Italy gets its fifth MNO as Fastweb approved to build out 5G

Consolidation of MNOs is the name of the game (where regulators allow) in most of Europe’s saturated mobile markets, but in Italy, the reverse is true. Fastweb, the Italian fiber provider owned by Swisscom, is to become the country’s fifth MNO, only a year after new entrant Iliad launched disruptively low cost services.

Iliad gained entry to the market as a result of the merger of Orascom’s Wind and Hutchison’s Three Italia, to form Wind Tre. A condition of that deal was the divestment of spectrum and network assets to enable a new player – a similar regulatory stance to that taken in the USA, which will bring Dish into the market as a fourth MNO.

The developments in Italy reveal a wider trend – classic MNOs may be huddling together for warmth as their established business models run out of steam, but wireline operators, especially from the cable sector, and some other players such as neutral hosts, industrial providers and broadcasters are keen to add mobile connectivity to their arsenal.

They often want more control than they would get from an MVNO deal, and want to deploy different types of networks, and the fiber providers are able to achieve different economics to those of the MNOs by leveraging their wireline and WiFi networks, and their penetration of homes and enterprises, to lower costs and support affordable new services.

Fastweb has gained approval from the Italian Ministry of Economic Development (Ministero dello Sviluppo Economico, MiSE) to build a 5G network using 3.5-3.6 GHz spectrum which it acquired from Tiscali (the band was originally allocated for fixed wireless and WiMAX), plus 26 GHz spectrum it acquired in last year’s auction.

“We have always been an operator on the fixed network with a latest generation fiber network,” said CEO Alberto Calcagno. “Now we also become mobile, relying on all our infrastructure assets to play a leading role in view of the arrival of 5G.”

Last month Fastweb, which is already an MVNO, announced a network sharing deal with Wind Tre “to accelerate the roll-out of a nationwide, state-of-the art 5G network”.  It said the “sshared 5G network will include Wind Tre and Fastweb macro and small cells, connected through dark fiber from Fastweb, to be deployed nationwide, with a targeted coverage of 90% of the population by 2026”.