December 6, 2012 / 12:05 PM / 5 years ago

EU's Almunia sees Hutchison/Orange Austria decision next week

BRUSSELS, Dec 6 (Reuters) - EU regulators will decide on Hutchison 3G’s planned 1.3 billion euro bid for France Telecom’s Orange Austria next week, the EU’s antitrust chief said on Thursday, in a sign the deal is likely to be approved.

Clearance of the proposed acquisition could trigger a wave of consolidation in the telecoms sector. Telecoms firms and investors have been worried that regulators will not look kindly on mergers reducing the number of operators in national markets.

Hutchison, a unit of Hutchison Whampoa, which is controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, has offered to sell 2.6 GHz spectrum and open its network to rivals at cost price, to try to win EU approval.

“There will be a telecoms case next week,” EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told Reuters on the sidelines of an American Chamber of Commerce conference in Brussels, referring to the Hutchison/Orange Austria deal.

The European Commission briefed national competition regulators on the case last month. Such briefings typically indicate EU approval is expected.

If the Commission’s antitrust regulators were demanding more concessions, they would already have informed Hutchison of the objections, which is not the case, according to a person close to the deal.

Hutchison is the smallest mobile operator in Austria and Orange Austria the second-smallest. Telekom Austria is the market leader, followed by Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile.

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