What’s up with… Telenor, Vodafone and Three, Matrixx Software

TelecomTV Staff
By TelecomTV Staff

Feb 7, 2024

Telenor HQ in Fornebu, Norway

Telenor HQ in Fornebu, Norway

  • Telenor CEO calls for increased vigilance amid AI boom
  • Vodafone-Three merger subject to UK probe over national security concerns
  • Matrixx Software accumulates more business from Telstra

In today’s industry news roundup: Telenor’s chief calls for increased investments in digital security as cyberthreats arise with the proliferation of AI; the UK government is upping its scrutiny of the proposed merger between Vodafone UK and Three UK over national security concerns; Matrixx Software expands its ties with Telstra to help the telco cut costs and “remove barriers to innovation”; and much more! 

Sigve Brekke, CEO of Telenor, has used the company’s financials release for 2023 to emphasise an increasing need for investment in digital security to combat threats emerging from the heightened adoption of AI and digitalised services. In his notes, Telenor’s chief explained that new heights of digitalisation in 2023 and geopolitical tension globally have caused “increased unrest and uncertainty for both individuals and businesses”. Brekke insisted that “investments in digital security are just as important as investments in artificial intelligence” given that so many services on which society depends, such as water supply, payment services, health and emergency services, and electricity supply, are now largely digital. “Increased digitalisation leads to greater vulnerability, which is why Norwegian businesses and public enterprises are exposed to more and more serious cyberattacks,” Brekke explained. In the final quarter of 2023 alone, the company prevented some 300 million digital crime attempts against customers in Norway, around a 30% increase on a quarterly basis. Brekke called for individuals and businesses to quickly adapt and protect “our digital lives and values”. 

That analysis came as part of Telenor's fourth-quarter and full year earnings report: Telenor ended 2023 “strongly”, booking full-year revenue of 80bn Norwegian kroner (NOK) (US$7.6bn) up from almost 77bn NOK ($7.3bn) in 2022. Of this, service revenues in 2023 accounted for 62.5bn NOK ($5.9bn), up 4% year on year. Its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) stood at 34.6bn NOK ($3.3bn) by the end of 2023, an increase of 2.8% from 2022. The operator’s capital expenditure (capex), however, was down from 13.6bn NOK ($1.3bn) in 2022 to 12.7bn NOK ($1.2bn) in 2023. For 2024, the telco expects to see growth in its Nordic service revenue, and its group EBITDA in the low to medium single-digit range.

In addition to a probe by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), announced in late January, the proposed £16.5bn merger between Vodafone UK and Three UK, which was officially announced in June 2023, is also being reviewed by the UK government under its National Security and Investment Act, The Daily Telegraph has reported. This is the same legislation under which the UK government decided that the 14.6% stake in Vodafone Group held by Middle East tech giant e& is a potential national security risk and prompted the government to require Vodafone to establish a National Security Committee to oversee sensitive work undertaken by the telco “which has an impact on or is in respect of the national security of the United Kingdom”. With regards to the Three merger, the suggestion is that the deal has raised national security concerns because of reported links between Three’s current owner, CK Hutchison, and China, but as CK Hutchison has owned UK national mobile operator Three since it was launched more than 20 years ago that seems to be something of a moot point. This looks like the UK government covering its back and seems unlikely to be a significant roadblock to the deal, whereas the CMA probe might well be. 

Cloud-native BSS software vendor Matrixx Software has usurped some rival business system vendors as part of its expanded deployment with Australian national operator Telstra, one of its long-time investors. The telco, which originally deployed the vendor’s technology 10 years ago, has now replaced incumbent systems with Matrixx applications and expanded its role to include “charging capabilities for a wide range of consumer and enterprise services, including key features, such as dynamic slice monetisation, to comprehensively support 5G standalone (SA).” According to the companies, Telstra’s decision to consolidate its charging system capabilities with Matrixx as part of its T25 transformation strategy will help the operator to cut costs and “remove barriers to innovation”. Shailin Sehgal, Telstra product enablement technology executive, noted: “The success of our T25 vision is dependent upon the partners who make it possible. Matrixx has been a valued partner of Telstra since the very beginning of our digital transformation journey. This latest agreement is a testament to the strength of the relationship we have built over those years and shows how close collaboration and trusted partnerships can deliver benefits to every part of the business.” The announcement comes just days after Matrixx extended its partnership with Verizon’s “all-digital wireless carrier” Visible, which will use the vendor platform to “provide customers with an innovative, app-based user experience and transparent pricing alongside the use of Matrixx’s enhanced support services (ESS).”

The saga around the fate of assets currently owned by Telecom Italia (TIM) continues… In a statement emailed to TelecomTV, the operator stated that the offer it received from the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) for its international networks and services division Sparkle (which was reportedly of up to €750m), has been deemed “unsatisfactory” by the telco’s board. It explained the company’s CEO, Pietro Labriola, has been given a mandate to “negotiate a different option with the MEF, with possible adjustments to the contractual conditions, on the assumption that TIM maintains a stake in the company for a specific period of time and supports the implementation of the strategic plan”. According to Reuters, the Italian telco has been aiming to get almost €1bn for the unit. The sale of Sparkle is aligned with the telco’s now long-running effort to get rid of its fixed-line network unit, NetCo, which private equity firm KKR has agreed to take over in a deal worth up to €22bn (a move that is being contested by Vivendi, TIM’s largest single shareholder).

The European Commission has extended its deadline to decide whether Orange Spain and MásMóvil can merge to form the Iberian country’s largest mobile operator by customer numbers until 22 February, the EC noted in an update to its online case file. The two Spanish operators first announced their €18.6bn merger plans in July 2022. Recent reports suggested the EC would approve the merger because Digi Spain is emerging as a viable fourth significant player in the market. 

Rakuten Symphony has received the world’s first Open RAN-compliant certification badge for 4G/5G non-standalone (NSA) architecture from Japan OTIC (open testing and integration centre), a joint testing and certification facility founded by NTT Docomo, KDDI, SoftBank and Rakuten Mobile in December 2022. The accolade was awarded to the vendor for meeting “end-to-end requirements for system and security functionality while demonstrating interoperability in a 4G/5G NSA multi-vendor environment” which, according to the company, allows it to accelerate the deployment of Open RAN globally.

Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) claims to be the first major UK telco to have publicly launched a residential 2Gbit/s broadband service, with symmetrical download and upload speeds as an optional add-on. Its latest upgrade, named Gig2, is available across the network of Nexfibre, the UK wholesale fibre broadband network operator that is jointly owned by InfraVia Capital Partners with a 50% stake, and VMO2’s parent companies Liberty Global and Telefónica, each with a 25% stake. According to VMO2, the service will be able to power “the technology and devices of today and of the future – from AI applications to the metaverse and cloud gaming”. Find out more.

Veon’s Beeline Kazakhstan subsidiary has used AI to detect forest fires. Orman-AI, its AI-based monitoring system, can automatically sense the first signs of smoke, report the outbreak and enable quick action to stop the proliferation of forest fires. The innovation uses Beeline’s towers as monitoring platforms together with video surveillance systems that have 360-degree computer vision and Beeline’s mobile connectivity. The operator then uploads data in real time into an AI analytics engine. In the first test period, Orman-AI generated alerts for 50 fires in Kazakhstan, using 34 cameras. “Detection of fires through augmented intelligence is a pragmatic approach, and this could be extended to agricultural and other community applications,” explained Evgeniy Nastradin, CEO of Beeline Kazakhstan. The Veon subsidiary has also been deploying AI in customer experience applications since last year – see Veon jumps on the GenAI bandwagon.

The move by Walt Disney subsidiary ESPN, Fox and Warner Bros Discovery to form a sports streaming joint venture in the US that will launch in the autumn (fall) of this year is a “major disruptive play in the US market,” according to industry analyst Paolo Pescatore in his latest Paolo’s TMT Picks Substack post (which he has made freely available for this sports-focused edition…).   

- The staff, TelecomTV

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