30 years of D-Netze: no network starts without a telephone

Exactly one year ago, almost the whole world was able to celebrate the 30th birthday of what was state-of-the-art digital mobile communication when it was first introduced. The Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) went into commercial operation for the first time in Finland on 1 July 1991. The two German network operators are also ready. But Bundespost-Telekom and its private competitor Mannesmann (later Arcor, later Vodafone) have waited in vain for approved mobile phones: until they’re available, the network doesn’t make sense.

We had to wait a full year in Germany and continue making calls on the overloaded C network. But in mid-1992 the time had come: with the start of normal operations on 1 July 1992, Telekom wanted to advertise its new D1 network. The only nonsense: Mannesmann, who had initially announced his entry for mid-July, preferred the start and removed the sausage in Telekom on 30 June 1992 with “D2 privat”.

However, the operators had no real reason to celebrate: in the beginning – as with the C network – only phone cases were available, portable in the literal sense of the word, but heavy and bulky. They did not fit into the pockets of the vest or trousers. Furthermore, the prices were high: Motorola’s Telekom Portable 324 cost 3190 Deutschmarks (roughly the same amount in euros), the 334 model even costed 3850 Deutschmarks. Prices at Mannesmann were similar.

Only in the autumn of 1992 were suppliers able to supply real cell phones. At a time when even the most luxuriously equipped smartphones sell for just over $ 1,000, these rates can seem exorbitant. Indeed, a C-network “handset” cost around 10,000 DM at the time, so GSM devices were significantly cheaper.

With the Motorola International 3200 (“bones”) and the Ericsson GH-172, some momentum has come to the market. However, by the end of the year, Telekom had a whopping 38,000 cell phones at its disposal, none of which has been handed down by Mannesmann. At the time, there were no queues in front of the shops that still form today when some mobile phones are launched: the equally high call prices have ensured that. Telekom wanted a monthly rent of DM 79.80, Mannesmann DM 77.52. The minute of the mobile costs 1.68 Deutschmarks between 7:00 and 20:00, otherwise 0.52 Deutschmarks. Mannesmann wanted DM 1.44 during the day, otherwise DM 0.49.

The first mobile phones

The US Army handie-talkie (image: Motorola archives)

Despite the theoretical advantages of D networks and a longer test phase, things stalled at the beginning: as with other media and transmission paths, digital systems provide stable quality for as long as possible, but if the network weakens, digital interference is much more penetrating than the noise of an analog connection. And due to the heavily holed networks at the time, the talks were interrupted again and again. Anyone who already owned a C-net phone initially had little reason to switch to the new technology.

Because Telekom and Mannesmann focused on building the network in metropolitan areas and highways, there was a long radio silence in the D networks in rural areas. Long distance calls did not always work, even in substantially supplied areas. Since the late 1990s, an anecdote has been passed down from the staff of the former WDR “Lindenstraße” series, whose studios were in Cologne-Bocklemünd at the time, according to which D2 customers could phone there, but not D1 customers. Even a friendly letter from D1 users to Telekom was unable to alleviate the malaise in the short term.

Another curiosity from the early days of D-Netze: the then Federal Minister of Post Christian Schwarz-Schilling issued the relevant licenses shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in December 1989. The territory of the then still existing GDR was not subject of the contract, the networks are initially envisaged only for the former Federal Republic of Germany and West Berlin. After it became clear that East and West were going together, the new federal states were quickly included. The network was ready there for the start of test operations in 1991.

Although GSM is an international standard (the United States has also switched to it, only Japan and South Korea operated isolated solutions before LTE), exhausted users of today’s normal things like roaming could initially only dream of. This has only worked since February 1993 with the participating network operators. Theoretically, SMS dominated networks, but the first text messages in the two D networks did not switch from cellular to cellular until 1995. They also had to explicitly support SMS: the Motorola Bone and other first generation devices could not do anything with. messages and certainly could not send them. The original waste technology becomes a cash cow for operators: in 1999, the Germans sent around 3.6 billion SMS.

Although Georg Schmitt, head of technology at Mannesmann, in 1993 defined GSM as “God, send cell phones” (God, send cell phones!): The situation is gradually easing, phones are coming and with them the users. At the beginning of 1993, Telekom and Mannesmann had 203,000 customers in Germany, by the end of the year they numbered 969,000 – in one year the number had quadrupled and soon passed one million.

In 1994, GSM technology started in Germany with E-plus in the E network. Motto: same technology, higher frequency. High frequencies are an advantage in today’s dense cell phone networks. At the time, E-plus was known for its poor network coverage, but was cheaper than the competition in the D network, which caused prices to drop. The fourth player, Viag Interkom, combines the best of both worlds in 1998: The Bavarians created their own electronic network, but agreed with Telekom that the mobile phones of Viag customers could be connected for free wherever their network was weak. in network D1. The company has been called O2 since 2002 and took over E-plus in 2014.

Thanks to prepaid cards and the entry of discount stores, as well as technical progress, mobile phones and tariffs have changed from luxury to common good and many private users have long since done away with landlines. In July 2000, the regulator and the network operator in Germany messed up the switch from telephone everywhere to mobile data transmission: the frequencies for the UMTS network, which was shut down last year, were put on hold. auction at fabulous prices and the services were consequently expensive and unappealing. Furthermore, the first smartphones were a long way from what users take for granted today.

With LTE (“4G”), networks became fast and smartphones powerful enough for HD video telephony, video conferencing and multimedia content. 30 years after the rough start, digital mobile communications can no longer be ignored and the GSM network developed in Europe is still used in many countries.


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