With the expansion of the new 5G mobile technology, the discussion about national roaming has become a matter of importance again in Germany. The network operators Telefónica Germany and 1&1 Drillisch have recently concluded an agreement on national roaming. There are numerous advantages for consumers thanks to the option of roaming within Germany. However, not all network operators are actually enthusiastic about national roaming. In this article, we clarify what national roaming is, what advantages it offers and what the current situation is in Germany.
Was ist national roaming?
Many smartphone owners are familiar with roaming from their last stay abroad. Abroad, roaming allows for the use of the mobile networks available there. The concept of national roaming refers to the possibility of using the mobile networks of other operators, in addition to one’s own provider network, within Germany. If there are corresponding agreements between the providers or the SIM card allows for national roaming, mobile subscribers can make calls, transfer data or send text messages in the networks available to them. Depending on the realization of national roaming, the use of additional networks may incur additional costs.
What are the benefits of national roaming for consumers?
National roaming has numerous advantages for mobile phone users. Consumers have access to the network with the best characteristics at any location. If the network provider does not offer coverage at a particular location, the mobile device can connect to one of the mobile networks that are available there. The number of dead spots and white spots is thus reduced. Customers benefit from a generally-improved network coverage and the best possible connection quality. In addition, the energy consumption of mobile devices reduces, since communication can take place with lower transmission power, in an alternative mobile network, with better coverage. For the switch to another mobile network, it is not necessary to change the SIM card. A single SIM card allows for the use of multiple networks.
Why isn’t everyone impressed by national roaming?
Despite the many advantages, not everyone is fundamentally impressed with the possibility of national roaming. Network operators, in particular, resist a mandatory requirement for national roaming, as it has been discussed for the 5G network. They fear that the competition will take advantage of their own well-developed network, and will not make efforts themselves to build their own coverage in unattractive locations. In the worst case, a roaming obligation could lead to a decrease of investments made in the networks, with network operators focusing on lucrative locations with many potential customers. Until now, the German network operators have been able to successfully protect themselves against an obligation to provide national roaming. They want to decide for themselves if and in which places they will cooperate with a competing provider.
National roaming and 5G
With the frequency auction for the new 5G network, 1&1 Drillisch joined Telekom Germany, Vodafone and Telefónica Germany as the fourth network operator to be granted permission to develop and operate its own mobile communications network in Germany. However, since Drillisch will be busy for some time, with the network installation and its subsequent bringing into the area, the network provider has concluded a national roaming agreement with Telefónica. This allows Drillisch customers to use the Telefónica mobile network in locations where there is no Drillisch network available. Thus, the coverage of Drillisch customers is ensured. However, the agreement only applies for the 2G, 3G and 4G mobile coverage.
The current situation of national roaming in Germany
In addition to the agreement between Telefónica and Drillisch, which was mentioned in the previous paragraph, there were and continue to be further cooperations regarding national roaming between network providers in Germany. For example, national roaming was extensively used after the acquisition of E-Plus by Telefónica. Until the final merger of the Telefónica (O2) and E-Plus networks, customers were able to use both networks thanks to national roaming. Telekom Germany and Vodafone have also been cooperating since 2020. In certain locations, Vodafone and Telekom are sharing their infrastructure. Customers benefit from an active network sharing. Both network providers avoid the concept of national roaming. Cooperation agreements are also planned between Telekom and Telefónica Germany, respectively between Vodafone and Telefónica Germany, in particular locations. With these cooperations, the network operators aim to close white spots for their customers in particular locations.
There is also a need for national roaming in the fields of machine-to-machine communications (M2M) and the Internet of Things. In each case, the best possible connection quality is to be available at all locations in Germany, in order to ensure the reliable connectivity for devices and applications. Some companies offer special M2M or IoT SIMs with national roaming capability. Equipped with these SIM cards, the devices communicate in any desired Germany mobile networks. Some suppliers use the trick of registering SIM cards with foreign providers. Basically, with these SIM cards all German mobile networks are available, without the need for special agreements on national roaming. That is because, from the perspective of the SIM card, when it comes to the selection of the German network, we are talking about international roaming. However, these SIM cards may lead to higher costs or communication costs.
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