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BT in talks to acquire O2 from Telefonica

Telefonica DISTRITO_C_Exteriores

© Telefonica

As TelecomTV first reported last week in our 7am Briefing email service for subscribers, Telefonica is seriously looking at selling its UK O2 operation to BT in order to meet its debt reduction targets. Telefonica stated earlier this month that it needs to reduce its debt to less than €43bn by the end of this year.

Spanish newspaper El Confidencial reported this morning that talks between the two telcos were in an advanced state, although no final deal has been made. It is possible that Telefonica could take a stake in BT as part of the arrangement.

However, the Spanish telco has just issued the following statement to Spain’s stock market regulator: “Telefonica informs that, although it is in talks with British Telecom, these talks are in a highly preliminary phase and there is no certainty that a transaction will take place.”

For its part, BT released the following statement: “We have received expressions of interest from shareholders in two UK mobile network operators, of which one is O2, about a possible transaction in which BT would acquire their UK mobile business. All discussions are at a highly preliminary stage and there can be no certainty that any transaction will occur.” Although not confirmed, it is thought that the second mobile operator mentioned is EE, owned by France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom.

BT has been quietly gearing up for a return to the mobile market, which would place pressure on O2 and rival 3, as they lack the market size and converged plays of EE and Vodafone. It would of course be one of the greatest industry ironies if BT bought O2, having originally built up the business and spun it off at the end of 2001.

More on this story as it develops throughout the day.

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