* Findings could affect debate in Brussels on telco reforms
* Mobile prices much higher in markets dominated by major telcos
* Challenger operators in France, Nordics push down prices for all
* Study compared smartphone tariffs in 27 countries
PARIS, May 22 (Reuters) - Smartphone users in European countries served only by large groups such as Vodafone Group Plc and Telefonica SA pay twice as much for services as consumers in more competitive markets with an independent “challenger” operator, according to research.
The wide divergence in prices revealed in the study by Rewheel, an independent Finland-based consultancy, could influence debate among Brussels regulators working on a package of telecommunications reforms expected in June.
Rewheel analysed six smartphone tariffs with mobile data allotments of 500 megabytes to 4 gigabytes in the 27 member states of the European Union in the second quarter.
In markets like Germany and Spain - which lack what regulators call a “maverick” to discount voice, text, and data - consumers pay an average smartphone tariff of 44 euros a month compared with 22 euros in markets like France and Britain with challengers.
“In protected markets, a gigabyte of smartphone data costs an average of 20 euros, while in progressive markets it costs 6 euros,” wrote Rewheel in its report published on Wednesday.
The study comes as European regulators are debating proposals to foster a more unified market for telecom services in the region and ways to boost investment in faster broadband and mobile networks.
Big telecom operators have been pushing for the policies to include a more accommodating approach on mergers, but Brussels’ antitrust watchdog has signalled opposition to the idea, specifically because it could lead to higher prices for consumers.
Neelie Kroes, the EU commissioner for the digital agenda, is expected to unveil draft proposals in June to further the development of a “single market” for telecom services.
Rewheel’s research also exposed a wide range in prices and the voice, text, and in data allotments given to consumers in different countries. A plan with 2 gigabytes of mobile data and at least 200 minutes of calls can cost anywhere between 8 euros in Estonia to 45 euros in Greece or Malta.
Germany, the region’s biggest mobile market, comes out particularly weak, with a 2 GB plan costing on average 38 euros compared to 20 euros in France or 15 euros in Britain, Rewheel found. Germany has no independent mobile challenger to drive price cuts: Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone dominate the high-end, while Spain’s Telefonica and Dutch incumbent KPN duke it out for more budget-conscious customers.
The report’s authors said the findings would be submitted to competition and digital agenda regulators in Brussels.