Telecoms operators and the industry at large have been debating the over-the-top (OTT) question for a number of years. That is, are we heading for a place in which the services that run on the network are all-important, while the network itself is relegated to tier-two status or worse?

Not if European regulators have anything to do with it.

Vodafone's acquisition of Spanish cableco Ono got the green light from the European Commission without a hitch. Less than four months after Voda announced its €7.2 billion buyout of Ono, the Commission approved it without remedies, ruling that it would not adversely affect competition in the market.

"The parties' activities are largely complementary: Ono's main activity is related to fixed telecoms, whereas Vodafone is mainly active in mobile telecoms," the Commission said. It also noted that the merged entity will face significant competition from the likes of Telefonica, Orange and Jazztel, and is unlikely to be able to unfairly dominate the multi-play market.

Good news for Vodafone.

But the Commission is not as understanding when a merger of two like networks is on the cards.

Telefonica got the OK to buy E-Plus this week, but it took the Commission the best part of a year to make its decision and the remedies imposed on the Spanish incumbent are fairly strict.

Telefonica has agreed to sell up to 30% of its network capacity in Germany to an MVNO or to facilitate the entry of a new network operator; it has already agreed to sell capacity to MVNO and reseller Drillisch.

It's a familiar story. In May the EU approved 3's takeover of O2 in Ireland on the proviso that 3 undertook a number of measures to protect competition, including the sale of some of its spectrum to a potential new market entrant.

The Commission has made its stance clear: it will seek to protect facilities-based competition at every turn, irrespective of whether the market in question can realistically support the number of networks it has.

The fundamentals of network-building are changing though.

For example, with the move to 4G comes the need for densification. Telecoms

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