Hong Kong-based telecommunications giant Hutchison Whampoa is poised to purchase Britain's second-biggest wireless carrier, O2, in a deal reportedly worth upwards of £10 billion ($15 billion). Hutchison Whampoa — owned by Chinese billionaire Li Ka-shing — already owns Three, another major cell phone provider in the United Kingdom. Should Hutchison Whampoa successfully purchase O2 from its current owner, Spanish firm Telefónica, then Ka-shing's company would create the UK's largest mobile group.
EE, the largest British cell phone network provider, is also in takeover talks
O2 is currently the second-largest mobile network operator in the UK. The largest, EE, is currently in its own takeover talks. The network received a £12.5 billion ($18.75 billion) bid from venerable British company BT in December, a few months after it was rumored that the telecom company was planning to buy O2. By combining Three and O2, Hutchison Whampoa would obtain more than 31 million subscribers — 41 percent of the market — and knock EE, with 32 percent, into second place.
Financial Times reports that the deal will likely be decided in de facto EU capital Brussels, given the international ownership of the companies involved. If the purchase goes through, British consumers could rapidly see a hike in their cell phone bills, as Three, one of the cheaper providers available in the country, is subsumed into O2. To help keep a lid on prices and maintain competition, Ofcom, the governmental body responsible for regulating the telecommunications industry in the UK, will reportedly pressure the new conglomerate into handing over some of its spectrum to smaller networks.