How do cellular operators work

Mobile operator in Germany

Whether premium provider or discount provider, every offer has advantages. For example, doing without LTE and data volumes over 1 GB reduces monthly costs. A mobile phone contract with a higher basic fee is well suited to finance a current smartphone over the term.

Some mobile phone providers have contracts without a minimum term. These offers can be canceled on a monthly basis. Flat rates and free minutes are available, as are data contingents for frequent surfers and customers who only surf the Internet sporadically with their mobile phones.

Whether you surf with UMTS or LTE depends on the cell phone provider, tariff and cell phone network. The download rates can be throttled even if you are connected to the fast D1 or D2 network.

Which cell phone networks are there?

There are four networks in total:

  • D1 network
  • D2 network
  • E1 network
  • E2 network

D- and E-Netz are digital cellular networks in the GSM standard, which were set up in the 1990s and have been continuously expanded since then. There is no longer a complete separation according to frequencies.

UMTS licenses were added in 2000, followed by LTE later. These standards apply to all German cell phone networks. The mobile phone providers or network operators are responsible for their expansion.

The entire D network is generally considered to be more efficient. The E-Netze are combined due to the takeover of E-Plus by Telefónica. This results in advantages for previous customers of BASE and o2. The infrastructure is improving, which increases accessibility in both urban and rural areas. LTE is becoming widely available.

Cellular providers and cell phone networks

The above-mentioned cell phone networks are distributed among the following cell phone providers:

  • D1: Telecom
  • D2: Vodafone
  • E1: E-Plus
  • E2: o2

E1 and E2 can be simply referred to as E-Netz, since E-Plus and O2 are merged into Telefónica. Virtual providers without their own network use the various mobile phone networks depending on whether they belong to the network operator or depending on the relevant contracts.

Whether LTE is available does not depend on the cell phone network, but on licenses and conditions of use. If you have a contract with one of the three major mobile network providers, you can surf the mobile data network with LTE.

Network coverage in Germany

What does network coverage mean anyway? The term refers to the availability of mobile connections, broken down according to mobile radio standards. A high network coverage means that in many places you not only make calls in the GSM network, but also surf with 3G or 4G.

You can make calls and surf the web with your mobile phone anywhere. Whether Telekom, Vodafone or O2 contract, the network operators work incessantly to offer you nationwide connections in the 3G or LTE standard.

Here you will find maps and views for the network coverage of T-Mobile, Vodafone, BASE and o2. Click on the pictures to go to the websites of the mobile phone providers and to find out more about the network expansion and available speeds.


The data on Telekom network coverage are helpful for mobile phone tariffs in the D1 network, for example from Klarmobil or Mobilcom-Debitel.

The network coverage at o2 increased sharply in 2015 as a result of the merger with E-Plus. Under the term National roaming the two electrical networks have been connected. This service was free of charge for customers of o2 and BASE. Since then, the availability of high-speed internet has increased.

What are UMTS, HSDPA and LTE?

In order to understand network coverage and network expansion, it is useful to take a look at the various mobile communications standards that have become established in recent years. While the original GSM networks (2G) have existed for decades, the successors 3G and 4G LTE have only been available for a few years.

All mobile phone providers work with a combination of GSM, UMTS as well as HSDPA and LTE. Whether your contract includes LTE depends on your provider. Cell phone providers with their own network usually provide 4G connections. Providers who use D and E networks mostly deliver cell phone contracts with 3G.

Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS)

UMTS has been established as a mobile radio standard since 2000. The alternative designation 3G corresponds to the third generation, known as UMTS.

UMTS connections are established via digital signal transmission. The method used for UMTS is called CDMA. It allows a simultaneous transmission of different data streams and is used in addition to the cellular network for GPS.

You can use UMTS to make calls and use the mobile Internet at the same time. The parallel data streams also result in higher download rates. Downloads are possible at around 2.0 Mbit per second.

High Speed ​​Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA)

HSDPA is also known as 3.5G or 3G + because it is a further development of UMTS. The signals are transmitted slot by slot using AMC, which means an adapted, flexible distribution of the data.

Many mobile phone providers without their own network offer mobile phone contracts with HSDPA rates. Theoretically, the download speed is up to 42.2 Mbit per second. Inexpensive cell phone providers and cell phone discounters often sell contracts with a 7.2 Mbit download rate. There are higher speeds with Mobilcom-Debitel and Klarmobil, for example. It does not matter whether the mobile phone providers access the D or E network.

Long Term Evolution (LTE)

LTE is correctly 3.9G. LTE-Advanced with download rates of up to 300 Mbit per second is considered the 4G standard. LTE is based on the UMTS principle and is therefore downward compatible. The data transmission takes place over extended frequencies in the UHF range.

The first LTE transmission mast went online for Telekom in August 2010. Since then, the mobile communications standard has become more widespread, so that all German network operators can offer high-speed Internet. Retrofitting and upgrading to 4G are associated with comparatively little effort.

A mobile phone contract with LTE is ideal for frequent surfers who don't just use their smartphone for a quick look at social networks and e-mails. Online games, streaming and working on the Internet increase data flows. Therefore, when choosing a mobile network provider, pay attention to the availability of 4G LTE.

Which cellular providers have LTE?

Whether a cell phone provider has LTE depends on the frequency distribution. You get a mobile phone contract with 4G LTE from the most important mobile phone providers in Germany. Vodafone, Telekom and o2 offer high-speed mobile internet. Cellular providers like Blau can also provide 4G LTE, depending on the contract selected.

Data tariffs often use a greater bandwidth than cell phone contracts, as they do not include telephony. Depending on the contract, you can therefore surf faster with the tablet than with the smartphone in many cases.

Just because a cellular provider doesn't have LTE doesn't mean you have to worry about slow downloads. HSDPA makes the difference. If mobile phone providers use the fast D-Netz, downloads of up to 42.2 Mbit per second are possible. Or you surf at around 21 Mbit per second. Even HD streams are no problem.

The right wireless service provider

How do you find the right wireless service provider?

  • By comparing cell phone tariffs.
  • By choosing the D or E network.
  • By choosing the contract with a mobile phone or without a mobile phone.
  • By taking discounts and free gifts into account.

There is no such thing as the perfect wireless service provider. While you will find the best contract with o2 in a year, a Telekom tariff in the D1 network can prove to be more suitable two years later. Whether it is an original mobile phone contract with a network operator or a discount tariff on favorable terms, the desire for a new smartphone often determines the future provider.

A comparison helps you to overview all the important performance data and the monthly costs for the selected mobile phone tariffs and to select the offer that suits you.