(Reuters) - Vodafone Group PLC confirmed on Thursday it was in talks with Verizon Communications Inc to sell its stake in Verizon Wireless, the number one U.S. mobile carrier, in what could be the third-biggest deal of all time.
It is the latest twist in a long relationship between the two telecommunications giants. Following is a timeline charting their history together:
June: U.S. regional phone company Bell Atlantic forms a wireless partnership with neighboring peer NYNEX covering 55 million potential customers. Verizon today calls this deal the beginnings of what is now Verizon Wireless.
April: Bell Atlantic and NYNEX agree to an outright merger.
July: Bell Atlantic and peer GTE agree to merge.
January: Britain’s Vodafone says it will buy U.S. wireless company AirTouch Communications with interests in German and Italian telecoms businesses controlled by Mannesmann AG for $66.5 billion in a record transatlantic takeover.
September: Bell Atlantic and Vodafone AirTouch Plc agree to combine their U.S. wireless companies, including Bell Atlantic Mobile and AirTouch Cellular, into a single joint venture.
February: Mannesmann agrees to a $203 billion all-share Vodafone bid, which gives its investors 49.5 percent of the combined company, in what is the largest M&A deal ever.
April: The Bell Atlantic/Vodafone AirTouch joint venture is approved and begins operations as Verizon Wireless.
June: The Bell Atlantic/GTE merger closes, creating Verizon Communications. At that time, GTE’s wireless operations are added into Verizon Wireless.
At that point Verizon Communications became majority owner of the wireless joint venture, with a 55 percent stake.
February: Vodafone loses out in the bidding to buy AT&T Wireless, a deal that would have let the company bring its brand to the United States but also might have forced it to sell its Verizon Wireless stake. Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin says Vodafone will sit down with Verizon and discuss the future of their partnership.
September: Sarin says both Vodafone and Verizon would like to have bigger stakes in their joint venture, creating an impasse between the two. In 2004 the joint venture pays its parents dividends of $3.2 billion in two installments.
Verizon Wireless pays dividends of about $1.997 billion to its parents and distributions to cover its parents’ tax payments. While it pays its parents billions of dollars in the coming years to cover tax obligations, its next non-tax related payout is not announced until 2011, causing friction between them.
July: Vodafone denies reports it is considering a $160 billion to take over Verizon Communications in its entirety as a way to consolidate their venture.
July: Vittorio Colao is appointed Chief Executive of Vodafone, replacing Sarin. Colao had been on the board since October 2006.
January: Verizon Wireless completes a $28.1 billion acquisition of regional carrier Alltel that includes the assumption of $22.2 billion in debt. For years it said it was withholding dividends to its parents in order to use its cash to pay off the debt incurred in the Alltel deal.
July: Lowell McAdam is named CEO of Verizon Communications replacing Ivan Seidenberg. Before McAdam became COO of Verizon in 2010 he had served as CEO of Verizon Wireless.
January: Verizon Wireless pays its parents a dividend of $10 billion. It had announced plans to pay a dividend in July 2011. December: Verizon Wireless pays an $8.5 billion dividend.
January: The year kicks off with reports Verizon could consider a purchase of the Verizon Wireless stake. CEO McAdam tells Dow Jones a deal could be “feasible” but then tells Reuters the companies were not in talks about a deal at the time.
March: Speculation is rampant again after a Bloomberg report that Verizon is eying a resolution to the Vodafone relationship this year. Sources tell Reuters that Vodafone has lawyers and bankers looking at deal options.
April 3: Verizon repeats its long stated desire to buy out Vodafone’s 45 percent stake in Verizon Wireless and says has no intention of pursuing a Verizon/Vodafone merger in response to speculation.
April 18: Verizon CFO Fran Shammo says his company is confident it could buy Vodafone’s Verizon Wireless stake without major tax implications. This is seen by investors as a sign that Verizon is applying pressure on Vodafone to discuss a deal.
April 24: Reuters reports that Verizon is preparing a $100 billion bid for the stake and could use a structure that could limit Vodafone’s tax obligation to $5 billion or less.
May 21: Vodafone boss Vittorio Colao says he will not bow to pressure to do any deal, staking his reputation on selling the group’s stake in Verizon Wireless at the right time and right price.
July 23: Vodafone Chairman Gerard Kleisterlee says the company’s board will seriously consider any offer for its 45 percent stake in Verizon Wireless if it offers more value to investors than the current status quo.
Aug 28: Verizon and Vodafone restart talks over a possible buyout of the British firm’s stake in Verizon Wireless, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Sources: Verizon corporate history, Thomson Reuters data, other news services
Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bangalore; Chelsea Emery, Ben Berkowitz and Sinead Carew in New York; Editing by Tim Dobbyn and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty