Usually there are three or four mobile operators in each Member State, and – in contrast to the situation in broadband - no incumbents. The growth of mobile voice services is slowing down, which is a sign of maturity. Market players are reacting by reducing prices and introducing new retail services, notably by focusing on the development of mobile broadband.
Despite rather competitive national mobile markets, a full functioning single market for mobile communications does not yet exist. The prices of mobile services are very different among Member States, a phenomenon that cannot be explained by market characteristics alone.
Also, competition in the roaming markets is still weak, as roaming charges are close to the caps set out in the Roaming Regulation and remain much higher than national tariffs. Consolidating the nationally fragmented mobile markets is therefore a key goal of Commission policy in this field. The current Roaming Regulation expires in June 2012, and the Commission has proposed next steps, including reviewing the Regulation with a view to extending it until 2022.
In 2010, the Commission cleared a joint venture between Deutsche Telekom's and France Telecom's subsidiaries in the UK (T-Mobile and Orange), subject to conditions. The conditions guarantee the competitiveness of the UK mobile telephone market and ensure that the development of next generation networks will not lead to less choice for consumers (IP/10/208). This article describes the Commission's decision in more detail.
The 2006 merger between the Austrian subsidiary of T-Mobile and its direct competitor tele.ring also was cleared with conditions. Before the merger, tele.ring had exerted competitive pressure on the two largest Austrian operators, Mobilkom and T-Mobile Austria. The Commission approved the merger on the basis of tele.ring's commitment to sell UMTS frequencies and mobile telephony sites to competitors with lower market shares (IP/06/535). This article describes the Commission's decision in more detail.
In some merger cases in mobile telecoms, the issue is vertical relationships between the markets for wholesale international roaming and the markets for fixed and/or mobile telecoms in the countries where the merging companies operate. In several cases like this the Commission found that the transactions would not harm competition and the mergers were cleared without commitments. These include Deutsche Telekom/OTE in 2008 (IP/08/1452), France Télécom/Mid Europa Partners/One in 2007 (IP/07/1378), and France Télécom/Amena in 2005 (IP/05/1340).
The issue of high roaming charges was first addressed from the angle of EU competition law. In 2004 and 2005 the Commission initiated formal infringement proceedings against Vodafone UK, O2 UK, Vodafone Germany and T-Mobile Germany regarding possibly excessive wholesale roaming tariffs applied to other European mobile network operators between 1998 and 2003. The cases were closed with the adoption of the Roaming Regulation in 2007, which had a more immediate and broader effect on prices than antitrust action (IP/07/1113).