The CEOs of Europe’s largest operators tried hard to avoid going down the well trodden path of moaning about the regulatory environment in the opening keynote to Mobile World Congress 2015.

Deutsche Telekom’s Tim Hottges and Vodafone’s Vittorio Colao were the most successful in focusing on what customers want.

Hottges, who last week revealed DT saw revenue growth of 4.2 percent in 2014, said the world of the consumer is “fundamentally changing” as they increasingly adopt digital services.

What does it mean for telcos? Hottges answered his own question: “We have to make the sharing of things as easy as possible. We have to provide best seamless connectivity...and it should be technology agnostic.”

Colao put himself in the shoes of a consumer rather than a CEO as he talked through Vodafone’s own findings of what people want.

He said customers view four things as being important: quality in terms of speed, coverage, content; value in terms of price; privacy and security; competition and choice.

Colao also said that consumers were still working through their views on net neutrality.

“Customers hate discrimination,” he claimed, but they are also they are aware of the argument that says some differentiation is needed for things like the industrial internet of things.

“They’re not completely clear yet,” Colao concluded.

From the telco point of view, Hottges said: “We want net neutrality but we need quality classes to enable IoT services, such as connected cars and mobile healthcare.”

Telenor Group CEO and GSMA Chair Jon Fredrik Baksaas chose to highlight digital identity, which the GSMA is promoting via its Mobile Connect initiative.

The service lets users log in to websites and applications without the need to remember passwords and usernames.

Sixteen operators have signed up currently, but Baksaas said he hoped to make it global with one billion users by end of this year.

Cesar Alierta, CEO of Telefónica, said the focus of the industry should be on what he termed “digital neutrality”.

“The digital economy will boost global GDP by a fifth,” Alierta claimed, but “this revolution will not take place without telco sector”.

It was here that the discussion reverted to type.

“The telecom industry needs a level playing field,” said Alierta. DT’s Hottges claimed “one regulatory environment” was what was required.

Baksaas put the discussions into perspective: “Ten years ago we were fighting the same things as we’re fighting today but then it was voice and SMS not the huge range of digital services that are on offer today.

“We’re having more or less the same discussions – how to bring costs down and how to boost efficiency.

“We’re excited about the digital future but we don’t know how it will play out.”

Operators should continue to focus more on customers, rather than regulators, if they want to see the future and be successful in it.​

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