The mobile phone industry has a number of skeletons in the cupboard: cashback, box breaking, VAT fraud. Each time regulators try and deal with any of these issues, the case for further regulation becomes more pressing.
There are already members of Parliament who specialise in dealing with complaints about the mobile phone industry. An increasing number of complaints could lead to calls for measures to be enacted in law through future Telecom Bills.
Once this process starts moving forward, it will further complicate the difficulties that the industry faces in dealing with the regulation that already exists.
So, should there be an Institute of Mobile Telecommunications that has all the big networks on board, helps regulate the activities of anyone in the industry and acts as the self regulator that liaises with the Government and Ofcom?
When this question is asked, the immediate answer is that this is a vibrant young industry that shouldn’t be bound by bureaucracy. It’s made up of dynamic and innovative entrepreneurs who are instinctively ahead of the game. Given that the industry is global in its reach and the British market is just a fraction of larger corporations’ turnovers, why should we bother?
However, there is an unseen nightmare scenario: regulation and standardisation will stick to the industry like barnacles to the bottom of a ship and like barnacles regulations will just increase. These regulations will make operating within the industry more complex and difficult to navigate.
While the stable door may now be closing on issues such as cashback, it is pertinent to ask whether some of these problems could have been avoided or at least minimised with the appropriate industry forum.
The present system, where the networks fight their own corner, might work in the short term for their commercial interest, but considering few people really know what the device in your pocket will do in five years’ time, is it realistic to think that it will be the networks or the IT industry that are calling the shots?
As technologies become more complex and the convergence with the IT sector continues, the greater the importance of having industry standards, industry guidelines and industry qualifications.
In the future it is entirely conceivable that IT institutes, associations and regulatory bodies will start to produce guidelines, codes of conduct and regulations that directly affect the mobile industry. Given the current lack of industry representation, existing bodies that represent other sectors may well take these new converged markets under their wing.
PDAs, BlackBerrys and the like have moved from being useful business tools to fully integrated business solutions that have a huge impact on the success or failure of businesses throughout the country. Having qualified and certified professionals who are installing and developing mobility systems is an important development that must be navigated in the coming years.
The continuing development of the VoIP network will have serious ramifications for the industry. How the Government or Ofcom chooses to regulate this technological innovation will affect many in the industry. So, having a forum where the industry can have a voice would give a perspective that Ofcom may not necessarily hear.
A sobering thought; however powerful the VoIP network of the future is, it will be governed by regulations that are introduced for today’s technology. Only an industry-wide Institute of Mobile Telecommunications could counter the relentless call for regulation and government control, but who could make that happen?
Lord Redesdale is a Liberal Democrat Peer
at the House of Lords