In the first of its two current scandals, Deutsche Telekom wants to use so-called “vectoring” technology to reduce interference between bundled strands in copper-wire DSL internet connections by increasing and decreasing signals to balance out a more efficient overall electric signal transmission. “Vectoring” requires the Kabelverzweiger, the “cable brancher” or “cross connect” gray box by the side of the street, to be connected to a fiber optic line. Powerful computing is required at the phone company end to “precalculate” the “error suppression” for all transmissions on all DSL lines in the bundle simultaneously in real time. Maximum efficiency requires one central administration of all DSL lines, by one company in other words.
Telekom claims its vectoring only works when a single company controls all the lines at the gray box; “no other companies could then install their own technology there,” the F.A.Z. wrote, voicing the worry about fairness to companies in competition with Telekom. Fairness at the consumer end is also an issue, inter alia because vectoring requires modems specially modified for vectoring technology. Manufacturers such as AVM are already shipping only “vectoring-friendly” modems.
Just before the long Christmas break in 2012, Telekom submitted a request to the Networks Agency (Bundesnetzagentur, BNetzA) to modify BNetzA rules to allow its vectoring. After receiving the petition, the Bundesnetzagentur asked companies in the sector to amicably agree on solutions amongst themselves in order to reduce regulatory intervention to a minimum. Deutsche Telekom also tried to calm remonopolization fears by e.g. saying that if competitor companies had connected their own fiber optic lines to gray branching boxes, they could use its vectoring technology too. It also had some new last mile products it wanted to rent out to them.
On 15 May 2013 the Bundesnetzagentur issued a draft approving the partial deregulation—which still must be approved by the EU Commission and the regulatory authorities of the Member States which would have one month to review the proposal after BNetzA’s 24 Apr 2013 hearing—allowing Deutsche Telekom and its competitors to use Telekom’s vectoring while imposing conditions intended to mitigate the old monopoly’s sole control of branching boxes, though the items in this list indicate apparently not to mitigate possible data privacy repercussions caused by the central computational process managing the balancing out of every DSL line. These conditions included:
- Around questionable boxes, at least one other provider must market a fast internet connection, such as television cable.
- For Telekom to use vectoring at a box, more than one competitor must be connected to that box.
- Telekom’s competitors in turn are required to use Telekom’s vectoring in all boxes to which they have connected. Does this give Telekom’s servers access to all those end consumers and their data?
Alternatively, non-“vectoring” options for speeding up DSL connections include so-called “bonding,” bundling in which incoming data packets are distributed through two of the usually four available lines of a DSL connection rather than just being sent through one. Routers that can bundle the unsorted incoming packets will have two DSL inputs instead of just one. There is also a “phantom bundling” option that can take two (four-line) DSL connections and use one line from each connection to create a third, “phantom” circuit that will suffice to “modulate up” DSL signals. It is claimed that Deutsche Telekom’s “vectoring” would be faster than these bundling alternatives and/or speed them up by balancing away the signal bleed between copper wires.
Some Germans are concerned that their internet service providers already are claiming internet speeds they don’t actually deliver or secretly throttling cheap connections; to address these concerns the Bundesnetzagentur studied German broadband quality in 2012 and posted a link to a “broadband test” and a “net neutrality test” (that can’t be run on a wireless network) for consumers on an “Initiative Netzqualität” website scheduled to be shut down in late June 2013. The net neutrality test requires Java. Both tests are for stationary internet connections; neither can be run on a mobile network. Speaking of mobile internet: now that Deutsche Telekom has received approval from US antitrust authorities to merge T-Mobile with competitor Metro PCS, they plan to use some of Deutsche Telekom’s new cash liquidity to build mobile infrastructure in the USA.