France Telecom eyes Spain, wants to unload Swiss, Austrian and Portuguese holdings

France Telecom (FT) Orange CEO Stephane Richard said that the company will consider making acquisitions in Spain, if they become available. Orange Spain is the country's third largest operator with around 12 million subscribers, and been active in bidding for LTE spectrum.

Elsewhere, continued slow growth within Europe has prompted FT to put its Swiss, Austrian and Portuguese operations up for sale. Richard hinted earlier this year that he would sell off units where FT didn't have majority control or that were not ranked among the top two mobile operators within that country.

The Swiss telecoms regulator blocked FT from merging Orange Switzerland with Sunrise, the country's second largest mobile operator, and FT indicated it is open to offers for the Swiss unit. Financial analysts, as reported by Reuters, say the Swiss unit could attract bids of around €1.5 billion.

FT might also sell its 20 per cent stake in Portugal's Sonaecom and its 35 per cent stake in Austrian operator One. The holdings are thought to be worth around €500 million in total.

"No talks have yet begun on Switzerland; the process is starting today," FT CFO Gervais Pellissier told Reuters. "We are working with the other shareholders in Austria and Portugal to find ways to alter our stakes there."

The company is also suffering from increased competitive pressure within its home market as rivals, Vivendi's SFR and Bouygues Telecom, cut prices and ramp up their marketing activities.

In an attempt to combat this, and prepare itself for the entry of France's fourth mobile operator, Iliad, FT said it will launch a low-cost mobile brand called "Sosh" in September. As reported by Le Monde, Richard said Sosh users will not be tied to a contract, the service will be sold only online, and focused on users wanting to access data services as a priority over voice.

Richard said: "Free [the brand name of Iliad's mobile operation] has been saying for a while that it would make this kind of offer. There is no way it could be allowed to be the only one with this policy."

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this Le Monde article (translated via Google Translate)

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