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Reading the Small Print

Gordon Kelly


The Repercussions of 'Everything, Everywhere'

It all started exactly one year ago to the day. On 8 September 2009 T-Mobile and Orange announced they had agreed to merge their UK operations. The result: a new telecoms giant with 30m customers and a 37 per cent market share which left previous big hitters O2 (28 per cent) and Vodafone (25 per cent) looking decidedly small time.

12 months of OFT investigations and EC negotiations followed and on Monday newly created umbrella company Everything Everywhere announced customers would start seeing the deal's first practical benefits with cross network sharing from 5 October. But is Everything Everywhere too good to be true? And just how are other networks going to react?

Look on the surface you'd have to say rivals will be greatly concerned. As Everything Everywhere CEO Tom Alexander proclaimed: "From next month, we will give almost half of the British population the opportunity to use their phones in more places than ever before. As well as continuing to benefit from their existing network, Orange customers will be able to make calls and send texts on the T-Mobile network and T-Mobile customers will be able to do the same using the Orange network. This is the first major consumer benefit of the merger between Orange and T-Mobile, and it delivers an unrivalled and unique experience that no other operator can offer."

Look more closely, however, and there's one fatal flaw in this argument: it's rubbish.

Networks have been sharing their capacity for years. Vodafone and O2 have been playmates, as have O2 and 3, 3 and T-Mobile, Orange and Vodafone - just about every combination under the sun. Even then that doesn't take into account all the virtual networks like Tesco (O2), Virgin and Ikea (both T-Mobile). Has any of this made your mobile phone reception noticeably better or are you still swearing at 'call failed' messages every week?

As for shared innovation, such as Orange's newly launched HD Voice, Everyone Everywhere confirmed to us that "As the plans were announced in late 2009, at the time of launch HD Voice will only be available on Orange UK in the short term." T-Mobile is expected to benefit once it "reaches more mainstream adoption", but given HD Voice requires a compatible phone to speak to another compatible phone on the same network I have doubts whether that will happen.

So potential customer benefits are thin on the ground, but worse still there may be grave consequences...

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