Vodafone is this week expected to buy the mobile phone customer base owned by John Caudwell, the gregarious telecoms entre- preneur, for up to £400m.
A well-placed source revealed that after more than a month of haggling over the price, an agreement is now "very close". The deal will see Vodafone take control of Singlepoint, an independent provider of mobile phone services to 1.4 million people.
Around 90 per cent of Singlepoint's customers use the Vodafone network, through a wholesale agreement. Analysts estimate that by owning the customers, Vodafone will avoid a 25 per cent cut of the revenues taken by Singlepoint.
Mr Caudwell, a publicity seeker who is often photo-graphed with his helicopter, is best known for his Phones4U chain. He formed Singlepoint, which employs 1,600 people, in 1997. He considered floating it before receiving approaches for the business. If the deal goes ahead, it will be Vodafone chief executive Arun Sarin's second since replacing Sir Christopher Gent on 30 July.
Last week Vodafone bought Project Telecom, a smaller mobile service provider, for £155m. It is targeting service providers to give it access to higher-spending customers, many of them business users.