updated 12/5/2005 7:47:30 AM ET 2005-12-05T12:47:30

British cable operator NTL Inc. said Monday it has approached Richard Branson’s Virgin Mobile Holdings PLC about buying the cell-phone company for more than 810 million pounds ($1.4 billion).

If the deal goes ahead, it would create Britain’s first “quadruple play” service, offering mobile phones, fixed-line phones, Internet broadband and TV.

NTL, which is already in the process of acquiring cable rival Telewest Global, said it plans to offer Virgin Mobile shareholders 0.09298 shares of NTL common stock per share of Virgin Mobile as well as a full cash alternative at 323 pence ($5.59) per share.

NTL said the Virgin Group, the Branson-controlled company that owns 72 percent of Virgin Mobile, has indicated it would exchange its stake in Virgin Mobile for shares in NTL Group.

However, analysts suggested that Virgin Mobile’s statement on the proposed deal contained a strong hint that the company’s board would seek a better offer price.

“In considering its response, the Board of Virgin Mobile will be mindful of its duty to maximize value for all shareholders,” the company said in a statement to the London Stock Exchange.

Shares in Virgin Mobile rose 8 percent to 336 pence ($5.82) in London. NTL is listed in the United States and closed Friday unchanged at $60.10.

Numis Securities said that a merger between the two would pose a threat to rival British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC in two to three years.

BSkyB, which is 36.6 percent owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., announced in October a 211 million pound ($375.1 million) takeover of high-speed Internet provider Easynet Group PLC.

That deal will give BSkyB a “triple play” service, offering high-speed Internet access, pay-TV and landline telephone service.

Analysts had long predicted Virgin Mobile — a virtual operator that leases capacity from T-Mobile International AG — would be the next target in the flurry of activity in the telecommunications sector, despite comments from Chief Executive Tom Alexander last month that it had not received any approaches.

A combined NTL, Virgin and Telewest would have around 2.5 million broadband customers and 4.3 million fixed-line telephony customers, while providing television to 5 million homes.

NTL said it planned to use the Virgin brand across its empire of Internet, television and telecom services if the takeover is successful. Shareholders have yet to approve the 3.4 billion pound ($5.9 billion) NTL/Telewest tie-up announced in October.

NTL said that Virgin Group had given verbal assurances that “if a transaction proceeds, it intends to elect to exchange its stake in Virgin Mobile for a continuing equity participation in NTL Group, although it has reserved to take a small portion of the consideration in cash.”

Branson has been offered a 14 percent stake in the enlarged group, which would make him the biggest single shareholder in the new group.

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