Vodafone wins EU approval for Ono, as Italy gives nod for Cobra buy

It's been a good week for Vodafone: the UK-based group has finally won unconditional approval from European Union regulators to buy Spanish cable operator Ono for €7.2 billion ($9.7 billion), while Italian regulator Consob also approved Vodafone's tender offer for telematics specialist Cobra.

The two deals are set to further Vodafone's strategy in two key areas: one, to drive convergence in its existing markets through the acquisition of local cable or fixed telecoms players; and two, to build up revenue opportunities in emerging areas such as connected cars and machine-to-machine (M2M).

The European Commission announced the approval of the Ono deal, saying it concluded that the transaction would not raise competition concerns as the two companies have largely complementary activities. Vodafone originally unveiled the Ono deal in March.

The Commission added that the combined entity would continue to face significant competition from other market players, such as the incumbent operator Telefónica, and other operators such as Orange and Jazztel.

Indeed, competing mobile players Telefónica Movistar, Orange Spain and Yoigo all now offer so-called quad-play packages of fixed and mobile services, with Movistar Fusion offering by far the most developed multi-play proposition on the market.

In Italy, where Vodafone is focusing on building its own fixed assets, the group has now won approval from Consob for its plan to buy telematics and security specialist Cobra Automotive Technologies through a voluntary offer that values the Italy-based company at around €145 million. The offer will be open until 5.30pm Central European Time on July 25.

Like many operators, Vodafone is seeking new opportunities in the M2M field and has highlighted connected cars as a major area of focus. The company also this week published its second annual 'M2M Adoption Barometer', a global survey of the M2M market carried out by Circle Research. The survey found that M2M adoption has increased by more than 80 per cent in the past year, with over a fifth of companies now actively using the technology.

Last but not least, Vodafone also announced this week that it is investing £450 million (€567.7 million/$771 million) in rolling out a fibre-to-the-building network in Ireland, after winning a tender by energy utility ESB. A joint venture company set up by the two companies will make use of ESB's existing overhead and underground infrastructure to ensure a fast rollout of services that promise data download speeds of 200 Mbps to 1000 Mbps.

"Subject to European Commission approval, the 50:50 joint venture will begin rolling out the new network across Ireland in the coming months, with the first customers able to avail of 100 per cent fibre broadband from the start of 2015," Vodafone said. "The initial phase of the project is expected to be fully rolled out by the end of 2018, with scope for a second phase under the joint venture."

While the ESB and Vodafone joint venture will build and manage the network, open access will be offered to all telecoms operators in Ireland on a wholesale basis.

For more:
- download Vodafone's M2M Adoption Barometer here
- see this Vodafone release on Cobra
- see this European Commission release on Ono
- see this Vodafone release on the Ireland fibre network

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