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Prohibitive mobile network operators need more regulation - Phone Co-Op

Monday, November 24th 2014 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The UK’s mobile industry should be re-regulated and “opened up” to encourage more innovation, according to the chief executive of the Phone Co-op.

Vivian Woodell told Cable.co.uk the country’s mobile infrastructure was dominated by four operators but was effectively only two networks as O2 and Vodafone share masts while Three and EE are consolidating their networks.

He said it should be more like the fixed local access network, which is maintained by Openreach and gives communications providers equal access to BT’s copper and fibre infrastructure.

“It [mobile infrastructure] is very much a commodity now, but we have a duopoly, or at least an oligopoly. It ought to be completely opened up,” he said.

Earlier this month, Mr Woodell told the MVNO Networking Congress in London that MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) such as the Phone Co-op face a number of barriers to entry, including high set-up costs and monthly charges, uncompetitive wholesale rates and a lack of choice.

“This is not a genuine wholesale market because mobile network operators are conflicted,” he said.

“That’s what regulation is designed to fix in the fixed line market.

“MVNOs operate at the pleasure of the network. Quite a lot of MVNOs fail because they can’t meet the costs.”

Mr Woodell wants to see a single infrastructure with multiple owners, with the provision of services kept separate.

“This should not mean that network operators are debarred from being service providers, which was originally the case when analogue mobile operators started in the UK, but they should be required to offer wholesale access to other service providers, and this should be regulated.

“A regulated price for users of it in communities with poor coverage may be of value to that community. They could earn revenue from it – from anyone who uses that base station.”

He said the idea would encourage alternative service providers to “fill in areas of the country” that are not covered by the big networks.

“At the moment we have a duplication of sites instead, which itself is a problem because the masts are not popular or unsightly.”

Mr Woodell said the opening up of the fixed phone line market opened it up to competition.

“Everyone can buy minutes and line rental at a regulated price, allowing people to come in and cater for niche markets and be innovative.”

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