German operator 1&1 expects to be able to put more 5G antennas into active service this year as it races to meet the first, and long-overdue, regulatory target to deploy 1,000 5G sites.

Speaking during a press conference at MWC24, Michael Martin, director, mobile radio network at 1&1 Telecommunication, said the company believes it has now “unblocked” its antenna bottleneck and hopes to catch up with its deployment backlog in the coming months.

“The biggest bottleneck we had in the past one and a half years was getting antenna locations, getting the rental contracts … on roofs,” he said, noting that tower partners ATC and Vantage Towers “are now delivering” while the operator is making progress with its own site acquisitions.

As things stand, 1&1 has just over 100 active sites, with more than 1,000 antennas “ready for active installation”. The next steps will be to mount the antennas and connect the sites to the operator’s own fibre network operated by sister company Versatel.

The operator recently activated 5G mobile services on its network, adding to a fixed wireless access play launched in December 2022.

Spreading the open RAN message
1&1 is building its 5G network based on open RAN technology, with support from partners Rakuten Symphony and Mavenir.

Martin was joined on stage by Rabih Dabboussi, chief business officer at Rakuten Symphony. The two executives spent much of their time extolling the benefits of open RAN, urging more market participants to adopt this new approach.

“I’d like to call on the industry professionals, experts in tech, business leaders, CEOs, vendors, innovators, mobile operators, join us in this journey. This is the future, we can’t do it with a handful of companies around the world, we need the ecosystem to grow,” said Dabboussi.

He expressed confidence that Rakuten Symphony’s open RAN projects in Japan and now Germany “will create a domino effect” across the globe. “Now, the industry is releasing RFPs on open RAN. Two years ago, they didn’t,” he said.