Germany’s 1&1 finally goes head-to-head with 5G rivals

Ray Le Maistre
By Ray Le Maistre

Dec 8, 2023

  • German 5G new entrant 1&1 has had a tortuous journey to become the country’s fourth mobile network operator
  • It has finally switched on its 5G mobile service
  • But it still has few sites active on its own Open RAN-based network
  • Now the really hard work of developing a profitable mobile services business begins

Germany’s cellular network new entrant 1&1, which opted to build an Open RAN-based greenfield network with help from Rakuten Symphony and other vendors, has finally launched its commercial 5G mobile services and is now competing with the country’s incumbent giants Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile), Vodafone Deutschland and Telefónica Deutschland (O2 Telefónica). 

Part of the United Internet AG empire, 1&1 first announced its plan to outsource the planning and building of the Open RAN network to Rakuten Symphony (the vendor arm of Rakuten Mobile) in 2021, since when the vendor has amassed a broad selection of about 80 technology partners – most notably Mavenir for the 5G core functionality (the brains of the network) – to help with the rollout. 

But progress has been slow. 1&1 launched 5G-enabled fixed wireless access (FWA) services in a couple of locations at the end of 2022 but its efforts to launch a 5G mobile broadband service for smartphone users has been beset by challenges, including a lengthy and disruptive spat with Vantage Towers, which had been selected as the lead supplier of mobile mast resources but failed to deliver. 

Now, finally, a 5G mobile service is available following the activation of national roaming services by O2 Telefónica that means 1&1’s customers can access 5G services in areas where the newcomer hasn’t yet built out its own network: From the summer of 2024, Vodafone will become 1&1’s 5G roaming services supplier.   

TelecomTV understands that, for the next month or so, the 5G services will be used only by selected “friendly” users before a full commercial offer becomes available to Germany’s general public in early 2024. That’s when the really hard work will begin for 1&1, as it will need to attract 5G customers in a market dominated by three large rivals that have long been offering 5G services across Germany. 1&1 does at least have 12 million existing mobile customers (built up during its many years as a mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO), but it will now need to entice those users to migrate to its own network as well as sign up other new users in order to make its mobile business a financial success. 

And there’s still lots of work to be done on its own 5G infrastructure: 1&1’s network is still relatively small at this stage – only around 50 sites are active with the operator’s antennas that link back via fibre connections to hundreds of edge cloud datacentres, which house servers that host and run multiple virtualised radio access network (RAN) functions.   

“We have been closely following the development of the new Open RAN technology from the very beginning,” noted 1&1’s CEO, Ralph Dommermuth. We have built internal specialist teams, established a strong partner network, and concluded tough national roaming negotiations. A year ago, we were able to demonstrate the functionality of Open RAN in Germany with the launch of our first ‘5G at home’ [FWA] service. We are now taking the next step by activating mobile services. The 1&1 O-RAN is now fully operational – an important milestone in our company’s history," he added. 

All network functions are located in our private cloud and are controlled by software,” continued the CEO. “This comes mainly from Rakuten and Mavenir. As systems integrator, Rakuten also ensures that all network components interact smoothly. In this way, 1&1 benefits from the extensive experience that Rakuten has gained in recent years in operating the world’s first Open RAN in Japan.”

Pardeep Kohli, Mavenir’s president and CEO noted: “For the 1&1 O-RAN, Mavenir provides all components in the core network that are required for a state-of-the-art 5G mobile network – cloud native and interoperable. Our software for the core network runs as container-based micro services on Rakuten Symphony’s platform and serves both fixed wireless access (FWA) and mobile services (eMBB). We congratulate 1&1 on Europe’s most advanced mobile network and are proud to be part of this innovation from the beginning,” added Kohli.

The greenfield network, once fully built out, will be Europe’s first national Open RAN-based mobile network. “1&1 is making history in European mobile communications – we are immensely proud to partner with them to deploy Europe’s most modern mobile network,” stated Rakuten Group chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani. “As the first operator in Europe to successfully deploy a commercial open radio access network, 1&1 has set a precedent for the future of telecom where networks are automated, cloud native and built on open interfaces. Rakuten is committed to the seamless integration of all components in 1&1’s network through the use of intelligent software, and we will continue supporting our partner in their journey to realise the benefits of Open RAN and a cloud-native mobile network,” he added.

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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