BT is strongly tipped to return to the high street with sources claiming the operator is in talks with its MVNO partner EE about a retail partnership. Carphone Warehouse and Phones 4u are also viewed as possible candidates.
Talks between EE and BT are said to have taken place following BT’s MVNO deal with EE, which it inked in October last year.
The developments come with BT growing in confidence, going on the front foot with a massive campaign around its TV sports channel, and ramping up its drive into the mobile market with the recent launch of BT One Phone, aimed at the b2b market. It is prepping a consumer mobile launch for later this year.
Retail partners are keen to do business with BT because of its enormous customer base of 900,000 business customers and around 7 million fixed line customers, and because of the scope of bundling mobile offerings with BT Sport and BT TV content.
A deal would also give BT much greater exposure for its quad-play offering of mobile, broadband, and fixed line as well as BT Sport and BT TV.
One retail source said: ‘BT and EE have been in talks about BT displaying some or all of its quad-play offering in its (EE’s) stores. Both parties can see some synergy in this. It is just a matter of deciding how it will work best for both parties.’
One industry player claimed BT is keeping its options open, naming Phones 4u and Dixons-Carphone as potential retail partners.
He said: ‘BT has made it known it is exploring a return to the high street. Dixons-Carphone is a much better option for BT since it will want the space to display its entire quad-play range.’
Industry analysts agree that BT needs to return to the high street if it is to compete with other quad-play providers, such as Virgin Media that currently has over 70 stores in its portfolio.
CCS Insight’s director of operator strategy, Paolo Pescatore, said: ‘If you look at BT’s competitors, there is only one thing missing – BT’s retail presence. If they have serious aspirations in this market they need front-facing capabilities and the only way to do that is to have retail presence on the high street.’
Strategy Analytics analyst Neil Mawston said a retail partnership with EE would bring clear benefits to both parties. He added: ‘Getting into any store would be a good thing from BT’s perspective. With EE having several hundred stores it would give BT much wider distribution.
‘It also makes sense for BT to partner with an established player since stores are increasingly becoming more like showrooms and setting up a retail partnership makes more sense than BT having to roll out its own portfolio of stores.’
He added that EE with its current push into the b2b sector would be keen to maximise opportunities to sell mobile to BT’s 900,000 BT Business customers.
BT was unavailable and EE declined to comment.