Germany deploys bin trucks to map mobile blackspots

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Wusterhausen (Germany) (AFP) – On a street in Wusterhausen, about an hour’s drive north of Berlin, a man paces sharply, holding his mobile phone in front of him.

“I’m looking for a network, because this area is not good here,” says Arek Karasinski, at home on a business trip from Poland.

Phone signal problems are a constant source of frustration for residents of Wusterhausen, which sits in one of Germany’s many blackspots, for access to any mobile network.

“Here we are in Germany, an industrial nation, and we have all these dead zones,” says Matthias Noa, head of waste management firm AWU.

Noa was so excited when the local government asked if they could use his garbage trucks to do something about it, he quickly agreed.

Since the summer, the trucks have been equipped with a device that measures the quality of the signals on their routes across the Ostprignitz-Ruppin area.

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As their work takes them all over the area, they are the perfect vehicles for the job.

“We go out on the ground, into every corner,” says Werner Nuese, vice president of the local council, who was not satisfied with the efforts made by public bodies or private groups to plot the signal problems.

Jonny Basner, a driver involved in the program, understands the problem. “It would be great if I had enough signs to reach the depot from the villages (on the way),” he says.

Trails have been given to walkers and cyclists to fill the gaps left by the litter collectors.

On a map, Nuese points out the spots marked in red where the signal is the least.

“Even if this is a rural area in the north-east of Germany, we should not be forgotten. That is our claim,” he says.

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‘On the scene’

A short walk shows the problems people are facing.

“Outside the terrace I can get a signal, but in the house there is nothing, nobody can reach me on the phone,” says Dieter Mueller in the village of Bantikow.

'Here we are in Germany, an industrial nation, and we have all these dead zones,' says Matthias Noa, head of waste management firm AWU
‘Here we are in Germany, an industrial nation, and we have all these dead zones,’ says Matthias Noa, head of waste management firm AWU Lara Bommerers AFP

About 10 kilometers (six miles) away in Wusterhausen itself, Marko Neuendorf says he has canceled his phone contract “because there is no signal here”.

The region would be more attractive to investors and tourists if the mobile network was better, according to local officials.

“Every cottage industry has gone digital, every single electrician uses a tablet to order spare parts. It’s not just big companies that are more digital,” says Noa.

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The Nuese Council official says medical spas in the area are getting bad reviews “because the sign is very bad”.

“It’s a measurable economic disadvantage,” he says.

Much of Germany’s infrastructure and administration ended up at the top of the political agenda when Chancellor Angela Merkel left office a year ago.

People regularly lack signal in the area
People regularly lack signal in the area Lara Bommerers AFP

According to official data, standard LTE coverage, equivalent to 4G, is at 100 percent.

But in a survey by price comparison site Verivox, published earlier this year, most people said they regularly lacked a signal when using their phones.

In 2018, then economy minister Peter Altmaier said he was “very annoyed that he had to call back three, four times because it cut off” while making calls from his car on official business.

By producing more detailed signal maps, the Council hopes to encourage a response from mobile network operators and lobby the government for more support.


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