PARIS, April 19 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)