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January 22, 2006

Belgacom eyes French alternative carrier

Belgian telecoms carrier Belgacom SA, which is in the final stages of completing a 594.3m euro ($711.3m) deal to acquire Belgian network services company Telindus Group NV, is also reportedly interested in acquiring French alternative carrier Neuf Cegetel.

By CBR Staff Writer

For some time now the Brussels-based carrier has been looking for acquisitions in emerging markets. In May last year, it confirmed it was in talks with Dutch alternative carrier Versatel Telecom International NV regarding a possible strategic co-operation including a possible takeover. This deal fell through and it now seems that Belgacom is switching its attention to France. Whether these markets can be described as emerging is a moot point.

In an interview in La Libre Belgique, CEO Didier Bellens hinted that Neuf Cegetel would satisfy Belgacom’s appetite to acquire a broadband provider in a neighboring country.

Belgacom already has a 5% stake in Neuf Cegetel, which was formed in August 2005 following the merger between alternative fixed-line telecommunications operators Cegetel SA and Neuf Telecom SA. That merger was part of a move to create a credible fixed-line telecommunications competitor to France Telecom SA that could offer both fixed-line and broadband services.

Belgacom effectively outbid France Telecom for Telindus, and any acquisition outside its saturated domestic should provide the Belgian carrier with some much-needed growth.

Meanwhile, it seems that Belgacom’s mobile arm, Proximus, had its offices raided by competition regulators late last week following a complaint from rival Base. Base is Belgium’s number-three mobile phone operator and is owned by Dutch incumbent Royal KPN NV. Base claims it is being excluded from the professional market by Proximus, which is the market leader in Belgium.

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