EU telecoms rule changes will hinder rather than help 5G, claim industry

The European Union has agreed a series of updates to the European Communications Code (ECC) which it claims will help improve connectivity across the continent and fulfil the ambitions of the European Digital Single market.

However the new regulations, the first major overhaul of the ECC since 2009, have attracted strong criticism from the telecoms industry which claims they do nothing to promote investment and are a missed opportunity.

The ECC promises to enhance 5G rollout by ensuring the availability of spectrum by the end of 2020 and by giving operators certainty with 20 years licensing. It also relaxes rules of the co-investment in fixed infrastructure and extends consumer protections to all forms of communications technology.

This means anyone using an Over The Top (OTT) service like Skype or WhatsApp will be covered to the same extent that anyone making a call or sending a text message will be.

European 5G

There are also provisions for security, accessibility and affordability, as well as the promise of more transparent tariffs and easier network switching. Finally, international calls will not cost more than 19 cents per minute within the EU.

"This agreement is essential to meet Europeans' growing connectivity needs and boost Europe's competitiveness,” declared Andrus Ansip. “We are laying the groundwork for the deployment of 5G across Europe.”

However mobile industry body the GSMA declared the new code a “political compromise” that fails to confront the long-term challenges in the European market and could see it fall further behind in the race to 5G, particularly with regards to spectrum harmonisation and investment certainty.

“As shown in the past, Europe has the ability to overcome difficult decisions and ensure a more solid and scalable EU market,” said Afke Schaart, head of Europe at the GSMA. “We are disappointed that this crucial opportunity - for citizens as well as for the 5G industry - was not fully grasped, and strongly believe in the need of a better deal for Europe’s global digital competitiveness.”

The European Telecommunications Network Operators Association (ETNO) claimed the changes added unnecessary complexity. Indeed, it suggested the additional price regulation was a “smokescreen” to distract from a lack of meaningful progress and urged national governments to step in and aid the industry.

“The new Code was a once in a decade opportunity to take the policy decisions required for Europe to become a catalyst to investment,” said Phillip Malloch, ETNO Executive Board Chair. “This is fundamental to keep pace in the shifting global economy. It was an opportunity that has been missed. It’s a huge shame that the major investors in infrastructure will face additional and unnecessary headwind in building a true gigabit society.”

No one is happy

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."


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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.