Liberty Global acquisition of BASE approved as Mobistar becomes Orange

After a four-month investigation the European Commission has approved the acquisition of Belgian MNO BASE by multinational cableco Liberty Global, subject to conditions.

Liberty Global’s Belgian subsidiary Telenet announced an agreement with KPN, which owns BASE, to buy the MNO for €1.3 billion back in April 2015 and then the EC took half a year to decide whether it wanted to take a closer look at the deal. Almost a year after it was announced Liberty and KPN have finally received the green light.

“We have made sure that Liberty Global’s merger with BASE will not reverse the trend of declining mobile prices in Belgium in recent years,” said Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. “To maintain healthy competition in the Belgian mobile market, Liberty Global and BASE will sell part of their customer base to a new virtual mobile operator.”

The specifics of the commitments Liberty had to make to get approval of the deal are as follows:

  • Sell BASE’s share in Mobile Vikings, a mobile virtual network operator that uses BASE’s network, to Belgian broadcaster Medialaan
  • Transfer part of BASE’s customer base to Medialaan. BASE and Medialaan currently have an agreement under which BASE sells mobile services under the brand JIM Mobile, owned by Medialaan. Liberty Global will transfer the customers of the JIM Mobile brand to Medialaan

“With the regulatory approval for the sale of BASE Company we have reached another important milestone in the transformation of our Company,” said Eelco Blok, CEO of KPN. “We will now fully focus on the execution of our successful strategy in The Netherlands, which is centered around fixed-mobile bundles, and has delivered strong base growth supported by rising customer satisfaction over the past years.”

Meanwhile, twenty years after co-founding the Mobistar MNO in Belgium, majority shareholder Orange has decided to do the decent thing and bestow the corporate brand upon it.

Apparently the thinking behind this move has taken years to complete and involved ‘several in-depth analyses’, so nothing has been left to chance. The conclusive analysis was carried out last year and involved a look at the evolution of the Belgian market.

Jean-Marc Harion, Mobistar CEO, declared: “The adoption of the Orange brand is a unique opportunity to strengthen our presence in our markets and to support our entrance into the world of convergence with the upcoming launch of our cable Internet and TV offer for residential customers and the recent launch of the new Pulse offers for companies,” said Jean-Marc Harion, Mobistar CEO. “On the business market, the rebranding will help to reconfirm our leadership in international services in the domain of Machine-to-Machine and the Internet of Things.”

“In the nearly 20 years of its existence, Mobistar has revolutionised and democratised the Belgian telecommunications market,” said Jan Steyaert, President of the Mobistar Board. “The adoption of a major international brand such as Orange will enable the company to continue to energise the Belgian market for the benefit of its consumers. That is why our Board of Directors voted wholeheartedly and unanimously in favour of the brand change, which will allow Mobistar to continue its development under the Orange brand.”

It might just be a coincidence that these announcements have come on the same day, but the underlying theme is multiplay consolidation in the Belgian market. The acquisition of BASE gives Liberty a 21% share of Belgian mobile subscribers, according to Ovum’s WCIS service, to go with its leading cable position. Orange seems to be trying imbue its 36% share of the Belgian mobile market with some multiplay special sauce though this rebrand, but it might need to follow up with something a bit more substantial before long.

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