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Musical chairs of MNOs: What to do when the music stops

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There’s no market quite like that of mobile network operators (MNOs). Over the years we’ve seen lucrative buyouts, not so lucrative disposals, and high value auctions for operator licenses. The market moves, and it moves quickly. So the recent acquisition announcements by BT and 3 come as no surprise to those of us who work within it.

But what do the recent announcements mean for enterprise customers? Up until five years ago businesses and consumers had a choice of five operators – O2, Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone and 3. Then back in 2010 that number dropped to four when Orange bought T-Mobile and became EE. That acquisition was considered to be positive news for the market. It brought improved 3G and then 4G network coverage to the UK and helped EE strengthen its consumer offering. Now we hear rumours that 3 is intending to purchase O2, which will mean that the number of operators will drop to three. While the 3/O2 merger is still in the ‘talking’ stages it may have an impact on competition in the market and that could mean higher prices.

However, while any market that has a smaller number of players results in greater market dominance - indeed 3’s acquisition of O2 could make it the UK’s largest operator - for businesses it could turn out to be a positive. When developing a mobile strategy, many businesses are guilty of choosing a provider based mainly on tariffs available. The decision should be based on infrastructure and network requirements, so that your mobility fits with your overall IT structure. With less competitive pricing businesses may be driven to focus on the network, services and coverage instead.

The acquisition will also improve 02’s/3’s network coverage and will take 3’s enterprise focus and make it applicable to the consumer market and vice versa, but again this could come at the cost of higher prices.

All of this comes on the back of BT’s recent announcement that it will buy EE. The acquisition is part of BT’s move back into the mobile market to complement its increasingly consumer digital offering (think BT Sport, TV, broadband and so on) and as a way to take on Sky. The key benefit for businesses however is that the acquisition will give BT access to EE’s advanced 4G network. This, in combination with BT’s fixed line dominance, means that we may finally see a truly converged mobile telephony and IP network offering. Although this could be a great market move from BT, it hasn’t yet announced its intentions.

As the number of MNOs reduces, so do our options as customers – but there is a silver lining for businesses. Let’s hope that BT focuses on developing a truly converged service when they return to mobility, and that the continuing consolidation of the market produces strengthened networks and services that reflect a likely higher price.

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