In all honesty, I'm surprised this didn't come about earlier...
The UK Office of Fair Trading late yesterday said it has made a formal request to the European Commission to refer the UK aspects of the proposed Orange UK and T-Mobile UK joint venture to the OFT. In plain English: it wants to take a closer look at the deal (first announced in September) with regards to potential anti-competitive behaviour.
"The OFT's initial view, following consultation, is that the joint venture threatens significantly to affect competition in mobile telecommunications in the UK," it explained in a brief statement.
The OFT is now waiting to see whether the EC will grant this request. If it gets the go-ahead the OFT will then decide whether it should go before the Competition Commission for an in-depth investigation which - at the very least - would delay T-Mobile and Orange merger plans significantly.
All in all, such close scrutiny does make sense. Following a merger the combined T-Mobile/Orange network would have a massive 37 per cent share of the UK market which dwarfs that of current UK leaders Vodafone and O2 which have 24.7 per cent and 27.7 per cent respectively.
My bet? The deal will still go through, but with a number of provisos thrown in... Watch this space.
OFT Official Statement