It has emerged this afternoon that Smart Telecom has followed Denis O’Brien in pulling out of the race to acquire Meteor’s mobile network in Ireland, leaving the road clear for Eircom to buy the company and return to the mobile arena.
Smart’s bid was backed to the tune of around €300m by businessmen Martin Naughton and Lochlann Quinn and Kingspan’s Brendan Murtagh. The company had even managed to rope in Richard Branson’s Virgin Mobile as part of its bid.
It is understood Smart, headed by former stockbroker Oisín Fanning, in association with Virgin Mobile and its co-investors, will consider other commercial opportunities in the Irish market.
As a result of Smart’s decision to pull out of the race, the road is now clear for incumbent telco Eircom to row into the mobile market. Returning to the mobile market is a pivotal move for the incumbent, which is facing declining revenues in the fixed-line space. Research from the Commission for Communications Regulation suggests a surge in the number of mobile-only homes, with 20pc of Irish homes claiming to be mobile only.
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.
Smart along with two other rivals, Eircom and Denis O’Brien, had submitted bids earlier this month. 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.
By John Kennedy
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