It is now less than six months until the UK postal service is opened up for competition for the first time in 350 years. From 1st January 2006, any licensed operator will be able to deliver mail to business and residential customers.

There is currently a degree of competition in the UK postal market, with 30% of the market open to rivals - but this is only to companies handling bulk mail in batches of 4,000 or more letters.

So will customers notice any difference in the face of increased competition? Royal Mail has recently been the subject of a number of scathing reports over the efficiency and reliability of its delivery service. Postcomm, the postal regulator, does expect service to improve following the opening up of the sector. Richard Moriarty, director of Competition and Regulation at Postcomm said the move will increase reliability, lead to a wider range of services and ultimately improve the state of the nation's postal service.

The UK will be the second European market after Sweden to eliminate its postal monopoly. Interestingly, this opening up of the market means that La Poste in France, or Deutsche Post from Germany, to name two examples, will be able to operate in the UK. However, Royal Mail will be unable to operate in their markets. Controversial times ahead in the postal industry.

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