Telecoms operators in the Netherlands may work together in various ways to speed up mobile network rollouts, according to new rules from the country’s competition body.
The Authority for Consumers & Markets (ACM) has published the final version of new guidelines on the sharing of mobile networks, noting that telcos may collaborate under certain conditions in order to invest effectively their mobile networks.
The guidelines cover areas such as acquiring sites for mobile masts, spectrum leasing, and roaming on 2G and 3G networks for IoT services.
“ACM finds it important that telecom operators can invest efficiently in the expansion of the capacity, quality, and coverage of mobile networks,” the authority said, having made the usual comments about past and projected future growth in mobile data consumption in the Netherlands.
“High-quality networks are essential for offering newer and better mobile services to people and businesses,” it said. “Competition between providers of such services promotes innovation.”
Specifically, the ACM will allow operators to work together in order to find locations for masts, something which is becoming more challenging due to the need for more antennas coupled with reduced availability of usable sites. Cooperation in this area, within the boundaries it sets out in its guidelines, would not jeopardise competition, the ACM said.
“Operators are still able to differentiate themselves sufficiently from their competitors, because they offer their services completely independently, and have their own roll-out strategies, spectrums, and networks,” it explained.
That said, the authority is also open to the idea of operators leasing spectrum. It suggests that a local business services provider could lease frequencies, which would allow it to launch new services and thereby increase competition, for example.
Since the country’s latest spectrum auction in July, the maximum amount of spectrum any operator may use is capped at 40%, which should be sufficient to ensure that competition is maintained, the ACM said. (The big three mobile network operators shared €1.23 billion worth of frequencies in the 700 MHz, 1400 MHz and 2.1 GHz bands in that auction.)
Finally, the ACM turned its attention to roaming.
Operators will switch off their 2G and 3G networks over the next few years, something that could impact on the machine-to-machine (M2M) services market, with smart meters, car systems and the like still running on older mobile network technology. However, if an operator could close its 2G or 3G network, but then roam onto a rival’s still operational 2G or 3G infrastructure, “there will be more time to migrate these devices to 4G or 5G,” the ACM said. It is, therefore, in favour of roaming deals like this, provided they adhere to competition rules, of course.
Whether it would prove economically viable for an operator to keep 2G and 3G networks running for the benefit of players who would prefer to save money by closing theirs, is another question entirely.
But the message from the Netherlands is pretty straightforward: mobile operators will be given some leeway to share assets for the good of the overall market. How they structure those arrangements will clearly be up to them.