Vodafone: Google could strangle mobile networks

Vodafone has warned that Google’s grip on the mobile market could prevent operators from making much-needed improvements to the data networks.

Vittorio Colao, chief executive of the world’s largest mobile operator, told the Mobile World Congress that new business models must be created to cope with the demand for data services.

The comments added to the impression that while handset makers, chipmakers and service providers are all flourishing from the rapid growth of smartphones, operators are being left to worry about how they are going to fund the necessary improvements in network capabilities.

If we don’t start conserving bandwidth, in the next few years we are going to run into a capacity crunch

BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion said it was well aware of the problem, saying that smartphone manufacturers must start developing less bandwidth-guzzling products or risk choking already congested airwaves.

“Manufacturers had better start building more efficient applications and more efficient services. There is no real way to get around this,” said BlackBerry’s co-CEO Mike Lazaridis. “If we don’t start conserving that bandwidth, in the next few years we are going to run into a capacity crunch. You are already experiencing the capacity crunch in the United States.”

Colao said the industry was at a key point in its development, as it adapts to the new economic realities of the smartphone and the ever-increasing amounts of data being consumed.

He picked out two areas of concern. One was Google’s dominance of the mobile search and advertising market, which he said was something that should be “looked at.” He also said there was not enough competition in certain fixed-line markets in Europe, which could affect the supply of higher data speeds.

Colao said the industry needed to look to alternative business models, such as charging customers more for higher or guaranteed bandwidth. He also said applications should be transferable between devices. “Let us work together to deliver truly competitive, truly open and truly sustainable technology,” he said.

Last week, Spain’s Telefonica, parent company of British network O2, said it was considering charging search engines.

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