Why does BT want two mobile networks?
Dec 17, 2014 by PolicyTracker

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Tags2.6 GHz, 4G, Blog, Broadcasting, LTE, Mobile

BT is planning its own “alternative” mobile network, yet looks set to buy a “traditional” mobile operator. How does that compute?

I am fascinated by BT’s plans for an “inside out network.” As far as we can tell, this involves providing a mobile service using a variety of sources, including existing Wi-Fi hotspots, MVNO agreements and 2.6 GHz spectrum. 

It’s a fascinating concept. Could the use of Hotspot 2.0 transform the economics of mobile networks, ending the current oligopoly? Could the operators of Wi-Fi hotspots become serious players in the mobile market? Or will new wave Wi-Fi be just as much hassle for customers as old wave Wi-Fi?

Our efforts to find out more about the idea have so far been rebuffed by BT. Is the inside out network a load of hot air or the next big thing? We can’t tell!

Now we discover that BT is in talks to buy EE, the UK’s biggest mobile network in terms of subscribers and spectrum. So is BT still planning this “inside out network” even if it acquires its own mobile network? Definitely yes, BT’s spokesman tells us – it’s about two years away. But he would say that, wouldn’t he? Maintaining that they could soon have their own network strengthens the company’s hand in negotiations with EE (or even O2).

The reason I’m sceptical is BT’s, er, inscrutable, history. For example, in February 2002, the company’s then chairman Christopher Bland said the company would be entering the TV market within two years. One month later, the chief executive said they wouldn’t, and then in 2006 BT launched its own TV service.

So what is the company actually planning in the mobile arena? Don’t expect straight answers anytime soon.