2020 is likely to go down as one of the more eventful years in United Group’s two-decade history.
As it draws to a close, the company has further strengthened its position as the leading provider of media and telecom services in South Eastern Europe by adding Greece’s Forthnet to its portfolio.
Forthnet claims nearly 1.4 million RGUs, of which just under half a million receive pay-TV services, and competes directly with the incumbent OTE, backed by Deutsche Telekom. Although United Group initially acquired only around 36% in the company in June, it has since increased its stake to almost 80% and is set to eventually secure complete ownership.
The entry of Forthnet into United Group’s “family” comes three months after it also welcomed the Bulgarian incumbent Vivacom into the fold. Its acquisition, for a reported €1.2 billion, was first announced in November 2019 and approved by the European Commission in April this year.
Tele2 Croatia, too, became part of United Group after the closure of its €220 million sale by Tele2 Sweden in March. Since then, United Group has announced impressive plans for the company, now known as Telemach Hrvatska, including an investment of €230 million in the modernisation of its mobile network and the construction of a state-of-the-art fibre-optic network.
Although United Group has been active on the M&A front for many years, these three acquisitions have come in quick succession and soon after the company itself became majority owned by BC Partners in March 2019. They have seen it enter three new markets, and as a result it is now present in a total of eight – the others being Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro and North Macedonia – in the region.
As to the future, United Group has yet to enter Romania, though it was at one stage linked with Telekom Romania, whose fixed-line assets have recently been sold to Orange. It may also target Croatia’s Optima Telekom, which is currently backed by Hrvatski Telekom and Zagrebacka Bank.
More acquisitions are almost certainly on the horizon.
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