US-owned cable company NTL Incorporated, whose operations are confined to the British Isles, on Monday bid to acquire Virgin Mobile, the cellphone network controlled by high profile entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.

NTL is understood to be preparing an initial offer of £3.23 a share, valuing the mobile operator at £817 million ($1.42bn; €1.2bn).

The bid, if successful, will up the stakes in the competition between NTL and News Corporation-controlled UK satellite monopoly BSkyB - which itself recently entered the cellphone market in a joint venture with telecoms giant Vodafone to offer television programming via mobile handsets [WAMN: 02-Nov-05].

Branson was uncharacteristically zip-lipped about the bid, stating only: "In considering its response, the board of Virgin Mobile will be mindful of its duty to maximise value for all shareholders."

Virgin Mobile claims over five million UK subscribers.

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff