UK regulators refer Vodafone’s merger with Three for in-depth probe

A pedestrian walks past a Vodafone store in central London on May 16, 2023. British mobile phone giant Vodafone will cut 11,000 jobs over three years in the latest tech sector reform, as new boss Margherita Della Valle criticized recent performances.

Adrien Dennis | AFP | Getty Images

The British competition regulator on Thursday referred the proposed merger between Vodafone and CK Hutchison’s Three mobile network to a full investigation.

The Competition and Markets Authority said that, based on information currently available to it, the deal “is expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition within one or more markets in the United Kingdom”.

At the end of March, the CMA gave Vodafone And CK Hutchison five working days to propose “meaningful solutions” to the regulator’s concerns or face a full investigation.

The CMA has given itself until September 18 to complete the in-depth investigation, also known as a phase 2 investigation.

The CMA has previously said the deal could lead to customers facing higher prices and reduced quality, leading to less competition in the UK mobile market. Regulators argued the deal could also result in virtual mobile network operators, which rely on Vodafone and Three’s infrastructure, being unable to negotiate good deals for their own users.

Announced last year, the transaction between Vodafone and CK Hutchison would merge the two brands’ UK operations, giving Vodafone a majority stake of 51% and leaving CK Hutchison with the minority stake.

The combination of Vodafone and Three UK’s UK operations will reduce the number of mobile operators in the country to just three, following major consolidation in the telecommunications sector in recent years.

The CMA opened an antitrust investigation into the merger in January.

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