Imagine if BMW built its own road, and only BMWs were allowed to drive on that road.

It’s easy to see that such a monopoly would be bad news for people buying cars, for the quality of the road, or for the wider society that the road infrastructure supports. Yet that’s exactly how telecoms networks are developed in many parts of the world. These networks are just as important as roads — in fact, in the not-too-distant future they will be essential for the functioning of every system and piece of infrastructure that we rely on.

Originally, networks were used only for telephony and broadcasting. It made sense to have dedicated infrastructure for each, optimized for specific types of physical signal and traffic pattern, and for the service provider and the network operator to be the same.

But technology has evolved dramatically since then. The available services are booming: telephony (mobile or fixed), web access, email, HDTV, video conferencing, streaming, gaming — as well as all the internet-enabled appliances that comprise smart cities and the “internet of things”. For all of these, information is stored and transmitted digitally, increasingly using the IP protocol. And the end user is no longer just a consumer but a producer of content too.