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Orange and T-Mobile to join forces

Merged operator to be bigger than O2 and Vodafone

T-Mobile logo

T-Mobile had the fastest average download speeds 

In a move that’s likely to shake up the UK’s mobile market, Orange UK and T-Mobile UK have announced plans to merge their two mobile companies to create, in their words, ‘a new mobile champion’.

You can see how Orange and T-Mobile compare to other mobile providers such as O2, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone for customer satisfaction with pay-as-you-go and pay-monthly contract mobile services in the Which? review of the best mobile providers.

The new joint venture will create the UK’s biggest mobile operator, outstripping the UK’s two current market leaders O2 and Vodafone, with a combined mobile customer base for Orange and T-Mobile of around 28.4 million mobile customers. This represents around 37% of UK mobile subscribers, based on December 2008 figures. 

No mobile brand changes for 18 months

Orange and T-Mobile expect to sign off the merger at the end of October. They plan to maintain the T-Mobile UK and Orange UK brands separately for 18 months following completion of the transaction and use that time to decide the best branding options for the new venture. 

Currently Orange and T-Mobile have quite different PAYG and pay-monthly deals for both mobile phone and mobile broadband customers. 

The final go ahead on the merger is subject to competition scrutiny and approval by UK regulatory bodies the OFT and, potentially, the Competition Commission. If the OFT refers the merger to the Competition Commission, a final decision could be open to a review period of up to six months. 

Impact for Orange and T-Mobile customers

Orange and T-Mobile say that the combination will bring benefits to UK consumers, including the ability to offer bundled telecoms deals in the future thanks to Orange’s share of the home broadband market.

Which? telecoms expert, Ceri Stanaway, says: ‘This merger will clearly have a huge impact on the mobile market, since it will form the biggest mobile operator in the UK and bring the number of networks down to just four.

‘We hope the merger will bring improvements for Orange and T-Mobile customers in terms of better 2G and 3G network coverage, which could benefit both mobile phone and mobile broadband customers. Ideally, we’d also like to see greater investment in customer service, as neither company scores very well in Which? mobile customer satisfaction surveys.

‘In the short term while the two separate brands are kept, there may not be a vast direct impact on existing T-mobile and Orange mobile and mobile broadband customers. However the creation of an Orange/T-Mobile giant and reduction in the number of UK mobile operators does raise concerns about consumer choice in the long run. 

‘There may also be an impact from a competition perspective on smaller networks such as 3, and virtual network operators such as Virgin Mobile. Which? will be keeping a close eye on developments and ensuring the consumer view is represented, throughout the process of scrutiny by regulatory bodies and beyond.’

Orange and T-Mobile prices to rise?

Which? hopes that any changes to Orange or T-Mobile tariffs that happen in the future will be in the best interests of their customers, however some mobile customers may be understandably concerned about their prices going up. 

Most mobile contracts allow mobile phone service providers to increase mobile tariff prices within reason, although there’s often a clause to say it must let you know in advance.

If you’re outside your contract period, you’re free to switch to another provider – there’s lots of advice on how to do this in the Which? guide on how to choose a mobile tariff – you can choose a great new handset too using Which?’s mobile phone reviews. 

If you’re still within your tie in period, and the provider makes changes to the tariff or contract that are ‘of material detriment to you’, you can usually cancel the contract without penalty within a month of being notified.

If your mobile or broadband provider causes you problems and is reluctant to help, Which? legal service offers unlimited professional legal advice by telephone from experienced lawyers for less than £5 a month.

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