AT&T/T-Mobile Deal Threatens Mobile Competition, Affordability of Roaming, Innovation in New Apps

INTUG OPINION

It is essential that business visitors to the US have access to effective and affordable international data roaming services based on HSPA technology as well as emerging LTE technology, according to INTUG, which submitted its response to the FCC on the AT&T and T-Mobile merger today.

As the merger will have a profound impact on business users, it needs very careful assessment to avoid damaging not only the competitiveness of the communications industry but the ability of multinational businesses to leverage communications in new and innovative processes.

Ninety per cent of today’s mobile connections globally involve GSM/HSPA networks. For at least the next several years, the majority of mobile broadband connections, including especially those of multinational businesses will be based on HSPA services, both in their home bases and in the great majority of countries outside the US in which they operate.

The two technologies will coexist for a long time, and HSPA connections will greatly exceed those of LTE for more than five years.

It is therefore of great concern that a merger of T-Mobile USA with AT&T will mean that there is only one national partner in the USA capable of providing HSPA services. The following developments heighten INTUG's concern:

  • AT&T has announced that it intends to refarm T-Mobile's AWS frequencies from HSPA to LTE thereby removing this possibility for international HSPA roamers.
  • Deployments of LTE by both AT&T and Verizon in their respective 700MHz frequencies (the "digital dividend” spectrum) in the USA will not even be interoperable between these two networks for some time to come.

Fragmentation of the 700MHz spectrum in the USA means that device vendors and chipset suppliers will have fewer and perhaps no incentives to develop multi-frequency LTE devices that incorporate USA and non-USA frequencies.

Furthermore, HSPA services in the AWS band have already been deployed in Canada and are being planned and are widely anticipated in several countries in Latin America in the near future, e.g. Mexico and Chile. Business travelers coming to the USA from these countries will hope and expect to be able to enjoy access to HSPA services in the AWS band, without the need for multi-band HSPA devices.

In a recent OECD report comparing its 34 members, the USA is one of the most expensive home countries for international data roaming at around twice the OECD average price.

The absence of a competitive home market for national roaming services (which will be the case in the GSM/HSPA market in the USA after an AT&T/T-Mobile merger) also allows, and indeed encourages, high prices domestically, with little scope for customer choice.

The direction that the USA mobile broadband market is taking seems to be following a path in which international data roaming between the USA and the rest of the world is becoming less, and not more, practical at a time when demands and expectations for access to mobile broadband services are growing rapidly on both sides of the Atlantic.

This is becoming even more prevalent in many developed Asia Pacific countries also. Even if unintended, this trend is not only harmful to USA residents traveling abroad, but also penalizes international visitors to the US. Neither consequence is desirable.

Read INTUG's submission to the FCC (PDF).

Source: INTUG

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