Oi 'looking at offloading mobile unit', according to reports

06 February 2019 | James Pearce

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Troubled Brazilian mobile operator Oi is looking at offloading its mobile business to refocus on its fibre unit, according to several reports.

Daily newspaper O Globo reported that the investment companies which hold substantial stakes in the Brazilian telco, which was close to bankruptcy last year, are looking at selling non-core assets from the company.

Oi's mobile market share has dropped by more than two percentage points in the past three years, standing at 16.1% at the end of November, according to regulator Anatel, with Telefonica’s Vvo holding 31.8% of the market and America Movil’s Claro and TIM holding around 25%.

Reports in January claimed Oi had hired Bank of Africa Merrill Lynch to advise to advise on the "monetisation of non-core assets and M&A opportunities” while it also hired Boston Consulting Group to advise on an ongoing strategic review.

The O Globo report said that pivoting the business towards fibre was one of several options that had been put on the table, while a potential merger with another operator was also being looked at. This is despite reports from August 2018 that claimed Oi’s shareholders were not looking at offloading assets.

The telco did not provide any further details on possible asset sales. However, last month Reuters cited unnamed sources as saying that Oi is looking to raise 1.5 billion-2 billion reais (US$402 million-$536 million) by offloading mobile towers and data centres.

Oi has been in trouble for a number of years, having filed for bankruptcy protection in June 2016 in the face of massive debt worth around $17 billion.

It struck a deal with creditors which saw them take equity in the company to pay off outstanding debts, but this has led to a shift in power at the company.

Separate reports by business publication Economia suggest the operator’s board is planning to replace president Eurico Teles, with existing board members Rodrigo Abreu, Roger Sole and Paulino do Rego Barros Junior among names floated by the media.

China Mobile and China Telecom have both previously been linked with bids for the troubled Brazilian telco, though it is unclear if the Chinese companies still have an interest in striking a deal.