A deal to shape Poland’s telecom market

The long-planned sale of a majority stake in Exatel, a telecommunications firm owned by the Polish utility Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE), is finally underway and as potential bidders prepare their preliminary offers that must be in by November 2, many view the deal as an act of consolidation that could help define the final shape of Poland’s telecom market.

The estimated worth of PGE’s 95% stake in the operator could be as much as PLN700m (176.3m) and is coveted by a range of players on the Polish telecom market. “Exatel is one of the big three infrastructure operators in Poland, the other two being Telekomunikacja Polska and Telekomunikacja Kolejowa. As such, the company has all the necessary resources and experience in providing services to business clients,” says Emil Konarzewski, a partner at Audytel, a telecom consultancy based in Warsaw. “The main benefit for its potential buyer would be gaining access to Exatel’s well-developed infrastructure network, which enables the operator to establish its presence in every major Polish city.”

As Poland’s telecom market is forecast to make a healthy rebound this year after a meagre 2009, potential bidders have already been lining up to purchase Exatel. Last year, Polish operators reported aggregate PLN42bn (10.58bn) profit from internet, mobile, and stationary telephony services, down 4% over 2008, according to data released by the state-run Office of Electronic Communications (UKE).

The weakening of the market has also affected Exatel’s performance, but the operator managed to steer itself through the downturn. While the company’s revenues dipped 1.5% from PLN560m in 2008 to PLN551.5m last year, its net profit climbed a solid 288% from PLN19m to PLN54.8m. In the same manner, Exatel’s cash flow, or Ebitda, progressed from PLN117m in 2008 to PLN153m last year, up 30.7%.

The suitors

GTS Central Europe (a telecom owned by a group of private equity funds from Europe and the US, including Columbia Capital, Innova Capital and M/C Venture Partners), as well as Poland’s mobile operator Polkomtel and fixed-line operator Netia are reportedly interested in purchasing Exatel. The latter two companies market their services mainly to individual clients, so the acquisition would provide a useful opportunity to diversify their service portfolio, as Exatel provides telecom solutions chiefly to business clients.

GTS, for its part, is currently operating in Poland within a network leased from Telekomunikacja Kolejowa (TK), a state-owned railway telecom firm. The deal will expire in 2014, and by purchasing Exatel, GTS could finally operate under its own network. However, according to Konarzewski, the operator could equally use Exatel to drive its business in Poland further, all while extending its useful cooperation with the railway operator. The company’s recent acquisitions in the region include the September purchase of Slovakia’s Dial Telecom. “Combining Exatel’s infrastructure network with that of Telekomunikacja Kolejowa would allow GTS Central Europe to match the market’s current leader, Telekomunikacja Polska,” says Konarzewski.