BTs MNO Acquisition Talks: Should It Buy EE or O2?

BTYesterday, BT announced that it was in talks with O2 and one unnamed UK mobile operator, with a view to acquiring one of the two. Today, Orange and Deutsche Telekom confirmed that EE was the second operator being considered.

So, if the talks go smoothly, which of the two operators is BT better off buying for its re-entry into mobile? According to IHS Technology analyst Peter Boyland, there is a clear winner:

“Given the choice, BT would be better off buying O2, despite EE’s slightly larger scale,” he says. “Following its 2010 merger, EE is still in the process of consolidating brands, back office systems, and marketing – and merging with the BT brand would further complicate this process.”

The two operators have similar subscriber numbers: in June 2014, O2 had a customer base of 24m, up 3.8 per cent year-on-year, compared to 24.5m for EE, a year-on-year drop of three per cent.

The other issue that Boyland raises is potential regulatory action:

“BT is also the market leader in both fixed voice and broadband, meaning an acquisition of mobile market leader EE would be more likely to draw regulatory attention than a buy of O2,” he says, “particularly because EE also has a small number of fixed broadband customers of its own, albeit just three per cent of the market.

“However, neither acquisition would really alter the competitive dynamics of the UK mobile market, since BT doesn’t currently own any significant mobile operations. As such, IHS does not expect that either potential acquisition would be blocked, particularly in the light of recent major consolidation deals in Germany and Ireland which have been allowed.”