ago, you always had to travel around the world to see the people you wanted to meet; now, it’s more and more common to do things via video. So that’s a huge improvement in sustainability, as the travel footprint declines.”      

Even with this favorable perspective, we eventually face a chicken and the egg paradox: as the demand for more connectivity rises, the consequence is the growth in the need for energy for it to be established, which, therefore, might not be sustainable. Where do we stop this cycle? André explains that many things can be done. “For example, we have huge data centers that transform electrical power into heat and need to be cooled down afterward. I would suggest that we reuse all that heat to warm up houses, swimming pools, farms, glasshouses or anything that might need it, instead of just losing it into the air,” he says. However magnificent this scenario would look like, this kind of initiative takes some innovation to happen, and, as he states, “we haven’t completely developed the necessary means for that yet.”  

That is especially true as many energy and mobility solutions will soon rely on mobile connectivity. For André, VodafoneZiggo as a telecommunications company will be ever more important in the sustainability discussion. Despite that, much innovation will be required to effectively contribute to it in a relevant way. “On top of that, we push partners and vendors on what comes to energy consumptions, but we also look for a cradle-to-cradle approach, with the reuse of components and more,” he explains. That shows that VodafoneZiggo is not simply waiting for this needed innovation to come but is, instead, working hard to do whatever is possible immediately.

VodafoneZiggo & Ericsson and the 5G rollout in the Netherlands      

For the Netherlands, there is a risk for the mid-long term in comparison with other countries when it comes to the general 5G rollout. Some of the frequencies needed for 5G to operate are currently in use by Inmarsat 

However, there’s more to 5G than 3.5Ghz. With frequencies of 2600Mhz, 700Mhz, and 800Mhz, the 5G rollout is also possible. So VodafoneZiggo, together with Ericsson, is the first to have a DSS (Dynamic Spectrum Sharing) rollout nationwide. André says they have chosen to have the rollout per frequency and details why he believes it was a wise choice: “With this model, you can experience 5G nationwide before you have all your equipment established. So even if we don’t have the 3.5 gigahertz in place, we still have 5G.”  

The change from 4G to 5G for most consumers is relatively small as many of them simply use 5G as a faster 4G, as mentioned before. However, the strategy for B2B is completely different, as the roll of possibilities is vast: “We can guarantee bandwidth with slicing, offer ultra-low latency with edge computing, and we can put applications very close to our business customers. We are thinking together with our clients about what sensible solutions are available in different areas,” he states.   

André believes that VodafoneZiggo and its partners, like Ericsson, underestimate their importance toward the Dutch economy and the Dutch people. “We are too modest. For us, it’s just another day at the office providing mobile services. But I think that what my team and other VodafoneZiggo teams and also teams at Ericsson are doing day and night is so relevant for the society and for the economy that we should promote that more and more—make people aware of how they contribute to the community as a whole,” he states. He emphasizes that the focus on stability must be a constant concern for his company to ensure that the services offered are absolutely reliable as many people depend on them.    

Reshaping the future with 5G and the importance of fresh ideas

Located on the High Tech Campus, one of the smartest square meters in the world, the 5G Hub is proud to be a co-creation and collaboration space where parties can get together to discuss and develop new technologies and solutions. For André, that is the primary solution for getting more relevant insights: creating with your customers. “I don’t have much understanding on how our hospitals use 5G, but they know how to use it for their IT and their applications. If we combine our knowledge with theirs, we can develop products for the medical sector, defense, logistics, etc. So, co-development is the key,” he explains.      

Nevertheless, he sees that there might be a gap between what the provider knows about networks, systems, and processes and what our Business customers know about their own methods and platforms, “and we should bridge that gap.” For that to happen, service providers like VodafoneZiggo need to better understand their customers’ needs, while the customer must understand how the company can help them. This way, both parties could build products and solutions together.     

For André, that is one of the highlights of the work developed at the 5G Hub: “The 5G Hub is brilliant – you are exactly there. I think you’re doing a great job, and you’re also too modest. We should present more extensively what 5G can mean to other startups to attract new personnel or seduce investors. In the future,” he continues, “the way we develop products together with customers is exactly what you do in the 5G Hub now. So, I expect a big scale-up of the way we use 5G in the future.”    

André believes that the human power present in the Brainport Region and places like the High Tech Campus is not used to its maximum. He commands all the startups present in the region for producing so many diverse and fantastic solutions that one would never expect. However, he considers the lack of shared information to be a serious problem: “They probably don’t know what 5G can do for them, as we don’t know what they are doing with their applications and how we can help.”  

Nevertheless, André trusts in the power of collaboration with the next generation. For him, big corporations should start thinking about how they can attract talents and technical people and what they can do for startups as this is not being done in the most optimal way. “That is one of the keys to further developing existing technologies and refreshing what is currently being done by big telecom companies,” he concludes.