If consolidation comes to Europe, let's hope bill shock doesn't make a return

Believe it or not, I am old enough to remember life before the Internet and mobile phones. Even though the product I worked on was an early searchable online database, I started my working life in an office dominated by paper and "input girls", as our team of typists was somewhat dubiously called, until we all moved into the exciting world of dumb terminals and mainframe computers.

I gained my first email address and used my first browser (Alta Vista, remember that one?) in a publishing company that seemed to be a little more advanced than my previous employer. It may be hard for those generations that now take the Internet for granted to appreciate the giddy excitement we felt at being able to access people and companies all over the world, at the click of a mouse.

Imagine how we felt when mobile phones arrived. I was about the first in my team at the time to get one (a Nokia, sigh), and also trialled a very early Ericsson smartphone that made me the envy of friends and colleagues. Since then, of course, developments have come thick and fast. Even though it seemed we spent a lot of time discussing the virtues of 3G over GPRS, in fact looking back those really were brief moments in an industry that is now seemingly hurtling towards 5G.

After going mobile for voice, mobile data proved to be a service that really changed my life, as well as the lives of millions of other people. Imagine my horror, then, when upon moving to France I realised there was simply nothing available at that time to match my £15 monthly plan for mobile broadband. In fact, moving countries proved to be a step back in my own mobile evolution, and only now do I really feel I'm back on track in terms of what I can get for my money.

In France, a lot of that is down to the antics of Free Mobile. If it were not for Free, would I now be able to get 5 GB of LTE data a month for less than a night down the pub? If it were not for OTT providers such as WhatsApp and their ilk, would I have unlimited calls and texts in France, so I never have to worry about my bill every month? Probably not.

My point really is that I, and many other consumers, have benefited massively from competitive landscapes shaped by price aggressors such as 3 UK and Free Mobile. At the same time, operators have suffered from price wars, and in some markets are trying to consolidate in order to reduce the impact of competition. This is perfectly understandable, and as an industry observer I have sympathy with their plight, especially if they are forced to sack large swathes of their workforces, which could be on the table with Bouygues Telecom, for example.

As a consumer, I like what competition has brought me and certainly do not want to lose these more advantageous prices. If consolidation has to happen to ensure companies can continue to exist, and can continue to employ thousands of people on a sustainable basis, I would just hope that this does not result in wholesale bill shock for us all.--Anne

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