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Vodafone sets up next round of lobbying by sounding the 5G standalone alarm

A new year represents a new opportunity for telcos to call on regulators to make their lives easier.

Nick Wood

January 29, 2024

3 Min Read

Vodafone has seized the initiative with a new report that does some scene-setting regarding the various challenges Europe faces and how these can be addressed through mobile technology and digital transformation.

However, it asserts in some suitably doom-laden language that progress is too slow due to the current regulatory environment, jeopardising Europe's long-term competitiveness.

The report, called Why Telecoms Matters, specifically highlights the slow progress of 5G standalone (SA) deployments, warning that a 'connectivity chasm' is opening up between Europe and other competing regions.

Indeed, the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) this month updated its rollout figures, putting the total number of operators worldwide investing in public 5G SA networks in the final quarter of 2023 at 121 in 55 countries. In Q4 2022, it stood at 112 operators.

While progress is being made, the figure is still somewhat paltry compared to the 582 operators that are currently investing in non-standalone 5G.

That's a problem for European competitiveness, according to Vodafone, which pointed out that it is already on the slide. Over the last 50 years, GDP growth has fallen from 4% to 1%, while the growth rate of European labour productivity has halved since the 1990s. GDP per capita has been flat, while in the US it has grown by almost 50 percent.

Unsurprisingly, Vodafone says digitalisation holds the key to reversing Europe's ailing fortunes.

It represents an estimated €1 trillion opportunity to the EU, the equivalent of adding a market the size of the Netherlands to European economic output.

However, in the current regulatory environment, Voda doesn't think those networks can be deployed in a timely enough fashion to realise those economic gains.

"While the recent macroeconomic downturn has strained access to capital, investments naturally follow when there are healthy returns to be made. This is missing in many parts of Europe as a direct consequence of poor market and regulatory conditions," said Vodafone.

"Change is long overdue," it continued. "This will require a significant refresh of the Single Market, the key to unlocking greater European competitiveness. It is also essential for accelerating digital transformation across the continent."

As for what Vodafone has in mind when it comes to the nuts and bolts of revamping Europe's connectivity investment climate, it is saving that for its next report.

An educated guess based on the last decade or more of European telco lobbying would be that it wants fewer restrictions on in-market – and potentially cross-border consolidation – and the option to charge tech giants for the data they generate.

"Our next report will showcase how Europe can lead on digital by creating the right market and regulatory framework to drive investment whilst making the best use of the Single Market to reap maximum benefits," Vodafone said.

It didn't say when this paper is due to land, but with Mobile World Congress (MWC) just round the corner – and with Vodafone CEO Margherita Della Valle's name on the agenda for the opening keynote – we probably won't have to wait long to see the 2024 edition of why European regulation requires telco-friendly reform.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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