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Deutsche Telekom Ponders European M&A After $26.5 Billion Deal

Stefan Nicola and Sarah Syed

(Bloomberg) -- After closing an industry-altering U.S. wireless deal, Deutsche Telekom AG’s Chief Executive Officer Tim Hoettges now wants to change telecommunication markets closer to home.

Europe’s phone industry needs mergers if it wants to build the kind of superior infrastructure needed to compete with bigger rivals in Asia and the U.S., Hoettges said Wednesday. He indicated he’s willing to get the German carrier involved in M&A to achieve that goal.

“Europe is too fragmented,” Hoettges said in a phone interview. “Wherever I see a deal or an opportunity for European market consolidation that’s convincing, then I would always look at that with the partners.”

Deutsche Telekom’s U.S. unit T-Mobile US Inc. on Wednesday completed its $26.5 billion acquisition of Sprint Corp. after a years-long saga that included a standoff with antitrust officials and a court battle with U.S. states. Hoettges pushed for the combination for years to give the company a stronger vehicle to expand in the profitable U.S. market. T-Mobile’s importance for Deutsche Telekom has grown steadily and it now accounts for about half of sales, up from around a third in 2014.

“Our goal is to become the number-one in the U.S. market,” Hoettges said.

T-Mobile and Sprint scrapped a previous plan to merge in 2014 after meeting resistance in Washington. Their second attempt failed in late 2017 when Hoettges and Masayoshi Son, the chairman of Sprint’s parent company SoftBank Group Corp., couldn’t agree on how to structure control of the combined entity, people familiar with the matter said at the time.

Hoettges brought the merger back from the dead a few months later. On Jan. 1, 2018, he took out his phone and tapped out an SMS to Son, wishing him a happy New Year and expressing regret that the merger hadn’t happened. It reignited a conversation that culminated in Wednesday’s deal.

It frees Hoettges to focus on markets in Europe, where more than 100 wireless carriers vie for airwaves and customers. Outside Deutsche Telekom’s business in Germany, where it competes with Vodafone Group Plc and Telefonica SA, Deutsche Telekom has units in countries from Poland to the Netherlands and Romania.

“Of course I was very much focused on America,” Hoettges said. “But I will work with verve on changing the regulatory and antitrust-law framework” in Europe to help bring about the consolidation the region needs, he said.

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