Germany is among a number of EU countries which have freed up valuable spectrum in the 2.6HGz and 800MHz bands for other uses, including mobile broadband. Provision was made in the government’s 2009 National Broadband Strategy (including a recent update – Deutschland Digital 2015) to allow the 800MHz band to be used for mobile broadband access in sparsely populated areas, and so support the target for nationwide availability of at least 1Mb/s services by mid-2011 and 75% coverage of 50Mb/s services by 2014. Indeed licensees are committed to addressing broadband ‘white spots’ as part of their licence conditions. T-Mobile, O2 and Vodafone are required to provide 90% population coverage with LTE in rural areas before they can proceed with extending their networks to more populated areas (spectrum in the 1.8GHz, 2GHz, and 2.6GHz bands do not have such coverage obligations, principally due to their less advantageous propagation characteristics). Only one operator must meet this obligation in a specified area, and MNOs are free to decide among themselves their areas of deployment. It is thus likely that the country will thus be carved up by the three to avoid network infrastructure duplication: indeed the three licensees expected to begin co-operating on rolling out a joint LTE network less populated areas by the end of 2010.
At the May 2010 auction, O2, Vodafone and T-Mobile each won two paired 5MHz blocks in the 800MHz band, while E-Plus failed to win (though it secured up spectrum in other bands: 20MHz of 1.8GHz, for GSM/GPRS/UMTS/HSPA, 19.8MHz of 2GHz, for 3G/UMTS/HSPA/LTE, and 30MHz of 2.6GHz, for LTE/Wimax). Since the licensees did not decide on the block allocation among themselves, the process was decided by the regulator in September 2010: O2 was given the first lower blocks, Vodafone the two middle blocks, and T-Mobile the upper blocks. Licenses are for 15 years (to December 2015)
A number of LTE trials were undertaken in both the 2.6GHz and 800MHz bands before the auction of these frequencies. Further developments have come swiftly following the allocation of licences: T-Mobile has committed itself to launch commercial LTE services by the end of 2010 in the 800MHz band (with equipment from NSN), and aimed to serve up to 1,000 locations. O2 announced similar plans to deploy an LTE network in rural areas of Germany using the 800MHz band, with a wider scale commercial deployment to follow in up to 1,500 locations during 2011. For its four urban LTE networks (in Munich, Halle, Teutschenthal and Ebersberg) O2 will operate in the 2.6GHz band to provide up to 100Mb/s. Its chosen equipment vendors are Huawei and NSN.
Vodafone launched an LTE service in Heiligendamm in late 2010, the first of 1,500 areas scheduled to be covered by March 2011 (technology partners are Huawei and Ericsson). The service is under the ‘LTE Zuhause’ banner, providing data at up to 70Mb/s, though mobile broadband in rural areas may only reach 3Mb/s to 5Mb/s.
As for E-Plus, failing to secure 800MHs spectrum means that it will face difficulties deploying mobile broadband in rural areas, or improve coverage within buildings (a key benefit of lower spectrum). To address these shortcomings E-Plus may rely on the regulator restructuring 900MHz spectrum when it comes up for auction again in 2016.
Overall, the LTE-based offers are expensive by the standards of DSL, but where no DSL is available the LTE option is a considerable improvement on satellite-based broadband alternatives, even those the next generation satellites are capable of 5-10 Mb/s data rates.
For more information on Germany’s broadband and mobile markets, see the separate reports:
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