Unisource to Disband by Selling Off Units

Conceding that it is no longer essential to the strategy of its three shareholders, global telecommunications alliance Unisource NV yesterday announced a plan to individually sell off its units.

Unisource has already made the first move in that direction with the sale on Monday of its Unisource Carrier Services (UCS) unit to U.K. carrier Energis PLC for 200 million [M] Dutch guilders (US$96.7 million[M]), the company said in a statement. UCS provides services to European Internet service providers (ISPs) and carriers of fixed-line and mobile networks.

Unisource's shareholders - Koninklijke KPN NV of the Netherlands, Telia AB of Sweden and Swisscom AG -- last year announced their intention to find a new investor for the floundering telecommunications alliance.

Although talks designed to find an investor were held, no agreement could be reached on the deal's timing, said a Unisource spokesman who asked not to be identified. Unisource's shareholders saw "a great deal of market interest in individual parts of the company," the spokesman said, so they chose instead to divest the company.

The spokesman could give no time frame for when the sale of Unisource's remaining assets would occur. These include the French carrier SIRIS, an 80 percent share in the German mobile carrier D-Plus, as well as operations in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Unisource also underwent a strategic restructuring to focus on its core activities, and appointed a new president and chief executive officer, Jules Delahaije, whose main task now appears to be overseeing the sell-off.

"It's not a huge surprise," said Mikael Sandberg, investment analyst with Regency Capital International in London. "The founding members have been signalling over the last 18 months that they intend to go their separate ways."

KPN is going its own way with its partnership with U.S.-based Qwest Communications International Inc. In November of 1998, the two carriers announced plans to build a high-capacity IP-based network in Europe, linked to Qwest's North American network.

Telia intends to build its own pan-European network now that it is merging with Norway's Telenor SA, and Swisscom looks like it wants to focus on its regional strengths with its recent purchase of 58 percent in German telecommunications reseller Debitel AG, according to Sandberg.

AT&T Corp. also withdrew from its venture with Unisource, called AT&T Unisource Communication Services (AUCS) in July. California-based Infonet Services Corp. has agreed to acquire AUCS, although the deal is not yet official.

Unisource earned income of 382 million [M] Dutch guilders on revenues of 2.6 billion [B] guilders in 1998, the company said in late June. Its revenues declined from 3.2 billion [B] guilders in 1997.

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