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SoftBank mulls Japan mobile sell off: may use cash for more technology buys

masyoshi son

via Flickr © nobihaya (CC BY 2.0)

  • SoftBank could sell off 30 per cent of its Japan mobile network
  • Wants to raise cash for more investments
  • SoftBank manages the world's largest tech fund

SoftBank Group, or rather its charismatic and wiley founder, Masayoshi Son, put a feeler out to the markets today by announcing that it was considering a plan to float 30 per cent of its Japanese cellphone business in an attempt to raise up to $20 billion which it could put to better use by making speculative investments in technology companies.

SoftBank already owns chip designer ARM, US network Sprint, and manages the ‘Vision Fund’ - the world’s richest technology fund which is itching to spend $93 billion from the sovereign wealth funds of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

The markets seem to have given Son’s plan a thumbs up, lifting SoftBank shares by 3.2 per cent on the news. Observers say the cash (if Son follows through on the announcement) could be used to make speculative technology investments without exacerbating his group’s already stretched balance sheet with more borrowings.

The move reinforces a broader point too. Son clearly thinks that the future telecoms market will see value and profits sucked up by smart technology companies, not via soaring valuations for telcos as it arguably did (at least for SoftBank) back in the noughties when it  established itself by buying Vodafone Japan, and making a huge and profitable success out of it.

His trick then was to dream up innovative services to flesh out the basic services available on Vodafone Japan, including VoIP and picture-based messaging which naturally appealed to the Japanese youth.

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