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Time for a European tower merger; Orange issue call for cooperation

Karim Hussami

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European tower merger

Orange SA is calling on Europe’s other big phone companies to begin talks about a European tower merger of their wireless towers, an alternative to a full-scale tie-up of the region’s carriers that risks being blocked by European regulators.

Orange said it is not looking to go ahead with plans alone in the towers space, but is seeking a partnership with one or more fellow telcos, ideally Vodafone or Deutsche Telekom.

“Orange wishes to retain control of TOTEM (the company’s tower business) to benefit from the important source of sustainable value creation it provides for the group,” according to the statement. Meanwhile, a statement from CEO Stéphane Richard talked about the telco’s determination to “keep these strategic assets within the scope of the group.”

“We’re looking at those across Europe who share our vision to not sell towers, to join forces and constitute together a real, very powerful tower company,” Richard told said.

Some European phone companies have been struggling in the economic crisis and took precautions such as splitting off their staff and fiber businesses to attract investors and cut the bill for future investments. Spanish tower operator Cellnex has bought a lot of those assets, and last month American Tower Corp. agreed to buy more than 30,000 towers from Telefonica SA for 7.7 billion euros ($9.3 billion) in its first concerted push into Europe.

However, the total sale of Orange’s towers to an independent player like Cellnex would harm the long-term interests of France’s dominant phone company.

For that reason, Richard prefers a combination with the infrastructure of other European phone operators to create a company that can “compete with Cellnex and reach the same size as Cellnex.

“No talks are under way right now, but Orange has received signs of interest in potential infrastructure consolidation,” he added. “Orange’s new tower business, named Totem, will be operational by the end of the year and may eventually include Orange tower assets in more countries.”

But Orange still has other options for TOTEM. The business will have a flexible capital structure that could be open to financial or strategic partners, explained Orange’s chief financial officer Ramon Fernandez. “Listing is not an objective as such, but it could be a means to create value, he said. “It’s a world of opportunities,” he added.

How a tower merger might happen is still unclear: but Orange vows the company will not give up control of the business as the price of a merger or sale.

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Journalist for 7 years in print media, with a bachelor degree in Political Science and International Affairs. Masters in Media communications.

Telecoms

STL signs record high $100 million deals across MEA

Inside Telecom Staff

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STL

India-based digital network integrator Sterlite Technologies (STL) announced on Monday that it has renewed and extended deals with leading telecoms providers in the Middle East and Africa region (MEA).

According to a company statement, the deals are worth more than $100 million, taking STL’s order book to a record high, while exhibiting the company’s unwavering focus on building future-ready digital networks within the region.

“STL is building solutions to empower its customers in the MEA region for optical connectivity and network software, enabling FTTH and 5G deployments.  We are proud to be a part of the progress of the Middle East and Africa. With our deep technology expertise and growing talent base, we will continue to deliver on the full potential of digital networks, providing enhanced experiences to consumers and businesses alike,” speaking on the deals, Sandeep Girotra, Global Sales Head, STL, said in a statement.

The global pandemic has pushed many telcos to heavily invest in building digital networks to be able to meet the rising demand for connectivity from people remaining indoors due to lockdown measures. STL has capitalized on this and expanded its presence in the region with their fully 5G ready Opticonn and Software Solutions.

“Our unique end-to-end solutions enables customers to build 5G hyperscale networks at a fast pace with lower long-term Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). These multi-years, multi-million-dollar deals range from optical connectivity solutions to network solutions,” the company said.

According to STL, one of the large-scale deals has been signed with a leading telco in the UAE to advance its 5G, 4G and FTTX network infrastructure through STL’s Opticonn Solutions, including onshore logistics and warehousing. Another multi-million-dollar digital transformation partnership has been formed with the leading telecommunications group in North Africa.

The unnamed telco will deploy STL’s digital billing solutions to 7 million subscribers across the region.

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Telecoms

Airtel won the most subscribers thanks to high quality network in 2020

Karim Hussami

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Airtel won the most subscribers thanks to high quality network in 2020

Airtel gained the most subscribers in India comparably due to better network quality by the end of 2020.

The latest data from OpenSignal, an independent global mobile analytics company, shows Airtel and Jio have gained more new subscribers by the end of 2020, but Vi (Vodafone Idea) lost by churning subscribers.

“Airtel and Jio were steadily gaining new users while Vi regularly lost users,” according to the report by OpenSignal who shared data from last year where it analyzed the mobile experience of smartphone users who switched network service providers (outgoing) in 2020.

“Outgoing people turned out to have a worse mobile experience before switching subscribers. They also saw a drop in 4G availability and spent less time connecting to a 3G or 4G mobile connection,” the report noted.

According to a report in Business Today, the total telecom subscriber base in India increased marginally to 1,168.66 million in the reported month from 1,167.81 million in August last year. “The total wireless or mobile telephony subscriber base increased to 1,148.58 million in September 2020 from 1,147.92 million in August 2020,” it added.

Poor network quality

In addition, analysts found that users dropped from a particular network because of poor network quality and for the fact that telcos increased tariffs in 2019. Across all the private operators (Jio, Airtel, and Vi), users who ported to other networks were spending 74 percent to 155 precent more time without being connected to a mobile signal compared to the average scores on the respective networks.

Therefore, OpenSignal indicated that most of the users who were porting to other networks had an issue with the network quality they were getting with their operator. Reliance Jio needs to enhance its network quality as fast as possible to keep leading the mobile telecom market in India, according to analysts.

The report from OpenSignal comes in line with a TRAI report that says that Airtel added 4.05 million new wireless subscribers in December 2020, bringing its total wireless subscriber base to 338.7 million as of December 31, 2020, although still below Jio’s wireless subscriber base.

With the loss of Vi subscribers and the flattening of Jio’s growth curve, Airtel continued to gain subscribers due to the churn rate.

By the end of 2020, it had gained more subscribers due to better network quality, which also matches Telecom Regulator Authority of India (TRAI) data for December 2020.

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Telecoms

Beeline Telecom to become 4th provider in Zambia

Inside Telecom Staff

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Beeline Telecom

Beeline Telecom has become Zambia’s fourth provider earlier this week after receiving its license to commence mobile phone operations from the country’s ICT regulator ZICTA.

Beeline, a Zambian wholly owned company, has been granted a period of 6 months to kick start its operations, unless determined by the authority, or the license will be revoked. Zambia enjoys a diverse telco presence with South African MTN and Indian Airtel being the heavy hitter names within the market.

The newly welcomed company stands alongside Zamtel as local providers within the country. According to a statement by Beeline, the local company has been offered the international network and national services licenses with associated resources and becomes the fourth mobile network services provider in the country.

“This was in line with its regulatory mandate under the ICT ACT No. 15 of 2009, which includes the promotion of competition in the ICT sector. In September 2020, the Authority invited, through the Request for Proposals, applications for a Network License under the International Market Segment and a Service License under the National Market Segment with associated resources,” Patrick Mutimushi, Director General of ZICTA, said in a statement.

Mutimushi added that following a thorough evaluation process, and Beeline having met the minimum criteria, the Authority resolved to award the licenses in question to Beeline Telecoms Limited.

On September 4, 2018, ZICTA, under the guidance of the parent ministry – Ministry of Transport and Communications, issued a Network License under the International Market Segment and a Service License under the National Market Segment with associated resources to UZI Zambia.

“Unfortunately, UZI Zambia failed to commence operations by March 3, 2019, the final deadline issued by the Authority. This was notwithstanding two earlier deadline extensions – the first being November 30, 2019 and the second on May 30, 2020. The above scenario left the Authority with no choice but to cancel the licenses issued to UZ! Zambia,” the director general noted.

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