Business Management

BT's EE Play Shows Its Appetite For Adventure

The former state-owned telecoms incumbents are rarely viewed with much affection. The popular view of them is as erstwhile bloated dictators that never lost the habit of being restrictive, manipulative, domineering and lacking the service ethos.

Here in the UK, BT (or British Telecom to use its old handle) has had plenty of stick over the years and often quite rightly, but the company’s announcement earlier this week that it is in talks to acquire EE reaffirms the suspicion that, if nothing else, this is a company prepared to make the big strategic plays that can lead to growth.

Buying EE for about £12.5bn ($19.5bn) would give BT a big stride back into cellular mobile connections. Getting back O2, the cellular carrier that it jettisoned for reasons of financial arbitrage in 2005, might have been the less risky route. But BT has become something of a maverick compared to many others in the often staid world of telecoms. The EE move is audacious but it fits a pattern of recent years that has seen BT partner with communal hotspot sharing provider FON, invest to create a truly global services business (interview with CEO Luis Alvarez here), and take on Sky in sport broadcasting.

Getting EE would give BT that much-ballyhooed ‘quad-play’ capability: a tetralogy of services spanning landline, mobile, TV and broadband. It’s a fashionable set of properties to own even if it’s not clear that it’s what buyers want, and it may encourage rivals to make quintuple of sextuple plays. The Rupert Murdoch empire is already joining the dots between TV, newspapers, movie streaming, communications and other services, for example.

In communications, BT is not alone in seeing the need to make grand gestures. In Spain, Telefónica has become a global accelerator of start-ups, for example, and a growing media franchise owner. But let’s at least credit BT for not being the dusty, fading behemoth of myth.


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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