GSMA Mobile 360: Connecting Cities, Connecting Lives, Connecting Europe

The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide.

The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide.

Traditionally the first week of September in Brussels is the time when you see grumpy faces walking around the European Quarter thinking that the time they were lying on a beach is over for good. Most EU stakeholders did not miss their flight back and neither did the powerful network of influencers.

One of this autumn’s hot topics in the EU agenda that puts a decisive end to dreams of a summer night is the Commission’s expected draft proposal on the ‘telecoms single market’ plan. Most of us should remember the meeting in March at the EU Council where the EU members set a timeframe for the Commission’s proposal this October. Even if some of us do not recall that, the Telecom industry certainly does and came back from the summer siesta very well prepared for this.

GSMA Mobile 360 Series

It was thus in view of this long-awaited Commission’s proposal that last Friday the major players of the industry gathered to attend a stimulating conference organized by GSMA, the organization that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide. The theme of the event, which was part of the worldwide GSMA Mobile 360 series conferences, was “Connecting Cities, Connecting Lives, Connecting Europe”.

It isn’t unusual for any sector on the eve of a big Commission proposal to organize events like that in Brussels, for the industry players to show their teeth and most of all provide the European decision-makers with useful insights and information. It goes without saying that the European Sting, as a passionate follower of evolutions and trends in digital and mobile society, accepted GSMA’s invitation to this well organized event that took place at the Square Brussels Meeting Centre last week.

The list of the attendees was large and rich, starting from Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Digital Agenda, to Philip Lowe, Director General for energy, officials from DG CONNECT, DG ENERGY, DG MOVE as well as top executives of telecom giants like IBM and Orange. Overall the topics and issues covered were interesting and could contribute to the current dialogue between the policy makers and the industry.

The thematic pillars of the conference were the following: “Healthcare in the Connected Community”, “Energy in the Connected City”, “Employment and Entrepreneurship in the Connected Communities” and “Transport in the Connected City”. Every section was enriched with experienced panelists who offered stimulating discussions to the audience.

The Showcases

Apart from the discussions during the different sessions, the visitor had also the chance to examine quite a few showcases directly from the industry.

1) A bike tour organized from Newcastle University where cyclists equipped with cutting edge mobile technology presented a case study on how mobile technology can contribute in measuring the health living conditions of people with diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Partners supporting the Tour include ANT+, Dexcom, Etisalat, McCann Health, Orange and Sony Mobile.

2) Mobile World Capital Barcelona also presented its ‘International Competence Centres Programme’ that is comprised by mHealth, making high quality healthcare accessible to all incomes, and mEducation as a new way for children to receive education.

3) Deutsche Telekom and IBM demonstrated in their stand information on smart European cities using machine-2-machine based technology.

4) Telecom Italia presented SIM solutions for our mobiles using NFC (Near Field Communication), technology that will give a new approach to mHealth where the patient and the doctor can process information easily, safely and at low cost. Questions about the readiness of the European health system to support a project like this were also raised.

5) Samsung, the Korean leader in mobile technology, showcased a ‘Smart School Solution’ where learning will be fun for students and a more holistic and modern teaching process for teachers.

6) GSMA in turn demonstrated projects on mEducation and NFC SIM-based payment method that will replace soon our wallets keeping all our identity, loyalty and business cards inside our phone in digital format, maintaining at the same time the highest safety standards.

The Mobile Report

With the opportunity of the event the GSMA decided to publish the report Mobile Economy Europe 2013 that describes the importance of the mobile industry for Europe and also expresses the position of the industry in several regulatory issues. In fact, with this report the mobile sector in Europe is replying to Commission’s regulatory intentions for the single telecom market and the radio frequency spectrum. It seems however that this time the GSMA calls the attention of the regulators not without a reason.

As the relative press release goes, “the mobile ecosystem generated approximately 2.1 per cent of GDP for the European Union (EU) – including contributions to public funding of €53 billion – and directly supported 394,000 jobs in the region”. Moreover in the report it is stressed that the mobile market is being shrunk from €162 billion in 2010 to €151 billion in 2012. “Europe was long viewed as a pioneer in mobile, but, as this report illustrates, is now lagging behind other regions in the deployment of mobile broadband, particularly in 4G/LTE,” said Anne Bouverot, Director General, GSMA.

Other interesting points found in the GSMA report are the lack of European investment in next-generation mobile technologies (4G/LTE) compared to the US and Korea, the need to effectively implement mobile technology to many sectors like automotive, the need for spectrum harmonization, the reduction of barriers in mergers at the sector, the encouragement of innovation “policy-wise” and the better education of the European consumer on the safe use of mobile applications.

The Mobile Dialogue

On the other hand, the European Commission aims to create a single telecom market. This will be accomplished by enforcing a single EU authorization for telecom operators that all member states will have to adopt. Thus it will be possible to override national regulators in matters like spectrum. Moreover, the protection of the consumer has a top place in the agenda of the Commission for the proposal. There will not be anymore minimum requirements indicated to the operators but rather a regulation. In this way the Commission aims to combat the phenomenon of bandwidth throttling and consequently ensure net neutrality. Another rather hot issue in the Commission’s agenda for the expected proposal is, according to Neelie Kroes, “the elimination of surcharges for international and roaming traffic not justified by underlying costs”. This call for an end of roaming charges within the EU should be enforced before the elections of the European Parliament in July 2014.

Obviously in this case the Commission intends to protect the interests of the European consumer, while the industry cares for the interests of the mobile sector in Europe. This is only fair to happen as it happens in all big regulatory debates. The Commission cannot regulate without knowing the needs of the market and the market cannot function without respecting the rules that the EU imposes. It is well expected that right before this proposal there will be an intense dialogue between the two parties. As usually, the solution lies somewhere in the middle. The question, as always though, is how to define exactly the golden cut. According to the Sting, the Commission should not regulate an inch more than what is required to have a well protected consumer and at the same time a fairly profitable market.

The GSMA event last Friday together with the report provided significant added value to this dialogue and gave useful information to the regulators, who are expected to form a proposal that will effectively protect the European consumer in the fierce mobile arena.

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