Willcom owner ends search for strategic partner

12 Feb 2009

The US-based private equity fund Carlyle Group has reportedly abandoned plans to find a strategic investor for Willcom PHS, the mobile business it owns in Japan. Reuters cites people familiar with the situation as saying that having appointed Merrill Lynch last year to find a partner for Willcom, Carlyle has given up on the plan and will instead use NTT DoCoMo’s network to cut down on network infrastructure costs. The Tokyo-based mobile operator had originally planned to spend USD2.2 billion by 2015 to develop faster data transmission technology, but has reassessed its objectives after the global financial crisis reduced the banks’ willingness to lend.

Partnering with DoCoMo will allow Willcom to provide a nationwide service without incurring significant costs in building out its own networks. The cellco reported around 4.5 million subscribers at the end of last month, down 77,000 from a year earlier, while one of its main mobile data rivals, eMobile, increased its subscriber base five-fold to 1.2 million over the same period.