Vodafone Group and Hutchison Whampoa are close to forming an infrastructure alliance for the Irish market, with an agreement reached but a deal not formally signed, according to the Financial Times (FT).

The pair will create a separate company to own shared infrastructure, but spectrum holdings will remain separate. Vodafone Ireland and 3 Ireland will continue to compete at the retail level, the report said.

The deal is intended to deliver benefits by improving network coverage for consumers, while reducing costs for the operators involved.

The scope of the partnership was not discussed – including whether it includes provisions for an LTE rollout.

The FT suggests that savings could exceed £200 million over a five-year period.

Vodafone recently inked a similar network sharing deal with Telefonica for the UK market, where Hutchison’s 3 is also involved in a similar infrastructure alliance with Everything Everywhere.

According to Wireless Intelligence figures, Vodafone Ireland is currently the biggest operator in the market, with 2.2 million customers, while 3 Ireland is the smallest, with 446,000. Also active are Telefonica’s O2 Ireland, with 1.6 million users, and troubled Eircom’s Meteor, with 1.1 million.