Could Europe’s mobile operators please just give up and become one big operator?

Here’s a portion of Matt’s story from The Next Web:

Despite owning large shares of independent markets across Europe, the continent’s major operators have reportedly entered talks with the view to creating an EU-wide mobile network capable of uniting national markets, the FT reports.

According to the newspaper, telecoms executives from Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, Telecom Italia and Telefonica met with the EU’s competition chief to discuss the idea, which would better allow the companies involved to compete in a fragmented European market.

via Europe’s four biggest operators reportedly in talks to create EU-wide mobile network – The Next Web.

It’s a brilliant idea. It might finally remove the stupidly federated manner by which the current mobile operators do business.

Descriptive phrases like “France Telecom” or “Vodafone” actually mean nothing. Yes there’s a legal entity — but most of the decisions that actually matter are taken (or, actually, not taken — for fear of failure) by individual country directors.

Vodafone Global, for example, consists of a lot of very well meaning people who have little influence over the day-to-day reality of the folk managing Vodafone Czech or Vodafone United Kingdom.

Tying everything up into one central European operator group — whereby we had two or three key “huge” players — that would probably, actually, get us a better service.

Yes there’d be monopoly or duopoly concerns, but frankly, it’s screwed at the moment.

I had to smile to myself at Matt’s comment that such a move would ‘open the door to lower roaming charges’. Very quickly I would hope that the notion of geography would disappear.

Once you’ve got a European-wide player, or series of players, then things can get a lot more interesting.

I could imagine Apple, Google, anyone, sitting down to the negotiating table to discuss bundling deals or any number of cool, exciting activities.

Right now though, it’s a flipping nightmare.

Just try negotiating a European deal for your 25,000 employees with Vodafone, Telefonica or whoever. With few exceptions, it’s a flipping nightmare.

There’s other possibilities too. It could be interesting to separate out the actual network infrastructure from the services layer. That might offer a lot more flexibility and opportunity for innovation.

This kind of discussion is broadly a good idea. Anything that involves changing the (often broken) status quo is a good idea.

What do you think?

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  • http://twitter.com/h_jarn Harry Järn

    Absolutely! I’ve been advocating this concept already several years, i.e. having one/two infra/access companies & the rest would be service operators (i.e. sort of MVNO’s) renting the access from the network provider. This would mean finally proper focus on services (as it would be the only way to differentiate from competition) rather than technology & pricing: as long as we have this current idiotic structure in place, decisions are sub-optimized on a country level & local operators are focusing on technology & operational efficiency rather than on services (they don’t have to do anything else as their position is guaranteed & secured by the even more idiotic spectrum licensing administration).

    The infra company would have the size to arrange competitive financing. Service operators could each hold a small stake in it/them

    This change would also mean unified deals & charging for multinational customers operating in a number of countries across EU.
    From business perspective this is what should be done asap. But I doubt if national regulators & governments are willing to let go their control over national licenses & operators. Yet.

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Indeed!

  • Mark

    Come on, this is never going to happen. My guess is MNOs went to bleat to the EU chap that they’re struggling and they want more in-market consolidation which means 4->3 operators in Germany, France etc The regulator came up with this dumb idea and the operators politely said “yes that’s interesting we’ll think about that” whilst really thinking what a dumb chap the regulator is and left the meeting

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Alas I think you might be right. But it’s nice to speculate for a few minutes.

  • Mike42

    The physical network your phone registers to is irrelevant – it’s the commercial deal plugged into the HLR/VLR that charges you £2.50 instead of £0.25 just because you moved a few miles in a different direction that is the issue. That commercial deal can be between MNO’s or between operating countries of the same MNO – as Ewan points out, Vodafone et al operates its business units totally stand-alone.

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Good points!

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