Leading mobile operators have called for a rethink of mobile regulation to ensure they can make a return on a planned $800bn investment in network infrastructure over the next three years.
Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone Group, told the opening session of this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday: "We need to stop this autopilot regulatory approach."
He said that each time the regulators cut mobile termination rates by 10 cents, only 2 cents of that saving was passed on to end customers: "We should stop having continuous intervention on prices and let the industry reinvest the money. This autopilot regulation is a legacy of the past."
Franco Bernabe, chairman of the GSMA and CEO of Telecom Italia, argued that the industry needed to protect the business model that had brought networks to their current point, and which would drive the massive investment in increased capacity needed over the next few years. He also called for the mobile industry to ensure that a revision of the 1988 ITU treaty which laid the foundations for today's mobile industry, due at the end of the year, suited the industry's future needs.
Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility, called for regulations supportive of sustained investment in networks, and argued for the release of new blocks of globally harmonised spectrum.
"We can’t continue without more spectrum, and more effective use of spectrum, which is why I am excited about the shift to LTE," he said.
Attendees at the opening session were treated to a bewildering array of statistics about the scale and growth of the mobile industry. Currently there are 6.6bn active mobile connections worldwide, a figure which is expected to grow to 10bn, or 1.3 connections for every man, woman and child on the planet, by 2016. By 2020, there could be 2.3bn machine to machine mobile connections worldwide.
There are already 1.3bn mobile broadband connections worldwide, and 780 million people who only access the Internet from a mobile device. Smartphones make up just 12 per cent of the handsets in use worldwide by volume, but are responsible for 82 per cent of data traffic. Mobile data traffic, currently running at an average of 150Mbyte per user per month, is expected to grow 18-fold in the next five years. In 2011, the volume of mobile data traffic was eight times global Internet traffic in 2000, during the dotcom bubble. Data demand has doubled every year since 2007. By 2016, two thirds of mobile traffic will be video.