AT&T seals deal to acquire Iusacell from Grupo Salinas for USD2.5bn

10 Nov 2014

US telecoms giant AT&T has entered into an agreement with Grupo Salinas to acquire Mexican wireless operator Iusacell for USD2.5 billion, inclusive of Iusacell’s debt. Under the terms of the agreement, AT&T will acquire all of Iusacell’s wireless properties, including licences, network assets, retail stores and approximately 8.6 million subscribers. The acquisition will take place after Grupo Salinas, the current owner of 50% of Iusacell, closes its previously announced deal to purchase the other 50% of the company from Grupo Televisa.

Iusacell offers wireless service under both the Iusacell and Unefon brand names, with a network that covers around 70% of the Mexican population. The cellco owns between 20MHz and 25MHz of 800MHz spectrum, primarily in the southern half of the country, including Mexico City and Guadalajara, and an average of 39MHz of PCS spectrum nationwide. However, AT&T has clarified that the Mexican company’s fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) TotalPlay business will be spun out to Grupo Salinas’ existing shareholders prior to AT&T closing its acquisition of Iusacell.

AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson commented: ‘Our acquisition of Iusacell is a direct result of the reforms put in place by President Pena Nieto to encourage more competition and more investment in Mexico. Those reforms, together with the country’s strong economic outlook, growing population and growing middle class, make Mexico an attractive place to invest. Iusacell gives us a unique opportunity to create the first-ever North American Mobile Service area covering over 400 million consumers and businesses in Mexico and the United States. It won’t matter which country you’re in or which country you’re calling – it will all be one network, one customer experience.’

The transaction is subject to review by Mexico’s telecom regulator Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (Ifetel) and Mexico’s National Foreign Investments Commission. AT&T expects the transaction to close in the first quarter of 2015. Iusacell will continue to be headquartered in Mexico City following the transaction closing.

TeleGeography notes that the surprise deal effectively leaves the race for America Movil’s (AM’s) surplus Mexican assets wide open. AT&T had long been considered the front-runner to buy the fixed and mobile operations, which are being put up for sale to cut AM’s market share across the telecoms sector to below 50%. Indeed, speculation regarding AT&T’s interest in the spun-off Telcel/Telmex assets intensified following meetings between company officials and Ifetel representatives in Mexico City, although it now seems likely that the discussions actually centred on Iusacell. While it remains entirely possible that AT&T could make a play for the operations, it now seems likely that fellow US carrier Sprint Corp will redouble its efforts to secure a deal. Last month Sprint owner Softbank Corp charged Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure with gathering information ahead of a potential bid. Bolivian-born Claure is the founder of mobile phone distributor Brightstar Corp (itself taken over by Sprint in October 2013), which boasts a considerable reach in Latin America.

Mexico, AT&T, Iusacell (inc. Unefon), TotalPlay