Two bigwigs in the UK's mobile phone biz have been given just five days to provide "legally binding proposals" that the proposed sale of thousands of phone masts won't damage competition and harm consumers.
The tight deadline came as the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) raised "concerns" about the proposed acquisition by Spain's Cellnex of thousands of mobile phone towers currently owned by CK Hutchison Holdings, UK network Three's Hong Kong parent [PDF].
The CMA's intervention follows last year's announcement that Cellnex planned to splash out €10bn on a Europe-wide buyout of wireless telecoms infrastructure currently owned by CK Hutchison Holdings.
At the time it was reported that the acquisition would see some 24,600 towers added to Cellnex's portfolio of 60,000 masts across Europe including some 6,000 mobile phone masts across Britain.
Following the completion of Phase 1 of its investigation launched in May, the CMA has found that the deal "raises competition concerns" in relation to the independent supply of "passive infrastructure assets."
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The CMA pointed out that Cellnex is already the "largest independent supplier of mobile towers in the UK" following its £2bn acquisition of Arqiva's telecoms division in 2020, which added around 8,300 sites to Cellnex's portfolio.
The CMA is concerned that its purchase of assets owned by Three – along with its already considerable estate of towers and masts – would further strengthen its position in the market.
As a result, Cellnex and CK Hutchison have five working days to offer legally binding proposals to the CMA to ensure the deal will not damage competition within the industry.
No one from Cellnex or Three was available for comment at the time of writing.
In a statement, Mike Walker, chief economic adviser at the CMA, said: "It's important that services provided to mobile networks remain competitive so that the millions of businesses and consumers across the UK that use mobile phones can enjoy lower prices. Cellnex is already the largest independent supplier of mobile towers in the UK. We're concerned that this deal could help to lock in this position and prevent the emergence of new direct competition."
Cellnex and CK Hutchison have until 20 July to reply. ®