BT has taken total ownership of mobile operator BT Cellnet, a move analysts say could lead to cheaper and more advanced phone services for customers.
BT today agreed to pay £3.15 billion for Securicor's 40 per cent share of BT Cellnet. Telecoms watchdog Oftel, which in January gave BT permission to take the stake, must now approve the deal.
Analysts said the deal would let BT launch new services offering combined fixed and mobile telephony packages. But they warned it could threaten the worthiness of BT's Onephone combined wireless and GSM phone, launched in June. (see Newswire 22 June 1999)
"On a global basis, mobility is a key part of BT's strategy to offer corporates a one stop shop," said mobile analyst Justine Heys at the Yankee Group Europe. "On a national level it means they will now more easily be able to offer converged fixed/mobile services."
In partnership with global partner AT&T, BT will be able to offer lower cost services, seamless roaming and better customer care, Heys said.
In the UK, BT could offer single billing, a single phone number for mobile and fixed calls, a single voice mailbox and reduced costs, Heys said. In Denmark, the PTO is offering around 40 per cent discount on quarterly bills to customers that use both its fixed and mobile services.
A similar move by BT would likely prove tough to put past Oftel.
The future of Onephone - which uses wireless Dect technology when used indoors and mobile GSM technology outside - would be uncertain if such a fixed/mobile service were launched, Heys said.
"The handset is incredibly expensive and there is only one supplier. Now that they own 100 per cent of Cellnet, it's easier to offer a PSTN/GSM integrated offering. Why would they need Dect?" she said.
BT's acquisition leaves it well placed to build its existing mobile business and expand into third generation (3G) mobile, which promises broadband wireless for mobile users, according to BT chief executive Sir Peter Bonfield.
"We look forward to winning a 3G licence and building the UK's leading third generation business," he said.
Mobile analyst David Tade at Dataquest said bidding for a 3G mobile licence and running a 3G network will be an expensive business, even for BT.
"IT will be interesting to see if they have the financial muscle to spin it off. 3G can be very expensive, it's not a child's play business for operators," said Tade.
BT Cellnet will need partners to support its 3G effort and partnership announcements are likely to follow soon, said Tade.
"It would be an expensive venture no doubt - to go it alone would be financial suicide," he said.
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