Combined sales for mobile phones? Yes please!

With the recent launch of the iPhone 3G, the discussion about combined sales of mobile phones and mobile subscriptions in Belgium has started again. According to an article in De Tijd on September 13th, the European Commission wants to have this ban on combined sales lifted.  As a service provider, we are a very much in favour of making such combined sales possible. This is an absolute necessity to stimulate the development of new multimedia services on mobile networks and to give this young and promising industry a chance to blossom.

Belgium has once again made the international news tribunes with less favorable news: we have the most expensive iPhones 3G in Europe in the shops of Mobistar. Benoit Scheen, CEO of Mobistar, excused himself for this at the launch of the iPhone 3G. He mentioned the lack of combined sales between mobile subscription and mobile device as principal reason for this high price tag. Minister Q, who is busy these days with the planning of the telecom policy, hurried to express his discontent on this ban as well. Even Test-Aankoop – who is generally against combined sales – explicitely spoke in favour of lifting the ban under certain conditions.

In other countries, for example The Netherlands, where combined sales are allowed, the iPhone is marketed at considerably lower prices. In certain packages, the iPhone is even offered at 1 euro. Without any doubt, such low price tags lower the access barriers for the purchase of new multimedia devices. This way, the mobile phone park is renewed much quicker. On average, most users also buy better quality devices.

We also see the combining of mobile devices to subscriptions erases another important barrier in the adoption of new services: the devices are all properly confiured at purchase. From my own experience: GSM with Orange subscription bought for 1 euro in the Fnac in Paris. 5 minutes after purchase: ready to use and surfing on Orange World. In Belgium, we can only dream of this.

Because of the ban on combined sales, the penetration and the use of new mobile internet services is a lot lower in Belgium than in countries who do allow this. In France for example, about 25% of all mobile subscribers between 15 and 50 years old uses the mobile internet every day. Because of the lack of combined sales Belgium risks to get seriously behind in this market. That is not only a bad thing for the mobile operators, who desperately need the revenues from data services to achieve their growth goals. It is also a missed chance to build up a local mobile multimedia industry, with the loss of employment as a result. The amount of companies active in this sector in Belgium can be counted on one single hand.

We are hereby calling on all policy makers, including minister Magnette who in De Morgen reacted rather negative on the initiative of the European Commission: lift the ban on combined sales and open the gate to a growing and florishing mobile multimedia activity in Belgium. We are convinced that in the end the consumer will get better from this as well, with better devices and more mobile services available.

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