The opening keynote session at Mobile World Congress brought together the chief executives of AT&T, China Mobile, Telecom Italia, Telefónica and Vodafone. Under the theme of mobile operator strategies, talk of digital revolution and unprecedented industry transformation – spurred on by LTE and cloud-based technologies – was dominant.
Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chief executive, claimed the mobile industry was starting a new era. “LTE and cloud is the most powerful technological combination we have ever seen,” he said. “Technology innovation is moving at warp speed.”
Stephenson anticipates mobile data traffic volumes in the US will increase by an enormous 30,000 per cent between 2012 and 2017, spurred on by access to cloud-based applications over low-latency and high-speed LTE networks. That expansion comes on the back of 75,000 per cent growth during the previous six years, driven by 3G networks and Apple’s iPhone. 3G transformed the mobile industry, added Stephenson, but the ‘cloud era’ will change other industries as well.
But if the rapid development of networks and digital eco-systems is to continue, and help boost GDP in the process, much more investment will be required. Adopting an oft-repeated theme in recent years, Stephenson called for lower taxes to encourage capital investment, as well as for regulators to think through their desired outcomes on spectrum allocation. “There is a choice of rapid adoption of latest technologies and capabilities, and all the downstream economic multipliers that come from that, or there is the other option of hyper competition and the lowest prices possible.”
Stephenson echoed the views of Franco Bernabè, chief executive of Telecom Italia and GSMA chairman. “Excess competition in Europe is depressing the market,” he said, pointing to around 170 mobile network operators and over 700 MVNOs in the region. “Governments should avoid imposing excessive burdens on the industry in the form of specific taxes and spectrum charges.”
César Alierta, Telefonica’s chief executive, argued that internet players should help shoulder the burden of operators’ network and spectrum costs, claiming that regulators have been giving the likes of Google and Facebook a relatively easy time as they enjoy near-monopoly status. “Nowadays, the internet is dominated by only a few players that restrict our customer choice options,” he says. “If the same regulation applied to telcos was applied to other players – to break up monopolies – they would have been obliged to sell devices to competitors at cost with a small margin. There is not a level playing field.”
Vodafone’s chief executive, Vittorio Colao, said that regulators in Europe have been over zealous in regulating wholesale and retail prices. “These markets are already very competitive,” he said.