O2 and Vodafone are to announce a network share agreement in the coming weeks.
Sources said “advanced discussions” had taken place between the two.
Orange maintained its original agreement with Vodafone over network sharing continues, but sources claimed Orange was likely now to work instead with T-Mobile and 3, which established their own network share in December 2007.
T-Mobile and 3, the number four and five networks in the UK by market share and revenue, are understood to welcome an apporach from Orange, the number three.
A network sharing agreement allows significant cost-savings to be made, and a huge number of the UK’s 51,000 network masts to be scrapped altogether.
Network sharing also appears to be a way for networks to fulfil recent recommendations outlined in the Government’s Digital Britain report, primarily of rolling out 2Mbps broadband speeds to the whole of the UK.
A network source said: “We believe network sharing is the right model for future network structure developments. T-Mobile is achieving 98 per cent population coverage by next year, which it couldn’t do by itself in that time frame.”
T-Mobile and 3, combined, aim to save £2 billion in the 10 years following establishment of their partnership in late 2007. Their network share is overseen by a joint-venture company called Mobile Broadband Network Limited.
The deal has enabled the two networks to reduce their combined amount of mast sites from 20,000 to 13,000.
A T-Mobile spokesman said: “We are happy to talk to any other operator at any time about a network share agreement.”
Orange insisted any upcoming network share arrangements would not impact the current agreement it has with Vodafone, which was established early last year and aimed to remove 3,000 masts.
It said the agreement with Vodafone was not exclusive.
An Orange spokesman said: “The interim Digital Britain report has thrown up a number of questions, opportunities and avenues regarding our UK network sharing ambitions that we are currently exploring, and could see us open up additional bi-lateral or multi-lateral partnerships with other operators in the future.”
Vodafone added: “Network sharing is an area we continue to review. We already undertake extensive site sharing and, while there is clearly potential for significant cost savings, we must ensure that customer experience will not be adversely impacted.”