Virgin About To Become Quite Experienced In Four Play

from the virgin-mergin' dept

It can sometimes be difficult to follow the British communications industry through all of its mergers and spinoffs (though, to be fair, the US is no different at times). There really isn’t a major “convergence” play, following various spinoffs from the most obvious choices — leaving just about everyone without a core piece of the puzzle. However, a new one has just entered the game. Big cable firm NTL, with the ink barely dry from announcing plans to buy cable competitor Telewest, is expected to announce a merger with Richard Branson’s Virgin Mobile. The new operation will take on the highly recognizable Virgin name — and suddenly be able to offer “the big four” services: voice, video, broadband and wireless. Amusingly, NTL had already been using the Virgin brand, as they had picked up the ISP a while ago. Still, there’s one reason to be a little skeptical about this deal. While everyone talks about the four different services as if they’re all equal contributors, that’s not at all true. The core of a true “four play,” “quadruple play,” “grand slam” or whatever your favorite telco commentator calls it is simply mobile broadband. If you have true mobile broadband, you can offer all four things. The wireless component isn’t a separate service, it’s about making voice, video and broadband mobile — and since video and voice can travel over true broadband networks… it’s all about the mobile broadband component. That may be Virgin’s weakest link, however. They’re an MVNO (a mobile virtual network operator, for those of you showing up late to class). The actual network they use is owned by T-Mobile, who has said they’re fine with continuing to offer service to the new entity, but that might not always be the case. After all, T-Mobile and Virgin haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. T-Mobile used to own a 50% stake in Virgin, but after a number of legal disputes, eventually sold their half back to Virgin. If Virgin is relying on them to provide the key component to a true wireless broadband strategy, then they may be in a bit of trouble.

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