Vanishing brands reflect Europe's shifting mobile landscape

If BT succeeds in its bid to acquire EE, one thing it won't be doing is bringing the Orange and T-Mobile brands back to life in the UK: according to the Financial Times, BT has no interest in rekindling the two former brands as it intends to focus on driving 4G data services, for which EE is of course famous.

The FT also notes that EE plans to stop selling 3G contracts under the Orange and T-Mobile brands soon anyway in order to focus on 4G and the EE brand. To be fair, Orange and T-Mobile are already as good as gone from the UK market, with just a small area devoted to them on EE's web site accompanied by messages to encourage users to move to EE anyway.

To be sure, brands are vanishing rapidly or shifting focus across the mobile communications market in Europe in a clear reflection of how much the market is being reshaped by M&A as well as a growing focus on mobile data and fixed-mobile convergence. Orange is already no longer visible in Austria after the acquisition by Three Austria, for example, while O2 is set to disappear from both the UK and Ireland following similar moves by Three Group's parent Hutchison Whampoa--although the UK is of course far from a done deal. E-Plus and BASE are also likely to be swallowed up by Telefónica Deutschland once the company has completed the integration progress following the E-Plus acquisition last year.

For Orange, its disappearance from the UK and Austria reflect the group's changing focus based on pragmatic growth expectations: the Orange brand is very much alive and kicking in France, Spain, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and elsewhere in Europe, for example, and the company is also intent on maintaining a strong presence in Africa and the Middle East--although it has pulled out of some local markets here such as Uganda.

Deutsche Telekom also maintains a strong focus on the "T" brand and magenta colour in Germany and elsewhere, and is still driving the brand into new markets: Cosmote Romania and Romtelecom have now adopted the T brand to reflect a more unified and integrated approach on the market.

The branding battle lines are being redrawn as operators shift positions to face a future that is unlikely to get any easier, as data increasingly becomes king, fixed-mobile convergence comes more into play, and EU merger regulation pushes more MVNOs onto local markets. Will even EE survive as a brand after being bought by BT? The UK mobile market, for one, could soon look very different indeed.--Anne

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