Hutchison to buy cellular sites from Blu for £37m

Liz Vaughan-Adams
Friday 31 January 2014 03:13

Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa has stuck by its strategy of rolling out next generation mobile telecoms networks in Europe by confirming it plans to buy assets from the collapsed Italian mobile operator Blu.

Canning Fok, Hutchison's managing director, said yesterday that the company planned to spend €58m (£37m) buying cellular sites from Blu.

Earlier this month, a raft of European operators were left picking at Blu's carcass after the European Commission gave the company's shareholders, which include BT, the go-ahead to break it up.

Telecom Italia Mobile confirmed recently that it was making an offer of at least €18m for the company's shares and some assets and said other Blu assets would be transferred to Vodafone-controlled Omnitel, Hutchison and rival operator Wind.

Blu's shareholders, which have long been mulling the firm's future, could not find a buyer for the entire company and were therefore forced to sell off its assets.

The company's future had been up in the air after a rift among its shareholders, which include BT with a 29 per cent stake and the Benetton family with a 9 per cent holding, left it without a third generation, or 3G, mobile phone licence.

Mobile phone operators spent billions of pounds on snapping up 3G licences, particularly in the UK and in Germany, in the hopes that they would drive the next phase of growth. 3G networks are expected to offer consumers a raft of services such as video and computer games over mobile handsets and faster access to the internet.

Hutchison has possibly the most aggressive strategy for rolling out 3G mobile phone networks, which it will call "3" – around the globe.

The firm owns 3G licences in Australia, Austria, Denmark, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Sweden and the UK but is also looking at buying another licence in Finland.

Despite the setbacks that many operators have admitted to regarding the launch of 3G services, and despite delaying its own UK launch by a couple of months, Hutchison has insisted it will still offer a service in the UK before the end of this year.

Hutchison Whampoa owns 65 per cent of 3 while Japan's NTT DoCoMo holds 20 per cent and KPN Mobile, in the Netherlands, has a 15 per cent share. The latter, however, recently put its shareholding up for sale.

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