Milestones or millstones

31 Mar 2006

A few quiet telecom milestones were passed last week.

The first was the European Commission's plan to impose the world's first roaming price controls. Okay, thanks to the concerted objections from the GSM Association, it wasn't such a quiet milestone.

In truth, roaming isn't so much being regulated as abolished in the EU.

The GSMA is correct when it describes this as heavy-handed. In principle, the EC proposal is a poor precedent - will the commission next seek to regulate mobile data or SMS prices‾

In reality, that won't happen. The EC is responding to universal anger over roaming tariffs, and the GSMA members have no one to blame but themselves. For all the bluff and bluster of their many loud condemnations, they are unable to explain why charges are so extortionate.

The EC is proposing a home-pricing scheme, where travelers to the EU from abroad will not pay more than what they pay on their home networks. It is not clear whether these rules will also apply to travelers from outside the EU.

In any case, Convergence urges Asian regulators to use this decision to publicly shame local operators and to ask them to justify their rates.

Another barely-heralded development was China Unicom's revelation that it was seeks a foreign investor to back its 3G development.

This is hardly news, you might say. If ever there were a business in need of cash and capital it would be Unicom. But while Unicom and its rival China Mobile both have foreign advisers aplenty, these have been more for show than anything else.

China has been off limits for foreign players until now, but under WTO rules it is required to open some of its telecom services market the end of this year.

What is heartening is that Unicom looks on this as a positive. Convergence has long argued that the best thing for Chinese telecoms would be for Unicom to sell off one of its networks to an international operator.

Despite the uncertainties over licensing and the long-mooted telecom restructure, it seems safe to assume Unicom will be licensed to upgrade its cdma-1x network to 3G. With some foreign cash and expertise - in particular from the Koreans - we can see Unicom come out of the 3G blocks well ahead of its W-CDMA rivals.

The final quiet - nay, soundless - event last week was the Bluetooth's choice of WiMedia as its ultra wideband partner.

To some extent Bluetooth SIG merely validated what had become the preferred choice of much of the vendor community.

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