Report: BT to roll out UK mobile services 'this week'

BT could start selling SIM-only consumer 4G mobile services as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) this week, with reports saying that the former UK incumbent will initially focus on its 7.6 million broadband customers.

According to a report in the Telegraph, the company intends to launch BT Mobile ahead of the completion of a planned £12.5 billion (€17 billion/$18.5 billion) acquisition of EE. That deal is expected to close before March 2016, and is currently undergoing regulatory scrutiny.

In a brief statement, a BT spokesperson said: "We're very much on track to launch consumer mobile services this financial year. We will start by offering these new services to our existing customer base and will tell you more about them soon."

The company's current financial year ends on Mar. 31, implying that a launch could be imminent.

Although the company provided no further details, the reports indicate that BT is pressing ahead with a previously announced strategy to provide mobile services using a mix of wholesale capacity from EE and small cells.

The company's so-called "inside-out" strategy was outlined before BT agreed to buy EE from Deutsche Telekom and Orange. As yet, BT has not provided too many details on how it would converge this MVNO/4G/Wi-Fi hybrid service with EE's mainstream 4G LTE network.

The Telegraph noted that the move to launch an MVNO ahead of the EE deal--which is in the early stages of regulatory scrutiny by the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)--would enable the BT to meet promises by CEO Gavin Patterson that it would start offering competitive mobile services in 2015.

The broadsheet also noted that BT's mobile prices would not be as cheap as rivals had feared, as the company's future ownership of EE means it would have more to lose by starting a price war.

Meanwhile opposition to BT's plan to buy EE continues to mount: in an official response to the CMA's call for comments on the merger, fibre-optic network company CityFibre has asserted that the deal would be anti-competitive and would hamper government plans to rollout high-speed broadband across the UK, the Telegraph reported.

The company, which is working with BSkyB and TalkTalk on the construction of a fibre network in York, has also signed an agreement with EE and Three UK, along with their infrastructure joint venture Mobile Broadband Network Limited (MBNL), to deploy dark fibre backhaul connections to mobile masts of both operators. The first project under this framework agreement is already underway in Kingston-upon-Hull (Hull).

While the filing is confidential, a company spokesperson for CityFibre sent the following statement to FierceWireless:Europe:

"Hull was the first city called off on a national framework agreement. However, post BT/EE the framework has been effectively neutered and the UK is unlikely to benefit from an accelerated rollout of metro fibre to 100 cities. In a post BT/EE world, MBNL should continue to be able to buy from the provider of best value and choice and not be compelled to buy from BT."

The Financial Times also reported that sources close to the mobile operators said there had been no changes to the deal with CityFibre. However, it remains to be seen whether the deal with MBNL would now be extended beyond Hull.

CityFibre has also joined TalkTalk and BSkyB in calls to break up the former incumbent by separating Openreach from the rest of BT. The two fixed-line operators last week stepped up pressure on Ofcom over BT's market dominance as the regulator opened a new review into the UK's digital communications market. Other operators including Vodafone have also called for equal access to BT's fibre backbone.

For more:
- see this Telegraph article
- see this separate Telegraph article
- see this Financial Times article (sub. req.)

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