What’s up with… Viavi & EXFO, Orange, capacity kings

TelecomTV Staff
By TelecomTV Staff

Jul 20, 2021

EXFO founder and Executive Chairman Germain Lamonde (left) with CEO Philippe Morin

EXFO founder and Executive Chairman Germain Lamonde (left) with CEO Philippe Morin

  • Viavi returns with bigger takeover offer for EXFO
  • Orange is mulling a stake in Ethio Telecom
  • NICT’s amazing optical capacity achievements

M&A action leads the way today, with a renewed takeover bid for EXFO and a nibble at Ethio Telecom by Orange.

Viavi hasn’t given up on trying to buy fellow test and measurement specialist EXFO, which has so far batted away Viavi’s advances, including a $7.50-per-share offer valued at $430 million that was flatly rejected in June. EXFO’s founder, Executive Chairman and controlling shareholder Germain Lamonde (pictured above left), doesn’t want to sell to anyone, and instead is determined to take the company private with a $6.00-per-share offer (which values the company at $336 million) to other shareholders. But now Viavi has upped its takeover offer to $8.00 per share, one third higher than Lamonde’s plan and valuing the company at $459 million. Viavi says the new offer “reflects EXFO's recently announced fiscal third quarter 2021 financial results in which bookings increased 47.2% year-on-year to US$87 million with a book-to-bill ratio at 1.20.“ Viavi notes: “In light of the significant value being provided to shareholders under the Proposal, we would expect the EXFO Special Committee, consistent with their fiduciary duties to all shareholders, to immediately engage with us and Mr. Lamonde and make every effort to persuade Mr. Lamonde to support VIAVI's superior transaction.” Lamonde is convinced EXFO can do even better as a private company in charge of its own destiny: EXFO has a special “going private” meeting planned for 13 August and EXFO’s share price hasn’t budged today from $6.00 as a result of Viavi’s increased offer, so no one is expecting Lamonde to crack. To see Viavi’s latest offer, check out this announcement

Orange has reportedly submitted an interest in taking a stake in Ethio Telecom, the state-owned national operator in Ethiopia that is due to be partly privatized, according to Reuters. Ethiopia began formal privatization proceedings last month, with plans to sell a 40% stake in Ethio Telecom to a single bidder. Orange already has extensive operations across Africa and the Middle East (18 markets, 17 of which are in Africa) that serve more than 130 million customers and generated revenues of €5.8 billion in 2020. (See Ethiopia kick-starts process to sell stake in national operator.)

Pulling out all the stops, researchers at Japan’s National Institute Information & Communication Technology (NICT) claim to have cranked an astounding 319 Tbit/s across an ‘internet’ link. The test system spanned more than 3,000 km and involved 4-core fibre, a sophisticated laser system, a sprinkling of rare earth minerals and a joint team of Japanese and UK scientists. The tech used is compatible with existing infrastructure, according to the researchers, and can be upgraded relatively easily to go even faster. A paper on the breakthrough was presented at the International Conference on Optical Fiber Communications (aka OFC) in June.

Telefónica has awarded Ericsson and Nokia an equal share of its 5G Standalone (SA) network rollout deals in Spain, with five-year contracts for each of the suppliers. The vendors will provide the technology needed for the Spanish incumbent’s 5G SA rollouts for the 3.5 GHz band (focused on high performance and capacity in urban areas) and 700 MHz band (focused on less congested/rural and indoor deployments). The auction of 700 MHz spectrum in Spain is set to start any day now. The operator said it chose the two European suppliers to ensure continuity from its 3G and 4G rollouts and that they would provide the equipment in areas where their kit is already deployed across Spain. The operator says the vendor selection process for 5G SA in Spain follows “the same strategy followed in other countries of the group such as Germany, the United Kingdom or Brazil, which have been maintained by the 4G providers... Thus, in Brazil, Huawei has 65% of Vivo's 4G network, while Ericsson has the rest. In Germany, Nokia and Huawei share 50% of the O2 network and in the United Kingdom, as in Spain, the networks are 50% for Nokia and Ericsson,” the operator noted in this announcement (in Spanish)

Altiostar is the latest alternative radio access network technology vendor to wave some R&D dollars in front of Britain’s mobile network operators and pump up its lab presence and activities in the UK. While BT might be a little cooler on the immediate gains to be had from Open RAN deployments, Vodafone UK in particular and O2 (currently merging with cable giant Virgin Media) have high hopes for disaggregated RAN systems, while opportunities in the private enterprise wireless network market in the UK (where low-cost licensed spectrum has been set aside for such deployments) are also of interest to the vendor community. Altiostar, which is partnering with NEC and systems integrator Aspire Technology for its UK market Open RAN efforts, says it is “expanding its UK-based open virtual radio access network (open vRAN) engineering lab by hiring new staff to support expanded software development, customer support and testing activities… The lab has in the past regularly hosted customer visits to conduct RRU testing. Moving forward, it will be a key location to support customer deployments taking place in the UK.” It’s currently unclear, though, what kind of expansion Altiostar has in mind: The company will say only that it is “doubling its workforce,” which provides almost zero insight into whether this is a meaningful commitment to the UK market and there are no supporting details currently on the vendor’s ‘open positions’ page on its website. It’s not the only company claiming to be ramping up its Open RAN R&D efforts in the UK: Apart from NEC, which has been building a stronger presence during the past year and announced its west London-based Open RAN Centre of Excellence late last year, Airspan Networks announced a Slough, England-based Open RAN lab in May, while Mavenir opened a Development Centre dedicated to Open RAN Radio software in Swindon three months ago. For more on the Altiostar announcement, see this press release

Telstra has confirmed a weekend media report published by The Age/Sydney Morning Herald that the operator is in discussions regarding the potential acquisition, in partnership with the Australian Government, of Digicel Pacific in the South Pacific region. In a stock market statement, Telstra said it was “initially approached by the Australian Government to provide technical advice in relation to Digicel Pacific which is a commercially attractive asset and critical to telecommunications in the region. If Telstra were to proceed with a transaction it would be with financial and strategic risk management support from the Government.” Media reports suggest the move would be a way to stave off the growing influence of China in the region. 

- The staff, TelecomTV

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