There have been a number of recent developments in communications markets that may significantly alter the competitive landscape. First, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has provisionally cleared BT to takeover the EE mobile phone network. The deal will allow BT to re-establish itself as a mobile network provider, having previously owned O2 until it was sold in 2005. The CMA said that:
They operate largely in separate areas with BT strong in supplying fixed communications services (voice, broadband and pay TV), EE strong in supplying mobile communications services, and limited overlap between them in both categories of service.
BT will therefore be in a better position to compete with rivals such as Virgin Media who were early movers in offering. Second, O2 itself (currently owned by Telefónica) is the subject of a takeover bid from Hutchinson Whampoa who already owns the mobile network Three. Because the companies meet their turnover criteria, this deal is being investigated by the European Commission (EC) and the signs don’t look good. If it goes ahead, it would create the largest mobile operator in the UK and leave just three main players in the market. The EC is concerned that the merger would lead to higher prices, reduced innovation and lower investment in networks. Previously, considerable consolidation in telecommunications markets across Europe has been allowed. However, recent evidence, including the prevention of a similar deal in Denmark, suggests the EC is starting to take a tougher stance.
If we compare the two proposed takeovers, it is clear that the O2–Three merger raises more concerns for the mobile communications market because they are both already established network providers. However, it is increasingly questionable whether looking at this market in isolation is appropriate. As communication services become increasingly intertwined and quad-play competition becomes more prevalent, a wider perspective becomes more appropriate. Once this is taken, the BT–EE deal may raise different, but still important, concerns.
Finally, the UK’s communications regulator, OFCOM, is currently undertaking a review of the whole telecommunications market. It is evident that their review will recognise the increased connections between communications markets as they have made clear that they will:
examine converging media services – offered over different platforms, or as a ‘bundle’ by the same operator. For example, telecoms services are increasingly sold to consumers in the form of bundles, sometimes with broadcasting content; this can offer consumer benefits, but may also present risks to competition.
One particular concern appears to be BT’s internet broadband network, Openreach. This follows complaints from competitors such as BSkyB who pay to use BT’s network. Their concerns include long installation times for their customers and BT’s lack of investment in the network. One possibility being considered is breaking up BT with the forced sale of its broadband network.
It will be fascinating to see how these communications markets develop over time.
BT takeover of EE given provisional clearance by competition watchdog The Guardian, Jasper Jackson (28/10/15)
Ofcom casts doubt on O2/Three merger BBC News, Chris Johnston (08/10/15)
BT and Openreach broadband service could be split in Ofcom review The Guardian, John Plunkett (16/07/15)
- What are the key features of communications markets? Explain how these markets have developed over the last few decades.
- What are the pros and cons for consumers of being able to buy a quad-play bundle of services?
- How do you think firms that are currently focused on providing mobile phone services will need to change their strategies in the future?
- Why is BT in a powerful position as one of the only owners of a broadband network?
- Instead of forcing BT to sell its broadband network, what other solutions might there be?
Market trading has existed for centuries and in many respects it hasn’t changed very much. One thing that has developed is the means of exchange. Goods used to be traded for other goods – for example 1 pig for 4 chickens! But then money was developed as a means of exchange and then came cheques and plastic.
However, for many market traders, accepting credit and debit cards is relatively costly. It involves paying a monthly contract, which for many traders is simply not worthwhile, based on the quantity and value of the transactions. But, for many customers using debit or credit cards is the preferred method of payment and the fact that some traders only accept cash can be a deterrent to them making purchases and this therefore reduces the sales of the market traders.
But, with advances in technology a new way of paying has emerged. Small card readers can now be plugged into iphones, ipads, other tablets and smartphones. By putting a customer’s card into this device customers can then pay by card and either sign for their purchase or use the phone to enter their security details. There are plan for these companies to offer chip and pin technology to further ease payment by card on market stalls. The traders pay a small commission per transaction, but aside from that, the initial start-up cost is minimal and it is likely to encourage more customers to use markets. Jim Stewart, the Director of a firm that has begun using this technology said:
I think it’s definitely going to take off, the world is going that way … The money has always appeared in my bank account, no transactions have been declined, my accountant is happy, it’s all been good.
Some customers have raised concerns about the security of these transactions, as they have to put their cards into someone else’s ipad. However, traders have said that there are no risks and that customers can be sent a receipt for their purchase. The following few articles look at this latest (and other) technological developments.
Smartphone card payment system seeks small firms BBC News, Rob Howard (19/1/13)
POS Trends: What’s new for 2013 Resource News (17/1/13)
Payments by text message service to launch in UK in Spring 2014 BBC News (15/1/13)
- What are fixed cost and why does having a traditional card payment machine represent a fixed cost for a firm?
- How might this new technology affect a firm’s sales and profits?
- Will there be an increase in the firm’s variable costs from adopting this technology?
- Using a cost and revenue diagram, put your answers to questions 1 – 3 into practice and show how it will shift them and thus how the equilibrium may change for a market trader.
- What are the properties of money that allow it to be a good medium of exchange?
- How will this increased use of debit and credit cards affect the demand for money? Use a diagram to illustrate your answer.
Will we soon live in a world without cash? More and more payments are being made electronically: whether by credit card or debit card, or by direct debit or bank transfer, or by cash loaded cards. For many people cash is now largely used only for small transactions.
But even here, things are changing. Direct transfers via mobile phone apps are increasingly being used for small transactions. Mobile phone companies, banks and others are busy developing such apps and more and more are being released onto the market.
And it’s not just in developed countries. Many developing countries are finding that mobile phones are an ideal way of transferring money for a whole range of transactions. For example, in Kenya, under 20% have a formal bank account, only 1% have a landline and yet more than 70% have a mobile phone, and this percentage is still rising. In 2007, a system known as M-Pesa (see also) was launched:
The user can create a free account and deposit money into it for free with registered agents at retail outlets. They may be gas stations, supermarkets, banks or micro-finance providers or small and medium-sized businesses. No minimum account balance is required.
The user can then transfer up to $440 from the account to someone else — including someone who doesn’t have a cellphone. The recipient provides identification and picks up the cash from another registered agent.
Users can deposit and withdraw cash, pay water and electricity bills, pay their children’s school fees, get paid by their employers or buy extra airtime for their phone.
Other developing countries are introducing similar systems. The second webcast link below gives an example from South Africa.
So how long will it be before cash disappears as a medium of exchange? Or will people continue to prefer to carry cash around with them – especially given the convenience of having cash machines readily available which do not charge for use.
Life in a cashless society BBC News Magazine, David Wolman (14/6/12)
FNB Introduces Cashless Payment App ABNDigital on YouTube (14/5/12) (see also FNB launches new geo-payment system IT News, Africa
PayPal leads mobile payments push Reuters (4/6/12)
Are We Moving Towards a Cashless Society? TheAlyonaShow on YouTube (14/3/12)
More than 70 per cent of Canadians ready to go “cashless” CNW (13/6/12)
Is a cashless society on the way? Westfair Online, Janice Kirkel (18/5/12)
Mobile money misery BBC News, Rory Cellan-Jones (16/5/12)
Cellphones transform Kenyan commerce CBC News (27/10/10)
For a PowerPoint of the above chart, click here.
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of using cash?
- To what extent can mobile phone technology replace cash? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such technology?
- To what extent can mobile phone technology fulfil the various functions of money?
- Private-sector holdings of cash have been rising as a proportion of (nominal) GDP – see above chart. Is this consistent with a decreased use of cash? Explain.
- Why may mobile phone transactions be particularly useful in developing countries?
- What proportion of your own expenditure is conducted by cash? Has this changed over the past couple of years? If so, explain why.