What’s up with… Vodafone, Orange, NTT Docomo

  • Bidders stalk Vodafone Spain’s fixed line assets
  • Orange touts 5G+ and mulls regional tower sales  
  • NTT Docomo invests in US cloud gaming startup

In today’s industry news roundup: Multiple bidders fancy buying Vodafone Spain’s fixed line assets; Orange has cause for celebration in Spain and appears to be mulling multiple options for its MEA tower assets; NTT Docomo’s investment arm takes a stake in a US-based mobile cloud game streaming platform; and more!

A bidding war is brewing for Vodafone Spain’s fixed line unit, with multiple parties set to offer billions of euros for the operator’s broadband assets. According to Spanish business newspaper El Economista, Macquarie Capital, which already holds a majority stake in Spanish wholesale fibre access network operator Onivia, and Ardian Infrastructure, which owns rural wholesale fibre access operator Adamo Telecom, are both interested in Vodafone’s assets, which pass 10.5 million premises (7 million with cable broadband lines and 3.5 million with fibre lines) and have been valued at about €4bn. And other bidders, such as infrastructure investment firm Brookfield, might also make offers, according to the report. Spain is one of Vodafone’s trickier markets: It is struggling for scale and lost out last year to Orange in the battle to acquire MásMóvil. Now it looks like Vodafone, which is under pressure from investors and still seeking a new group CEO, is scaling back in the country. 

Still in the Iberian peninsula… Orange Spain has become the first operation in the Orange Group to launch a commercial 5G standalone (SA) mobile service. Dubbed 5G+, the offering is already available in several major Spanish cities, with other areas being added throughout the year. The company claims to be the first telco in Spain to launch a 5G SA network. More information is available here (in Spanish).

And still with OrangeThe operator is reportedly mulling a range of options to raise money from its tower assets in Africa and the Middle East in a move that could raise $1bn, according to Bloomberg. The assets, which are not part of Totem, the Orange division that manages the operator’s towers in Europe, could be bundled and sold outright, sold on a country-by-country basis, become part of a joint venture with other tower groups or spun out and listed on a public exchange via an IPO, according to the report. Orange is set to unveil a new group strategy later this week. 

NTT Docomo Ventures, the investment arm of NTT Docomo, has upped its game in the digital content era by investing an undisclosed sum into now.gg, a US-based mobile cloud game streaming platform.The venture fund of the Japanese telco intends to use the financing to explore options to launch joint projects and create new value. According to NTT Docomo, the cloud rendering technologies and the user experience provided by now.gg are “highly compatible with the initiative for a better communication that Docomo aims to achieve”, including via its multi-device metaverse service, which has been delivering “a wide range” of digital content since 2022. Read more.

Millicom, the Latin American operator group currently in takeover talks, has made itself an even more attractive acquisition target by reporting an increase in revenues and profits for 2022. The operator, ​​which provides mobile and fixed broadband services under the Tigo brand in nine Latin American markets, reported full-year revenues of $5.6bn, up by 32% year on year in reported numbers thanks to acquisitions that were completed last year and grew the overall business: Without the boost from M&A activity, its sales still increased by 3.3%. Its operating profit for the year was up by almost 48% to $915m. Millicom, which ended last year with 40.6 million mobile customers and 4.8 million broadband customers, is in talks with private equity firm Apollo Global Management and the Claure Group, an investment firm founded by former Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, about a potential acquisition. 

AST SpaceMobile, which is developing technology designed to enable the delivery of mobile services from satellites to regular smartphones, has struck some new operator relationships. In Brazil it has teamed up with TIM Brasil, part of the Telecom Italia empire, to explore ways in which mobile services can be offered in hard-to-reach areas of the massive Latin American country, while in Saudi Arabia it has announced a collaboration with Zain KSA

Rakuten Mobile and NTT Docomo are to work with UK network operators and other British firms on the potential of Open RAN as part of a programme run by Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NIICT) to foster collaboration between Japan and the UK, according to Japanese news agency Kyodo. Rakuten Symphony, the Open RAN vendor and integrator that is still owned by Rakuten Mobile, is paving the way for its UK activities by opening an Open RAN Customer Experience Centre in the UK over the next couple of months – see Rakuten to host Open RAN test lab in UK.

China Mobile and China Telecom have pulled out of the $500m South East Asia–Middle East–Western Europe 6 (Sea-Me-We 6) submarine cable consortium in a move that reflects escalating tension between the US and China, according to a report from the Financial Times (FT). The contract to lay the Sea-Me-We 6 cable, which is set to run for 19,200km from Singapore to France via multiple landing points, was awarded to US firm SubCom in February 2022, beating Chinese rival Hengtong Marine. That contract award decision prompted the two Chinese operators, which were reportedly stumping up about 20% of the cost of the cable, to bow out of the consortium last year, according to the FT report.  

French telco Bouygues Telecom has announced it is appealing a court ruling that ordered it to pay Free Mobile, one of its main domestic rivals, €308m in damages. The decision by the Paris Commercial Court was in relation to a long-running dispute between the two companies: Free Mobile took legal action against Bouygues Telecom in 2012 over its smartphone-plus-mobile bundled offers that, allegedly, resulted in unfair competition. “Bouygues Telecom disputes this ruling in the strongest possible terms and considers that its bundled offers are legal. Bouygues Telecom believes that it has always acted in strict compliance with the law and for the benefit of its customers,” commented the company, which is now taking the case to the Paris Court of Appeal. Free Mobile reportedly won a legal battle over the definition of handset subsidies in 2018. It has also initiated similar proceedings against Orange.

- The staff, TelecomTV

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