BT's upcoming acquisition of EE will not lead to less competition in the UK, with the operator planning to drive competition through MVNOs, its CEO has claimed.

Gavin Patterson was speaking at the launch of the 2015 Digiworld Yearbook from France-based think tank iDate.

BT was described as a "sleeping beauty" of the telecoms market, an apposite phrase given its turnaround and upcoming return to the mobile space.

Assuming the EE deal is approved, it will mark the end of a 13-year period that the fixed line provider has not had a mobile arm.

Patterson described this period, which began when it spun off Cellnet and later became O2, as unusual.

While the UK has set the agenda in mobile in many ways, it was the only market in Europe where not one player had both fixed and mobile assets. He described the EE deal as a way of "catching up with the rest of the world".

The deal does not please everybody, however.

Rivals have noted that BT's lucrative OpenReach operation provides the backhaul that mobile operators rely on. Concerns have been raised that it could favour its own mobile operation over competitors.

When asked by European Communications about the perceived potential conflict, Patterson dismissed suggestions the UK's reputation for strong competition in the mobile sector would be stymied as a result of the deal.

He said the deal would not change the number of mobile operators, although Three's separate upcoming takeover of O2 is likely to reduce the number of players to three.

"When it comes to backhaul, it is provided by OpenReach. Its decisions are made independently and that will continue to be the case. OpenReach will continue to be as regulated in the future as it is today," Patterson noted.

The latter claim could be optimistic, given Ofcom's recent proposals to open up BT's fibre network to its competitors.

The UK regulator is suggesting operators could use BT's network by connecting their own equipment to it.

Patterson also said BT heavily relies on its wholesale business so it would be counterproductive to slam the gates down on its rivals.

He said: "Through OpenReach and wholesaling we will continue to grow the MVNO business that EE has done. It operates something like 29 MVNOs. That's very much part of how we see the business going forward."

Patterson largely gave fulsome praise to the UK regulator during his conversation with iDate chairman Francois Barrault, albeit with a few subtle warnings about its future decisions.

When asked why the UK was a much more robust mobile market than its European counterparts, he answered: "Fundamentally it starts with the customer and the demand for internet related services in the UK.

"The UK is probably one of the top two or three markets in the world where the internet has been fully adopted by consumers and businesses, although it could be done more by the government.

"Market conditions, in particular regulation, have created a number of positive outcomes for customers. Ofcom deserves a lot of credit.

“By taking the market and liberating it, it has created a set of conditions that creates innovation and choice but has also meant that prices have remained some of the lowest across Europe and significantly lower than the United States."

However, he said regulation needs to continue to focus "only where it is necessary", which would allow the market to continue to innovate, invest and succeed.

This is something that many European operators would like to see repeated across the continent, if iDate's latest figures are anything to go by.

While the European prognosis is improving, with a 1.4 percent fall in the size of the telecoms services market last year compared to 3.4 percent drop in 2013, it is still in decline.

The North American market may also be suffering, but it still reported growth of 1.8 percent last year.

Patterson thinks despite the wider European woes, it is imperative the UK stays within the European Union.

He said as campaigning about the forthcoming referendum begins in earnest, he expects to see more corporate names through their weight behind the continent.

"We believe, and we believe very strongly, that the UK should remain in the EU. We should remain on the inside being a positive catalyst for change...It's about growth, it's about jobs and it's about investment," he said.

Given the potential for upheaval following the UK referendum on Europe, it seems clear BT is not the only organisation that could be shaken up by the coming months.

More Features

Vodafone needs to "up its game" to make a name for itself in cyber security Vodafone needs to The cyber security industry is on a “defensive footing”, a leading Vodafone executive has said, as he looks to pull off a “magic trick” to help the operator become a more established player in... More detail
Q&A: Sunrise CEO Olaf Swantee Q&A: Sunrise CEO Olaf Swantee Olaf Swantee discusses his first year in charge of Switzerland’s Sunrise, including rebranding, launching quad-play and having the best mobile network More detail
Not everyone will survive the streaming wars, says Telia TV Chief Not everyone will survive the streaming wars, says Telia TV Chief Johanna Berlinde is unequivocal: it’s not possible that every company that is launching a streaming service will survive in the future. More detail
BT Sport COO sees opportunity in VR, EE as he seeks audience engagement BT Sport COO sees opportunity in VR, EE as he seeks audience engagement Virtual reality will become ever more central to BT Sport, its Chief Operating Officer believes, as the business looks ahead to a tighter integration with EE. More detail
Proximus TV chief talks adult content, aggregation and not being a mediaco Proximus TV chief talks adult content, aggregation and not being a mediaco It’s not often that you get to discuss pornography with a telecoms exec, either on or off the record, but Stephanie Rockmann doesn’t blink when this rather unusual topic is raised. More detail


Other Categories in Features