Saudi’s Tawal cleared to buy mobile towers in Eastern Europe

Saudi’s Tawal cleared to buy mobile towers in Eastern Europe

The proposed sale of United Group’s mobile telephony towers in Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia to Saudi telecom infrastructure company Tawal has been approved by Bulgaria’s Commission for Protection of Competition.

Under the terms of the deal, United Group plans to sell 100% in a subsidiary that owns the towers for 1.22 billion euros (about US$1.325 billion) in cash but will continue using the infrastructure under a long-term agreement.

United Group describes itself as the leading multi-play telecoms and media provider in South East Europe, providing customers with a full range of telecommunications services. The core activities of Tawal, a subsidiary of Saudi Telecommunications Company (STC), involve designing, building and managing consolidated telecom infrastructure facilities. The Tawal/United Group agreement was first announced in April.

According to local press reports, the only objection to the proposed acquisition came from Yettel Bulgaria, one of Bulgaria’s three mobile carriers, which competes against United Group-owned service provider Vivacom.

Yettel wanted the regulator to delay a decision until it had ruled on United Group’s acquisition of Bulgarian satellite TV provider Bulsatkom – a deal that apparently had not involved prior notification of the CPC. This acquisition itself included some mobile telephony towers – possibly, Yettel suggested, being sold as part of the Tawal deal. Yettel also asked for a more in-depth analysis of the impact of Tawal’s acquisition on the market.

The CPC has rejected Yettel’s argument, but the review of United Group's acquisition of Bulsatkom is still pending, which, in theory, could affect the Tawal deal.

United Group owns Vivacom, Nova Broadcasting Group, (one of Bulgaria’s two largest private television broadcasters), and a number of ISPs, not to mention telecom, cable TV and broadcasting assets in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.