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Vodafone CEO takes jab at Google's dominance

Vittorio Colao says there needs to be more competition in the mobile ecosystem, especially when it comes to search and advertising.

Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao addresses Mobile World Congress. Marguerite Reardon/CNET

BARCELONA, Spain--Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao warns fellow telecom executives that Google--and other companies that dominate parts of the mobile ecosystem--could be getting too powerful and suggests regulators need to get involved.

Speaking at the GSM Association's Mobile World Congress here Tuesday, Colao urged European and U.S. regulators to help ensure more competition at all levels.

Showing a slide of competitors throughout the mobile market, Colao indicated that Google and Yahoo alone control search and advertising. He asserted that "70 percent to 80 percent, maybe more" concentration of control in any market should be scrutinized more intensely by policymakers.

This slide represents the competition within the mobile food chain, according to Vodafone's CEO. Marguerite Reardon/CNET

By contrast, Colao said, the wireless network business is very competitive.

"In the mobile corner, we have demonstrated real competition," he said. "In most markets we have 3, 4, 5, 6, and up to 12 real competitors in some cases. And we also give open access to MVNOs, like Virgin Mobile, which have become real competitors, too." (MVNO stands for mobile virtual network operator and refers to companies that sell service over another carrier's network.)

Colao also took a swipe at traditional phone and cable operators throughout the world.

"In the fixed corner, the situation is quite different," he said.

Colao didn't just rail against the lack of competition in parts of the mobile food chain. He also called for more openness in the mobile market, particularly when it comes to mobile applications. He urged wireless operators, handset makers, and mobile operating system developers to come together under the GSM Association's newly proposed open application platform to ensure that mobile apps can be used across different operating systems, on different phones, and over different networks.

"Today if I buy a book in London, I can freely bring it to another country and do anything I want with it," he said. "Portability of personal data is going to be a very important point."

Colao also urged his fellow wireless operators to keep their networks open. This notion of keeping the network neutral--known as Net neutrality--has been a hot topic in the U.S., where regulators are currently drafting rules to ensure network operators cannot favor certain applications over others.

Colao said he agrees that wireless operators should not discriminate. But he said that the rules need to be flexible enough to allow operators to charge customers different rates for different services.

"If Vodafone had a VoIP service, we shouldn't be able to give that better quality of service on our network than a VoIP from a third party," he said. "But if a customer gets better service because he is willing to pay more, the same condition should be available to anyone else willing to pay more."

Google's CEO Eric Schmidt will be taking the stage for a keynote address here later Tuesday.