BT turns to small cells for mobile comeback

Caroline Gabriel/Wireless Watch
21 Jul 2014

The UK’s fixed line incumbent BT used its iconic BT Tower (formerly the Post Office Tower and the symbol of the UK’s 1960s hi-tech push) to re-enter the mobile market for the first time since it offloaded its cellular arm (now Telefonica O2) in 2001. Although the company has operated various MVNO schemes since then, it has not been a significant player, but it is now playing in a European landscape where fixed-only and mobile-only carriers are urgently seeking to fill in their gaps and achieve a quad play.

The operator has been signalling its intentions for some time, acquiring 2.5-GHz spectrum in the UK LTE auction and shaking up its MVNO arrangements, as well as investing heavily in WiFi hotspots and homespots (the latter via a deal with FON). Now it has upped its game with a voice-centric mobile offering for business, and will follow with consumer propositions next year.

One Phone is a cloud-based service targeted at small and medium businesses (SMBs), including, no doubt, the 9,000-strong base of existing BT Business customers. The emphasis is surprisingly heavy towards voice rather than data – reflecting what BT regards as the low hanging fruit of businesses which are ditching deskphones and looking for enhanced voice services and coverage in their premises, as well as fixed-mobile convergence (FMC).

Users can receive calls on either their fixed or mobile lines, to reduce missed calls, and the cloud-based service can harness the phone’s native dialler. The One Phone app allows users to route or forward calls, activate voicemail services and set up ad hoc conferences.

There are two versions – ‘Office’ for larger organizations and ‘Professional’ for the SoHo space. Both are run from a core supplied by Huawei but the platforms are otherwise different. Professional is delivered using BT’s mobile network, offered under its new MVNO deal with leading cellco EE, which replaced a former agreement with Vodafone. Meanwhile, Office shows BT finally making good on its long-standing interest in small cells. For Office clients, BT will set up a dedicated indoor small cell network, also supplied by Huawei, and this will run over 1.8-GHz spectrum which BT acquired in 2006 but has never really used.

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