Telecom Italia, Vodafone and Wind caught in Italian antitrust probe

Italy's competition authority, ACGM, launched an antitrust investigation into Telecom Italia, Vodafone and Wind in response to complaints from Bip Mobile, a low-cost MVNO, that it is being pushed out of the market.

Bip Mobile, which is due to launch service on Sept. 20, claims that several retailers and distributors that work with Telecom Italia, Vodafone and Wind have refused to sell its products. The three operators hold 90 per cent of the Italian mobile market. AGCM says it will complete its investigation into the alleged cartel activities of the three operators by Sept. 30.

Bip Mobile aims to be the first low-cost MVNO in Italy. Based on the SIM-only and low-price business model adopted by Free Mobile in France, which has rapidly gained market share, the MVNO will offer its services over 3 Italia's network (the country's smallest mobile operator). Bip Mobile said it will invest around €100 million through to 2014, primarily on advertising and setting up 3,000 sales points nationwide. Fabrizio Bona, a former manager of TIM, Wind and Vodafone, is reportedly one of the shareholders in the privately-held venture.

If Free Mobile is anything to go by then Italy's three biggest operators have reason to fret over Bip Mobile's arrival. After only six months of operation, according to parent company Iliad, Free Mobile drummed up around 3.6 million subscribers in France. However, the startup costs associated with a nationwide MVNO can be onerous. Iliad reported that net profits dropped 45 per cent in the first half of 2012, largely because of its investment in Free Mobile.

Bip Mobile has set a target of reaching five million customers within four years of launching service.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this AGCM press release (translated via Google Translate)
- see this Telecompaper article

Related articles
Free Mobile grabs 5.4% of French market, aims for 25%
European LTE to move forward with UK, Italy launches
Vodafone Italia mulls investment in Metroweb fibre network
Italian operators bid €3.9B for LTE spectrum, double the reserve price