BT - EE merger approved - so now what?

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BT'S MERGER with mobile operator EE has received Government approval, paving the way for the creation of the UK's largest fixed-line and mobile telecoms business.

The resulting company will be the only one with both a nationwide high-speed broadband network and a nationwide 4G mobile network.

But what else does the deal - said to be worth upwards of £12.5 billion - mean for the approximately 35 million customers who'll be directly affected?

Critics claim it will result in higher bills for customers - a notion that has been dismissed by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

"The evidence does not show that this merger is likely to cause significant harm to competition or the interests of consumers," said the CMA's John Wotton.

Indeed, the opposite could be true; namely, that customers bills decrease.

Full quad-play

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For example, the new BT will be able to offer deals combining landline, broadband and TV with mobile phone contracts - known in the industry as quad-play.

These one-supplier-fits-all packages are becoming increasingly popular, primarily because they tend to offer better value for money.

At present, TalkTalk and Virgin are the best known suppliers offering quad-play packages, but EE also do quad-play already, thanks to their TV service, and Sky should be offering one before long when they launch their mobile service.

While good on paper, the convenience of bundling several services can depend on how they're billed - and changing suppliers can become more of a headache.

Sky's triple-play deals, for example, come with separate contracts for the TV service, and the broadband with phone; TalkTalk only offer their mobile service to residential customers, so switching broadband provider may result in losing mobile service too.

Because of details like this, and because people tend to favour the status quo, they may stay with a provider even though their bills rise or customer service declines.

Customer service

This could be a real problem in the near future, as neither BT nor EE are particularly well known for great customer service.

Out of the four main landline providers, BT have had the lowest levels of customer satisfaction for three years in a row according to Ofcom.

The regulator's most recent customer satisfaction figures for broadband suppliers again show BT at the bottom of the pile.

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When it comes to mobile service, EE have received the worst score out of the five main networks.

Despite gaining millions of new customers as a result of their 4G marketing push, EE have had to run two separate initiatives aimed at improving their customer service standards.

Treading carefully

Obviously we don't know yet know the exact direction the new company will take, though it's possible it may start with the expansion of the services they already offer - like BT bringing in more mobile deals.

We also don't know how long the whole merger is likely to take - but let's hope it's slightly quicker and less confusing than the merger process between T-Mobile and Orange.

Although it began six years ago, it was still possible to sign up to the two older networks until this time last year.

Despite current EE boss Olaf Swantee saying in 2014 that Orange and T-Mobile would continue exist as separate brands for "years to come", there's very little evidence of either on EE's website these days, catering mostly to customers who've yet to move to the new network.

Nothing planned, yet

So far, BT and EE have been quiet about what services will be changing and when.

BT say EE will continue to exist after the merger is completed, with EE's current chief commercial officer Marc Allera becoming chief executive.

This isn't unheard of. After all, BT own Plusnet, who've managed to maintain a strong independent identity - but their fledgling TV service is basically a streamlined version of BT's Youview product.

EE's TV service, on the other hand, comes in the form of a smarter than usual Freeview box, allowing users to watch up to three other programmes on three different devices while watching a fourth programme on the TV.

Even Sky's forthcoming Sky Q boxes can only stream to one or two other devices at a time; it'd be a shame for both users and for BT / EE if the small but clever box is dropped along with the TV service.

In any case, the deal between EE and BT won't be completed until March, and it'll be months before changes start to trickle down to customer level.

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