Telecom operators are allowed to collaborate, under certain conditions, in order to invest, in an efficient manner, in the capacity, quality, and coverage of mobile networks. That has been laid down by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) in its guidelines on the sharing of mobile networks. Collaborations between telecom operators can help ensure that such investments are made, while keeping competition on the market intact. ACM had previously submitted the guidelines for consultation to market participants in the telecom industry. Their responses have been incorporated in the final version, which has now been published (an English version of the guidelines will be published soon).
Well-functioning mobile services are crucial for the Netherlands. Mobile-data consumption has been increasing for years, and, in 2020, consumption was more than ten times as high as it was five years ago. This growth is expected to continue over the next few years. ACM finds it important that telecom operators can invest efficiently in the expansion of the capacity, quality, and coverage of mobile networks. High-quality networks are essential for offering newer and better mobile services to people and businesses. Competition between providers of such services promotes innovation.
Acquiring locations for masts
It is becoming harder and harder for telecom operators to find locations for masts. This is caused by the much-needed growth in the number of mobile antennas, and by the decreasing availability of locations. In that situation, it would help if operators were able to coordinate their search. ACM does not expect that, within the boundaries set out in the guidelines, competition between operators of mobile services will be jeopardized if they start working together in order to find locations for masts. Operators are still able to differentiate themselves sufficiently from their competitors, because they offer their services completely independently, and have their own roll-out strategies, spectrums, and networks.
The new Dutch Telecommunications Act will allow operators to lease spectrum (frequencies for mobile-data traffic). Leasing frequencies to, for example, an operator of local business networks could lead to new services and increased competition. Since the spectrum auction of mid-2020, the maximum number of frequencies that a single operator can use has been capped at 40 percent. ACM is of the opinion that this cap will ensure that, in general, competition will not be jeopardized.
Roaming using 2G or 3G networks
Over the next few years, Dutch telecom operators will switch off their 2G or 3G networks. This could impact the so-called machine-to-machine services (M2M-services) that rely on these networks, such as smart energy meters or automatic emergency contact systems in cars. In 2020, more than 7.5 million M2M devices were operational. If an operator thshuts down a 2G or 3G network is able to use, through roaming, the network of another operator that still offers 2G or 3G, there will be more time to migrate these devices to 4G or 5G. Therefore, ACM is, in general, in favor of such national roaming agreements, provided that the agreements are compliant with competition rules.