What’s up with… Vodafone and Zegona, Intel, NTIA and 5G

  • Zegona confirms talks to buy Vodafone Spain
  • Intel is slammed with an almost €400m fine
  • US grants $7m for open 5G ecosystem development

In today’s industry news roundup: Investment company Zegona Communications is discussing a potential deal to acquire Vodafone’s Spanish business; the European Commission reimposes a fine on Intel for “a previously established abuse of dominant position” in the chips market; the US doles out cash to the winners of its $7m challenge to promote an open 5G ecosystem; and much more!

UK-based telecom investment company Zegona Communications confirmed speculation that it is in talks over a potential takeover of Vodafone’s operation in Spain. In a brief note to investors, the company stated that “it is in discussions with Vodafone in connection with the potential acquisition, and with banks in relation to its financing, but the potential acquisition remains subject to, amongst other things, agreement on final terms with Vodafone, completion of its due diligence exercise and formalisation of the funding arrangements”. Zegona rushed to add that an actual takeover deal, as well as any final terms, are not certain at this stage. It also noted that a further announcement regarding the talks will be made “as and when appropriate”. According to a report by Spanish newspaper Expansión, cited by Reuters, Zegona was looking for financing to make an offer on all or 50% of Vodafone Spain, in a deal that could value the Spanish business at more than €5bn. In July, new Vodafone CEO Margherita Della Valle disclosed that the operator was carrying out a “big review of the business in Spain”, with cost-cutting actions underway. At the time, she noted that “inorganic” moves were being considered – see Vodafone’s numbers offer turnaround hope. Just days after this announcement, media reports said numerous private equity players, including Warburg Pincus, Carlyle Group and Apollo Global Management, were interested in bidding for the Spanish business of the telco group. In the past, Vodafone has tried to merge its Spanish unit with domestic rival MásMóvil, but Orange Spain pipped it to the post.

The European Commission has reimposed a fine of €376.36m on Intel for “a previously established abuse of dominant position in the market for computer chips” called x86 central processing units (CPUs). According to the commission, Intel engaged in “a series of anticompetitive practices aimed at excluding competitors from the relevant market”, breaching antitrust rules within the European Union (EU). Its decision comes after a partial annulment by EU’s General Court of a €1.06bn fine, which the commission imposed on Intel in 2009 over alleged illegal practices, including “giving wholly or partially hidden rebates to computer manufacturers on condition that they bought all, or almost all, their x86 CPUs from Intel” and “paying computer manufacturers to halt or delay the launch of specific products containing competitors’ x86 CPUs and to limit the sales channels available to these products”. At the time, the court dismissed allegations that rebates given by Intel had distorted competition. But now, the commission has made a new decision based on so-called “naked restrictions” imposed by Intel between November 2002 and December 2006, which consisted of payments made by Intel to HP, Acer and Lenovo to “halt or delay the launch of specific products containing competitors’ x86 CPUs and to limit the sales channels available to these products”. Read more.

The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), in collaboration with the US Department of Defense (DoD), has announced the winners of a $7m 5G research competition. In its 2023 5G Challenge, the NTIA awarded the biggest chunk ($3m) of the prize money to a team consisting of Lions, NewEdge, Mavenir and Radisys. The runner-up team, which comprised Capgemini, JMA Wireless, QCT/Benetel, also received a $3m grant. The challenge’s goal is to “accelerate the adoption of open interfaces, interoperable subsystems, secure networks and modular multi-vendor solutions toward the development of an open 5G ecosystem”, the NTIA stated, adding that this type of ecosystem would result in “a more competitive and diverse telecommunications supply chain, lower costs for consumers and network operators”, as well as boost the nation’s leadership in the wireless sector. “America needs to lead the way to a diverse, resilient, and competitive global telecommunications supply chain. This year’s 5G Challenge winners, through their ground-breaking interoperability and mobility demonstrations, have provided a glimpse of that future,” said Alan Davidson, assistant secretary of commerce and NTIA administrator. Find out more.

The four national mobile network operators (MNOs) in Sweden – Tele2 and Telenor (through their network joint venture Net4Mobility), as well as Telia and Tre, have obtained new spectrum to boost their network capabilities. Tele2 and Telenor have spent a total of SEK1.5bn ($134m) to secure spectrum of 2x10MHz in the 900 MHz band until 31 December 2048, 2x20MHz in the 2.1GHz band until 31 December 2050 and 2x30 MHz in the 2.6GHz band until 31 December 2050. Tele2 claimed that the newly acquired licences will “further strengthen Tele2’s and Telenor’s joint 4G and 5G network”. Tele2’s CEO, Kjell Johnsen, described the outcome of the auction as “the last piece of the puzzle to finalise Sweden’s best and most cost-effective 4G and 5G network, that significantly will improve the services for both consumers and businesses”. Telia Sweden has won 2x15MHz in the 900MHz band, 2x20MHz in the 2.1GHz band and 2x30MHz in the 2.6 GHz band, for a total cost of SEK1.55bn ($139m). The licences are valid for 23 and 25 years respectively and, according to the telco, are important for “the continued digitisation of Sweden”. The company explained that it will use the freshly acquired spectrum to improve the coverage and capacity of its 4G and 5G networks, including in rural areas. Finally, Tre has been awarded 2x10MHz in the 900 MHz band and 2x20MHz in the 2.1GHz frequency band, as well as 2x10MHz and 1x40MHz in the 2.6GHz band, costing it a total of slightly more SEK1.2bn ($107m). Further details can be found here in Swedish.

And staying with spectrum allocation… It seems the Dutch government has delayed an upcoming 5G auction. The Dutch Authority for Digital Infrastructure (RDI) reportedly told local newspaper the NL Times that holding an auction this year is no longer possible and a new date is yet to be confirmed. RDI’s initial plan was to allocate 5G spectrum in the 3.5GHz band before the end of 2023, but an adjustment to the Netherlands’ National Frequency Plan (NFP) has caused it to be delayed, as several parties have reportedly appealed against the amendments and are set to be heard in court on 11 and 12 October. The three major operators in the country: KPN, Vodafone and Odido (formerly T-Mobile) – have all expressed disappointment over the auction delay, according to the newspaper. Read more.

Microsoft is yet another step closer to acquiring gaming company Activision following concessions it has made to address concerns raised by the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). In a statement, the regulator claimed that the restructured deal comprises “important changes that substantially address the concerns” that the CMA set out regarding the original transaction earlier this year. Under the new deal, Activision’s streaming rights would be sold to Ubisoft, referred to by the CMA as “an independent player”, which the regulator claims will prevent “important content”, including popular games such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, from coming under the control of Microsoft in relation to cloud gaming. “The CMA originally found that Microsoft already has a strong position in cloud gaming services and could have used its control over Activision content to stifle competition and reinforce this position. The new deal instead results in the cloud streaming rights for Activision’s games being transferred to an independent player, Ubisoft, maintaining open competition as the market for cloud gaming develops over the coming years”, the authority stated. This move, the CMA noted, “opens the door to the deal being cleared”. Microsoft’s proposed remedies are now the subject of a consultation until 6 October. Read more.

US operators Verizon and T-Mobile have been recognised as some of the most transparent companies in the US – at least according to the fifth annual US Transparency Awards by Labrador, a global communications firm. Verizon has been highlighted as the “inaugural winner” in the category for the best environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) report. “The company was awarded a precision score of 99%, which measures the completeness and prioritisation of voluntary information shared,” noted Labrador. Domestic rival T-Mobile ranked second in the category. In the broader IT industry, Intel was recognised as one of the top companies in terms of transparency. Across all industries, Intel and Verizon were the only two from the ICT sector to rank in the top 10, taking the fourth and the fifth positions respectively. Learn more.

- The staff, TelecomTV

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