Vodafone UK says Three UK merger would speed 5G standalone rollout

Vodafone UK wastes few opportunities to remind regulators about the potential benefits of its proposed merger with rival mobile operator Three UK.

In its latest attempt to illustrate that one big operator is better than two smaller ones, the operator has produced research to underline the economic gains of a faster deployment of 5G standalone (SA) networks.

According to economic modeling commissioned by Vodafone UK and conducted by WPI Economics, a speedier rollout of 5G SA across the U.K. “could be worth as much as £7.4 billion ($9.2 billion) in additional economic value by 2030 compared to a slower rollout.”

In a statement, Ahmed Essam, CEO of Vodafone UK, said the proposed combination with Three UK “will mean we have the scale to accelerate investment to bring benefits to businesses and consumers sooner rather than later. We have committed to £11 billion [$13.7 billion] of investment to deliver 5G standalone across the U.K.” 

Drilling down on this message, the research further claims that a faster rollout of 5G could deliver £1 billion ($1.24 billion) of savings in the National Health Service (NHS), cut rail journey times, and reduce streetlight carbon emissions by one million tonnes.

“The research underlines the importance of the combined Vodafone/Three UK network which will reach more than 99% population coverage with a 5G standalone network by 2034, and over 95% population coverage by 2030, in full support of the [U.K.] government’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy ambitions for nationwide coverage of 5G standalone in all populated areas by 2030,” Vodafone UK remarked.

As things stand, Vodafone UK has already launched a consumer 5G SA service under the 5G Ultra brand. However, Three UK is currently still in non-standalone mode.

To be sure, 5G SA launches remain relatively scarce at a global level, although deployments are gradually picking up. In its October 2023 update, for instance, the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) said at least 47 operators in 27 countries and territories are now understood to have launched or deployed public 5G SA networks. That’s up from 36 operators in July.

Merger decision

Meanwhile, the proposed Vodafone UK/Three UK merger is currently being scrutinized by Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which kicked off proceedings in October.

It invited “interested third parties to comment on the impact that the merger could have on competition in the U.K., in advance of launching a formal investigation once it has received the information it needs from the merging companies.”

Comments were due to have been submitted by November 1, after which the CMA can start a formal Phase 1 investigation, potentially followed by a more in-depth Phase 2 merger investigation. The whole process could take several months.

As a quick reminder, the two groups want to combine their U.K. operations and create what would be the country’s largest telecom operator with over 27 million subscribers. Vodafone and Three are the U.K.’s third and fourth largest operators, respectively, and a merger would overtake BT’s EE and Virgin Media O2, which is owned by Telefonica and Liberty Global.