The European Commission has ruled that telecoms firms can form alliances to develop 3G (third generation) mobile services without fear of being prosecuted for anti-competitive behaviour.
This anti-trust protection is seen as crucial if manufacturers and network operators are to afford and develop 3G.
The news should be of particular interest to Eircom, which is rumoured to be considering re-entering the mobile market a year from now, once a legal timeframe restricting its presence in the mobile market, as a result of its sale of Eircell to Vodafone, ends.
A group of companies, the 3G Patent Platform Partnership, applied to the commission in July for anti-trust protection. The partnership groups together international firms, from manufacturers such as Siemens and Alcatel to network operators such as Telecom Italia Mobile and France Telecom.
As the telecoms market has shrunk in recent months, mobile phone manufacturers and network operators have increasingly sought ways to share the enormous costs of rolling out 3G services.
This arrangement now passed by the commission will allow companies to access other manufacturers’ patents when creating products, without breaching European laws.
However, the commission noted that most of the biggest mobile manufacturers, such as Nokia and Ericsson and network operators, such as Vodafone and O2 who operate in Ireland, were not included in the partnership.
The commission, therefore, believes that any likely partnership will not restrict competition in the market. It also conceded that such co-operation was the only way to ensure that 3G technology is rolled out quickly around Europe.
So far, 3G only operates in Japan and South Korea and is being trialled tentatively throughout Europe, for example in the Isle of Man.
By Lisa Deeney