Is there a unified future of Mobile
At the moment there are four major mobile network providers in the UK, each of which operates its own network infrastructure.
There are also many MVNO (mobile virtual network operators) that piggyback on the networks established by the four main providers, intrinsically linking their fates to the quality of the service offered by a third party.
At the moment the four-way split in the market makes things seem relatively competitive, since each provider is vying to achieve the maximum share of subscribers. However, there is a gradual homogenisation becoming apparent, with the big firms being amalgamated into one another in order to capture more of the market.
Has this already started?
The most significant move of this kind was made two years ago when T-Mobile and Orange signed a merger deal and formed Everything Everywhere. While they still operate as two distinct brands, customers on both networks can share the signal and infrastructure of the other, which means that coverage levels have improved and its combined user base is the largest in the UK.
Previous front runner O2 and third place Vodafone are now performing a similar trick, albeit one which will not actually see their customers combined into a single pot. Instead, these two companies announced that they will be sharing the same 4G network infrastructure once the roll-out of LTE connectivity begins in earnest next year.
This will mean that customers will be sharing the so-called ‘national grid’ of 4G connectivity irrespective of whether they are on Vodafone or O2, or indeed one of the MVNOs, which currently partner with these larger companies.
This is very good news for business users, because the main intention of this move is to accelerate the implementation of 4G in the UK, where for many years it has lagged behind its continental and North American contemporaries in terms of this high-end connectivity, having been lumbered with older 3G services due to protracted wrangling over the spectrum.
4G coverage will dramatically increase the speed of mobile data connections, allowing for improvements in mobile VoIP and portable cloud computing services that are not sustainable on the already overburdened 3G networks.
However, this state of affairs, with Everything Everywhere on one side and O2 combined with Vodafone on the other, would create a duopoly of sorts that could arguably become a monopoly if the conditions are right.
Network providers are being incredibly pragmatic in their decision to join forces, because they are suffering from decreased revenues as a result of EU rulings over the cost of calls and texts.
Lower data roaming charges and the mobile termination rates being cut down to size have meant that providers are feeling the pinch, even if customers are getting a much fairer deal as a result. Meanwhile, the increase in the use of data connections for calling and communication rather than traditional voice calls and texts has meant that providers are getting hit in more than one area.
While some might be nervous about the idea of competition being eradicated from the UK’s mobile market by providers unifying, there are those who support the idea. For businesses it will mean that they can receive improved levels of mobile coverage and a quicker establishment of widespread 4G without the same levels of cost being required to achieve this.
Having multiple network providers with overlapping infrastructures does seem a little senseless when you consider it, which is an opinion held by Telesperience analyst Teresa Cottam. So, if the UK’s mobile future is one of unified monopolisation that results in better services and lower costs to users, few will be able to complain about legitimacy.
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