European telcos discuss plans for EU network unification

9 Jan 2013

The Financial Times reports that a number of leading European telecoms operators are discussing the possible creation of a pan-European network to tie together the European Union’s (EU’s) disparate and fragmented national infrastructure. The move, which has been prompted by Brussels, reportedly emerged following a meeting between the EU’s competition chief Joaquin Almunia and top officials at a number of leading telcos including Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom-Orange, Telecom Italia and Telefonica of Spain. The paper says that the top brass are seemingly united in their frustration over the apparent lack of continuity in the continent’s fragmented market and the impact this is having on their ability to compete, and left the meeting promising to explore possible options to redress this. According to one person familiar with the talks: ‘The operators expressed a deep sense of frustration and agreed to bring constructive ideas of how a European market could work … Objections won’t come from Europe, they will be from the [EU’s 27 national] regulators.’

Despite the optimism over the plan, it is clear that the setting up of an EU-wide network-sharing agreement would be highly complicated, costly and fraught with technological difficulties to implement, given the multitude of differing industry rules and technologies/platforms that exist in each EU market. However, on a more positive note, it is suggested that a more unified model would bring Europe more in line with the US and China markets – each of which has only three or four large groups – which in turn could benefit consumers in terms of lower prices and simplified single pricing strategies for telecoms and internet services across Europe.