What existing Virgin Media and O2 customers need to know as £31bn merger is approved

Well, that’s it. After months of consultation, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) approved the £31 billion merger between Virgin Media and O2 to go ahead on Thursday May 20, 2021. Despite some early concerns the Virgin Media-O2 merger could result in either higher costs for customers, or an incentive to reduce service for rival networks (like Sky Mobile) that rely on the infrastructure created by O2, the CMA has decided to allow the deal to proceed unimpeded. This isn’t wholly surprising.

After all, Virgin Media and O2 execs have been pretty boyish about the chances of the multi-billion deal getting the stamp of approval ahead of the summer (even naming the new CEO of the merged firm). And right on time, the companies can move to the next stage of their joint venture.

So, for anyone who currently has a contract with Virgin Media and O2 …what does all this mean?

Well, to be honest, it’s hard to tell at the moment. Virgin Media and O2 have both promised huge investment into their infrastructure to the tune of £10 billion over the next five years. If you’re an O2 customer and have struggled with low signal in certain areas, patchy 5G connectivity, or other issues, you’d hope that lump of cash would go some way to solve those issues. Crucially, if you’re a Virgin Mobile customer and have suffered with the same issues, your mobile network is set to be upgraded before any of that £10 billion is spent.

That’s because Virgin Media doesn’t own a 5G network at the moment. Instead, Virgin Media has struck a deal with Vodafone to piggyback on its 5G network so that its customers don’t miss out. With O2 operating its own 5G infrastructure, we’d have to imagine that one of the advantages of the merger is that Virgin finally gets its own infrastructure of 5G masts across the UK.

If you’re happy with your current SIM-only or phone contract from Virgin Media or O2, we’d hope to see 4G and 5G coverage (and fingers crossed, download speeds) slowly creep up in the coming months and years.

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But what about Virgin Media fibre broadband customers? What benefits will the £31bn merger bring to them?

Well, the green light from the regulators already brings some good news for any Virgin Media broadband customers patiently waiting for an upgrade to the firm’s next-generation gigabit-capable fibre connection. That’s because Lutz Schuler, who currently leads Virgin Media in the UK but will become the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the combined Virgin Media-O2 company, has pledged to connect an extra one million homes to this gigabit-capable broadband “within 12 months of the merger closing”.

Virgin Media had already pledged to reach a target of 15 million homes by the end of this year, so now that regulators have given the stamp of approval, the extra commitment will bring the total to 16 million by the end of 2021. That’s seriously impressive. For comparison, BT-owned Openreach – which supplies broadband connections to BT, EE, Sky, TalkTalk, Plusnet, and more – has connected some 4.5 million premises with its gigabit-capable fibre broadband. And Virgin Media-O2 isn’t planning to drop its vast lead over the competition anytime soon.

The newly-merged company has spoken previously about an “ambition to accelerate investments” and connect 7 million more homes to gigabit-capable broadband “in the coming years.” It’s unclear exactly where these homes would be, but it could see smaller towns and villages see these future-proofed connections start to come online. With millions choosing to work from home permanently, these upgrades could make a number of rural towns feasible options for those looking to leave cities behind.

This isn’t completely new. We’ve already seen rivals deploy these types of incentives – BT-owned mobile network EE is currently offering a three-month free subscription to BT Sport (and when watching on EE’s network, you won’t be charged for any of the data used to stream matches). There’s also a “Smart Benefit” available for some pay-monthly and SIM-only customers that bundles a free BT Sport subscription for the length of your contract, for example.

So, if you’ve been a loyal O2 customer and are looking to splash the cash on a new paid-for television subscription with Sky Cinema, Sky Sports, and a super-fast broadband connection… it might be worth holding off a few more weeks to see what Virgin Media has to offer customers from its sister brand before signing up to a two-year contract.

And finally, aside from the potential freebies and perks for existing Virgin Media and O2 customers, it could also be a good opportunity for a career change. That’s because parent companies Liberty Global and Telefonica have pledged to create 4,000 jobs and 1,000 apprenticeships if they receive regulatory approval from the CMA.

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This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Tech Feed

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