BT screaming to be let into China

bt logoBT is one of those firms which has a habit of attracting bad headlines. Run ins with the regulators, misleading advertising campaigns and tales of shockingly bad customer service all spring to mind. Not so in Asia Pacific, it seems.

At the Asia Pacific Influencer Summit (yes, I am an influencer now apparently) hacks from all over A and Pac were told just how amazingly well BT Global Services is doing – the firm now boasting over 2,500 employees in nine countries across the region.

There were a few news announcements, including a new ‘retail in a box’ solution for retailers looking to tap the Chinese market, a new app designed to make it easier to manage roaming calls and save money in the process, and the launch of a data visualisation service which BT has used itself in the battle to protect its copper cables from being nicked.

The most interesting story, though, came from the APAC president Kevin Taylor, who spoke with refreshing candour about the telecoms giant’s problems with China.

He claimed China has the least advanced regulatory environment of any ‘big player’ in the world and accused it of taking a rather immature approach to competition in the country. Foreign telecoms firms cannot obtain licenses to sell their kit in the country directly, meaning they have to resort to partnerships – which BT has with China Unicom and Telecom – or joint ventures.

BT has eschewed the latter, Taylor said, because at present the foreign firm in a China JV is allowed up to only a 49 per cent share of the business. They would consider it otherwise, he added, but I reckon there may be other factors holding it back.

It’s well known now that JVs of this type usually end badly for the foreign investor. As has been claimed happened with AT&T, the Chinese will take you in, get you teach them all you know and then ditch you – possibly minus a chunk of your IP.

There are rumours – only rumours – that security concerns were behind the split between Symantec and Huawei over their JV, for example.

In the meantime, BT is “screaming” at China to be let in, its China MD Eliza Kwok told me. So what are the chances of it being able to sell directly into the country anytime soon? The smart money is on zero.

Forget that China Telecom has been allowed to set up a virtual network in the UK for Chinese ex-pats, back home in the People’s Republic it is a very different story. Here, protectionism is the watchword for government policy, and that is unlikely to change for a long, long time.

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