Three UK owner considers fighting BT to buy EE or O2

Three Store Bluewater

It's no secret that BT is eyeing a return to the mobile market, by way of either EE or O2, but its movement may have come at a cost. According to Reuters, BT's intentions have caught of attention of Hutchison Whampoa, owner of the UK's fourth biggest operator Three, which is now said to be readying a bid for one of the two mobile providers. BT will reportedly decide its course of action in the coming weeks, which could prompt rival bids from Chinese company.

While it's likely these potential deals would require approval from both UK and European regulators, O2 is currently seen as the less complicated option. EE is Britain's biggest carrier, allowing it to command a higher price than its rival. However, its size could prove to be a problem as watchdogs would seek to block anti-competitive acquisitions. After all, the market would consolidate and there would only be three major carriers to choose from. Three bought O2's business in Ireland, so it has previous, and its owner once used to control a major stake in Orange, which is a 50 percent owner of EE.

O2 doesn't have that problem; it doesn't own nearly as much spectrum, but if it was combined with Three's allocation, it could achieve parity with its rivals. Although, after O2 sold off its broadband business to Sky, it may still trail other providers as they transition to a quad-play model. Christmas is coming, and that means more spending -- for BT and Hutchison, those bills could run into the billions.