Mobile Sharing in the European Union

Editor’s Note: This Practice Note is based in large part on a discussion paper entitled Mobile Network Sharing prepared by Camila Borba Lefèvre for the 8th ITU Global Symposium for Regulators 2008.[1]

Most European countries allow, and even promote, passive infrastructure sharing among mobile operators.  Many European operators have also contemplated agreements for active sharing of 3G mobile systems, but regulators have sought to attach conditions to such deals, in order to safeguard competition between networks.  In 2003, the European Commission set the standard for what was permitted under EU regulatory law when it evaluated 3G network-sharing agreements between T-Mobile and O2 in Germany[2] and in the UK.[3]  However, the European Commission's decision concerning national roaming arrangements in Germany was later successfully appealed before the European Court of First Instance (CFI).  Some operators have tried infrastructure sharing, but then abandoned the arrangements, apparently because regulatory conditions undercut their business cases.  

More recently, new network sharing agreements for 2G and 3G infrastructure have been announced, such as the agreement between Orange and Vodafone to share 2G and 3G infrastructure in the UK and in Spain. In February 2007, Orange UK and Vodafone UK announced plans to share their radio access networks for 2G and 3G mobile services. The two RANs (including masts, antennas, sites, support cabinets and power supplies, as well as BTSs, Node Bs and RNCs) will be combined in phases over several years, as technical solutions allow. The proposal calls for both companies to continue managing their own traffic independently, retaining full responsibility for QoS and remaining competitors at wholesale and retail levels.[4] Vodafone said in public statements that it expected the UK sharing agreement to reduce capital and operating costs by 20 to 30 per cent across both its 2G and 3G networks.[5]

Orange and Vodafone also agreed to share their 3G RANs in rural areas in Spain, affecting towns with fewer than 25,000 people in 19 provinces. The network-sharing arrangement will allow operators to reduce the number of sites by about 40 per cent, increasing the number of shared base stations to 1,500 by the end of 2007 and to 5,000 within four years.[6]

In December 2007, T-Mobile UK and 3UK announced an agreement to share their 3G networks.[7] T-Mobile and 3 described their plan to combine their radio access networks, making use of the so-called Multi Operator RAN (MO-RAN).[8] This technology enables operators to share all site equipment except TRXs, which must remain independent because the parties will not share spectrum.  Accordingly, each Node-B will have two sets of TRXs (one using T-Mobile’s frequencies and another one using 3’s frequencies). The parties will also share feeders, antennas, and other ancillary and transmission equipment, as well as the RNC.  According to the parties, the MO-RAN solution will enable them to retain responsibility for the delivery of services to their respective customers and to compete vigorously in the market.  Although antennas will be shared, T-Mobile and 3 will maintain enough flexibility to control their own radio optimization, allowing for coverage differentiation.  Moreover, even though the RNC also will be shared, the architecture developed by the equipment supplier reportedly allows for service differentiation.

It is clearly too soon to know whether all of these new agreements will be successful.  However, the aforementioned decision of the European Court of First Instance in the T-Mobile and O2 cases seems to have curtailed European regulators’ ability to impose restrictions on network-sharing agreements.  Interestingly, the recent agreements have left operators in control of many of the factors, such as QoS and service differentiation, which European regulators had been trying to protect in the name of competition.  Moreover, now that the European Commission’s restrictions on national roaming have been lifted, it will be interesting to see if more 3G sharing agreements are implemented going forward.

End Notes

[1] For more information about the GSR, see www.itu.int/ITU-D/treg/Events/Seminars/GSR/index.html;
Direct link to GSR Discussion Papers 2008 at: www.itu.int/ITU-D/treg/Events/Seminars/GSR/GSR08/papers.html

[2]  Commission Decision of 16 July 2003 relating to a proceeding under Article 81 of the EC Treaty and Article 53 of the EEA Agreement (Case COMP/38.369: T-Mobile Deutschland/O2 Germany: Network Sharing Rahmenvertrag), OJ 2004, L 75/32.

[3]   Commission Decision of  30 April 2003 relating to a proceeding under Article 81 of the EC Treaty and Article 53 of the EEA Agreement (Case COMP/38.370: 02 UK Limited / T-Mobile UK Limited: Network Sharing Agreement), OJ 2003, L 200/59.

[4]    See Press Release by Orange UK and Vodafone UK of 8 February 2007, available at: www.vodafone.com/start/media_relations/news/local_press_releases/uk_press_releases/2007/vodafone_uk_and_orange.html

[5]     Vodafone’s non-confidential response to Ofcom’s consultation  Application of spectrum liberalization and trading to the mobile sector (p. 86). Ofcom, public consultation published on 20 September 2007, available at: www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/liberalisation/responses/Vodafone.pdf

[6]    Press release by Orange and Vodafone of 10 October 2007, available at:www.francetelecom.com/en/financials/investors/news/CP_infos/att00041022/071010_CP_Vodafone_Orange_sharing.pdf

[7]   Press release of 18 December 2007, “T-Mobile and 3 create Britain’s largest 3G network”, available at: www.t-mobile.net/CDA/07-12-18_tmuk_3gnetwork,20,,newsid-6011,en.html

[8] The MO-Ran concept was developed by Nokia, which is reported to be the original equipment supplier by both T-Mobile and 3.

Related Materials

Module 4, Section 3.4.6, "Current and emerging forms of mobile network sharing"

Practice Note, "National Roaming"

Learn More