This was a particularly exciting week for me attending and speaking at the FT-ETNO 2018 summit in Brussels.

It seems to be a general opinion that EU telcos continue to have huge challenges ahead, caused by the tricky and mixed regulatory environment, increasingly rapid technological innovation and change, high degrees of competition even in core markets and the very high level of new investment essential in order to deliver new technologies and services.

Chairman of ETNO, Phillip Malloch, emphasised that in order to pull Europe ahead, we need a new industrial policy for Europe, to leverage the full power of telecoms companies and to rebuild trust in European values. 

“We are clearly under pressure to deliver collectively in order to keep the pace of digital change,” said Commissioner Mariya Gabriel in her opening address, and I think most in the room agree with that.

I query, however, the Commissioner’s positive spin on the Electronic Communications Code, as do others; I recognise that good intentions have been expressed about the need to ensure both a pro-competitive and pro-investment environment but that is not enough. The Commissioner’s address was starkly and powerfully rebutted by Telefónica’s CEO, José María Álvarez-Pallete. He believes in deregulation so much, and fears the “chilling outlook” of over-regulation, that he said it emphatically three times: “deregulate, deregulate, deregulate!”

Telcos are on a demoralising merry-go-round. They are hindered by price wars and price caps resulting in reduced returns, those reduced returns undermine the telcos’ abilities to invest in next generation networks and technology deployment, and the limited performance of that infrastructure ends up damaging the consumer relationship. 

If you’re going to hedge your bets on where telcos are looking to put your and their money, Tim Höttges, (CEO of Deutsche Telekom), who is investing €12.6 billion per year into infrastructure, may be correct – “Content is Prince, Network is King”