Three owner nears £9bn mast sale to Spain’s Cellnex 

CK Hutchison's sale of the European towers could pave the way for Three to merger with a rival

The owner of mobile network Three is close to a €10bn (£9bn) sale of its European mobile masts to a Spanish infrastructure business. 

China's CK Hutchison has reached a "substantial agreement" with Madrid-listed Cellnex as it seeks to reap the rewards from huge valuations placed on telecoms infrastructure. 

It comes after The Telegraph revealed last month that the company controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing was weighing an auction of Three’s masts.

The sale could pave the way for Three to merge with a rival as networks respond to Virgin Media’s £31bn proposed mega-merger with mobile operator O2

Three’s attempted £10.3bn takeover of O2 was blocked four years ago over competition concerns, but it overturned the European Commission decision in May at the European Court of Justice.

In a statement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, CK Hutchison said negotiations with Cellnex are at an advanced stage and added that it has “reached a substantial agreement on the key commercial terms for the disposal”.

Cellnex intends to buy the masts but will provide Hutchison with access to roll out of its 5G network.

No final decision had been made and the deal may yet fall through. Analysts said the sale would give Hutchison the cash to clear some of its €7bn debt pile.

The move would strengthen Cellnex’s position after it sealed a £2bn takeover of Arqiva's mobile arm in April to become Britain’s largest independent mast operator. 

Telecoms infrastructure has caught the eye of investors pursuing long-term returns and growth, with demand for masts expected to surge due to 5G. 

Price hikes

Vodafone and Three have become the latest mobile operators to impose price rises on new customers.

Customers signing up to Three's network from Oct 29 will be hit by a 4.5pc hike to their bills from April - higher than the 2.7pc increase in the retail price index (RPI) measure of inflation.

Vodafone customers joining after Dec 9 will be stung by a rise of consumer prices index (CPI) inflation plus 3.9pc from April next year. 

Bills for existing customers will rise in line with RPI until they renegotiate their contracts. 

Both companies said the increased cost will be used to pay for network upgrades, including the shift to 5G connectivity. 

It comes after BT announced in September that it would raise prices for all customers by CPI plus 3.9pc from March 31.