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GSMA opposes UK national roaming proposals

Cornwall mobile coverage

The GSMA has come out in opposition to the UK government’s national roaming proposals. In a statement, issued mere weeks after the news first broke, the mobile industry association’s Chief Regulatory Officer Tom Phillips said the organisation believes compulsory network sharing would be damaging to the industry and service quality.

“The GSMA believes there are alternative solutions for tackling the issue of partial not-spots in the UK outside of mandated national roaming, which is technically complex, expensive and would impede law enforcement activities,” Philips said.

“Most importantly, as such a scheme is likely to result in issues making, receiving and maintaining calls, we need to look at other ways of ensuring that the consumer experience is continually enhanced.

Resonating with the views of many UK operators, Philips said the GSMA fears the proposals made by the Media, Sport and Culture Secretary Sajid Javid would work as a disincentive.“We are concerned that mandated national roaming would limit incentives for investment in future mobile network infrastructure, in turn restricting future socio-economic growth,” said Philips.

“Research from Capital Economics suggests that it could lead to a reduction in industry capital expenditure by £360 to £440 million each year, reducing GDP by 0.1 to 0.2 per cent.  Furthermore, the report finds that the current rapid rollout of 4G in the UK could be delayed by 18 to 24 months as resources are diverted to implement national roaming, just as increasing numbers of the population are starting to enjoy the benefits of 4G.”

The Capital Economics report has been commissioned by EE to assess the economic contribution of the mobile industry in the UK, 4G LTE technology and potential risks for growth and investment in the industry.

In the statement the GSMA also outlined two alternative ways to improve coverage. Firstly, it recommended annual spectrum fees to be lowered so that operators would have more cash to invest in network infrastructure. Secondly, it also called for reforms on the Electronic Communications Code (ECC), which governs the way UK operators can access and deploy infrastructure on land.

“In conclusion, we believe the solution to tackling partial not-spots is through continued investment in our mobile networks, enabled by a favourable regulatory environment. In our commitment to ensuring the best possible consumer experience, the GSMA and its members are actively engaged in a range of ongoing initiatives aimed at improving 2G, 3G and 4G coverage and the capability of mobile infrastructure, both in the UK and around the world.”

GSMA’s Policy Officer John Giuti recently told Telecoms.com that allowing flexibility for operators to voluntarily work together for example through spectrum sharing is important for the industry’s viability. “I think the ability for operators to shift spectrum resource as needed, is really key,” he said.

“The challenge is that they’re given the flexibility to do it in a way that the government can be secure the spectrum is secure and being used appropriately. But also so that it gives them [the operators] the ability to, without too much of a burden, use it to combine efforts to do all sorts of sharing amongst themselves as they see fit to help expand coverage. But that’s about using existing spectrum resource. It’ll help and it’ll make sure they can more nimbly adapt to the realities of the market environment but it won’t make up for the huge spectrum deficit.”

The UK Media, Sport and Culture Secretary Sajid Javid launched a three-week public consultation on tackling partial not-spots in mobile phone coverage on the 5th of November, and the ministry is now assessing the feedback it received. One could argue the consultation period was rather short.

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