BT and Deutsche Telekom announce 3G sharing scheme

Next gen mobile world just got more complicated

BT and Deutsche Telekom announced this morning they will share their 3G infrastructures in both Germany and the UK, saving them each between £1.2 billion and £2 billion.

More savings will come with lower operating costs and the deal will also enable faster roll-out of the next generation phones (once, that is, they get the technology working). The deal involves BT Cellnet and One2One in the UK and Viag Interkom and T-Mobil in Germany.

The deal comes close on the heels of an announcement yesterday by the German telecoms watchdog RegTP that operators could share infrastructures, thereby off-setting at least some of the huge amounts the companies paid for 3G licences last year.

That decision and today's announcement has got other operators talking to one another and it's beginning to look as though we will end up with several alliances competing in Europe. Telefónica - that little tart - has made clear it's happy to talk to anyone regarding infrastructure sharing. And, according to Silicon.com, France Telecom in the guise of Orange are knocking out a deal with the fifth UK 3G holder Hutchison 3G for sharing too.

The legal situation with regard to infrastructure sharing is unclear in the UK. Oftel is being its usual useless self, with its trusty shield of "as long as it doesn't affect competition" beginning to look a bit battered. Companies can certainly share the bog-standard components but 3G will require some fancy technology and no one is sure whether this can be legally shared under the current agreement.

To make matters worse, Vodafone - which has outright refused to share networks with anyone else - is starting to get a little worried and has started making noises about legal action if its competitors break existing agreements (read: find a competitive advantage).

We think network sharing is a good idea. Otherwise we will have phone masts all over the place and more expensive end products because the companies will have to make their money somewhere. If Oftel was any sort of regulator it would knock out some kind of agreement where not only could all operators share infrastructure but where it would be simple and advantageous to do so. But then that would require some original thought from the winged watchdog. ®

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