HomeRegulation / M&AUK Competition and Market Authority tells Cellnex to sell towers

    UK Competition and Market Authority tells Cellnex to sell towers

    Over 1000 tower sites must go as watchdog rules CK Hutchison deal gives Cellnex too much power


    The UK government has announced that infrastructure supplier Cellnex must sell over 1,000 telecoms tower sites to assuage competition concerns over its recent purchase of CK Hutchison’s UK towers. The decision was made by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) after a Phase 2 investigation into the proposed deal.

    Cellnex operates in several European countries and CK Hutchison is a multinational conglomerate that currently owns and operates the Three mobile network in the UK. The proposed deal, in which Cellnex has agreed to buy CK Hutchison’s UK passive infrastructure assets, forms part of a broader set of transactions – worth £8.6bn (€10bn) in total – involving assets in several European countries. 

    CMA conducted in depth investigation

    The CMA launched an inquiry into the proposed deal in May 2021 and it was referred for an in-depth investigation by an independent Inquiry Group in July. “Towers, masts and the sites they are built on, though passive infrastructure, are assets that mobile network operators and other wireless communication network providers attach electronic equipment to in order to operate their networks,” said the CMA statement.

    Tower site sale will address concerns in telecoms mergers says CMA

    In keeping with its provisional findings issued in December 2021, the CMA has found that the sale of the CK Hutchison business to Cellnex would prevent the emergence of an important alternative competitor in the supply of passive infrastructure, leaving mobile networks facing higher prices and more onerous contracts in future contract negotiations. This, in turn, could result in higher prices or lower quality services for users of mobile networks across the UK over a period of time.

    Who wants to buy a thousand towers?

    In order to address these concerns, Cellnex proposed the sale of all of its existing sites that geographically overlap with the CK Hutchison assets it has agreed to buy. This would result in a package of over 1,000 passive infrastructure sites being sold to a purchaser approved by the CMA.

    Having assessed this remedy in detail, the Inquiry Group concluded that it would effectively address the competition concerns identified by the investigation, meaning the merger could proceed.

    Will this stop the threat of higher prices?

    Richard Feasey, Chair of the independent Inquiry Group said the decision will help to protect the competition in infrastructure that mobile phone operators rely on. “The sale of this significant package of assets will allow a major supplier to compete against Cellnex when mobile networks look to negotiate new contracts in future,” said Feasey, “This, in turn, stops the threat of higher prices or worse terms for the operators and their customers as a result of this deal.”