Orange: A History of Takeovers

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The history of the British telecommunications industry is, more than anything else, a history of takeovers. The companies who supply our phones with calls, texts and mobile internet have all gone through takeovers at various stages in their existence, but without those takeovers, we can be certain that they wouldn’t have developed into the businesses we know today. That’s never truer when we talk about Orange. Once the product of a complicated ownership system, it’s undergone several takeovers that all helped shape it into the company we know so well. So, let’s dig in, shall we?

Orange’s story begins in 1990, with the formation of Microtel Communications Ltd – a consortium formed by the Pactel Corporation, British Aerospace, Millicom and Matra. In these early days, each company contributed both technology and expertise to the young company. Shortly thereafter, BAe announced that they had purchased the entirety of the company. Following takeover one, the company quickly got in line for takeover two, as Hutchison Whampoa (current owner of the Three network) completed a stock exchange deal which saw them take a 65% controlling stake in the company, with BAe getting a 30% share in Hutchison Telecommunications (UK) Ltd.

Following the second takeover, Hutchison moved quickly to rebrand the young network, which by this time had won a license to develop a personal communications network in the UK. The name Orange was settled upon and on the 28th of April, the Orange 1800-MHz GSM network was launched into the UK mobile market. It was a bold marketing move, one which many casual observers thought would result in total failure, but the opaque branding and advertising campaigns only served to fuel interest in the young mobile network.

Then came Orange’s brief period as a publicly listed company. In April 1996, Orange was listed on the London Stock Exchange and NASDAQ and became the youngest company ever to enter the FTSE 100, valued at an astonishing £2.4 billion, despite mobile uptake being relatively small in the UK.

Soon, it was time for Orange’s third takeover, as October 1999 saw the company taken over by German conglomerate Mannesmann AG for an eye watering sum of US$33 billion. It was a period of explosive growth for the company, with the 0844 800 3117 customer service number for Orange seeing unprecedented levels of interest.

That takeover caught the eye of another British telecommunications firm – Vodafone. Vodafone moved quickly to engage in a hostile takeover of Mannessman. In February 2000, Vodafone acquired Mannessmann for US$183 billion, and swallowed Orange in the process. Due to European regulations, however, Vodafone were forced to divest the Orange brand, with the purchase being taken by France Telecom, completing the fifth takeover of the brand in August 2000 for US$37 billion.

Since then, France Telecom have retained ownership of the Orange brand, though it has been folded into EE alongside T-Mobile. Today, Orange is about to see its sixth takeover, as BT move to complete their purchase of EE for £12.5 billion. The value of the business has fallen significantly, but its effect on the young British telecommunications market is undeniable.

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