O2 (United Kingdom)

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Telefónica UK Limited
Type Private limited company
Traded as O2
Industry Telecommunications
Financial services
Predecessors Cellnet (July 1999)
BT Cellnet (November 2002)
Founded London, United Kingdom (July 28, 1983 (1983-07-28))
BT Cellnet (1999)
O2 (June 18, 2002)
Founders John Carrington
Headquarters Slough, Berkshire, United Kingdom
Area served United Kingdom
Key people Ronan Dunne
(CEO and Chairman)
Mark Evans
Derek McManus
Revenue Increase £2.973 billion (2010)[1]
Employees 21,580 (2013)
Parent Telefónica Europe plc
Website www.o2.co.uk

Telefónica UK Limited (trading as O2 – stylised as O2) is a telecommunications, internet and financial services provider in the United Kingdom owned by Telefónica, forming part of its Telefónica Europe division. It is the second-largest mobile telecommunications provider in the United Kingdom (after EE) and is headquartered in Slough.[2]

O2 was formed in 1985 as Cellnet, a 60:40 joint venture between BT Group and Securicor. In 1999, BT Group acquired Securicor's 40 percent share of Cellnet and the company was later rebranded as BT Cellnet.[3] In June 2000 BT Cellnet launched the world’s first commercial General Packet Radio Service.[4] BT Cellnet, together with BT Group's mobile telecommunications businesses in Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands were part of the BT Wireless division. This was spun off from the BT Group in 2002 to form a new holding company, mmO2 plc, which introduced the new "O2" brand for the businesses. mmO2 plc was subsequently renamed O2 plc.[5]

In 2005, it was announced that the Spanish telecommunications company Telefónica had agreed to acquire O2 plc for £18 billion. As part of the terms of the acquisition Telefónica agreed to retain the "O2" brand and the company's UK headquarters.[6]


1985 to 2005[edit]

Between 1985 and 1989, John Carrington was the CEO of British Telecom's Mobile Division. It was during this period that Carrington founded Cellnet, launching the company's first cellular service, following the innovative development work by BT Spectrum, who initiated the chain of cells between London Heathrow and BT Tower in January 1985.[7]

Cellnet was established as the subsidiary of the joint venture between BTCR, British Telecom Cellular Radio ( The engineering knowledge) and TSCR, Telecom Securicor Cellular Radio Limited (The money), a 60:40 joint venture between British Telecommunications and Securicor.

After months of rumours and speculation, Peter Bonfield publicly announced on 27 July 1999, that BT had agreed to buy Securicor's 40% share of Cellnet for £3.15 billion. The company was later rebranded as BT Cellnet, and it became a part of BT Wireless, a group of companies owned by BT. Cellnet, Airwave BT Paging had five million customers at the time of its acquisition.

The equipment used was primarily a Motorola system initially designed for the American Mobile Phone System (AMPS) and had to be adapted for the British system Total Access Communications (TACs) The system was so unready that the initials Motorola used to designate the network exchanges EMX, became popularly known as 'European Motorola Experiment' and had to be programmed in machine code loaded by tape, 'phew'. At the earl days of the system mobile calls cost £1 per minute.


BT announced on 3 September 2001, that the BT Wireless business would be spun off from the main group as a newly listed holding company, mmO2 plc, operating under the "O2" brand.[9] Shareholders approved the plan at an extraordinary general meeting on 23 October 2001.[10]

BT Cellnet relaunched as "O2" on 18 June 2002, along with other former BT subsidiaries; Esat Digifone in Ireland, Viag Interkom in Germany and Telfort Mobiel in the Netherlands. The rebranding was supported by a European advertising campaign, which began on 16 April 2002, across all four countries, at a cost of £130 million. The main launch campaign ran from 18 June and was developed by Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest, working alongside brand consultancy Lambie-Nairn, creators of the "O2" brand identity.[11]

2005 to 2007: Telefónica transition[edit]

On 30 November 2005, O2 agreed to a takeover by Telefónica, a Spanish telecommunications company, for £17.7 billion (£2 per share) in cash.[12] According to the merger announcement, O2 retained its name and continued to be based in the United Kingdom, keeping both the brand and the management team. The merger became unconditional on 23 January 2006.

Following the acquisition of O2, Telefónica undertook a corporate organisational change that saw the merging of its fixed and mobile businesses in Spain, and the transfer of Telefónica's non-Spanish European telecommunications properties into the O2 brand. Thus, the Český Telecom and Eurotel operations in the Czech Republic as well as the Telefónica Deutschland business in Germany were brought under the control of O2, which retained its UK-registered public company status with its own board of directors and corporate structures and processes. Telefónica chose to keep its existing mobile phone operations in the rest of the world under the brand Movistar. This name is used in Spain and in most of Latin America countries, operated by a separate management team.

Since 2007: diversification[edit]

On 15 July 2009, O2 entered the financial services industry with the launch of O2 Money, which was the first step in the process of incorporating financial services into mobile phones. Future plans include manufacturing Near Field Communication (NFC) technology in mobile phones in the United Kingdom.[13] It was also announced that its NFC technology is ready, but pending support from large retailers and handset manufacturers before a mass rollout.

O2 and Vodafone signed a deal in June 2012 which will see the two companies 'pool' their network technology, creating a single national grid of 18,500 transmitter sites. Both networks will continue to carry their own independent mobile spectrum.[14]

In July 2012, O2 had to apologise to almost 8 million customers after a network switching subsystem failure led to a 24-hour blackout of the service across the UK and Ireland.[15] The problem, which prevented a third of its customers' phones registering on the network, also affected customers of MVNO networks Tesco Mobile and Giffgaff.[16] To apologise for this, O2 announced that it would be giving hundreds of thousands of its customers compensation for the issue.[17] Pay monthly customers received a 10% discount on their bill whereas Pay As You Go users received a 10% refund on first top up in September.


The O2 offices in Leeds


BT Cellnet launched the world's first GPRS network on 22 June 2000, although GPRS-enabled devices were uncommon at that time.[18]

O2 publicly announced on 15 December 2009 that it had successfully demonstrated a 4G connection using LTE technology installed in six masts in Slough.[19] The technology, which was supplied by Huawei, achieved a peak downlink rate of 150 Mbps.[20]

In January 2012, the company announced plans to provide free internet to millions of residents and visitors in central London, by launching Europe's largest free Wi-Fi zone, along with free Wi-Fi access for anyone on any network in and around every O2 retail store.[21]

On 20 February 2013, Ofcom announced that O2 had been awarded spectrum in the 800 MHz band for 4G LTE coverage, bidding around £550 million for the spectrum.[22] This spectrum came with a coverage obligation from Ofcom, and O2 is obliged to provide a mobile broadband service for indoor reception to at least 98% of the UK population (expected to cover at least 99% when outdoors) and at least 95% of the population of each of the UK nations – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – by the end of 2017 at the latest.[23] The 4G LTE service became available to customers in London, Leeds and Bradford on 29 August 2013, and will expand to a further ten cities by the end of 2013.[24]

Radio frequency summary[edit]

Frequencies used on the O2 UK network
Frequency Protocol Class
800 MHz LTE 4G

Fixed line and broadband[edit]

Alongside mobile telephone services, the company also provides fixed line services and home broadband.

O2 purchased Be Un Limited, an internet service provider in the UK, for £50 million in June 2006.[25] O2 retained the Be brand, and launched a separate O2-branded broadband service on 15 October 2007, using the Be network.

O2 announced in June 2011 a fibre optic broadband service designed to compete with the BT Infinity product. This service will utilise FTTC technology, speeds and pricing have yet to be decided.[26]

BSkyB agreed on 1 March 2013 to buy the fixed telephone line and broadband business of Telefónica UK, trading under the O2 and BE brands. The company agreed to pay £180 million initially, followed by a further £20 million after all customers had been transferred to Sky's existing business. The sale was subject to regulatory approval in April 2013,[27] and was subsequently approved by the Office of Fair Trading on 16 May 2013.[28]


Main article: O2 Money

O2 has been trialling a Near Field Communication (NFC) payment system since 2007.[29] O2 has since been in discussions with large retailers, such as Tesco and W. H. Smith, for the deployment of the necessary electronic point of sale units, and with handset manufacturers, such as Apple and Samsung, to enable NFC technology on all future devices.[30]

O2 issued a press release on 23 February 2011, detailing its “second phase” for O2 Money. The phase involves the company’s discontinuation its O2 branded cash cards and the release of a “mobile wallet” application for Android and iOS devices. The application will use NFC technology embedded in a phone to access money.[31]


O2 adopted the slogan "See what you can do" in 2002 after the company's demerger from BT Cellnet. The slogan was later changed to "It's your O2" in May 2006, and again on 10 April 2008 to "We’re better, connected", as part of a brand refresh that cost £5 million.[32]


The O2 (Millennium Dome)[edit]

Main article: The O2 Arena (London)

O2 is the sponsor of The O2 Arena. Since its launch in 2007 (2007) the Millennium Dome has been transformed and rebranded by O2 into an entertainment venue. O2 customers can get Priority Tickets up to 48 hours before they are released to the general public. The O2 offers exclusive areas for O2 customers, including the blueroom bar and the O2 lounge, where access is granted through new mobile technology bar codes. Once inside, O2 customers can change their experience of these areas by dictating the wallpaper designs and jukebox requests through text. O2 also contributed 'O2 angels', a team of people trained to greet and direct visitors, providing a warm human face to the brand. Other smaller touches include changing the lighting, carpets and seats in the arena to the colour blue.

The O2 Arena was the site of the artistic gymnastics events and medal rounds in basketball for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Academy venues[edit]

Main article: Academy Music Group
O2 Academy.jpg

O2 is partnered with Live Nation and the Academy Music Group, allowing O2 to rename the music venues. The partnership allows O2 to offer customers priority access to all events at O2 Academy venues as well as Live Nation promoted events across the United Kingdom.

O2 customers receive 48 hour pre-sales access to approximately 4,500 events each year as well as perks at the venues themselves and access to a consistent flow of content. Perks include; unique O2 Academy Angels in the venue with giveaways; a warm up bar with bespoke music themed furniture and games, free artist content bluetoothed to customers phones and live experiences such as mobile phone "tattooing".

O2 Academy venues:

Environmental record[edit]

In February 2009, O2 became the first mobile telecommunications provider to be certified with the Carbon Trust Standard in recognition of its commitment to reduce its carbon footprint. O2 attained the standard after saving 47,000 tonnes of carbon over the previous three years through its energy efficiency measures, including a £1.4 million distribution of smart metering technology across the company's cell sites, offices and retail stores, and upgrades to more energy efficient systems across its mobile phone network. In addition to distributing energy efficient LED lighting and boiler system controls, the company was also able to reduce energy use by removing air conditioning units from some of its cell sites and reducing computer monitor standby times.[33]

O2 is a voluntary participant in the 10:10 climate change campaign, which requires participants to cut their carbon emissions by 10 percent by the end of 2010. The campaign was launched on 1 September 2009 at the Tate Modern in London, and now has 20,000 individual participants, 1,000 businesses, and 500 other bodies.[34]


  1. ^ "Telefónica O2 UK operating review" (Press release). Telefónica Europe. July 2010. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  2. ^ Contact us, O2 corporate website.Retrieved: 6 December 2012.
  3. ^ Parker, Andrew (28 September 2010). "Everything Everywhere disappoints analysts". Financial Times. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  4. ^ BT Cellnet - Our Commitment to Society and the Environment (Report). BT Group. 2000. http://www.btplc.com/Responsiblebusiness/Ourstory/Sustainabilityreport/pdf/PDFenvironmentalreport/env_bt_cellnet.pdf. Retrieved 7 February 2011.
  5. ^ "Customer increase helps 02 profit". BBC News Online. 18 May 2005. Retrieved 7 February 2013. 
  6. ^ Richardson, Tim (31 October 2005). "Spain's Telefonica to buy O2". The Register. Retrieved 7 February 2011. 
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  11. ^ Billings, Claire (24 April 2002). "O2 readies for £130m May Day rebranding push across Europe". Marketing. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  12. ^ "Telefonica bids £18 billion for U.K.'s O2". BBC News. 31 November 2005. Retrieved 2 October 2010.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  13. ^ "Telefónica launches O2 Money, says it is ready to deploy NFC". NFC World. 28 July 2009. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  14. ^ Laughlin, Andrew (2012-06-07). "Vodafone and O2 to merge mobile network infrastructure". Digital Spy. Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  15. ^ Halliday, Josh (12 July 2012). "O2 apologises over 'embarrassing' network problems". = The Guardian. Retrieved 14 July 2012. 
  16. ^ "O2 says mobile network fully restored after fault". BBC News. 12 July 2012. Retrieved 14 July 2012. 
  17. ^ "O2 offers compensation after network failure". BBC News. 2012-07-18. Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  18. ^ Hoffman, John (2003). "Chapter 3: Short Message Service and GSM Circuit-Switched Data". GPRS Demystified. McGraw-Hill. p. 39. ISBN 0-07-138553-3. 
  19. ^ Neate, Rupert (15 April 2010). "Slough accepts the call to be 4G mobile phone trailblazer". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  20. ^ Wood, Nick (15 December 2009). "O2 in UK LTE trial". Total Telecom. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  21. ^ "'Europe's biggest' free Wi-Fi zone set for London". BBC News. BBC. 6 January 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  22. ^ "Ofcom announces winners of the 4G mobile auction". Ofcom. 20 February 2013. Retrieved 20 February 2013. 
  23. ^ "Ofcom announces winners of the 4G mobile auction". Ofcom. 20 February 2013. Retrieved 24 February 2014. 
  24. ^ Kelion, Leo (2013-08-01). "O2 4G mobile network launch date announced for the UK". BBC News. Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  25. ^ "O2 enters U.K. broadband market with purchase of Be". O2 plc. Retrieved 22 April 2010. 
  26. ^ "O2's Official Blog". Blog.o2.co.uk. 2011-06-28. Retrieved 2013-09-20. 
  27. ^ "BSkyB buys O2 and BE broadband businesses from Telefonica". BBC News Online. 1 March 2013. Retrieved 1 March 2013. 
  28. ^ "Completed acquisition by British Sky Broadcasting Limited of Be Unlimited". Office of Fair Trading. National Archives. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  29. ^ Prodhan, Georgina (2 September 2008). "O2 finds mobile payments popular". Reuters. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  30. ^ "O2: NFC is ready to launch". Mobile News. 15 July 2009. Retrieved 14 May 2010. 
  31. ^ "Introducing the Mobile Wallet" (Press release). O2. 1 September 2011. Retrieved 14 September 2011. 
  32. ^ "Probably the best corporate slogan...". BBC News. 18 June 2006. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  33. ^ Murray, James (20 February 2009). "O2 first mobile firm to gain Carbon Trust Standard". BusinessGreen. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  34. ^ Carrington, Damian (27 September 2009). "10:10 climate campaign gathers momentum". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 

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