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Germany launches first 5G network

July 4, 2019

Germany's largest telecom company has launched the country's first 5G network, but for now it only works in two cities and with a €900 smartphone. By the end of 2020, 5G coverage is due in 20 German cities.

Man standing in front of a 5G banner
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Roessler

On Wednesday, German telecom giant Deutsche Telekom announced that Germany's first 5G network was operational for customers in Bonn and Berlin, albeit with limited coverage. 

Deutsche Telekom also began selling the first 5G-compatible Samsung Galaxy S10 phones in Germany on Wednesday for around €900 ($1,000), along with unlimited data packets starting at €85 monthly.

Ultra-fast 5G data networks can transfer data at 1,000 times faster than current 4G networks. They are designed for use by self-driving cars, connected factories and smart cities.

Read more: Berlin plans to go hyperdigital

Deutsche Telekom said that the construction of 5G network infrastructure would continue in Berlin and Bonn, followed by Hamburg, Munich, Darmstadt and Leipzig. By the end of 2020, the company said 5G networks should be operational in Germany's 20 largest cities.

The announcement comes three weeks after Deutsche Telekom emerged as the highest bidder in a 5G network spectrum block auction by Germany's Federal Network Agency (BNetzA). 

During the auction in June, €6.5 billion was raised among four German telecoms. Deutsche Telekom will pay over €2 billion for its part. 

Read more: 5G auction in Germany raises €6.5 billion from four telcoms

Dirk Wössner, managing director of Deutsche Telekom Germany, said that the company was working to get 5G "on the streets as quickly as possible," adding that the speed of the rollout depended on getting through bureaucratic red tape. 

"We need a clear regulatory framework and pragmatism from the authorities — particularly when it comes to regional spectrums, allocation of the auction proceeds, and approval procedures, which takes far too long in Germany."

Read more: Vodafone calls for German government help with ultrafast broadband rollout

2019: What's on Germans' minds?

Germany's slow connections

BNetzA will require operators to provide high-speed coverage to 98% of households by 2022. Deutsche Telekom said around 300 5G antenna in more than 100 locations were due to be operational by the end of the year. Deutsche Telekom said that it planned to expand and improve its 4G (LTE) network, especially in rural areas, along with building 5G infrastructure. 

As 5G spectrum waves cannot travel great distances or pass through objects, booster antennas will have to be positioned an average of every 150 meters (500 feet). In addition to retrofitting existing cell phone towers, booster antennas on street signs and post boxes could be necessary to ensure a stable 5G connection. 

Read more: 5G networks: Are they dangerous to our health?

For example, Germany's dpa press agency reported that although Deutsche Telekom operates 66 antennas in 22 locations in Berlin, that does not provide enough 5G network coverage for the entire city. 

At the same time, Germany is notorious for having many areas in rural parts of the country with little or no mobile coverage. BNetzA said that the money raised in the 5G auction would also be used to upgrade all German broadband networks. Germany's wireless networks currently rank only 46th in the world for download speeds.

There are also reports that slower networks like 3G will be scaled back as operators develop more 5G coverage. Spiegel Online reported Wednesday that, according to a BNetzA study, 53% of German sim cards operate on these slower networks, which are set to be shut off by 2021.

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Wesley Rahn Editor and reporter focusing on geopolitics and Asia