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Eurobites: Virgin Media, O2 merger faces in-depth review

Also in today's EMEA regional roundup: Bucharest chosen for new EU cybersecurity center; Slovakia welcomes 5G; mast misery in Southampton.

  • The UK merger between cable company Virgin Media and mobile operator O2 was referred by UK authorities to an in-depth investigation amid concern about the impact it might have on competition. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) noted in a statement that both operators provide wholesale services to other mobile phone companies. A potential obstacle to the deal is the risk that Virgin and O2 raise prices or reduce the quality of their wholesale products, said the CMA. Analysts have been optimistic about the likelihood of a deal because the companies operate in different parts of the telecom market, with Virgin focused on broadband and TV services and O2 providing mobile. A previous attempt to merge O2 with Three UK, the smallest of the UK's mobile phone networks, was blocked by European competition authorities, which said it would reduce the number of mobile networks from four to three and hurt competition. (See O2 and Virgin Media to merge in £31.4B deal and O2 realizes the future isn't mobile.)

  • The Romanian capital of Bucharest was reported to have seen off competition from six other European cities to host a new EU cybersecurity center, reports BalkanInsight. Funded by the EU, the center will focus on developing technologies that can counter cyberattacks, according to the report. Other cities that had been in the running were Brussels, Munich, Warsaw, Vilnius, Luxembourg and León in Spain. Bogdan Aurescu, Romania's foreign minister, grabbed the Twitter opportunity to boast about "Romanian expertise in IT" as he applauded the decision.

  • Slovak Telekom, majority owned by Germany's Deutsche Telekom, switched on a 5G service in parts of Bratislava, reports the Slovak Spectator. The update comes two weeks after the country's four mobile operators – Slovak Telekom, Orange, O2 and Swan Mobile – paid about €100 million (US$121 million) for spectrum licenses in the 700MHz, 900MHz and 1800MHz frequency bands.

  • A 5G tower erected in the UK city of Southampton has met with an angry reaction from local residents, reports the Southern Daily Echo. The 20m-high mast was reportedly described as "hideous" and an "eyesore" by locals, some of whom complained that local authorities had erected the mast without any consultation. Photographic evidence in the story makes it hard to disagree with the unflattering descriptions, showing a structure that looks more like one of those drop towers at amusement parks than anything from the telecom world. Perhaps this is just the price we must pay for high-speed mobile connectivity.

    — Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading

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