The European Commission yesterday gave the go-ahead for mm02 and T-Mobile to share networks in the UK and follows a similar decision announced last month concerning the same companies in Germany.
Other telecommunication companies have one month to comment on the UK decision before it becomes final. A similar consultation with the industry in Germany has closed without any changes to the Commission's decision.
T-Mobile, a unit of German phone giant Deutsche Telekom, and mmO2, a spin off of British Telecommunications, have agreed to share base stations and antennae and provide one another with national roaming facilities.
The agreements also foresee sharing of frequencies on the radio access network in the two countries but the Commission said it would delay ruling on this aspect until the operators decide whether or not to adopt this closer cooperation.
The EC competition authority said the agreements do not relate to the 3G services that will be offered to consumers. The two companies will compete for customers and must remain "entirely independent of each other," the Commission said.
Competition commissioner Mario Monti said on Tuesday that cooperation deals in the development of 3G "can bring benefits for the consumer in terms of a faster introduction of new services, more competition and a lesser impact to the environment".
Meanwhile, the Commission's competition authority is still investigating a suspected cartel among mobile phone operators to artificially increase the price of international roaming charges - the fee a user pays for using his mobile phone abroad.
EU competition officials raided the offices of Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, BT and Orange in July last year, in search of evidence of cartel-like dealings. The Commission is expected to decide whether or not to begin legal proceedings against the companies before the end of this year.