STC said to be mulling an €8 billion bid for United Group

The rumour mill reckons Saudi Telecom Company's ongoing European expansion might include a move for United Group.

Nick Wood

June 4, 2024

2 Min Read

This is according to unnamed sources cited by Reuters, which claim STC is in the early stages of considering an offer, which all sounds very tentative.

Some of these sources allege that United's owner, UK-based buyout firm BC Partners, has hired advisors to help it with a sale process that is due to kick off in the coming weeks.

A deal for United could value the telecoms-and-TV provider at around €8 billion.

This is the same valuation that was floated in early May, when the last lot of rumours regarding United did the rounds.

Back then it was e& that was being touted as a potential suitor, but the UAE-based telco group promptly denied being in active negotiations.

It is easy to see why these two names have been linked with United, since both STC and e& have embarked on European expansion plans.

E& has built up a 14.6 percent stake in Vodafone, and its CEO Hatem Dowidar sits on the board. The telcos have established a strategic alliance that saw them selected last October by Dubai-based conglomerate Al Futtaim to provide SD-WAN services in eight markets.

Similarly STC last year acquired 4.9 percent of Telefónica, plus another 5 percent in derivatives that can be converted to voting shares in the unlikely event it receives the Spanish government's blessing.

That would make STC Telefónica's biggest single shareholder, were it not for Spain being so worried about the national security implications that would arise in this situation.

Its concerns led the Spanish government to hatch a plan to acquire up to 10 percent of Telefónica to defend it from STC. In mid April its stake reached 5 percent.

Meanwhile, STC's infrastructure unit, TAWAL, has also recently done business with United Group. In April it agreed a €1.2 billion deal to acquire the latter's Eastern European towers portfolio.

Given its recent track record, it's not much of a stretch to believe that STC might be interested in United – a European multinational that serves nearly 17 million customers across eight countries, and has deployed broadband networks that pass more than 5 million homes.

According to Reuters' sources, STC could face competition from infrastructure funds that are keen to cherry pick from United's portfolio, specifically its operations in Greece, Croatia and Slovenia. BC Partners is also said to be considering dividing United's business into two regions and selling them off individually.

Given what's going on in Spain, it might just be governments – and their appetite for allowing a Saudi-backed enterprise to gain control over network infrastructure – that have the final word in this developing saga.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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