BT eyes return to consumer mobile market with EE deal

BT is plotting a return to consumer mobile more than a decade after it exited the market after signing a deal with mobile operator EE to replace Vodafone as its virtual mobile network operator in the UK.

BT-building-2013-460

The deal means BT will be able to offer customers 4G smartphone connections that it could bundle with its broadband, pay TV and landline services. The contract allows BT to rent space on EE’s masts, while BT also has access to its own 4G spectrum which it won in the 4G auction last year.

BT has not denied it will move back into consumer mobile, with a BT spokesperson saying it will provide an update on its plans later in the year. Speaking at the company’s third quarter results in January, chief executive Gavin Patterson said 2014 would a “big year” for BT in terms of mobility with plans to build on its Wi-Fi proposition and 4G spectrum purchase.

“This is going to be a big year for us in terms of mobility, in terms of talking about what we are going to do next… I think we can do some really interesting things in the mobile space,” he said.

A move into consumer mobile could also give BT an edge over rival BSkyB, which does not offer mobile services. Competition between the two has increased as BT acquires sports rights in a bid to take on BSkyB in the pay TV market. It is using sport as way to attract new subscribers and is offering access to the service for free for existing broadband customers.

BT previously pulled out of the consumer mobile market in 2001 when it rebranded its Cellnet mobile service to O2 and spun it out as a separate listed company. BT currently provides mobile services to a business audience – including large corporates and the public sector – through a deal with Vodafone.

Under the new exclusive deal, business customers will be transferred to EE’s network.

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