EXCLUSIVE: BT and 3 UK representatives told Mobile World Livethe companies will cease jointly upgrading sites through infrastructure venture MBNL at the end of the month, as the pair 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.

As of the start of April, both operators will perform all upgrades independently from each other, a move 3 technical services director Patrick Binchy said will allow it to focus on its own priorities, noting it could better “manage our customer experience and budgets”.

He added the company 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”.

BT chief networks officer Greg McCall claimed the refocus of MBNL is a “good move”, citing the ability to focus on its own priority areas independently of 3.

“As we rolled out 4G and more specifically 5G I think our deployment strategies have been different from each other,” McCall added, noting “refocusing and restructuring the venture” provides it “more autonomy and flexibility to roll out our infrastructure where we and our customers need it”.

But the BT network chief acknowledged it had “always had a bit of this” flexibility within the agreement, pointing to the differing network footprints of the two operators.

While network-related joint ventures are often cited as ways to reduce expenses, Binchy noted 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.”

“You’ve got to try and get planning permission and go through various loops on that, then [there’s] how much do you futureproof the site and to what level are you building it?”

He noted following the change, 3 “just has to look after ourselves,” stating it could focus on its own needs rather than having to engage with BT and potentially “compromise on a different build, a different timescale that’s more complex, and more expensive build in itself”.

McCall highlighted 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”.

3G focus
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.

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