The Brazilian telecoms regulator Agencia Nacional de Telecomunicacoes (Anatel) has confirmed its decision of 27 December 2012 to revoke the mobile licence granted to privately owned cellco Unicel do Brasil Telecomunicacoes (Unicel, trading under the banner Aeiou) in the 3G auction of 2007. In the government’s Official Gazette, the watchdog also confirmed its decision to reject a move by US-based NII Holdings to purchase Unicel, on the grounds that local telecoms rules prohibit telcos from holding two operating licences for the same geographic area. NII, which offers wireless services in Latin America under the Nextel brand, was looking to acquire Unicel’s 20MHz of 3G spectrum in the city of Sao Paulo.
Anatel will now look to auction off Unicel’s licence some time this year, noting that its decision to rescind the permit related to the cellco’s reported debts of USD293.5 million, combined with what it terms its ‘infrastructure problems’.
In November 2012 an unconfirmed report in the magazine Veja suggested that Anatel would reject NII Holdings’ bid for Unicel, but stopped short of citing its sources. The article seemingly flew in the face of popular speculation at the time which claimed that the watchdog would indeed ratify the move. In late-October that year NII Holdings submitted a filing to Anatel for a ‘change of control request’. Initial indications were that both Anatel and the government supported the deal that was expected to cost in the region of BRL370 million (USD181 million). Brazil’s big four – Vivo, Claro, TIM Brasil and Oi SA – were barred from bidding for Unicel as they each hold the maximum 80MHz of spectrum permitted under local law, however Nextel owns just 20MHz.