What’s up with… Xavier Niel & Millicom, Orange & Nokia, Google

Iliad founder Xavier Niel: Picture by @Romuald Meigneux

Iliad founder Xavier Niel: Picture by @Romuald Meigneux

  • Xavier Niel is lining up a $4.1bn bid for Millicom
  • Orange taps Nokia for network API platform
  • Google is investing in a subsea link between Africa and Australia

In today’s industry news roundup: Serial telecom sector entrepreneur Xavier Niel wants to further expand his empire by acquiring all of Latin American operator Millicom; Orange is expanding its network API efforts using Nokia’s Network as Code platform; Google is hooking up multiple African countries to a submarine network called Umoja that will link Africa and Australia; and much more!

Atlas Investissement, the holding company run by Iliad founder and owner Xavier Niel, is lining up a $4.1bn takeover offer for Millicom, the Latin American service provider in which Atlas Investissement has already built a 29% stake. In a regulatory filing on Thursday, Atlas noted it is “exploring financing options” for an all-cash bid of $24 per Millicom share, or about $4.1bn in total. Millicom’s stock is currently trading at $24.02 and the offer is only a 19% premium on the average price of the shares over the past three months, so it seems likely that the Millicom board will hold out for a higher offer if Niel and his team are able to raise the requisite funds. Millicom noted in a short statement that its board “will carefully review any offer, should one be made.” Earlier this month, Millicom, which provides mobile and fixed broadband services under the Tigo brand in nine Latin American markets – Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay – reported impressive growth in its first-quarter results. Its revenue was up 8.6% year on year to $1.5bn, driven by a service revenue surge on the back of “stronger currencies and organic growth”, as well as by “large B2B [business-to-business] contracts in Panama” and a return to growth in Guatemala. Its EBITDA rose 24.5% year on year despite the company incurring $30m in restructuring costs in the period. “I am very pleased to report that 2024 is off to a good start, as the combination of key investments and strategic initiatives implemented over the last several years, combined with savings from both phases of Project Everest [a programme by the telco to deliver run-rate savings of more than $100m by the end of 2024], produced strong Q1 performance on many fronts,” commented CEO Mauricio Ramos at the time. Niel is best known for his expansion across Europe with Iliad, but he also has a number of key investments in various operators, including Vodafone and Tele2, and Iliad’s cloud services unit Scaleway has just expanded worldwide into 52 countries, including several in Latin America. 

Orange is ramping up its network API strategy by signing up to use Nokia’s Network as Code platform and its associated developer portal. Using the platform, application developers will be able to “test and take advantage of Orange’s 5G network capabilities to create applications for customers in France and other parts of Europe,” the partners noted in this announcement. Orange is already exposing its network APIs through its Orange Developer Portal, but by also using the Nokia platform “developers will have the tools to leverage Orange’s network features, develop new use cases, and create new value for developer and Orange customers.” Laurent Leboucher, group CTO at Orange, noted: “We are very pleased to open another area of collaboration with Nokia that enables compelling business use cases to consume our network assets in ways that were not really feasible years ago. Today, the level of collaboration among operators, system integrators, developers, and partners is a step change and this is positioning us to better tap the cloud-native capabilities built into Orange’s 5G network.” Leboucher will be discussing network API developments as the co-host for a session focused on this very topic during the upcoming DSP Leaders World Forum in Windsor (5-6 June). 

Google is investing heavily to improve the reach and reliability of digital connectivity in Africa to help accelerate economic growth across the continent. Central to its initiative is Umoja (the word means ‘unity’ in Swahili), the first fibre route directly to connect Africa with Australia. From its anchor point in Kenya, the Umoja cable route will link, initially via a terrestrial route, Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe on into South Africa before running along the subsea route beneath the Indian Ocean to land in Australia. Umoja’s overland routing was built in partnership with Liquid Intelligent Technologies (LIT), a business unit of Cassava Technologies, the pan-African network operator and technology giant with presence in 21 countries, predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa, and a fibre broadband network running more than 110,000 km. It also provides cloud and cyber security solutions to public and private enterprises and SMEs via strategic partnerships with global players. Strive Masiyiwa, the chairman and founder of LIT, noted that the new cable will transform major African cities, such as Nairobi, Kampala, Kigali, Lubumbashi, Lusaka and Harare, from being “hard-to-reach endpoints remote from the coastal landing sites that connect Africa to the world” and into “stations on a data superhighway that can carry thousands of times more traffic than currently reaches here. I am proud that this project helps us deliver a digitally connected future that leaves no African behind, regardless of how far they are from the technology centres of the world.” In a press release celebrating Umoja, the current US ambassador to Kenya, one Meg Whitman (yes, that Meg Whitman), wrote: “Access to the latest technology, supported by reliable and resilient digital infrastructure, is critical to growing economic opportunity. This is a meaningful moment for Kenya’s digital transformation journey and the benefits of today’s announcement will cascade across the region.” Whitman, of course, was the sometime CEO of eBay, Hewlett-Packard and the blink-and-you-missed-it Quibi. Appointed ambassador to Kenya by President Biden, Whitman has the distinction of actually knowing something about telecom and IT and is spoken of favourably both across Africa and in Washington DC for making a real effort to turn dutiful diplomatic rhetoric about the importance of prioritising business and social development in Africa into practical reality. In a statement of collaboration between Google Cloud and Kenya’s Ministry of Information Communications and The Digital Economy, a pledge is made to speed joint efforts in cloud-based cybersecurity, foster the growth of data-driven innovation, accelerate digital upskilling, and help with the responsible and safe deployment of AI for societal benefits. Google opened its first sub-Saharan African office in Nairobi in 2007, and since then has partnered with governments from countries across Africa on numerous digital initiatives. In 2021, the company committed to invest $1bn in Africa over five years to support a range of efforts, from improved connectivity to investment in startups, to help foster Africa’s digital transformation. Since then, Google has already invested more than $900m in the region and says it will fulfil its present commitment by 2026. According to analysis undertaken by the International Finance Corporation of Washington DC,  between 2021 and the end of last year, Google products and services provided more than $30bn of economic activity across sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, Africa’s internet economy has the potential to grow to $180bn by 2025, equivalent to 5.2% of the continent’s GDP.

KKR is set to get the green light from the European Commission (EC) for its proposed €22bn acquisition of Telecom Italia (TIM)’s fixed line access network after agreeing to maintain all commercial wholesale deals with TIM’s competitors, according to a Reuters report that cites sources with knowledge of the developments. The EC is to make an initial announcement about its decision by 30 May.   

Switzerland’s Salt has reported subscriber and revenue growth in the first quarter of this year, despite an increasingly competitive market and what Salt described in its earnings press release as “surprisingly aggressive offers” from Liberty Global’s Sunrise. Salt reported a 1.7% year-on-year increase in first-quarter revenues to 275.4m Swiss francs ($301m) and the addition of more than 30,000 post-paid contract customers to reach a total of just more than 1.6 million. Sunrise has 2.85 million mobile users while market leader Swisscom has almost 6.3 million. 

Cisco has released its 2024 Global Networking Trends Report, which finds that senior IT executives are stressed to the point of hair-pulling madness by the distributed infrastructures they have to work with, as well as facing mounting cybersecurity worries whilst juggling different types of workloads. Cisco’s back-to-the-future solution to ensure a return to the pastoral peace and quiet that used to prevail in the sunlit uplands of the IT sector is novel indeed – to construct a “centralised network platform”. Who’d have thunk it? Apparently, today’s enterprises need more help managing and securing their distributed networking environments than ever before because, “network architectures are more sophisticated, more complex, and spread across more multi-clouds and multi-vendors than ever.” So says Jonathan Davidson, executive vice president and general manager of Cisco Networking. Cisco defines a network platform as an “integrated system that combines software, policy, and open APIs with an intuitive user interface, advanced telemetry, and automation” able to provide “centralised operator experience, end-to-end network management, and an API-driven ecosystem that simplifies operations and enables digital experiences across one or more networking domains.” The report says 40% of IT leaders regard cybersecurity risks as the primary worry that will dictate network strategy over the next 12 months, with an emphasis on integrating network and security processes, technology, and tools. Some 50% of those surveyed said such solutions will be their biggest and most important network security investment between now and the end of 2026. Meanwhile, more money and resources will have to be spent on applying security tools to the cloud, the quicker the better to protect the increasingly distributed infrastructure and workforce. What’s more, 76% of those organisations plan to deploy a secure access service edge (SASE) architecture with integration of SD-WAN and security service edge (SSE) cloud security within the same timeframe. Then, 44% of respondents said that faster cybersecurity threat identification and response is the most important benefit expected from the convergence of networking and security technologies, processes, and tools. Meanwhile, 21% of the organisations surveyed admit to currently using multiple, separate management systems when managing their campus, branch, WAN, datacentre, and multi-cloud domains. Apparently, a centralised network platform would make life easier. 

- The staff, TelecomTV

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