The UK market is currently going through its most seismic change since the early noughties, when O2 came into being and Three began trading in the UK.
Now both companies are in talks with one another about creating the country’s biggest mobile player; it follows the impending marriage between EE and BT.
While the press today has been dominated by talk about the transforming market and knock-on effect for consumers, one area that has been forgotten is the infrastructure side.
If or when BT and EE merge, the other operators could end up paying for backhaul from one of their competitors. It is a scenario infrastructure provider CityFibre, which operates in 57 cities across the UK, hopes to capitalise on.
When Mobile Europe met the company’s CEO earlier this week, the O2/Three deal had not yet been announced.
But Greg Mesch welcomes consolidation in the market because he thinks it would push mobile players away from BT Openreach, which has a virtual monopoly on the market, and into CityFibre’s arms.
The CEO is basing his prediction around his company’s dark fibre backhaul product portfolio. Dark fibre is cabling already in the ground that doesn’t carry any traffic. CityFibre says connecting these cable provides operators with their own infrastructure.
The company signed deals with EE and Three late last year to provide dark fibre backhaul connections to both operators’ masts under the MBNL joint venture.
Mesch argues the question of backhaul is vital to ensure best quality of service for the UK’s mobile operators. He says: “When my phone is slow it’s nothing to do with the network. It’s to do with the base station and what it’s plugged into.”
Sufficient backhaul is also vital for the UK to keep up other countries. He explains: “We need to upgrade the digital infrastructure in the UK or we can’t compete with the rest of the world. There isn’t really a good competitive infrastructure outside of London, no matter what BT says.”
According to Mark Collins, CityFibre’s Director for Strategy and Public Affairs, dark fibre also removes the need for heavy investment. He says: “It’s what the UK economy needs if we are to compete with Asia and emerging eastern European countries. The UK needs to embrace a transition to a modern digital infrastructure.
“Incremental upgrades are insufficient. We need to effectively start from scratch.”
He adds: “The operators’ move into content is stretching its financials so there’s less to spend on infrastructure. But the process of upgrading to fibre still needs to happen. If the investment doesn’t come from BT, it has to come from someone else.”
In the November 2014 press release announcing the EE deal, the UK operator appears to agree with CityFibre’s claim that the current methods of backhaul provision need to change.
EE CTO Fotis Karonis said at the time: “This is a completely new model for the industry, set to provide a much-needed change to the economics of capacity management.”
Change will be the buzzword for the UK mobile industry in 2015, as operators look to cope with new look businesses. As the initial struggles of EE, then Everything Everywhere, showed, substantial change takes time.
CityFibre is hoping it can provide the backbone of the transformed UK market.