Saturday, September 18, 2021

Internet & Communications in Germany

EuropeGermanyInternet & Communications in Germany

Phone

The international dialling code for Germany is 49, the dialling code for international calls is 00, the dialling code for local calls is 0. Some number blocks are reserved for a special purpose: Numbers beginning with 010xx allow you to dial another phone provider (see below), 0800 and 00800 are toll-free numbers, 0180 are service numbers (which may or may not be more expensive than a local call). Avoid numbers beginning with 0900. These numbers are for commercial services and are usually very expensive.

German telephone numbers have the form +49 351 125-3456, where “49” is the country code for Germany, the following digits are the area code and the remaining digits are the “local” part of the subscriber number, which can be called from the respective area code by speed dialling. As there is no standard length for area codes or subscriber numbers, the last part can be up to two digits long! Currently, the 5000 odd German area codes are between 2 and 5 digits long. Outside the area code (but still within Germany) you must dial the “0” before the area code.

Mobile phone numbers in Germany must always be dialled with all digits (10-12 digits, including a “0”, which in Germany precedes the “1nn”), regardless of where they are called from. The 1nn is a mobile prefix, not an “area code” in the true sense of the word. The second and third digits (the nn part) indicate the original mobile network assigned before number portability was taken into account, e.g. +49 151-123-456.

Mobile phone coverage in all four networks (T-Mobile, Vodafone, E-Plus and o2) is excellent throughout the country. UMTS (3G data and HSDPA), LTE (4G) and EDGE are also available. LTE is still somewhat limited to urban areas. All mobile phone providers use GSM technology in the 900 and 1800 MHz frequency ranges. This differs from the GSM 1900 standard used in the United States, but modern “multiband” phones generally work on all GSM networks. Non-GSM phones cannot be used in Germany. If you have a GSM mobile phone from the USA, you should call your network operator in the USA before you travel and ask them to “unlock” your phone so that you can use it with a German SIM card. The cost of a call to a German mobile number is the responsibility of the caller.

The vast majority of Germans own a mobile phone (called “Handys” in German, pronounced “hendy”); the downside is that the once common telephone booths have begun to disappear, except in “strategic” places like train stations. They usually consist of a silver pillar with a pink top and the telephone attached to the front. In some places there are still older versions consisting of a yellow booth with a door and the telephone inside.

If you are staying longer, consider buying a prepaid phone card from one of the mobile phone providers; you will have no trouble finding a T-Mobile (in a “T-Punkt”), a Vodafone, an E-Plus or an O2 shop in a large shopping area.

Mobile telephony is still relatively expensive in Germany. Depending on your contract, you will be charged around €0.10-0.39 per minute for calls to German mobile and fixed networks. Calls from your German mobile phone to foreign numbers (even to foreign mobile phones located in Germany) often cost between €1 and €2 per minute, depending on the country and your contract. In general, for both mobile phones and DSL connections, T-Mobile and Vodafone are the preferred choice for people who want quality service, especially outside the city, and E-Plus and O2 have lower prices. If you think you need English-speaking customer support, Vodafone may be one of your best options.

Most supermarket chains (e.g. ALDI) have prepaid SIM cards from their own virtual providers. These cards are usually quite cheap (10-20 € for 5-15 minutes of connection time) and for national calls (0.09-0.19 € per minute), but they are expensive for international calls (about 1-2 € per minute), but incoming calls are always free and SMS messages cost about 0.09-0.19 €. They are available at Aldi, Lidl, Penny, Netto, Tchibo, Rewe, toom. After purchase, internet registration or an (expensive) phone call is required to activate the SIM card.

While international calls with the German SIM card can be expensive, there are prepaid offers at cheap rates. Since the liberalisation of the German telephone market, there are a large number of telephone providers on the market. When calling from a private landline, you can usually choose between the different providers (and thus between different pricing systems) by using special numbers (starting with 010xx) with prices of €0.01 or €0.02, sometimes even less than €0.01 for international calls. There is a calculator on the net that you can use to compare prices for different destinations. Hotels usually have contracts with a specific phone provider and do not allow you to use another one. Hotel phone rates can be exorbitant, especially in luxury hotels where a five-minute call to book a restaurant can cost €50. Make sure you have checked the rate card before picking up the phone.

You can also buy prepaid phone cards that you can use by calling a toll-free number; this is a good deal, especially if you intend to make international calls. However, the quality and price of the cards vary enormously, so it is impossible to make a good recommendation.

Recently, “phone shops” have sprung up in big cities where you can make calls abroad at cheap rates. These call shops are mainly located in urban areas with a high percentage of immigrants and are the best way to make international calls. They not only offer calls abroad, but also sell international phone cards that you can use from any phone in Germany. You can usually recognise these shops by the many flags in their shop windows.

Internet

Internet access via Wi-Fi is common in Germany. Internet cafés are becoming increasingly rare as the offer of free Wi-Fi in shops, restaurants and cafés is widespread. Sometimes a minimum level of use is required, but generally access is free on the premises. Phone shops often offer internet access as well.

Many hotels offer internet access to their guests, but speeds are limited and may not be sufficient to quickly view and use multimedia-rich sites/applications. High-end broadband internet access may be available – often at high prices. Confirm access and rates with your hotel before using it. Smaller private hotels and cheaper hotel chains often offer free Wi-Fi (e.g. Motel One) if you book as a breakfast package, while larger chains usually charge exorbitant rates. It is advisable to join their loyalty programme as this usually gives you free internet access.

In several cities there are plans to provide free “community” access points for wireless networks. For example, “freifunk” hotspots are provided free of charge by municipalities and do not require registration. freifunk-karte.de shows a map of these hotspots.

In some airports and main railway stations, passenger lounges also offer internet access to their customers.

Public libraries often offer access to the internet, but it is usually not free. Libraries are open to the public free of charge, but to take a book home you may need to purchase a customer card for a small fee. The National Library in Leipzig, Frankfurt am Main and Berlin charges a fee.

Mobile data Some prepaid SIM cards allow access to the internet for a flat monthly fee, e.g. those in cafés from Tchibo (o2 network, €10/month limited to 500 MB, €20/month for 5 GB) or Aldi (E-Plus network). A normal O2 SIM card that can be used for calls and text messages costs 15 € and for another 15 € you can buy 1 GB data volume, valid for 1 month. Vodafone offers a prepaid SIM card for 25 €, which includes a credit of 22.5 €, on which you get 300 MB of data for 2 days for 15 € and have 7.5 € of credit available.

Most German universities participate in eduroam. If you are a student or staff member of a participating university, you can use this service to get guest access to their wireless networks. Please check with your own university before you travel.

Postal service

Deutsche Post operates several international companies, including DHL. Sending a standard postcard costs €0.45 within Germany and €0.90 everywhere else. A standard letter weighing no more than 20 grams costs €0.70 in Germany and €0.90 everywhere else (still). Letters weighing up to 50 grams cost €0.85 (Germany) and €1.50 (abroad).

Stamps are available at post offices and sometimes at kiosks or shops that sell postcards. Stamp vending machines can also be found in many places in cities. There you can buy all the stamps you need. They are unique in that they accept all coins from 1 cent to 2 euros, but the change is only issued in the form of stamps. As these “exchange stamps” can have strange values, you must make sure you have enough small coins.

In Germany, letters are usually delivered within a day, which gives Europe a little more time. Shipping to North America can take up to a week.

The service was reduced as part of the privatisation. Due to the increased flight rate [especially for mail carriers and subcontractors], all international mail, especially incoming mail, must be insured if it is of value.

Airmail can be just as cheap as the land alternative. If you want to send parcels, there are three options (from cheapest to most expensive): Maxibriefan oversize up to 2 kg and L+W+H=900mm. The Päckchen is a small, uninsured parcel (up to 2 kg for abroad). Otherwise it must be sent according to the price system of a DHL parcel.

If only books are being sent, reduced rates apply (book shipment), but expect the shipment to be opened and checked, as in reality only books are allowed inside. Prices for book shipments vary between €1.00 and €1.65, depending on size and weight.

Letters and parcels can be dropped off at FedEx and UPS stations. Expect a queue.