LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE 360 SERIES, EUROPE: Franco Bernabè (pictured, above), chairman and CEO of Telecom Italia, and European Commissioner Neelie Kroes have expressed serious concern over the impact this week’s Vodafone/Verizon and Microsoft/Nokia megadeals will have on development of an already challenged European mobile market.
Opening the GSMA Mobile 360 event in Brussels, Bernabè declared that “what we’ve seen in the last few days is not what Europe needs.” Referencing the planned sale of former mobile phone giant Nokia to US-headquartered Microsoft, he said such a deal does not reflect the “direction” that Europe should be heading in and suggested that regulators should take a close look at the sale.
On Vodafone’s decision to exit its US venture with Verizon Communications, Bernabè claimed that Vodafone’s chief exec Vittorio Colao had done “a fantastic job” of selling the stake but the move does not help the European mobile industry strengthen its standing on a global basis.
“We need to consider that Europe has been at the centre of our industry,” he added. “Now it is losing ground, we can’t think that this is the future of Europe. We need to put Europe back at the forefront.”
Backing up his argument, Bernabè cited data from a new report by the GSMA (of which he is chairman) published today that showed how Europe is falling behind other regions in the rollout of next-generation network technology.
Kroes (pictured, left) began her own keynote address by concurring with Bernabè’s comments. “We could be back in the driving seat – and we should,” she stated. “It is indeed time to act.”
To this end, Kroes will next week submit a proposal to the European Parliament which attempts to address this European imbalance. Part of the proposal includes a desire to create a single European market with a unified approach to regulation and spectrum allocation, issues that Bernabè said he was in support of.
“The European Commission has rightly recognised that underinvestment in Europe’s telecoms infrastructure is holding back the region’s growth and competitiveness, impacting all sectors,” he told delegates. “The initiative on the single European telecoms market represents a unique opportunity to set Europe back on the path to growth with a policy and regulatory framework for telecoms that can boost investment, enable innovative services and help build consumer confidence.”
Of course, where Bernabè and Kroes are very likely to differ is on the subject of roaming. Kroes is adamant she will succeed in her plan to abolish roaming charges, a move that could see operators lose out on billions of annual revenue. “We want to get rid of roaming. They [the European Parliament] are agreeing – I can assure you.”
And Kroes is also on a mission when it comes to Europe’s development of so-called ‘5G’ technology. “We need to look ahead to investing in 5G,” she urged. “We missed 4G, we were the leader in 3G, now let’s take over 5G.”
Without revealing specifics, Kroes said the European Commission is “ready to agree public/private partnerships on the development of 5G” worth hundreds of millions of euros, in the hope that Europe can one day achieve her future vision of a truly connected continent.