Bouygues Telecom has reportedly entered the race to buy rival operator SFR, and has hired two investment banks to advise it on a possible tie-up.
Citing unidentified sources, Reuters said the French market's third mobile operator is now evaluating a bid for the Vivendi-owned company with the aid of HSBC and Rothschild.
Vivendi confirmed on Monday that Altice has approached it about a possible deal between Numericable and SFR, although the telecoms and media giant said it had not yet received a formal offer.
Iliad, which owns enfant terrible Free Mobile, is also understood to be studying whether or not to make an offer for SFR.
As things stand, the money is on a deal between cable operator Numericable and SFR, because this deal would face less regulatory scrutiny than a merger between two major operators.
"To some degree, Iliad and Bouygues have to look at SFR again now, just as a matter of house-keeping and good management because Numericable is moving in on SFR," a banker told Reuters. "My prediction is that the SFR and Numericable deal is what gets done. The rest of it is just noise."
For its part, Vivendi has been seeking options for SFR for some time as part of its strategy to rid itself of its troublesome telecoms assets and focus on its media business. In November Vivendi's supervisory board agreed unanimously to the plan to demerge SFR from the group, but the company could still opt for an outright sale if the price is right. A decision could be made as soon as March.
Vivendi also recently entered into exclusive negotiations with Belgacom on the acquisition of 100 per cent of the Belgian incumbent's Telindus France unit, in order to strengthen SFR's unified communications services for enterprise users ahead of the company's spinoff.
- see this Reuters article
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