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What steps is Germany taking to improve internet speed?

Germany is known for being behind when it comes to internet speed, coverage and embracing digital changes. But the German government is trying to change that. Here's a look at what's going on.

A woman in Germany uses a phone and laptop. Germany is working on a digital strategy.
A woman in Germany uses a phone and laptop. Germany is working on a digital strategy. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

Anyone who’s been in Germany will probably have faced issues with their wifi, whether it’s a slow connection or lack of it. 

The country is also known for being slow on the uptake of moving paperwork to a digital format, with some services even requiring a fax machine at times.

And for years, people have been dreaming of being able to have an electronic patient file that would bundle all medical results and make it easy to pass them on to doctors with just one click.

Germany’s digital strategy, put forward by the coalition government of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) aims to address these things. 

It was set to be discussed in the Bundestag on Thursday – but does it go far enough?

What do the plans say?

By 2025, at least half of all households in Germany should have a fiber-optic connection, and by 2026, there should be interference-free smartphone coverage throughout the country, under the plans. 

This is not new – the expansion has been going on for some time and is part of the gigabit strategy, which is also being discussed in the Bundestag.

It involves things like new laying techniques, which would make it possible to expand much faster, Maik Außendorf, head of the Green party’s Digital Affairs told German broadcaster, Tagesschau. By 2030, the entire country should have fibre-optic lines.

READ MORE: How Germany is facing up to its slow internet problem

Nadine Schön, digital policy spokesperson for the opposition CDU/CSU, says that Germany needs to become a less paperwork-orientated country. 

“The Finns are the happiest people in Europe, and when you ask them why, they say – ‘the state relieves us of all the paperwork’,” she told the Tagesschau. “They can do their tax returns on their mobile phones in eight minutes; they can do everything digitally.”

The digital strategy portrays a convenient, new world that many people in Germany have been craving for a long time. For instance, thanks to digital identity setups, people could authenticate themselves at a public authority from home. They could then apply for a new registration (Anmeldung) after moving, or get a new resident’s parking permit from their couch.

Companies and startups would receive better support to simplify the often time-consuming processes with government agencies.

But both Schön (CDU/CSU) and Außendorf (Greens), who sit on the Digital Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, are not yet satisfied with the strategy.

The conservatives are introducing their own motion to the debate, and are pressing for even better business support for the digital transformation. 

Außendorf, on the other hand, is concerned that there is still no defined digital budget, even though this is stipulated in the coalition agreement.

In his view, this is a key point for advancing important IT projects in a targeted manner.

Sustainability is also an important factor to Außendorf when it comes to the digital strategy. He is keen on unconventional ideas, citing the example of a greenhouse on the roof of a data centre in North Friesland that uses the waste heat from a server farm.

“Data centres consume an enormous amount of energy, and a large part of it goes into the environment as waste heat,” he says. “This waste heat can be used in a variety of ways, for example by coupling it to local and district heating networks or for heating greenhouses.”

Member comments

  1. Digital? Not having to fill in bits of paper and sign them and then post them? I mean what’s the stupid pad in IKEA I have to sign all about!? And as for the bloody EC card. That’s their idea of a digital payment system!? Hey ho at least they’ll be able to send their emails a bit faster….. when they’ve stopped reading their faxes and letters

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TECH

‘A great day for consumers in Europe’: EU votes for single smartphone charger

The EU parliament on Tuesday passed a new law requiring USB-C to be the single charger standard for all new smartphones, tablets and cameras from late 2024 in a move that was heralded a "great day for consumers".

'A great day for consumers in Europe': EU votes for single smartphone charger

The measure, which EU lawmakers adopted with a vote 602 in favour, 13 against, will – in Europe at least – push Apple to drop its outdated Lightning port on its iPhones for the USB-C one already used by many of its competitors.

Makers of laptops will have extra time, from early 2026, to also follow suit.

EU policymakers say the single charger rule will simplify the life of Europeans, reduce the mountain of obsolete chargers and reduce costs for consumers.

It is expected to save at least 200 million euros ($195 million) per year and cut more than a thousand tonnes of EU electronic waste every year, the bloc’s competition chief Margrethe Vestager said.

The EU move is expected to ripple around the world.

The European Union’s 27 countries are home to 450 million people who count among the world’s wealthiest consumers. Regulatory changes in the bloc often set global industry norms in what is known as the Brussels Effect.

“Today is a great day for consumers, a great day  for our environment,” Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba, the European Parliament’s pointman on the issue, said.

“After more than a decade; the single charger for multiple electronic devices will finally become a reality for Europe and hopefully we can also inspire the rest of the world,” he said.

Faster data speed

Apple, the world’s second-biggest seller of smartphones after Samsung, already uses USB-C charging ports on its iPads and laptops.

But it resisted EU legislation to force a change away from its Lightning ports on its iPhones, saying that was disproportionate and would stifle innovation.

However some users of its latest flagship iPhone models — which can capture extremely high-resolution photos and videos in massive data files — complain that the Lightning cable transfers data at only a bare fraction of the speed USB-C does.

The EU law will in two years’ time apply to all handheld mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones, headsets, portable speakers, handheld videogame consoles, e-readers, earbuds, keyboards, mice and portable navigation systems.

People buying a device will have the choice of getting one with or without a USB-C charger, to take advantage of the fact they might already have at least one cable at home.

Makers of electronic consumer items in Europe agreed a single charging norm from dozens on the market a decade ago under a voluntary agreement with the European Commission.

But Apple refused to abide by it, and other manufacturers kept their alternative cables going, meaning there are still some six types knocking  around.

They include old-style USB-A, mini-USB and USB-micro, creating a jumble of cables for consumers.

USB-C ports can charge at up to 100 Watts, transfer data up to 40 gigabits per second, and can serve to hook up to external displays.

Apple also offers wireless charging for its latest iPhones — and there is speculation it might do away with charging ports for cables entirely in future models.

But currently the wireless charging option offers lower power and data transfer speeds than USB-C.

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