January 13, 2015 / 10:16 AM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 1-Orange looks again to French telco consolidation after EE sale

(recasts with quote, adds date of strategy update March 17)

PARIS, Jan 13 (Reuters) - French telecoms group Orange hopes to close a deal to sell its stake in UK mobile operator EE soon and will look the potential for further consolidation in the French telecoms market once the deal is done, its boss said on Tuesday.

“There’s a natural pressure towards consolidation in the sector,” Chairman and Chief Executive Stephane Richard said at a New Year news conference.

There are four telecoms operators in France, locked in a price war that has raised fears of damage to investment and jobs. A takeover battle in the first half of last year failed to reduce the numbers when SFR was bought by Numericable - a new entrant to the telecoms service sector.

Talks aimed at folding one of them, Bouygues Telecom , into Orange or rival Iliad, later foundered over price.

Nevertheless the subject of sector consolidation returns regularly in industry discussions.

British telecoms group BT announced on Dec. 15 it had entered exclusive talks with Orange and EE’s co-owner Deutsche Telekom to buy EE for 12.5 billion pounds ($18.9 billion) in a deal that would give the former UK state telecoms firm the top position in British mobile as well as fixed line broadband services. BT has said it hopes to close the deal by the end of 2015 or early 2016.

Richard also said he hoped to close the purchase of broadband specialist Jazztel in the spring.

Orange’s 3.4 billion euro ($4.02 billion) Jazztel deal faces an expanded investigation by EU antitrust regulators.

Orange plans to present its strategy plan for the years up to 2020 on March 17. Richard said it would draw heavily on client experiences with digital technology. ($1 = 0.8458 euros) ($1 = 0.6612 pounds) (Reporting by Gwenaelle Barzic; editing by Leigh Thomas)

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