The move ensures faster, more efficient 5G upgrades.
BT and 3 UK have announced that they will no longer jointly upgrade sites through infrastructure venture MBNL. Starting from the end of March, both companies will perform all upgrades independently from each other, as they look to take greater control of their 5G deployments.
MBNL will continue to maintain sites and become an estate company, managing existing passive infrastructure and joint sites on behalf of the two operators, including providing access as necessary. The move is expected to provide more autonomy and flexibility to roll out infrastructure where it is most needed.
This decision by BT and 3 UK means that each company will be able to focus on its own priorities, better manage customer experience, and budgets. Patrick Binchy, Technical Services Director at 3 UK, said that it will be able to "do things faster" without having to get its partner to "agree and accept what we’re doing, when we do it and how we do it".
Greg McCall, Chief Networks Officer at BT, claimed that the refocus of MBNL is a "good move" and will provide it with more autonomy and flexibility to roll out infrastructure where it is most needed. He also acknowledged that it had "always had a bit of this" flexibility within the agreement, pointing to the differing network footprints of the two operators.
While joint ventures are often cited as ways to reduce expenses, Binchy noted that MBNL in its current form was actually increasing some of its costs. "One of the things we found with MBNL is the cost was very, very expensive because you’re not just building for yourself, but you’re designing and building for both networks," he said.
McCall highlighted that a lot of the cost savings from ventures such as these were within the passive infrastructure, which it will continue to share with 3 "well into the long-term".
MBNL was formed in 2007 by 3 and Deutsche Telekom-owned T-Mobile UK to build and operate a joint 3G network covering the active and passive infrastructure. By the time 4G networks launched, T-Mobile was part of Everything Everywhere, a JV with Orange's local business, with MBNL then serving Everything Everywhere and 3.
Everything Everywhere eventually rebranded EE and is now owned by BT. For respective 4G networks, the role of MBNL was managing passive infrastructure and aligning the active needs of the pair, with this split continuing into 5G.
This decision by BT and 3 UK is expected to provide faster, more targeted upgrades that better align with their priorities and budgets. By managing their 5G infrastructure independently, both companies can ensure that their network upgrades are more focused, cost-effective, and better meet their individual business needs.
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