TeliaSonera to strengthen Baltic portfolio with Omnitel purchase

27 Aug 2003

Amber Mobile Teleholding, the cellular subsidiary of pan-Nordic telecoms operator TeliaSonera [Nasdaq: TLSN], has agreed to buy Motorola’s 35% stake in Lithuanian operator Omnitel for USD117 million. The deal, which is awaiting approval from the Lithuanian Competition Council, will take TeliaSonera’s shareholding in Omnitel to 90% and can be seen as the latest step by the operator to become the dominant fixed line and mobile operator in the Nordic and Baltic region. With 905,000 subscribers at the end of June 2003, up from 850,000 six months previously, Omnitel has more than 50% of the Lithuanian mobile market and reported a 17% rise in net sales to SEK539 million in the three months to the end of June. Motorola will continue as Omnitel’s handset and infrastructure supplier.

TeliaSonera and its subsidiaries serve a potential market of 31 million in the Nordic and Baltic countries. In addition to its stake in Omnitel, the company also holds 60% of Lithuania’s fixed line incumbent Lietuvos Telekomas, and 49% stakes in Latvia’s dominant fixed line and mobile operators, Lattelekom and Latvian Mobile Telephone Company. In neighbouring Estonia it owns 49% of Estonian Telecom – the holding company which owns the national PTO Eesti Telefon and Eesti Mobiiltelefon, operator of NMT-450 and GSM networks – as well as 70% of value added service provider EsData and 40% of paging operator Eesti Kaugotsingu. TeliaSonera also offers a range of services in the Baltic states under their own branding, including Latvian cable operator Telia MultiCom, and data services and internet provider Telia Latvia.

Whilst the Baltic states are an area highlighted for future growth, the Nordic markets of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland continue to provide the bulk of TeliaSonera’s revenues; in 2002 the Baltics provided just 7.7% of the telco’s SEK81 billion turnover. In Sweden, Telia offers local, long-distance and international voice services, mobile telephony and internet access. At the end of 2002 the company had 6.44 million fixed lines in service, down from 6.58 million a year earlier due to customers choosing mobile subscriptions over fixed lines. The number of ISDN channels also fell – by 39,000 during the year to 833,000 – as a growing number of ISDN customers switched to ADSL or LAN connections. Telia Mobile had a total of 5.46 million customers in the Nordic countries at the end of 2002, up from 4.94 million at the start of the year. The bulk of these, 3.6 million, were in its home market, but the group had signed up 1.09 million customers in its next largest market, Norway. Mobile subsidiaries in Russia and the Baltic states counted 2.58 million customers.

In Finland, Sonera concentrates on its mobile operations, claiming a total GSM customer base of 2.53 million at the end of 2002. The company launched its 3G network on 1 January 2002, despite UMTS handsets not being available. The network operates in the country’s four largest cities: the Helsinki metropolitan area, Oulu, Tampere and Turku. At the start of 2002 Sonera also held 3G concessions in Germany, Spain, Italy and Switzerland, but due to the continued delays associated with the technology, wrote down its investments in all four countries in the second half of the year. Sonera had 721,194 equivalent fixed lines in service in Finland at the end of 2002, with ADSL connections reaching 59,628.