Cell phone reception on Germany's motorways and federal highways is expected to improve in the coming years. The Federal Network Agency presented a regulatory proposal according to which network operators should be given a little tougher restraint so that they can expand the range of their antenna network.
In return for the slightly stricter expansion obligations, the Bonn authority wants to forego a billion-dollar frequency auction next year and extend the current use of certain frequencies by five years.
The last auction in 2019 brought around 6.6 billion euros into the state coffers. Now the companies should only pay low fees. The reason for the extension proposal is that the available spectrum would probably not have been enough for four good networks.
So far the frequencies are used by three operators. However, the newcomer would also take part in an auction for use from 2026
All providers must supply sections
According to the expansion obligations from the 2019 auction, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefónica (O2) must have their antennas completely covering the motorways and important federal roads with a download speed of 100 megabits per second since the beginning of the year. In fact, supply has improved in recent years, but there was a problem: the mandatory 100 percent applied to the industry as a whole. If one network operator did not supply one section, but another did, then the requirement was considered to have been met - even though the first provider's customers had no network during their journey on the said motorway.
According to the network agency's plans, this eligibility is to be canceled - by January 2029 at the latest, all three established network operators should cover 100 percent of motorways and federal highways.
According to the network agency, the antennas from Telekom and Vodafone each reached 98.1 percent of federal roads at a minimum speed of 100 megabits per second, Telefónica (O2) reached 98.8 percent. There's little to go up to 100 percent, but the last percent and tenths of a percent are known to be the most difficult and expensive when expanding. For the consumer, 100 percent is important so that they have a good network everywhere.
No strict requirements on the rails
However, there should be no new strict requirements for the rails. It is said that “cooperation between mobile network operators, railway infrastructure companies and train operators” is required. The vague wording is because a poor network on the train is not always due to deficiencies on the part of the network operator, but can also be due to shielding train windows and other factors - and Telekom can do that
On another point, the network agency also wants to improve the situation of cell phone users. In areas with fewer than 100 inhabitants per square kilometer, 98 percent of households should be provided with 100 megabits per second. Such a 98 percent requirement already exists, but it applies to the households of a federal state as a whole - the very sparsely populated areas often have poor networks with such a requirement because antennas in small towns are relatively expensive for the network operators and the When expanding, companies concentrate on areas with more people.
If you look at Baden-Württemberg, for example, only roughly 90 percent of households in sparsely populated areas are reached by antennas with a speed of 100 megabits. In Rhineland-Palatinate it is only around 93 percent. Reception in small towns is expected to improve significantly in the coming years.
Netzagentur boss Klaus Müller emphasized that improving cell phone network coverage for all consumers was a primary goal of his agency. At the same time, companies ensure planning and investment security. The Federal Network Agency's proposal is now going through a consultation process in which market participants can have their say. A decision should be made in 2024.
Reactions to the proposal were overwhelmingly positive. The long-established network operators had requested the extension - and they responded with corresponding relief. O2 Germany boss Markus Haas spoke of a “change of direction and breakthrough for mobile communications in Germany”. The newcomer 1
The SPD member of the Bundestag Johannes Schätzl supported the waiver of an auction. “This would simply have deprived the industry of the capital it needs to invest in the networks.” The tightening of the obligation to expand transport routes is a good thing; consumers would benefit from it.
“Disconnections are still part of everyday life when you are traveling on federal roads, motorways or train routes – this has to stop.” The liberal Reinhard Houben noted that the network agency should make it clear now “that it will consider harsh sanctions in the event of possible non-compliance.”
The network agency remained vague on another controversial point regarding mobile communications: it left open the question of whether there will be a so-called service provider obligation. This would strengthen the position of small competitors of the large network operators.