Sources suggest that a four-month investigation of the stake sale could be in the works, suggesting that Orange has not made the concessions necessary to assuage regulatory concerns over competition
Orange Belgium first announced their intention to take a 75% stake in fixed line operator VOO back in November 2021, with the Wallonia-based operator valued at roughly €1.8 billion.
The move would present Orange the chance to offer both mobile and fixed line services in Belgium for the first time – a key element of Orange’s wider Engage2025 strategy, which aims to create converged fixed and wireless businesses throughout the company’s European portfolio.
The Belgian fixed line market is currently dominated by the Proximus and Telenet, which have market shares of 44.8% and 36.2%, respectively. VOO sits in a somewhat distant third place with roughly 10.3%.
In the Belgian mobile market, meanwhile, Orange Belgium’s market share sits at around 25.7%, slightly behind Telenet’s 27.2%. Unsurprisingly, incumbent Proximus dominates in this market too, with a market share of around 40%.
As such, this majority stake sale would pull together the third-place players in both the fixed and mobile markets, potentially giving both companies a considerable opportunity to broaden their subscriber base.
Naturally, any such deal of this scale and potentially disruptive impact to the market will draw the attention of antitrust regulators, which have been conducting preliminary investigations into the deal for the past few months.
Now, anonymous sources are suggesting that this initial probe by the regulators will be conclude today with the announcement of a deeper, four-month investigation.
This decision is reportedly a result of Orange failing to offer meaningful concessions to address the regulator’s competition concerns.
Orange argues that the deal will be good for Belgian customers and increase competition in the Wallonian market.
"The opening of this phase is a new step during which we will have the time and the opportunity to demonstrate to the Commission that this transaction is beneficial for the sector and will make it possible to sustainably strengthen competition throughout Belgium," said Orange in a statement.
The past two months has been busy for the Belgian telecoms sector, which not only raised €1.2 billion in its latest spectrum auction but has also seen both Telenet and Proximus advance plans to create their own new fibre joint ventures for Wallonia and Flanders.
This growing interest in fibre deployment in Belgium should come as little surprise. Belgium has one of the lowest fibre penetration rates in Europe, lagging far behind its neighbours, particularly France. This creates a major opportunity for investors and telcos, who have in recent years combined their efforts with those of the Belgian government to deploy fibre at an astonishing rate.
Today, Belgium has the fastest fibre deployment rate in Europe – something that Orange is surely looking to take advantage of.