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The eternal question: Which provider is best for you on the go?

Photo: Rolf Poss / IMAGO

It's almost boring: Telekom's mobile network is once again the best. At least that's the result of the current network test, which the magazine »Chip« publishes every year in the run-up to Christmas. In 2nd and 3rd place, in that order, are Vodafone and O2.

Apart from Telekom's marketing department, customers can also rejoice, according to »Chip«. According to the paper, the networks of the three providers have "become even better". At the same time, "the areas where a network is indicated but no reasonable reception is offered have shrunk further." Mobile communications experts attribute this primarily to the expansion of 5G networks. The Federal Network Agency also praised it when it reported that 89 percent of the country's surface area had already been reached by 5G antennas in July.

Users might notice this, for example, through faster downloads. According to the "Chip" test, Deutsche Telekom is clearly ahead of the competition with an average download speed of 347.4 Mbit/s (megabits per second). Vodafone achieves 206.3 Mbit/s in this discipline, O2 189.7 Mbit/s. The same ranking can be found in the speeds of uploads, which were between 73.1 and 51.8 Mbit/s in the test. This means that all three networks are faster than in the previous year. According to Vodafone, this is also reflected in the behavior of users. According to the network operator, they use 5 percent more data in the 50G network than in the previous year.

Driving a car, taking the train, walking

In order to arrive at these measurements, the magazine carried out a multi-stage measurement campaign together with the company Net Check. Three vehicles with roof boxes full of measuring equipment examined the networks along roads and highways for weeks. The network quality in trains, pedestrian zones and public transport in 35 cities was tested with two backpack measuring systems. Samsung Galaxy S23+ smartphones were used as measuring devices. In addition, "more than two million mobile phone users provided data under the rules of the GDPR" via mobile networks away from these routes.

In this way, the editors were able to get an impression of the state of mobile networks away from the usually very well-served cities. One finding of this data analysis is that LTE is offered "almost everywhere, but not always in good quality" even in rural areas. With an LTE availability of 98.24 percent, O2's signal strength in these areas is only 92.12 percent sufficient for high-speed LTE, and thus for speeds of up to 500 Mbps."

As far as the repeatedly criticized network quality in trains is concerned, "Chip" sees "a small light at the end of the tunnel" and gives Deutsche Telekom a very good grade in this area for the first time. But the other providers have also become better in this discipline. However, O2 is still weakening in terms of mobile downloads on the train, and all providers have to struggle with voice quality when making phone calls on the train.

For the coming year, »Chip« expects a »major upheaval«. The current test was carried out via "5G non-standalone" networks, which benefit from LTE frequencies used in parallel. However, O2 and, to some extent, Vodafone have already activated 5G standalone networks that do not require LTE as a training wheel. Deutsche Telekom is still preparing for this step. In addition, 1&1 will soon be the fourth network operator to be considered with a new technology called OpenRAN, so the next network test could bring some surprises.