What’s up with... Vodafone India, Nokia, MWC22, Starlink

TelecomTV Staff
By TelecomTV Staff

Jan 11, 2022

  • Indian government to own a massive stake in Vodafone Idea 
  • Nokia starts 2022 with a margin makeover
  • GSMA expects a big turnout of exhibitors at MWC22 in February
  • Elon Musk’s Starlink is proving popular in Canada

The latest from India, encouraging news for Nokia, a bullish note from MWC22’s organiser and a willing market for satellite broadband are the lead items in today’s news roundup.

Beleaguered Indian operator Vodafone Idea, the country’s third largest operator, has decided to convert its debts to the Indian government into equity in a move that will leave the government holding a 35.8% stake, while Vodafone Group would have a 28.5% stake and the Aditya Birla Group around 17.8%. The move to issue new shares and dilute the holdings of existing shareholders sent the operator’s stock into a tailspin as it lost almost 21% of its value on India’s National Stock Exchange (NSE) to close Tuesday at INR11.75. The company had a number of options regarding its debts, which included spectrum license payments, but it seems that having the Indian government as its largest shareholder has been seen as the safest long-term option for survival and help India to retain a market with at least three major mobile operators. (See From too many CSPs to too few: India’s mobile woes.)

Nokia has started 2022 in positive fashion with news of better-than-expected operating margins for 2021 and advance margin guidance for 2022. The 2021 improvement did come from one-time items rather than a significant uptick in sales or exciting new business, but it’s still a positive for the vendor, which now expects its comparable operating margin (which excludes one-time items such as restructuring costs) for last year to come in at 12.4%-12.6% instead of somewhere in the 10%-12% range. Its annual revenues are on course to hit €22.2 billion, slap bang in the middle of the guidance given in late October when it announced its third quarter results. For 2022, it expects to achieve a comparable operating margin of 11% to 13.5%, it noted in this press release. There’s still a long way to go for Nokia, but it does appear to be heading in the right direction in terms of its financial stability. The vendor’s share price didn’t move on the news, ending the day at €5.44 on the Helsinki exchange, but is up by 73% in the past year, a reflection of its progress. 

The GSMA is bullish about the prospects of MWC22 going ahead as planned in Barcelona starting 28 February. In an email to partners and exhibitors today, John Hoffman, CEO of GSMA Ltd., the part of the industry body that runs and organizes its events, notes that the GSMA would “only consider a change to our plans under the direction of the Spanish authorities,” and that he is expecting more than 1,500 exhibitors “in February.” By comparison, at MWC19, the most recent pre-Covid-19 pandemic Mobile World Congress, hosted 2,400 participating companies. I guess, then, it’s a case of ‘see you in Barcelona,” unless the Spanish authorities get cold feet. 

Canadians living and working in remote rural areas are very enthused at the speed and general excellence of the service they get from Elon Musk’s much-vaunted low-earth-orbit satellite Internet service, Starlink. At the moment there are 1,760 active satellites in orbit, but the full galaxy will number an astonishing 42,000. When they’re all in orbit they’ll be so tightly packed together that it’ll be all but impossible to slip a well-starched bus ticket in between them and we’ll never be able to see the Milky Way again, but the Canucks up north love ‘em – and with good reason. Starlink started beaming its services across Canada in October 2020 and is now providing “beta service” across the entire nation. The actual numbers of Starlink subscribers are still in the high tens of thousands but more are joining every day and they are delighted by the service they get. The last statistics available from Starlink date back to the end of September 2021 and show that the service’s median download speed was 84.55 Mbps, while the median download speed provided by the very limited land-based broadband Internet delivery there is in rural Canada (mainly available via fibre-optic cable dug-in close to main roads) was 90.67 Mbps - and massively more expensive than a Starlink subscription. Four months ago, Starlink’s median download speed was faster than the median for all fixed broadband in Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Saskatchewan. Broadband services in Canada are not cheap, mainly because of the cosy and uncompetitive relationship between the country’s three major players, Bell, Rogers and Telus, whose response to the increasing growth in Starlink subscribers is to stick their heads in the snow and pretend that it doesn’t exist. Starlink dishes cost $699 Canadian (plus the inevitable tax) so set-up costs are high but subscriptions at $129 a month offer a big saving on the prices charged for inferior services by other providers. Users say that can easily save $300 a month on the extremely high bills they previously got for low-quality connectivity. Meanwhile, the Canadian federal government says it is working to ensure that every part of Canada will have access to a “broadband service” of some sort by 2030. Elon Musk will be on Mars by then.

In the benighted country of Myanmar, the ruling military junta that took over in a bloody coup on February 1, 2021, has just introduced a new tax of 20,000 Burmese kyat (MMK) on the sale of SIM cards. That equates to US$11.26 a card. It has also brought in an additional tax of 15 per cent tax on the revenues of the ISPs that provide a massively censored, truncated and surveilled government-controlled subset of an Internet service in Myanmar. From a western perspective much you might think that the price rises aren’t that high, but they will put telecoms service beyond the reach of many millions of the poorly paid in Myanmar. The World Banks says poverty rates there are soaring as food and fuel prices increase and the value of the kyat plunges. Before the coup Myanmar had a thriving telecoms sector and burgeoning digital economy. In 2011 mobile phone penetration was just 6.9 per cent, the lowest on the planet after North Korea. At the start of 2021 the penetration stood at 126 per cent. It has fallen into a black hole since then and the sector is now, ultimately, completely controlled by the military powers that routinely spy on, “disappear” or simply murder their citizens. The junta’s latest strategy is bizarre. It is short of money and has increased taxes in an effort to top-up its depleted coffers but, at the same time is reducing the potential amount it would get if it set them lower. Telecoms everywhere can always be used as a milch cow to bolster an autocratic regime and the Myanmar public know it. Ever since the military takeover they have boycotted telecoms services except in extremis and have been running a samizdat campaign to persuade people not to pay their phone bills and the taxes. It’s a dangerous strategy given the brutality of the government but is seems to be working. According to the junta, in an article published in that inestimable military organ, “Global New Light on Myanmar”, developing countries always introduce such taxes and the authorities have had to do so to “mitigate the effects triggered by extreme use of internet services on the employment of the people and mental sufferings of new generation students.” The ones they haven’t killed, that is. What perishing piffle.

Mobile network operators in the US, the UK and Europe have begun disabling Apple’s iCloud Private Relay, a feature currently with “open beta” status in the latest updates of iOS 15 and Mac Monterey. According to Apple, the purpose of Private Relay is to provide an extra security and privacy layer by routing a user’s web browsing data through two proxy servers – an Apple-maintained server and a third-party server. It’s a sort of VPN equivalent that tunnels traffic and so renders a user’s location and the IP addresses accessed invisible, not only to Apple but also to any and all mobile carriers in the chain. Users are unknown and so are the web sites they access, which is anathema to the operators. The likes of AT&T, T-Mobile US and Verizon in the US and Vodafone, Telefonica and T-Mobile in Europe are among those blocking access to Private Relay, ostensibly on the grounds that it hampers the “ability to efficiently manage telecommunication networks” because its use prevents both networks and servers from getting to “vital network data and metadata.” The reality is, of course, is that it prevents mobile operators from continually and endlessly gathering as much data as they can scrape from their subscribers to sell on to commercial interests and advertisers, but the operators don’t want to admit that. Private Relay is an opt-in feature.

Colt Data Centre Services has secured 10 plots of land in Europe and Asia for the development of greenfield hyperscale data centres, with London, Frankfurt and Paris among the locations in Europe. The move is part of the company’s new portfolio approach to focus on its hyperscale and large enterprise efforts, an approach that led to the sale of 12 colocation sites to AtlasEdge Data Centres, a joint venture of DigitalBridge and Liberty Global, last year. “Refining our portfolio has enabled us to go into full growth mode,” stated Richard Wellbrock, Vice President of Real Estate. “We want to create success for our partners, customers, and for the future of the business. Focusing clearly on the hyperscale and large enterprise business enables us to do just that.” Read more
Mavenir has added to its growing list of Open RAN engagements in the UK with a smart city deployment in Sunderland in partnership with neutral host network operator BAI Communications. BAI is deploying Mavenir’s 5G Open vRAN and 5G Packet Core solutions that gives the the network builder the option to deploy radio heads from multiple suppliers if it wishes to do so. Read more

- The staff, TelecomTV

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