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The origins of the O2 network date back as far as 1985 when the UK government first issued two GSM (Global Standard for Mobile Communications) licenses. These were awarded to two companies, namely Vodafone and Cellnet.

O2 began life at this time as the Cellnet network. Right from the very start, Cellnet was at a disadvantage to its rival Vodafone because ownership was split between two companies: BT and Securicor. Unlike Vodafone - at that time, part of the Racal Group - Cellnet decisions needed to be passed by the boards of both companies for investment.

Nevertheless, both networks flourished and they set about creating an infrastructure based on the GSM standard at the 900 MHz frequency channel. By the early 1990s, each network had a customer base of around two million: the mobile boom had begun. Both networks were faced with unprecedented growth, consistently doubling their customer bases, year after year.

Eventually, Cellnet fell behind Vodafone due to its organisational constraints and the decision was taken to re-structure the network, this time with a higher level of share ownership for BT. As a result, BTCellnet emerged and, with decisions being made faster, BTCellnet attempted to narrow the gap with its rival, Vodafone.

Vodafone continued to develop a strong brand identity, while BTCellnet - by this time the second-largest network ahead of Orange and One2One - fell further behind. Further investment was sought from an investment consortium and the company was once again re-badged under a fresh brand: O2.

The O2 network went about establishing a brand identity under the slogan "its your O2, see what you can do". In addition, over 400 UK stores were re-branded as O2 and the company began investing heavily on the Internet.

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