O2 is putting its masts where its mouth is

via Flickr © Alison Christine (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Alison Christine (CC BY 2.0)

  • Is building out both 4G and 5G capacity in the countryside
  • Including tourist traps, small towns and villages
  • Thus providing complementary country coverage to Virgin Media’s city-based broadband

UK telco O2, the Telefonica-owned one hopping into bed with Virgin Media (see - As Virgin Media and O2 tie the knot, BT has little to celebrate) appears to be carving out a speciality in the up-to-now undifferentiated mobile market. With Virgin Media now in tow with its broadband-served cities and suburbs, O2 has lined up a long-term complementary role by fulsomely serving the small towns and the green bits between, giving the two network operators - at least in theory - a strong national broadband coverage story. 

Earlier this month it announced a 5G and LTE-M roll-out making 5G live in 60 towns while its LTE-M coverage (the IoT/M2M LTE solution) was live at around 10,000 sites. 

Virgin Media has more than 5.5 million broadband and cable TV subscribers, and already has more than 3 million mobile customers; while O2 is already the biggest mobile network operator in Britain with an impressive roster of 34 million subscribers already on the books. 

Now the changes in the world of communications brought on by the pandemic may have created a new seasonal/demographic minor opportunity. 

O2 senses a significant shift in holiday behaviour in the UK in response to two national misfortunes. First, the disastrous exit from the European Union (an ongoing saga of self-harm) means that the much-loved foreign holiday involving sand, sex and frequent calls home will certainly experience a dive this year once you add in the coronavirus problem. That’s the one where the UK is now the sick man of Europe and liable to have borders closed to its citizens due to the higher probability of their carrying the virus to the locals.

The result will likely be a precipitous drop in holiday travel, a trend that may linger beyond 2020. That in turn means the calls home which have long provided a seasonal revenue windfall for UK operators will be much diminished. 

However, the calculation is that they won’t have stopped calling and downloading video streams on holiday, they’ll just be doing it from a different location. O2 calculates that at least a proportion of the holidaymakers will be calling home from the depths of the British countryside as they enjoy their staycations instead. 

So in addition to its 5G roll-out, O2 has 4G ‘boosted’ at what it describes as 91,000 postcodes, including 400 tourist hotspots, in anticipation of a surge of calls and downloads. O2 says it now has 4G coverage in over 18,000 regional towns, villages and hamlets. 

This coverage will be given an extra boost, it says, by the roll-out of the  Shared Rural Network (SRN) in the second half of 2020, in which O2 is playing a role and which is designed to eliminate the final rural hotspots. 

It all adds up to what O2 is attempting to profile as a concerted push to get UK inc off the ground in the wake of the pandemic “with a renewed reliance on technology”, it says, pointing out that O2 experienced an initial 25% increase in phone calls at the start of the pandemic as Britons checked on their friends and family, with people spending 30% longer on the phone (on average) since lockdown.

After three decades and more UK mobile operators wriggling to avoid building too far into the countryside, it appears that there might be gold in them thar hills, dales and downs after all.

Email Newsletters

Sign up to receive TelecomTV's top news and videos, plus exclusive subscriber-only content direct to your inbox.