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AT&T CEO sees 'huge opportunity' in Europe

The AT&T logo is pictured by its store in Carlsbad, California, April 22, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake
The AT&T logo is pictured by its store in Carlsbad, California, April 22, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - AT&T Inc Chief Executive Randall Stephenson on Tuesday said that he sees a "huge opportunity for somebody" in Europe to invest in mobile broadband and reap the big profits already being generated from such services in the United States.

Stephenson, who has been exploring opportunities for AT&T to expand into Europe, said Europe has the potential to be "incredibly exciting" during his appearance at an industry conference held by ETNO, the European telecommunications lobby.

However, the executive said that Europe needs to make big changes to its mobile spectrum policy in order to spur much needed investments in networks there.

"I continue to be fascinated and impressed by how slow mobile broadband is moving in Europe. So I think of this as a huge opportunity for somebody," said Stephenson.

AT&T has been eyeing Europe since the beginning of the year, and has considered options including pan-European player Vodafone and Britain's largest mobile carrier EE, a joint venture of Orange and Deutsche Telekom, according to sector bankers.

But Stephenson told the audience of lobbyists, regulators and investors that Europe need to overhaul its regulatory policies on spectrum in order to realize its potential.

For example he said, it would be easier for telecom operators in Europe to invest in their networks if they were able to buy long-term spectrum licenses and if spectrum policies were similar across the region's different countries.

"I know most of the CEOs here and they are pretty smart people who like to earn money for their shareholders. So if the investment case were there they would be doing more," Stephenson said. "There will need to be a regulatory re-think."

Europe's 28 member states still sell mobile licenses country by country and there is little standardization on the bands used, complicating the process of rolling out networks and preventing cross-border usage. Smartphones often need different chipsets to be able to work in different European markets, for example. In contrast, the operators in the US buy national licenses to serve a massive market of nearly 315 million people.

(Reporting by Leila Abboud and Sinead Carew; Editing by Theodore d'Afflisio)

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