Operators Must Change Tune

Complaints at Mobile World Congress Might Be Justified, But No One’s Listening

For a long time now, operators have used the annual Mobile World Congress as a platform to air their grievances with regulators and grumble about the Internet players getting a “free ride” on their networks. This year in Barcelona was no different. Despite a veneer of positive comments on the potential of mobile data and high-speed 4G networks, many operators chose instead to call again for national and European regulators to loosen the leash of price controls. Many pointed to comments by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and others that high-speed telecom networks will be one of the elements to drive economic recovery in Europe. Operators argued they should be free to make “reasonable” profits and use them to build these valuable 4G networks.

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It’s not hard to understand the frustration of the European operators being buffeted by a combination of economic meltdown, fierce competition and belligerent regulators. But the message is falling on deaf ears. Operators have been protesting for the past four or five years, and yet regulation and control continues to cut deeper. Complaining hasn’t changed the minds of their customers or their governments. It’s time to change tone and reflect the new age of partnerships that is emerging at all levels of the mobile industry.

Operators should seize opportunities to reinforce a more positive message about the benefits of the telecoms industry. Investing in digital infrastructure in the 21st century will be as important as any funding of physical infrastructure. Governments would do better to consider a more liberal regulatory environment and to provide more incentives to provide access to unconnected citizens through a fixed or mobile connection. Working in partnership with the operators will provide more benefits for us all in the long run, I’m certain of that.

Operators will be concerned that a softer, more conciliatory approach will look like weakness, but I think not. A constant stand-off serves neither party well. I hope that when we get to Mobile World Congress 2014, operators will take heed. A less plaintive note will be more effective and far more refreshing to hear.