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Vodafone: Europe in danger of falling behind in developing digital economy

Europe is in danger of falling behind the rest of the world in delivering digital innovation, with an urgent need for a new approach to regulation, according to Joakim Reiter, group external affairs director, Vodafone Group. However, the EU has an opportunity to catch up and take advantage of its biggest asset, the scale of the EU Single Market, he added. 

“Europe’s starting point is not great,” said Reiter, speaking at the Cable Congress in Berlin this morning, with Asia Pacific countries now far ahead in connectivity and 5G. He said that Europe was “running out of time” to get things right. 

Reiter said that the “silver lining” was that there was a “window of opportunity” for Europe to “reposition itself as a global leader” leveraging its strengths, including the size of the European Single Market. 

“Europe needs to pull itself up by the bootstraps,” he said. He welcomed Cable Europe’s transition to become GIGAEurope and said that Vodafone was committed to participate. He said industry had been too fragmented and that GIGAEurope had to promote the whole connectivity industry’s efforts. 

“We look forward to launching this new organisation at the start of the new year,” he said. 

Reiter said that delivering connectivity and innovation was “not a job for governments alone”. He said that the Gigabit industry had to work more closely with government and industry more widely to manage the integration of the digital economy with the wider economy.

He said that Vodafone was innovating to deliver more resilience in its networks. He said that the company was becoming a “critical national infrastructure provider” but other companies had to play their part. 

“You cannot drive digital Ferraris on copper roads,” he said. There is “under investment year on year” in Gigabit networks across Europe. 

Reiter said the new communications code had given Brussels the impression that it had “fixed the problem”.However, he said, “this is not the case”. 

He said there had to be more efficient allocation of network investment and a change in the management of spectrum in multiple member states. He was specifically critical of Germany’s allocation of spectrum for 5G. He said “Europe cannot afford red tape policies” regarding broadband rollouts. 

Reiter said that Europe also needed industrial policies that enabled providers to achieve scale and to adopt policies that helped maximise adoption of technologies including AI and 5G. 

He said that regulation within Europe often stifled rather than encouraged investment. He said there would be around five billion connected devices in Europe by 2025. In order the maximise the opportunity given by the scale of the EU market, he said that Europe had to strip out layers of regulation and the encouragement of voluntary data sharing between industries to encourage the development of startups. Eh said that data sharing could deliver economic growth.

Finally, he said, Europe has to stop regulating on the basis of sectors. He said there was a “vacuum” in regulation across sectors that could deliver trust on the part of consumers. He said there was a need for “one set of rights” online and offline for consumers.

Other necessary conditions include a guarantee of the confidentiality and security of communications. 

Reiter said that concentration is now pervasive the B2C space and there is a need to avoid this in the B2B space. 

Also speaking at Cable Congress, Hannes Ametsreiter, CEO, Vodafone Deutschland, said that Germany, which has “for a very long time been a laggard” in high-speed broadband, needs ultra-fast Gigabit connectivity based on fibre to the home outside Vodafone’s existing cable network, high-speed DOCSIS-based connectivity within the cable network and 5G mobile connectivity.

Ametsreiter said that the combination of networks would deliver “fantastic” opportunities. He said that Vodafone had a clear focus on Europe and was now the fastest growing broadband company within Europe. 

He said that Vodafone was looking beyond the home to deliver automotive connectivity as well as “many more ideas”.

He said that cable still have “a huge opportunity” as part of a wider industry because of its ability to deliver attractive packages, 1Gbps connectivity at an attractive price.

“We want to be a big contributor to the development of society,” he said, adding that the industry had to focus on “what we are strong in” rather than chase multiple technology developments.