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Dunne has one last pop at UK from the safety of Verizon boardroom

Ronan Dunne Verizon

Former O2 UK CEO Ronan Dunne looked to settle a few old scores via a mini press tour before flying over the pond to the Verizon promised land.

The Financial Times and the Irish Independent all got some quality time with Dunne, who seems to have left these shores with a bit of a sour taste in his mouth, following the collapse of the O2/Three merger. As that deal was blocked at the same time as Ofcom was treating EE like a feudal daughter in marrying it off to BT, some bitterness is understandable.

Less understandable, however, was Dunne’s surprise at the EC’s veto. Senior Eurocrats had been banging on about competition and how important it is, therefore, to have as many MNOs as possible in a given market. While the EU protested to the contrary it was clear it had decided four was the magic number and so that was that. Ofcom has obligingly echoed the same sentiment previously, and the UK CMA joined the clamour because it was feeling left out.

“The breath was taken out of me, I just stopped in my tracks,” Dunne recalled to the II of the moment he heard the bad news. “For two days, I was a bear with a sore head, I didn’t know which end was up. I was completely thrown by the whole thing.”

In his chat with the FT, however, he seems to have reckoned it was a rubbish idea in the first place. “I never saw a deal with Three as likely to happen,” confided Dunne in the FT. “If you’d asked me six months before all the scenarios, I would have said Three was least likely. I thought the trend in consolidation was going in a different direction.”

Ultimately he thinks the whole process was BS and, in hindsight, considers it symptomatic of an underlying malaise in the UK telecoms market which, he expediently infers, is not present in the US. The FT cunningly split its interview with him into two pieces to extract maximum ROI from the scoop, and in the other it focuses on Dunne’s derision at the way we do things over here and his warning that we need get with the times if we don’t want to be left behind in the 5G era.

“We need to have policies about that reality, not that simply tinker and iterate analogue policy,” scolded Dunne. “The first 10 years of television was radio in front of the camera. That’s exactly where we are in this digital revolution. People are adapting the technology to do what they’ve always done. The real opportunity is from ground up to re-envisage what the experience should be, what the process should be — that will be the step change.”

A major exec doesn’t just suddenly embark on a press tour just for a laugh. Dunne’s motivations seem to be partly valedictory, partly score-settling and partly seeking brownie points from his new Verizon boss. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong, however, with most neutrals struggling to see how O3 is bad but BTEE is good. It’s hard to imagine his words having much material effect on the way things are done over here, but you never know.


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