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Pipex plotting carve-up for Tiscali deal

Sale to be announced in weeks

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Exclusive The breakup of Pipex and sale of its residential broadband customer base to Tiscali is looking increasingly certain.

Insiders at the takeover target say the terms of the deal will be announced in four to eight weeks.

In the meantime, managers are working out the personnel carve-up, with employees destinations in the split already decided.

Tiscali's poor reputation for customer service, worsened by its response to a recent extended email outage, is said to have set some Pipex staff against the sale.

The Register also understands that Pipex's WiMax licence, which complicated speculations over the UBS-brokered auction of the firm, will remain with the rest of Pipex, concentrated on business customers.

As part of the deal, Tiscali will provide the refocused ISP with access to its unbundled network, which is one of the most extensive in the UK and should lower its costs in providing broadband. Tiscali has unbundled more than 400 exchanges, compared to Pipex's 100.

Pipex has about 570,000 customers across its broadband brands, which include Toucan and Bulldog. Each of the big players in the dog-eat-dog communications market - Virgin Media, BT, Sky, Carphone Warehouse - have been linked with a bid for the firm, but have all fallen by the wayside amid rumours of an over-ambitious valuation and concerns over its diverse interests.

Italy-based Tiscali, which has almost 1.5 million subscribers in the UK, stepped into the spotlight in the middle of May when it confirmed it was in early discussions with Pipex.

Back then, Goldman Sachs analysts valued Pipex's telecoms business at £211m and the hosting and network services at £178m.

As middleweights lacking profile and resources compared to the bundling frontrunners, Tiscali and Pipex have similar problems in attracting residential customers.

Jonathan Coham, a broadband analyst at Ovum said: "This is an interesting move, but Tiscali needs more than just subscribers to maintain its position. They've typically been a low-spending broadband provider, with limited additional services...they'll need to follow this up."

Tiscali and Pipex refused to comment on this story. ®

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