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Technological solutions for fixed broadband, 3G mobile networks, content distribution networks such as TV, and even converged services are maturing in the European economic area and beyond. However, a working technology is not enough, the extensive deployment of novel consumer services and, thus, new usage habits, as well as new business infrastructure and practices have turned out to be most challenging elements in achieving widespread user acceptance and technology penetration. In Europe, these issues are further compounded by near-saturation penetration levels in basic services (2.5 G and fixed services), which change radically for the future business models and regulatory frameworks for most incumbent stakeholders. This state of the current situation needs to be overcome.

This deployment of new value-added or personalized services requires a socio-economic and business process-related initiative complementing the pure technology approach around basic services, and is most urgently needed in the current European situation. Profitable business opportunities will require the addition to value chains of new types of stakeholders with own network configuration needs, so that the provisioning of such services will become a reality, and also so that products and services can be exported.

Determining the reality of such opportunities calls for techno-economic analysis, reliable business plans, and effective partnering models for potential players, integrated with optimal technology platforms and rollout plans to support the widespread service deployment. One illustrative example covers converged and mobile banking services, where already network infrastructures offer lower transaction costs than traditional inter-banking bank payment systems. Another example covers information repositories created by communications service users (e.g., enterprise data or private multimedia), where transmission operators will have to interact with information storage service suppliers. Likewise, using IT and 3G for remote eHealth and patient monitoring represents yet another interesting model, where exact cost-benefits and challenges, especially in developing economies and transforming health systems of eastern Europe and CIS countries still have to be analyzed. Also the advent of new technologies driving personal area networking will drive the need for mutually beneficial use with other networks.

Next generation network development will permit network openness and end-user driven customization, besides content and services development. These activities represent the major potential for new specialized players, in particular in outsourcing (e.g., ASP, MVNO, converged traffic and content billing, or network administration). This potential must be encouraged through favorable economic and regulatory conditions. We can also expect to see the emergence and growing role of trusted third parties (e.g., authentication, payment, kiosque, and portal services).

The modification of relations among players will make interconnection, revenue redistribution, and cross billing concerns increasingly sensitive. New economic and revenue distribution models will have to be found. The closed "no door"/portal model is foreseeable, but will it be sufficient? The applicability of open kiosque models will have to be evaluated with respect to the difficulty of pricing new services. Payments dependent on generated traffic would be the easiest model to understand, but operators strenuously avoid this subject. On the other end of the value chain, content owners, including end-users themselves in their new role as content creators, will no longer want to depend on operators to own the customer data bases, but will require end customer data and profiling.

The market will, therefore, likely evolve toward combined economic models. The impacts of these new partnerships on information systems (security, billing, provisioning, process automation, payments, repayments, trusted third parties, customer relations, partnership management, interconnection, and liability risk management) are a problem that is underestimated at the technical level (and dealt with very little in standardization) and that is underestimated at the economic and operational level as well.

Traditional players in the telecommunications and media markets (fixed or mobile network operators, broadcasters) are currently spending huge amounts of money in maintaining and improving their infrastructure. A very recent example of huge spending relates to the deployment of 3G mobile and broadband networks around Europe, with maybe WiMAX to follow. Another example is the digitalization of TV networks and introduction of DVB-T. Those investments have to be made, although it is still very unclear what kind of new services - enabled by the new infrastructure - consumers are really willing to pay for.

In parallel, a number of "disruptive" technologies are already here or emerging (e.g., WiFi/WiMax, VoIP, or smart items) challenging the feasibility of on-going investment decisions.

Finally, a new, highly competitive open market environment is developing, which creates high expectations from consumers that they might finally enjoy services at "commodity" prices. This makes it even more difficult for traditional operators to introduce new services at "premium" prices and telecom operators have to face the reality of an ARPU continuously shrinking. A combined and optimal network and economic efficiency needs to be reached. Enterprise needs cannot any longer just be aligned with consumer needs. They require highly dependable and configurable networks for their business processes to become both smart and agile.

Another issue for Europe is that that the "vertical" integration models, adopted in other areas of the world, seem to fail in Europe (due to different consumer mentality and market structure and dynamics). Therefore, it is increasingly accepted that no one single actor will be able to provide a complete solution and the new rule of success have to be sought in "co-opetition" (i.e. collaborations among sometimes collaborating and sometimes competing services providers). The two areas of networking and economics can bring insight about the way communities are producing new goods with different property rights schemes (e.g., open source, web 2.0).

The collaborative COST research on these issues is essential to new-entrants and the wider Europe, since stakeholders there will not want just to adopt with a delay old economic models, but will want to leap-frog from a different legacy base. As known today, there do not exist European projects today addressing such type of questions as a whole. Thus, the Econ@Tel COST Action is not only complementing such projects, it fills an interdisciplinary gap seen today.

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