"They really need to attract investment funds to make sure the tech sector keeps growing," said Luca Schiavoni, a digital regulation analysts at Assembly Research, a consultancy firm in London. "But at the same time, it's really difficult to run into someone in Westminster who believes the tech sector doesn't need more regulation."
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.
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.
Regulatory inertia, insufficient investment into mobile networks and uncertainty over how local radio bandwidth will be used explain why Europe is dragging its feet. Meanwhile, rivals are ramping up investment to offer 5G high-speed connections to millions of mobile consumers in the coming years, while most EU consumers will likely wait until around roughly 2025 to benefit from the same services.
“Europe is lagging behind,” said Luca Schiavoni, a telecoms analyst at Assembly, a regulatory research company in London. “We’re seeing the same problems that we saw in Europe’s efforts to adopt the previous generations of mobile networks.”