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Kate O'Flaherty

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By kateoflaherty, Feb 5 2015 12:26PM

What was once a market of five mobile operators is about to become three after BT confirmed today (5 February) it will acquire EE for £12.5bn. With Three also poised to buy O2, consolidation is set to continue.


So what does this mean for the mobile market? With three operator giants, several big MVNOs in Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile and the upcoming Sky network, competition could ramp up significantly. This will see sheer scale potentially pushing costs down.


But it could face delays. Behind the scenes, things are more complex: it is likely the regulator will be watching the market closely. According to Matthew Howett, practice leader, regulation at Ovum, the competition investigation for the BT/EE deal is likely to focus on network issues such as spectrum holdings and wholesale access. He points out: "BT was particularly successful in the 2013 4G auction, acquiring spectrum at 2.6GHz - and the inquiry is likely to assess what adding this to EE’s already sizable lot will mean."


This, he says, is further complicated by the planned acquisition of O2 by Three: the combined entity would itself hold a concentration of the lower frequency spectrum - which is ideal for providing coverage - but lack the higher frequency spectrum at 2.6GHz needed for capacity. Howett predicts that there could be a reorganisation of spectrum holdings between the two enlarged operators as a result.


Additionally, Three, O2 and Vodafone are worried the BT/EE acquisition could impact on them getting a fair deal in the future, since they all currently rely on BT's wholesale products for backhauling traffic.


But once these issues are resolved, the consumer can start to benefit. If BT/EE and Three/O2 are approved, the market will comprise three operator giants, several big brand MVNOs, and multiple smaller offerings. Choice will be vast, potentially pushing prices down - which can only be a good thing.




By kateoflaherty, Aug 1 2013 09:10AM

Nearly a year after EE's launch of 4G in the UK, O2's move to offer the technology at the end of August is a welcome addition.


But O2 will need to raise the bar substantially if it is to lead in the LTE space. The operator's 4G announcement has been much more low-key than its rival EE, which launched 4G to 11 cities in October last year. In contrast, O2's network will go live in just three cities - Leeds, London and Bradford - indicating an urgency to get 4G out before EE steals even more of a march.


O2 will launch to 10 additional cities by the end of the year, with tariffs starting at £26 a month (slightly more expensive than EE's Sim-only £21 a month deal) but it hasn't yet revealed what customers get for this entry 4G package. O2 also hasn't indicated whether 'sharer' plans will be offered, allowing customers to share a 4G data plan in an office or between households and devices.


O2's Achilles' heal in both the business and consumer market will be a lack of iPhone on its 4G network. This will mean losing a huge proportion of the market in iPhone 5 customers, until the launch of the next Apple device later this year.


Yet O2 will fight its corner. Already a well-established player, O2's potential in the business market looks promising - and it's likely the operator will start pushing these credentials heavily. This is confirmed by O2's business director Ben Dowd, who is quoted as actively encouraging business users to sign up to 4G in today's statement.


As Vodafone waits in the wings to announce a 4G network as soon as next week, O2 has a long way to go before catching up with EE's 700,000 4G customers - and not having the current iPhone will hit it hard. But the operator has held the lead in the market once before; it will need to up its game - using deals, add-ons and clear messaging - if it is to do the same in the LTE space.




Read my TechRadar Pro article on choosing a 4G provider for your business.

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