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Vodafone Buys Into Japan Telecom

[London, ENGLAND] U.K. mobile operator Vodafone Group announced Wednesday its purchase of a 15 percent stake in Japan Telecom for 249.2 billion yen (US $2.19 billion).

Observers now believe there is a possibility that Vodafone will find itself in a bidding war with arch-rival BT which has a similar holding in Japan Telecom for a further 15 percent slice held by AT&T.

A few weeks ago, AT&T sold 16 percent of AT&T Wireless to Japanese mobile phone operator NTT DoCoMo for US $9.8 billion. Divesting itself of the Japan Telecom shares would appear to be a logical next step.

Vodafone, the world's largest mobile phone service provider, prefers to have control of the overseas companies in which it invests. At the very least it would like to have greater influence over Japan Telecom's wireless division J-Phone, especially as Japanese users are now the most active participants in the mobile Internet revolution.

To obtain its 15 percent stake in Japan's third-largest phone service provider, Vodafone negotiated with two Japanese railway companies, acquiring 8.6 percent from West Japan Railway and 6.4 percent from Central Japan Railway. The two railway companies retain smaller holdings (1.6 and 1.2 percent respectively) in the telecom operator.

"This transaction demonstrates Vodafone's confidence in the future of the Japanese telecoms market and the future prospects of Japan Telecom and J-Phone, which we believe will be a powerful force in an increasingly competitive Japanese marketplace," said Vodafone's Chief Executive Chris Gent.

According to Japan Telecom's President Haruo Murakami, Vodafone has definitely not ruled out taking a bigger stake in the company.

Vodafone, which is said to be on the verge of acquiring Ireland's largest mobile phone operator Eircell for around US $4 billion, may well view the Japanese market as one of the keys to its future. In 3G services its major global rival will be NTT DoCoMo which already has over 15.6 million subscribers of its i-mode service.

Japan Telecom's J-Phone operates a mobile Internet service named J-Sky which has nearly 4 million subscribers who surf the Web using mobile devices.