This year two very big deals have hung over nearly everything in the industry. You can’t
talk to anyone in the business without either BT’s takeover of EE or Hutchison Whampoa’s acquisition of O2 being mentioned.
It feels like everyone’s actions are carried out with these two major deals in the back of their minds. Despite consistent rhetoric to the contrary from those in charge, decisions can’t help but feel temporary and slightly short term.
No matter how much you insist that you are at the start of a five-year plan, if the prospect of being taken over in the next year is in the background it’s hard to sound convincing.
You only have to look at the legal challenges brought by Hutchison Whampoa and Telefonica against Ofcom over the dates for the sale of spectrum. Obviously as parent companies they can act with a freedom that the likes of O2 and Three can’t. But the fact they were so against having any sale of radio waves take place before the European Commission’s decision had been made on the possible takeover demonstrates how, even if locally it’s business as usual, those that hold the purse strings are acting differently.
The effects of these events will touch almost every player in the industry; from the manufacturers whose relationships with the networks are essential to delivering their products, to the consumer, and to the dealers who use the operators’ services every day.
Uncertainty is rarely a good thing, especially when it is connected to those that hold the balance of power. However, when it comes to business deals of this scale there is rarely a quick or easy answer – progress is long, methodical and often unsatisfactory.
2016 looks to be the year when we will know the conclusion of both mergers, with BT and EE’s decision likely to come in the first quarter. What happens after that is the big question for those in the industry to answer.