A plan by Hong Kong-based conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa to buy Telefonica’s Irish mobile unit ahead of a merger with its own 3 Ireland subsidiary is facing an in-depth probe from European Union (EU) regulators. In an e-mail, the European Commission (EC) has said it will rule on the takeover deal by 24 March, amid concerns that it will reduce local competition by cutting the number of wireless carriers from four to three. ‘The transaction would combine two of the four mobile networks in Ireland and create a player of similar size to the currently largest operator, Vodafone,’ the EU statement read.
The takeover, which was agreed in June this year and will see Hutch pay up to EUR850 million (USD1.2 billion) for O2 Ireland, adding it to its existing Irish venture, 3 Ireland. The combination will boost Hutch’s market share by a factor of roughly four to close to 39%, according to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database. Last month CommsUpdate reported that the EC was considering a closer review of Hutch’s agreed takeover of Telefonica O2 Ireland, and the group was given until 6 November to either ‘propose concessions or else face an inquiry which could extend up to five months’.