O2 is the commercial arm of Telefonica UK Limited. However, it wasn’t always like that.
Between 1985 and 1989, John Carrington was the CEO of British Telecom’s, or BT as it is better known, mobile division. It was during this period that Carrington decided to found Cellnet which was to be the company’s first cellular service. This followed the work of BT Spectrum, who developed the chain of cells between London Heathrow and the BT Tower in 1985. At the time, Cellnet was established as the subsidiary of a joint venture between BTCR, British Telecom Cellular Radio (who were in charge of the engineering aspect) and Telecom Securicor Cellular Radio Limited who provided the finance. It was to be a 60:40 joint venture between BT and Securicor. The partnership progressed smoothly until 1999 when after months of speculation, it was publicly announced that BT had agreed to buy Securicor’s 40% share of Cellnet for over three billion. Following this, the company was re-branded as BT Cellnet and became a part of BT Wireless. In 2001, BT announced that BT Wireless would be spun off as a newly-listed holding company ‘mmO2 Plc’ operating under the name O2. BT Cellnet relaunched as O2 a year later in 2002 with a heavy campaign across four countries which it would rebrand in: Ireland, Germany, Netherlands and the UK.
In 2005, 02 agreed to be taken over by Telefonica for over £17 billion in cash. According to the announcement, O2 would remain operating under the same brand and it continued to be based in the UK. Following the acquisition, Telefonica merged its landline and mobile services in Spain and transferred its non-Spanish telecommunications arms into the O2 brand. Therefore, brands in the Czech Republic and Germany became O2, whilst the rest of the world continued operating as Movistar.
In 2009, O2 began to diversify by entering the financial services industry with the launch of O2 Money. This move was credited as being the first step in uniting phones and financial services. Future plans to expand this further include a roll out of Near Field Communication. In 2012, O2 and Vodafone signed a deal which meant that the two companies will effectively pool their network technology creating over 18,000 transmitter sites. In the same year, O2 also rolled out ‘free WiFi zones’ which were originally found in London before spreading across the country.
O2 is also the sponsor of the O2 arena in London which launched in 2007 at the site of the Millennium Dome as an entertainment complex. It is also partnered with the Academy Group and Live Nation to form a network of O2 Academy branded music venues in the likes of Liverpool, Bristol and Sheffield.