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BT 4G network set to launch this week

BT is pushing ahead with plans to launch its own cut-price 4G network for broadband customers

BT is preparing to launch its own 4G network, even before it has completed the £12.5 billion takeover of EE. The company will reportedly unveil its 4G service by the middle of this week, according to a report in The Telegraph, and will likely undercut many of its rivals. 

BT will initially launch its 4G service as a “virtual” network (or MVNO), piggybacking on EE’s existing service. BT had already planned to use EE’s network for such a purpose before the companies entered takeover talks, and it seems BT is sticking to Plan A until the takeover has been rubber stamped. 

BT has long stated plans to re-enter the mobile market, although it’s taking a different technical tack than other MVNOs. BT plans to use its nationwide network of Wi-Fi hotspots to offer both voice and data services, falling back onto to EE’s network when customers are not within range of a hotspot. BT admitted it was having trouble making the technology work in trials last year, especially with the handover of calls as customers moved from one Wi-Fi hotspot to another, but it appears to have overcome those concerns. 

The Telegraph claims that BT will likely undercut the 4G tariffs offered by rivals such as Vodafone and O2, although it won’t be as aggressive on price as it was once planning through fear of dragging EE into a price war – perhaps another sign that the competition authorities should be looking very closely at this proposed BT takeover. 

BT will initially only offer the 4G service to its existing broadband customers on a SIM-only basis, which means customers won’t be able to purchase subsidised handsets through BT. Indeed, the newspaper suggests the launch will be reasonably low key, with BT preparing a major push to coincide with the new football season at the end of the summer, when it will presumably make a play of watching Premier League and European matches on mobile devices.

BT refused to comment directly on The Telegraph article, but said that the company was “very much on track to launch consumer mobile services this financial year”. Given the financial year ends in eight days’ time, that all but confirms the timing of the report. “We will start by offering these new services to our existing customer base and will tell you more about them soon,” a BT spokesperson added. 


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