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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 August, 2003, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Vodafone in '400m user buyup'
Vodafone mobile users
One of the UK's richest men is about to get richer thanks to 400m from mobile giant Vodafone, reports say.

According to the Sunday press, John Caudwell, the multi-millionaire businessman from Stoke on Trent who runs the Phones 4U High Street mobile chain, will sign off on the sale of his Singlepoint mobile phone customer base this week.

Singlepoint looks after billing and customer service for 1.5 million people, the vast majority of whom are Vodafone customers.

If the deal goes through it could propel Mr Caudwell - who owns 97% of the privately-owned group which controls both Phones 4U and Singlepoint - into the billionaire bracket.

According to the Sunday Times Rich List, he is currently the 26th most well-off person in Britain with a fortune of 840m.

Big money

Singlepoint's money comes from the 25% cut it makes on the bills of its customers, to whom it sells airtime bought wholesale from Vodafone and, to a limited extent, MMO2.

Caudwell Group chairman John Caudwell
John Caudwell has made millions out of mobile phones
It is one of many resellers which sprung up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the two biggest phone companies - at that point MMO2 was Cellnet, part of British Telecom - competed for market share.

They did so in part by letting independent companies get a slice of the action, a move required by the then government to enhance competition. Later entrants Orange and One2One - now T-Mobile - were allowed to sell direct.

It was a big-money business, with big bounties on offer for each customer signed up.

But the big mobile operators now want to keep customers under their own wing, because new signups are less important - and much less lucrative - than pushing existing users to buy new services.

For some time they have been buying out the independents.

In the latest example, just weeks ago Vodafone bought business service provider Project Telecom and its 240,000-strong customer base for 155m.

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