Tis the season to be jolly, to give, to receive, to have a sherry or two and fall asleep in front of the telly. And, if you're a mobile network operator, it's definitely the season to share.
Sharing assets, particularly network infrastructure is not exactly a new concept in mobile -- operators sharing their networks in order to give consumers the best coverage makes a lot of sense. Optus and Vodafone do it and so do Telstra and 3.
But taking a quick look around at the headlines over the last couple of weeks suggests that sharing is fast becoming the flavour of the Christmas month.
Three Indian mobile operators -- Vodafone Essar, Bharti Infratel and Idea Cellular -- have announced they're going in together, creating a single company to manage their infrastructure, known as Indus Towers, all independently run with ownership split between the three. According to industry watchers Ovum, there may even be more companies joining in the future.
In the UK, T-Mobile and 3 have also announced a network sharing deal, giving both of them increased 3G coverage outside of big cities. Two other UK operators, Vodafone and Orange, announced a similar deal at the start of this year.
When two German operators, T-Mobile and O2, mooted a similar move in 2003, the regulators got involved and the European Commission was called in to examine whether such a move would be in the best interests of consumers. The Commission thankfully decided it would.
Meanwhile, some operators are going so far as to sell their infrastructure. Eircom, Ireland's incumbent, sold off its tower business to Threefold Project Management for some 155 million euros.
With network sharing or even selling, not only will consumers get better coverage in non-metropolitan areas, mobile operators are hopefully pushed even further to differentiating their offerings on the grounds of pricing or services. And with more money in the kitty, they could even think about giving their long-suffering users and shareholders a little more back.
All this sharing and regulatory interest sort of puts me in mind of the broadband world -- you know, a couple of big wholesale providers with retail providers selling their wares to their consumers.
What's more if you look at the Eircom model, it's almost a willing embrace of structural separation. If the mobile industry is happy to wander down this controversial route without any strong arming from the government or its communications watchdogs, perhaps broadband players should think about taking a leaf out of their book. Apart from reducing costs, it's one way to make sure the regulators leave you alone.
A New Year's resolution for Telstra, perhaps?