PARIS, April 19 (Reuters) - The head of Vivendi’s French telecom unit SFR, won by cable company Numericable in a fierce bidding war, said in comments published on Saturday it planned to partner with Britain’s Vodafone in a network-sharing project.
“In coming days, we will unveil an extended partnership with Vodafone ... (in which) our professional clients will have access to the Vodafone network everywhere in the world,” SFR Chief Executive Jean-Yves Charlier told Le Figaro daily.
Earlier this month, Vivendi said it had accepted Numericable’s bid for SFR, which would give Vivendi at least 13.5 billion euros ($18.7 billion) in cash plus a 20-percent stake in the new entity.
The agreement capped a month-long bidding contest between Numericable, whose parent company is Altice, and Bouygues, France’s No. 3 mobile operator.
But Charlier said an ongoing project with Bouygues to share a mobile network outside urban areas was still “strategic” and would not be threatened by the sale to Numericable.
“We will accelerate the implementation of our sharing projects in a broad sense: with Bouygues Telecom in mobile and Orange in fibre,” Charlier said, referring to a project to build its own fibre network with state-backed Orange in major French cities.
Europe’s telecom operators have turned to network sharing as a way to cope with intense price competition that is driving down profit margins in major markets.
Charlier declined to state what role he would play following the consolidation, but said he had been offered the top job by both Patrick Drahi, the billionaire founder of Numericable, and Bouygues Chief Executive Martin Bouygues.
“I hadn’t responded, out of a concern for neutrality,” he said. “I am focused on the project.” ($1 = 0.7228 Euros) (Reporting By Alexandria Sage; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)