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 Telef贸nica 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 Telef贸nica) merged with e-plus (acquired by Telef贸nica).

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, D眉sseldorf, Essen, Frankfurt/Main, Hamburg, Hanover, Jena, Kiel, Cologne, Leipzig, Ludwigsburg, Munich, Nuremberg, Saarbr眉cken, 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 D眉sseldorf, 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 Telef贸nica, 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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