(new: continuously updated after PK.)

BERLIN/BONN (dpa-AFX) - Germany's cell phone networks are to be improved. To this end, the Federal Network Agency wanted to define expansion rules, which the agency's president Klaus Müller presented in a draft version on Monday. The regulations are of groundbreaking importance for the future quality of mobile telephony in Germany. An overview.

What is it all about?

Every four to five years, the federal government auctions off usage rights for various frequency bands, which are of fundamental importance for a good cell phone network. In 2019, this amounted to around 6.5 billion euros for around twenty years of use. At the first major auction in 2000, it was even more than 50 billion euros. The auction was supposed to take place again this year, with important frequencies becoming available at the beginning of 2026. However, this auction is now to be canceled.

Instead, the rights of use will be extended by five years. In a few years, there will be another auction in which other frequencies will be included. The network operators will only pay relatively low fees for the extension - over five years, this would amount to around 600 million euros in total. Compared to the auction costs in 2019, the fees are roughly a third lower.

Why is the federal government forgoing billions?

With Deutsche Telekom, O2 Telefónica and Vodafone, there are three established network operators in Germany and, with 1&1, there has recently also been a number four. The company from Montabaur is gradually expanding its still very small cell phone network. Where it does not yet have its own antennas - i.e. in the vast majority of areas in Germany - customers are still connected to the O2 network and will soon be connected to the Vodafone network. 1&1 wanted to take part in a new auction to secure further frequency blocks. But this time, not enough frequencies will be available to cover the needs of four and not just three companies. The authority therefore decided against the auction and in favor of the extension.

Why are the rules important for consumers?

If the rights of use are extended, the network operators must undertake to comply with certain conditions. In this way, the state wants to ensure that nationwide coverage gradually becomes a reality and that telecommunications companies do not only build where there is the most data traffic and where it is economically viable.

What requirements are planned?

At the beginning of 2030, every network operator will have to provide 99.5 percent of Germany with at least 50 megabits per second. According to the Federal Network Agency, this figure is currently just under 99 percent on average. So there really is only a lousy cell phone network in just over one percent of the country? What sounds as if it is too good to be true is causing frowns even in industry circles: in fact, there is no serious coverage over a much larger area, says a representative of the telecommunications industry, who did not wish to be named. The values varied depending on the measurement parameters - the more lax the criteria, the higher the coverage value.

According to the network agency's website, Deutsche Telekom covered 91.6% of the area with 4G mobile communications in January, Vodafone 91.3% and O2 86.4%. It is clear that coverage is set to improve - but how much is unclear even to industry representatives. Other regulations are also intended to improve the cell phone network in rural areas; by 2029, at least 99% of households in sparsely populated areas should have cell phone reception of at least 100 megabits per second. The same applies to all federal highways.

The requirements apply to each network operator and not to the industry as a whole. This is also good news for consumers: they can be sure that their provider offers a consistently good connection. Until now, only one industry requirement has applied: if only provider A is present on one kilometer of federal highway and only provider B on the next kilometer, the current coverage requirement is deemed to have been met

- although the customers of A and B each have no network for one kilometer.

network for one kilometer. This eligibility is to be abolished in future.

What happens to 1&1?

The network operator newcomer 1&1 will be excluded from the extension of usage rights. However, the authorities are trying to minimize the resulting disadvantage for the Internet company from Rhineland-Palatinate with special rules. For example, the three established network operators are to be obliged to grant 1&1 "cooperative co-use" of frequencies with a wide range.

What else is controversial?

Another sticking point is the question of how to deal with telecommunications providers without their own cell phone network. Freenet and other small competitors are insisting that the network operators must allow them onto their network. The top dogs are resisting this - they want to be free to decide whether or not to accept Freenet as a subtenant on their network. The regulator did not comply with the demands of Freenet & Co, and the Network Agency is not planning any such obligation. A Freenet spokesperson expressed his disappointment accordingly: The authority is losing sight of an effective demand for competition.

What are the reactions?

Politicians have expressed their approval of the planned obligation to provide area coverage. The established network operators, on the other hand, reacted cautiously - they would have preferred an extension of eight years and not just five. A Telekom spokeswoman was annoyed that the network operator newcomer 1&1 was being "protected" by the authorities, even though it had clearly failed to meet an important expansion requirement. The Federal Cartel Office emphasized the importance of effective measures to promote competition - last year, the competition authorities had criticized a possible extension.

What happens next?

Head of the authority Müller presented a draft decision that companies, associations and politicians will be able to comment on in the coming months. The final decision is to be made in the fall. Changes are possible until then, but a radical change of course is considered unlikely. The next auction may take place in 2028./wdw/DP/men