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Since the liberalization of the European telecommunication markets, former state owned telecommunication incumbents have faced the competition as any stock exchange listed company. These telecommunication companies used to hold a monopoly on the telephony and communications market in the past and, despite the entry of new competitors with their own offers and sometimes even proprietary infrastructure, they still hold a dominant market share in most cases.
Why is an incumbent operator so strong? In part, it has been a matter of time, because they were the only player before the market was liberalized, and they used the existing infrastructure to full capacity. Starting as fully state-owned national telephone service, post office or supply company, they had been able to deploy a huge infrastructure over decades. It was just great for dial-up and DSL internet to relay on already existing telephone network which helped the internet to develop extremely fast. We can see now the fiber deployment race which is still unavailable in most areas of the world, but who hasn’t a telephone line last mile reaching their home or office? It is really difficult for a new player to compete with such a high entry barrier, so normally the only option is to end up relaying on the incumbent operator’s network… or deploy your own network to avoid this dependency.

As Jon Newbery, Chief Executive Officer at Clarity, said: “Incumbent operators around the globe are increasingly under pressure from new competitors, who are able to exploit local loop unbundling to establish themselves in the market. As a result, it’s critical that service providers can adapt to market demands quickly, whilst focussing on service quality and the customer experience.”

Because of still existing monopoly strength, regulators require incumbents to provide access to their network to other telcos at regulated wholesale prices. It is common to find the following regulations:

  • Allow others telcos to act as resellers of its telephone lines.
  • Provide ADSL lines to customers of other internet service providers, who will pay the incumbent wholesale arm at the same rate as other divisions of the incumbent itself.
  • For example, for offnet sites Colt Spain will have to relay on Telefonica.
  • Allow local loop unbundling
  • Operate parts of its business on an arms length basis to ensure they do not favour other incumbent businesses.


  • Andorra: The telephone system in Andorra, including mobile, data and Internet is operated exclusively by the Andorran national telecommunications company, Andorra Telecom, formerly known as Servei de Telecomunicacions d’Andorra (STA).
  • Austria: A1 Telekom Austria is Austria’s largest telecommunication provider with a range of fixed line, mobile and internet services. The company also has operations in the Czech Republic. The Austrian government owns more than 28% of the company.
  • Belgium: Belgacom is the incumbent operator in Belgium. With 53.5% of the Belgacom Group owned by the state for retaining control on the company. This operator recently (2015) changed its corporate name to Proximus.
  • Bosnia: In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the market is dominated by the three incumbent operators (BH Telecom, HT Mostar, and Telekom Srpske), which hold a combined market share of 99%.
  • Bulgaria: Vivacom, previously named Bulgarian Telecommunications company (BTC), is the largest telecommunications company in Bulgaria and a former state-owned monopoly. Founded as a joint stock company in the end of 1992 as part of the separation of Bulgaria’s post and telecommunication services into separate companies.
  • Croatia: T-Hrvatski Telekom (T-HT) is the leading provider of telecommunications services in Croatia, serving more than 1.3 million fixed lines, nearly 2.5 million mobile subscribers and 648,000 broadband connections through its Residential and Business divisions
  • Czech Republic: The Telefonica 02 Czech Republic company was created in the year 2006. It was the result of a merge between Czech Telecom and Eurotel. These two companies were acquired by spanish incumbent operator Telefonica, also present in many other countries. Telefonica O2 is now a 100% privately owned company with no government share.
  • Denmark: TDC is the incumbent operator in Denmark, now privatized. In 2005, five private equity funds formed Nordic Telephone Company ApS (NTC) in order to buy TDC, taking over 87.9 percent of the shares, but NTC has since then sold a significant part, retaining in 2013 only 17.7 percent of the shares in TDC.
  • Estonia: Elion Enterprises Limited, or Elion for short, is the largest telecommunications and Internet service provider in Estonia. Since 2009 TeliaSonera owns the company. The resulting company is the dominant provider of ADSL services, with cable broadband as its main competing platform.
  • Finland: Sonera, now called Telia Sonera, it is the largest fixed telephone and mobile phone company in Sweden and Finland. Formed from the merge in 2002 of Swedish Televerkt and Finnish Sonera.
  • France: France Telecom, now called Orange, is one of the largest telecoms worldwide. The company has been state owned since 1990 with the French government now owning a minority share. Despite sector liberalization, the company still dominates all sectors.
  • Germany: Deutsche Telekom AG, with 14.8% ownership directly by the Federation and 16.9% by KfW Bank (state owned), consolidated with France Telecom in 2010 forming a joint venture. With 251.258 employees it is considered the fourth telecommunications firm with the largest number of employees at the end of 2010 The company has positioned itself as a market leader in both fixed and wholesale.
  • Greece: Hellenic Telecommunications Organization S.A., usually known by its Greek initials OTE, is the dominant telecommunications provider in Greece. Along with its subsidiaries, is one of the largest telecom groups in South Eastern Europe.
  • Hungary: Magyar Telekom (formerly the Matáv Hungarian Telecommunications Company) is the historical incumbent operator in Hungary. The company was privatised in 1993 and controls a big portion of the fixed line market and half of the Internet market
  • Iceland: Siminn was originally formed in 1906; Merger of Iceland Telecom, Íslenska sjónvarpsfélagið and Skipti in 2005.
  • Ireland: Eircom, now 100% privatelly owned, is Ireland’s largest telecommunication operator. It currently operates the fixed-line telephone network, a mobile telephone network called Meteor and also acts as an internet service provider named Eircom.net. Eircom’s dominance in the broadband market is gradually slipping, representing about 64% of subscriptions by the end of 2010.
  • Italy: Telecom Italia’s share in the broadband market is about 56%. Number of Fixed Access Lines: 18.525.000 Number of Mobile Subscribers: 30.856.000
  • Latvia: The Lattelecom group provides IT, telecommunication and outsourced business process solutions that are provided by all of the companies of the group. 51% of Lattelecom 51% shares are owned by the Latvian government, but the remaining 49% – by the Scandinavian company TeliaSonera AB.
  • Lithuania: Teo LT (until 2006 called Lietuvos Telekomas) is owned in part by the TeliaSonera group. Teo LT is the largest landline phone operator in Lithuania (monopolist until 2003). They also sell access to Internet and television.
  • Luxembourg: Entreprise des Postes et Télécommunications, branded as P&T Luxembourg and abbreviated to P&T is the incumbent operator in Luxembourg.
  • Macedonia: Macedonian Telecom, or Makedonski Telekomunikacii, was introduced in 1st of January 1997 as a state-owned company independent of the Post Office. It is now part of the Magyar Telekom Group, which is a fully consolidated subsidiary of international Deutsche Telekom Group.
  • Monaco: Monaco Telecom is the main telecommunications provider in the Principality of Monaco. The company was founded in 1997 following a decision by the government of Monaco to privatize the state-owned Office Monégasque des Téléphones.
  • Netherlands: Koninklijke KPN NV is the largest Dutch fixed-line and mobile telecommunications company. It was formerly a state-owned company.
  • Norway: Telenor Group, considered to be the world’s largest telecom operator, is Norway’s largest telecommunications company. It is partially state owned retaining control of the company. It is considered to be the fourth largest global player in the mobile market.
  • Poland: Telekomunikacja Polska S.A. (in English – Polish Telecom; also known as TPSA or just TP) (WSE: TPS) is a Polish national telecommunications provider established in December 1991. It is a Public company traded on the Warsaw Stock Exchange, with a controlling stake owned by France Télécom, with the latter controlling over 50% of this stake by 2002. Since 2012 the company is called Orange Polska.
  • Portugal: Portugal Telecom is the historical and largest telecommunications service provider in Portugal. Although it operates mainly in Portugal and Brazil, it has also a significant presence in other countries. As it is the case of Telefonica in Spain, Portugal Telecom is considered a monopoly in fixed telephony in the country. The governments keeps “golden shares”.
  • Romania: Romtelecom, now known as Telekom Romania, is the largest telecommunications company in Romania; the majority of shares are held by the Greek telecommunications company OTE (54.01% of shares). The Romanian state also has a minority stake of 45.99% in the company. The company had a monopoly for the provision of fixed telephony services until January 1, 2003.
  • Serbia: Telecom Serbia, or Telekom Srbija used to hold monopoly on land-line operations in Serbia until January 2010, when Telenor Serbia become the second land-line operator in the country.
  • Slovakia: Slovak Telekom (in the past officially called Slovenské telekomunikácie and Slovak Telecom; the brand used for fixed line products is T-Com since March 2006) is the largest telecommunications company operating in Slovakia (after consolidation with its 100 per cent daughter T-Mobile Slovakia).It is majority owned (51 percent) by Germany’s Deutsche Telekom. The remaining share is owned by Slovakia’s Ministry of Transport, Posts and Telecommunications, which owns 34 percent, and the National Property Fund of the Slovak Republic, which owns 15 percent. On July 1, 2010 Slovak Telekom officially merged with the mobile provider T-Mobile.
  • Slovenia: Telekom Slovenije (TS) is the incumbent operator in Slovenia. The Slovenian government owns the majority share (62.53 per cent) while the remaining 37.5 per cent is owned by individual and institutional investors. In March 2007, TS merged with its ISP subsidiary, SiOL which ceased to exist as a legal entity.
  • Spain: Telefonica, now called Movistar was created in 1924 and is Spain’s largest broadband and telecommunication provider in the continent as well as the historical monopolly since it was fully nationalized in 1945. The company, privatized between 1995 and 1999 has also presence in South America and has recently commited to significant changes to its organizational structure. The company is now fully privatelly owned and dominates the market.
  • Sweden: Telia Sonera. Prior to 1993 the Swedish state controlled incumbent was the public service corporation Televerket. Now called Telia Sonera, it is the largest fixed telephone and mobile phone company in Sweden and Finland. Formed from the merge in 2002 of Swedish Televerkt and Finnish Sonera.
  • Switzerland: Swisscom AG is a major telecommunications provider in Switzerland. Along with Swiss Post, it is a successor company to the former state-owned PTT. Its headquarters are located at Worblaufen near Bern. The Swiss Confederation owns 56.94 percent of Swisscom.
  • Turkey: Türk Telekom is the formerly state owned Turkish telecommunications company. Türk Telekom was being separated from the Post Office in 1995. In November 2005 it was privatized to Oger Telecom.
  • United Kingdom: British Telecom, BT, has its origins date back to the founding of the Electric Telegraph Company in 1846, the first company in the world to develop a nationwide communications network. In 1912, the GPO, a government department, became the monopoly telecoms supplier in the UK.
  • Ukraine: Ukrtelecom is Ukraine’s fixed telephone company, also active in Internet service providing and mobile markets. The company was governed by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications of Ukraine until 2013, when Ukrtelecom became a part of SCM, a leading financial and industrial group and the largest privately-owned investor in Ukraine.