Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT Group, spelt out ambitious plans to invest in next-generation access technologies – including 5G – following the £13 billion acquisition of EE, the UK’s largest mobile operator.
Pointing out that BT has been investing in wireless R&D for some time before the EE acquisition, and is part of the 5G consortium linked to the University of Surrey – the UK’s only research centre dedicated to 5G – Patterson was bullish.
“I’d anticipate we’ll be at the forefront of the delivery of 5G services when they come to the UK, which I think will be around 2020,” he said.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Patterson called the EE acquisition a “transformative deal”.
“We can take full advantage of the exponential consumption of data,” he said. “Fixed has sheer processing power, while mobile has flexibility. We offer the best of both worlds.”
The BT chief also anticipated that the coming together of the two companies would kick-start fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) in the UK.
Despite the UK having the most internet-dependent economy in the G20, said Patterson, it was a late arrival to the FMC party, behind the likes of Portugal, Spain and Germany.
“The crossover between mobile and fixed is much more developed in those countries, where one or more operators generally have both mobile and fixed operations,” he said.
For the first time since 2001 (when BT originally spun out its mobile arm) the UK now has a similarly ‘converged operator’, he argued.
Patterson also spoke of regulatory pressure as Ofcom, the UK’s telecoms regulator, will give a decision later this week on whether or not Openreach, which runs BT’s access network and provides wholesale services to competitors, should be structurally separated from the BT Group.
Patterson maintained his opposition to such a move. He said that BT’s wholesale access business was already tightly regulated, which takes away the need for structural separation, and that turning Openreach into a standalone business would most likely stymy network investment. “The payback period in fibre is about 20 years,” he said.