What’s up with… Xavier Niel, Telecom Italia, Aramco

Iliad founder Xavier Niel: Picture by @Romuald Meigneux

Iliad founder Xavier Niel: Picture by @Romuald Meigneux

  • Iliad owner Xavier Niel’s shopping spree in Europe continues
  • Telecom Italia faces further pressure over NetCo sale
  • Aramco targets 4G and 5G ecosystem acceleration in Saudi Arabia

In today’s industry news roundup: Serial telco entrepreneur Xavier Niel agrees to buy fixed connectivity assets in Ukraine as part of an ambition to create a ‘national telecom champion’; Telecom Italia defends its plan to sell fixed assets unit NetCo amid further pressure; Aramco taps new partner to bolster the 4G and 5G ecosystem in Saudi Arabia for mission-critical and public safety networks; and more!

NJJ, the investment firm owned by Iliad owner and serial telecom entrepreneur Xavier Niel, has been given the green light to acquire Datagroup-Volia, a Ukrainian fixed connectivity and pay-TV provider. Niel’s investment vehicle will take more than 96.13% of the company’s assets from a fund managed by Horizon Capital, a US private equity company, and another 3.85% from Datagroup-Volia CEO Mykhaylo Shelemba. In a statement, Horizon Capital explained that the parties are hoping to get clearance to also acquire mobile assets in Ukraine and plan to create “a national telecom champion”, trading under the Lifecell brand to provide mobile services to nearly 10 million Ukrainians, while its fixed network is set to cover more than 4 million premises. Commenting on the move, Niel noted that “our landmark transaction will serve as a signal to others that the time to invest in Ukraine is now, to support the rebuilding of the country and realise its potential.” Read more.

There have been further clashes at Telecom Italia (TIM)… Following an interview in which Umberto Paolucci, a former Microsoft executive who has been nominated as TIM’s next chairman by one of Italian telco’s shareholders, Merlyn Partners, suggested that TIM would benefit from transforming into a technology company, with a focus on cloud and AI services in Europe, TIM has responded to show it is steadfast in its plans to sell its fixed line network business, NetCo. Now, the company has addressed “certain misleading or inherently incorrect information” mentioned in the interview, noting that the numbers related to the NetCo deal “are fair as confirmed by leading independent banking and strategic advisory institutions”. It added that in its figures released in March 2024 demonstrated “an expected leverage to 2026 at 1.6 to 1.7 times”, which does not include the potential upside of up to €4bn from earnouts for NetCo and the possible sale of Sparkle. The Italian operator went on to explain that the contract signed with KKR is binding and added that “there are no known delays to its execution scheduled by the summer.” This development comes just over a week after Merlyn Partners proposed alternative board members to the ones nominated by TIM itself, ahead of the operator’s shareholders’ meeting on 23 April 2024.

Aramco, the Saudi oil giant that last year created an enterprise digital technology unit in the form of Aramco Digital, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with chip company GCT Semiconductor to advance the development of the 4G and 5G ecosystem in Saudi Arabia for mission-critical and public safety networks. By joining forces, the two companies intend to design and co-develop chipsets and modules tailored for LTE, 5G and the non-terrestrial networks (NTN) spectrum to support the localisation of wireless end user devices and internet of things (IoT) manufacturing throughout the Middle Eastern country. “We look forward to working with Aramco and leveraging our advanced 4G and 5G capabilities with future-focused, AI-driven modem features to help develop the local ecosystem and provide reliable and fast communication for their key applications in Saudi Arabia and the broader region,” said John Schlaefer, CEO of GCT Semiconductor. Aramco Digital was established by Aramco in 2023 to diversify the oil company’s portfolio. The subsidiary is being run by CEO Tareq Amin, former chief of Rakuten Mobile and its cloud platform and Open RAN-focused vendor offshoot Rakuten Symphony.

Still with Rakuten… Commemorating the fourth anniversary of its full-scale launch, Japanese operator Rakuten Mobile has announced that its subscription base has exceeded 6.5 million lines. The telco noted in a translated statement that since it began providing mobile services in April 2020, its aim has been to democratise the mobile market, offering low-cost and simple plans, while expanding its network area by establishing base stations and roaming agreements. According to the operator, it has strived to expand its business through the provision of new types of programmes. Rakuten Mobile noted that, aside from the consumer segment, its business service is used by more than 10,000 corporate customers. The update comes soon after the company shared that it expects to have between 8 million and 10 million mobile subscribers and to be profitable by the end of 2024 – see For Rakuten Mobile, scale is still elusive as it enters Phase 3.

Chris Bannister, the CEO of Chilean operator WOM, has left the company only six months into the role. Bannister made an announcement on his LinkedIn profile, stating that the telco’s board has decided not to extend his contract. This is the second time his tenure in this post has come to an end, having also previously served as WOM Chile’s CEO between 2015 and 2018. According to Bannister, shareholders had failed to deliver on a commitment to bring investment into the telco which last week filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US over struggles to refinance a $348m debt due in November. Bloomberg reported that Bannister has been replaced by Martin Vaca Narvaja, former chief at Apex America, on Thursday last week. Novator, which is a shareholder in WOM, has reportedly invested $400m in the operator since 2015.

MTN Group has agreed to sell its operation in Guinea to Africa-focused telecommunication service provider Telecel, to sharpen its focus on portfolio optimisation as part of its group-wide Ambition 2025 strategy. The deal will be carried out through MTN’s subsidiary, MTN Dubai Limited, which will sell its 75% stake in Areeba Guinea for an undisclosed amount. MTN noted that the deal has not reached completion as it is awaiting regulatory and other approvals from the relevant authorities in the west African country. “MTN will continue to work and cooperate with the relevant regulatory authorities to ensure that all the appropriate requirements for transactions of this nature are addressed,” the company noted in its statement unveiling the move, adding that customer services will not be affected by the transaction. Previous moves by MTN to optimise its portfolio include exiting Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan.

Tele2 has launched a communication solution for public sector organisations concerned about sensitive data leaving the telco’s domestic market of Sweden. Called Tele2 Collaborate, the offering combines chat functionality, video meetings, whiteboard and document sharing “all under one roof”, the telco noted in a statement. A key advantage of the solution lies in the promise that “all data management and storage is carried out in Sweden by a Swedish supplier, providing data sovereignty, long-term information assurance, and the ability to comply with legal, financial and other regulatory obligations.” Tele2 Collaborate was designed following joint work carried out by the Swedish Tax Agency, the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, the Swedish Transport Administration and several other organisations, under the Digital Collaboration Platforms (dSam) project. The Swedish operator’s move is timely, as keeping data secure and within the national boundaries of an organisation’s base is proving increasingly important: According to findings cited by Tele2, a growing number of technology leaders are seeking communications platforms that employ end-to-end encryption and digital sovereignty, with almost 75% of them struggling to securing internal communications due to the rise of hybrid work.

The founder of the annual technology conference Web Summit, Paddy Cosgrave, has returned as CEO of the company around six months after stepping down over comments he made in relation to the Israel-Hamas conflict and the subsequent pull-out by big-name companies from the event. At the time, he apologised for his comments and was succeeded by Katherine Maher. It is now clear that his replacement was only temporary as Maher has recently stepped down for the CEO role at US non-profit organisation National Public Radio. “I took the time to reconnect with old Web Summit friends and I listened to what they had to say and what they wanted from Web Summit. Some incredible tech advancements, relationships, partnerships, and companies have grown from our events and I want to continue building on this,” Cosgrave commented in his return announcement made on social media platform X (formerly Twitter).

- The staff, TelecomTV

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