Asian business magnet Li Ka-shing might be working an acquisition between Hutchison Whampoa—the parent company of Three UK—and Telefonica's O2 for £9 billion.
The move comes a few weeks after BT Group announced it was in talks with Orange and Deutsche Telekom over the sale of EE (formerly Everything Everywhere) for £12.5 billion.
The move would merge Three UK and O2 together, surpassing EE's 26 million subscribers with O2's 23 and Three UK's 9 million subscribers. EE would still hold first place in 4G LTE subscribers, however.
Li Ka-shing already acquired Telefonica's Irish service for £650 million in 2013, merging it into Three Ireland. In mid-2014 Three denied plans to acquire the rest of O2 in Britain, although these new rumors show a revived interest.
O2 has been in debt for a few years now and has been looking to get out of the UK, according to Bloomberg sources. The carrier has also been linked to talks with Sky for £8 billion, but Hutchison Whampoa has more capital to spare if it comes to to a bidding war.
Hutchison Whampoa is currently unhappy with the progress of Three UK, holding fourth place in the terms of overall subscribers. The company has tried to bolster numbers by acquiring more spectrum in the UK, but still lacks the infrastructure of O2 and Vodafone.
There are plenty of potential moves happening in the mobile industry, including an apparent merger between Vodafone UK and Virgin Media. The merger would give Virgin Media the all important four digital services, the same thing BT wants with the EE acquisition.
Three UK and O2 have declined to comment on the report.