Lise Fuhr, Director General Of The European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO):

Serving Customers At Best

The European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO) has represented Europe’s leading telecommunication companies since 1992

Today, the business of members has changed dramatically. They provide European citizens with innovative digital communication and services, and compete in highly dynamic digital markets. The role of ETNO’s members is to make sure that the evolution of consumer habits and market dynamics is reflected in policy and regulatory debate.

How has ETNO shaped its regulatory work to suit the new goals set by the European Commission?

It is up to the European Institutions to make political decisions. Our role is to make sure they get first-class information on the market reality, as well as the technical aspects of delivering digital comms and services. At the same time, we ensure that we are the advocate of the diverse needs of our customers. Our companies are there to serve them and we also see our role as contributing to the policy debate to make sure the industry can serve customers at best.

How will the Internet of Things and 5G shape the industry and overall life of citizens, and when will they become their everyday reality?

The Internet-of-Things (IoT) is already taking-off to a large extent. The same can be said regarding the preparation for 5G networks, which will be launched in 2020. However, some companies are gearing up to get there even earlier. IoT and 5G represent a huge societal and economic opportunity. Cities will work smarter, manufacturing will increase production, healthcare provision will improve, retail will be transformed and transports will be revolutionised. To give an example from a consumer perspective, think of connected driving: with 5G, driving will become a whole new experience. It will be safer, richer in terms of entertainment, and also smarter from the environmental viewpoint.

What does the Digital Union mean and what tasks do different stakeholders, including ETNO, have in achieving it?

Creating a Digital Union means levering innovation and investment to achieve a 5G and IoT-Europe. In order to get there, we need policies that create more space for private investment and innovation. The European Commission has just put forward a reform proposal to establish the first European Electronic Communications Code. This is a good starting point to develop a new regulatory paradigm, one that stimulates a full range of investment models and technologies to deliver a gigabit society.

The European Commission has just put forward a reform proposal to establish the first European Electronic Communications Code. This is a good starting point to develop a new regulatory paradigm, one that stimulates a full range of investment models and technologies to deliver a gigabit society

What does this vision require when it comes to technological and service innovations and who are, or would be, at the helm of that drive? What is the role of companies, individual states and the Union?

The role of the industry is to respond to customers’ needs. This means heavy investment in a wide range of technologies, as well as increased service innovation. 5G, G.fast, FTTH or FTTC: they are all part of the technological response to creating a connected Europe. At the same time, telecoms operators need to face less regulatory restrictions when they decide to innovate on services. The on-going reform is a unique opportunity to address these issues and ensure we boost investment and innovation.

Considering that the EU comprises countries with different economic circumstances, would they be able to “swim together” in such huge and costly change, and cumbersome institutional harmonisation?

Harmonisation makes things simpler, because companies operating in more than one Member States will find it easier to do business. While operators need to be able to adapt to local circumstances and choose the best technologies, they all share the same common objective: creating a connected society in Europe. National markets are our home, but the European Single Market is our destination. It will unlock opportunities for business and citizens. We need to grab those opportunities.

According to the Boston Consulting Group’s estimate, there is a gap of roughly 100 billion euros, though you think that it could be even bigger. Who has to chip in and how?

More than 90 per cent of the network investment will need to come from the private sector. At today’s investment pace, the vision of a gigabit society might take far too long to be achieved. This is why regulatory reform is so important to unlock fresh investments. Our companies are on a mission: convince investors to pour more money into European telecoms markets. With smart regulatory reform, we will be able to build a stronger case and get better results in terms of roll-out.

You joined ETNO from the internet industry, which is a close industry, yet also a completely different animal which challenged traditional telco services by inventing WhatsApp and similar services that drove telecommunications from its usual path. How do the telcos see those communication super powers?

Internet players are part of the same ecosystem as ours and we are all interdependent. Our companies already collaborate on a daily basis with most internet companies to deliver better services to citizens. Our line is simple: telecoms services should be as free as possible to innovate, just like their internet counterparts. Today, regulation creates asymmetries that pose issues in terms of clarity for consumers and competitiveness of EU actors. We should significantly reduce sector-specific regulation and create more consistency for consumers.

Our core business is connectivity and digital services. That is where telcos are focusing. However, 5G is a unique opportunity to empower even more sectors than in the past. This is why companies are strengthening their capacity to support industries as diverse as manufacturing, automotive and healthcare

Apart from internet giants, there are many other companies that might want to join the game and compete in super-broadband, smarter transports or ubiquitous high-quality media. In which areas are telcos competitive and where do they have to add new strengths?

Our core business is connectivity and digital services. That is where telcos are focusing. However, 5G is a unique opportunity to empower even more sectors than in the past. This is why companies are strengthening their capacity to support industries as diverse as manufacturing, automotive and healthcare. Depending on the telecoms operator, you might find that they have an edge on one sector or another. The market is growing, opportunities too: we will need to let companies work and judge in a few years.

Addressing the issues of finance again, let me ask you two more questions. Who will pay for these services, or where will the profit stream come from, bearing in mind, for example, that citizens and industries are demanding faster and ever cheaper services?

Our business models and our offers are shaped by customer needs. The telecoms industry has successfully managed many transitions and is now focused on data connectivity. Our value proposition will continue evolving along with the markets. At the same time, our companies are taking the lead in shaping business models around 5G. Again, this is a process in the making, but everything points to huge opportunities rather than threats.

And, second, there is a security question which also has, among other things, a high price tag, not to mention privacy issues. Again, who will provide for the innovation in this field and who will pay the price?

Security is paramount, as much as it is the trust of our customers. Making sure that all communications are secure is a fact of life for governments, companies and individuals alike. It needs to be seen as an investment, not as a cost.