China Unicom has cleared the first hurdle of a multi-billion yuan plan to acquire mobile-phone networks from its parent following approval from the A-share company's board on Monday. Directors of China United Telecommunications, which controls an effective 57.2 per cent stake in Unicom, approved the purchase of nine provincial networks. China United Telecommunications Group (China United) owns 74.6 per cent of the A-share company. China Unicom owns and operates GSM mobile networks in 12 provinces, while parent China United runs GSM networks in remaining 18 provinces as well as a nationwide CDMA network. The valuation of the planned acquisition has been narrowed down to between 22.5 billion yuan (about HK$21.08 billion) and 22.9 billion yuan, down from previous guidance of 22 billion yuan to 23 billion yuan, according to a banking source. Unicom would pay 4.8 billion yuan (about HK$4.49 billion) to 5.2 billion yuan cash to acquire China United's GSM networks in nine provinces, a source said. It would also assume debts of 17.7 billion yuan of the target assets, bringing the total valuation to the 22.5 billion yuan to 22.9 billion yuan range. Unicom is expected to use some of its estimated 30 billion yuan cash in hand to settle the cash portion of the deal. Unicom still needs the approval of China United's directors as well as its own directors before the transaction can go ahead. The two boards are expected to approve the deal tomorrow. Fuelled by the news of the acquisition plan, China Unicom's shares rose as much as 20 per cent over the past week to an intra-day high of HK$6.30. The counter finished the day's trade unchanged at HK$5.90 yesterday.