Mobile Phone Mast Sites - Consolidation Continues

Those of you with mobile phone installations on your rooftops or land will be aware of the consolidation in the industry. 

The 5 network operators, Hutchison 3G (H3G), Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone and Telefónica O2 (O2) have entered into various agreements to share network infrastructure.  This reduces rent and maintenance costs by reducing site numbers and rationalising management structures.  The first joint venture to be set up was Mobile Broadband Networks Limited (MBNL) between H3G and T-Mobile, which assigned their sites into joint names.  Subsequently, T-Mobile and Orange merged last year to form a joint venture company, Everything Everywhere.  The target is for them to operate a single network infrastructure, seamlessly carrying the calls of both their customer bases.  In the process they are decommissioning approximately 9,000 sites, but they will still maintain separate brand names and presences in the high street for their customers.

The other big players, Vodafone and O2 have established a joint management organisation named “Cornerstone”.  The Cornerstone concept is for each site to be controlled by one of the Cornerstone partners with the other partner sharing the site as a licensee.  Unlike MBNL and Everything Everywhere, these two networks remain physically separate as there are independent sets of equipment installed and the telephone traffic is never combined.  For example, an existing Vodafone base station would have separate O2 equipment racks fitted within the existing Vodafone equipment container, plus a second set of antennas and feeder cables on the telephone mast.

The initial rationalisation between H3G and T-Mobile is effectively completed, so if you have such an installation on your property which has been assigned into joint names, it is unlikely that they will serve a break notice.   However, the rationalisation of Orange with T-Mobile is still under way, so if both of these operators are on your roof there is a strong possibility they will serve a break notice for one of them (usually the one with the higher rent!).  Likewise, if Vodafone and O2 are both present (or if one of them is your tenant and its partner company has another mast nearby) they are likely to threaten to serve a break and/or move elsewhere if they don’t receive a rental concession.

Nevertheless, mobile data usage via smartphones and laptop dongles continues to increase.  This factor, combined with new entrants into the mobile broadband market, means there is still demand for new sites and upgrades to existing masts.  The mobile phone property market moves quickly and 2011 is proving to be another interesting year.

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