By Stu Woo
LONDON -- Britain's Vodafone Group PLC is close to announcing a $23 billion cash deal to buy operations in four European countries from John Malone's Liberty Global PLC, according to people familiar with the matter.
Liberty Global is planning to sell its businesses in Germany, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic to Vodafone, the people said.
The roughly EUR19 billion deal would face a possibly lengthy European Union antitrust review, but if completed, would create one of the continent's biggest telecommunications operators, selling the industry's holy grail "quad-play" package: cable, internet, wireless and landline-phone service on a single bill.
The Financial Times reported earlier Tuesday the two companies were nearing a deal.
The deal would represent the latest in a global trend of wireless carriers acquiring cable operations, or vice versa, to offer quad-play packages. Wireless carriers need high-speed cable networks to quickly transmit data to cellular towers for 5G, the coming generation of mobile networks that promise to be fast enough to enable near-instantaneous movie downloads and innovations such as self-driving cars.
Both companies have said they have engaged in various forms of merger talks with each other in recent years. Vodafone in February said the two sides were again discussing a potential merger.
The deal would entail Liberty Global selling mostly cable operations to Vodafone, which has major wireless businesses in Germany, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic, as well as a major German cable business.
Chief Executive Vittorio Colao's strategy has been for Vodafone to be the No. 1 or No. 2 carrier in each of the more than 20 countries where it operates. The company believes being first or second allows Vodafone to differentiate itself through better networks and services, and to justify higher prices. Vodafone is the world's second largest carrier by subscribers behind China Mobile Ltd.
Liberty Global, which is based outside Denver and registered in London, runs cable-focused operations in 12 European countries. Its chairman is Mr. Malone, the billionaire media mogul, who leaves Chief Executive Mike Fries to run the company.
The deal wouldn't include Liberty Global's businesses in the U.K. and Ireland, which compete with Vodafone's, according to the people familiar with the matter.
The proposed transaction is likely to face close regulatory scrutiny, as well as stiff opposition from Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG over concerns it would give Vodafone too much power over the country's TV market.
"I do not see that this kind of concentration in the cable market can be supported" from regulators, Deutsche Telekom Chief Executive Timotheus Höttges said in a February conference call, in response to a question about a potential Liberty Global-Vodafone deal. "I think there will be no way that this deal is going to be approved and for us it's completely unacceptable."
--Ben Dummett contributed to this article.
Write to Stu Woo at Stu.Woo@wsj.com