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German mobile networks improve coverage in signal ‘dead zones’

Germany's three major network providers are cooperating to improve mobile coverage in the nation's patchiest areas.

iPhone with no signal
An iPhone shows a "no signal" notice. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

According to media reports, two of the network operators have managed to close thousands of so-called “grey spots” in Germany since last summer, making it less likely that people will find themselves with no signal on their travels.

There are still numerous ‘dead zones’ in Germany, with grey spots occurring when only one of the three mobile operators is present in an area, meaning that customers of the remaining two have no reception. 

But operators say they’ve managed to solve this issue by establishing network-sharing agreements with their competitors.

According to Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone, more than 2,000 grey spots were closed last year through the operators pooling their network coverage and the use of their antennas. 

That means that customers of Vodafone can now make use of Telekom networks in many areas where Vodafone signal is patchy and vice versa. 

The operators say that the agreements have been 50/50, with half of the borrowed networks belonging to Vodafone, and half to Deutsche Telekom.

Those who use the Telekom network, for example, now have 1,000 fewer dead spots nationwide.

Despite rapid progress, data from the Federal Network Agency shows that grey zones still affect around 6.4 percent of Germany. 

However, this figure was around 0.4 percent higher last October, and the operators are aiming to eliminate around 1,000 more grey spots by the coming summer.

READ ALSO: New map shows Germany’s mobile ‘dead zones’

O2 to join collaboration

Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone have been working on network sharing since 2020, sparking anger on the part of Germany’s third major network operator Telefónica (O2). 

After an intervention from the Federal Cartel Office, O2 was included in the alliance, though the collaboration is only just getting underway.

According to a Telefónica spokesperson, the first antenna sites will be activated in the coming months.

In total, about 2,000 of its own sites would be made available to other operators – some of them to Telekom and some to Vodafone. In return, Telefónica gets access to the same number of sites from the other two network providers.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany is finally set to improve Wifi and phone signal on trains

Vocabulary

grey spots – (die) graue Flecken

dead zone – (das) Funkloch

network operator – (der) Netzbetreiber 

covered by – abgedeckt von 

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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TECH

EXPLAINED: How Germany is trying to tackle its slow internet problem

German internet is known for being blighted by dead zones and slow download speeds, but the government is hoping a new law will help bring the country into the 21st century. Here's how.

EXPLAINED: How Germany is trying to tackle its slow internet problem

What’s going on?

It’s no secret that internet in Germany isn’t quite up to scratch. In fact, it is often one of the first things foreigners notice after moving to the country.

Most people expect Europe’s largest economy to also be a digital powerhouse, but time and time again the country ends up near the bottom of the ranking list in terms of its internet download speeds and latency. 

In 2017, Germany came 25th in a ranking of average internet speeds and had slipped further down the list to 38th place by 2021. Though speeds have been gradually improving over the past few years, the latest survey put Germany behind at least 18 other European countries in terms of its internet speed, including Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Hungary, France and Romania. 

To try and tackle the problem, the traffic light coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) have drafted a bill that would give everyone in the country the right to fast broadband. 

It was agreed on by the cabinet on Wednesday and will be put to parliament over the coming weeks or months. 

READ ALSO: ‘We’re running late on this’: Deutsche Bahn promises better Wifi on German trains by 2026

OK. How fast is fast? 

Not insanely fast, unfortunately.

According to the draft, fixed-network internet connections everywhere in Germany must in future provide at least 10 megabits per second (Mbit/s) for downloads and 1.7 megabits per second for uploads to their customers. 

This seems particularly low in light of the fact that Germany was recorded as having average download speeds of around 41 Mbit/s back in 2020. Though this looked bad in comparison to somewhere like the Netherlands, where 70 Mbit/s was the average speed, it does make the 10 Mbit/s target seem a bit under-ambitious.

It’s worth remembering though that this an absolute minimum standard – so most houses should expect something far above the 10 Mbit/s. And this kind of speed is generally good enough for relatively fast HD streaming and excellent internet browsing. 

In addition to the minimum download and upload speeds, the government says the latency (reaction time) should also be no more than 150 milliseconds.

Why are they aiming so low? 

According to Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP), the minimum requirements are intended to ensure “the digital participation” of all those “who have so far been cut off from coverage”.

In other words, the government is more concerned with bringing basic broadband to people in more remote areas than making Wifi speeds insanely fast for everyone else. 

Wissing also mentioned that the minimum standards would be redefined year by year. This will take into account the development of internet use in Germany, which changes over the years due to network expansion and new tariffs, he said.

READ ALSO: More than half of Germans regularly experience bad mobile coverage

What are people saying?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the opposition conservatives aren’t particularly impressed with the draft. 

Describing the targets as “unambitious”, digital policy spokesman Reinhard Brandl (CDU) said people’s modern internet usage habits were already being ignored.

“We have considerable doubts as to whether a 10-megabit download rate and a 1.7-megabit upload rate per connection are sufficient as a basic service for a family with children,” Brandl said. 

Rheinhard Brandl (CDU)

Reinhard Brandl (CDU) speaks in the Bundestag. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

When will the changes come into force?

Originally, the ordinance was due to come into effect on June 1st – but the bill still needs to get the approval from the Bundestag and Bundesrat before it can become law. 

For that reason, the Transport Ministry is now expecting to miss the June deadline and could introduce the rules later in summer or autumn instead. 

What will it mean when the law changes?

For the first time, it will mean that people in Germany have a legal right to certain broadband speeds. This gives them grounds for complaining to network providers if they aren’t getting the minimum speed. 

It could also give the Federal Network Agency a push to speed up the roll-out of infrastructure that can improve broadband speeds. In some cases, it could arrange for new cables to be laid. 

READ ALSO: German mobile networks improve coverage in signal ‘dead zones’

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