Ofcom has announced the bidders in the 4G spectrum auctions. There are seven in total. Thought about bidding myself but I didn’t really have a firm plan of what to do with it if we managed to secure the spectrum.
The bidders include all the ones you would have expected – EE, O2, Vodafone and 3 in their various official corporate guises. Also PCCW who already offer a limited 4G fixed line replacement service in the UK. Then we have a company called MLL Telecom which has existing mobile spectrum licenses and provides managed networks in the UK.
Finally, and perhaps most interesting, is Niche Spectrum Ventures Limited, otherwise known as BT. This business was only registered in June of this year and has already had two name changes: initially BT Facilities Services Limited (until sept 2012) and then BT Ninety-Two Limited (changed only last month).
I don’t have any inside track here – BT is being very tight lipped regarding their plans – but if I were a betting man I’d say this was another step on the road to BT becoming a fully fledged mobile network operator, again.
At some stage after divesting itself of Cellnet BT realised it needed to be in mobile and so is now an MVNO, partnering with Vodafone. Buying 4G spectrum would be a natural step forward here.
Modern 4G kit is very flexible and can carry multiple operators networks – both in the modem and in VLANs applied to the various backhaul circuits. BT, with its own spectrum would be able to easily launch 4G services piggy backing on someone else’s existing infrastructure and the company has good relationships with both Voda (through the MVNO) and EE from its work in the Cornwall superfast broadband project. Indeed the company won an award earlier this year for demonstrating the solution that could be used in a country wide 4G rollout.
It would be a big move for BT, upping its mobile ante, especially as the incumbent mobile operators are fighting a headwind of revenue erosion, but converged networks are the way forward and for a company of BT’s size it has to have a mobile play.
That’s my bet and I’m sticking with it. We will find out soon enough.