Mobile network sharing has positive impact, say researchers

03 November 2023

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Researchers, including from the Oxford Martin School, have explored the impact of mobile network sharing across 29 European countries and reported a wide range of benefits for operators and consumers.

In a paper published in Information Economics and Policy, the researchers found network sharing led to lower prices and improved network coverage and quality driven by cost reductions, higher returns on investment and increased competition. This is the first study to look into the quantitative effects of mobile sharing across a range of countries, outcome metrics and sharing agreements.

The researchers' findings could have important implications for the current 5G era as operators are expected to incur higher deployment costs than for previous technologies, partly due to the need for more sites and spectrum (radio frequencies allocated to the mobile industry).

Pantelis Koutroumpis, Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Technological and Economic Change and co-author of the paper, said:

‘Mobile networks around the world need to address the speed and coverage challenges of our times which require significant investments in infrastructure. Our work shows that sharing core parts of these networks can become a catalyst in this process when combined with the necessary competitive and regulatory oversight.’

The researchers analysed data from 140 operators in 29 European countries over the period 2000-2019, looking at factors such as network coverage and quality as well as network sharing agreements.

Their key findings include:

  • operators entering a network sharing deal realised capital expenditure savings and improved their profit margins compared to operators that did not;
  • network sharing deals increased network coverage for both 3G and 4G technologies; and
  • network sharing led to positive effects on network quality, particularly improvements in data traffic per user.

The researchers highlight two considerations that may be of interest to policymakers. Firstly, that network sharing is a viable option to extend coverage and competition simultaneously while reducing the costs involved in infrastructure duplication. And secondly, almost all infrastructure sharing in Europe has so far been voluntary and commercially led with a wide range of network sharing agreements that have continually evolved over time – suggesting sharing on this basis provides measurable benefits that do not discourage investment incentives.