What’s up with… STC, Telecom Italia, BT

  • STC is linked to M&A action in Spain, Portugal
  • Telecom Italia is still under shareholder pressure
  • BT names its first four tech ‘fellows’

In today’s industry news roundup: STC has been linked to a potential acquisition in Spain and is reportedly in pole position for the purchase of Altice Portugal; Telecom Italia’s new strategy and outlook for the next three years has freaked out its shareholders; optical and quantum-safe networking expert Andrew Lord and networks research chief Maria Cuevas are among BT’s first tech fellows; and much more!

STC appears determined to build itself a solid position on the Iberian peninsula… Having previously taken a stake in Telefónica, STC is now reportedly interested in acquiring Spanish rural connectivity provider Avatel Telecom which, according to respected business newspaper El Economista, is valued at about €1bn. But STC isn’t the only one interested in Avatel, which erected a ‘for sale’ sign a few months ago following a three-year M&A-inspired expansion plan, during which it has splashed more than €700m acquiring 155 local network operators around the country. Telefónica is also interested in adding Spain’s fifth-largest operator to its existing empire, according to the El Economista report, while last month Zegona Communications, which is in the process of acquiring Vodafone Spain for €5bn, was also linked to a potential bid for Avatel. And if that wasn’t enough consolidation activity in Spain, the Avatel soap opera is taking place at the same time as Orange Spain and MásMóvil move towards the closure of their €18.6bn merger. The Spanish telecom sector is likely to look very different going into 2025 than it did coming into 2024…

That’s not the limit of STC’s ambitions in the region, though, as it has consistently been identified as one of the companies hoping to acquire Altice Portugal, which is up for sale because Patrick Drahi’s Altice group needs to reduce its massive debt pile. Last month, reports suggested that STC had made it to the second round of bidding for the operator (formerly known as Portugal Telecom) and now this Bloomberg report suggests that Altice Portugal has asked the other companies still in contention – Xavier Niel’s Iliad and a consortium led by private equity firm Warburg Pincus – to revise their offers to see if they can match STC’s bid. The report notes that Drahi had been hoping to raise €10bn from the sale of Altice Portugal but that expectation has not been met by any of the bidders so far. If STC prevails, there might be concerns about the sale of a national European operator to a non-EU company, the report adds, while the whole process could be made even more difficult because of ongoing investigations into corruption that have now spread from Portugal to France.   

Telecom Italia continues to have a tough time. The national operator was in the news again last week as additional investors joined the consortium buying its NetCo fixed access network unit and because it unveiled its ‘Free to Run company strategy and outlook for 2024-26 that was proposed by CEO Pietro Labriola. The outlook for the next few years, which assumes that the sale of NetCo will go ahead as planned this year, is what is causing the current consternation. Investors reacted badly to Labriola’s latest plan, with the telco’s share price dipping by about 20% towards the end of the week. Now Telecom Italia has issued another announcement in an effort to clarify its position and calm investor nerves. But while that clarification included an expectation of positive cash flow after 2025, it also included an explanation of why the operator’s debt is set to increase this year to €7.5bn from €6.1bn (with those figures already taking into account the massive debt reduction that will come from the sale of NetCo). The explanation that the cost of selling NetCo plus ongoing working capital costs would add €1.4bn to the company’s net debt this year didn’t appease shareholders, and Telecom Italia’s share price dropped by a further 7.4% to €0.21 in early trading on the Milan stock exchange on Monday, giving the company a market value of just €4.45bn, even though further funds may come from NetCo sale earn-out payments and the sale of the company’s international business Sparkle, which is still being negotiated. There’s still a long way for Telecom Italia to go before it can find an even keel, it seems.   

Four BT executives have been named as the UK telco’s first tech fellows under the company’s BT Tech Fellowship programme, which was started as an internal initiative two years ago: You can read about the fellowship programme in this blog from BT’s chief security and networks officer Howard Watson. The quartet of fellows are (in alphabetical order by surname): Maria Cuevas, networks research director; Dave Harcourt, chief security authority and automation director; Andrew Lord, senior manager, research, optical networks; and Andy Sutton, principal network architect, wireless access. You can read their reactions to their fellowship awards here. Watson noted: “These exceptional colleagues have been awarded the Fellows status in recognition of their contributions to engineering or for their outstanding technical achievements and leadership, and as thought leaders/experts in their given field.” Cuevas was among the industry executives we spoke to on the show floor at MWC 2024 in Barcelona – see MWC24: BT’s Maria Cuevas on AI’s role in network transformation.

India’s next 5G spectrum auction will take place on 20 May, the country’s Department of Telecom (DoT) has announced, with capacity in the 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1.800 GHz, 2.1 GHz, 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz, 3.3 GHz and 26 GHz bands up for grabs. In total, just over 10.5 GHz of capacity valued at more than 963bn Indian rupees ($11.64bn) is being made available across the eight bands. All three privately owned operators – Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea – are expected to register to take part, but quite how much they will be prepared to spend is another matter: While Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel have relatively deep pockets, they have both just invested billions in rolling out their 5G networks, while Vodafone Idea is in dire financial straits right now, though reportedly in the process of raising new funds

Thai operator AIS has announced that its division for providing IT and digital services to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), AIS SME, has partnered with Google Cloud to deliver Google Workspace, a suite of business solutions, to its enterprise customers. According to the telco, this solidifies the unit’s role as a digital service provider (DSP) in the SME market in Thailand. As part of the tie-up, business customers of AIS will be able to make use of the cloud data storage service Google Drive, video communication service Google Meet and a professional email solution, which are set to “enhance the capabilities and flexibility” of SMEs. “These tools aim to enhance capabilities and support businesses as they transition into the digital era, adopting digital technology in their operations fully. Additionally, they help streamline processes and enable comprehensive online work,” stated Navachai Kiartkorkuaa, head of enterprise marketing & SME business management at AIS.

Network APIs are hot right now, as we reported last week, and details about some of the telco traction has continued to be shared post-MWC. The GSMA had announced prior to last month’s MWC event that the major operators in Indonesia (Telkomsel, Indosat Ooredoo Hutchison, XL Axiata and Smartfren) had announced plans to launch three application programming interface (API) services – Number Verify, SIM Swap, and Device Location – based on the Camara specifications being adopted by telcos participating in the GSMA’s Open Gateway initiative. Now Ericsson subsidiary Vonage has announced that it is working with Telkomsel to help the Indonesian operator further its network API ambitions. “We are thrilled to join forces with Vonage to harness the potential of the network through APIs and unlock new opportunities in the telecommunications landscape,” noted Kwok Wai Kiat, VP of enterprise product management and development at Telkomsel, in this announcement. “This collaboration signifies our commitment as a leading digital telco service provider in Indonesia, consistently driving innovation through the utilisation of cutting-edge technology to empower the nation’s digital ecosystem and foster economic growth by delivering value-added services to our customers,” he added. Vonage is busy trying to get as close to as many operators as possible as it seeks to build itself a position as a leading network API platform, and has recently announced significant relationships with the likes of KDDI, AT&T, Verizon and more.  

In another move involving digital services for enterprises, Telefónica’s digital technology and services division, Telefónica Tech, has launched a cybersecurity services brand, dubbed NextDefense, for customers in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The brand focuses on next-generation managed security services (MSS) to provide “continuous monitoring, rapid threat detection and effective incident response” to help enterprises put in place “an effective, end-to-end security strategy to safeguard their critical assets, including data, cloud environments, endpoints and network infrastructure.” The Spanish telco group noted that the new brand uses advanced data sources, along with big data, AI and machine learning (ML) techniques to predict and protect against emerging threats. “NextDefense is our vision for the future of cybersecurity, providing a next-generation integrated portfolio of services to protect and manage risk in a modern, rapidly evolving threat landscape. NextDefense brings the global scale and intelligence of Telefónica Tech’s cyber operations to the UK&I [UK and Ireland] market, offering organisations global reach with a local touch,” explained Ed Tucker, cybersecurity CTO at Telefónica Tech UK&I. Read more.

- The staff, TelecomTV

Email Newsletters

Sign up to receive TelecomTV's top news and videos, plus exclusive subscriber-only content direct to your inbox.