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Government missed chance at UK mobile industry reform - Phone Co-op

Wednesday, December 24th 2014 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The government has missed an opportunity to reform the mobile industry, according to the CEO of The Phone Co-op.

Vivian Woodell said the plan to reduce not-spots, announced by culture secretary Sajid Javid last week, did nothing to address the dominance of Vodafone, O2, Three and EE in the market.

The four network operators will invest £5bn over the next three years to reduce the number of not-spots by two thirds and provide reliable signal strength on 2G, 3G and 4G as part of a ‘binding agreement’ with the government.

Mr Woodell said the announcement had done "nothing to address reforming or opening up the wholesale market" or give more choice to mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs).

“What’s really needed is a reform of the structure of the industry and they haven’t addressed that at all," he told Cable.co.uk.

“In fact, they consulted on things that were heading down that road and they’ve decided not to do them.”

Obliging the network operators to cover a certain percentage of the country was one of four options consulted on by the government ahead of yesterday’s announcement.

The other options were national roaming – phones using another network when theirs was not available, network operators putting transmitters on each other’s masts and giving MVNOs access to more than one network.

“We wanted them to actually open up the market so that you would have an open market in infrastructure and an open market in service provision, providing you’ve met the technical standards,” said Mr Woodell.

'Security implications'

“The thing that came closest to moving it in that direction is national roaming but they obviously haven’t decided to do that.

“There were concerns raised about whether it would have security implications, which I didn’t really understand.

“I can’t see why, if you can track someone when they’re roaming on another network abroad, why you couldn’t track them if they’re roaming on another network here.

He also said The Phone Co-op would have supported MVNOs having access to more than one operator – something that is happening in parts of Europe.

A DCMS spokesman said: “Competition in the telecoms market has delivered great benefits for consumers, keeping prices down and providing a choice of services provided by both MNO and MVNOs.

“This deal will enable both MNOs and MVNOs to reach a wider range of customers and offer services across a broader swathe of the UK than they are currently able to.”

Vodafone UK chief executive Jeroen Hoencamp described the government’s announcement as “a great result for UK consumers and businesses”.

“We will now work with government and Ofcom to ensure the policy reforms that will underpin our ability to invest and build mobile network infrastructure are delivered,” he said.

“This must include modernising of out of date property and planning laws that delay network roll out and government providing access to public sector land and buildings to place mobile infrastructure.”

A spokesman for O2 said the UK mobile market is one of the most competitive in the world and highlighted Ofcom’s ‘Cost and value of communications services in the UK’ report from earlier this year.

The report said the price of telecoms services in the UK compared well with anywhere in the world.

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