BT CEO: EE convergence even more important ahead of 5G

Two years ago, BT CEO Gavin Patterson told MWC the acquisition of EE would allow it to establish leadership in converged networks. At MWC 2018 he reiterated that belief, arguing that it would be increasingly important as the industry moves towards 5G.

BT bought EE for £12.5 billion in 2016 – a decade after it exited the market following the flotation and sale of O2 to Telefonica.

Patterson said the company never really ‘left’ mobile but it was happy with how the integration of EE was progressing.

BT-EE convergence

“it’s not that we didn’t believe in mobile [when BT sold O2}, it was to address a particular balance sheet issue at the time,” he said.

“We always wanted to come back into mobile, we developed a Wi-Fi proposition and bought spectrum. And then the opportunity came to acquire a mobile operator and we were very happy to acquire EE. We always believed it was a fantastic business, it has the most 4G coverage and is the best performing network. It was a great business and it is now performing well.

“Across continental Europe, convergence has happened in many markets. People buying services form the same provider. It’s an important new category that customers want. As the only fixed-mobile operator in the UK, we’re in a unique position.

“As we move to 5G, the fixed part of the network becomes even more important. If you look at how other operators have done this, it is fixed to wireless not wireless to fixed that is driving it.”

“It is the combination of networks creating a seamless network for customers. You get the best of everything if you buy both from us.”

BT’s vision of converged networks, powered by fibre and 5G, would provide an impression of seamless connectivity no matter what technology is used. Wireless can provide the coverage, while fixed adds the processing power.

“I think the challenge for every network operator around the world is that data is growing. Customers aren’t prepared to pay those increments [in price], so we need to find more [efficient] ways.

“The key to doing that is the ability to combine fixed and wireless and being able to densify the network.”


Patterson spoke about BT’s strategy with sports content and why its localised, country-specific nature meant it was happy to invest. But he said he had no desire to compete with Netflix in entertainment because of its ‘global nature that afford economies of scale. Instead, it wanted to work with over the top (OTT) providers as a reseller and platform.

But what about the other ‘megatrend’ of MWC 2018 – Artificial intelligence?

“My view is we need to embrace it,” he responded. “The most important thing we need to do is ensure the whole population benefits. That could be applying AI to solve some of the more difficult world problems and make sure people’s skills are relevant as the economy changes.

“We need to figure out how to generate revenues and ensure the tax base continues to grow. If there are fewer working hours, we need to generate taxation to fund the public services.”

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 MWC (Mobile World Congress) is the world's largest exhibition for the mobile industry, stuffed full of the newest phones, tablets, wearables and more. TechRadar is reporting live from Barcelona all week to bring you the very latest from the show floor. Head to our dedicated MWC 2018 hub to see all the new releases, along with TechRadar's world-class analysis and buying advice about your next phone.   

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.