Meteor is not for sale, sources say

19 Oct 2004

Sources close to Ireland’s third mobile operator Meteor have argued that the company’s parent firm Western Wireless International (WWI) does not appear to have any interest in selling the company, despite reports that Eircom is in talks to either acquire the company or enter into a joint venture in order to return to the lucrative mobile phone market.

Reports over the weekend suggested that Eircom is in talks with Meteor on a possible joint venture described as a “halfway house” to a full and outright acquisition of the company. Under the deal Eircom would share the costs of running Meteor as well as running a virtual mobile network across the Meteor network.

It is believed that a price tag of €300m would prove too expensive for Eircom and a joint venture is a potential compromise that would enable the incumbent to return to the mobile market it exited when it sold Eircell to Vodafone in 2001.

However, a source close to Meteor told “There is no ‘for sale’ sign up for Meteor at present. If anything, WWI has been increasing its investment to completely build-out its network and by increasing its stake in Meteor to 100pc, has affirmed its commitment to the Irish market. There is no active sale process in place, there is no desire to sell the company right now.”

The source, however, did confirm that Meteor has had talks with both Eircom and O2 about offering mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) services, whereby Meteor’s capacity could be utilised to offer virtual services to Irish business and consumer users.

“Meteor has been open to talks with anyone about an MVNO venture. But this has been mainly on a stop-start basis. The trick is any deal would have to make good business sense to either party and so far Meteor has not seen a proposal that makes commercial sense.”

In October last year, Brad Horowitz, the president and chairman of WWI, and John Stanton, chairman of Western Wireless, one of the major players in the US telecoms market, told Irish journalists that the local operation would receive the lion’s share of its annual US$40m infrastructure investment.

“If anything, Meteor wants to duplicate WWI’s massive success in the Austrian mobile market. Meteor’s performance in the months since full national roaming has been introduced has been very strong and the company is pleased with sales and expects official sales for the past quarter to show strong growth.”

According to second quarter figures, Meteor added 22,900 customers – well ahead of O2 and Vodafone in the same period. Third quarter figures on the Irish mobile market are due over the next three weeks.

By John Kennedy