back to article Vodafone, Three hustle to tie knot before regulators crash wedding

Vodafone and Three UK have mere days to convince Britain's competition authorities that a merger won't harm consumers. Failure to do so will result in a deeper probe of the proposed corporate marriage. The pair went public with the coupling in June, promising to sink £11 billion into 5G infrastructure over the next decade. …

  1. Flak
    Stop

    No brainer

    What a silly question to ask - when you have four operators and that goes down to three, it is inevitable that there will be a reduction in competition.

    And this is NOT good for the consumer.

    End of!

    1. katrinab Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: No brainer

      O2 + 3 was blocked for that reason. I don't think Vodafone + 3 would make any difference there.

      1. Lurko

        Re: No brainer

        "I don't think Vodafone + 3 would make any difference there."

        Don't overlook that the government of that day actually have the final say. The idea that any regulator is "arms length" from government is twaddle, since the CMA directors and the CMA panel are all appointed by the Secretary of State (the relevant business minister), so after 14 years of this lot, which party will have appointed the overwhelming majority of post holders?

        And with the current shower of piss we have for a government, they're all looking for new jobs in a few months time so what better than to cosy up to Vodathree? The next government have to live with any negative consequences, so it won't be the current lot's worry.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: No brainer

        And yet merging O2 with the largest MVNO was permitted.

        1. katrinab Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: No brainer

          But they are different markets.

          O2 is big in wireless infrastructre, not that big in the MVNO market, they have GiffGaff and 50% of Tesco Mobile, and not present at all in fixed line stuff because they offloaded that to Sky and were themselves offloaded from BT.

          Virgin didn't have any wireless infrastructure, very big in the MVNO market, and very big in fixed line stuff.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: No brainer

            I disagree. Both Virgin Mobile and O2 sold cellular services to end users. For competition purposes, what else they do is beside the point.

            The combined VMO2 company has ~30% of that market (not counting their 50% share of Tesco Mobile) which is within a couple of percent of what Vodathree would have.

        2. NeilPost

          Re: No brainer

          Are you sure ? The internet says

          1. Tesco Mobile

          2. BT Mobile

          3. Sky Mobile

          4. Virgin Mobile

          5. ID

          .. though I’m sure VOXI, Smarty, Giff-Gaff and the other discount/no frills are catching up.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No brainer

      Fewer choices, certainly. But the argument being made is that if the merger doesn't go through there will be fewer choices anyway.

      That is certainly possible. I guess phase 2 will decide how likely it is.

      1. Lurko

        Re: No brainer

        "But the argument being made is that if the merger doesn't go through there will be fewer choices anyway."

        How so? If Voda and Three can't merge, and either or both parent companies decide they want to exit the UK market, there will be plenty of buyers willing to take the customers and assets off their hands. Admittedly in a fire sale scenario the current owners may struggle to get a good price, but if they want out then let's not stop them. O2 was for sale for years without a buyer, and that's why they merged with VM, but it doesn't mean there were no interested parties, it just meant Telefonica weren't keen on the indicative prices they heard.

        If Voda and Three aren't lying through their teeth about wanting out if they can't merge, then they won't mind putting their companies on eBay with a 99p starting bid.

        1. Annihilator

          Re: No brainer

          Who's realistically going to buy either of them though? The costs of providing national infrastructure is getting larger and larger, particularly when you consider 5G works with smaller and smaller cell range and therefore more towers/infrastructure in place. Unless they're of a scale that's able to pay for all of that, it's a losing business.

          This is the crux of the argument - both companies have been steadily declining over the years, and continuing that trend will see them evaporate. The only thing left will be assets - mainly spectrum which the surviving EE and O2 will likely snap up for lack of anyone else.

          Arguably there's a case to be made for pseudo-nationalising the infrastructure. In rural locations, O2/Three/Vodafone already mast-share as it is.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: No brainer

            They already flogged their Infrastructure assets into one of these Tower. Co financial vehicles.

            Sale and leaseback for want of a better term - short term gain for long term loss.

        2. NeilPost

          Re: No brainer

          The once mighty Vodafone’s home market is the UK.

          Destroyed by a decade plus of nickel and diming, and the insane flog Verizon and divvvy the cash to shareholders and board bonuses. They should have been taking Vudsfkne global pff the German Mannesman deal and fortunate position of owning half of US biggest operator in Verizon.

    3. Roopee Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: No brainer

      If only ecomomics were as simplistic as that! However, in this case I suspect your conclusion is correct.

  2. Jedit Silver badge
    FAIL

    The perfect combination

    Imagine a network with Vodafone's prices and Three's infrastructure. Shareholders will benefit massively!

    Customers, on the other hand...

    1. Andy Non Silver badge

      Re: The perfect combination

      I wouldn't wish Vodafone's customer service on anyone.

      1. DJV Silver badge

        Re: The perfect combination

        Absolutely! I left Vodafone because of their lousy (customer) service for Three (a slightly lesser evil) via a short stint with EE, so I am not at all chuffed to hear about this merger. Are there any good mobile providers left in the UK?

        1. blackcat Silver badge

          Re: The perfect combination

          My OH works for VF so get the staff discount on sim only plans. We're still both on 3 :)

        2. katrinab Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: The perfect combination

          O2's customer service is pretty good.

          1. Lurko

            Re: The perfect combination

            "O2's customer service is pretty good."

            Until something goes wrong, everybody's customer service is pretty good.

            Unfortunately judging by complaints to Ofcom, O2 are now the worst of both MNOs and larger MVNOs.

            https://www.ofcom.org.uk/phones-telecoms-and-internet/advice-for-consumers/telecoms-and-pay-tv-complaints

            And that's a big fall. Before VM merged with O2, between 2012 and 2021, O2 had consistently low complaint to Ofcom scores, for much of that time being the best performer. Since VM got their hands on O2 in mid 2021, O2's complaints performance has been getting worse, and in a very linear fashion that suggests it's not merely the stochastic nature of the data.

        3. NeilPost

          Re: The perfect combination

          Suggested you give Tesco or Sky Mobile a go.

  3. Starfish

    Sure, prices won't go up, the same way that we wouldn't be charged for European roaming.

    1. Annihilator

      To be fair, I'm not sure it was the telco's who promised that. It was Jacob Rees-Mogg and his fellow criers of "fearmongering!".

  4. terry 1

    Done with Three

    Moved to Three around 8 years ago. really good package, been a good signal until last Oct. Thought it was the mobile as it was getting old, struggled until just before xmas and got a Moto, same sh*t signal. But kept trying to find the cause, but in the last few weeks the signal would be 5G, drop call, try 4G, drop call, try 3G, drop call, H+, drop call, wifi calling, drop that because the signal was back. plus incoming calls were going to voice. Support said they would do tests and come back to me, never did.

    So Monday, off to the EE, go a £10 sim

    Tuesday tested it all out on the old phone

    Wednesday requested PAC

    Thursday bye bye Three

    Today, calls, glorious calls

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Three’s network is OK…

    …but their customer portal/app are a joke.

    I have a PAYG account (because it has Go Roam at decent speeds across the world) and a contract account as my home broadband backup.

    Used to log into each account with phone number. But then they changed it to email. And they have to be different. I pointed out that most people in general have one email address and that this was bullshit design. And even now, when logging in to an account, it’s a garbled mess of phone number, email and password in whatever order the moon and Venus have aligned to that day.

    It’s terrifying to think they run national infrastructure but can’t build a simple UI.

    1. NeilPost

      Re: Three’s network is OK…

      3 Go Roam around the world - fucking liars and contract terminators

  6. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

    The whole point

    of mergers is to boost shareholder value. Otherwise they wouldn't go through the hassle. The only ones who "think" otherwise is the Marketing department.

    1. the spectacularly refined chap

      Re: The whole point

      Surely you are not suggesting that private companies exist to make a profit? Heaven forbid, we can't possibly allow that!

      Of course that's the case! The role of the regulator is to determine if the customer will be unduly harmed by such a merger. There are times when there are genuine synergies, such as unifying the network, potentially meaning savings to the consumer, provided enough competition remains to ensure those are realised in practice.

      Other times it's bundling different services. It would seem odd today to have your landline phone and Internet on different operators, it used to be the norm. That eliminates the cost of one set of invoicing and payment processing, and large parts of customer service, from your combined bill, again if sufficient competition remains. The same argument goes double if you bundle your pay TV and/or mobile into the same deal.

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