What’s up with… Towers M&A, Cubic Telecom, Telefónica

TelecomTV Staff
By TelecomTV Staff

Dec 5, 2023

Zain group CEO Bader Al-Kharafi (left) and Ooredoo group CEO Aziz Aluthman Fakhroo (right) seal the deal. Source: Ooredoo

Zain group CEO Bader Al-Kharafi (left) and Ooredoo group CEO Aziz Aluthman Fakhroo (right) seal the deal. Source: Ooredoo

  • Ooredoo and Zain create MENA’s largest towers firm 
  • SoftBank takes majority stake in Ireland’s Cubic Telecom
  • Telefónica closes in on total ownership of its German operation

In today’s industry news roundup: Ooredoo and Zain form Middle East and North Africa towers giant; SoftBank buys a 51% stake in Irish software-defined connected vehicle solutions specialist Cubic Telecom; Telefónica makes an offer for the final stake in its German operation that it doesn’t already own; and much more!

Middle East telco giants Ooredoo and Zain are forming the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s largest towers firm by combining their assets in multiple markets into a single company with 30,000 sites and a value of $2.2bn. “Ooredoo and Zain will equally retain a substantial stake of 49.3% each in the newly restructured entity, through an asset and cash equalisation process,” the operators noted. The founders of Tasc Towers Holding, in which Zain holds a majority stake, will hold the remaining 1.4% and manage the operations of the combined business, which will offer passive infrastructure-as-a-service (PIaaS) to create “unprecedented opportunities for all mobile network operators, offering a capital-efficient alternative to building, owning and managing their own passive infrastructure in a cost-efficient and environmentally friendly manner,” the operators noted. The company, which will have towers in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq, Algeria and Tunisia, will have annual revenues of almost $500m and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of more than $200m. “This pioneering deal embarks us on an exciting journey together as it results in the establishment of the region’s largest independent tower company, placing the MENA region on the world telecom tower map,” noted Ooredoo’s group CEO Aziz Aluthman Fakhroo, Zain group CEO Bader Al-Kharafi and Tasc founder and CEO Iyad Mazhar in a joint statement. “It also positions the region as an advanced player in the global telecoms landscape, and we anticipate wide-ranging positive implications for the region – from economic growth and upgraded connectivity to technological improvements and increased global relevance… The deal also demonstrates our joint dedication to supporting the reduction of the region’s carbon footprint, contributing to our vision of reshaping the telecommunications sector by building a more sustainable ecosystem and ensuring a better-connected future for our communities across the region,” the CEOs concluded. Read more

SoftBank has boosted its position in the race for connected vehicles, splashing out €473m on a 51% equity stake in the Irish provider of software-defined connected vehicle solutions, Cubic Telecom. Under a definite agreement, the pair will form a strategic partnership to “pioneer the future of software-defined connected vehicles” and other high-value internet of things (IoT) assets by “harnessing the power of global connectivity platforms”. The deal, which is expected to complete in the first half of 2024, will result in Cubic Telecom becoming a consolidated subsidiary of SoftBank. Cubic Telecom’s current CEO, Barry Napier, will continue serving at the helm of the unit, while SoftBank will take three seats on the company’s board. With this investment, Cubic Telecom will get a valuation of more than €900m. SoftBank noted that Cubic Telecom is poised to capture “a leading share” of the connected vehicle market. It noted the sector is set to boom, citing statistics from McKinsey & Company that 95% of new vehicles sold globally are expected to be connected by 2030. Cubic Telecom’s platform allows OEMs to monitor, manage and update “many aspects of a vehicle or device” in real-time via mobile connectivity. Since launching in 2016, the company has sealed deals with more than 90 telcos and now connects more than 17 million vehicles worldwide. “In line with our ‘Beyond Japan’ strategic growth initiative, we are extremely pleased to be teaming up with Cubic Telecom to make a full-fledged entry into the fast-growing market for high-value IoT asset connectivity,” noted Junichi Miyakawa, president and CEO of SoftBank. Find out more.

Telefónica has issued a public acquisition offer with a view to increasing its remaining stake in Telefónica Deutschland (also known as O2 Telefónica). In a statement, the Spanish telco giant said it has proposed buying a stake of up to 18.52% in Telefónica Deutschland, which would give it total ownership of the company, as it claims to currently hold directly and indirectly (including instruments that give it the right to acquire 1.32% of Telefónica Deutschland’s share capital) a 81.48% stake in the German unit. It has clearly already been busy in the stock market since its earlier statement regarding its planned move: When the operator first unveiled its intentions to buy out Telefónica Deutschland on 7 November, it held a 71.81% stake in the entity and announced plans to acquire the remaining 28.19% of the German telco. In its new statement, released today, it maintained that the offer represented a “highly attractive premium” for Telefónica Deutschland shareholders, which have until 17 January 2024 to make a decision. The telco also argued that Telefónica Deutschland will remain “a Munich-based telecom powerhouse” following the buyout and will be managed independently by the current members of the board. “There are no intentions to make any changes with respect to the employees of Telefónica Deutschland, their employment conditions, or their employee representation,” it confirmed.

This year will go down in Canadian history as the year the national regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) picked up the complacent and all-but-moribund telecoms sector and shook it until its teeth rattled. It happened when the industry minister, the effervescent Francois-Philippe Champagne, at last told the CRTC to use its power to prioritise consumer rights, affordability, competition and universal access. Champagne’s action was a U-turn on the telecom policy established back in 2006, whereby the regulator was instructed to “rely on market forces” when making decisions. The directive went down with the telcos like a lead balloon. As Global News, the news and current affairs division of Canada’s Global Television Network, reported, as 2023 totters towards its end, many of the new regulatory decisions are being contested. For example, as recently as 6 November, the CRTC announced that Bell Canada and Telus would be legally required, within a maximum of six months, to provide their comparatively few and comparatively small independent rivals with access to their fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) networks in the populous provinces of Ontario and Quebec, the idea being to stimulate competition in the internet access and services market. Within four hours of the publication of the directive, Bell Canada announced it would cut CAN$1bn (US$737m) of network investment that has been planned for next year and 2025. Bell then went on to file a complaint with the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal challenging the CRTC’s ruling and petitioning that new regulation be held in abeyance until the outcome of the appeal, a process that could take many months. As Global News reported, the CRTC also acted to remedy one of the biggest bugbears suffered by Canadian subscribers – service outages. Telcos and service providers have routinely used reasons/excuses such as extreme weather, cyberattacks and ‘accidents’. It has to be said that big telcos and service providers seem to be accident-prone to the point that, if they were householders, they would be unable to get insurance coverage. The regulator issued an interim ruling that all carriers must notify it within two hours of a network outage happening and then file a comprehensive report about the outage within 14 days. This too has caused ructions. Telcos and service providers had grown cosily accustomed to reporting outages at their leisure and then maybe, or maybe not, eventually providing minimal reports of reasons and resolutions at some distant point in the future. Another pointed bone of contention for subscribers is roaming fees. Earlier this year, Canada’s so-called Big Three mobile operators, Rogers Wireless (11.6mn subscribers), Bell Mobility (10 mn) and Telus Mobility (9.5 mn) all, coincidentally, upped their roaming rates. Consumers were outraged and industry minister Champagne was fizzing with anger. The increase came as tariffs were coming down elsewhere and led the minister to observe that the Big Three seemed to be increasing roaming costs without their subscribers being made aware of it. The operators are putting up a concerted defence to the CRTC’s questions on how roaming rates were set and increased and why there have been so many such increases over the past five years. Apparently, getting sensible and timely responses is like wading through treacle in rock-filled waders: After all, the CRTC does say it wants service providers to take “concrete steps” on the matter in 2024.

There’s still money to be made from voice, you know… Voice biometrics is the science of using the unique characteristics of an individual human being’s voice to authenticate and authorise an identity. Systems do this by matching voice samples against a template of the captured original pitch, range, speech patterns and voice qualities of the ‘live’ voice. The original voice recording is not stored by the authentication platform and is highly secure: In other words, this is identification by voiceprint rather than fingerprint. However, it should be noted that voice recognition and voice authentication are not the same. Voice recognition identifies what words are being spoken by an individual while voice biometrics identifies the person saying those words. Voice authorisation has wide application across a range of scenarios, including the banking and financial sectors and health services. Unsurprisingly, the voice biometrics market is growing very quickly and is on course to be worth $14.13bn by 2032, according to a new report from Emergen Research. The Vancouver, Canada-headquartered outfit says high and increasing demand for voice biometrics is primarily being driven by the worldwide development and deployment of advanced digital hardware and software technologies in sectors such as telecom, IT, transport, logistics, government and defence. That, and the sheer proliferation of digital devices in everyday life, and the ever-increasing incidence of cyberattacks, has created a very real need for advanced security and protection solutions. Figures from the Emergen report show that in 2019 (the last year for which complete figures are available, due to the fragmentation of the market and number of small- to medium-sized voice biometrics companies) show that it was worth just $972.4m. The research house forecasts that it will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.6% between 2023 and 2032, when sector revenues will hit the aforementioned $14.13bn. The report shows that, hitherto, the access control and authentication sector dominated the market for voice biometrics and adds that “the high level of awareness among organisations regarding the confidentiality of their data and the need to protect from malware targeted cyber-attacks while using cloud computing services will drive the segment’s demand. Large enterprises are rapidly adopting biometric voice technology as they recognise the importance of technology.” Meanwhile, the governmental sector is also experiencing a significant increase in demand for voice biometrics as departments modernise their systems and facilities and strive to maintain the security and confidentiality of their internal affairs. The US remains the biggest market for voice metrics and is expected to continue to be so.

Huawei and Ericsson are the best-performing vendors in terms of 5G end-to-end core network automation and orchestration solutions, according to a new report from ABI Research. The analyst house assessed seven vendors against criteria such as live deployments, ease of integration with multivendor solutions, support for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities, ongoing proofs of concept (POCs), and research and development (R&D) activities. It concluded that Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia were the top-three leaders, due to “their strong record of commercial deployments of their solutions, ecosystem partnerships, integration support, and ability to meet carrier-grade requirements”. The trio, alongside ZTE, also “scored highly” for innovation, as a result of “solid solution features, integration of AI/ML capabilities, strong commitment to POCs and R&D, and overall contribution to industry standards,” the research firm noted. “While the 5GC [5G core] market is currently dominated by traditional incumbent network equipment vendors (NEVs), it can be observed that other automation and orchestration software vendors are attempting to make in-roads into the market by offering industrial-leading automation and orchestration solutions and introducing novel cloud-native capabilities that could chip away at the incumbent NEVs leads,” added Jake Saunders, VP at ABI Research. Find out more.

- The staff, TelecomTV

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