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1&1 Drillisch trials with ZTE seemingly up-and-running

ZTE might not get much media attention nowadays, though some might think of this as a blessing, but it seems to be getting along just fine with Germany’s newest telco, 1&1 Drillisch.

With reports being traced back to a YouTuber named Tobias Dirking, 1&1 Drillisch is seemingly trialling 5G technology with the lesser criticised but arguably more controversial Chinese vendor ZTE. While this is only a trial for the moment, ZTE equipment has been spotted on the roof of the telcos offices in Karlsruhe and Montabaur.

According to Dirking’s video, the network technology has been supplied by ZTE, while the 4×4 MiMo antenna is from CommScope. No LED lights can have seen flickering from the equipment, so it would be fair to assume it is not yet switched on.

1&1 Drillisch has said this is not an indication of a decision for its 5G suppliers, but it is working to trial all available options.

While ZTE is a well-known name in the industry, success in the European markets has been relatively low-key. The firm has a relationship with Wind Tre in Italy, as well as several smaller telcos such as JT in Jersey, though it has not experienced the triumph of its domestic rival Huawei.

Interestingly enough, if the more successful ZTE becomes in the European market, the more enflamed the relationship between European nations and the US might become. If the White House is enraged by tenuous claims of a link between Huawei and the Chinese Government, Senators are now calling it the ‘intelligence-gathering arm of the Chinese Communist Party’, it is hardly going to be enthralled by a state-owned entity supplying RAN equipment.

After being founded in 1985 as the Zhongxing Semiconductor Company, the firm now describes itself as ‘state-owned and private-run’. Xi’an Microelectronics and Aerospace Guangyu are two of the largest shareholders of the business, controlling five of the nine board seats, and are subsidiaries of state-owned organisations in China. This is a much more obvious link than what has been suggested between Huawei and the Chinese Government.

ZTE has largely escaped the spotlight in recent months, perhaps due to the fact it does not dine at the top table like its domestic rival Huawei does. The ZTE business sees greatest success in Asia and Africa, though if it does start to gain traction in Europe, we can imagine White House aggression would be expanded.

What is worth noting is this is simply one of a seemingly endless list of unknowns at 1&1 Drillisch. Right at the top said list is the launch date, but before that can be established, the telco needs to sort out its spectrum portfolio.

Having acquired two blocks of 10 MHz in the 2 GHz band and five blocks of 10 MHz in 3.6 GHz during the spectrum auction last June, 1&1 Drillisch has also confirmed it has entered a relationship with Telefonica to lease two separate frequency blocks of 10 MHz in the 2.6 GHz band. This lease will run until 31 December 2025, though the remaining unknown is for the lower frequency spectrum.

Although the spectrum which has been collected is attractive for 5G services, there is still a requirement for the low-band spectrum, more suitable for coverage and propagation. 1&1 Drillisch is drawing a blank for these valuable assets, so will have to enter into a national roaming agreement with one or more of its rivals. This is far from ideal and will have to be sorted before any commercial services can be launched.

1&1 Drillisch is a very interesting company to keep an eye on, primarily because of the regulatory leg-up it has been offered by Germany, but its choices on the supplier side could cause some ripples in the political arena.

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