A Brief History of O2
If you were to write the story of the UK’s telecommunications industry, you simply couldn’t make it through without mentioning the company we now call O2. Through its various incarnations, O2 has been a constant driver of innovation, from the very first GSM network in the UK to their current sponsorship deals, O2 have remained a fascinating company to study. Most recently, they’ve been subject to an acquisition bid from Hutchison Whampoa, the owner of Three, which would make one of the biggest networks in the United Kingdom. There’s a long road leading up to the present though, so let’s take a look.
O2 began life as something of a side project of John Carrington, the CEO of British Telecom’s emerging Mobile Division, who bad recently launched BT Spectrum the first cellular service in the UK which connected London Heathrow and BT Tower. Cellnet was launched by Carrington in 1985 as a joint subsidiary of British Telecom Cellular Radio, who would provide the engineering know-how and Telecom Securicor Cellular Radio Limited, who would provide the money. This 60/40 venture was the basis of O2.
After 14 years of partnership and some months of speculation, BT announced that it had agreed to a £3.15 billion deal which would see the company come under the full ownership of BT. The deal was completed in 1999, at a time when Cellnet had five million customers. It was then quickly rebranded as BT Cellnet. By 2001, however, BT Wireless was spun off into a newly listed holding company called mmO2 plc, which would operate under the O2 branding.
BT Cellnet officially relaunched as O2, along with other former BT subsidiaries; Esat Digifone in Ireland, Viag Interkom in Germany and Telfort Mobiel in the Netherlands. It did so with a gigantic advertising campaign, which racked up costs of over £130 million and followed in the footsteps of the pioneering Orange branding. The company was purchased by the Spanish telecommunications firm Telefonica in 2005 for £17.7 billion, which became official during 2016.
From there, O2 have expanded massively, growing to become the second largest network in the UK as well as sponsoring a number of music venues across the UK, including in Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Bristol, London and many, many more. With a potential deal with Hutchison Whampoa just around the corner though, it’s hard to say whether the O2 brand will be around for long.
Head office: 260 Bath Road, Slough, Berkshire, SL1 4DX, United Kingdom
Customer services: http://www.o2.co.uk/help
Number: 0344 809 0202