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Cablecos prove disruptive force as European 4G auctions pile up

The European economies are really getting into the swing of LTE auctions now, with France and Spain the next major sales

By PETER WHITE

Published: 30 June, 2011

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The European economies are really getting into the swing of LTE auctions now, with France and Spain the next major sales. In these countries, as in Benelux and elsewhere, cablecos are proving the most disruptive force, looking to seize spectrum to launch quad plays and reduce the mobile power of the cellcos.

This was seen in Belgium, which has yet to sell LTE assets, but has awarded its fourth 3G licence, opening the way for two cable operators to steal a march in 4G – a pattern also seen in neighboring Netherlands last year. The only bidder for the spectrum was a consortium called Telenet Tecteo Bidco, made up of two cable operators (Telenet and Tecteo). It paid €71.5m for the license, which also brings options on GSM spectrum.

Telenet is a subsidiary of the US public company Liberty Global, with around 2.3 million cable homes, split roughly 50:50 digital and cable; while Tecteo is the second largest cable operator there with 1.2 million TV homes. This move mirrors the one whereby UPC (also Liberty Global) and local cable roll-up firm Ziggo, the number 1 and 2 cable operators in the Netherlands, who bought spectrum just over a year ago there.

Bidco has bought two blocks of 14.8MHz in the 2.1GHz band and says it will exercise its option to buy two blocks of 4.8MHz in the 900MHz band, along with 2x10MHz in the 1.8GHz band – it will pay €31.5m for these two assets in 2015, which most analysts see as a bargain, given the desirability of sub-1GHz spectrum.

The group is likely to deploy LTE in the technology neutral spectrum even though specific 4G licenses, in 2.6GHz and 800MHz, are auctioned separately. Like Iliad in France, it plans to steal a march on more established leaders with low cost tariffs combined with advanced data services.

Telenet already runs an MNVO with over 200,000 customers and said it would now improve its “challenger position in the mobile market and will allow for the roll-out of high-speed mobile data networks such as LTE”, though it also made it clear it was keeping its options open, hinting at possible trading of its assets in future.

This would fit in with the behavior in the Netherlands where Ziggo and UPC execs have been cited as saying it is unlikely they would build out their own spectrum, but more likely to find a 2nd or 3rd placed cellular partner and contribute the spectrum to a joint venture.

In Spain, no fewer than 11 companies have signed up to bid in the upcoming auction of 58 blocks of spectrum in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands, plus some additional 900MHz licenses. The sale will take place in the coming weeks and it seems that several non-traditional firms will take part, challenging established cellcos Vodafone, Telefonica and Orange. The list is not public, but is likely to include cablecos, as in other countries.

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