O’Brien retires from
Meteor race

14 Jul 2005

It is reported this morning that Denis O’Brien has pulled out of the race to acquire mobile network Meteor. It is understood the business tycoon had reached the limit of what he was prepared to pay for Ireland’s third-ranked mobile operator.

According to its most recent figures, Meteor had an 11pc share of the Irish mobile market with some 376,600 subscribers. The company is owned by US firm Western Wireless, which is itself being acquired for €5bn by another US telco Alltel.

O’Brien along with two other rivals, Eircom and Smart Telecom, had submitted bids by the required deadline of 5pm last Friday. It is understood Eircom tabled the highest bid, at around €410m while Smart’s was in the region of €400m.

Reports suggest the final price for Ireland’s third operator could range between €400m and €450m.

Smart’s bid is being backed to the tune of around €300m by businessmen Martin Naughton and Lochlann Quinn and Kingspan’s Brendan Murtagh.

Eircom has made no secret of its wish to return to the mobile sector having sold its mobile arm, Eircell, to Vodafone back in 2000. Ireland’s largest telco is understood to be raising up to €200m from its own resources, with a further €250m being raised from existing shareholders through a rights issue being organised by investment banker Morgan Stanley.

O’Brien’s decision to pull out of the bidding war means he will be able to concentrate on his growing mobile empire in the Caribbean, where the network he owns, Digicel, now operates in nine countries with a total population of more than 12 million people. Last month Digicel became the first company to be awarded a licence to operate a GSM network in Haiti following a tender process.

By Brian Skelly