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8.15 The German telephone system

The old-fashioned yellow German telephone boxes

Deutsche TelekomUntil recently, the German telephone service was a state monopoly operated by the German postal service (die Deutsche Bundespost). This was once the Federal Republic's largest employer, having as many as 543,200 employees in 1985. In 1995, the Bundespost was split up into three sections and privatised:

  • firstly, the Deutsche Post AG looks after letters and parcels. It is now part of the world's largest logistics group, Deutsche Post World Net.
  • secondly, postal bank services were handled by Deutsche Postbank, which has since become Germany’s leading financial services provider for retail customers.
  • thirdly, Deutsche Telekom was formed in 1996 to take over the Bundespost's telecommunications interests. As of 2008, the German government still retains a 14.83% stake in company stock, and another 16.87% through the government bank KfW.

To install a phone in your own home, you first need to register with Telekom, who control phone lines into individual houses and flats. This can be done quite conveniently by filling out a form either at the post office or at one of the over 300 Telekom Shop customer information centres and sales points which can be found in most German towns and cities.

Once you have your connection and a telephone, you can then choose your provider. On the first of January 1998, the German phone network was deregulated, allowing new providers to enter the telecommunications market. Trying to differentiate between the features and rate structures offered by companies is as difficult as it is in Great Britain. As a result, web sites such as Billiger Telefonieren (= telephone more cheaply) and teltarif.de have sprung up on the internet offering up-to-the-minute information on the cheapest phone rates.

Although the liberalisation of the German telecommunications system was launched well over a decade ago, Deutsche Telekom still had an 82.9% share of the landline market in October 2007. This market domination has often been controversial. In a decision of 23 May 2003, the EU Commission concluded that, from 1998, Deutsche Telekom had been abusing its dominant position on the markets for direct access to its fixed telephone network. Such abuse consisted in charging competitors prices for access to the network that were higher than Deutsche Telekom's prices for retail access. Such pricing in the form of a 'margin squeeze' forced competitors to charge their end-users prices higher than those which Deutsche Telekom charged its own end-users. The Commission therefore imposed a fine of 12.6 million euros on Deutsche Telekom.

Mobile phones
A German mobile phoneA mobile phone is known as das Handy in Germany. This is the result of German marketing executives giving the new phone a trendy American sounding name in an attempt to help it sell in the Federal Republic. Despite the fact that no other nation - English-speaking or otherwise - refers to a mobile phone in this way, das Handy remains the German word for a mobile phone. The Gesellschaft für Deutsche Sprache (German Language Society) based in Wiesbaden even launched a competition in 1996 to come up with a more "solid" i.e. German-sounding variant. 1195 (!) alternative names were suggested by the German public, including Handgurke, BUMM, Anrufli, Calli, Foni, Mini, Mobi, Nervi, Rufli, Sacki, Schnelli, Speaki, Telli, Tragi, Digifon, Handfon, Kultfon, Lightfon, Minifon, Pocketfon, Praktifon, Schnulofon, Superfon, Funktel, Handtel, Kablotel, Manutel, Portel, Tragetel, Taschtel or Mobitel. But all of these more Germanic-sounding names for a mobile phone failed to grab the public's imagination.

A German mobile phoneThe fact that many of the names proposed for this competition - such as der Yuppielutscher (= yuppie lollipop) or das Protzofon (= show-off phone) - were less than complimentary is indicative of the hostility with which the mobile phone has been greeted in some quarters of German society. Already you can see a `no handy' sign modelled on the no-smoking symbol - a drawing of a mobile in a red circle with a diagonal red bar across it - in hotel lobbies and restaurants. In his book "Hand in Handy", a witty analysis of the mobile phone phenomenon, journalist Hellmuth Karasek depicted das Handy as a status symbol for German children as well as an ostentatious executive toy.

By the end of the year 2000, Germany had the greatest number of mobile phone users in any European country, clearly ahead of Italy and the UK. Since August 2006, there have been substantially more mobile phones in Germany than there are inhabitants. In the first nine months of 2007, the number of German mobile phone subscribers grew by 8.9% to reach 93.292 million. The German mobile phone market was worth 26.4 thousand million euros in October 2007. Market-leader Vodafone had a 30.1% share of the market, followed by T-Mobile with 27.7%.

Internet and broadband
Germany has the largest internet market in Europe with around 24.5 million connections and a penetration rate of around 27% of the population. In 2005, 69% of households had a PC and 60% of all households had access to the internet.

Until recently however, the German broadband market had been relatively under-developed in comparison to other Western European markets. This has largely been due to the dominant position of the incumbent operator, Deutsche Telekom, which has faced criticism for being slow to allow competition through the reselling of its wholesale products. Deutsche Telekom lines accounted for 74% of all wholesale broadband connections in 2005. Concerns also have been voiced about the regulatory protection extended to Deutsche Telekom's VDSL network by the German government.

But the situation is changing fast. By December 2005, there were approximately 10.7 million broadband lines in Germany, which represented growth of around 3.8 million connections, or 55.1% during 2005. Broadband traffic increased by 17% in 2007 to 1023 million gigabytes. Other operators have started to increase their share of the market. The second largest player in the broadband market, Arcor, had a share of around 9% of the total wholesale market in December 2005.

Web links  Web Links  Web links

Deutsche Telekom The homepage of Deutsche Telekom, the privatised telephone provider.
T-Punkt Enter your German postcode here to see where your nearest T-Punkt is.
Billiger Telefonieren This is a website that enables you to calculate which German telephone provider is currently offering the cheapest phone calls.
Telekom Austria Visit the homepage of Austria's Telekom phone company.
Swisscom Visit the homepage of the Swiss telecommunications company Swisscom.
handy.de A site devoted to mobile phones in Germany. Advice, products, and ringtones galore.
Hand in Handy Information on Hellmuth Karasek's book Hand in Handy which takes a satirical look at the rise and rise of the mobile phone. In German only.
Der kleine Handyaner Information on Gerald Reischl's book Der kleine Handyaner which explains the history and the wonders of the mobile phone. In German only.

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