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BT Goes Quad Play and Launch Cheap UK Consumer 4G Mobile Service

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 (9:07 am) - Score 5,349
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BT has today taken the wraps off their new 4G consumer mobile phone service (BTMobile), which is underpinned by EE’s national network and will turn the United Kingdom’s largest telecoms operator into a quad-play monster. The new SIM-Only tariffs start from just £5 a month for their existing broadband customers (prices rise by £5 for non-BT subscribers), which is all good unless you demand data Tethering.

Admittedly we’ve been here before, over a decade ago in fact, when BT had the makings of a good thing going via the BTCellnet (mmO2) division. Sadly financial pressures, partly stemming from BT’s over-expansion during the 1990s, ultimately resulted in Cellnet being demerged in 2002 and then gobbled up by Telefonica during 2005, which adopted today’s better known O2 brand.

But over the past five years BT has repeatedly signaled an interest in returning to the mobile market (here) and last year they secured a new Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) partnership with EE, which replaced Vodafone. In the year before that they also grabbed a slice of the 2.6GHz radio spectrum band as part of Ofcom’s first 4G auction (here).

Since then BT has reached a £12.5bn agreement to merge with EE which, once completed (most likely by early 2016), will give them a significant advantage by being able to leverage their existing fixed line network to support the mobile platform (i.e. undercut their rivals by reducing service delivery costs). But in the meantime they can still proceed, albeit not to the level they’d ideally like, through the MVNO partnership.

The BT Mobile Plans

Initially BT appears to be offering three SIM Only plans (they will add handset bundles too, but only once the EE deal has completed) and as you’d expect these include access to their live BTSport TV channels / content and public WiFi hotspots (even if you’re not a BT Broadband customer). But crucially existing BT broadband customers will also benefit from a £5 per month discount and without that the tariffs look distinctly less attractive.

Each plan is based off a 12 month contract and also includes “family-friendly features“, such as the ability to set spending caps (avoid bill shocks) and the freedom to move between plans without taking out a new contract, even if customers want to move to a cheaper plan. Parental controls are also available, just the same as with other operators.

BT Mobile 500MB Plan
500MB Data
200 Minutes
Unlimited Texts

PRICE: £5 per month (£10 without discount)

BT Mobile 2GB Plan
2GB Data
500 Minutes
Unlimited Texts

PRICE: £12 per month (£17 without discount)

BT Mobile 20GB Plan
20GB Data
Unlimited Minutes
Unlimited Texts

PRICE: £20 per month (£25 without discount)

None of the plans are particularly impressive without the discount, although once you include that discount then they become a lot more competitive, including against Three UK (Three’s cheapest tariff is similar to BT Mobile 500MB, but costs £8 per month). Plus the BTSport and WiFi access features are very attractive as extras.

It’s worth pointing out that Three’s “all-you-can-eat” data plans start at the lower price (vs BT Mobile 20GB) of £17 per month, although this only gives you 200 minutes and you have to pay a lot more for unlimited minutes as well as unlimited data (£27). By contrast EE’s closest option gives you just 5GB of data from a hefty £27.99.

On the other hand TalkTalk’s SIM Only plans are a lot closer to BT Mobile, although they struggle to match in terms of data allowances and seem to max out at 700MB (this is where BT clearly seems able to pull ahead).

Apparently anyone in a BT Broadband household will be able to get the discounted price and a customer can have up to five mobile plans at the discounted rates for all of the family on a single bill.

John Petter, CEO of BT Consumer, said:

Offering BT customers the UK’s best value 4G data deal is a great way to start our journey towards re-establishing ourselves as a major player in consumer mobile.

These great value deals are a thank you from us to loyal BT Broadband homes. We are offering customers a new type of great value mobile deal that offers more than just data, minutes and texts.

We are offering 4G on the UK’s biggest network along with unlimited access to the most extensive wi-fi coverage via our 5m BT Wi-fi hotspot network. Plus BT Sport and a discount of up to 50 per cent on your mobile tariff if you are a BT Broadband customer.

Our customers are consuming increasing amounts of data and they want the best possible connection wherever they are. It’s our ambition to meet this demand by combining the power of our fixed fibre service with wi-fi and the convenience of mobile.”

BT Mobile will also aim to harness the operators existing network of WiFi hotspots and home broadband routers, which will eventually be used to both improve indoor mobile coverage (Femtocell) and hand-off data / voice traffic via WiFi to save money (cheaper than using the mobile cell network).

Obviously BT’s rivals haven’t been taking the operators move lightly and the market is now awash with convergence focused consolidation. For example, Vodafone has pledged to launch their own consumer broadband products sometime this spring, while Sky Broadband has signed an MVNO deal with O2 to go quad play (expected next spring) and Three UK’s parent has separately made a move to buy O2.

Meanwhile the two existing quad-play operators, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, have already seen moderate to good success by offering a mobile service alongside their existing phone, broadband and TV products. Most traditional fixed line operators tend to see mobile more as a useful customer retention tool, while the primary operators of O2, Three UK, EE and Vodafone continue to hold the lion’s share of dedicated mobile subscriptions.

Only time will tell whether BT’s offering is enough to break the established market and in order to do that it will first need to work as both an attractive bundled and standalone solution. So far they appear to be off to a good start, at least if you’re an existing BT broadband subscriber.

It will also be interesting to see whether BT’s sibling, PlusNet, eventually follows suit to offer mobile services.

UPDATE:

Take note that the current BTMobile service does not allow Tethering, which is likely to annoy more than a few consumers; especially considering the data centric nature of their plans.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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16 Responses
  1. The 20GB bundle looks great value when you consider I’m paying £22pm to Vodafone for 10GB…However, since EE have no 4G or even really 3G here, it’d have been pointless for my purposes.

  2. Tim

    Far more interested to see what they do with mobile broadband offers and if they try to compete with Relish for land line replacement mobile broadband.

    • Astroturfer

      Given being a fixed line telco is their core business and they have 10s of billions of assets in the ground and on poles aggressively pursuing land line replacement via mobile seems a strange thing to do.

      Far more likely they’ll bundle relatively low bit cap mobile broadband products for use on the move in with fixed line products as Virgin do.

    • DTMark

      BT’s 4G will surely have to be an inferior rate-capped service to drag the performance down.

      Otherwise, you’ll get households with their mobile phone on the window sill with tethering turned on to be able to stream movies that the fixed-line cannot manage.

    • hallelujah

      ^^^ LOL oh so depressing but oh so true.

    • Henry

      Integrating wired and wireless services is where quadplay could become more interesting than a £5 discount or using Wifi as a 4G back-up.

      If BT used some of its 4G spectrum as a fixed-wireless service in areas where they do not have FTTC and where ADSL services are slow then there really could be a consumer benefit from the BT-EE takeover. Even better with a router which dynamically decided which was faster at any point in time.

      That would require some imaginative thinking on BT’s part.

  3. Paul

    “None of the plans are particularly impressive without the discount.”
    Agreed the bottom end £10 package as an example is nothing special. You can get more than that on various PAYG offerings.

    The inclusion of BT Sport is nothing special either, if you are a BT broadband customer already but have your mobile with another provider chances are you can still use that app for free (if your broadband includes BT Sport obviously).

    The one and only real positive i see is…
    “Apparently anyone in a BT Broadband household will be able to get the discounted price and a customer can have up to five mobile plans at the discounted rates for all of the family on a single bill.”.

  4. FibreFred

    Gotta love the haters 🙂

  5. adslmax

    Plusnet will not going to benefit this! As it say from statement:

    Nothing I’m aware of at the moment. We operate separately to BT Retail so any packages or services we sell are our own.

  6. blueacid

    On the other hand, if someone’s on a different ISP and fancied some BT sport, taking out one of these contracts without the £5 discount effectively means £5 per month for a BT Sport login… so that could still be worth a look!

  7. Dave

    Whilst tethering is not currently permitted on a BT Sim, you can use it in an iPad or 3/4G Tablet, you just won’t get the text support about the account. The £5 per sim discount is a handy thing, and if your a parent who wants to keep control of your kids spending then its great.

    I used to tether my 2ifi iPad a fair bit but patchy o2 made it impossible.. so much easier to hop and off wifi hotspots

  8. Steve

    BT have told me they won’t allow tethering on any of the BT Mobile 4G plans either which make some of the larger data allowances pretty useless.

  9. Jason

    Not particularly impressive offers at all IMO

  10. Neil McRae

    Mark – that’s much better – nothing like accuracy!

  11. SSUK

    Had my first bit of Spam email from BT trying to flog me mobile, think ill pass the offers are nothing special.

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