What Next For UK Communications After BT-EE Merger?

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NEWS ANALYSIS: BT, industry experts and rivals have their say on the £12.5 billion union of industry heavyweights

A year after the proposed takeover was first announced, BT is set to complete its £12.5 billion takeover of EE after receiving the go-ahead from competition authorities who found no evidence that the retail and wholesale broadband and mobile markets would be negatively impacted.

For BT, the deal provides an opportunity to strengthen its quad-play credentials and facilitate the development of hybrid networks comprising fixed and mobile infrastructure. However some believe the new combined company will have too much power.

But how exactly will the merger of BT and EE impact the UK communications market?

Gavin Patterson, BT CEO

BT CEO Gavin Patterson Broadband World Forum (3)“It is great news that the CMA has approved our acquisition of EE. We are pleased they have found there to be no significant lessening of competition following an in-depth investigation lasting more than ten months.

“The combined BT and EE will be a digital champion for the UK, providing high levels of investment and driving innovation in a highly competitive market. I have no doubt that consumers, businesses and communities will benefit as we combine the power of fibre broadband with the convenience of leading edge mobile services. I look forward to welcoming EE into the BT family.”

Dan Howdle, telecoms expert at Cable.co.uk

“There can be no doubt as to the power over the UK consumer telecoms market BT EE now wields. Which is precisely why the wider industry has persistently urged the CMA not to rush ahead with this decision, but to take into consideration, and to fully explore their commonly held objections.

“Sky, for example has been at pains to point out that not only are there – in its opinion – ‘fundamental flaws’ in the economic analysis performed by the CMA, but that the CMA itself contains dissenting members who appear to share the view that the merger will prove a disaster for UK telecoms, and in turn for consumers.

“The CMA believes the new merged company is, by default, financially incentivised to continue to supply wholesale services to other providers (Virgin Mobile, for example runs on the EE Network), which will prevent it from closing its doors to third-party operators in an attempt to monopolise its own network infrastructure.

“The greatest concern for its competitors, then, is that, though unlikely – as the CMA points out – no firm measure has been put in place to actively prevent it.”

Chi Onwurah, Shadow Digital Minister

“To get those together seemed to me to suggest certainly significant consolidation in the market and reduction in the potential for effective competition.

“My concern, particularly on the wholesale issue, was that it wasn’t forward-looking enough so it looked at what we had now but it didn’t seem to be looking at what would be the situation in two, three, four years when we have had even more consolidation.

“I have a great deal of respect for the CMA, I hope they have done a detailed and broad analysis with the support of Ofcom as the sector regulator with the sector expertise.”

Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre

“Whilst no one was surprised by today’s announcement by the CMA, it does call into question just how the remaining mobile operators can realistically compete on a level playing field with BT/EE. As one of the only true independent alternative telecoms carriers operating in the UK, CityFibre is fast becoming the only viable alternative to BT for many of the UK’s leading mobile operators and business ISPs who share a fundamental concern of BT’s unhealthy dominance.”

“For the UK to respond to the significant demand for future proof communications infrastructure, it is crucial that we stimulate a vibrant competitive landscape to encourages investment from BT’s competitors, and is capable of sustaining economic growth and prosperity nationally.”

Kester Mann, Analyst at CCS Insight

EE 4G“It is inevitable that BT will move to replace the EE name, however it would be unwise to rush into this too soon. The EE brand has benefitted from strong investment to become synonymous with widespread 4G coverage. A greater priority for BT is the behind-the-scenes integration of the UK’s largest fixed-line and mobile operators. Only then should it look to articulate changes to consumers.

A challenge for BT’s mobile ambitions in the consumer market is its legacy association with fixed-line services. This could be particularly relevant for the youth market, unaware of BT’s previous mobile ventures. However, strong recent promotion of the fledgling BT Mobile offering is helping to address this.

A sensible approach could be to first offer BT products and services in selected EE stores and/or to use the EE brand name alongside BT Mobile’s marketing collateral. This would enable customers to begin to make an association between the two companies.

The deal paves the way for significant high-street rebranding. BT’s lack of retail presence is its Achilles heel, but converting EE shops will enable it to present and communicate bundles of mobile, broadband and TV face-to-face.  This could give it a major boost as the UK market inexorably evolves towards multiplay.

On the enterprise side, BT might be better advised to rebrand more quickly given its already established strong presence in this sector. Indeed, the company might well end up taking a phased approach, that retains the EE name for longer in certain segments before withdrawing completely in the long-term.

Mark Windle, OpenCloud

“BT’s acquisition of EE is a clear strengthening of its mobile play, but it is also creating a much more rounded operator brand. BT’s fixed broadband assets, offering Wi-Fi and fixed-line connectivity, is supplemented by a nationwide offering of 4G access. For the company’s customers, this means access to its services will no longer be restricted by devices, method of connection or location.

“However, in some European markets, consolidation of this kind can result in less innovation in communication services, due to lack of operator competition. This could be bad for subscribers, who for years to come could continue receiving the same-old vanilla services – the operator itself could just become a bit-pipe for the innovation of third party apps. It would be great to see BT evaluate best-practices for modern service development through the integration of its new networks, allowing it to focus on the consumer.”

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