Swisscom is still thought to be the front-runner in the race to acquire the Czech government’s 51% stake in Cesky Telecom. The Financial Times says that today’s unveiling of preliminary bids is not expected to unearth any major rivals to the Swiss firm. One company which had shown an interest, TDC of Denmark, has now pulled out of the bid process, leaving Swisscom as the main contender, with France Télécom, Vodafone, Telefónica and Belgacom as the only other potential bidders. Of these, Belgacom is thought to be the most likely to mount a challenge to Swisscom. A number of financial groups have also shown an interest, but they must bid in conjunction with a telco partner.
Michael Shipton, chief strategy officer at Swisscom, told the Financial Times that his company is bidding alone and that it has no plans to break up Cesky Telecom into separate fixed line and mobile units. The government will approve shortlisted bidders by next Wednesday, with the final winner to be announced at the end of March. Cesky Telecom is the Czech Republic’s leading operator, with around 3.5 wireline customers and 4.4 million wireless subscribers at the end of 2004.