BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2016 -- Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao has issued a stark warning that 5G services will be a disappointment in Europe unless standards meet local needs and without uniform telecom regulations from one country to the next.
"I would be very focused on making sure the standards are designed in the interests of European operators and on making sure the release of spectrum and the rules around access, privacy net neutrality and so on are the same across Europe," he said in response to questions from Light Reading during a meeting with reporters at this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
"If you want to have IoT, connected cars and so on then you had better make sure the standards and the rules are the same or there is a risk China or the US -- which are big markets -- will leapfrog," he went on. "If you have different rules for connected cars in Spain and Portugal the thing will not work."
The comments followed a conference session at the event in which Colao had a customary telco dig at regulatory authorities over the investments that will be needed for higher-speed services in future.
Speaking to reporters, the Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) boss urged authorities to look at the return on capital among operators rather than the amounts they make, especially in light of planned spending on fiber, security, 4G enhancements and other technologies that 5G will need as a foundation.
Regulatory measures continue to exert pressure on pricing and takeover activity -- while often opposed in European markets -- has not led to improvements, argued Colao.
"There is a myth that prices go up with consolidation but on a price-per-gigabyte basis they have gone down," he complained. "If you want to build a hyper-connected gigabit society, the investments will be massive."
Colao revealed that Vodafone is working on 5G technologies at facilities in the UK and Germany and is eager to work with a variety of other organizations on the development of standards.
That could even include Facebook . Earlier today the social media giant announced an initiative called the Telecom Infra Project through which it is looking to collaborate with equipment vendors and operators on the development of new network technologies like 5G.
"We welcome Facebook and everyone to discuss the future of these things," said Colao in response to questions about Facebook's move, pointing out that he was unaware of the full details of the Facebook proposal.
While a number of operators have recently announced plans to launch or conduct trials of 5G services in the next few years, Colao insisted the actual technology was still four or five years away.
He also noted the potential of virtualization technologies as a driver of merger activity in Europe, but said the cost savings would probably not be sufficient to spur "macro" consolidation involving the very biggest players.
"Virtualization will lead to lower costs and quicker time to market but you are talking about a relatively small percentage of value compared to what you have to pay to acquire someone else," he told Light Reading. "Mergers are probably more likely. Can I see some mergers in Europe? I can. But big aggressive acquisition is less likely."
Colao refused to comment specifically on Vodafone's future plans around mergers and acquisitions but told reporters there was a need for consolidation in the vast Indian market, where he believes there are too many "sub-scale" players.
Vodafone recently announced a joint venture with cable operator Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) in the Netherlands after talks about an exchange of European assets fell through last year. A number of financial analysts are still hoping that Vodafone and Liberty will announce a tie-up in other European markets. (See Vodafone, Liberty Global Form Dutch JV and Vodafone, Liberty Call Off Asset-Swap Talks.)
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading