GSMA director slams 'lagging' Europe for poor investment in 4G

The director general of the influential GSMA has slammed Europe’s progress in rolling out LTE networks to enable 4G connections, claiming that the region is lagging when compared to North America.

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The director general of the influential GSMA has slammed Europe’s progress in rolling out LTE networks to enable 4G connections, claiming that the region is lagging when compared to North America.

Anne Bouverot was speaking at Huawei’s Global Mobile Broadband Forum in London this week, where she explained that although Europe has excelled in mobile in the past, it is now falling behind in delivering next generation mobile connections.

“Let me start with North America and the US – half of the world’s commercial 4G connections are in the US today. The largest mobile operator in the US has more than three times the LTE connections that Europe has,” said Bouverot.

“Europe still has the highest mobile penetration in the world, on a par with the US, but this is not the same story for 4G. For 4G Europe is clearly lagging behind. If we look at the number of LTE connections at the end of last year, one percent of Europe’s connections were 4G. This is compared to 11 percent in the US and 28 percent in South Korea.”

She added: “These numbers are pretty much doubling for every region this year, but that will get Europe to about two percent of its connections being 4G.”

4G launched in the UK in October last year, but this was only because communications regulator Ofcom allowed mobile operator EE to reuse old spectrum for the next generation services, which prompted the other operators to push forward with a speedy spectrum auction.

Up until this point the auction had been severely delayed due to disputes between the operators in the UK. O2 and Vodafone have now launched 4G services of their own, with Three due to launch by the end of the year.

“Europe used to be a pioneer in mobile, it was at the forefront of the definition of the GSM standard – it is now lagging behind in the deployment of 4G,” said Bouverot.

“Investment in the US in mobile networks has very clearly outpaced Europe, with capital expenditure growing by 70 percent since 2007. It has declined in Europe.”

Bouverot said that there are a number of things Europe needs to do to ensure catch-up with other regions. She said that Europe needs a different regulatory strategy and policy in order to incentivise mobile network investment, where a lighter touch, less complex regulatory environment is required.

Europe also needs a better environment for spectrum, said Bouverot, where countries need to adopt a coordinated approach to what spectrum is used for 4G – in order to standardise on technologies - and also encourage innovative new models, such as spectrum trading between operators.

“With these things hopefully Europe can catch up and get back on par with the levels that the US are enjoying for mobile broadband,” said Bouverot.