BT gears up for mass market mobile services

BT could return to the mobile services market with a vengeance next year, after its CEO dropped the strongest hints yet about the future mobile plans of the former UK monopoly.

Livingston

According to the Daily Telegraph, CEO Ian Livingston, said it was "highly possible" that BT-branded SIM cards would be in customers' smartphones this time next year, with bills paid as part of a multi-play package of fixed and mobile services.

The operator last competed in the UK mobile market in 2002, when its BT Wireless unit sold services under the BT Cellnet brand. BT Wireless was demerged in 2002 and renamed as "mmO2," later changing to simply "O2." Telefónica acquired O2 in 2005 in a £17.7 (€20.9 billion) billion deal.

The operator's intentions to get back into mobile became increasingly evident when it acquired LTE spectrum earlier this year, and it also recently announced it is inviting tenders from mobile operators to form a new MVNO partnership.

No details have yet been revealed about which mobile operator is likely to be selected or what a new partnership would involve, although O2 UK is seen as a likely partner because of its previous links with BT. Additionally, O2 recently awarded BT a contract to provide backhaul support for its own LTE network deployment. At the same time, however, BT currently has a wholesale mobile access agreement with Vodafone.

According to the Telegraph, Livingston also said the company would be able to provide better coverage in homes via the new Home Hub, BT's Wi-Fi router. This would complement the deal with a wholesale mobile partner to provide LTE access outside the home, he added.

As things stand, the UK mobile market is already extremely crowded with six key network brands selling mobile services to consumers and businesses: Vodafone, O2, Orange, T-Mobile, EE and 3 UK. There are also some strong MVNOs on the market such as Virgin Media and Tesco Mobile.

T-Mobile and Orange are owned by EE, which is operating the LTE network now being marketed by all three providers. It's as yet unclear what will happen to the Orange and T-Mobile brands in the UK since the EE brand is now being used for the high-speed LTE services.

Any mobile offering from BT would be competing with all of these strong brands. One of the operator's strengths would be its potential to offer attractive quad-play offers that combine fixed voice, broadband and TV with mobile plans. The fact that the operator has said it will offer its residential users "free" access to three sports channels from August will add to the attraction of such multi-service bundles, although of course "free" here means tying yourself to a long-term BT broadband contract.

For more:
- see this Daily Telegraph article

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Report: UK operators will need to trade LTE spectrum to set mobile strategies
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