American mobile operators' advertising is still dominated by claims about their network coverage, from the "Can You Hear Me Now?" guy to consistent sniping about whose network is bigger
. But in Europe, competing on coverage largely went out years ago, thanks to smaller geographic areas to cover and denser populations, while converging on a single technology didn't hurt, either. Some operators there have gone so far as to embrace network sharing, where they collaborate on their infrastructure with their rivals to cut costs. Vodafone and Telefonica have announced the biggest network-sharing deal so far
, saying they'll jointly build new cell sites and consolidate existing ones in several countries across the continent. Network sharing is seeing renewed interest as operators look to trim their capital expenditures, but it can benefit consumers as well. In one sense, a lot of spending is duplicated by rival operators as they build out network footprints that are roughly equivalent; significantly reducing that cost would have a big impact on their businesses, and allow them to redirect some of those resources elsewhere. As a Telefonica exec says, "by reducing our costs in areas of the business that customers don't see, we can ensure that we invest in areas they truly value." Thus far, many operators' response to the commoditization of their product has been to try and differentiate on coverage; eliminating that factor could spur them to differentiate in other ways, such as with new and better services.