Telefónica entered into an exclusivity agreement with Hutchison Whampoa regarding Hutchison’s potential acquisition of the Telefónica subsidiary O2 UK for £10.25 billion in cash, valuing the deal at an estimated 7.5 times 2014 EV/EBITDA. The Hutchison-O2 UK deal — should it complete — will entirely redraw the telco landscape in the UK in terms of market shares. The acquisition of O2 UK will transform Hutchison from the smallest mobile operator with 7.5 million customers to the largest with 31.5 million customers and reduce the number of mobile operators in the UK from four to three.
This development follows on the heels of the announcement by Orange and Deutsche Telekom that they have entered into exclusive negotiations with BT Group regarding a potential divestment of 100% of their shares in EE, their joint venture in the UK. The increased merger activity is not surprising, and we predicted as much in our report Predictions 2015: Telecoms Will Struggle To Align To The CIO's BT Agenda. Still, these deals raise important questions for the European telecoms markets:
Today, Vodafone is already one of the largest global telcos, with direct presence in 60 countries and many more through partnerships. But while managed mobility remains at core of Vodafone’s strategy, the company’s ambition is to be “the world’s leading total communications provider in enterprise” and to “help customers to build better businesses.” Given its origin and history as a mobile-only telco, achieving this goal is a tall order.
Yet, Vodafone has changed dramatically in the last few years. It acquired Cable & Wireless Worldwide in 2012, which gave it access to a larger global network and to a larger customer base of multinational customers. In 2013, Vodafone sold its 45% stake in Verizon Wireless, which provided it with significant cash assets for M&A-related activities. At that time, Vodafone also launched its infrastructure Project Spring, which added another £7 billion to an existing planned spend of £12 billion.
With Henry Dewing, Henning Dransfeld, Katyayan Gupta, Brownlee Thomas, and Michele Pelino
Vodafone hosted its annual global analyst event in London recently, and it was a good event. Vodafone’s CEO Vittorio Colao kicked it off with a passionate endorsement of Vodafone’s enterprise ambitions. But will Vodafone’s market position as a leading mobile telco give it a tangible advantage in the broader enterprise global telecoms marketplace? We believe there is a good chance it will because:
Vodafone’s integrated pitch is credible. Vodafone comes up in nearly every conversation with Forrester enterprise clients that want to consolidate vendors for multicountry or “global” mobility services. Increasingly, our clients also are asking about Vodafone’s wired services. And those based in the UK and Germany are the most interested in learning about what’s available and what’s coming with respect to fixed-mobile bundling. Vodafone made a big play on fixed-mobile integration, most notably with the acquisitions of Cable & Wireless and Kabel Deutschland. Its network now covers 140 countries, 28 of which support MPLS networks for mobile backhaul. Vodafone also has big plans for refreshing and expanding its international IP backbone network to more than 60 countries.
Alas: It has finally happened. Vodafone has sold its 45% stake in Verizon Wireless to Verizon for $130 billion in a part cash ($58.9 billion) and part equity deal. The deal values the 45% stake at 9.4 times EBITDA. Markets had been speculating about this deal for years, so why has it taken place now? Arguably, the decision was made easier by Verizon’s share price, which is at a decade high, as well the the potential for rising interest rates. From Vodafone’s perspective, our main observations are that:
The deal is strategic for Vodafone and financial for Verizon. While the deal is a strategic transaction for Vodafone – it has decided to exit the US market – it is a financial transaction for Verizon: It already controlled Verizon Wireless through its 55% stake in the business. But after Vodafone’s exit, Verizon can keep the cash and no longer needs to pay out a dividend to Vodafone. It can instead use this retained dividend cash flow for capital expenditures and other investments to help boost its position in an increasingly competitive US wireless market (e.g., Softbank + Sprint; T-Mobile + MetroPCS).
Today is, apparently, Cyber Monday in the UK. But there's a more interesting story in the UK's eCommerce market. It's about tax.
The debate is about the tax policies of a number of prominent multi-national businesses that operate in the UK, including Amazon, eBay, Google, Starbucks and Vodafone, most of which pay little or no Corporation Tax, which is levied as a percentage of profits. (It's relatively easy and perfectly legal for a subsidiary of a multi-national company to avoid taxes on profits in one country by buying services from a sister company in another country so that it makes no profit in the first country.)
Today, the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons published a scathing report on tax avoidance by multi-national companies operating in the UK. As the report puts it about Starbucks, which has made no profits in the UK for 14 of the past 15 years: "We found it difficult to believe that a commercial company with a 31% market share by turnover, with a responsibility to its shareholders and investors to make a decent return, was trading with apparent losses for nearly every year of its operation in the UK." What the committee says about Amazon is, if anything, worse.
What's the relevance to eBusiness? While it's uncomfortable for Google and Starbucks to be in the limelight for the wrong reasons, demand for both information and coffee is (presumably) fairly constant through the year. But for retailers Amazon and eBay, the timing couldn't be worse, because this debate is taking place in the run-up to Christmas, the crucial sales period for all retailers in the UK.
Vodafone agreed to acquire Cable & Wireless Worldwide (CWW) for 1.04 billion pounds in cash, valuing CWW at three times EBITDA. The deal propels Vodafone to the second largest telco in the UK with revenues of GBP6.97 billion, behind BT with revenues of GBP15.6 billion. From a financial perspective, the deal has a limited impact, accounting for only 3% of Vodafone’s 2011 EBITDA. However, given BT’s lack of a mobile division, Vodafone, becomes the leading integrated telco in the UK, offering fixed and mobile operations. The deal is expected to complete in Q3 2012.
The main focus of the deal is on CWW’s UK fixed-line network and CWW’s business customer base, both of which Vodafone aims to add to its UK mobile network. CWW provides managed voice, data, hosting, and IP-based services and applications. The deal boosts Vodafone’s enterprise offering, both in terms of access and transport infrastructure and also in terms of customer base. CWW is a major global infrastructure player: Its international cable network spans 425,000 km in length, covering 150 countries. In the UK, CWW operates a 20,500 km fiber network. Moreover, CWW has about 6,000 business customers. The future of CWW’s non-UK assets remains uncertain. In our view they do provide true value for Vodafone, strengthening its global network infrastructure. Vodafone will provide further details regarding these non-UK assets later in the year.
Around 60,000 global movers and shakers of all things mobile once again descended upon Barcelona to attend the leading annual mobility event, the Mobile World Congress (MWC). This year’s main themes centered on metadata analytics, the customer experience, and over-the top business models:
The big data opportunity fueled the fantasies of almost all MWC attendees. In the case of telcos, data analytics is seen as the driver for improving the customer experience and developing new markets. Telcos talked a lot about the opportunities of analysing user behavior and turning user data into the new operator currency. The context- and location-aware nature of mobile solutions makes the big data opportunity particularly attractive. However, despite the talk, there were practically no case studies of operators that have succeeded in monetizing data on a large scale. Progress regarding data monetization is slowed down by a lack of clear business models, but also by an OSS/BSS infrastructure that does not support real-time or near real-time analytics. Moreover, privacy concerns also act as a drag on the uptake of data analytics. Equipment vendors such as Nokia Siemens Networks, meanwhile, showcased their customer experience management and analytics solutions for telcos. The solution combines analytics and the actions that operators must take to correct or improve the end user experience, such as a level one call handler pushing the correct settings to a phone or a marketing manager setting up a marketing campaign.
Corporate CIOs should not ignore the network-centric nature of cloud-based solutions when developing their cloud strategies and choosing their cloud providers. And end users should understand what role(s) telcos are likely to play in the evolution of the wider cloud marketplace.
Like many IT suppliers, telcos view cloud computing as a big opportunity to grow their business. Cloud computing will dramatically affect telcos — but not by generating significant additional revenues. Instead, cloud computing will alter the role of telcos in the value chain irreversibly, putting their control over usage metering and billing at risk. Alarm bells should ring for telcos as Google, Amazon, et al. put their own billing and payment relationships with customers in place.
Telcos must defend their revenue collection role at all costs; failure to do so will accelerate their decline to invisible utility status. At the same time, cloud computing offers telcos a chance to become more than bitpipe providers. Cloud solutions will increasingly be delivered by ecosystems of providers that include telcos, software, hardware, network equipment vendors, and OTT providers.
Telcos have a chance to leverage their network and financial assets to grow into the role of ecosystem manager. To start on this path, telcos will provide cloud-based solutions that are adjacent to communication services they already provide (like home area networking and machine-to-machine solutions), such as connected healthcare and smart grid solutions. Expanding from this beachhead into a broader role in cloud solutions markets is a tricky path that only some telcos will successfully navigate.
We are analyzing the potential role of telcos in cloud computing markets in the research report Telcos as Cloud Rainmakers.