21 Aug 2008

Do telecoms markets in CEE EU accession countries lag behind western neighbours in terms of fair competition?

I read yesterday that for the second time in less than a year Slovakia's incumbent telecoms operator has been fined by the country's anti-monopoly authority, the PMU, for abuse of dominant market position. The nature of the abuse is reported to be around failure to give network access to competing service providers. This recent fine is around EUR29.2 million, up from the EUR 17.4 million demanded by the PMU in late 2007 for anti-competitive behaviour.

It's not my role to study this situation in detail, so I am not clear what efforts, if any, Slovak Telekom (of which 51% is owned by Deutsche Telekom) has made to correct its business practices as a result of the earlier punishment. It is tempting to wonder, however, whether the level of these fines is high enough to prompt meaninful change. It certainly chimes with snippets I've picked up in 5 years of attending CEE region industry conference in Budapest, Bucharest and Prague. At most of these, I heard grumblings from altnets about the slow pace of positive change in terms of harmonisation with the broader EU telecoms regulatory framework.

We have not packed the agenda of next months CEE Com conference in Prague with discussions around regulatory and competition issues, but I daresay there will be the usual exchange of views during the offline networking sessions. If you represent an operator within the CEE region, or one whose footprint extends into that area, I invite you to visit the event website and claim your free delegate pass. Dates for your diary: 17-18 September. Venue: Clarion Congress Hotel, Prague.


20 Aug 2008

Looking forward to hearing more on IPTV from carriers in CEE and Latin America

I read a Telecom Asia piece on the train into London this morning, which mulls over the idea of whether IPTV poses more questions than it currently offers answers. The writer asks whether it is "a rewarding new category, like SMS, or a dazzling non-event like the videophone? Is it more vendor snake oil, or an important new product? Is it purely defensive or will it one day deliver real income? Will it be overtaken by YouTube and online TV? Does IPTV even matter?"

I am not close enough to the discussion to presume to offer any answers of my own here, but I'm looking forward to my team and I gleaning the views of telcos on two continents next month. The first opportunity to do so will be my own trip to Rio de Janeiro to host our annual Americas Com conference and exhibition, 9-10 September. Later the same month, we're hosting the CEE Com event in Prague (17-18 September). At both conferences, we expect there to be a lot of talk around IPTV. In both cases we've made the effort to confirm the participation of triple-players from the cable space as well as telco carriers rolling out IPTV services.

We ran the Latin America event under the 'GSM Americas' banner for more than a decade, taking full advantage of the regional boom in mobile services and the tech vendors' desire to assembe big crowds of cellular carrier execs under one roof on an annual basis. For reasons I discussed last week, we've felt for a while now that it's imperative for us to broaden the appeal, bringing on board representatives of the purely wireline businesses, execs from integrated operators (i.e. with both fixed line and mobile network assets/services) whose brief covers the whole business - as well as our loyal crowd of MNO people. Certainly in terms of signing up a speaker panel that reflects this diversity, we have been successful. So as well as hearing from MNOs such as Movistar Chile, Claro Brasil, Iusacell and Ancel, delegates will draw lessons from wireline businesses such as Ecuador's ETAPA, Colombia's ETB Telecom and Bolivian telecoms co-ops COTEL and COTECO.

Not a day passes without my receiving more news of IPTV licensing wrangles around South America. So I am pleased that a number of the presentations in Rio will bear down on the business models, technology choices, regulatory enablers/inhibitors and more. Notable talks focused on this area will come from Mexico's Alestra and a cabler from that country, Cablecom.

In Prague, we've dedicted a good chunk of both conference days to discussing IPTV and telco-media convergence more broadly. Speakers addressing these themes will include:

Forced to choose between attending the Rio and Prague events, I have had to book my ticket for Brazil for entirely sensible business reasons. Cynical readers might think that I am ducking out the European autumn just to enjoy a few days of the South America spring. The thought never crossed my mind. None of the pictures I plan to post here from Rio will be of beaches or tourist sites, I promise. I shall only show you images of a packed conference room and exhibition area.

19 Aug 2008

Vodafone stake to grow in CEE region's largest market?

My team defines CEE (Central & Eastern Europe) as a bloc of markets consisting of the three Baltic States, the Visegrad Group of countries at the heart of Europe, the two most recent EU entrants and the numerous small states of the Balkans. For the purposes of organising our telecoms industry region-specific conference/exhibition events, we align states such as Ukraine and Belarus with the Russian Federation for our Russia & CIS Com property.

So, in the context of the CEE region as we define it, Poland is the largest market by some margin. Telecoms news coming out of that country is therefore something in which I always take an interest - and my interest is sharpened by the special connection I feel to Poland. I spent four very happy and rewarding years living in Kielce and Kraków back in the early 1990s. I made many last friendships along the way and grabbed the opportunity to explore the country and its neighbours pretty thoroughly.

So my eye was caught late last week by reports of Vodafone looking to up its stake in Polish MNO Polkomtel. Even if this deal does go through, I am unclear whether the various shareholders would be thinking in terms of the Vodafone brand name being used by the operator, whose current brand name is 'Plus'. If this is not the case, Plus/Polkomtel would be set to remain the only one of Poland three longest-established MNOs using a local brand name. PTK Centertel has been known as Orange Polska since 2005, ditching its former Idea brand name in favour of harmonisation with the mobile brands of parent company France Telecom. I've also heard it said that Polska Telefonia Cyfrowa will drop its current 'Era' brand fairly soon, moving more obviously into the T-Mobile fold.

These developments are likely to get an airing at our CEE Com event in Prague, 17-18 September. Remember that those of you who represent a telecoms operator/service provider may attend free of charge.