Third mobile provider Meteor has called for the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) to intervene in its request to the two larger operators, Vodafone and O2, to agree to a reciprocal roaming agreement that would give Meteor total countrywide coverage and help the two operators deal with overcrowding on their networks.
So far, neither O2 nor Vodafone will agree to a reciprocal roaming agreement.
Meteor has less than 5pc of the market with some 118,00 customers, contrasting with O2 and Vodafone, which collectively control some 96pc of the Irish market. Held up by legal rows over the awarding of its GSM licence, Meteor missed out on the watershed years of 1999 and 2000 that saw the Irish mobile market reach its present 79pc population penetration. The company has since struggled to ratchet up its subscriber base, despite introducing innovative call and SMS (short messaging service) pricing options for its largely prepaid customers.
As well as this, the company, which has some 95pc population coverage in all urban and commuter areas and all routes, has confirmed that it has been dealing with perception issues due to the fact that at present it does not cover the entire country. Donegal is the only county where the network has no coverage.
In a statement this afternoon, the company said that it is to contact ComReg to restate its request that the telecoms regulator should intervene directly in reciprocal national roaming discussions between Meteor, Vodafone and O2.
The company says it is willing to make its high quality network, which has surplus capacity, available to O2 and Vodafone, which are dealing with difficulties due to overcrowding on their respective networks, in areas where they have dense customer bases. In return, Meteor says it is asking for access to parts of the country where it does not have coverage so that it can eventually have 100pc population coverage. The logic is that a reciprocal national roaming agreement would free up large sums allocated to capital investment and infrastructure for both participating networks and allow the companies greater freedom to compete on services and price.
“They don’t see it that way,” Meteor’s corporate affairs director Andrew Kelly told siliconrepublic.com: “They just don’t want us to have national coverage. There are rural areas where they have networks that are under-utilised, yet in urban areas they can’t cope. Yet it makes no sense for us to build in Donegal, where both operators have coverage. They have capacity issues in Dublin, we don’t,” he continued.
“So far ComReg has given us no guidance. We are due to meet with them shortly. From our point of view, network sharing would be a pragmatic step to take in terms of the build-up from 2G to 3G. Building three or four networks in a rural area is not the way to go. There’s been talk of a national roaming deal for a long time now, but it has never materialised,” Kelly said.
A spokesperson from ComReg confirmed: “They have approached us on the subject and we are in talks. We are due to meet soon.”
By John Kennedy