CMS: Can you tell us more about Orange's most innovative recent shared investment into digital infrastructure?
JVS: I would highlight the Światłowód Inwestycje project, which created a Polish fibreco co-owned (50-50) by Orange Polska and APG. This integrates 2.4 million lines, including 1.7 million households that will be deployed over the next five years in areas where access to very high-speed broadband infrastructure is limited or non-existent. It resulted from a competitive process to find a long-term partner.
CMS: Why do you think sharing has a role even for the strongest players like Orange?
JVS: Accelerated development of technologies, and the need to spread them throughout Europe to include most of the population, implies huge investments on the part of the operators. This can be achieved faster by sharing deployment and access to the networks. When this is done using private company criteria and also in accordance with the competition rules, we can as an industry achieve network expansion, generalised access, consumer welfare and economic sustainability.
CMS: What are your top tips for securing strong network sharing agreements?
- Development by private investment companies maintaining economic profitability criteria
- Ensure that respect for competition law and confidentiality of sensitive information are built into any deal or negotiation;
- Enable flexibility for future evolutions (in expansion, in technologies, to allow internal elasticity, for example for the constitution of towercos);
- Facilitate the ability of each partner to maintain commercial differentiation;
- Prioritise a reliable partner, which shares these objectives and continues to be a fierce competitor outside the strict scope of sharing.
CMS: While the EECC had intended to harmonise a framework regulating electronic communication networks in the EU, the response of national regulators remains fragmented and divergent. While some jurisdictions are putting up barriers to network sharing, others are thinking more creatively by enabling new and existing players to compete on a service level. As a major player with a presence in 18 countries, how is this affecting Orange's approach?
JVS: Each country has different circumstances, which national regulators understand well. I believe that pan-European operators’ international experience can help provide a broader perspective to national regulatory authorities, while of course respecting their regimes.
Throughout the pandemic, we operators have more than demonstrated our contribution to Europeans’ social and economic wellbeing. If we are to deploy 5G, and make it available across countries and populations, we need a long-term vision by national regulators, and an acknowledgement that private investors can also contribute to the public good.
CMS: Real 5G networks, particularly in urban areas, will require many more base stations than 3G and 4G have, significantly increasing network roll-out costs. Is the business case clear enough?
JVS: The business case depends on use cases that satisfy consumers, and create value-enhancing, 5G-specific services. The cost of investments, spectrum and network densification are high. But the history of telecommunications is full of pioneers, crossroads, difficult times and constant momentum, and I believe we will succeed when it comes to 5G.