Poland signs agreement with US to shore up 5G security

The US and Poland signed an agreement on 5G security, effectively barring Chinese companies from participating in building 5G networks in one of the largest markets in central Europe.

The agreement was signed by Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish Prime Minister, and Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to Warsaw in place of President Trump, who stayed behind to deal with the expected landing of Hurricane Dorian. The presidential visit was made to commemorate of the 80th anniversary of Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

The two parties of the agreement pledged to protect “these next generation communications networks from disruption or manipulation and ensuring the privacy and individual liberties of the citizens of the United States, Poland, and other countries is of vital importance.”

When it comes to supplier selection, the agreement says, “we believe that all countries must ensure that only trusted and reliable suppliers participate in our networks to protect them from unauthorised access or interference.” Though it does not name China or Huawei, the criteria listed for “rigorous evaluation” read almost tailor-made for this purpose.

Specifically, suppliers should be evaluated on: whether they are controlled by a foreign government and subject to independent judicial review; whether they have a transparent ownership structure; whether they have a track-record of ethical corporate behaviour; and whether they are “subject to a legal regime that enforces transparent corporate practices”.

Other US officials were more straight-forward. “We recognize 5G networks will only be as strong as their weakest link,” said Marc Short, Pence’s chief staff, in a statement quoted by Associated Press. “We must stand together to prevent the Chinese Communist Party from using subsidiaries like Huawei to gather intelligence while supporting China’s military and state security services – with our technology.”

Poland has been one of the more vocal European countries calling for a ban on Huawei, especially after a Huawei employee was arrested charged for spying. The country’s officials had called for a coordinated NATO-EU action. But with any EU-wide 5G security measures not expected to be in place by October and member states given another year to test the measures, Poland looked to the US for a faster solution. The two countries have strong cultural ties. “Nearly 10 million Americans trace their heritage to Poland”, according to Pence.

The Polish officials had conceded that they lack legal tools to ban Huawei from the country’s private sector. This agreement would deter such an interest from the privately-owned telecom companies.

The agreement would also be a significant step for the US to get Europe, including the UK, on board its battle with China and with Huawei. Pence called it “vital example for the rest of Europe on the broader question of 5G.”

Sunrise claiming 80% (no joke) 5G population coverage already

It might be a small country, and its citizens might be concentrated in the cities, but Switzerland is driving forward with 5G like few other countries around the world.

Switzerland is not the biggest of markets, but it is demonstrating how competition can drive network deployment forward. Alongside market leader Swisscom suggesting it will have 90% population coverage by the end of 2019 for 5G, Sunrise is claiming it has already hit the 80% milestone.

With 262 cities and towns already covered in the 5G blanket, the Swiss consumers are getting treated to a connectivity euphoria few others can claim to match.

“At the start of April, we launched our 5G network for selected customers,” said Olaf Swantee, CEO of Sunrise.

“This makes us the first 5G provider in Switzerland and Europe. Since then, we have successfully extended our lead. The Sunrise 5G network is the biggest in the country and sets a benchmark in terms of coverage quality.

“We do not differentiate between ‘fast’ and ‘wide’, between fast and slow 5G. Private and business customers want good and fast 5G coverage. That’s why we will also be offering 5G coverage in all Sunrise Shops by the end of the year. In addition to this, we will be launching a dedicated solution for companies, allowing them to benefit from 5G as soon as possible to aid their digitization.”

The first phase of this 5G push is upgrading existing cell sites. This is the simplest aspect of the strategy, though with Huawei’s ‘LampSite’ solution the Sunrise team is addressing the indoor coverage dilemma. As the focus on indoor coverage moves forward, the team is quickly turning its attention to driving ROI through enterprise solutions.

So, what is different in Switzerland? How have the telcos driven forward so quickly into the 5G era?

Firstly, you must take into account the size of the country. At 41,284 km2, Switzerland is ranked 132nd worldwide. It is not massive. And with a population of roughly 8.5 million, it is listed at 99th globally.

Secondly, ARPU is notably higher in Switzerland. During the last quarter, ARPU for post-paid customers was £32.01 for Sunrise. This compares to £20.7 at EE in the UK or £15.33 in France with Orange. Not only does this offer more free cash to drive network investments, it provides more security and confidence when judging ROI.

Thirdly, competition is critically important here. With Swisscom being aggressive with its own rollout, Sunrise has to keep pace. And the faster Sunrise moves, it drags Swisscom forward as well. It is competition at its finest, a virtuous cycle.

Finally, the presence of Olaf Swantee should not be underestimated. As Ovum’s Paul Lambert points out, Swantee is aware to the power of 5G, and having led EE’s successful 4G deployment, the drive and experience to move into the next generation is right at the top of the organization.

Sunrise is not particularly in the same league as Swisscom for the moment, though an aggressive push towards 5G could bridge the gap (6.3 million subscribers at Swisscom, versus 2.4 million at Sunrise). This appears to be the strategy employed by Sunrise according to Lambert; scaled 5G coverage offers a differentiator for the telco and an opportunity to capture higher paying customers.

What is worth noting is population coverage is very different to geographical coverage. Switzerland is a highly urbanised country, roughly 73% live in urban environments, easing the demands on network deployment. When you look at the rural landscapes in Switzerland however, the challenges start to mount up very quickly.

This is a common trait in the majority of the markets where 5G has gotten off to a flying start. South Korea is another example of a market moving very quickly towards the 5G era, and once again, it is a highly-urbanised country. The UK is a third which has the advantage of a relatively small land mass, combined with a concentrated population.

Although these are factors which will simplify the network deployment equation, that should not take away from the progress being made across the Swiss telco industry. In the absence of coverage obligations, good old competition and ambition is driving the agenda.

Europe set to join the facial recognition debate

With more authorities demonstrating they cannot be trusted to act responsibly or transparently, the European Commission is reportedly on the verge of putting the reigns on facial recognition.

According to reports in The Financial Times, the European Commission is considering imposing new rules which would extend consumer rights to include facial recognition technologies. The move is part of a greater upheaval to address the ethical and responsible use of artificial intelligence in today’s digital society.

Across the world, police forces and intelligence agencies are imposing technologies which pose a significant risk of abuse without public consultation or processes to create accountability or justification. There are of course certain nations who do not care about privacy rights of citizens, though when you see the technology being implemented for surveillance purposes in the likes of the US, UK and Sweden, states where such rights are supposedly sacred, the line starts to be blurry.

The reasoning behind the implementation of facial recognition in surveillance networks is irrelevant; without public consultation and transparency, these police forces, agencies, public sector authorities and private companies are completely disregarding the citizens right to privacy.

These citizens might well support such initiatives, electing for greater security or consumer benefits over the right to privacy, but they have the right to be asked.

What is worth noting, is that this technology can be a driver for positive change in the world when implemented and managed correctly. Facial scanners are speeding up the immigration process in airports, while Telia is trialling a payment system using facial recognition in Finland. When deployed with consideration and the right processes, there are many benefits to be realised.

The European Commission has not confirmed or denied the reports to Telecoms.com, though it did reaffirm its on-going position on artificial intelligence during a press conference yesterday.

“In June, the high-level expert group on artificial intelligence, which was appointed by the Commission, presented the first policy recommendations and ethics guidelines on AI,” spokesperson Natasha Bertaud said during the afternoon briefing. “These are currently being tested and going forward the Commission will decide on any future steps in-light of this process which remains on-going.”

The Commission does not comment on leaked documents and memos, though reading between the lines, it is on the agenda. One of the points the 52-person expert group will address over the coming months is building trust in artificial intelligence, while one of the seven principles presented for consultation concerns privacy.

On the privacy side, parties implementing these technologies must ensure data ‘will not be used to unlawfully or unfairly discriminate’, as well as setting systems in place to dictate who can access the data. We suspect that in the rush to trial and deploy technology such as facial recognition, few systems and processes to drive accountability and justification have been put in place.

Although these points do not necessarily cover the right for the citizen to decide, tracking and profiling are areas where the group has recommended the European Commission consider adding more regulation to protect against abuses and irresponsible deployment or management of the technology.

Once again, the grey areas are being exploited.

As there are only so many bodies in the European Commission or working for national regulators, and technology is advancing so quickly, there is often a void in the rules governing the newly emerging segments. Artificial intelligence, surveillance and facial recognition certainly fall into this chasm, creating a digital wild-west landscape where those who do not understand the ‘law of unintended consequence’ play around with new toys.

In the UK, it was unveiled several private property owners and museums were using the technology for surveillance without telling consumers. Even more worryingly, some of this data has been shared with police forces. Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has already stated her agency will be looking into the deployments and will attempt to rectify the situation.

Prior to this revelation, a report from the Human Rights, Big Data & Technology Project attacked a trial from the London Metropolitan Police Force, suggesting it could be found to be illegal should it be challenged in court. The South Wales Police Force has also found itself in hot water after it was found its own trials saw only an 8% success rate.

Over in Sweden, the data protection regulator used powers granted by GDPR to fine a school which had been using facial recognition to monitor attendance of pupils. The school claimed they had received consent from the students, but as they are in a dependent position, this was not deemed satisfactory. The school was also found to have substandard processes when handling the data.

Finally, in the US, Facebook is going to find itself in court once again, this time over the implementation of facial recognition software in 2010. A class-action lawsuit has been brought against the social media giant, suggesting the use of the technology was non-compliant under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act.

This is one example where law makers have been very effective in getting ahead of trends. The law in question was enacted in 2008 and demanded companies gain consent before any facial recognition technologies are introduced. This is an Act which should be applauded for its foresight.

The speed in which progress is being made with facial recognition in the surveillance world is incredibly worrying. Private and public parties have an obligation to consider the impact on the human right to privacy, though much distaste has been shown to these principles in recent months. Perhaps it is more ignorance, short-sightedness or a lack of competence, but without rules to govern this segment, the unintended consequences could be compounded years down the line.

Another point worth noting is the gathering momentum to stop the wrongful implementation of facial recognition. Aside from Big Brother Watch raising concerns in the UK, the City of San Francisco is attempting to implement an approval function for police forces, while Google is facing an internal rebellion. Last week, it emerged several hundred employees had signed a petition refusing to work on any projects which would aid the government in tracking citizens through facial recognition surveillance.

Although the European Commission has not confirmed or denied the report, we suspect (or at the very least hope) work is being taken on to address this area. Facial recognition needs rules, or we will find ourselves in a very difficult position, similar to today.

A lack of action surrounding fake news, online bullying, cybersecurity, supply chain diversity and resilience, or the consolidation of power in the hands of a few has created some difficult situations around the world. Now the Commission and national governments are finding it difficult to claw back the progress of technology. This is one area where the European Commission desperately needs to get ahead of the technology industry; the risk and consequence of abuse is far too great.

Is Xiaomi filling a Huawei-shaped hole in the smartphone market?

Huawei might be suffering in today’s political climate, but every action gets a positive and negative reaction and could Xiaomi be benefitting from its rival’s misery?

The Chinese challenger brand might have missed on market expectations for revenue, but it is not the worst set of financial results you have ever seen. Looking at the most simplistic measure of a company, it made more money than last year, brought in more profits and sold more products; not too bad.

“Thanks to the Xiaomi relentless efforts, we have managed to achieve solid growth in our businesses, posting a consensus-beating profit and becoming the youngest Fortune Global 500 company in 2019, despite global economic challenges,” said Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun.

“Our performance is testament to the success of our ‘Smartphone + AIoT’ dual-engine strategy and the Xiaomi business model. Looking ahead, we will continue to strengthen our R&D capabilities and investments so as to capture the great opportunities brought by 5G and AIoT markets and strive towards ongoing achievements for the company.”

Financial analysts will be pouring over the spreadsheets to understand why Xiaomi seemingly missed market expectations, but let’s not forget, the smartphone market is in a notable slump right now. Sales are slowing and the 5G euphoria is yet to hit home to compensate. No-one is immune from overarching global trends.

However, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for the majority of smartphone manufacturers; there are gains to be made from the Huawei misery.

According to the latest smartphone shipment numbers from Canalys, Huawei’s smartphone shipments in Europe have declined year-on-year by 16%, while Samsung and Xiaomi have grown their numbers by 20% and 48% respectively. Other factors will contribute to the increase, though there will be former-Huawei customers who are seeking alternatives brands at the end of their replacement cycle.

Huawei is in a bit of a sticky situation right now. Firstly, its credibility has been called into question, thanks to President Trump’s trade war, while its supply chain is suffering due to the tariffs from the aforementioned trade war. The supply of critical components is under threat, as are security updates from Google’s Android operating system. Both of these concerns will impact consumer buying decisions.

Looking at Huawei’s financial figures, the consumer business unit is still on the rise, revenues were up 23%, though when you take into consideration the analyst estimates, it would seem these gains are from the domestic market. If Xiaomi can avoid collateral damage, it could benefit from Huawei’s alleged downturn in the international markets.

This does seem to be the case. For the first half of 2019, Xiaomi’s revenues increased 20.2% year-on-year to roughly $13.55 billion. The international markets, an area of significant potential for Xiaomi, accounted for 42.1% of the total, compared to a 36.3% proportion in the same period of 2018.

The gains in Europe have been highlighted above, though the Indian market is looking like a very profitable one. IDC estimates suggest Xiaomi is still leading smartphone shipments in India and has done for the last eight consecutive quarters. Estimates from eMarketer state smartphone penetration will grow to 29% of the Indian population in 2019, year-on-year growth of 12.5%. There is still a massive amount of growth potential in this market which is undergoing its own digital revolution.

Another area which has been highlighted for gains by the Xiaomi management team is the increasing diversity of the product portfolio.

Aside from the Mi 9 series and Redmi Note 7 series, the team launched the new K20 flagship during the second quarter, with shipments exceeding one million in the first month. The CC Series has also seemingly gained traction with female audiences, while the Mi MIX 3 5G was one of the first 5G compatible devices to hit the market. Numerous telcos have partnered with Xiaomi for this device, suggested the team is taking the shotgun approach as opposed to signing exclusive partnerships.

What is clear, Xiaomi is a smartphone manufacturer which is heading in the right direction. However, the gains could be increased should the misery continue for Huawei.

Samsung and Xiaomi benefit from Huawei misery

US aggression towards Huawei seems to be paying-off as smartphone shipments in Europe swing away from the Chinese vendor, towards Samsung and Xiaomi.

Although Huawei is still a profitable and growing company, some might fear this growth is too concentrated on the Chinese market thanks to US attempts to damage credibility internationally. According to Canalys estimates, this could be the case, with European smartphone purchases shifting away from the previously surging Huawei brand and towards rivals Samsung and Xiaomi.

“For years, a focus on operating profit has stifled its product strategy,” said Analyst Ben Stanton. “But this year, the shackles are off, and winning back market share is its clear priority. But its success is not solely due to product strategy.

“Samsung has been quick to capitalize on Huawei’s US Entity List problems, working behind the scenes to position itself as a stable alternative in conversations with important retailers and operators.

“A lack of brand loyalty among users of low-end and mid-range Android smartphones, which has blighted Samsung for so long, has become the catalyst for its best performance in years. Europe keeps its reputation as one of the most brand-volatile smartphone markets in the world, rife with danger, but also opportunity.”

As you can see from the table below, the instability of the European market is living up to its reputation.

Brand Q2 2019 Shipments (millions) Q2 2019 market share Annual change
Samsung 18.3 40.6% +20%
Huawei 8.5 18.8% -16%
Apple 6.4 14.1% -17%
Xiaomi 4.3 9.6% +48%
HMD 1.2 2.7% -18%
Others 6.4 7.7% -17%
Total 45.1

Looking at the shift, there is clearly homage being paid to the troubles of the Chinese vendor.

Last month, Huawei unveiled its financial results for the first six months of 2019 with a 23% year-on-year increase. It did appear many of the gains, including in the fast-growing consumer business unit, were in its domestic Chinese market and this research from Canalys backs-up the assumption, at least for smartphones.

Perhaps this also demonstrates the smartphone has become merely a vessel for bigger and better things. With marginal differentiation between flagship devices nowadays, Huawei made gains with products which met consumer expectations but undercut rivals on price. This pricing strategy was paired with an aggressive above-the-line advertising campaign through football sponsorship and traditional advertising to build brand credibility.

However, the White House endorsed propaganda campaign seems to be hitting home. The only difference between now and 2018 is the dents to Huawei’s credibility. It appears European consumers are much more Android-loyal than they are to the smartphone brand.

The beneficiaries of this fall from favour has been Samsung and Xiaomi. Canalys claims three of the top five selling devices in the European market were Samsung, reasserting its dominance, though Xiaomi has continued its impressive rise through the ranks. This might be down to two reasons.

Firstly, Xiaomi’s reputation as a more price-aware brand is clearly catching-on. The Chinese challenger has been making promising gains in some of the developing markets, India is a prime example, though it has managed to position itself as a cheap but reliable alternative for cash-conscious consumers in the European market also. A 48% year-on-year gain is impressive in anyone’s eyes.

Secondly, telcos and distributors might be pushing Xiaomi and alternative Android devices more heavily through advertising campaigns. The more Android fanboys who are turned-off by Huawei, the more prominent Samsung becomes. The more prominent Samsung becomes, the greater its weight during negotiations with channel partners. A market dominant smartphone brand is not good for any of the telcos or the distributors.

The Apple decline is certainly an interesting one also. This is traditionally a quiet quarter for the iLeader, with flagship devices usually launched in September, though a 17% decline is a worrying sign for executives. With the fall in smartphone shipments significantly below the global total decline, either the iCultists are becoming much more price-sensitive, or they are being tempted by Android rivals. Neither is good news.

The global smartphone market is in decline currently, which is perhaps down to two factors more than anything else. Firstly, the current 5G hype might have consumers delaying the purchase of a new device, and secondly, the high-prices of largely uninspiring smartphones might be encouraging longer replacement cycles.

There will of course be numerous other factors to consider, but one thing is clear, some brands are negotiating the baron times much more successfully than others.

MVNOs view European market as most prosperous for growth

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this article Helen Gaden of the MVNOs events series talks us through some of the finding of a recent survey they conducted into the European MVNO market.

The European MVNO market is the oldest, most established MVNO market in the world, and that brings with it its fair share of challenges. Mobile phone subscriptions are close to saturation point, with an estimated 467m unique mobile subscribers across the continent at the end of 2018, of which 111m are expected to belong to MVNOs (just under quarter of the market share), woes of a crowded market and higher penetration slowing growth have echoed across the continent.

Given the limited opportunities for increasing unique subscriber number, intense competition on price and modest patterns of revenue growth, it may seem counterintuitive that Europe is still viewed as the key region for driving global MVNO growth. And yet, a recent survey carried out by the MVNOs Series would seem to refute any such notion. Indeed, calling upon industry leaders across the globe, the survey asked participants which region they viewed as the most promising for growth. And the result? The majority cited Europe as the one market with the greatest potential: 40% to be exact. This constitutes the highest figure for any region.

Yes, competition in Europe’s mobile industry remains intense. But this is also viewed worldwide as making the region a hotbed of market innovation, a trait that is seen as playing into the hands of virtual operators – specialists in delivering niche, disruptive services in rapid response to shifting market demands.

Take Germany, Europe’s largest domestic MVNO sector and one of the most significant in the world. Their market enjoys a total of 135 active independent and carrier-owned MVNOs, which accounts for 19.5% of German mobile subscriptions. Similarly, in the UK a total of 77 active MVNOs enjoy a 16% share of the country’s mobile market. Germany and the UK are joined by France, Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands in accounting for the majority of the MVNOs operating within the European Union.

Some of the biggest virtual operators command market shares which compare favourably with the entire MVNO sectors of other countries, with Tesco securing 6% of the market, Virgin Mobile 4% and Sky Mobile, Talk Talk and iD Mobile each with 1% respectively.

Outside the EU, by some distance the most developed virtual network market is found in Russia. Russian MVNOs currently have a 5% market share with 37 active players, although this number is increasing faster than anywhere across Europe. A main factor in the rapid rise in the number of Russian MVNOs is the proactive approach taken by carrier Tele2, which in December 2017 launched its own MVNE focused on the Russian market. The company reported that its revenues from MVNO services tripled in 2018, with a total of 1.7 million subscribers signed up to providers using its network. It is forecast that, at present rates of growth, MVNOs could account for up to 15% of Russian mobile subscribers by 2022.

Another factor that allows for promising growth in Europe is the fragmentation of the European mobile market (i.e. a high number of individual domestic markets for the size of population, plus the prevalence of large, diverse urban communities) because it makes it difficult for large carriers to cater to everyone’s needs.

To add to that, the results of the survey revealed that both regulations and emerging technologies are seen as another key growth driver in Europe. New technologies causing seismic shifts in the MVNO space include IoT, eSIM and 5G, the latter of which is one of the hottest topics of conversation across the mobile industry in 2019.

 

For more in-depth insights, download the full European MVNO Market 2019 Report

Android to grudgingly offer search choice in Europe

As part of its ongoing bid to get the EU off its back Android will give European users a choice of default search provider from next year.

Google was fined €4.3 billion a year ago for abusing the dominant position Android holds in the smartphone market. By March of this year it hadn’t really done much to rectify the situation so the European Commission thought a further €1.5 billion fine might strengthen its resolve. This resulted in a vow from Google to offer more choice of browser and search engine.

Now the internet giant has proudly announced that when an Android device is first started up in Europe it will offer a choice of default search providers. It won’t but this very simple feature into effect until next year for some reason and there are a few other strings attached.

The main one is that all the other wannabe Android search providers will have to pay a fee every time someone chooses them as the default search provider instead of Google. The more they’re prepared to pay, the better chance they will have of being included as they will have to bid against each other for inclusion, with auctions conducted on a country-by-country basis and a maximum of three alternatives allowed.

There is a bit of a prisoner’s dilemma for the other search providers, however, as if none of them bid Google still has to offer up three alternatives, which it will pick at random from those that have applied for inclusion. So if they all hold their nerve there’s a chance they could get included for free. Of course there’s always the possibility that the EC will decide Google attempting to profit from its remedial measures is too cheeky and demand it doesn’t charge. Let’s see.

Europe opens consultation on uniform termination rates

The European Commission has opened up a new public consultation which eases the bloc towards more regulation and towards a maximum EU-wide mobile voice termination.

While it might not be the sexiest aspect of the telco world, termination rates is an issue which has yet to disappear despite efforts of the European Commission to create a bloc where all the member states get along.

In short, maximum EU-wide mobile voice termination, both fixed and mobile, are necessary when an operator needs to connect a customer where the receipt of the call is on someone else’s network. As few operators have 100% geographical coverage in their markets, this is an example of coopetition, where the telcos work together to ensure commitments can be delivered to the customer.

However, in some markets, though the Commission is steering clear of finger pointing, there might be a dominant player with a network which exceeds anything rivals could muster together, opening the door to market abuse. The European Commission is particularly sensitive to monopolies or any scenario which could lead to distorted competition, therefore this seems like a perfect opportunity to step-in with the red tape.

Should there be an instance where a dominant market leader looks to abuse this position by increasing termination charges for rivals, we suspect the cost could be passed onto customers. This could potentially harm competition by forcing more subscriptions onto the dominant players network, further distorting the concept of reasonable.

Although this consultation will aim to create a compulsory and consistent approach to termination rates across the bloc, it is not the first time Europe has attempted to intervene.

In 2009, the European Commission published a recommendation with the aim of achieving consistency between the various approaches applied by national regulatory authorities when regulating wholesale termination rates. Of course, the word you have to take note of is Recommendation. Divergences between the maximum termination rates in Member States still remain, and it seems Brussels has had enough.

Interestingly enough, one of the reasons the European Commission is allegedly looking into this area once again is the idea of cross-border competition. Although this is an assumption on our part, looking to increase cross-border competition in the telco space suggests there is one-eye on moving towards pan-European operators. This in turn could lead to greater market consolidation across the bloc.

The move towards more pan-European operations is something which would certainly be of interest to the telcos, though there are too many variances when it comes to the regulatory landscape. It should of course be considered a goal for those who have the financial capabilities, as scale offers numerous benefits when it comes to the business of making money.

Europe takes another chunk out of Qualcomm profits

The European Commission has announced it will once again fine Qualcomm for market abuse, with the investigation this time focusing on 3G baseband chipsets.

It seems time does not heal all wounds as this investigation focused on market abuse between 2009 and 2011, and a concept known as ‘predatory pricing’. In short, Qualcomm used its dominant market position to sell products to strategically important customers, below cost price, to effectively kill off any competition before it had a chance to gain momentum.

“Baseband chipsets are key components so mobile devices can connect to the Internet,” said Margrethe Vestager, the Commissioner in charge of competition policy. “Qualcomm sold these products at a price below cost to key customers with the intention of eliminating a competitor.

“Qualcomm’s strategic behaviour prevented competition and innovation in this market and limited the choice available to consumers in a sector with a huge demand and potential for innovative technologies. Since this is illegal under EU antitrust rules, we have today fined Qualcomm €242 million.”

Although the European Commission affords the opportunity for companies to use market advantages to seek profits, but when it becomes anti-competitive the bureaucrats draw a line. This is what has happened in this instance.

At the time, Qualcomm controlled roughly 60% market share of the UMTS baseband chipset segment, three times as great as the nearest competitor, though this position was used to kill competition before it had a chance to emerge. Using its relationships with Huawei and ZTE, Qualcomm sold products at low enough prices no-one could compete.

This is the challenge with segments which have such high-barriers to entry, key customer accounts are critically important, such are the investments which need to be made in R&D. Qualcomm effectively created a loss leader of these products to stem the critical flow of funds into any competition which could develop from the smallest glimmer of hope. In this case, the firm in question was Icera, which was eventually acquired by Nvidia.

The fine in this case represents 1.27% of Qualcomm’s turnover in 2018 and will hopefully deter companies from engaging in anticompetitive activity in the future.

For Vestager, this is another parting shot as she wraps up her tenure in the competition policy office, a position she has held since 2014.

The Commissioner has built a reputation of taking on big tech who make a habit of practising in anti-competitive activities. Qualcomm has been a frequent combatant of Vestager, though she has got plenty of experience dealing with the likes of Google and Amazon also, the latter of which is the subject of the latest probe.

Assuming the tech giants will be happy to see the back of her would be very reasonable, though it remains to be seen who will replace the feisty and combative Vestager.

Vodafone gets the green light from Europe for Liberty Global acquisition

The European Commission has given the all-clear for Vodafone’s €18.4 billion acquisition of Liberty Global’s cable operations in Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic and Romania.

There are of course conditions which Vodafone will have to adhere to, but the telco is now claiming to be Europe’s largest converged operator, with 116.3 million mobile customers, 24.2 million broadband customers and 22.1 million TV customers across 13 European countries.

“With the European Commission’s approval of this transaction, Vodafone transforms into Europe’s largest fully-converged communications operator, accelerating innovation through our gigabit networks and bringing greater benefits to millions of customers in Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania,” said Vodafone Group CEO Nick Reid.

“This is a significant step toward enabling truly digital societies for our customers.”

Of course, Vodafone has not got it all its own way. One of the concessions relates to the German market where Vodafone has agreed to open up the cable network to Telefonica Deutschland, allowing the rival to deliver TV and broadband services. Telefonica Deutschland has been discussing ways in which it can enter into new service segments, though this concession will certainly be welcomed by the bean-counters.

On the broadcasting side, Vodafone has also agreed it will not restrict broadcasters from distributing their content also via OTT services. This concession has been designed to counter fears that the newly merged entity would inhibit the growth of OTT services across the various geographies.

Following the approval, Vodafone expects the transaction to be completed by 31 July, though not everyone will be happy with the deal.

Yesterday, credit rating agency S&P entered Vodafone onto its CreditWatch list in a negative capacity, suggesting the firm has been too adventurous on its recent spending spree. This acquisition is deemed as a significant outlay, though the firm is also exposed to several spectrum auctions in key markets, as well as operating in some areas where trading conditions are less than perfect. S&P has said it will downgrade Vodafone to BBB on approval of the deal.

Elsewhere, other analysts have been pointing to negative performance in the stock markets since the introduction of Reid as CEO and the announcement of the Liberty Global transaction. Since these two news snippets hit the headlines, Vodafone’s share price has declined by more than 30%. Vodafone might be more competitive in some European markets now, but it seems some are worried by the financial commitments.