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Orange, T-Mobile merger set for EU approval

European regulators are set to approve a plan to combine France Telecom's Orange and Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile as early as this week, creating Britain's largest mobile operator, newspapers reported.

The Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Times said the European Commission had agreed to fast track the merger after overcoming the concerns of Britain's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and industry regulator Ofcom.

The Telegraph said after concessions from the two operators, including the offer to release some radio spectrum in the United Kingdom, both the OFT and Ofcom had signaled to the Commission they would not push for a UK-based inquiry.

The Telegraph quoted sources familiar with the matter as saying the Commission could decide as early as this week that no further investigation was required.

Orange and T-Mobile agreed last year to form a 50-50 joint venture in the UK that would give them a leading market share of about 37%, while reducing the number of mobile phone operators in the country to four from five.

The Commission has until March 1 to decide whether to pass the inquiry back to UK regulators. T-Mobile and Orange declined to comment on Sunday. A Commission spokesman also declined to comment. (Reuters)