Three owner prepares for O2 acquisition

Billionaire Li Ka-shing’s Hutchison Whampoa, the Asian telecoms giant, is on the verge of buying O2, according to the latest reports.

Hutchison Whampoa already owns Three, so that would mean the company would hold two UK networks – though O2 is a far more sizable prospect than Three, as it’s the second biggest operator in this country.

BT was thought to have O2 in its sights, but in the end plumped for EE – the largest UK network – even though that move might mean more heat from regulators (takeover talks are ongoing).

The Verge reports that Hutchison Whampoa is set to splash out at least £10 billion to make the acquisition. BT is paying some £12.5 billion, and the price for O2 shouldn’t approach that level, so it will likely be bang on £10 billion, or just a touch over.

If Three and O2 are merged together, Hutchison Whampoa would own the UK’s biggest mobile network, surpassing EE’s 26 million subscribers with a figure of 32 million, as we reported when we first broke news of this potential acquisition at the beginning of the week. EE would still be top when it comes to 4G subscribers, though, with its major head-start in the LTE rollouts having been made to count.

Vodafone and Virgin Media is another potential merger which is currently being mulled.