Mobile industry CEOs have renewed calls for hands-off regulation, as the sector evolves towards an ecosystem driven by 4G speeds and cloud-based services.
“As 4G and the cloud proliferate, customer expectations for openness and seamless access to all services will increase,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said during the opening keynote session of the Mobile World Congress Tuesday.
Regulators should be implementing laws that encourage openness and competition, he said, citing the Amazon Kindle as a key example of where mobile broadband is going.
“When the iPad came out, Amazon pivoted and made Kindle an app,” he said. “It’s agnostic to the device, the OS and the network. That seamlessness from the cloud will transform the user experience.”
Stephenson said it was the job of operators to make the “buy once, access anywhere” model as seamless as possible for users, and it was the job of regulators to pursue public policy initiatives to enable this.
“They should stay out of the way,” Stephenson added.
“When you consider the amount of investment needed – and it’s dramatic and stretches across timelines from five to ten years – we need a predictable regulatory environment with a light touch,” he said. “That will be critical to driving all this, as well as openness across the ecosystem.”
Stephenson believes stable rules will see “investment will pour into this industry. The challenge to regulators is to ask themselves: what is your objective? If it’s to help drive the industry, then make the regulations predictable, stand aside and let us compete.”
Vodafone chief Vittorio Colao also called on regulators to rethink their policies on mobile broadband by encouraging openness, investment and competition.
Colao criticized regulators for policies such as unnecessary or repetitive spectrum fees – citing Indian regulator TRAI’s plan to charge cellcos for “excess” 2G spectrum as an example.
“It’s not investor-friendly, which is not healthy in an investor-driven industry,” he said.
Colao also said regulators need to develop “a forward-looking industrial policy on things like frequencies and investment” and stop enforcing regulations in an “auto-pilot” fashion, particularly for issues like mobile termination rates.
“They say, well this is the regulation on privacy and this is the regulation on neutrality and this is the regulation on mobile termination rates, but they’re disconnected elements that aren’t in line with the times anymore,” Colao said.
Colao noted EU regulators were starting to recognize the need for openness and competition in the internet value chain (a point Colao highlighted in his MWC keynote last year, singling out Google as a potential anti-competitive force in the search and advertising segment).
He added that the EU has taken a “healthy” attitude to net neutrality, and that “US regulators could learn from Europe in that regard.”
Cesar Alierta, executive chairman and CEO of Telefonica, was less sanguine, complaining that telcos are over-regulated compared to others in the overall value chain.
“I don’t understand why we are regulated,” he said. “Telcos are major contributors to investment and employment in developing mobile broadband systems, while content providers contribute hardly anything to this. But telcos are the only ones in the ecosystem being regulated.”
Alierta echoed earlier comments that current regulations don’t encourage investment in the telecoms sector.
“Regulators should allow us to recover our network costs, promote investment and faster development of new services,” he said. “What we need is competition and openness.”