Summer is almost over, it seems, as people return from holidays and vacations and get ready for the next busy period. Where I live in France, it's fairly common for workers to take the whole of August off (I wish!) in order to escape the stuffy heat of large cities and enjoy some cooling sea breezes elsewhere.
Journalists with the responsibility to provide stories at all times, holiday or no holiday period, have been known to invent the wildest stories to fill gaps, creating what is now known as the "silly season" in the media. This year, while there may have been some quiet periods--especially around the endless bank holidays throughout Europe--the telecoms sector has been buzzing with a number of events that are set to change our industry in fundamental ways.
Just this week, the European LTE market received a massive shot in the arm when both Vodafone and O2 launched their high-speed services in the UK, 3 UK revealed it would launch its services in December, SFR launched LTE services in Paris and Bouygues Telecom unveiled its tariffs ahead of its LTE launch on Oct. 1.
3 UK also seems to be keeping to its promise of offering unlimited data with LTE, and not charging a premium for services. Nonetheless, the operator still has a number of questions to answer, and what its tariff structure will actually be for the unlimited data options remains one of them.
Such developments in Europe are very welcome. The Continent has long been criticised for being slow to launch LTE, and for falling behind both the United States and Asian markets on mobile innovation. The slow pace of European development is in no small part caused by regulatory aspects such as spectrum auctions, which have at times been much delayed in some countries.
This lack of harmonisation on spectrum allocation is also a major thorn in the side of the European Union's digital commissioner, Neelie Kroes, who wants to fix this as part of a general package of proposals to create a single market. That package is to be presented to the wider world on Sept. 11, and all being well will settle once and for all the ongoing debate about what Kroes will or will not include in her proposals.
The latest rumour this week was that Kroes has dropped her headline plan of scrapping the premium charges associated with wholesale roaming. Kroes quickly took to Twitter to rebuff the reports, and her spokesman Ryan Heath also said that the intention to end roaming charges remains. No doubt there will be further rumours and denials about how the European Commission plans to achieve its vision of a single market for telecoms in the coming two weeks.
One aspect of the Commission's proposals that is being keenly awaited by many industry observers is how it will deal with mergers and acquisitions. Many operators want to see a lighter approach to M&A in Europe in order to allow them to achieve economies of scale in what is currently a very challenging market. As things stand, there are a number of major M&A deals on the table that will test EU antitrust bodies and national regulators to the maximum, such as Telefónica's plan to buy E-Plus from KPN and Hutchison Whampoa's bid for O2 Ireland.
The E-Plus deal, of course, is also just one element of the can of worms that has currently been opened in the Netherlands. Carlos Slim's América Móvil has been trying to gain a majority stake in KPN in order to expand its European presence, but as things stand the deal is hanging in the balance because of opposition from the independent KPN foundation. What the foundation actually wants is not entirely clear: it did say it wanted clarity over Slim's intentions for E-Plus, which Slim has now provided by giving his blessing to an improved €8.55 billion deal for the German unit. So what now? Do they want more money, or are they simply resistant to the idea of the Dutch operator falling into foreign ownership?
For those of you coming back from holiday, you've certainly missed a lot! Stay tuned.--Anne