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BT says Cellnex acquisition spree threatens UK mobile market

BT Group Plc is raising the alarm over an industrywide sell-off of mobile masts, saying it could hand too much power to aggressive Spanish tower buyer Cellnex Telecom SA.

BT’s intervention marks one of the first public signs of real concern at the growing power of Cellnex, a behemoth with a market value of 39 billion euros ($46 billion) that’s been buying up tens of thousands of masts from carriers that, until now, have been only too willing to cash in on their infrastructure.

British competition authorities are investigating Cellnex’s latest blockbuster deal, the 10 billion-euro acquisition of European towers from CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd. The sale has been cleared in other European markets.

The deal would “remove any realistic scope for Cellnex’s smaller competitors to achieve critical scale in the short to medium term” and “inevitably lead to higher prices” and worse service, BT said in a submission to the Competition and Markets Authority published Wednesday.

Cellnex is set to inherit CK Hutchison’s income from 7,500 sites that sit in a joint venture run by Hutchison and BT, according to a previous statement from the CMA. Its purchase of about 7,400 sites from U.K. operator Arqiva in 2020 was cleared, and BT itself sold Cellnex rights to 220 sites in 2019.

However, BT said the latest deal would curb its ability to roll out 5G wireless services through the joint venture, called MBNL. MBNL exists under a rolling contract which is set to continue until at least 2031.

“The published submission from BT forms part of our ongoing, in-depth investigation into this deal,” a CMA spokesman said by email. “We will continue to consider evidence from a range of sources and publish a decision in line with the time line we have previously set out.”

Representatives for Cellnex and CK Hutchison didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Bloomberg

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