CEO Markus Haas talks to the Stuttgarter Zeitung:
“High-speed Internet for everyone by 2020ˮ
In an interview with the German newspaper Stuttgarter Zeitung, CEO Markus Haas explains how Telefónica Deutschland has expanded the new O2 network in the Stuttgart region as part of its network integration. He also discusses the opportunities and challenges of the future standard 5G as well as the basic conditions for the upcoming frequency allocation. We provide some extracts here. The full interview is available online and in the print edition of the Stuttgarter Zeitung from 9 July 2018.
Mr. Haas, O2 used to be considered cool; now you have the image of a bad network and poor customer service. Does that bother you as the boss? Haas: Of course it concerns me – I’ve helped build up the company over the past 20 years. In the last few years, following the merger with E-Plus, we’ve brought the brands and tariffs into line with those of O2, and naturally that has led to lots of customer enquiries and also complaints. But in the last year we’ve changed tack and, according to one industry magazine, we’re offering the second-best service among the mobile providers and, in terms of quality and competence, even the best. That makes me proud. What’s making the industry happy is the increasing hunger for data in Germany: People are taking contracts with higher data allowances than they used to. Haas: With our customers the amount of data consumed has grown by around 50 percent a year for the last two years. Contract customers are using on average three gigabytes a month – in the northern European countries it’s twelve. In Germany it could be that high in four years’ time. After all, with large data packages our customers are already using six GB. So we still have the best ahead of us. […] You describe the integration of the mobile networks of O2 and E-Plus as a unique large-scale project in Europe. What did the conversion involve in the Stuttgart region? Haas: Before we could merge the O2 and E-Plus networks, we had six networks from three mobile generations to contend with. We turned this into a uniform network experience. Customers can now use all mobile standards seamlessly, so where possible without losing their signal. The voice quality and speed of the data transfer have improved. To achieve this we have converted and completely renovated 700 transmitter sites. The number of LTE sites for what is currently the fastest mobile standard has trebled.
How are consumers in the Stuttgart region benefiting? Haas: The network is now absolutely on a par with those of Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone. We will be running the biggest and most state-of-the-art mobile network in Germany. Driving from Stuttgart through the Black Forest to Freiburg, it’s not a consistent network experience you notice, but the dead spots... Haas: We haven’t supplied all areas with the current mobile standard LTE yet; the nationwide coverage is just under 85 percent of the population. But we are continuing to upgrade and we’re gradually closing the gap on the competition. By 2020 we will be close to 100 percent. That’s also when the new mobile standard 5G is to be introduced. How important will it be? Haas: 5G will be the key to success for the digitisation of Germany. But it will be a marathon and will keep us busy for the next few years. We’re still in the middle of the 4G network expansion. No company will make any revenues to speak of from 5G in the next few years, also because there aren’t the devices yet. The main use will be in industry, logistics and autonomous driving. We’ve been testing 5G intensively for two years, including in Munich, Berlin and along the A9.
Is an autonomous car journey from Stuttgart through the Black Forest at all realistic? Haas: Autonomous driving will start off in closed traffic systems, like at airports. Then will come local public transport, where there will be various partnerships. But having autonomous driving on every road in Germany is not currently realistic. I can’t equip every street with the necessary transmitters every 50 metres. The frequencies for the network of the future are to be auctioned off at the start of next year. What do you think about this? Haas: The government’s priority must be to close the dead zones. Because of the expensive frequency allocations, the network operators don’t have the funds to expand the network. So the government can’t hold yet another expensive mobile auction and then wonder why there are still dead zones three years later. We could be much further on in the development of the infrastructure. They need to sit down with the industry and draw up a plan. What would you suggest? Haas: At least some of the existing frequencies should be extended for a fee. New 5G frequencies should be largely allocated to the network operators free of charge – on condition that they close the dead spots quickly. If the approval processes are speeded up, we can also expand our transmitter sites quickly in rural areas. […]