Germany’s 1&1 has become a much-watched operator on the global stage, primarily because it decided to embrace a cloud-native approach and deploy Europe’s first fully virtualized 5G network based on open radio access network (RAN) technology.

At the same time, this also means it faces considerable scrutiny over the pace of deployment, as well as the quality of the network. Recent reports about a major outage at the United Internet-owned operator are certainly unwelcome as it gradually migrates customers onto its 5G network, and it remains to be seen how the network will perform as more customers come on board.

The story so far

It’s fair to say that the rollout of 1&1’s 5G network has been much delayed, although the operator continues to express confidence that the “1&1 O-RAN is growing day by day.” It began offering mobile services on the network in December, building on the fixed wireless access (FWA) service that has been available since December 2022.

By the end of March 2024, 1&1 had deployed 1,334 sites overall, although only 530 of these sites were equipped with 5G base stations and just 227 were also linked to the fiber network operated by sister company 1&1 Versatel.

Around 700,000 customers were using the 5G network at the end of the first quarter, a relative drop in the ocean compared to its total mobile base of 12.29 million mobile subscribers. Meanwhile, 1&1 still relies on Telefónica Deutschland (O2 Telefónica) for national roaming support, although it will shift to Vodafone Germany’s network later this year.

Longer term goals include supplying a quarter of German households by the end of 2025 and 50% by the end of 2030, as set out in spectrum licensing conditions. And of course, the aim will be to migrate more of its customer base to its own network, lessening its reliance on national roaming deals.

Software glitches and outages

However, the second quarter of 2024 has already proved to be a somewhat challenging period for the operator. 

At the end of May, reports abounded about problems encountered by 1&1 customers on the new 5G network. In fact, this turned out to be a major network outage lasting at least four days. It also seems that some customers continue to report problems, at least according to 1&1’s X feed as well as web sites that keep an eye on network outages generally. 

1&1 was quick to admit to a network fault, blaming it on some buggy software. According to a statement from the operator, “in the course of a software update, a technical fault occurred in the 1&1 5G network on May 27, which affected some 1&1 mobile customers … the services were available again on May 29. Around 4% of our more than 12 million mobile customers were affected by the initial disruption.”

Little more has been revealed, such as the root causes of the “technical fault” and which software and equipment are to blame. Indeed, while 1&1 has famously worked with over 80 vendor partners on the network, it has been reticent about revealing too much detail about who these vendors are.

What is known is that Rakuten Symphony is overseeing the construction of the virtualized mobile network. In 2021, it was stated that Rakuten would take over the build of the active network equipment and would also be responsible for the overall performance of the 1&1 mobile network.

Other vendor names have emerged since then, including Cisco, NEC and Mavenir. Indeed, 1&1 has confirmed that Mavenir is providing the cloud-native core network, noting, for example, that Mavenir software in the core network provides standardized interfaces to orchestrate standards-based billing.

In December, Rakuten said that using its “specially developed” orchestration software, “we serve as system integrator to ensure that core network applications interact seamlessly with all other software and hardware components” in the 5G network.

Mavenir also said it provides all components in the core network, adding that its software “runs as container-based microservices on Rakuten Symphony’s platform and serves both fixed wireless access and mobile services (eMBB).”

Rakuten Symphony did not respond to a request for comment about 1&1’s recent 5G problems ahead of publication. However, Mavenir did send a statement by email when contacted by Fierce Network.

“Mavenir software is globally deployed across multiple networks and performing as designed. Incidents observed in 1&1 network are not directly attributable to any Mavenir products. That said, Mavenir is actively supporting Rakuten and 1&1 to address any observations in the network,” the company said.

More about the progress of the network rollout and customer migration should be revealed in August, when 1&1 will present its half-yearly financial report for 2024.

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