Telefonica is reportedly considering the sale of its Irish business as a way of furthering its debt reduction efforts.
According to the Financial Times, a sale of O2 Ireland could raise as much as €700 million for Telefonica, and that “expressions of interests” had been received related to the business.
Mooted buyers include Hutchison Whampoa, owner of 3 Ireland, although there are question marks over whether the regulator would allow such in-market consolidation.
Hong Kong-based Hutchison is also in talks with Telecom Italia about a merger of the businesses in Italy.
According to Wireless Intelligence data, at the end of the first quarter of 2013, O2 Ireland was the second biggest operator in the country, with 1.53 million subscribers, behind market leader Vodafone Ireland, which has 2.16 million.
Also active are Eircom’s Meteor, which has 1.12 million subscribers, and 3 Ireland, which has 0.5 million customers.
A combination of O2 Ireland and 3 Ireland would not displace Vodafone, but would be a closer rival – and distance Meteor in third place.
In the first quarter of 2013, O2 Ireland had revenue of €136 million, down from €155 million.
Speaking at a shareholder meeting late last week, Cesar Alierta, executive chairman of Telefonica, noted that the company had slimmed its debt by €5 billion in the last financial year, adding that “there are very few companies with the capacity to reduce their debt in this way and in such a short time”.
In April, the company announced a deal to sell a 40 per cent stake in four of its businesses in Latin America to a local investor for around €500 million.