What’s up with… TIM, HPE, Fitbit

TelecomTV Staff
By TelecomTV Staff

Mar 3, 2022

  • TIM (Telecom Italia) prepares to split in two
  • HPE sees strong demand, lands KDDI deal
  • Fitbit’s on fire! Well, some are…

An existential moment for one of Europe’s largest operators, a strong start to the fiscal year for HPE and a ‘hot’ tech product that people don’t want lead the way in this news roundup. 

​​There have been a number of recurring themes at MWC22 in Barcelona this week, one of which has been the evolution of the traditional telecom operator, particularly in relation to the impact of software and cloud-oriented operations and the challenges that brings in terms of the transformation of network operators. But there are other catalysts and pressures too, such as price-based competition, and it’s that commercial pressure, on top of the impact of corporate and operational evolution, that has weighed heavily on TIM (Telecom Italia) in the past year or so. Its response to what could be seen as an existential crisis is contained in its new industrial plan for 2022 to 2024, in which TIM has outlined a plan to split into two “distinct legal entities,” the NetCo and ServCo, a move just approved by the operator’s board. It’s more than 20 years since I first heard of this idea for revamping telcos, although then it was to be a proactive rather than reactive move. The precise details of how this will be achieved by TIM are set to be presented by the new CEO, Pietro Labriola, before the company announces its financial results for the first half of this year in late summer. The Italian national operator also says its assessment of the €10.8 billion takeover offer tabled by private equity firm KKR will be “finalized shortly,” so we’re still waiting for that outcome. The news comes as TIM says it is set to sell its 15% stake in Italian towers firm INWIT to a consortium of investors led by Ardian, which already owns about 15% of the wholesaler, and reports that 2021 revenues dipped by 1.9% to €15.3 billion, EBITDA slumped by almost 10% to €6.2 billion, and net loss hit €8.7 billion.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) witnessed a significant leap in its valuation this week following the publication of its fiscal first quarter financials, which ended on 31 January this year. Its stock gained more than 10% to top $17.00 on Wednesday following the publication of the numbers, as revenues grew 2% year-on-year, order growth remained strong and the vendor increased its earnings estimate for the year. “The quarter was characterized by robust customer demand and profitability, demonstrating the strength of our differentiated edge-to-cloud strategy and portfolio innovation,” noted president and CEO Antonio Neri. Tarek Robbiati, EVP and CFO, added: “We are off to a strong start delivering against our FY22 commitments with our third quarter in a row of more than 20% year-over-year order growth bolstering our confidence for sustained revenue growth. We are also delivering a better quality of earnings demonstrated by our improved gross margin despite ongoing supply chain constraints that enabled us to deliver Q1 EPS well above our outlook range and raise our outlook for the full year.” HPE’s stock has slipped a little since to $16.73 but the vendor’s prospects look promising.

HPE also announced that Japanese operator KDDI is using the HPE ProLiant DL110 Gen10 Plus - Telco server for the commercial network operation of Open RAN-compliant 5G standalone base stations. “KDDI is accelerating construction of 5G base stations across Japan in efforts to expedite 5G availability. The HPE ProLiant DL110 Gen10 Plus - Telco server used for the virtualized base station is designed for Open RAN (radio access network) and vRAN workloads, and is optimized for edge applications that require high bandwidth and low latency,” noted the vendor. Read more

Today marked the fourth and final day of the resurgent MWC 2022 in Barcelona. Final figures have yet to be released but TelecomTV estimates that some 50,000 delegates attended the physical event at the new Fira with an unknown but substantial number of people joining the proceedings online. It means those that were there in person will have had the opportunity to observe, network and discuss future plans and opportunities with senior executives in a somewhat less frenetic environment than was the case in the years immediately prior to the global Covid 19 pandemic. Much real business will have been done. And, although sleep-deprived, many visitors will be slightly healthier having walked mile after mile on thinly-carpeted, unforgiving concrete in the course of a long working day. Many will have been wearing tracking devices that count and record steps taken, flights of stairs climbed and descended, pulse rates, calories burned and that also log (disrupted) sleep patterns and meals (missed). Hopefully though, no-one will have been forced to fling a smoking Fitbit Ionic smartwatch across a crowded walkway as it burst into flames. Fitbit, which, last year, was acquired by Google, is recalling 1.7 million Ionic devices after the US Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that the lithium-ion battery in the tracker can overheat and caused a “burn hazard”. More than 1 million of the Taiwan-made Fitbit Ionics have been sold in the US with a further 700,000 purchased internationally. So far, some 174 disgruntled and slightly singed users have filed reports with Fitbit complaining about overheating batteries. Indeed 118 or them say they have been badly burned, including two cases of third-degree burn damage. And associated scarring. That number of incidents was enough to cause the US authorities to instruct Fitbit to recall the trackers and issue immediate refunds along with an apology. Given the propensity for US consumers to reach for their lawyers when anything goes wrong with a wireless device, it probably won’t be long before the company faces a class-action lawsuit. By the way, there is still a steady market for mechanical pedometers. They might be old-fashioned but they work perfectly well and don’t spontaneously combust. 

Intelsat, the international satellite services provider that has headquarters in both Luxembourg in the EU and Virginia in the US, will soon begin to provide both 3G and 4G mobile connectivity to landlocked Mali in West Africa. Mali is the eighth-largest country in Africa and one of the poorest countries in the world. It has population of over 20 million, of whom 67 per cent are under the age of 25. For many years Mali suffered from massive under-investment in its fixed line telecoms network and, unsurprisingly, the bulk of the population relies on mobile networks for both voice and data services. Indeed, mobile networks account for 99.8 per cent of all telecoms connections. “Traditional” Internet access remains largely limited to the metropolitan elite in the capital Bamako (total population 2.7 million). Orange Mali became the country’s second mobile and fixed-line operator in 2003 and grew quickly to dominate the market. The duopoly arrangement with the incumbent but stagnant national telco, Sotelma, continued until late 2017 when, after years of delay and false starts, Alpha Telecom finally launched mobile services. Mobilis, which is owned by Algérie Télécom also got a mobile services provider licence in early 2020. Orange Mali has now selected Intelsat to provide secure connectivity to the vast swathes of Mali’s sparsely-populated and underserved remote rural areas. The agreement marks a first in Francophone West Africa - the successful deployment of 4G networks over satellite. Technicians and politicians regard satellite comms as the only viable solution for Mali given the sheer size of the country and the logistical difficulties involved in providing any other type of connectivity, mobile or fixed.  

Stratospheric Platforms Ltd., headquartered in the university city of Cambridge in the UK, has, in a world first, just demonstrated the practical feasibility and reality of 5G transmission from a moving high altitude platform (HAP) in the stratosphere. The 5G signal was maintained for five hours at an altitude of 45,000 feet (that’s 8.2 miles or 13.7 kilometres) and provided a download speed of 90Mbps, via a local telecoms network, to a “standard” 5G smartphone down on terra firma. The trial took place in the Middle East, over the Red Sea and under benign atmospheric conditions. It was collaboration with the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) of Saudi Arabia. The 5G signal from the one HAP covered 420 square kilometres. Stratospheric Platforms Limited was founded in 2014 and Deutsche Telekom became a major investor in 2016. The company’s HAPs are hydrogen-powered aircraft with a wingspan of 60 metres. They can carry a 140kg comms equipment payload and their hydrogen power-source means that they are not reliant on solar power, are very low noise and the exhaust emitted is non-polluting pure water vapour, ensuring that environmental impact is minimal. The aircraft have a 10-year lifespan and are relatively inexpensive to build. The HAP carries a large phased-array antenna that delivers hundreds of beams onto the ground, each equivalent to a cell created by traditional terrestrial masts. The phased array system permits almost any shape of beam to be transmitted to the ground. The 20kW power for the antenna enables broad area “always on” ultra-fast broadband to places without ground-based 5G masts and coverage from each HAP (presumably in a ‘squadron’ rather than a ‘constellation’) is equivalent to about 500 terrestrial masts, depending on terrain and population distribution. Commenting on the successful and impressive test flight, Richard Deakin, the CEO of Stratospheric Platforms said, “The trial has proved that 5G can be reliably beamed down from an airborne antenna and is indistinguishable from ground-based mobile networks. Our hydrogen-powered ‘Stratomast’ High Altitude Platform currently under development, will be able to fly for a week without refuelling and cover an area of 15,000 square kilometres using one antenna.”

Email Newsletters

Sign up to receive TelecomTV's top news and videos, plus exclusive subscriber-only content direct to your inbox.