RealTime IT News

Vodafone in Bidding for Australian Mobile Operator

[London, ENGLAND] Having spent US $2.19 billion on Japan Telecom and US $4 billion on Eircell already this week, U.K. mobile operator Vodafone Group has reportedly bid over US $10 billion for Australian mobile operator C&W Optus.

53 percent owned by Britain's Cable & Wireless, C&W Optus has been inviting bids since September and recently signed a $2 billion loan facility with 10 major domestic and international banks.

In a brief statement Friday, C&W Optus confirmed that it has received "a number of serious expressions of interest" in response to its September document. The process, says the company, is still continuing, and "all expressions of interest are confidential, preliminary and indicative in nature."

Clearly, Vodafone is not the only suitor for the Australian company -- and one newspaper suggested a few weeks ago that there are around ten companies interested in acquiring some or all of the assets of C&W Optus. In November, Cable & Wireless Chief Executive Graham Wallace made it known that he wanted to retain the company's Internet and data businesses, although this may not now be a viable option.

Vodafone operates Australia's third-largest mobile network and the acquisition of C&W Optus would take it ahead of market leader Telstra. Such a move would need to be ratified by a skeptical trading authority which wants to avoid letting a single company dominate the mobile market.

For Vodafone Chief Executive Chris Gent, it's all just another day of Christmas shopping. Apart from Japan Telecom, Eircell and C&W Optus, his company has a joint venture with Verizon Communications -- Verizon Wireless -- which has just bid US $3.47 billion in the U.S. spectrum auctions.

As former U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen said famously some years ago: "A billion here, a billion there, sooner or later it adds up to real money."

The size of bank loans to the world's telecommunications industry are beginning to worry the markets, resulting in the recent sharp fall in share prices of companies such as BT and AT&T. Economists at the BBC estimated this week that worldwide nearly US $600 billion has been loaned for licenses, takeovers, and the expansion of mobile and other operations.