What are the new developments in telecoms in Portugal?

FATIMA BARROS: In Portugal right now, things are going quite well. We had lots of movement in the last three years in terms of mergers and acquisitions and especially our incumbent was bought by Altice, one operator that is now, pan-European, pan-European and also trans-Atlantic because they've made investments in the US as well. So I think that in Portugal things are going quite well. We have a quite developed market. We are amount top countries in Europe in terms of coverage of NGAs, Next Generation Access networks. We are seen as a case study in terms of deploying fiber in Europe and the main reason is due to the fact that we started to regulate access very early and this means that new operators or alternative operators can invest in and deploying fiber using the access to networks of the incumbent.

How competitive is the market?

FATIMA BARROS: The competition in the market is quite intense right now, and this mainly due to the fact that we have 3 platforms competing against each other. So we have a cable network that has the largest national footprint in terms of NGA coverage. And they have also merged with an mobile operator, which means that they are able to make four play offers. This is very important because they started putting lots of pressure on the incumbent that was forced to deploy fiber network. Finally, also Vodafone was pushed to invest in a fiber network. This means that you have right now 3 platforms competing on quadruple play, so they can offer convergence offers like say, fixed and mobile offers.

Portugal is a market that has essentially bundles. So 74% of the households have a bundle. So it's very important for these operators to be able to compete in four play offers. What is also important is that you can see that there was a co-investment agreement between the incumbent, the former incumbent that used to be Portugal Telecom and now is MEO, and Vodafone. This co-investment is a very important and very interesting agreement, because it's very innovative and allows both firms to share the fiber network in a more efficient way.

How does the competitive landscape in Portugal compare to what’s going on elsewhere in Europe?

FATIMA BARROS: I should say that we are quite unique in the fact that we have these three platforms competing. Usually you have more competition when you have a cable network that puts pressure, competitive pressure, on the former incumbent. However, in our case, we have more than just the cable. We were able to have an impact also on Vodafone. Therefore, you have in some regions, two fiber networks competing and in the majority of these areas they are competing also with cable network. This is the area where it is quite unique, because this level of competition pressure that comes from the three platforms.

What are the challenges facing regulators with respect to the internet of things, driverless cars, and other technologies that will increase demand on network infrastructure?

FATIMA BARROS: In terms of internet of things and all these developments and applications in cars etc., the big challenge is on spectrum, on availability of spectrum and of course on mobile networks as well. In this sense this means that we must be able to on one side to deal with releasing the spectrum that will be necessary for this investment. On the other side we must be able to have networks that will sustain the development of these new applications.

However, I think that there are also some other challenges, for example numbering and for the machine to machine issues for example. Numbering will be a question, because you need to identify the machines. The machines use SIM cards, so permanent roaming can also be a problem in the future. You know that according to the new European regulation, we'll have somehow in the future the elimination of roaming charges. However, we must deal with issues that are relating to permanent roaming, even outside European Union. So I think that in the future, regulators will have a lot of things to deal with.

What impact will this have on infrastructure investment for public and private sector players?

FATIMA BARROS: This is a problem for Portugal. It's also a problem for Europe and this probably is even more serious in Europe. In Portugal, I would say that the main areas of the country, the more dense population, the more dense areas, so where you find the majority of population, they have already a large coverage fast broadband networks. The problem are the rural areas and less dense areas. There, we have done some what we call the Rural Networks investments with state aid. And this was mainly done under private-public partnership agreements.

The question is that right now you have some areas that are covered with this rural networks, you have areas where you have lots of competition, because you have several operators competing, but you might have these areas where nobody will have interest in investing. And this is the same for Europe in general. So the main challenge is how can you promote investment in these areas. I believe that in some areas it's a question of time and operators will find some economic interest in investing in these areas, but some others will be a challenge. And in those areas probably we will need more state aid in order to convert and to avoid digital divide in these areas. In Europe, it's another issue, because you have some countries where the current situation is less developed than the one that we have in Portugal. And therefore there is a need of investment both at the private level, private sector level, and at the public sector level.