This week has proven to be an interesting one this week for the UK wireless industry, with news coming first this week that BT were ‘in talks’ with Telefonica to possibly bring O2 back into the fold, buying back the network they sold to the Spanish giant almost a decade ago. If that weren’t enough for BT though, EE confirmed that the two are in talks to perhaps sell their network to BT. Clearly, British Telecom is exporing their options and they’re very serious about getting into the wireless market in a big way. Exploring their options however, might prove more difficult as word is that Hutchison Whampoa, the owner of Three UK, could be getting ready to make a bid for either O2 or EE.
Three UK is currently the fourth largest network in the UK, but they’ve positioned themselves well this year, with truly unlimited data allowances and 4G at no extra cost. In fact, I recently escaped an expensive contract from O2, which offered me no 3G let alone 4G at my home, to an unlimited package from Three where I have 4G throughout my home town. If Three’s owner were to buy either O2 or EE, they’d have to part with a huge amount of cash to do so, especially in the case of EE, which has become the UK’s largest wireless network.
Reuters is reporting that Hutchison Whampoa is gearing up to make a bid for either one of the networks before the end of the year, while BT weighs up its options. However, according to sources it might not be as clean cut as that for the Chinese company, with Telefonica said to be after a “quick, clean sale” of O2 to BT without any antitrust blowback. Not only that, but Hutchison Whampoa has often been said to be a tough negotiator and I can’t imagine either Telefonica or Deutsche Telekom and Orange (joint owners of EE) looking to sell on the cheap. These are interesting times for the UK market and no matter what happens, all of this is set to make a big impact on the market.