The telecommunications industry has always been closely scrutinised by competition authorities. Telecommunications are an essential service for consumers, so regulators have good reason to be wary of consolidated market power amongst firms in this industry. But telecom executives believe that the correct analysis of the sector is shifting to be more permissive of mergers and joint ventures.
Telecom executives' optimism about future mergers is based on evidence that the competitive landscape is changing for telecom companies. Telecoms are continually less able to rely on revenue from the traditional method of charging customers to connect to one another, and yet their infrastructure investment and improvement demands continue unabated. To stay viable, telecoms must satisfy consumers, who want to stream high-quality videos on demand, as well as upload data-rich content from anywhere they might happen to be. Fearful of becoming "dumb pipes" and functioning as mere utilities, telecoms are seeking to diversify to compete with the offerings of over-the-top providers, as well as invest in new infrastructure.
The race to 5G will require (significant amounts of) money, and telecoms looking to invest in this technology want to ensure they can recover the cost of the build. These costs are unlikely to be recovered before the medium-long term, and it is more efficient to share the burden. Telecoms seem more confident that the argument that the consumer will benefit from such an amalgamation (or in the alternative, that the consumer will suffer in the absence of correlative infrastructure development) will win against any potential anti-competitive effects of fewer players in the market.
Approaching the market from that perspective, it makes sense that telecoms would be open to consolidation with their rivals - not much has changed in that regard. It remains to be seen whether the European Commission will be similarly open to a new way of looking at the market, and persuaded by the view that the development of 5G is a net consumer benefit which justifies consolidation (and is compatible with the internal market) rather than an unfavourable trade-off in which development comes at the price of market dominance.
The European telecoms industry wants to persuade Brussels to listen to such arguments [that consolidation could pave the way for 5G and fibre] amid fears that the region lacks the sort of national champions being created in China and the US. The sector faces the considerable cost of developing next generation 5G technology, with the early pioneers expected to have an advantage in rolling out networks capable of supporting fast growing areas such as the internet of things.