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GSMA’s Bouverot sends operator-backed open letter to Kroes calling for European reform

Anne Bouverot, director general, GSMA

Anne Bouverot, director general, GSMA

The director general of the GSMA, Anne Bouverot, has sent an open letter to EC Commissioner Neelie Kroes calling for policy reform that will encourage investment in Europe’s telecoms sector. Bouverot secured endorsements from the CEOs of ten European operators with a combined European mobile customer base of almost three quarters of a billion subscriptions, according to data from Informa’s World Cellular Investors service.

The GSMA said that, despite Europe having the highest regional mobile penetration in the world, it was the only area in which revenues have declined, from €162bn in 2010 to €142bn in 2013. Despite this, the organisation said, “comprehensive policy reform” could enable the European mobile sector to drive investment, improve connectivity and enable innovation.

It is increasingly popular to compare Europe unfavourably with the US and Bouverot’s letter warned that European operators are “facing decreasing revenues and reduced market values compared with oeprators in the US and Asia,” as well as other players in the sector, for which read the internet and OS powerhouses. “This is impairing our ability to invest in the communications infrastructure needed to put Europe back on the path to growth and jobs,” she added.

Bouverot stressed the need for a regulatory overhaul that would enable operators to act unencumbered by “unnecessary layers of regulation”, drive greater harmony across the region and permit operators to consolidate to restructure the market.

She also called for “a level playing field for all”, a statement that again appeared to put internet players in her sights. Even-handed regulation “across the value chain” was needed, she said, as well as “consistent applications of rules irrespective of the technology being used, who is providing the service or where individuals are located.”

Internet players like Google and Facebook (with its recent WhatsApp acquisition) have long been developing services that compete with operators’ core service offerings but attract none of the regulation that comes with a licence to operate a network. Moreover they are driving huge levels of traffic at little or no cost to themselves.

“Operators must have the commercial freedom to develop new business models, innovate at the network and service level, and offer customised services in order to restore the investment climate and drive innovation and competition in the global marketplace,” Bouverot said.

She also called for comprehensive reform of spectrum management policies and a fresh approach to privacy and security issues to improve consumer protection.

While many within the European community look to the leading US operators as evidence that revenue improvements are possible, critics of the US suggest that competition is limited, leaving consumers with too little choice. Meanwhile Kroes’ regulatory reform has focused very much on reducing the costs that must be borne by consumers of mobile telephony.

In recent conversations with, Hannes Ametstreiter, CEO of Telekom Austria (and one of those name-checked in Bouverot’s letter) and Michel Combes, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent, have voiced similar opinions to those expressed by Bouverot.

The letter was endoresed by, Timotheus Höttges, CEO, Deutsche Telekom AG; Christian Salbaing, Deputy Chairman, Hutchison Whampoa Europe; Stéphane Richard, Chairman and CEO, Orange; Marco Patuano, CEO, Telecom Italia; César Alierta, Executive Chairman and CEO, Telefónica; Hannes Ametsreiter, CEO, Telekom Austria Group; Jon Fredrik Baksaas, President and CEO, Telenor Group and Chairman, GSMA Board; Johan Dennelind, President and CEO, TeliaSonera; Jo Lunder, CEO, VimpelCom; and Vittorio Colao, CEO, Vodafone Group.

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EE holds off on VoLTE, announces wifi calling solution

EE's CTO, Fotis Karonis

EE’s CTO, Fotis Karonis

UK operator EE, which was the first player in the market to launch LTE, has announced a £275m investment in its voice offering, including plans to deliver voice over wifi in domestic and enterprise environments and a bid to beef up voice quality in the busiest parts of its network.

But the firm has ruled out a launch of Voice over LTE before the end of the year, with CTO Fotis Karonis telling in an exclusive interview that there is “little immediate benefit” to the technology. VoLTE is not yet performing to the level that is required for commercial deployment, Karonis said, as EE firm revealed that it will start trialling VoLTE at 800MHz later this year in parts of the UK.

“Until we can ensure the same customer experience on VoLTE as on 3G—where we have a dropped call rate of around 0.6 per cent—we won’t introduce this new capability,” Karonis tells in the interview. “Our circuit-switched fallback for 4G customers is performing extremely well. One of the main customer benefits is HD Voice/AMR-WB, but we’re able to deliver that same codec on the 3G network so there’s little immediate benefit to VoLTE.” In a statement released Friday EE added that it wanted to ensure 90 per cent population coverage before launching its VoLTE service, which it said will happen at an unspecified time in 2015.

Voice quality is, according to Karonis, “the main strength” of the EE brand and while the firm is holding off with VoLTE, it is pushing ahead with a voice over wifi solution aimed at stemming the flow of customers onto other VoIP services. EE stressed the “carrier grade” stature of its wifi calling service, pledging to offer “a higher quality and greater degree of reliability than unmanaged VoIP services.” The service will be available “on the latest handsets capable of supporting the service,” EE said.

The firm also announced a series of network quality initiatives. Its end user smartphone app, which is on more than half a million devices, has been given the capability to alert the network to its location whenever it hits a service whitespot. Meanwhile the “Platinum Project” is a bid to enhance voice service performance in the busiest parts of the UK, with initial focus on London’s M25 motorway, the Canary Wharf area in the city and the South Bank of the Thames.

EE also set out its ambition to halve its 0.6 per cent dropped call rate, saying that it has achieved a consistent rate of 0.4 per cent in Derby, where its network optimisation activities are most advanced.