By Olof Swahnberg
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Telecoms operator 3 Scandinavia, majority-owned by Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa, will continue to gain market share in Sweden's highly competitive mobile market, its Swedish CEO told Reuters on Thursday.
The Swedish mobile market has four major players in a country of just nine million. Market leader TeliaSonera has a share of roughly 40 percent, Tele2 30 percent and third-placed Telenor Sweden about 20 percent.
Challenger 3 is No. 4, with a market share of 10.6 percent at the end of 2012. With its relatively low prices, the operator has gained about one percentage point market share per year since starting its Swedish operations in 2003.
The company's Swedish CEO Nicholas Hogberg declined to say whether it expects to win another full percentage point this year, but said: "It looks positive this year as well and we will continue to win market share this year."
Hogberg reckons his firm so far this year has gained market share both in the consumer market, where it had a share of 12.3 percent, and in the business segment where it had 6.4 percent.
The Swedish telecoms regulator will publish market share figures for 2013 in spring next year.
Many European telecoms firms are looking to consolidate to cope with saturated markets, recession-hit consumers, tough regulation and expensive network upgrades.
Analysts have long expected consolidation in the Swedish market. When the CEO of 3 Scandinavia - Hogberg's boss - hinted in a newspaper interview this year that its shareholders might be interested in buying another player, shares of listed Swedish telecoms companies rose on hopes that a takeover would reduce the fierce competition.
"I think, as everyone else does, that four players are a bit too much in the Swedish market, although all players are healthy," Hogberg said, adding that any decisions on takeover activity are up to the shareholders.
3 Scandinavia is 60 percent owned by Hutchison and 40 percent by Investor AB - the listed investment vehicle of Sweden's Wallenberg family dynasty, which has stakes in several Swedish bluechip companies.
Hutchison Whampoa owns mobile operators in six European countries: Ireland, Britain, Austria, Italy, Denmark and Sweden. In Austria, Hutchison acquired Orange earlier this year, and it is in the process of acquiring O2 in Ireland from Telefonica.
Hogberg declined to comment on takeover speculation, but pointed out that Hutchison Whampoa CEO Canning Fok has said that in Europe he generally prefers to be the buyer rather than the seller and that his firm seeks growth.
He added that Fok has said that in Europe the company wants to be among "the consolidators, not the consolidated".
(The story corrects paragraph 8 reference to this year, not last year)
(Editing by Geert De Clercq and Pravin Char)