Does Vodafone’s squeeze signal an era of international consolidation in telecom?

Reuters reported this week that Vodafone’s interest in acquiring Germany’s biggest cable company may foreshadow similar acquisitions in some of the mobile carrier’s other markets. The reason: Vodafone is caught in something of a no-man’s-land between bargain-basement wireless service providers (including MVNOs) on one hand, and multi-faceted operators of fixed-line and telecom networks who can offer bundled services on the other. That scenario is emerging in several markets across Europe and are expected to force Vodafone to rent access to rivals’ broadband networks in order to offer its own bundled packages.

But triple- and quad-play opportunities aren’t the only factors that could fuel a frenzy of international acquisitions over the next few years. Those tie-helps can help carriers achieve the best possible pricing for infrastructure as they build out 4G networks, and they may provide opportunities to build huge, multi-national brands. Among other recent noteworthy moves, Japan’s Softbank is fighting to pick up a 70 percent stake in Sprint, and AT&T is reportedly “stalking Europe for mergers” to counter ever-increasing competition in a U.S. handset market that is nearing saturation. We’re likely to see more of these moves as the international telecom market begins to consolidate over the next few years.