fThe last few weeks of the year are likely to be quite hectic for technicians and construction crews from the mobile phone companies. Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and the O2 provider Telefónica Deutschland are working flat out to set up more radio towers and retrofit transmission technology so that they can still fulfill their supply obligations reasonably punctually. On Monday, the Advisory Board of the Federal Network Agency wants to draw an interim balance. In the worst case, there is a risk of fines and coercive measures if requirements are not met in good time.
It won’t be possible everywhere, that much is already certain. Another question is whether the companies are responsible for the delays or whether there are other reasons for this. Therefore, there will be a lot to explain at the meeting of the advisory board, which includes representatives of state governments and members of the Bundestag. The specifications come from the 2019 frequency auction, in which the companies had bought spectrum for the new 5G mobile communications standard. However, most of the requirements still relate to LTE coverage. The aim is to provide a minimum bandwidth of 100 megabits per second.
A central requirement is that the networks of each individual provider must guarantee this value for at least 98 percent of the households in each federal state. An inventory of the network agency for the meeting on Monday shows some large gaps. Especially O2 does not come off well in it. But the numbers are not up to date, it says there, only two federal states are still pending. “We will make it in time,” assures CEO Markus Haas, who will personally represent the group at the meeting.
Many regions still left behind
Germany boss Srini Gopalan is expected to be there for Telekom, Germany boss Philippe Rogge is expected from Vodafone. Telekom and Vodafone also see themselves on the home stretch with household supply. Telekom alone has built around 4,800 new radio masts since 2019, and Vodafone reports 2,600 stations.
But they are located where a particularly large number of customers can be reached. In remote, sparsely populated areas, however, reception is often still very poor. At least one or two network operators deliver a usable LTE connection in the “grey spots”; with the “right” SIM card you can be lucky there. But there are still many regions, just under 3 percent of the federal territory, where nothing works apart from telephoning. In a joint effort, the three mobile phone companies were to set up base stations in 500 of these “white spots” by the end of the year. The concept: one builds and leaves the other two with their active technology on his location.
It seems rather doubtful that this will succeed, although all three are flat out on the last meters. As an interim solution, they even bring in mobile stations. “We will continue to do everything we can to meet this part of the coverage requirement by the end of 2022,” says Haas. But just like Vodafone technology boss Tanja Richter, he points to the necessary lead time: Because which white spots should be expanded was only finally clear in November 2021 after a lengthy vote between the federal states. Because of the lengthy approval process for radio towers, the schedule is therefore a major challenge. Telekom says that all requirements will be met “as long as there are no legal or factual obstacles to the expansion of individual locations”.
1&1 must dress warmly
Another point of contention is the seamless LTE network along the freeways and important federal roads as well as on the main train connections, which is required in the conditions. It looks best on the motorways, the values for rail and federal roads are somewhat lower. With the expansion of their 5G network, the three established mobile operators are largely progressing according to plan. Except for Telekom, however, the distribution of the base stations in the individual federal states raises questions.
The newcomer 1&1 has to dress particularly warmly at the advisory board meeting: The subsidiary of the Internet group United Internet had auctioned frequencies for the first time in 2019 and wants to set up its own fourth mobile phone network. But so far there is not a single radio antenna – although 1&1 has committed to putting 1000 base stations into operation by the end of the year. The company is trying to offload the responsibility to a radio tower company commissioned with the construction, which did not deliver on time.
However, the network agency also wants “location-based, detailed documentation” from 1&1 for each delay. For 1&1 it is not only about possible financial sanctions, but also about whether the inaction will have consequences for the upcoming frequency auction. There is currently a consultation process on an auction design that would definitely suit 1&1. Behind the scenes, however, there is a lot of grumbling that valuable frequencies are blocked and have not yet been used for better mobile coverage.