Over the last few days the FT has focused on the potential for regulators to stop the disposal of O2 in the UK by Telefonica. They are now saying that the UK must not drop to just three networks but the market requires four.
This is such a simple belief in competition that you have to ask how much time have they invested understanding why two of the four incumbents courted BT when they signalled a wish to return to the mobile sector? When former state owned players cannot make the numbers work to operate in one of the largest economies in the world then the market has failed!
The current level of competition means that at a consumer level the numbers are marginal. The Infrastructure requirements to roll out 4G makes the market subprime. Rather than opt out of regulation Ofcom should seek to acknowledge that the solutions required needs them to take decisive action to improve the cost base whilst raising the quality of the networks.
If the Infrastructure can be improved and better wholesale terms can be achieved then at a retail level we might se more competition. Over the past 15 years we have seen a decline in the number of retailers offering consumers mobiles as Independent players have gone to the wall and Networks have closed a number of there stores. The exit of Tesco from the MVNO space can be seen as a warning flag that the consumer might have won on price but has lost on quality.
I would allow Three to buy O2 on the basis that Telefonica is current in a debt reduction cycle rather than investment mode, thus all the while it holds the UK asset it under invests meaning that it falls behind it competitors. Without Three buying O2 the business would face a slow death. Once we have consolidated the market to three players we require Ofcom to invest in staff with a deep knowledge of Mobile who are prepared to take action before breakfast, before lunch and after dinner to borrow a phrase from Michael Heseltine. At the dawn of Mobile thirty years ago we had a duopoly that was regulated in such a way that consumers had choice and a number of people became MultiMillionaires serving the consumer.