MWC Shanghai: GSMA takes another swipe at regulators

Bemoaning regulators has become common place in the telecommunications industry, but that hasn’t stopped the GSMA having another dig at the world’s boresome bureaucrats.

5G is on the horizon, and fulfilling the bold promises made by the industry is going to be an expensive job. For the digital world to be as glorious as we have imagined, or have been told to imagine, there need to be some changes on the regulatory front. Or at least that was the message which came across this morning during the opening keynotes at Mobile World Congress Shanghai.

“We cannot move forward without regulatory support,” said Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman of both Bharti Enterprises and the GSMA.

Of course it should not be a surprise Mittal is preaching for regulatory reform. He is the Chairman of Bharti Enterprises and the GSMA, therefore any changes which would benefit members, and his own organization, would certainly be top of the agenda for Mittal. But this is a message we are starting to hear far too often; the regulatory environment is not suitable for a sustainable industry.

Harmonised spectrum is one aspect which will be addressed in the near future, but another elephant in the room is the affordability of this valuable asset. Dependent on where you are in the world, the approach is very different.

Looking at the Asian markets, in particular China, Mittal suggested the regulators were basically giving the spectrum away for free. While this is somewhat of an exaggeration, comparatively to the Western markets, it is not far off the mark. The theory here is the less operators are paying for spectrum licenses, the more can be spent on actual deployment.

“In the Western world, way too much money is being spent on spectrum,” said Mittal. “It’s the wrong way around. No wonder China is the leading country to provide mobile connectivity to its customers.”

Cynical individuals might frown upon this assumption, pointing towards profit-mad, penny pinching executives as the reason for substandard infrastructure, but you can’t argue with the results. China arguably leads the way when it comes to network deployment, and is one of the leading lights in the 5G world. There are numerous factors to take into account, but you can’t ignore the affordability of spectrum as one of them.

Another to condemn the regulatory environment was GSMA Director General Mats Granryd. This should hardly come as a surprise also, but change is needed to facilitate the deployment of futureproof networks. The timely release of harmonised spectrum is next on the agenda, though new policies to encourage investment should be prioritised, as well as reform to level the playing field for telcos when it comes to digital services, and finally, a long, hard look at privacy policies. Regulators might be patting themselves on the back constantly, but for Granryd, there is still much work to do.

This is of course not a new complaint from the GSMA, but eventually something will have to be done. If you call a man a horse once, he’ll probably ignore you, the second time he will cuss you, the third might be a prompt to buy a saddle. Sooner or later, regulators are going to have to address the chorus of voices condemning the regulatory landscape.

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