Vodafone and CK Hutchison, which owns the Three UK mobile network, have agreed to merge their U.K. businesses, creating Britain’s biggest mobile operator with about 28 million customers, overtaking BT’s EE and O2, owned by Telefonica and Liberty Global.

Per the terms of the deal, Vodafone will own 51% of the combined business, while CK Hutchison will own 49% of the business.

Vodafone is the third-largest mobile network operator in the United Kingdom, with 17.9 million subscribers, after O2 (23.8 million subscribers) and EE (21.7 million subscribers), followed by Three, with 10.3 million subscribers, as of May 2023.

According to a statement, the combined business will invest £11 billion in the UK over the next ten years to create one of Europe's most advanced standalone 5G networks, in full support of the UK Government targets – with the aim of delivering up to £5 billion per year in economic benefit by 2030, creating jobs and supporting the digital transformation of the UK's businesses.

The deal could mean that more than 99% of the UK population would be reached with a 5G standalone network, delivering to customers up to a six-fold increase in average data speeds by 2034, with millions of customers of Vodafone UK and Three UK enjoying a better network experience with greater coverage and reliability at no extra cost, including through certain flexible, contract-free offers with no annual price increases, and social tariffs.

The merger will create a third operator with scale – with about 28 million combined subscribers – more than its rivals, O2 and EE, thus increasing competition to the UK's two leading converged operators and will also provide more choice in wholesale partners for the UK's already competitive MVNOs.

The transaction is expected to close before the end of 2024, subject to regulatory and shareholder approvals.