UK Mobile Network Choice ‘Fell By 25 Percent’ In Past Decade

The number of UK mobile networks has fallen by 25 percent since 2014, and is set to contract further if the proposed merger of Vodafone and Three goes ahead as planned later this year, pending regulatory approval, according to comparison site Green Smartphones.

The number of networks has fallen by nearly one in ten (8 percent) since 2019 alone, the company said.

Many of the operators that ceased trading in that period were some of the largest MVNOs on the market, such as BT Mobile and Virgin Mobile, it said.

“The level of choice available to consumers has dropped by nearly a quarter in the past decade, and the level of competition is continuing to fall,” Green Smartphones said in a statement.

Consumer choice

“If Three and Vodafone merge in Q4 2024, the reduction in market competition will be even more significant.”

It noted that BT Mobile and Plusnet Mobile have become part of EE, while major mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) Virgin Mobile vanished after its merger with O2.

The company said several smaller MVNOs have recently gone out of business as well, including Vectone Mobile, which ceased trading suddenly in December without informing its customers, leaving many unable to make calls, send texts or access the internet.

When BT shut down its Plusnet Mobile and BT Mobile brands, it encouraged customers to switch to EE, but Green Smartphones noted that Plusnet Mobile was a budget operator that often offered better prices than EE, with a different range of SIM plans to choose from.

‘Great for customers’

“While the level of service may be the same when consolidation or rebranding occurs, the level of choice is not,” the company said.

Vodafone chief executive Margherita Della Valle described the Three merger as “great for customers, great for the country and great for competition”.

At the time the merger was announced, last June, Uswitch.com telecoms expert Ernest Doku said customers would need “assurances that this merger will not result in even higher household bills”.

“They should also commit to ensuring smaller virtual networks (MVNOs) who rely on Three and Vodafone’s infrastructure can continue to offer competitive value and service,” he said.

Analysts have generally come out in favour of the merger, saying it appeared necessary for Three and Vodafone to merge in order to compete with their much larger rivals, BT and Virgin Media O2.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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