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Symbolic launch for the 1&1 network with Hiroshi Mikitani (from left to right), CEO of Rakuten, Rhineland-Palatinate Minister of Economic Affairs Daniela Schmitt, Federal Minister of Transport Volker Wissing and Ralph Dommermuth, CEO of 1&1


Federico Gambarini / dpa

Seven years after the end of E-Plus, Germany once again has a fourth mobile phone network. The telecommunications company 1&1 officially activated its mobile services on Friday. "This is a great day for us," said company boss Ralph Dommermuth in Montabaur. Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) praised the company as a driver of innovation.

New 1&1 customers will now be connected to the company's network. However, for the time being, the network consists of very few antenna sites, at the end of September there were 60. For comparison, O2 has more than 28,000. Where 1&1 does not have its own antennas, customers are connected to O2's network.

So far, there are mobile phone networks in Germany from Telekom, Vodafone and Telefónica Deutschland with its O2 brand. In addition, there are so-called virtual network operators who use the capacities of the established providers for their mobile phone business and pay rent for it. Such a virtual network operator has been the United Internet subsidiary 1&1 so far. In 2019, however, company boss Dommermuth decided to stand on his own two feet and take part in a frequency auction. The company bought rights of use at auction for 1.1 billion euros in order to be allowed to provide a network on certain frequencies itself.

Hope for more competition

However, the expansion of 1&1's network got off to a late start, and the company is still threatened with a fine due to a significant delay. The company had actually committed to putting a total of 2022 antennas for a 1000G network into operation by the end of 5, but after delivery difficulties from expansion partners, the goal was missed by far. That's why it initially started as planned with only a mini version of the network as a fixed-line replacement product, from which mobile users had nothing. The next planned launch date in September was also torn up.

Consumer advocates and other industry experts expect the new entrant to increase competition in Germany's telecommunications market, which will work in favor of consumers.

For a long time, Germany had four mobile phone networks, but in 2014 O2 took over its competitor E-Plus. The consolidation of the networks took place gradually until 2016. After that, there were only three nets.