The long-mooted merger of UK mobile networks T-Mobile and Orange looks like it might be about to hit a delay.
Britain’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has asked the European Commission, currently handling an investigation into the deal, to transfer the case to the UK to be scrutinised.
If accepted, the merger would be the biggest change in the UK mobile market in years. With five mobile networks plus a number of ‘virtual’ networks riding their coattails, competition for customers is fierce and the smaller networks have struggled to compete with dominant O2 and current number 2, Vodafone.
The OFT said in a statement reported by Bloomberg:
“The OFT’s initial view, following consultation, is that the joint venture threatens significantly to affect competition in mobile telecommunications in the U.K…. The OFT intends to examine the proposed joint venture with a view to deciding whether it should be referred to the Competition Commission for an in-depth investigation.”
A UK investigation could place a long delay on the deal being accepted.
Meanwhile, current last place in the UK mobile market, 3, yesterday outlined its plans for growth this year. In a press briefing, the company’s CEO and CTO outlined plans to improve its network to provide a reliable HSDPA data network with speeds of up to 7.2Mbps across its coverage area, as well as offering more devices running Android and an e-book reader of some sort.
3 is also lobbying communications regulator Ofcom to allow some of the excess radio spectrum freed up by the T-Mobile and Orange merger to be shared out among other networks, a move that would benefit 3 significantly.