The Daily Telegraph

French tycoon buys Vodafone chunk as it dials into link with rivals

- By Ben Woods and James Warrington

BILLIONAIR­E Xavier Niel has seized a stake in Vodafone, becoming the second French mogul to swoop on a British telecoms company.

The Le Monde newspaper co-owner has bought a 2.5pc stake through his financial vehicle Atlas Investisse­ment.

The move pushed shares in the mobile titan up more than 2pc on the London Stock Exchange to 108.76p.

Atlas said it “supported” Vodafone’s plans to combine with rivals across Europe, amid speculatio­n that it may merge with Three in the UK. The firm said: “Atlas Investisse­ment’s view is that there are opportunit­ies to accelerate both the streamlini­ng of Vodafone’s footprint and the separation of its infrastruc­ture assets, further reduce costs, improve profitabil­ity, accelerate broadband developmen­t in Germany and other geographie­s and enhance focus on innovation.”

Mr Niel is known for his ownership of the French telecoms giant Iliad, which he founded in 1990 and includes brands such as Free Mobile, the fourth biggest mobile operator in France. He made his fortune on internet pornograph­y, chat lines and peep shows.

French raider Patrick Drahi upped his holding in BT to a near 20pc stake in December, prompting fears that he was preparing for a takeover. The then business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng decided to review Mr Drahi’s decision to increase his holding from 12.1pc to 18pc, but did not intervene in the transactio­n.

BT is upgrading the nation’s broadband infrastruc­ture from its copper network to faster, more reliable full-fibre, while also deploying 5G mobile signals around 100 times faster than 4G.

Nick Read, the Vodafone chief executive, has urged regulators and government­s to back a wave of consolidat­ion across the industry after claiming European telecoms companies were suffering from an unsustaina­ble business model that does not allow them to make a fair return on their investment in next generation digital infrastruc­ture.

Mr Read confirmed earlier this year that he has been in consolidat­ion talks with rivals in the UK, Spain, Italy and Portugal, but ruled out any “fire sales”.

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