Telecoms giant BT has signalled a return to the consumer mobile phone market with a deal to use the network of Orange and T-Mobile parent EE.
The group currently mainly serves businesses and the public sector with mobile phone services, although the new deal is expected to pave the way for BT to target households.
That would take BT into the “quad-play” market, where telecoms firms are able to offer internet, television, home phone and mobile services.
BT, which spun off the O2 network in 2001, is ditching Vodafone as its “virtual network” operator after the mobile group’s buyout of Cable & Wireless triggered a break clause.
A spokesman said: “Broadband speeds are improving all the time with fibre and 4G and we want our customers to enjoy the fastest speeds possible, whether they are in the home, office or out and about.”
While the final deal has yet to be signed, it is thought a consumer launch could happen next year. The fixed-line operator is currently focused on broadband and phone lines, but using EE’s mobile network would allow it to provide blanket mobile phone coverage without having to build a huge array of masts.
Earlier this year the group also bought a slice of 4G airwaves for £186.5 million – widely seen as a precursor to the launch of its own super-fast mobile services.
BT’s mobile service is likely to combine EE’s network of masts, which provide 4G services to more than 60 per cent of the population, with its own wi-fi hotspots. O2 had been expected to replace Vodafone as BT’s mobile network provider.