What’s up with… TIM, Mobileye, China’s LEOs

  • TIM (Telecom Italia) takeover still an option

  • Intel’s Mobileye preps an IPO

  • China launches LEO satellites

The latest on TIM (Telecom Italia), an IPO plan for an Intel unit and the latest LEOs to hit orbit lead the way in today’s news roundup. 

The ongoing restructuring/takeover saga at Italian national operator TIM (Telecom Italia) looks set to enter a new phase as reports suggest private equity giant KKR, which tabled a €10.8 billion takeover bid last November (an offer equivalent to €0.505 per share), is still interested in buying the carrier… but now at a lower price. New CEO Pietro Labriola recently presented his new plan for the operator to TIM’s board – the plan includes a split of the operator into two separate entities, NetCo and ServCo, but didn’t include an option to sell. Now advisers are weighing up Labriola’s plan against KKR’s offer and are expected to meet this coming weekend to decide what to suggest. As part of that process, the advisers have had to check that, after four months of waiting for a response from TIM, that KKR is still interested, and according to Reuters it is still interested but at about €0.40 per share, or €8.64 billion. That lower offer is driven by TIM’s current disastrous share price, which even with a marked recovery today of more than 10% is still languishing at around €0.26, a price that gives the operator a market valuation of just €4.9 billion: The operator recently published 2021 financial results that included a full year net loss of €8.7 billion. Labriola is convinced his plan can revive the national operator, reverse its financial demise and save jobs – he just has to convince investors and the board that he’s right. 

Intel’s self-driving car unit Mobileye looks set for an IPO following the news it has filed a draft registration form with the SEC that announces its intention to offer newly-issued stock to investors. None of the financial details have yet been shared. Intel is set to retain majority ownership of the unit after the IPO. Read more

China has launched the first fully operational satellites of a projected Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation of 144 ‘birds’, each of which have comms throughput capacity of 40 Gbit/s and which will aim to provide connectivity services that will interconnect with and complement 5G networks. Beijing-based GalaxySpace is building a small network now (tiny in fact by comparison with Elon Musk’s Starlink mega-constellation which, when complete will have 42,000 satellites in orbit) but GalaxySpace has big ambitions to deploy a mega-constellation of its own in due course. The company says it has managed to slash the cost of building each satellite by 50 per cent since the first six test vehicles went into orbit last year and adds that batch production of relatively low-weight (they come in at 190 kilos each) and high capability satellites will "accelerate the construction of China's satellite internet." According to a 2020 filing Chinese authorities made with the ITU, the PRC intends, under one of its next five-year plans, to deploy a constellation of 13,000 satellites in low earth orbit to provide global communications. The GalaxySpace satellites now in orbit went up as payload on China’s workhorse Long March 2-C rocket.

Vodafone UK unveiled a new suite of measures to support those affected by the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia. The operator said it has partnered with the British Red Cross to match-fund donations made through the charity to the Disasters Emergency committee (DEC) Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. Vodafone will also provide free connectivity to 200,000 Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK and will aim to donate 3,000 smartphones and 1,000 portable power banks to refugees through a Tech Appeal programme. When the conflict started towards the end of February, many telcos stepped up to offer assistance in the period – mainly by providing free calls, text messages and/or data temporarily. Most recently, the international wholesale operator BICS urged telcos in European Union countries to cut all charges for voice calls originating in the Ukraine that terminate on their networks. (See In support of Ukraine: An appeal to EU telcos from BICS.)

Bango is banging. The Cambridge, England-headquartered mobile technology company has reported 2021 revenues of US$20.7 million, up by $5 million on the $15.7 million achieved in 2020. That’s a growth of 31.5 per cent and bullish CEO Paul Larbey says that for 2022 the company is “well positioned to continue taking market share and moving further towards our goal of becoming the technology behind every payment choice.” Bango’s technology analyses purchase behaviour and activities and allocates them to marketing segments called Bango Audiences. Merchants use these to target their marketing and some of the world’s biggest online companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft use Bango’s software. One of its newest services is for marketers on TikTok. Larbey says competition to win new paying customers in the fast-growing online commerce market will drive growth in alternative payments systems. The 2021 figures show that ‘end-user spend’ (i.e. the amount that goes via the Bango platform) hit $4.1 billion last year, up 73.6 per cent on the $2.4 billion recorded in 2020. The CEO added, “The transactional payments business continues to grow, as we added new telco routes and mobile wallets and our merchant customers delivered new products and services. 2021 saw the range of customers using Bango Audiences diversify from predominantly mobile gaming app developers to financial trading, cryptocurrency and metaverse trading apps.” Bango will now double down on these high-growth areas and add the NFT sector to its offerings and expects this year’s performance to outstrip last year’s.

Intelsat has named David Wajsgras as its next CEO – he will join on 4 April, taking over from Stephen Spengler, who announced his planned retirement in October last year.  Wajsgras has two decades of experience at the senior executive management level in both the commercial and defense industries, most recently serving as president of the global, $7.5-billion, advanced-technology Intelligence, Information and Services (IIS) business at the former Raytheon Company, now part of Raytheon Technologies. Read more

After numerous stumbles down the road, South Africa’s spectrum auction finally kicked off. In the initial, or opt-in, stage of the bidding, the nation’s Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) issued two licenses for high demand spectrum. It brought in a total of ZAR2.65 billion (equal to approximately $173.7 million at the time of writing), with Telkom South Africa paying more – ZAR1.5 billion – for two blocks of 10MHz in the 800MHz band. Rain Networks paid ZAR1.15 billion for two 10MHz blocks in the 700MHz frequency band and a block of 10MHz in the 2600MHz band. ICASA said in its statement the main auction phase will happen on 10 March when a total of six qualified bidders will be able to bid for spectrum. The auction was previously delayed over a legal dispute between the regulator and Telkom. (See South Africa hits yet another spectrum allocation hurdle.) Although the conflict is still ongoing, ICASA claimed that “there is currently no legal impediment to the auction proceeding”.

Orange is the world’s 11th biggest mobile network operator and the 4th largest in Europe, with some 300 million customers. The operator recently published excellent full-year trading figures, with CEO and Group chairman Stéphane Richard (who is stepping down in a few weeks) giving due credit to the remarkable performance of its businesses in Africa (there are 16 of them including Botswana and Burkina Faso through to Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone by way of the Ivory Coast and Mali) for being major contributors to Orange’s success. Richard said the remarkable dynamism evident in the many African markets where Orange has a presence has resulted in more than 44 million customers (and rising) signing-up for 4G services and growing mobile data services by 25.2 per cent and fixed broadband by 23.5 per cent. In Q4 2021 alone Orange’s Africa and Middle East units provided a 9 per cent uplift in revenues to €1.6 billion. For the financial year that closed on December 31 last, Africa and the Middle East contributed a 10.6 per cent revenue increase to hit €6.3 billion. 

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues to take action to help boost connectivity across the country, with a fresh focus on backing educational institutions and closing what it dubs ‘the homework gap’. It pledged to commit $63.6 million to support schools and libraries in the US, and part of the efforts include providing connected devices and broadband connections for scholars in central Maine, Puerto Rico, Alaska, California, and South Carolina. The agency’s Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said she was proud of the progress of FCC’s programme for emergency funding which has committed almost $4.7 billion since launching in June 2021. “We need all our students connected to reliable and affordable broadband service, no matter where they live,” commented Rosenworcel. This is the 11th wave of financial support issued by the FCC as part of its Emergency Connectivity Fund. You can read more in the authority’s statement here.

- The staff, TelecomTV

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