Vodafone is generally supportive of interoperability. Without interoperability, the growth and value of the communications industry would be very different, as would be the customer experience.
However, it must be recognised that interoperability can come with a price. If companies are concerned that they are not able to profit from innovation and scale, the prospect of interoperability might act as a disincentive for companies to create the new services and platforms that will generate economic value. As such, the issue of interoperability must be handled with care by policy makers and regulators.
Going forward, an emerging trend is the separation of network connectivity and services.
The industry needs to ensure that the current interoperability of the main communication services (any-to-any for basic voice, text and messaging services) is not threatened by the next generation of communications service providers who currently operate under a “walled garden” approach.
These walled gardens become the new bottlenecks for customers and policymakers need to consider the use of competition rules that deal with market dominance in this area more seriously.
As more and more of people’s lives become digitalised, it is also essential that competition across the communications value chain is not constrained by the emergence of new barriers to switching. In the context of telephony this has largely been addressed by number portability. For the next generation of communications services and applications, interoperability will mean the digital identity of consumers being transferrable from one platform to another.
We also need to recognise that the communications value chain is now multi-layered and increasing in complexity. It covers handset manufacturers, network equipment vendors, network operators and service/application providers.
Vodafone believes that at each layer there is a need to ensure that customers are able to move freely between the different players. We believe this creates a race for quality and value rather than a race for dominance and abuse.