BARCELONA (Reuters) - Top telecoms executives called for a total overhaul of Europe's regulatory framework on Monday, using the platform of the Mobile World Congress to amplify their demands for unified oversight across the 27-nation bloc.
"The European regulatory framework is totally outdated," Telefonica CEO Jose-Maria Alvarez-Pallete told the opening keynote session of the industry's top annual gathering. "Regulation today is based on the networks of the previous century."
Building 5G networks requires billions in funding and telecom operators are keen to tap the potential for growth in new businesses that next-generation technology is expected to provide.
The telecom industry will invest some $900 billion between now and 2025 and 80% of that will be in 5G, the mobile communications industry body GSMA says.
While 4G helped to create multi-billion dollar businesses ranging from music and video streaming to cab hailing and food delivery, telecom operators seldom got a share of that growth. They are now eager to reap the benefits of 5G.
Deutsche Telekom CEO Tim Hoettges said Europe's telco space was falling apart, beset by 27 different sets of regulation while messaging services such as Facebook's WhatsApp and Microsoft were free-riding on telecoms network infrastructure.
"We need to wake up," said Hoettges. "We have to find a fair playing field in our industry, and we need great politicians who can set out with a vision for Europe."
The European Commission has laid out a connectivity plan which by 2030 will cover all European households with a Gigabit network, and all populated areas with 5G.
Operators have to invest billions in licences and network building, while their margins are dwindling and average revenue per user is declining, Paolo Pescatore, an analyst at PP Foresight, told Reuters - "so they're seeking new revenue opportunities".
The executives who took part in the Mobile World Conference urged more cooperation between governments and companies to meet Europe's ambitious 5G plan.
"This is a political and a respectable goal that any European citizen or any European CEO will share," Pallete said.
"We have the technology and the know-how to do it, but when we are thinking in terms of regulation, competition and financing, there might be some questions," he said.
(Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette and Supantha Mukherjee, Writing by Douglas Busvine and Clara-Laeila Laudette; Editing by Thomas Escritt)