SoftBank is reportedly mulling an investment in Iusacell, Mexico’s third-largest mobile operator, which would represent the Japanese group’s first foray in Latin America.
According to Bloomberg sources, SoftBank is reviewing Iusacell’s assets after the owner of the Mexican business, Ricardo Salinas, previously said the company would soon announce a “world class strategic partner”.
Salinas recently agreed to buy 50 per cent of Iusacell for $717 million from broadcaster group Televisa, to gain full ownership.
When the transaction was announced, a Salinas representative said the new Iusacell partner would need “high technical capacity, to be an international player, and have the financial capacity to face the demand there is in this market”.
SoftBank, which has an existing roaming agreement with Iusacell, has expanded its geographical reach in recent years. It holds a controlling stake in US number-three operator Sprint and until recently, had ambitions to merge the business with T-Mobile US.
The news of SoftBank’s interest in Iusacell follows reports that America Movil, Mexico’s largest mobile player, approached several operator groups, including SoftBank, about potentially selling mobile assets on Mexico’s east coast for up to $17.5 billion.
AT&T, China Mobile and Canada’s Bell Mobility were also named as those approached by America Movil, which said in July that it would reduce its market share to 50 per cent through the sale of assets.
The company is under pressure from Mexican regulators to take steps to reduce its dominance. In addition, the government is promoting competition with new laws designed to encourage foreign investors to move into the market.
A state-owned mobile network is also planned, which could potentially help Telefonica and Iusacell compete more effectively with America Movil by enabling them to boost coverage without the need to build their own infrastructure.
For its part Telefonica has been linked by a Reuters report to a tie-up with Televisa in which it could potentially convert the cable company’s customers to its mobile services.
According to GSMA Intelligence figures, America Movil had 71.2 million mobile connections via its Telcel brand at the end of the second quarter. Telefonica’s Movistar was in second place with 20.2 million connections with Iusacell on 8.2 million.