5G smartphones and mobile networks are going to start arriving later this year but mobile network operators are warning that greedy behaviour by governments could hurt consumers in the long run.
A new approach is necessary if 5G is going to fulfil its potential, with telecommunications providers allowed to take more freedom over how they develop and rollout the technology, they argue.
Speaking at Mobile World Congress 2019 in Barcelona, Telefonica CEO Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete Lopez, called for a "bold new approach" on the implementation of 5G and the spectrum around it.
According to Lopez, many governments see telecoms as a means of making money, obliging operators to repeatedly apply — and pay — to use spectrums as faster, more efficient means of connect like 4G then 5G arrive
"The aim of regulators should be to reduce regulation," he told the audience, opening the first keynote of MWC 19, arguing that innovation around 5G could be throttled if the right environment doesn't exist.
SEE: IT pro's guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)
Governments use telecoms as a "cash cow," said Lopez, arguing that governments need to open up processes in order to allow 5G and other connected technologies to thrive. If provided with this, the use of 5G and the extra data capacity it brings could boost productivity and improve people's everyday lives.
Lopez's call was supported by Mats Granryd, general director of the GSMA.
"In order for us to deliver, we need a regulatory framework fit for the digital age," he said. Governments need to act on 5G in a timely and innovative manner, opening up the spectrum to mobile operators without exploiting it as a means of charging operators vast amounts.
5G will bring benefits, but "not if operators are burdened with debt" said Granryd, warning governments: "Don't get short-term greedy and kill the long-term goose".
Despite operator's 5G worries, MWC has seen a vast number of announcements from operators on their network plans:
At the conference, the GSMA detailed how 5G and mobile technology could help fight global issues but warned this could be threatened by "red tape and ignorance"
"We stand ready to work with governments and regulators to put concerns to rest. But in order for us to deliver, we need a regulatory framework fit for the digital age," said Granryd.
However, the industry also needs to be aware it can't just blame governments and regulators for its problems, said Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone, speaking during the MWC keynote session.
"The 5G era on our doorstep is an opportunity to reflect and change. We need to start with the customer, we need to be more transparent, we need to have simpler products, services, price plans to win back the trust of consumes," he said, and referenced roaming as an area where the industry had got it wrong.
Prior to regulation by the European Union, telecommunications providers were charging customers significant amounts for using data when abroad in Europe. Legislation pushed vendors to provide a better service, allowing users to use their data no matter where they are on the continent.
"Roaming was a pain point for consumers and we didn't address it fast enough and the regulator stepped in. Because we didn't move on these points, it provoked a regulator," Read said.
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