Rumour Mill: T-Mobile and 3 not to merge--confirmed (almost)

While the U.K. divisions of T-Mobile and 3 have agreed to a network sharing deal, both firms were absolutely clear that this did not mean anything more, such as a merger or acquisition. But this resolute denial comes as 3's parent, Hutchison Whampoa, has hinted of a sell off, while T-Mobile's CEO recently declared that it would look at potential acquisitions.

Regardless of this background, T-Mobile's U.K. head, Jim Hyde, did admit that further cooperation between the two mobile operators could happen in the future. "There are lots of things that could present the opportunity for further partnerships. One would be the further development of services and to collaborate on the development of next generation services."

Commenting on the agreement, 3 U.K.'s CEO, Kevin Russell, said, "T-Mobile's population coverage for 3G is currently at 85 percent and 3 is at 90 percent. This takes that up to over 98%, but the real difference is in the depth of the coverage. 3 currently has 7,500 base stations and this will give us up to 13,000 base stations."

The partnership will not see T-Mobile's and 3's core networks being merged, but only the masts and 3G access networks, with both partners retaining responsibility for service delivery using their own spectrum. One U.K.-based analyst, Martin Garner of Ovum, said that network sharing had the potential to change the economic model for operators and give better high-speed mobile access. "Shared opex and capex considerably improves the economics and enables a more practical route to better network coverage, and in particular in-building coverage."

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