BT moves to tighten grip on Cellnet

British Telecom moved swiftly yesterday to strengthen its grip over Cellnet, the UK's second- largest mobile phone operator in which it has a 60 per cent stake, writes Chris Godsmark.

BT has appointed Ray Smith, 42, responsible for its consumer products business and retail chain, as Cellnet managing director. It follows the abrupt resignation of Howard Ford as Cellnet MD three weeks ago. No reason has been given for Mr Ford's departure, although it has been linked with City concerns at the network's subscriber numbers in recent months.

Stafford Taylor, MD of BT's personal communications division, said after Mr Ford's departure that he would take a closer interest in Cellnet. BT has made clear it would like to buy out its 40 per cent partner, Securicor, but has so far been blocked from doing so on monopoly grounds.

Cellnet has not released customer numbers for this year, but analysts have estimated more subscribers are leaving the network than are joining. The performance puts Cellnet at the bottom of the league table of four networks.

Mr Taylor said: "Ray joins Cellnet at a time of great challenge in the cellular business and in the mobile market. I know he will bring to Cellnet the talents which he has shown in the retail and consumer products division." Mr Smith joined BT in 1987, becoming head of residential calls.

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