What’s up with… Telecom Italia, Calix, Kepler

  • Higher bids expected for Telecom Italia’s fixed network assets
  • Calix boss bans ChatGPT
  • LEO hopeful Kepler Communications raises US$92m

In today’s industry news roundup: Improved bids expected for Telecom Italia’s NetCo unit as deadline looms; Calix CEO has banned ChatGPT from his company’s operations and products; low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite builder Kepler secures Series C investment; and more!

The two bidders interested in acquiring the fixed access and international network assets of Telecom Italia (TIM) are set to submit higher bids on Tuesday following the rejection of their initial offers, according to a Reuters report that cites multiple sources with knowledge of the matter. The initial offers from Italian state lender CDP (Cassa Depositi e Prestiti) and private equity firm KKR were, at around €18bn and €20bn (including an earn out) respectively, deemed to be too low and were rejected by Telecom Italia, which encouraged the duo to submit improved bids by a deadline of 18 April. And now, according to Reuters, both parties are on course to table bids that will be higher by €1bn or €2bn. But that doesn’t sound like it will be enough to satisfy Vivendi, Telecom Italia’s largest single shareholder, which has always stated it values the NetCo unit (comprising the fixed access network in Italy and the Sparkle international operations) at around €31bn. It’s hard to see how this situation is going to be resolved, which is bad news for Telecom Italia given it is struggling under a debt pile of about €25bn.   

Following news that Samsung staff had, on three separate occasions in just three weeks, accidentally leaked proprietary information by using it in ChatGPT queries, San Jose, California-based broadband infrastructure vendor Calix has banned the use of the generative AI tool across “business functions and across all devices,” the company’s CEO Michael Weening announced in this LinkedIn post. “Think about it, what is an AI engine? It is a learning engine therefore everything that goes into it becomes part of the learning models – which is why they lay claim to everything for it to work,” he noted. “IP, customer data, or other confidential internal items become part of residual knowledge rights… Writing an internal memo that is confidential – how would you like that to be publically available? A customer contract that is under NDA... openly available. On and on. Assume everything entered into ChatGPT is now public domain and available to Microsoft (or others). Not a chance,” the CEO stated. But he added that Calix does not is not against AI. “This is a big deal. Of course, we love AI and are going to continue to expand use in a responsible manner.” 

Satellite communications provider Kepler Communications, which is building a low-earth orbit (LEO) network of satellites to provide data connectivity not only to customers back on Earth but also for in-space applications (such as Earth observation and space tourism), has raised US$92m for its ‘internet for space’ project, taking its total raised since 2016 to more than US$200m. Following the completion of a Series C funding round, led by venture capital firm IA Ventures, the Canadian-based satellite company plans to use the proceeds to deliver “real-time, continuous connectivity for space communications”. Through the financial injection, Kepler aims to complement its existing radio frequency (RF) network by launching an optical data relay infrastructure in 2024, with optical services being operational and commercially available in the first quarter of 2025. As the company builds out its hybrid RF and optical satellite constellation, dubbed The Kepler Network, it is solving “challenges the industry faces and simplifying mission communications by bringing modern internet capabilities into space,” said Mina Mitry, CEO of Kepler. He added that “extending the internet to space” will have the same “far-reaching impact” as the internet had on transforming civilisation on Earth.

BT has carried out a two-day “war game” exercise to determine the potential impact on its technology supply chain should relations between Taiwan and China deteriorate, The Financial Times has reported (subscription required). The exercise took place shortly after US speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, a move that China regarded as an “act of aggression”. The global technology sector, including the telecom industry, has already been hit with supply chain issues over the past three years as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and, more recently, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Any military activity involving Taiwan would affect the global supply of semiconductors and networking subcomponents, as Taiwan is home to a number of major hardware manufacturers, including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC).  

Africa-focused operator group Vodacom has pledged to invest 60bn South African rand (ZAR) (around $3.3bn) over the next five years to boost connectivity in South Africa. In its statement, the company noted that the new “substantial investment” will target efforts to enhance network resilience, improve financial inclusion and accelerate its “deep rural coverage programme” to close the digital divide in the market. Vodacom’s commitment comes after a previous investment of ZAR 50bn ($2.7bn) it made in 2018, which according to the group’s CEO, Shameel Joosub, is playing “a significant role in fostering digital inclusion for all and helping to unlock economic and social opportunities for South Africa.” A highlight in this field includes the deployment of base stations in remote areas, which has provided network coverage to 95.8% of the rural population. Find out more.

Expect to hear a lot about fixed broadband technology developments and deployments this week as the FTTH Council’s annual conference takes place in Madrid. For example, the Broadband Forum is today shouting about a new standard that “enables operators to seamlessly reconfigure a connection to meet the specific demands of the broadband application in use.” According to the forum, which is perhaps best known for its globally deployed customer premises equipment (CPE) management specification TR-069, work is already well underway on specifications for subscriber session steering (project WT-474) that “detects traffic changes and automatically scales to preserve the user experience, bringing benefits to both the service provider and their customers. Essentially, this provides operators with a load-balancing and service selection capability right at the ingress to the broadband network.” Vodafone’s Jonathan Newton, who is co-director of the access and transport architecture work area at the forum, explained, “Typically, traditional fixed broadband networks have relatively static configurations in the access network, with subscribers mapped to specific gateways. Subscriber session steering breaks through restrictions on a service provider’s ability to offer innovative edge services, ensuring that the network is loaded evenly, coping with issues such as device failures, and allowing service providers to focus on service innovation.” Read more.   

And ahead of the conference, which starts on 18 April, optical cable manufacturer Prysmian is touting its green network credentials by launching its first products that conform to its own Eco Cable label. “The Eco Cable products are aimed at proactively addressing the greener and greener expectations of the telecom market and of all stakeholders,” stated Philippe Vanhille, executive vice president of the telecom division at Prysmian Group. “We are now ready to present our range of telecom products where the measurable and recognised sustainable criteria can be applied, to support the decarbonisation of operators and broadband infrastructure providers and strengthen their green supply chain and value proposition.” Read more

A mention here too for S&T Iskratel, the Slovenian fixed broadband equipment vendor, which claims it has developed a world-beating passive optical network (PON) optical line terminal (OLT) – the equipment that sits at the edge of the network and connects to multiple optical network terminal (ONT) CPE units. It says the 1.4Tbit/s uplink capacity of its Lumia 6 platform makes the product the “world’s fastest shelf-based PON OLT” that also enables “a seamless technology upgrade in the same chassis when new PON generations are available. With 800 Gbit/s per subscriber blade and 3.4 Tbit/s switching capacity, Iskratel Lumia T6 will easily support 50 GPON [gigabit passive optical network] and 100 GPON, in addition to current 10 GPON technologies, such as Combo PON and XGS-PON.” Read more

- The staff, TelecomTV

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