GSMA chair urges mobile industry to adopt «netcos» model

27 Feb 2018

Sunil Mittal, chairman of the GSMA and India’s Bharti Enterprises, has called on mobile operators to share network investments by establishing jointly owned telecoms network companies or 'netcos'.

Speaking on Monday’s morning keynote session at Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona, the GSMA chairman said the establishment of independent netcos would be key to connecting the unconnected.

“My dream is to have a significant netco,” said Mittal, speaking to Mats Granryd, director general of GSMA at the keynote session.

Mittal said the industry can draw inspiration from the subsea cable segment for the model. “Everybody [started] to build their own submarine cable and it finally became a consortium. Towers were the second big one, where everybody [contributed to] the pool of towers. There is one big advantage and competitive edge as well, and tower companies are flourishing over the world,” Mittal said.

"If you can bring an independent 'netco', which is again like a tower or a submarine cable consortium where no one player has influence, I think you will be able to cover the last billion, which is struggling to be covered."

He said while "progress" had been made in terms of the industry coming together for submarine cable and tower infrastructure consortia, telecoms networks are still perceived as a competitive advantage.

Mittal noted there was still some “levels of resistance” to the model, as operators are still keen on leveraging this network advantage.

"Yesterday, a friend of mine - who is a CEO of a large company - said I still want my network advantage and if I have a common network, where is my advantage? I still feel that there are levels of resistance," he said.

Despite that, Mittal said the concept is now being "discussed" and he is putting the topic firmly on the GSMA agenda during his time as chairman.

"People have to come together and form common networks and out of that you bring bells and whistles to serve customers.”

Mittal also cautioned against “wasting” billions of dollars on building parallel, subscale networks.

"In India, where we have experimented with a dozen operators... I think we had gone, completely gone wrong... [The market] has now finally come down to four operators or will do so in the next few months," he said. "Consolidation in this industry is important. You cannot waste billions of dollars...we are spending far too much money building parallel, subscale networks."

He said the combination of 5G and new technologies like artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) will pave the way for applications that are currently only in the realm of science fiction.

"5G [marks a] generational, transformational and fundamental shift in how societies have lived prior and post 5G. Future generations, to my mind, when they look back, will be amazed at how societies lived much less thrived with not having networks and associated technologies like AI, AR, VR and IoT," said Mittal.

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