Tony Weiner, head of technology strategy at T-Mobile UK, talks about the decade ahead.

I would be very surprised if operators cease to exist, you still need someone to provide the infrastructure, even if you get clever mobiles capable of performing mobile to mobile calls [peer to peer] or self routing calls, they just won’t provide the service people have come to love and expect.

Telecoms has become a commodity now. It’s so cheap. The same thing has to happen in the emerging markets too sooner or later, even if you have a population base of two billion, you’re going to hit capacity sooner or later. This is the challenge. Here in the mature markets, we’re seeing people wanting more and more and faster and faster and yet they’re not prepared to pay for it. That’s the way the internet has developed. We’re all expecting everything for free now and providing all this infrastructure isn’t cheap. People want mobility everywhere they go. It’s become a right.

How will business models evolve? A greater emphasis on consolidation and network sharing. We’re already seeing companies trying to squeeze everything they can out of the fixed costs. This will happen more and more. But on the other hand, you’ve got governments trying to squeeze more money out of spectrum. It’s tremendous pushes and pulls.

But technology is moving ahead. LTE is much more efficient, but the problem there is we have to upgrade our network with all those associated initial costs. Also we need to get our hands on better spectrum, certainly that below 1GHz, that will also help that will need less infrastructure for coverage.

Already tremendous work being done on LTE Advanced. The biggest problem we have is the spectrum – it’s very difficult migrating customers across to different frequency bands. But this is what LTE Advance tries to address by amortising chunks of spectrum across the various bands. That will offer more speed, but customers will always need more and more. It’s like disk space, no matter how much you have you always fill it, and the history of radio tells us that there will always be more demand.

There are suggestions that perhaps TV shouldn’t be on terrestrial spectrum, it should be delivered over cable instead. That would free up spectrum for mobile users. We’re also seeing developments in cognitive radio, which tries to sniff out free chunks of spectrum.

We’ll see much more machine to machine. More devices with built in radio. More cellular capabilities in cars to make them aware of traffic problems and road congestion.

You would have thought there would be much more integration in devices, purely because of cost, but people seem very happy carrying around multiple devices. We’re lucky at the moment because operators subsidise devices. Might see Google subsidising devices to get people using its services.

These new players are quite disruptive. Incumbents are plodding along but these new guys are very innovative. But markets are saturated so we’re all stealing from one another. Where do we go next? Probably more consolidation. Maybe more MVNO brands which have good customer relationships – Tesco, Asda etc.

Regulator would be quite nervous about a single network. Australia had one and that didn’t work out. There needs to be competition at the network level. But it might come down to two networks. Besides, once you hit a certain coverage level competition pretty much vanishes at the network level.

More vendor consolidation. In some ways it’s unfortunate but Huawei’s performance is staggering, they’re just sweeping the board.

Coverage is where a lot of operators will seek to differentiate. Trying to improve in building quality for example. We’re likely to see more work on femtos. The jury may be out, as with intelligent repeaters, but that may well be where the battles are fought. Operators could even hive off certain chunks of their networks and rent it back – we might go the opposite way to having one network and someone like Scottish Telecom might operate part of the network on behalf of Vodafone for example and Irish Electricity might do the same.


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