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But the slow rate of EU progress clashes with the speed at which 5G is being tested and rolled out by the largest telecoms companies across the continent. Matthew Howett, founder of research company Assembly, said: “You can understand why they want a common framework but working to that timescale is risible. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Mr Howett said that the impending report by the UK government into telecoms infrastructure and its view of Huawei’s involvement would be likely to prompt more action from member states and that the slow pace of the plan belied the commission’s previous view that Europe needs to push ahead rapidly with 5G deployment. “We are in a global race to launch this technology. This timescale is incompatible with the EU’s other objective to be a leader in 5G,” he said.
Ofcom is at the centre of a campaign to persuade users to upgrade to faster broadband as well as reviewing broadband firms' pricing practices and ensuring customers get the best available deals.
According to the regulator's research, those with a basic broadband connection have less than a one-in-five chance of being able to stream Netflix in ultra-high definition.
Matthew Howett, founder of research firm Assembly, said the new code could act "as an incentive for broadband providers to move customers on to full-fibre connections, since speeds in the fibre network are easier to guarantee and less susceptible to network congestion".
"I don't doubt the need for full fibre coverage, or the eventual appetite for those speeds, but I struggle to see the need for quite the patchwork of infrastructure builders we now have," Matt Howett, founder and principal analyst at Assembly Research told TelecomTV.
"Scale is important in this game, especially when negotiating with suppliers, which surely puts smaller builders at a disadvantage," he noted. In addition, he warned that there is also recruitment and the training of engineers to build the networks to consider, which is a sizeable part of the cost of deployment. "What is that competing demand for labour going to do to the cost of build?" he asked.
"The benefits of 5G is that it not only delivers faster download speeds but crucially more capacity, which should go some way to alleviating problems of congestion in the network," said Matthew Howett, founder of research firm Assembly.
"All research points to the fact UK consumers have an insatiable appetite for data that is only going to grow over time, especially as 5G will in some instances be a replacement for fixed broadband."
Matthew Howett, founder of research firm Assembly, thinks the reason many do not upgrade is a combination of apathy and contentment with the service they have.
"I think fundamentally most households are generally satisfied with the speeds they are getting, and find their needs are met although, of course, this changes when you introduce larger families, multiple streams of HDTV, and online gaming.
"All of these more bandwidth-intense services will push up a household's requirements. The other thing to consider is the complexity faced when choosing a broadband package.
"While there are many good tools to help consumers shop around for the best deal, different contract durations, introductory tariffs, and added extras make changing package or supplier a daunting prospect for some."
The letter said the review aimed to ensure that Britain’s “critical national infrastructure remains resilient and secure”.
It did not mention Huawei by name, but said the “outcome of the review may lead to changes in the current rules” and that the companies “will need to take the review into consideration in any procurement decisions”.
Matthew Howett, principal analyst at Assembly Research, a research house that focuses on regulation and policy in the communications market, said: “I doubt we would have seen this if it was Nokia or Ericsson.”
Telecoms executives said the government may be pushing operators to make sure Huawei is only one of a diverse range of suppliers. But they also said it was possible that the Chinese company could be barred from the rollout of 5G in the UK, a move that would delay networks that are due to come online in 2019 and 2020.
The BDUK programme was widely criticised in its infancy after BT won all the contracts on offer, which led to accusations that it was rebuilding its monopoly position in commercially “unviable” areas using the public purse.
The programme has nonetheless successfully rolled out superfast broadband, which connects users to speeds of at least 24 Mbps, to more than 95 per cent of the country.
Matthew Howett, a telecoms and digital sector analyst, said: “Had there not been a subsidy arrangement it’s almost certain consumers in some rural areas would still be condemned to the slow lane for years to come.”
ARCEP is not talking regulation... yet. But nobody is in doubt that regulation will follow if the recommendations are ignored.
According to Luca Schiavoni, an analyst at Assembly Research, the move by ARCEP can be part explained by a long-running dispute between Orange and SFR over their 2011 deal to split the ‘medium density’ territories in France to deploy FTTH. When SFR merged with Numericable the new entity decided it wanted a bigger share of the areas. Unpleasantness broke out between the two telcos with the end-result that Numericable threatened that it would gather investors in a joint venture and cover disputed non-density areas anyway, overbuildiing some of Orange’s infrastructure.
“That didn’t happen, but clearly it would have been undesirable for everyone,” said Luca. “If you duplicate networks you’re likely to remove the case for investment for both yourself and for the other operator.”
So ARCEP wanted to avoid any possibility of this sort of “lose-lose” competitive play ocurring again since it tends to be unnerve potential investors and affect their investment plans.
So is this sort of problem a live issue in other European countries?
“Yes, I think it is a live issue,” says Luca, but we are still at question time, not at answers time. In the UK, for instance, we’re still at the stage where operators are finding out about the viability of their investments.
“In France the regulator has sent a recommendation which means it has no real binding power but it also means that the regulator has sent a message which says, ‘We are watching this and in the future, if needed, we will take action’.
Matthew Howett, founder of research firm Assembly, said the announcement made "commercial sense" because Openreach and others looking to upgrade the UK's infrastructure needed to prove that the demand is out there.
"This does seem like a genuine move to get more people onto the fibre network, and stave off criticism from those that say the UK falls behind," he said.
"It's about Openreach showing the industry and the regulator that it has changed and is implementing the further separation from BT not only to the letter, but also in the spirit of what was agreed."
“The EC’s fine is quite a slap ... but neither this, nor the remedies Google are being required to put in place are likely to structurally alter the market, suggests Luca Schiavoni, a senior analyst with Assembly Research.
“[It] fails to set out structural remedies for a market which almost inevitably tends towards concentration, and therefore is difficult to break up without significant disruptions. End users value interoperability, and so do application developers, which means the case for more competition in the space of operating systems is not so clear.
“Similarly, search engines are successful because of their algorithm and of the large data pools they can rely on, which creates a spiralling network effect driving users towards the largest providers almost naturally.
“While regulators figure out how to best approach all these issues, fines help the public coffers – but do not solve any market problem."
While the speeds in the UK were not the best, there were other measurements - such as availability and speed - where the UK would fare better, said Matthew Howett, principal analyst at research company Assembly.
"Some countries are also of course easier to roll out broadband in. The fastest country in this survey, Singapore, is about the size of London and obviously doesn't have the same challenges with remote and rural areas that we have in Britain," he said.
"Encouragingly, Britain is set for more fibre, with leading operators and their competitors all having committed to deploy so called full-fibre.
"Once those deployments ramp up, they would be reflected in similar league tables."
Whisper it quietly, but Europe’s privacy rules are gradually being felt worldwide. Japan and Argentina already have overhauled their domestic rules to comply, mostly to ensure they guarantee so-called adequacy agreements, or data-sharing deals, with the EU. Others like Canada, South Korea and Colombia are similarly tweaking domestic legislation with an eye to the EU’s new standards.
The same, though, can’t be said for many of the global tech companies, many of which have so far limited the data protection rules to their European customers, according to an analysis by Assembly, a regulatory research company. Amazon, LinkedIn, Facebook and others have not extended the rules across their worldwide operations, though Spotify and Sonos, the digital speaker manufacturer, have made the EU rules their global default, according to Assembly’s report.
Indeed, others argue that the bold strategy of his early years will remain the basis for a recovery now.
Matthew Howett, founder of Assembly research, said Mr Patterson had acquired a “shining star” in EE — the UK’s largest mobile network — even if he struggled to balance the interests of shareholders, Ofcom and politicians as he tried to turn round a crumbling incumbent. “He couldn’t win,” he said.
Industry observers noted that the additional price regulations appeared to contradict the goals of the EU by adding more rules and that co-investment measures weren’t satisfactory.
“Very often, when regulatory measures are widely criticised and seeming leave everyone unhappy, it often means policymakers have probably struck the right balance,” said Luca Schiavoni, senior analyst at Assembly.
“This might not be the case with the newly approved European Electronic Communications Code however, which has seen both fixed incumbents and alternative operators alike voicing discontent, and left mobile operators disappointed by the unfulfilled promise of 25-years long spectrum licences.
“One winner however does seems to emerge and that is the wholesale-only model. Under the code, wholesale-only networks will benefit from less burdensome regulation. If this results in more wholesale-only networks across the EU, at least it will mean the end of the eternal headaches caused by the existing framework on wholesale access regulation, which has proved very hard to get right and to police across all member states. However, the challenge here will be to ensure that competition at the infrastructure level becomes (and stays) healthy."
It also pits Vodafone against Deutsche Telekom. If the deal is allowed to go ahead, it would make the London-based operator the largest rival to the German company in its home market, just as Deutsche Telekom is looking to build its own regional telecoms network.
"Europe is the size of the U.S., but we have four operators in each of the member states, which is increasingly unsustainable," said Matthew Howett, a telecoms analyst at Assembly, a research firm, in London. "We're gradually shifting away from that. It's hard to see that trend stopping."
By acquiring Liberty Global's assets, Vodafone and its chief executive, Vittorio Colao, plan to add a series of cable assets to the carrier's existing mobile infrastructure to expand the company's footprint across the region.
The end result of this is likely to be greater regulation of social media platforms, but what this means is still up for debate. It’s possible that the imminent arrival of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation could be a basis for other regulators.
“In the hearings, Zuckerberg repeated a concept he has been voicing for the last few weeks, and admitted regulation is now ‘inevitable’ for online platforms,” says Luca Schiavoni, an analyst with Assembly Research. “He also added, though, that regulation could be easy to comply with for a large company like Facebook, whereas this could be more difficult for a smaller start-up.
“Size of businesses aside, regulation will have to be designed with two objectives in mind: the improvement of transparency and user awareness; and the flexibility needed to make sure rules do not become outdated too quickly. To this end, well-monitored guidelines could go a long way, so long as there are sufficient incentives for companies to keep a trustworthy behaviour.”
Indeed, it will be the 700MHz frequencies used by Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) that are the next to be made available at auction – possibly next year – so although this was an important development, it wasn’t judgement day.
“An unsatisfactory outcome in this auction was never going to necessarily spell the end to any one operators 5G future given that the technology will ultimately work across a number of spectrum bands, both new ones and ones already held by the mobile operators,” commented Matthew Howett from Assembly Research.
The £1.35bn raised is a far cry from the £22.5bn windfall that the Treasury brought in 2000 when it sold 3G licences. It is also less than the £2.3bn raised in the 4G auction in 2013, which was seen at the time as a disappointing result for the government.
Matthew Howett, principal analyst at Assembly, the market research firm, said: “Even though the auction raised a fraction of the amount of the 4G auction or even the 3G auction two decades ago, the prices paid are above expectation which shows how valuable these airwaves are to operators, particularly given the emerging hype around 5G.”