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How Germany plans to get rid of its 'embarrassing' mobile dead zones

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How Germany plans to get rid of its 'embarrassing' mobile dead zones
A mobile network pole in Meisenheim in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Photo: DPA
12:40 CET+01:00
When it comes to the construction of fast mobile telephone networks, Germany is lagging behind. But a new plan aims to change that.

In Germany, there are still many “dead zones” in mobile communications, where service is not available. The country is often dubbed a "Funklochrepublik" (radio hole republic) due to patchy and even non-existent coverage outside of big cities.

But now the government aims to change that - and fast. 

Andreas Scheuer, Federal Minister of Federal Transport and Digital Infrastructure, talks on his mobile phone at the summit in Meseberg. Photo: DPA

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Funklochrepublik

Germany will unlock €1.1 billion to build up to 5,000 new cell towers by 2024, bringing coverage up to 97.5 percent of the country's surface area, and wants to simplify planning rules.

Telecom companies have also promised to build 6,000 new masts.

Economy minister Peter Altmaier said last year that "I find it utterly
embarrassing if I have to call back ministers abroad three or four times when the connection drops" on long car journeys.

Illustrating the continuing problems, public broadcaster ARD's live signal from the Meseberg palace near Berlin failed Monday during an early afternoon news show about the cabinet meeting.

"There's no lack of money for investment at the moment," Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters afterwards.

"The problem is much, much more that it takes a very long time to plan" new masts.

A quicker building process

On Sunday evening, Minister of Federal Transport and Digital Infrastructure, Andreas Scheuer (CSU) called for quicker approval processes for the construction of mobile communication infrastructure across the country. 

At the moment, approximately one-thousand potential tower sites are still working on obtaining the necessary approval and licenses, he said.

The government will also set up a mobile infrastructure company that is able to support the expansion—possibly by awarding contracts themselves.

READ ALSO: New map shows Germany's mobile dead zones

This company is slated to begin work in the third quarter of 2020, and will be a subsidiary of the state-run Toll Collect, the company responsible for running the tolling system for trucks on German motorways.

Courting customers

A technician works to install a 5G mobile network tower in Mecklenberg-Vorpommern. Some parts of the country lack basic mobile coverage. Photo: DPA

The government will also respond to reservations on the ground about the construction of new poles through a new "Communications Initiative" campaign that's slated to last several years.

“Everyone would like a powerful and nationwide mobile network, but sometimes expanding the sites for mobile poles fails due to local pushback," stated the initiative. 

This resistance is often rooted in optical reasons; the mobile network poles are not so nice to look at. Furthermore, communities often express concern about additional exposure to radiation brought on by the construction of such poles.

This plan comes from the government’s existing mobile network strategy, which was acquired by DPA.

Currently, around 74,000 locations across the country provide access to the public mobile network.

In order to ensure a nationwide supply of access to these poles, thousands of new mobile sites would need to be developed, and the existing ones would need to be upgraded, stated the initiative. 

'Transparent and neutral' information

The “Communications Initiative” seeks to provide “transparent and neutral” information about the growth of the mobile communications industry and to start an in-depth dialogue with German and European citizens.

“The focus will be on the technical characteristics, the fields of application and the possibilities of new technology, as well as societal and potential health-related effects," it stated.

The mobile network strategy is a major theme of the mobile communications summit carried out by Germany, which began on Sunday in Meseberg in Brandenburg.

At the Monday afternoon summit, Merkel stuck to her line that Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei should not be shut out from building parts of Germany's next-generation 5G network, batting aside objections from within her own party.

The US and Germany's own security services have warned about Huawei's close links with Beijing.

"We're convinced that we need to improve security levels... but that's not about individual companies, it's about security standards. It's about the certification we'll do ourselves," the chancellor said.

Translated by Kate Brady, and with reporting by AFP. 

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