LONDON (03/13/2000) - On a day when Finnish mobile phone operator Sonera Corp. wanted to focus on the announcement that Xfera Movile SA, of which Sonera owns 15 percent, was granted a national third generation (3G) mobile network licence by the Spanish government, the company was instead forced to deny rumors that Vodafone AirTouch PLC is looking to buy 25 percent of Sonera.
"There is no offer; it is not true," said Sonera Senior Vice President Pirjo Kekäläinen-Torvinen today when asked about Vodafone's reported interest in Sonera. The Sunday Times in London reported yesterday that Vodafone was in talks to buy a quarter of the Finnish company for around 10 billion pounds (US$15.8 billion) worth of Vodafone stock.
Formally owned by the Finnish government, Sonera's growing state independence and strong market share in Finland, as well as its investments outside of Finland, are making the company increasingly attractive to other telecommunications companies.
The Finnish government currently owns 54.6 percent of Sonera and has passed a resolution which will bring its ownership share down to 34 percent, Kekäläinen-Torvinen said. "The Finnish government may also pass a resolution to go down to zero percent eventually, but that does not mean it will actually choose to do so right away," Kekäläinen-Torvinen added.
The Finnish government has sold 22 million of its shares in Sonera to outside investors, Kekäläinen-Torvinen said, though she would not disclose how much the government had made on the sales.
Sonera did announce today that Xfera was granted one of four 3G mobile network licences by the Spanish government. As a result, Sonera plans to invest 350 million euros in Xfera, Kekäläinen-Torvinen said. The company will raise the money buy selling off Sonera assets, the company said in a statement.
Along with Sonera's 15 percent stake, French conglomerate Vivendi SA owns 27.5 percent Xfera, and Mannesman AG owns another seven percent of Xfera, Sonera said. It is likely that Orange PLC will take over Mannesmann's shares in Xfera once the planned merger between Mannesmann and Vodafone is complete, Sonera said.
Xfera plans to invest 5 billion euros in the Spanish Universal Mobile Telecommunications System within the next 10 years, Kekäläinen-Torvinen said.
Sonera Corporation, in Helsinki, Finland can be reached at +358-20401 or at http://www.sonera.com/.