What’s up with… Cellnex, Fastweb & Vodafone, 1&1

TelecomTV Staff
By TelecomTV Staff

Nov 24, 2023

  • Cellnex set to offload more business units
  • Fastweb eyes potential bid for Vodafone Italy assets
  • Germany’s 5G newcomer 1&1 is ready to switch on its network

In today’s industry news roundup: Cellnex is set to sell more assets as it seeks greater financial stability; Fastweb has been earmarked as a potential bidder for Vodafone Italy; 1&1, which is building an Open RAN-enabled network in Germany, is ready to launch its own mobile services in December; and much more!

European towers giant Cellnex Telecom is eager to continue with its asset sales and is considering a full disposal of its operations in Ireland and Austria, the company’s CEO Marco Patuano told Reuters, which are reportedly valued at €1.05bn and €1.41bn respectively. These accelerated asset sales are driven by the need to reduce debt and get an investment-grade credit rating by mid-2024, as well as in preparation for a wave of consolidation in the sector. Patuano was cited as saying that the capital expenditure (capex) of the company is now absorbing all generated cash but that the tables will turn in two or three years when cash generation is expected to speed up drastically and capex commitments are expected to go into decline. In the next few years, he also expects to see consolidation among the six largest European tower operators. Cellnex is planning to introduce a new strategy in March 2024 that it will keep in place until 2026, with a view to incorporating longer-term capital allocation targets. Patuano’s comments come shortly after the company agreed to sell its private wireless networks unit, Edzcom, to neutral host networking specialist Boldyn Networks (formerly BAI Communications) – see Boldyn Networks snaps up Cellnex’s private networks unit.

Italian telco Fastweb is a potential suitor for Vodafone’s operation in Italy, Bloomberg has reported. According to the information, Swisscom-owned Fastweb is among other players that have been exploring a potential partnership with Vodafone Italy. The report comes as Vodafone Group CEO Margherita Della Valle suggested that Italy is one of the group’s problematic markets which, along with the UK, is a country where the operator knew it either needed to bulk up and gain more scale, or get out – see Vodafone’s numbers offer turnaround hope. Aside from Fastweb, Iliad has been repeatedly emerging as a candidate to take over Vodafone’s business.

1&1, Germany’s new 5G service provider that is building an Open RAN-based greenfield network with Rakuten Symphony, is to launch smartphone services on its own mobile network from 8 December. The service provider’s 12 million existing mobile customers (built up during 1&1’s many years as a mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO) have, until now, relied on roaming services from Telefónica Deutschland, which will continue to provide connectivity (under a wholesale agreement) in areas where 1&1 is still building out its own network infrastructure. From the middle of 2024, 1&1 will start using wholesale roaming services from Vodafone Germany and gradually phase out the use of Telefónica Deutschland’s network. 1&1, which is best known for its broadband and enterprise services and has an extensive fixed-line and datacentre network across Germany, is keen to stress the radical nature of its underlying cellular network technology (and the fact it doesn’t use any technology from Huawei or ZTE) to investors and potential customers. It noted in an announcement shared with investors this week: “To make a difference in the German mobile market, 1&1 is building the most modern mobile network in Europe. To this end, 1&1 is relying entirely on innovative Open RAN technology. At the heart of the 1&1 network is a private cloud in decentralised edge datacentres, which are connected via fibre optics with gigabit antennas. All network functions are controlled by software that runs on conventional servers, such as those found in every datacentre. In contrast to conventional network architectures, which are often provided by a single manufacturer, the 1&1 Open RAN has standardised interfaces that allows 1&1 to work flexibly with the most secure and best equipment suppliers on the market. For example, 1&1 has avoided using components from Chinese manufacturers from the outset,” it noted. The company has had a tricky time getting its network up and running, in part because of issues with its main tower infrastructure partner Vantage Networks. Now it has the even trickier task of not only retaining its existing mobile user customer base as it tries to shift them across to its own network without any issues, but trying to attract new customers as it competes more directly with the market leaders Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica Deutschland (O2) and Vodafone Germany.    

On the back of growing interest in the use of shared spectrum, UK regulator Ofcom has opened a consultation into the potential supply of additional frequencies for spectrum sharing, with a possibility of adding the 3.8-4.2 GHz band to the existing mix. Read more.  

There’s news of an interesting, and potentially game-changing, development in Sweden where Stockholm-headquartered electric-battery manufacturer, Northvolt, has announced the launch of a “low-cost, more-sustainable” sodium-ion battery (AKA a NIB or SIB) that contains no lithium, cobalt, nickel or graphite. Sodium-ion batteries have been around for a long time: The chemistry behind them was ‘discovered’ way back in 1807 by the English scientist (and inventor of the miner’s safety lamp) Sir Humphrey Davy. Some versions of the battery were used in limited commercial quantities in the 1980s, but interest in their potential began to grow in the 1990s when concerns over the dwindling reserves (and increasing costs of) metals such as lithium were first voiced. Sodium (Na), a soft, silvery-white, highly reactive metal, is cheap, abundant and environmentally benign. Lithium, the least dense metal and least dense solid element, is rare, environmentally dangerous and has always been, and still is, the most expensive of all battery chemistries. Hitherto, sodium-ion batteries have been less efficient that lithium batteries, have had a shorter lifespan and have been of low energy density compared to other popular battery technologies. Now, though, thanks to research and development undertaken by Northvolt, it has become possible to produce high-voltage and high-capacity cathodes free of rare earth elements, such as lithium, cobalt or nickel, which permit low-cost NIBs to perform as well as lithium batteries. Northvolt’s new sustainable battery has an energy density in excess of 160 watt-hours per kilo and has immediate application in electricity storage plants. Storing electricity on batteries on a mass scale is regarded as vital to the increasingly pressing requirement to decarbonise electricity grids and it is expected that will be where the new sodium-ion batteries will first make their mark. However, plans also call for them to be developed for use in electric vehicles and in communications network infrastructure. Northvolt was founded by two former Tesla executives, Paolo Cerutti, COO, and Peter Carlsson, the company’s CEO and co-founder. Carlsson said, “The world has put high hopes on sodium-ion, and I’m very pleased to say that we’ve developed a technology that will enable its widespread deployment to accelerate the energy transition… battery technology like this is crucial to reach global sustainability goals, by making electrification more cost-efficient, sustainable and accessible worldwide.” Patrik Andreasson, the company’s VP of strategy and sustainability, added, “Using sodium-ion technology is not new but we think this is the first product ever [to be] completely free from critical raw materials. It is a fundamental breakthrough. It provides an option that is not dependent on [raw materials] from other parts of the world, including China.” Unsurprisingly, the new batteries are already of great interest to the European car industry and Volkswagen is a major investor in Northvolt.

This CAP doesn’t fit and the telcos won’t wear it... The UK’s Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the sister organisation of the Advertising Standards Authority – has just issued telcos and service providers with “guidance” on the now-common and sneaky practice of increasing their prices mid-contract. Subscribers detest and despise the sly way that prices are now routinely increased by more than the rate of inflation and Which?, the influential consumer rights organisation, is calling for meaningful regulatory action to be taken to stop it happening. It is “calling on providers to end unpredictable mid-contract price increases and for telecoms regulator Ofcom to ban the practice altogether.” Britain’s big four mobile networks, with whom about 70% of subscribers have their service contracts, increase their tariffs each April. The hikes are “calculated” on a formula comprising the rate of inflation, plus 3.9%. These days, with the majority of contracts lasting for 24 months, it is practically impossible to predict the price increases that will be imposed over the length of one. Leaving a contract mid-term attracts swingeing financial penalties and those customers who stay with the same provider after their contracts expire are faced with ever-increasing costs. But now, and at last, the CAP is taking action. Its new guidance on the advertising of telecoms contracts with mid-contract price increases comes into force on 15 December. It claims to set stricter standards on the prominence advertisers must give to important information about future price rises, but its anodyne proclamation isn’t buttressed by any sanctions for those service providers that ignore the new guidelines. Without such sanctions the guidelines are as pointless as they are toothless. The guidelines start by telling telcos “not to give the impression that prices are fixed if they are not”. I’ll bet service provider CEOs will quake in their Gucci loafers when they read that. They are also advised not to “rely on contradictory qualifications” in contract small print and to make information about price increases “up front and prominent”. They are also asked to make sure that references to inflation are “clear and simple to understand.” And finally, to “make clear if terminating a variable contract will have knock-on effects for other linked services.” It’s truly pathetic and the guidelines are certain, as Shakespeare has it, to be more honoured in the breech than in the observance. In other words, a few telco PR departments will churn out some quickly forgotten puff whilst the organisations themselves will treat the guideline with contempt and simply ignore them. Nothing will change until legislation forces it and given the febrile state of British politics as an election year looms, nothing will happen, probably for years. Meanwhile, subscribers get stung again and again.

- The staff, TelecomTV

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