a week in wireless

Roaming remit

Such is the Informer’s commitment to bring you, dear Telecoms.com reader, the latest news from across the world that this week’s A Week In Wireless comes to you from not-so-sunny Stockholm. The Swedes have been excellent hosts and the Informer is delighted to report that the country’s reputation for statuesque blondes is well deserved.

A recurrent theme in conversation with the proud, but self-effacing, Swedes is how any perception of them as a socialist, economic basket-case is anachronistic and inaccurate. The country definitely punches above its weight in the telecoms sector, with Ericsson leading the way but companies as diverse as Telia Sonera, Spotify, King.com and Mojang all significant global players. And lest we forget, they also gave us 80s hair-metal legend Europe.

One of the reasons for this reputational anxiety may be Sweden’s self-confessed collectivist tendencies. There’s no ‘I’ in Sweden, it seems, and the Swedes take a pride in their propensity for team-work and their willingness to suppress their individual agendas in order to achieve collective goals.

While Sweden may not be socialist, according to the CIA World Factbook, Sweden is the 12th most heavily taxed country in the world, with the majority of its GDP being entrusted to the government do spend as it sees fit. While confidence in the CIA’s numbers is not boosted by the positioning of North Korea as a laissez faire paradise where we’re asked to believe the state only asks for 11% of GDP, it’s easy to see where Sweden gets that reputation from.

But if they are indeed as inclined towards ‘The Greater Good’ as the Informer has been led to believe, then presumably they don’t mind handing over the majority of their wedge to the state. If so, then fair play to them, and Stockholm certainly seems to be a well-maintained city. But when the collective will is imposed on individuals without their consent, things get a bit more complicated.

This seems to be what the UK government is trying with its latest ‘national roaming’ consultation, which threatens to force operators to share their networks with each other in order to tackle so-called “partial not-spots”.

In his introduction to the consultation document Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, says: “I am keen to work with [operators] to find a voluntary solution to the problem, however I would be prepared to mandate a solution in line with wider government interests, should insufficient progress be made.”

In effect he’s saying operators should be subservient to the will of the state, despite them being private companies. Yes, they are quite rightly regulated, but one of the main reasons for this is to ensure they compete and are not tempted into cartel-like behaviour. It’s somewhat contradictory to insist they compete on one hand but then force them to share their resources on the other.

The operators, inevitably, are not happy about this development, observing that it reduces the incentive to invest in the network, would be difficult to implement and reflecting that the government is perfectly happy to trouser the revenue from competitive spectrum auctions. Even Ofcom, it seems, isn’t too hot on the idea, and if the government hasn’t already spent its latest spectrum windfall, maybe it could chip in for some of this rural infrastructure it’s so keen on.

The Informer has to wonder where this trend is headed. Javid starts his intro with the revelation that “Mobile phones are no longer the luxury they once were,” so presumably we can expect handset vendors to be forced to hand out freebies before long. And while we’re at it let’s do something about the price of a pint in Central London.

Having said that, it seems us Brits are not completely incapable of collective action. We are now a week into Movember, during which otherwise sensible, rational men spend the month trying to look like 70s porn stars in the name of charity. Maybe the government is just coming at this the wrong way and should consider starting 2015 with ‘Roamuary’ to inspire those selfish operators to take one for the team.


Take care.

The Informer

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