Tuesday 29 June 2021

Vodafone UK Selects Commercial Open RAN Network Partners

Vodafone has been a huge supporter of the Open RAN movement. Not only have they supported it with projects, expertise, etc., they have also contributed their IPR to TIP to drive it further. Last year, I wrote about how they have been evangelizing the benefits to other operators. Now, Vodafone has unveiled its strategic vendors – Dell, NEC, Samsung Electronics, Wind River, Capgemini Engineering and Keysight Technologies – to jointly deliver the first commercial deployment of Open Radio Access Network (RAN) in Europe. A press release said:

The company believes the move will spark other large-scale Open RAN launches and spearhead the next wave of digital transformation across Europe.

Pioneered by Vodafone and its partners, Open RAN will drive greater innovation through a diverse and open vendor ecosystem. It will lead to a more cost-effective, secure, energy efficient and customer-focused network of the future.

Vodafone’s initial focus will be on the 2,500 sites in the UK that it committed to Open RAN in October 2020. It is one of the largest deployments in the world and will be built jointly with Dell, NEC, Samsung and Wind River. Vodafone also expects to use new radio equipment defined under the Evenstar programme, a joint initiative it contributes to. Capgemini Engineering and Keysight Technologies are providing support to ensure interoperability between all the components.

Starting this year, the vendors will work with Vodafone to extend 4G and 5G coverage to more rural places across the South West of England and most of Wales, moving into urban areas in a later phase. Vodafone is also working to launch Open RAN in other countries within both Europe and Africa, enabling the digital society to be accessible to all, with no one left behind. 

Under this initiative to deliver an open and disaggregated network in the UK, Samsung will be a reference RAN software provider. Samsung and NEC will supply Massive MIMO – a method to boost capacity of a mobile antenna – along with Samsung and Evenstar radio units, which establish a signal between users’ smartphones or devices and the mobile mast.

Evenstar radios are part of a joint effort between Facebook and Vodafone to create ‘white-box’ radio units within the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) and are a key component for Open RAN success. These will provide vendors with detailed specifications needed to develop compatible radio units much more cheaply, and are designed to encourage new players to the market to boost the ecosystem and stimulate innovation.

The initial deployments will be implemented using COTS (common off the shelf) Dell EMC PowerEdge servers to support the combined DU/CU function running Containers as a Service (CaaS) software from Wind River Studio, which will provide a distributed cloud-native platform hosting the Open RAN applications and virtualised RAN from Samsung. This gives Vodafone the benefit of being able to mix and match and install new software releases and upgrades more easily. 

Keysight Technologies will deliver its comprehensive Open RAN test solution portfolio designed to support conformance, interoperability and E2E system testing. Capgemini Engineering will be the key partner within our lab testing to ensure interworking of the Open RAN multi-vendor ecosystem.

The O-RAN Alliance 7-2x split, that defines the interface between the radio antenna and the baseband unit, will be used in the deployments, following successful test and simulations that make it the option of choice. The resulting Open RAN network is expected to improve energy efficiency compared to the existing solution from traditional widely deployed RAN products.

In addition, Vodafone is working with several chipset suppliers, including an important research & development (R&D) collaboration with Intel, whose role in developing Open RAN is widely recognized in the industry. Vodafone’s Open RAN Test and Integration lab in Newbury, UK, has been devised to be an innovation centre to foster collaboration and implement new ideas. In this space, Vodafone’s newly announced partnership with Qualcomm will provide solutions that will be added to the project in the future.

The new Open RAN lab will be complemented by two newly created European digital skills hubs in Málaga and Dresden, employing 600 and 200 people respectively. Opening later this year, the skill hubs will be used to develop a number of new solutions for businesses, including cyber security, mobile private networks and Open RAN.

Vodafone is working with other operators to lower the entry barriers for smaller vendors and startups. Recently published Open RAN technical requirements by Vodafone and other telecommunications companies will provide a blueprint to help expedite the development of new products and services based on industry specifications from the O-RAN Alliance (of which Vodafone is a member) and eventually ETSI standards (from the European Telecommunications Standards Institute), always compatible with 3GPP.

There was a considerable amount of confusion regarding different G's and Core, etc. It was all clarified in a Tweet from VF UK Communications Manager as can be seen above. It seems that Samsung went off and dusted their 2G stack to support a legacy technology along with 4G and 5G.

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Tuesday 22 June 2021

Peru wants more 4G and Open RAN

Peru is the third largest country in South America, after Brazil and Argentina. It's roughly over three times the size of Japan or Germany or five times as large as UK. Having said that, its population is just over 33 million. It is made up of a variety of landscapes, from mountains and beaches to deserts and rain forests. Most people live along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, where the capital, Lima, is located.

Peru’s fixed-line teledensity remains among the lowest in South America, with obstacles to fixed-line growth including widespread poverty, fixed-to-mobile substitution, expensive telephone services, and geographical inaccessibility in the rugged Andean mountains and lowland Amazon jungles. The government is addressing these shortcomings via ambitious investment plans to deploy telecom infrastructure and services in underserved areas. Most of the work was complete by the end of 2017, when eight regional fibre-based networks were connected to the National Fibre-Optic Backbone.

Broadband penetration in Peru is considerably lower than the Latin American average, despite government efforts to encourage the development of the sector.

Mobile penetration is on a par with the regional average, though high penetration is attributed to the popular use (especially among urban dwellers) of multiple mobile subscriptions. This phenomenon is becoming less pronounced as network operators respond to market competition by providing generous data and voice bundles (so obviating the need for SIM cards from different networks) and as the regulator endeavours to remove illegal devices and unregistered SIM cards from the market.

Telefónica Perú (trading as Movistar Perú) is the leading player in the mobile market, followed by Claro Perú, Entel Perú and Viettel (trading as Bitel). The market still has considerable potential to expand, especially given the country’s low fixed broadband penetration which has encouraged the uptake of mobile data services. By late 2020, the mobile broadband penetration rate reached 69% of the population.

2G/GSM and 3G/UMTS are on 850 and 1900 MHz on the three major operators Movistar, Claro and Entel. 4G/LTE has started in 2014 in major cities on AWS frequency 1700/2100 MHz on Movistar and Entel and 1900 MHz on Claro and is already open for prepaid. Soon on all three operators the 700 MHz frequency (Band 28) will be added. Bitel has a limited 3G network so far on 900 and 1900 MHz and launched 4G/LTE on 900 MHz (Band 8).

In the most recent OpenSignal report Entel was the dominant operator as far as the awards table was concerned, winning three out of seven awards outright and jointly winning another three. This time round, both it and Movistar each hold two awards outright and two jointly. However, Entel remains the operator with the best scores for our two speed metrics — Download Speed Experience and Upload Speed Experience. Neither operator has been able to challenge Claro’s grip on the 4G Coverage Experience award.

Also, Bitel users’ mobile experience has improved very significantly since the previous report, with impressive gains seen across Video Experience, Download Speed Experience, Upload Speed Experience and 4G Availability. With the exception of 4G Availability, much of the improvement made up for the lost ground seen back in the August 2020 report, when many scores dropped significantly due to the headwinds created by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Bitel’s scores in this report for Video Experience, Download Speed Experience and Upload Speed Experience have risen more strongly than other operators and are up by 6 points (15.1%), 1 Mbps (23.8%) and 0.6 Mbps (30.5%) respectively from the scores in Opensignal’s February 2020 report.

Although operators are yet to launch commercial 5G services for smartphone users and the auctioning of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz bands will not take place until 3Q 2021, there have still been a number of interesting developments in the Peruvian mobile market since the last report. These include the news that the country’s Ministry of Transport and Communications (MTC) is seeking to invest around $413 million to bring 4G connectivity to more than 2,600 communities. In addition, MTC has also published draft network sharing regulations that it believes will cut the cost of network rollout and make it easier to serve rural areas.

Movistar in Peru, owned by Spanish Telefónica, is the biggest provider and market leader in the country. It has more than 1/2 of all mobile customers and the best coverage (coverage map). But this comes at the highest prices. Also, you should keep in mind when you are travelling overland between major cities many hours without any signal are common.

4G/LTE has started in 2014 on the AWS frequency of 1700/2100 MHz (band 4) and added 700 MHz (band 28) which is open to all prepaid tariffs. Movistar guarantees speeds of 5-130 kbps on 2G, 0.4-1 Mbps on 3G and 2-5 Mbps on 4G/LTE. They use carrier aggregation of both LTE bands in the capital for the highest speeds.

Claro is the big rival of Movistar in Peru. It has more than 1/3 of all mobile customers and only a slightly lower coverage at lower prices.

4G/LTE has started in major cities and is available on all prepaid plans. Unlike its competitors, Claro uses the 1900 MHz (band 2) frequency for it, which is more accessible to many devices from out of the US. In 2016/7 it added the 700 MHz (band 28) in Lima and 38 more towns for LTE. In and around Lima they have added support for 2600 MHz (band 7) 4G+ is available using both bands.

Their LTE coverage is on par and partly surpasses that of Movistar, if you don't have a device that carries band 4. However, you should keep in mind when you are travelling overland between major cities many hours without any signal are common.

As in many other countries, the incumbent operator Movistar offers the best coverage, but at higher rates. Claro as challenger has a heavy marketing footprint all over the country, while Movistar is less visible. Despite that, where there is Claro, there is always Movistar too. Either next door (literally) or in the same Claro-colored small shop/street vendor.

This operator has launched commercial fixed-wireless broadband services via 5G technology, having received authorisation from the telecom ministry to use its existing 3.5GHz spectrum for the service earlier this year.

The Chilean market leader Entel bought Peruvian network Nextel in 2013 and changed its name to Entel in 2014. It's still building up its network and lacks the coverage of the big two providers, but can be reasonable if you stick to the cities. Please note however coverage is very limited in the Loreto Department (Amazonas region). There is no (zero) siginal when travelling by boat between Yurimaguas and Iquitos.

4G/LTE has started in 2014 in Lima on the 1700 MHz AWS (B4) frequency and spread out to more places. According to OpenSignal's country report compiled in 2019, it's the best 4G/LTE network in the country what speed is concerned and matches Movistar's coverage of 85% covered by 4G networks.

This operator as also launched a fixed-wireless broadband service utilising 5G technology on the 3.5GHz band. Both Entel and  Claro, were granted permission by the Ministry of Transport and Communications (Ministerio de Transportes y Comunicaciones, MTC) to utilise its existing frequencies in the band to offer a fixed-wireless internet service using 5G New Radio (NR) technology. Entel’s 5G plan provides downlink speeds of up to 50Mbps for PEN150 (USD40.13) per month, plus an up-front fee of PEN1,499 for the modem and installation.


Bitel is the latest arrival in Peru. They are the Latin American branch of Vietnamese army-owned Viettel and started in 2014 with an own network in the country. It's in a rather limited area (see coverage map) on 900 MHz and 1900 MHz. The rather unusal 900 MHz spectrum is used for 3G, added by 1900 MHz. In 2016 Bitel launched its 4G/LTE network through 1,750 4G base stations, covering 500 population centres on the rather unusual band 8 (900 MHz). It has a wide 4G coverage in Peru now, but focuses on rural areas which are not covered by other operators. So it's only recommended if you go to these places. In an OpenSignal test in 2019 speeds were much lower than on the other three networks.

Back in 2018, Telefónica announced “Internet para todos” (“Internet for all”), a collaborative project to connect the unconnected in Latin America. The Initiative is aimed at connecting the more than 100 million people in Latin America with no internet access. Telefónica agreed collaboration with Facebook on key technological and commercial innovations and collaboration with multiple stakeholders: rural operators, technology firms and regulators.

Parallel Wireless have been deploying OpenRAN sites with them and even did a press release last year to say hundreds of sites have been deployed.

Last month Telefónica announced that 'Internet Para Todos' is two years old and has contributed to connecting more than 2 million Peruvians in rural areas with 4G internet. Internet para Todos expects to close 2021 with 13,000 communities with high-speed mobile internet access.

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Thursday 17 June 2021

Malawi wants Cheaper Data and 4G

Malawi remains one of the world’s least developed countries, with few resources to build efficient fixed-line telecom infrastructure. As a result, the country’s two mobile networks provide the vast majority of connections for voice and data services. Mobile penetration remains low in comparison to the regional average and so there are considerable opportunities for further growth, particularly in the mobile broadband sector.

Malawi has two major operators Airtel and TNM. Both have invested in LTE to improve data services, and by September 2019 TMN’s entire network had been upgraded to LTE. Nevertheless, this market duopoly has resulted in relatively high prices for services, prompting the government in late 2020 to call for a new license to be issued in a bid to improve market competition.

For Airtel and TNM, 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 900 and 2100 MHz. 4G/LTE has started on TNM and Airtel. Speed and coverage are pretty modest even for African standards. TNM and Airtel actually form a duopoly in the country. This led to public protest and even demonstrations on the streets against the two companies in 2015. The national regulator is under pressure to lower prices, improve service or release another license. Because of high cross-network rates, many Malawians have two SIM cards, yet the general mobile penetration rate remains very low at 20% only.

The BBC published a report by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in 2015. Malawians use more than 5,000 K or $12 per month on average for mobile phones. That's 56% of the average monthly income making it one of the most expensive countries in the world for local people to use mobile phones.

Airtel Malawi (formerly Zain) by Indian Bharti Airtel is still the market leader in the country with slightly more than 50% of the nation's subscribers. Its coverage is unreliable and similar to TNM's (coverage map).

In 2017 Airtel announced a major upgrade to its network and adding 900 MHz 3G. In 2018 4G/LTE services were started in the towns of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu.

TNM (for Telekom Networks Malawi) is a private local company. They were the first to offer 3G in the country and are considered to be the better choice for data. Together with Airtel they share the market in the country at slightly lower rates.

4G/LTE started in 2016 as first operator in the 4 major cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba. TNM is on track to expand the service to the rest of the country and has been expanded to other locations including Limbe, Mangochi, Kasungu, Salima, Mzimba, Balaka, Dwangwa and Thyolo. This service is initially only offered with the TNM Hotspot for subscribers, not for prepaid yet.

The Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) has released a statement saying that following complaints from consumers, it has engaged with the country’s mobile operators with a view to lowering the cost of data services. In August 2020 operators including Airtel Malawi and Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM) reduced their pre-paid or ‘out of bundle’ rates from an average of MWK20 (USD0.02) to MWK5 per MB following intervention from the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology. Since then, the MACRA says it has been engaging with operators to further revise the standard volume bundles offered to consumers to align to the cost of providing services in the country. As such, cellcos have agreed to reduce the price of 1GB data bundles by 30%, while the cost of tariffs up to 4GB will be lowered by between 10% and 31%. The price changes became effective on 22 April. The MACRA concluded that it ‘is committed to ensuring that services delivered are affordable and of good quality.’

Sunday 13 June 2021

Dominican Republic is getting ready for 5G Spectrum Auctions

The Dominican Republic’s fixed-line teledensity is well below the Latin American average, a legacy of under-investment in network infrastructure over the years. In common with other markets in the region, the mobile sector has become the preferred platform for voice services. With LTE services available to about 98% of the population, mobile broadband has also developed strongly in recent years.

The country’s income inequalities are still reflected in the unequal distribution of telephony services, with many communities having very restricted access. The government has addressed the issue of access in recent years and has funded a number of public projects. In October 2020 the regulator issued a decree covering a number of areas, including universal access to broadband services, and the development of a national backbone network in cooperation with the electricity transmission network provider.

Considerable changes are anticipated in 2021 when a multi-spectrum auction is scheduled. This will enable the MNOs to launch 5G services, and thus help each the national broadband goals.

The Dominican Republic has three major operators: Claro (formerly Codetel), Altice Dominicana (previously Orange and Tricom merged) and Viva.  The market is led by América Móvil’s Claro, with nearly 4mn lines at the end of October 2020, while Altice has 2.47mn and Trilogy Viva 358,000.

Claro the clear market leader has the best coverage. Orange is at number 2, with a slightly smaller coverage and lower speeds while Viva is the third network with an even smaller footprint.

Since 2013 Orange and Tricom both belong to the Altice group. In 2017 the national regulator Indotel approved the merger request. Both networks have been merged, Tricom has been absorbed by Orange and the newly merged network rebranded to Altice Dominicana.

4G/LTE on GSM-based networks started in 2014. Claro has the best coverage in all provincial towns, followed by Altice and Viva that mostly covers the capital, some major towns and tourist areas by 4G/LTE so far.

Claro, run by Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim and his América Móviles company, is the market leader in the DR with the best coverage and more 55% of the national subscribers: coverage map. Claro has started in 2014 with 4G/LTE, however on the 1700/2100 (= AWS, band 4) frequency, only covered by US cellphones or some iPhones.

Netherlands based Altice Group purchased Orange the number 2 in the country in 2013 with a market share of 43%, merged it with Tricom (at no. 4) and rebranded it as Altice Dominicana in 2017.

It has a good coverage in 2G and 3G countrywide and gives better compatibility with devices from overseas on 3G and 4G.

Altice (back as Orange) started with 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz in 2012, but was still limited to the capital area of Santo Domingo and Santiago and a few other areas. For 2017 it plans to cover 90% by 3G and all major towns and tourist areas by 4G/LTE as the merger with Tricom approved in 2017 gives the unified network additional bandwidth.

Viva used to be considered the 4th player in the country moving into the no. 3 spot after the merger of Orange/Tricom with a meagre 4% market share. It's network is nationwide, with some gaps though. In 2017 finally they added 3G services and 4G/LTE in a limited area. Viva still has the lowest coverage of all three players what 3G/4G is concerned at the lowest prices. 

The Dominican Republic expects its upcoming 5G auction to generate between US$200 million and US$300 million, according to Nelson Arroyo, the president of regulator Indotel (Instituto Dominicano de las Telecomunicaciones).

The mooted amount is aimed at setting expectations for potential newcomers to the country’s mobile market, with registration for the upcoming auctions open to interested parties until May. Indotel is keen to attract new operators to the market, with the country’s wireless penetration rate sitting at just above 80% as of September last year.

The 5G auctions will see spectrum sold across several bands, with nine 2×5MHz blocks of 700MHz spectrum available alongside 16 10MHz blocks of 3.5GHz spectrum. All concessions will be valid for 20 years.

The government of the Dominican Republic have said that the specifications of the international tender for the implementation of 5G networks in the country will not exclude Huawei. 

Thursday 10 June 2021

Mozambique desperately needs better mobile coverage and 4G

Despite delays caused by the long civil war which ended in 1992, Mozambique was one of the first countries in the region to embark upon telecom reform and open the sector to competition. The mobile segment in particular has shown strong growth since the launch of services by Vodacom Mozambique to compete against mCel, the then mobile subsidiary of the national telco Telecomunicações de Moçambique (TdM). Additional competition followed in late 2020 with the launch of services by Movitel.

Following years of poor management and underachievement, TdM and mCel were merged in early 2019, creating a new operator Mozambique Telecom (Tmcel). At the same time, a new licensing regime ensured that by mid-2019 all three operators had been provided with universal licenses, enabling them to offer all types of telephony and data services.

However mobile, fixed-line and broadband penetration rates remain far below the average for the region. In recent years the government has enforced the registration of SIM cards, but with varying success. At the end of 2016 almost five million unregistered SIM cards were deactivated but poor monitoring meant that the process was revisited in mid-2029.

The high cost of international bandwidth had long hampered internet use, though the landing of two international submarine cables (SEACOM and EASSy) has reduced the cost of bandwidth and so led to drastic reductions in broadband retail prices as well as a significant jump in available bandwidth.

There is some cross-platform competition, with DSL, cable, fibre, WiMAX, and mobile broadband options available, though fixed broadband options can be limited to urban areas. Further improvements can be expected from the ongoing rollout of a national fibre backbone networks by Tmcel and of upgrades to mobile infrastructure.

Mozambique currently has three providers: Vodacom Mozambique, mCel (by Mozambique Telecom) and Movitel (by Viettel).

2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 900 and 2100 MHz up to HSDPA on all three operators. In 2018 frequencies on 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz (Band 20, 3 and 7) were auctioned. State-backed Mocambique Telecom (TMCEL) launched LTE-based services by the end of November 2019, joining Vodacom and Movitel which implemented 4G networks in September 2018 and July 2019 respectively. TMCEL initially launched LTE in Maputo and Matola, before commencing a nationwide rollout.

In Mozambique many people have more than one active SIM card, chiefly as a result of cross-network call charges being higher than on-net prices and variable network quality and coverage, which encourages users to acquire the ability to switch between operators.

Vodacom has become the market leader in Mozambique. It's owned by its South African parent company Vodacom, which is majority-owned by UK-based Vodafone. They have 3G in most towns, but only 2G elsewhere and are considered pretty reliable. 

Vodacom has become the first operator in the country to launch 4G/LTE services in October 2018. Their 4G network has been switched on in the cities of Maputo, Matola, Nampula and Beira, and the municipality of Dondo.

Loon and Vodacom had earlier signed a deal to use Loon’s balloon-based internet solution to expand the Vodacom network in Mozambique so that it can service un-served and under-served parts of the country. Specifically, the internet balloons were to provide a 4G service that supports data, voice, SMS and the GSM messaging protocol USSD to the Cabo Delgado and Niassa provinces, two regions that have been hard to cover because of a low population density coupled with vast and logistically challenging geographical areas. 

Unfortunately Loon is shutting down as we wrote in another blog earlier here. Plan B is to use AST & Science's SpaceMobile in which Vodafone is an investor. It can be used as a relay or as a backhaul. Details of their satellite network here.

mCel, short for Moçambique Celular, is the incumbent provider in Mozambique. It's owned by the state through Telecomunicações de Moçambique (TDM), which has the monopoly on landlines. In 2019, the mobile and landline businesses were merged under the new name of Mocambique Telecom (Tmcel).

mCel is has fallen to number 2 in terms of customer numbers, but remains cash-stricken. That's why mCel's service is not entirely reliable, especially in rural areas and no 4G/LTE has been started yet.

Movitel is the third operator, which is 70%-owned by Viettel, and thus the army of Vietnam. It entered the market in 2012, but gained 4 million users in the first 2 years of operation alone. A key Movitel strategy has been to build out its network into locations uncovered or poorly covered by the other two operators. That's why there are rural areas where it has a monopoly. Furthermore, Movitel has the lowest rates in the country.

Movitel launched 4G services in summer 2019 Coverage is initially limited to capital city Maputo.

Sunday 6 June 2021

UK 5G Spectrum Results Summary

It's been couple of months since Ofcom announced 700 MHz and 3.6-3.8 GHz 5G spectrum auctions results here. Part of C-band spectrum was auctioned back in 2018 and the results from Ofcom for the award of 2.3 and 3.4 GHz spectrum auctions is available here.

TMN detailed the spectrum trade between O2 and Vodafone that resulted in Vodafone exchanging their new C-band spectrum with the old one from O2. This allowed O2 to gain 80 MHz of contiguous spectrum but it has its own challenges as highlighted in the Tweet.

It took EE 2 minutes after the results were announced to switch on their 700 MHz site.

More spectrum trades can be expected as TMN reports as it would make sense for the remaining three operators (except Telefonica O2) to obtain contiguous spectrum.

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Thursday 3 June 2021

Germany is starting to catch-up with other European countries regarding Mobile Data usage

Germany hosts one of  Europe’s largest telecom markets and number of significant operators which offer effective competition in the mobile and broadband sectors. Telekom Deutschland remains the dominant provider in the fixed-line segment, though there is increasing competition from operators including freenet, Vodafone Germany, and Telefónica Germany, each of which is making use of regulatory measures aimed at facilitating wholesale network access to provide fibre-based broadband services.

The German mobile market is driven by mobile data, with the number of mobile broadband subscribers having increased rapidly in recent years. With LTE now effectively universally available, considerable progress has recently been made in building out 5G networks. Telekom’s 5G service provided about 80% population coverage by March 2021. This was expected to be increased to 90% coverage by the end of the year.

There are currently three network operators left in Germany: Deutsche Telekom (formerly known as T-Mobile), Vodafone, and O2 (owned by Telefónica) merged with e-plus (acquired by Telefónica).

There are also a number of MVNOs each belonging to one of the three major network operators. MVNOs are particularly popular for prepaid in Germany and are mostly cheaper than the MNOs. They now have a prepaid market share of more than 40%, which is among the highest in the world.

Some visitors are surprised to find out that the leading industrial powerhouse in Europe still has quite patchy mobile networks. One cannot expect Korean or Japanese speeds and coverage. Local users, politicians and major CEOs alike now put pressure on the three operators to improve the situation that lags behind other European countries what 4G/LTE coverage and speeds are concerned sold locally at rather high prices.

2G and 3G: GSM mostly up to EDGE speed is on 900 and decreasingly on 1800 MHz and 3G is on 2100 MHz like in most of Europe. Almost the entire country is covered by 2G, few remote unpopulated areas remain without any coverage. 3G/UMTS up to DC-HSDPA+ speed is available in most of the populated areas with rather extended blank patches left in the countryside. Telekom has announced that it will re-farm the 3G spectrum to 4G and 5G and gradually switch off 3G in starting June 30th 2021.

4G/LTE: LTE has been rolled out on most common 4G frequencies in Europe on all operators: 800 MHz (band 20), 1800 MHz (band 3) and 2600 MHz (band 7). From 2017 on 900 MHz (band 8) and 2100 MHz (band 1) has been re-farmed from 2G and 3G. Band 28 on 700 MHz will be added from 2019 after digital TV has left this spectrum.

Deutsche Telekom is the previously state-owned, incumbent provider. It is the market leader in Germany with the best network. For a time it was called T-Mobile like in the US, but has reverted to its old name in Germany. While it caters mostly for postpaid, it still offers prepaid that used to be called Xtra Cards. Note that their rates are the highest in the country and are sold often cheaper by its subsidiary Congstar and MVNOs, not to mention its competitors.

Telekom has won all network tests within the last decade in the country. It offers coverage where no other network does and speeds mostly faster than its competitors.  But this comes at the highest prices of all operators. 4G/LTE is available at locations that are not covered by any other network and is available for 97% of population.

On the downside, it's indoor power on 4G/LTE is sometimes lower compared to Vodafone or o2. That's because Telekom mainly uses 1800 MHz B3 and 2600 MHz B7 in towns without any 800 MHz B20 fallback. To fix this problem, they now add 900 MHz B8 and 2100 MHz B1 where 800 MHz is not available. Note that Berlin's underground U-Bahn system is only partly covered so far.

The operator expects its 5G network to reach 90% of the country’s population by the end of this year. They currently provide coverage to 80% of the population. By the end of March, more than 66 million people in around 5,000 towns and cities across Germany will be able to use their 5G network.

Over 50,000 5G antennas are already transmitting with 5G across Germany. Deutsche Telekom is using multiple frequencies for its 5G expansion. The focus is on the 2.1 GHz and 3.6 GHz frequency bands. At the end of March, 5G will be available in 30 cities on the 3.6 GHz frequency following the deployment of nearly 1,000 antennas in Aachen, Augsburg, Berlin, Bonn, Braunschweig, Bremen, Darmstadt, Dortmund, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Essen, Frankfurt/Main, Hamburg, Hanover, Jena, Kiel, Cologne, Leipzig, Ludwigsburg, Munich, Nuremberg, Saarbrücken, Schwerin, Stuttgart, Wiesbaden and Wolfsburg.

According to Deutsche Telekom the primary 5G technology currently deployed in Germany is based on the 5G non-standalone (5G NSA) network architecture, which means that current’s 5G offerings are still technically dependent on a simultaneously available 4G network (LTE). With 5G standalone, the infrastructure in the core network will also be fully upgraded to a new, cloud-based 5G architecture.

According to the recent OpenSignal report Telekom remains the dominant operator as far as their awards table is concerned — the operator won five out of seven awards outright and is the joint winner for a sixth. However, it has been forced to share the 4G Availability award with O2 because of a surge in O2’s score since the last report. In addition, Telekom’s leads on Video Experience, Games Experience, Download Speed Experience, Upload Speed Experience and 4G Coverage Experience have all declined since last time due to its rivals in second place seeing larger increases in their scores.

Vodafone is considered the number two network in Germany which has become the biggest market of the UK-based provider. They cover almost 98% of the population by 4G/LTE in 2019.

Meanwhile their 3G network has been partly refarmed to 4G with only one remaining UMTS carrier (formerly three) in most cities. That is why Vodafone without 4G/LTE can't be recommended for heavy data users, because data speeds are often less than 1 Mbit/s in crowded areas on 3G.

Vodafone mostly uses 800 MHz (B20) frequency band for 4G/LTE away from large cities. Additionally, 700 MHz (B28), 900 MHz (B8), 1800 MHz (B3), 2100 MHz (B1) and 2600 MHz (B7) are employed.

5G has been started in a few places in 2019. All own branded Vodafone prepaid SIM cards can use it, but only a few handsets are so far capable of 3500 MHz (n78).

Vodafone Germany CEO has said they are the first in Europe to take off the so-called LTE training wheels of its 5G network, launching standalone (SA) 5G with vendor partner Ericsson.

All mobile radio sites in the 3.5 GHz range were switched over and now connect to an independent 5G core network, no longer relying on LTE. That includes 1,000 antennas in 170 cities and municipalities, according to Vodafone.

Large cities like Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich and Düsseldorf, are on the list, as well as smaller locations Magdeburg, Solingen, Bremen and Mainz. By the end of 2021, the mobile operator plans to up the number of radios connected to 5G standalone in Germany to around 4,000 – which calls for additional spectrum bands.

Vodafone used Ericsson’s 5G radio system gear, along with its Cloud Core for the SA 5G network.

The partners also converted a Frankfurt data center to 5G for cloud data processing closer to the customer. Two more are planned, located in Berlin and Munich, and expanding to a total of ten 5G data centers by 2023.

Vodafone launched 5G in Germany in 2019. In moving beyond non-standalone (NSA) 5G, which is what most carriers have used for initial 5G rollouts, Vodafone cited a variety of performance improvements. That includes connecting about ten-times as many people and machines per square kilometer (up to 1 million) simultaneously, compared to NSA 5G. Moving to standalone is also key for network slicing, a technique operators are looking at to drive new revenue models by allocating parts of the network to different users or customers.

Vodafone recently announced that its 5G network now reaches 25 million people across the country, with this set to rise to 30 million by the end of the year, exceeding its original target to cover 20 million Germans by end-2021. The firm has switched on more than 10,000 5G antennas at over 3,000 locations. It plans to implement a further 7,000 mobile upgrade and expansion projects in the twelve months to end-March 2022, including 3,000 projects to activate 9,000 5G antennas, as well as rolling out its 5G Standalone (5G SA) network, which currently comprises 1,000 antennas. In addition, from the end of June Vodafone will reallocate its former 3G spectrum to boost LTE coverage at 18,000 base stations. The 3G switch-off has already been implemented in the cities of Mainz, Wiesbaden and Chemnitz.

O2, owned by Telefónica, has now grown from Germany's smallest network to its biggest after the merger with E-Plus, what number of subscribers is concerned. The shops of E-Plus/Base have been rebranded and each customers can use also the both 2G and 3G networks nationwide and 4G/LTE and is available for 85% of population. This gives a better coverage in the countryside, but still not as widespread as Telekom or Vodafone. 4G/LTE has been opened for prepaid in 2016 on its own brand and most of their MVNOs.

O2 Deutschland currently offers 5G using 3.6 GHz frequencies, with around 1,000 antennas covering 30-plus cities. Now it has upgraded one 5G facility at Helene-Mayer-Ring 10 in Munich using carrier aggregation to offer a faster service, provided customers have the appropriate device, of course; the operator named the Xiaomi Mi 11 5G as an example.

It did not specify which frequencies it is aggregating with 3.6 GHz, instead making vague references to the potential of the 700 MHz and 1800 MHz bands for boosting 5G.The operator has recently launched standalone 5G network. 

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