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Mobile firm Three buys O2 for €780m

MOBILE phone operator 02 has been bought by rival Three for €780m.

The move gives the combined companies almost 40pc of the Irish mobile phone market.

Three said the move now positions the company to become the number one operator in the Irish market.

Spanish firm Telefonica, which controlled O2 Ireland, put it on the market as part of efforts to cut €4.2bn from its €51.2 bn debt by 2014.

Three, which increased its sales by 78pc in the last two years and cornered nearly 10pc of the Irish market, is pushing to grow in Europe.

"This deal will allow significant investment to be made in building a state-of-the-art network,'' commented Three's chief executive Robert Finnegan.

"The combined network will also deliver very real benefits to customers outside the major urban areas as the increased scale will allow Three to extend its rural network investment."

Mr Finnegan said Three will be the brand to ultimately take over from O2, with O2 being phased out over two years.

On jobs at O2, he said the firms are at the very early stages of planning. Approval could take anything from six to nine months, so for now it is business as usual for the two firms.

Bringing O2 and Three together gives the expanded company two million active network users. The two companies had combined revenues of €803m last year.

The deal has to be cleared by European competition authorities.

Three is part of the global giant Hutchison Whampoa and launched in Ireland in 2005.

It said it has invested over €800m in its Irish network.