Third generation telephone networks have taken a backseat in speeches by the bosses of two of the UK biggest mobile operators.
The chief executives of both O2 and Orange delivered keynote addresses at the annual 3GSM conference in Cannes last week but neither seemed to have 3G uppermost on their minds.
Peter Erskine, head of O2 used the Cannes platform to complain about recent demands from UK telecoms watchdog Oftel that mobile operators slash the costs of making calls to other networks.
Coupled with European regulatory attempts to reduce the costs of making foreign calls, Mr Erskine said it added up to too much interference in the industry
Describing it as “small picture thinking” Mr Erskine accused the regulators of stifling creativity and competition.
“It is a constant battle between regulators and operators and places us in uncertainty,” he said.
It was time, he said, to let mobile firms stand on their own two feet.
“There has been talk of the mobile industry being in its infancy but such comparisons have outlived their usefulness,” he said.
Regulation, he said should be “colossally light-touch” and looked to new super regulator to adopt a hand-off approach to the mobile industry.
Mr Erskine reaffirmed O2’s long-term commitment to 3G, describing the technology as “too extraordinary, too life-enhancing” not to happen,
But he also hinted that the industry was about to go through a period of consolidation with mergers and partnerships.
O2 could favour network-sharing rather than rolling out its own dedicated 3G network, he said.
He said that 3G was no longer a field of dreams adhering to the philosophy that if you built it, users will come.
“Now the attitudes are more pragmatic and led by market demand,” he said.
The new focus on customer demand and need was central to the speech made to the Congress by Orange’s outgoing boss Jean Francois Pontal.
He compared the challenges facing the mobile industry as those faced by the music industry, a need to keep a constant eye on what ordinary people were doing.
“The next big thing is here already, in clubs, warehouses and bedrooms,” he said.
Despite the best-laid plans of operators to move users to multimedia services, the real decisions will be made at grass-roots level he said.
“We might suggest ways customers might like to use services but at the end of the day they will be defined and deployed by the street,” he said.
Old-fashioned voice was likely to remain the core business for mobile operators for the next decade he said.
Mr Pontal admitted that Orange was not at the bleeding edge of 3G rollouts.
“Clearly we won’t be first with 3G but it is not about the technology, more what the technology can do for people,” he said.
He urged incoming boss Solomon Trujillo to keep his mind fixed on the voice business as the company moved forward.