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Exclusive: Iliad in talks with investors to improve T-Mobile bid - sources

The logo of French low-cost telecoms provider Iliad is pictured during the company 2013 annual results presentation in Paris March 10, 2014. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

By Sophie Sassard

LONDON (Reuters) - French telecom firm Iliad (ILD.PA) is in talks with investors to improve its bid for T-Mobile US because it expects the parent company Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE) to reject its $15 billion (£8.90 billion) offer, three sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

Bringing in more investors would help Iliad to increase its $33 per share bid for a 56.6 percent stake in T-Mobile (TMUS.N), the No. 4 U.S. mobile operator, said the sources, who asked not to be named because the talks are private.

Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE) is currently in advanced talks with the No. 3 U.S. mobile operator - Softbank's (9984.T) Sprint, which has bid $40 a share - and is expected to reject Iliad's bid as too low, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.

T-Mobile US shares rose up to 2 percent on Reuters' report.

Iliad is in talks with U.S. satellite and cable operators including Dish Networks (DISH.O), Cox Communications [COXC.UL] and Charter Communications (CHTR.O) that could be interested in a joint bid for T-Mobile as they seek to enter the U.S. mobile market, said the sources.

Iliad is also talking to infrastructure and pension funds such as Ontario Teachers Pension Plan (OTPP) and sovereign wealth funds including Singapore's GIC, said the sources.

Earlier this year, GIC and OTPP demonstrated their interest in mobile investments when they agreed to back France's third mobile operator, Bouygues Telecom, in its failed bid for its domestic rival SFR, which was acquired by the French cable operator Numericable (NUME.PA) (ATCE.AS).

Iliad's discussions with potential partners are preliminary and could still fail, two of the sources said.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Aug. 1, Iliad's billionaire founder and majority-owner Xavier Niel said the firm would be open to team up with partners: "If there are people that want to accompany us, we are open."

OTPP and Charter Communications declined to comment. Iliad, Dish, Cox Communications and GIC were not immediately available for comment.

Iliad needs to team up with investors to raise its bid for T-Mobile because alone it would not be able to raise more debt than the $13 billion that lenders HSBC (HSBA.L) and BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA) have committed to fund the deal, said the sources.

Niel is also planning to put in up to 1 billion euros of his own money and raise up to 2 billion euros via a share sale, sources previously told Reuters.

The Paris-based company said a merger would result in $10 billion in synergies and an additional $2 billion in annual earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA).

It would plan to hit those targets by running T-Mobile, majority-owned by Deutsche Telekom AG (DTEGn.DE), in a more streamlined, efficient way, as it has done with its challenger Free Mobile service in France, sources earlier told Reuters.

But Deutsche Telekom has doubts about the cost savings goal that Iliad has touted, sources said on Monday, and analysts in the U.S. have also been sceptical.

Iliad, which controls about 13 percent of the French mobile market, entered the mobile industry in 2012 and has a history of operating at minimum costs with cut-throat rates. Its no-frills plans start at just over $2 a month.

The company's entry into the French mobile market sent mobile plan prices down 30 percent and squeezed bigger rivals' profits.

T-Mobile US has similarly restructured prices across the industry in the past year, with aggressive promotions that have cost its rivals thousands of subscribers. It reported the industry's largest post-paid phone subscriber additions in the second quarter of 2014.

(Additional reporting by Liana Baker in New York; Editing by Leila Abboud and Kevin Liffey)