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January 15, 2023updated 20 Jan 2024 3:32am

What is BT?

The formally public company owns much of the UK's telecoms infrastructure.

By Tech Monitor Staff

BT is a British telecoms company and one of the largest players in the broadband, fixed telephony, television and mobile markets in the UK.

The firm has a long history in British communications technology, reaching back from telegraphs to the current day with its ongoing digital transformation and cloud integration.

BT
The BT corporate logo (Image: Shutterstock)

Is BT a private company?

In its current incarnation, BT is privately owned.

The company’s origins can be traced back to the Electric Telegraph Company, which was founded in 1846 and became the national telephone network operator in 1912 as part of the government-run General Post Office.

It was not until 1984 that the firm – then British Telecommunications plc – became a private company, having previously been spun off into a public corporation in 1969. During the 80s and 90s, shares in the company originally owned by the government were sold off to private investors.

Who owns BT?

BT is owned by numerous major and minor shareholders, the largest of which is Patrick Drahi with an 18% share according to Market Screener.

The next largest shareholder is T-Mobile Holdings Ltd. with 12%, followed by BNP Paribas (Suisse) SA and 7.5%, Norges Bank Investment Management at 3% and Schroder Investment Management Ltd. with 2.4%.

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What companies does BT own?

The namesake brand functions as the flagship of the BT Group parent company. Along with said flagship, it also owns the EE mobile network along with Plusnet and Openreach.

As such, BT Group’s operations cover telecoms, mobile, internet service provision and infrastructure.

However, BT’s position as holder of the UK broadband infrastructure through its ownership of Openreach came under the spotlight in the 2010s as BT’s rivals argued that the company was abusing its position over the UK’s communications infrastructure.

Telecoms regulator Ofcom ordered in 2017 that Openreach be “legally separated” from its parent, which the company voluntarily agreed to.

While legally separate, BT Group does still own Openreach, but it is required to operate in the interests of all customers to ensure healthy competition.

Competitors

Given its operations in multiple industries, BT Group has a wide range of competitors.

Business

The flagship brand’s business telecoms competitors include Sky Connect, Vodaphone Business, TalkTalk Business and Virgin Media Business,

Mobile

EE faces major competition in the mobile phone market from companies like Telefonica (O2), Vodaphone and Three, as well as other smaller companies that utilise their networks.

Broadband

Plusnet’s competitors in the budget consumer broadband space include Vodaphone, Sky, TalkTalk, Three and Virgin Media.

Infrastructure

While BT (via Openreach) operates and maintains the UK’s largest broadband infrastructure, it faces significant competition from Virgin Media, which runs the UK’s only cable network, and ever more alternative infrastructure providers – the largest of which being CityFibre.

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