BT cannot drop the ball on mobile again with EE

In the wake of the news that BT may acquire EE, Will Harris warns the telecoms giant to learn from the mistakes it made with Cellnet.

BT is to acquire EE for £12.5bn
BT is to acquire EE for £12.5bn

Last year I went to the Wireless Influencers conference in London at Claridges. In the chatter around the rather excellent one-bite bacon rolls I got talking to a man from BT and another from EE.

We discussed how the smartphone market and the mobile operators in general were about to go ex-growth, and that consolidation was in the air. One of them glanced across at the representative from Sky, studiously attacking the fruit, and muttered "they should be very afraid."

One year on, it looks like the phoney war over the breakfast buffet has gone up a gear, and those two giants of mobile and fixed may be heading down the aisle.

You can have the smartest smartphone in the world, but if you’re network is a dog, your kudos will be diminished.

This has to be good news for customers who are presently knitting themselves their own broadband deals, plus fixed, plus mobile, plus TV service, with zero volume discount along the way. Surely as this consolidation phase plays out, and BT’s fast fibre network is built out around the UK, we will end up with the offering that we have always longed for. If they can just sort out family tariffs, or shared minutes across users and devices, we’ll be happy.

One watch-out for BT, which, in the changing of the guard since the O2 de-merger in 2002, they may have missed. Landlines and mobile are two very different purchases made in different ways by consumers. You never go into a pub, order a pint and put your fixed phone on the table next to you. Your mobile, as with cigarettes in days gone past, is a branded device that says a lot about who you are. You can have the smartest smartphone in the world, but if you’re network is a dog, your kudos will be diminished.

BT dropped the ball once with Cellnet, failing to recognise that mobile is different. They have undergone a remarkably stealthy and successful business transformation since then to the cash machine they now are. Whether their marketing organisations are sufficiently nuanced to stretch to managing a mobile brand is the key question, or they are condemned to repeat the lessons from the past, we will see soon enough.



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