Loon bolsters connectivity credentials with advisory board signings

Alphabet’s latest X graduate Loon has added industry heavyweights to its advisory board as the business searches for commercial credibility in the world of connectivity.

As the ludicrous dream starts to become a reality, Loon has added three industry veterans to its ranks. Former McCaw Communications CEO Craig McCaw, Evernote CEO Ian Small and Verizon EVP Global Media & New Business Marni Walden will all be added to the roster, bringing with them years of experience and, perhaps more importantly, connections in the telco space.

“As Loon transitions to a commercial business and looks to partner with MNOs worldwide, we’re adding some serious expertise to our ranks with a new Advisory Board that brings together top wireless innovators with decades of experience in the industry,” Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth wrote in a blog post.

For those who have missed out on this blue-sky thinking idea, Loon is Alphabet’s latest attempt to branch into the connectivity segment. Previous efforts might have been a flop, just have a look at the success brought through Google Fiber, but this is something slightly different; its attempting to create a new segment rather than steal business from established players.

By floating these massive balloons 18-23km above the earth for periods of up to 100 days, the Loon team claims each balloon can create a connectivity cone with coverage to a ground area 80km in diameter. The balloons are fitted with a broad-coverage LTE base station and a high-speed directional link used to connect between balloons and back down to the internet infrastructure on the ground.

In an industry which has constantly struggled to bridge the digital divide due to the expense of deploying infrastructure, this is a genuinely innovative approach to providing connectivity. It helps lessen the financial pressures of delivering the internet, adding to the connectivity mix.

Back in November at AfricaCom, Westgarth gave some insight into the business on the main conference stage. At the time he announced the beginning of a commercial relationship with Telkom Kenya, as well as outlining the wider ambitions of the business. This is an idea which has big commercial potential, most of which will be in the developing markets. These are after all areas where ARPU is low and deployment is staggered. It would appear to be the perfect mix for Loon’s proposal to bring the internet to the masses.

These appointments however perhaps suggest Loon is not a firm satisfied with the developing markets alone. These are three US executives who have considerable experience in the domestic market. Of course, there will be connections in the international space with telcos in the developing nations, but perhaps Loon has spotted an opportunity in the US. These executives would certainly help pave the way for conversations across the homeland.

Of course, this is just a theory and the PR team have been, just as you would expect, pretty evasive when asked the question. However, the digital divide is certainly a challenge in the US. For those who are lucky enough to live in the cities, they’ll have no concept of connectivity challenges, but the vast expanses and challenging terrain of the US open up numerous, huge not-spots, despite what the telcos actually tell you.

Loon has been touted as an innovation for the developing markets but seeing as the US telcos are clueless as how to solve the domestic digital divide, why not. These executives will certainly know the right people in the right places.

BT rumoured to offer top job to Worldpay CEO

Following the exit of Baywatch lookalike Gavin Patterson, everyone has had a go at guessing who will be the next BT CEO. The wait may well be over with BT reportedly offering the job to Philip Jansen.

According to Bloomberg, BT have been in private discussions with Jansen for some time now, with the rumours of his ascension emerging in September. People familiar with the matter suggest an offer has been made, with BT potentially making the official announcement on November 1, alongside its financial results for Q3.

Irrelevant as to whether the rumours prove true, the new boss will have a tough job turning around a business which has faced several scandals over the last 12 months, profit warnings and a turbulent relationship with UK telco watchdog Ofcom. The team also need to fix a heavy pension deficit, while also finding additional funds to ensure both its broadband and mobile networks remain competitive. Over the last three years, share price has dropped roughly 59%, with it currently being the lowest for six years. Jansen might be heading into one of the toughest jobs in telco.

Adding to the rumours of the Jansen discussions is his resignation from Worldpay which was announced last month. Jansen will remain in the role until the end of the year, though the stars do seem to align.

While there have been several names thrown around, Jansen does make a compelling case. During his tenure, Jansen oversaw the $10.4 billion acquisition and merger of Worldpay rival Vantiv, adding a few interesting bullet points to his CV. With the EE purchase still to pay dividends, perhaps a fresh set of eyes, with experience in significant M&A is an attractive idea.

Combes sprints over to the US following Altice failure

Former Altice CEO Michel Combes wasted little time in moving on from his sacking by securing the CFO gig at US operator Sprint.

Combes full job title is actually President and CFO, but he will still report into Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, so the first position seems somewhat redundant. This also feels like a backward step for Comes in terms of job role, having previously been CEO at French telecoms conglomerate Altice and before that CEO of Alcatel Lucent.

The Sprint release insists Combes is an ‘accomplished telecom and cable industry executive’. It’s certainly hard to argue with a CV that also includes stints at Orange and Vodafone, but the extent of his accomplishments remains up for debate. Having overseen a halving of Altice’s share price in the space of just a week last November, Combes was thrown to the wolves, but Claure clearly thinks that was Altice’s mistake.

“Michel is an extremely capable and accomplished global telecom and cable industry leader and I know bringing him on board will help to accelerate our progress as Sprint begins the next chapter of our transformation,” said Claure. “He is a visionary executive with a proven track record of successfully transforming leading telecom and media companies and will help us to execute our strategic plan and strengthen our team.”

Combes follows the current trend of failed European telecoms execs grabbing a gig at a US operator to make ends meet. Sacked Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg, of course, ended up at Verizon. It seems that once you get to the top table in the telecoms world, losing your job is not much of a problem because there will always be other C-suite opportunities magically cropping up.

“I have known Marcelo for many years and am delighted to join the Sprint team and build upon the great progress achieved to date,” said Combes. “This is an exciting challenge and unique opportunity to help lead a distinguished company through an historic turnaround and its most exciting period yet.”

Sprint’s shares fell 5% when the appointment was announced late last week.

Records profits and new leadership at Samsung – busy week

Only a couple of weeks after the resignation of CEO Oh-Hyun Kwon, due to an ‘unprecedented crisis’ at the company, Samsung now has more CEOs than it knows what to do with.

Samsung might have lost one CEO, but it is gaining three. Kim Ki-nam is now in charge of the components business, Kim Hyun-suk will be heading up the consumer electronics side of things, while Koh Dong-jin is running the mobile and IT unit. For the moment, it is not clear whether any one of the CEOs will have an elevated role, or perhaps they will try to emulate Huawei and put in place a CEO carousel.

“The next generation of leaders are well suited to accelerate the pace of innovation and address the demands of the connected world,” said Kwon. “They have proven track records with extensive experience and outstanding expertise in their fields.”

Another move at the top table will concern Sang-Hoon Lee, currently serving as President and CFO, who will now become the new Chairman of the business. Interestingly enough, this is the first time the CEO and Chairman roles have been separated. Considering the number of scandals which have hit the business in recent years, perhaps separating two important positions such as CEO and Chairman is a sensible move.

Such changes might have proved to be a distraction to some businesses, but this does not seem to be the case if you look at Samsung’s quarterly earnings. Scandals are increasingly proving not to have a lasting impact in the technology world, and this has only been reinforced by record profits at Samsung.

Over the last three months, Samsung recorded total revenues of roughly $55.4 billion, with profits sitting quite nicely at around $13 billion. This is the highest profit Samsung has ever recorded over a quarterly period.

The winner here was the semiconductor business, as has been the case quite often recently, but the mobile team also recorded a win. The global rollout of the Galaxy Note 8 posted some very positive numbers for the group, but profitability did take a slight dip due to increased sales of lower-end models taking a greater proportion. The semiconductor business accounted for roughly one third of the total revenues, and almost two thirds of the profit for the quarter.

Over the next quarter, Samsung anticipates another strong quarter for its memory business, partly owing to increased demand for servers and mobile devices (cynics can comment on possible underhand tactics if they wish), while the strong performance of the Galaxy Note 8 is expected to continue.

This momentum is expected to continue through to 2018, with high-density, high-performance NAND leading the way for the memory business. The team also expect positive growth in the DRAM market which it has attributed to the big data and AI euphoria.

Verizon builds its own mini-Ericsson by making Rima Qureshi Chief Strategy Officer

Further evidence that operators are increasingly looking to go it alone on networking tech as Rima Qureshi joins her old Ericsson boss at Verizon.

Qureshi threw in the towel at Ericsson back in May of this year and apparently negotiated four months of gardening leave, down from the presumed six, presumably because Verizon is not a direct competitor to Ericsson. That status may change, however, if Verizon keep stockpiling former networking execs.

At the same time former Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg was escorted from the building at Ericsson last year, Qureshi was demoted from her Chief Strategy Officer role and put in charge of North America, which included giving CPR to the struggling Cisco partnership. Vestberg, of course, ended up at Verizon in March of this year and seems to have wasted little time in asking Qureshi how she felt about her demotion.

Not great, it seems, and Qureshi clearly missed the strategy game as she has accepted the CSO gig at Verizon too, replacing the excellently-named Roy Chestnutt. She won’t be reporting to Vestberg this time, though, as her remit seems to cover the whole company, not just networking, and she’ll be reporting direction to Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam.

“We thank Roy for his leadership and strategic focus, which have helped transform Verizon into a major player in next-generation markets,” said McAdam. “The addition of Rima is another game-changer for Verizon. She’s a visionary leader, with a global perspective and a thorough understanding of our industry and where it’s headed.”

Qureshi didn’t offer a canned comment but we can safely assume she’s pleased, excited, pumped, etc. Verizon is clearly tooling-up to be increasingly self-reliant in the 5G era. AT&T is already very proactive in this area and there is a global trend of operators being increasingly disinclined to wait for vendors to solve their technological problems. That’s something the likes of Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia should be very concerned about.