Michel Combes, CEO of Vodafone Europe, was in a feisty mood at the Digiworld Institute’s recent shindig in France.

During his speech he passionately advocated that the whole telecoms ecosystem must be preserved, while in a follow-up interview with European Communications the CEO called on politicians and regulators to create the right playing field for the digital industry to flourish.

As we reported from the event, the question being asked was whether the device is king. Combes was adamant that it is not: “It’s the ecosystem that’s most important and it must be preserved,” he said.

In the CEO’s view, the ecosystem consists of operators, equipment vendors, handset manufacturers, operating systems, content producers and app developers.

These players then form three layers: operator networks, platforms such as Apple’s iTunes or app stores and services such as Skype or WhatsApp.

For operators such as Vodafone, this emerging ecosystem means the goalposts are continually shifting.

Combes said he viewed three priorities as being of the utmost importance currently: delivering excellent network quality, promoting a rich and competitive ecosystem and innovating.

To achieve these priorities, the CEO said new ways of working had to be entered into: “It’s sometimes better to work with rivals,” he said. “I believe collaboration within the industry is needed more than ever.”

Specifically, he highlighted a number of areas where he sees ecosystem partners working together:

  • Interoperable rich communication suites
  • NFC-based m-payments, tickets and coupons
  • Creating standarised opportunities for advertisers to reach targeted consumer segments
  • IPX connections to enable “chargeable express lanes of the future”.

Combes was also keen to point out that the industry also needs the right sort of help from governments and regulators in order to succeed.

“Digital networks are very important for Europe - they unlock innovation and enable efficiencies – so investment in this area is key and we need the politicians to provide the right playing field,” said Combes.

In terms of regulation, Combes went on to say it is important that regulators do not focus their attention solely on telcos: “The value chain is made up of many players,” said the CEO, referring to the internet companies.

“My vision is to have as much competition as we can so we can provide choice for our customers,” he went on.

Vodafone has bucked the industry trend this year by registering an increase in both revenue and profit despite the poor economic conditions.

Growth is being driven in the main by data, emerging markets and enterprise customers.

With regards to emerging markets in particular, the CEO said they were not looking at expanding their reach: “We are happy at the moment. We have a good mix and we are comfortable although our aim is to over perform in all markets.”

However, Vodafone is still exploring a merger with Greece-based operator WIND Hellas. Combes said this was “a unique case” but was unable to elaborate further. The latest media reports suggest the deal has been delayed.

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