Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, the Bundeskartellamt, is investigating whether Vodafone, through its Vantage Towers unit, has violated competition law by obstructing competitor 1&1’s 5G network rollout. The investigation was initiated following a complaint from 1&1, which is working to become a credible fourth Mobile Network Operator (MNO) in Germany. The telco alleges that Vantage Towers is hindering its deployment by not providing access to its sites per their contractual agreement.
Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt, commented on the significance of fair competition rules in business practices, and how dominant companies should not unfairly impede others. The investigation will focus on determining whether there are valid reasons for a delay in the provision of antenna locations for 1&1.
In late 2021, 1&1 contracted Vantage Towers to supply 3,800 sites by the end of 2025, possibly rising to a total of 5,000. However, by the end of 2022, only five operational 5G sites were supplied by Vantage for 1&1.
Interestingly, at the same time, Vodafone’s German unit had 1,600 5G antenna sites based on Vantage Towers infrastructure. This discrepancy led to 1&1’s complaint to the Bundeskartellamt, claiming Vantage was deliberately blocking its 5G rollout.
Apart from determining whether preferential treatment by Vantage is happening, the investigation will also examine if these figures alone serve as proof of foul play. There is no issue with the sites themselves, so Vodafone and Vantage will need to justify their actions.
In addition to the ongoing investigation by the Federal Cartel Office, 1&1 may face regulatory sanctions for failing to meet the rollout targets outlined in its licenses. Telecoms regulator the Bundesnetzagentur is still considering whether to fine 1&1 for not reaching that 1,000 sites target.
Regardless of the outcome, the situation highlights the importance of fair competition and transparent business practices in the telecommunications industry. The findings of both investigations will set a precedent for future cases and impact the development of 5G networks, not only in Germany but around the world.