Three UK exceeds 3M LTE users

Three UK said 3.1 million customers are now using its LTE services, representing more than a third of its total customer base of 8 million users.

The company, a unit of Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, also said its LTE network now covers 48 per cent of the population, with 98 per cent coverage planned in 2015.

Although Three UK has some way to go to match rival EE, which reported 6 million LTE users in October, the company stressed that it had achieved over 3 million LTE subscribers just 10 months after commercial launch. The company has placed a strong focus on "all-you-can-eat" data and "4G at no extra cost" in its campaign to drive LTE take-up.

However, the competitive landscape could change significantly in future if the UK telecoms market consolidates: BT is in talks with the owners of EE (Deutsche Telekom and Orange) and O2 UK (Telefónica) over a possible acquisition, while Hutchison Whampoa is also rumoured to be assessing a bid for one of the two operators.

Orange CEO Stephane Richard this week said he expected BT to make a decision on which operator to pursue before Christmas, Reuters reported.

Moves by BT and rival fixed operator TalkTalk to offer mobile services as part of a quad-play strategy have, in turn, prompted speculation that Vodafone is eyeing cable operator Liberty Global to boost its own convergence ambitions in the UK. BSkyB has also reportedly hired an adviser to explore possible deals that could also allow the broadcasting group to take part in consolidation of the UK telecoms market.

Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao has since tried to play down the chances of a Liberty Global deal: Reuters reported that Colao met analysts and investors to calm fears it could make a multi-billion dollar bid.

Nevertheless, analysts from Jefferies say the group needs a "transformational" deal to secure its long-term prospects.

"Delaying transformational M&A stores up pressure. Easing 1H rev[enue] declines were enabled by high commercial costs. Sterner tests lie ahead, in our view. To fulfil optimistic cons[ensus], VOD must deliver rev[evenue] growth with margin expansion. The reckoning on Project Spring [Vodafone's network upgrade investment project] draws near," Jefferies commented.

For more:
- see this Three UK release
- see this Reuters article
- see this separate Reuters article

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