Mobistar to take on Orange brand as EU clears Liberty Global's Base deal

The Belgian mobile market faces significant changes ahead after Mobistar confirmed plans to adopt the Orange brand in future, and the European Commission (EC) conditionally approved a proposed €1.33 billion ($1.48 billion) acquisition of KPN-owned Base Belgium by Liberty Global's Telenet.

The merger of cable operator Telenet with mobile operator Base will put further pressure on Mobistar as a mobile-only player; it would then be competing with two rivals with a strong converged offering.

Proximus already sells 'Packs' that combine fixed and mobile offerings, for example, while Base would be able to exploit Telenet's existing triple-play offerings. Telenet also already sells mobile services as an MVNO.

Mobistar has thus clearly decided that it would be better off with a stronger, more globally recognised brand. Indeed, the company's CEO, Jean-Marc Harion, said the introduction of the Orange brand would enable Mobistar to strengthen its position on the Belgian market as a convergent as well as mobile player.

"The adoption of the Orange brand is a unique opportunity to strengthen our presence in our markets and to support our entrance into the world of convergence with the upcoming launch of our cable Internet and TV offer for residential customers and the recent launch of the new Pulse offers for companies. On the business market, the rebranding will help to reconfirm our leadership in international services in the domain of machine-to-machine and the Internet of Things," Harion said.

However, the planned launch of the company's consumer convergence offering has been long delayed as it waited for regulators to set wholesale prices for cable resale. During the presentation of its 2015 results this week -- when it reported a 4.6 per cent dip in mobile service revenue to €272 million and a 16.2 per cent drop in restated EBITDA to €47.9 million for the fourth quarter of the year -- Mobistar said it expects to announce details of the cable resale launch in February, with the actual launch planned for the first quarter.

Meanwhile the EC's approval of Liberty Global's Base deal comes with certain conditions attached.

As noted by EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, "to maintain healthy competition in the Belgian mobile market, Liberty Global and Base will sell part of their customer base to a new virtual mobile operator."

Liberty Global has already committed to selling Base's share in MVNO Mobile Vikings, which uses Base's network, to Belgian broadcaster Medialaan, and transfer part of Base's customer base to Medialaan.

Base and Medialaan also currently have an agreement that sees Base sell mobile services under the brand JIM Mobile, owned by Medialaan. Liberty Global will transfer the customers of the JIM Mobile brand to Medialaan and has also agreed to allow Medialaan access to the Base network so it can compete as a full MVNO.

"The remedies adequately address the Commission's concerns since they ensure that a new mobile virtual network operator will enter the retail mobile market, to compensate for the loss of competition resulting from the exit of Telenet as an independent mobile virtual network operator," the EC added.

For more:
- see the EC release on the Base merger
- see the Mobistar results, cable launch and branding announcement
- see the KPN statement on the Base sale

Related articles:
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EC opens in-depth probe into Liberty Global's planned Base Belgium buy
KPN sells BASE Belgium to Liberty Global's Telenet for €1.33B
Mobistar returns to growth in Q3, ups EBITDA guidance
Proximus expects to return to growth a year earlier than planned