Fantastic Mr Fok bares his teeth; denies 3 Italia is being ‘hunted’ by rivals

20 Oct 2011

Hutchison Whampoa managing director Canning Fok has emphatically denied claims that his company is looking to dispose of its 3 Italia mobile unit. In an interview with Corriere della Sera, the Hong Kong-based tycoon commented: ‘I do not understand why we should sell 3 Italia, when the dream that we have [held for] ten years is becoming a reality. From birth to [now], we have invested in the business of data traffic, and now that the market moves in our direction we should go? If anything, we are ready to take advantage’. When quizzed on his company’s reluctance to bid for 800MHz frequencies in last month’s spectrum auction, Fok added: ‘We have studied with great attention the mechanism of the auction, setting [ourselves] a limit, beyond which making a bid was not convenient for us. Our competitors have paid more than EUR1 billion (USD1.38 billion) apiece. We have spent EUR800 million less than the competitors. And our rates are available immediately’. As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, 3 Italia was unchallenged in its application for two allocations of 2.6GHz spectrum in ‘specific’ bands, which were priced at EUR36.8 million and EUR37.2 million apiece, going on to secure two further ‘general’ spectrum allocations in the 2.6GHz band for EUR36.4 million and EUR36.0 million respectively; alongside 2.6GHz frequencies Vodafone Italy, Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) and Wind Italia also acquired two blocks of 800MHz spectrum each, with prices ranging from EUR481.7 million to EUR496.1 million. However, the 800MHz frequencies are not set to be released until the completion of the country’s digital switchover in late-2012.

In July 2011 both Telecom Italia and Wind Italia were strongly linked to a potential acquisition of 3, with Corriere della Sera reporting that both Goldman Sachs Group and Bank of America Merrill Lynch were working on a merger plan for Telecom Italia, without a formal mandate. 3 Italia, it said, was valued at around EUR4.3 billion. This week Fok broke his silence on the rumours, commenting: ‘Four mobile operators in Italy are not too many. In Ireland there are four mobile operators, and also in Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain and Spain. Telecom in Brazil has six competitors. I do not understand: only in Italy there are too many? If there will be consolidation, we will be the protagonists. Moreover, over the years we have collected USD11 billion of equity to invest in our business. We are already looking around. In Europe there are many conversations going on between the telephone companies. And we want to be consolidators’.

Italy, 3 Italia (H3G Italia)