Cable Tech

Orange Belgium starts talks on VOO, enfin

Orange appears to have emerged victorious from preliminary negotiations with Belgian utility group Nethys, which has been talking to a limited number of candidates in recent weeks about the purchase of a majority stake in local cable operator VOO.

Orange Belgium announced that it has been chosen by Enodia-owned Nethys to enter into exclusive negotiations for the acquisition of 75% of the capital minus one share of VOO, based on an enterprise value of €1.8 billion (US$2 billion) for 100% of the capital.

Other interested parties are said to have included Liberty Global-owned Telenet and investment funds, including Warburg Pincus.

Few details have been revealed so far, although Orange Belgium did say that the enterprise value of €1.8 billion corresponds to an EBITDA multiple before synergies of 9.5x. It also indicated that it would finance the transaction by increasing its debt, with the support of parent company Orange SA. Further details of the transaction will be disclosed at the time of signing.

Long time coming

Founded in 2006, VOO owns the cable network in the Walloon region and part of the Brussels region and provides fixed and mobile telephony, broadband Internet and television services. The acquisition of the cable network will enable Orange Belgium to pursue its long-held ambition to become a fully converged fixed and mobile operator.

Indeed, Orange has been eyeing VOO since at least 2018, when it confirmed interest in an "industrial partnership" with VOO's parent companies, Nethys and Brussels-based cable operator Brutélé. In April this year, Nethys acquired 100% of Brutélé in a move that was expected to pave the way to the sale of VOO.

Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel here on Light Reading.

There have been efforts to sell VOO in recent years: Nethys agreed a deal to sell VOO to private equity group Providence in May 2019. However, the sale was suspended later that year following press reports that VOO's management may have had a conflict of interest, while Brutélé management also claimed it had not been fully informed of the agreement.

In June 2020, a Belgian court suspended a second deal struck between the two companies in December 2019, ruling it to be fraudulent and not in the public interest. The ruling upheld a legal challenge by Orange Belgium.

Orange's purchase of VOO also looks set to have further repercussions for rival bidder Telenet. VOO currently uses the Telenet-owned BASE network to provide mobile services as a full mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). Once acquired by Orange, it seems likely that VOO will start using Orange's mobile network when the Telenet agreement has expired.

VOO has in fact used Orange's mobile network in the past. In 2013, VOO began offering mobile services through an agreement with Telenet, which itself was using Orange Belgium's network (branded Mobistar until 2016). In 2018, Telenet and Nethys agreed that VOO would use the BASE network for the coming five years. Telenet acquired BASE in 2016.

Related posts:

— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

Sign In