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Iliad’s Xavier Niel buys Orange Switzerland, growing his empire

Kevin Fitchard

French telecom tycoon Xavier Niel may have seen his offers for T-Mobile US rebuffed, but it looks like he’s going to get his hands on a mobile carrier after all. Niel’s private holding company NJJ Capital is buying Orange Switzerland for €2.3 billion (U.S. $2.8 billion) and expects to close the deal in the first quarter after getting regulatory approval.

This deal is a bit different from the T-Mobile bid, since Neil is buying it direct through private equity. Over the summer, French ISP Iliad, which Neil founded and controls, offered to buy Deutsche Telekom’s controlling interest in T-Mobile US, but DT and T-Mobile turned it down.

Niel has had more luck on Europe where he bought Monaco Telecom from Cable and Wireless Communications in April. Orange Switzerland, however, is a far bigger prize, and ironically it bears the name of one of Iliad’s biggest competitors in France. Orange Switzerland isn’t part of the Orange Group anymore. Orange sold its Swiss operations to Apax Partners in 2012 after Apax won a bidding war that included – you guessed it – Xavier Niel. There have also been reports that Iliad is interested in buying French mobile competitor Boygues Telecom, though Niel has downplayed them.

There’s no word yet on what Niel will do with the Swiss mobile carrier if and when the deal closes. In France, Iliad’s Free Mobile has set off a price war, driving down mobile rates across the country. We might see the same thing across France’s alpine border.

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