A new Brazilian telecommunications company backed by billionaire financier George Soros plans to invest at least 500 million reais ($218 million) over the next three years, executives said on Tuesday, ramping up competition among Internet providers in a cooling market.
Soros is set to invest at least $150 million, giving him a majority stake in On Telecom, which offers home and office connections over fourth-generation (4G) cellular networks, Chief Executive Fares Nassar told journalists.
The technology, aimed at regions with a dearth of broadband cable coverage in the world's fifth-largest country, will be rolled out in parts of Sao Paulo, Brazil's most populous state.
Nassar said the company could expand into other regions as Brazil offers new 4G licenses, which would require new resources to be raised from Soros, other investors or an initial public offering.
The newcomer is targeting a niche in the Brazilian market exploited in recent years by broadband operator GVT SA (Curitiba, Brazil), which offers specialized broadband services in regions and business segments underserved by major players. GVT has expanded rapidly in markets not dominated by large phone companies, allowing it to charge slightly higher rates for Internet services.
France's Vivendi SA (Paris), which bought GVT three years ago, put the sale of the Brazilian company on hold in March after bids fell short of its asking price. One reason Vivendi has considered selling GVT is the cost of investments, which topped $5 billion since the French company took over.
At the same time, phone companies such as Telefonica Brasil SA (Sao Paolo), TIM Participaçoes SA (Rio de Janeiro) and Grupo Oi SA (Rio de Janeiro) are now shifting focus to higher-value broadband services amid a sharp slowdown in Brazil's mobile phone market.
Last year Cayman Islands-based Soros Fund Management received regulatory approval to take over Brazil's Sunrise Telecomunicaçoes (Sao Paolo), the holding that controls On Telecom. In September, Sunrise acquired broadcast rights for 4G frequencies covering 133 municipalities around Sao Paulo state.
($1 = 2.30 Brazilian reais)
(Reporting by Brad Haynes; Additional reporting by Luciana Bruno; Editing by Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Maureen Bavdek)