By January 23, 2015EU insight

By the London technology team

Big numbers as Three owner plans to buy O2

O2 could be sold to the Hong Kong owners of the Three network in a £10bn deal. Current O2 owners Telefonica are said to be looking to sell after seeing UK margins decline after years of network investment, fierce price competition and regulatory costs (such as EU roaming caps). 

Should the takeover happen, there will be competition concerns as this convergence would leave the UK with only three mobile operators with their own networks.  Ofcom haven’t said anything publicly, but they could insist on giving up spectrum to competitors and increase scrutiny to ensure the market remains competitive. The European Commission may also want to take a look, having done so in other Member States.

Overall, the mobile market in the UK will look very different from 2014 With BT set to buy EE for £12bn, three networks and only one nationwide high street phone retailer after Phones4u went bust. For customers, it will mean having fewer networks to choose from, with potential growth for MVNOs such as Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile or Giff Gaff, who have their own branding, retail and billing, but use other provider’s networks.

Given the size of the deal and consumer impact, the story has been widely carried by the mainstream, business and tech press. Carol Millett covered it for Mobile Today, Jessica Morris covered it for City AM and Daniel Thomas reported for the FT.


Lords a’ snooping

As sneaking something through goes, it is the oldest trick in the book; wait until the last moment and hope nobody notices. This appears to be the cunning tactic of a cross-party alliance of former defence ministers, police chiefs and intelligence commissioners who will try to force a revised “snooper’s charter” into law before the general election.

The four Lords tabled a significant amendment that appears to bare an uncanny resemblance to the rejected, and controversial, Communications Data Bill. The quartet tabled the amendments without discussing them first with the Government, and whose changes would give the Home Secretary new powers to require telecommunications operators to retain data and disclose it to relevant public authorities. As noted by Mark Jackson in his article for @ispreview, telecommunications operators would also be required to protect the data against accidental or unlawful destruction and must ensure it is retained for at least a year, or longer if it is required for a prosecution.

In light of the recent atrocities in Paris and Brussels the UK security services made clear their desire for increased powers of surveillance. Just last week, Jonathan Evans, the former Head of MI5, said that Britain’s spy laws were “no longer fit for purpose” whilst Lord Carlile said, upon tabling the amendment, “that these powers are needed urgently”. In response, civil liberties groups labelled the move an abuse of parliamentary procedure and ISPA said the Lords’ actions were “deeply regrettable”.

The Lords will debate their colleague’s last minute tactics on Monday.


Cyber Security gets a good airing in Davos

The 45th World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting started in Davos on Wednesday. This year’s meeting of the world’s elite is working under the theme of the “new global context”, with sessions that will examine the political, economic and technological changes that make the world a more fragmented place. Prince Andrew may have dominated the headlines but of most interest for #TechTop3 regulars will be the clear strength of cyber security concern on show. Speaking at WEF, the EU’s recently appointed digital economy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said the recent Sony hack had shown Europe the need to radically reshape the way data is used. The Commissioner concluded that a new UN agency for data protection and data security was needed to protect the confidential and personal information of citizens around the world.

As the BBC’s @JoeMillerJr reported in his excellent recent article, “the threat of corporate cyber-attacks has been at the periphery of the WEF agenda for many years, 2015 is arguably the first year in which the issue is taking centre stage”. Miller also notes an important shift in the language being used around cyber-attacks, arguing that the focus is now on ‘managing’ rather than ‘preventing’.  Recent high profile cyber-attacks have further accelerated cyber-security’s recent rise up the political agenda, but it now needs to register in company boardrooms in a more impactful way.