Openreach adds another 35 cities to ‘fibre first’ programme

Openreach has announced a further 36 cities and towns which will be upgraded to Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband technology over the next 12 months.

As part of the ‘fibre first’ programme, 74 cities and large towns will undergo extensive upgrade programmes to ensure fibre is a realistic option for broadband services. It might have taken a while to get the UK on-board with the necessity for future-proofed broadband infrastructure, though momentum is gathering.

“We’re pressing ahead with our investment and Openreach engineers are now building in communities all over the country, keeping us on track to deliver against the bigger ambitions we set out in May,” said Clive Selley, MD of Openreach.

“The Government wants to see a nationwide full fibre network and we’re keen to lead the way in helping them achieve that. We know that if it’s going to happen, Openreach will need to be at the front doing the heavy lifting, so we’re working hard to build a commercially viable plan.”

With the continued aggressive push towards fibre broadband throughout the country, the prolonged battle between BT and Ofcom to retain control of Openreach makes much more sense. The telco fought bitterly to keep Openreach in the Group and now with enthusiasm for fibre higher than ever before it is was a justified battle, even if it did negatively impact the relationship with the regulator.

However, things are not all rosy for Openreach.

“One headwind to investment which affects all full fibre builders is business rates, and we’ve been encouraged by the Scottish Government’s move to extend rates relief north of the border,” Selley stated. “I’m convinced that prioritising investment in faster, more reliable and future proof broadband networks will prove to be a no-regrets decision for future generations.”

Complaints over regulation are of course not a new element of the telecommunications industry, though this is one which has been persistent. The industry has been promised changes, though few has been realised to date.

That said, the fibre revolution is catching. New Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pushed the issue onto the front pages with a ludicrous statement of 100% fibre penetration by 2025, though momentum was gathering prior to this. Last year, at Broadband World Forum in Berlin, one panel session discussed the improved appetite from investment funds and bodies to fuel the objective. The consumer demand has been proven, therefore the money men are starting to get interested.

What is worth noting is that Openreach is not the only firm who is on the charge with fibre expansion. Virgin Media’s Project Lightening is progressing successfully, while CityFibre is leading the charge for the ‘alt-nets’ to broaden the footprint in areas which might be deemed less commercially attractive.

With ambitious Government targets pushing the fibre rollout, it is encouraging to see promises entering into reality.

American Tower expands in Africa with acquisition of 723 towers

Telkom Kenya has announced it has reached a definitive agreement to sell up to 723 towers to American Tower, expanding the latter’s footprint to a fifth country in Africa.

The transaction, which will be completed in the second-half of 2018, will give the telco a bit of breathing room and cash to invest in its 4G network. Kenya Telkom has been performing adequately to date, though has struggled to get anywhere near market leader Safricom. It is hoped the funds will give the telco a boost to be more competitive.

“We are excited to announce the launch of operations in Kenya through our agreement to acquire TKL’s towers,” said William Hess, American Tower’s President of EMEA and Latin America. “This represents American Tower’s 17th market globally, and our fifth in Africa, and we look forward to helping expand the reach of mobile broadband throughout the country. Kenya is a very attractive market, and we have high expectations for its long-term growth potential.”

“Telkom will now focus on its core function – the provision of quality telecommunications services to our customers,” said Aldo Mareuse, CEO of Telkom Kenya. “In addition, the sale will release capital for further investment in our 4G network and a number of state of the art IT platforms, all of which will further enhance services for our customers as they demand higher quality and speed from our mobile data networks as well as a richer range of services.”

American Tower is one company which has been on the acquisition trail recently, seemingly capitalizing on strong financial performance. Aside from this deal, American Tower has also acquired the tower business units of both Idea and Vodafone in India, as the pair gear up to tackle the disruption caused by Reliance Jio in the market. Praying on struggling telcos’ assets seems to be a successful strategy here, as it spent $673 million to acquire nearly 10,600 sites over the first three months of 2018.

Looking at the financial side of the business, American Tower recently reported its figures with the first quarter demonstrating a 7.8% year-on-year increase to $1.742 billion, though it has lowered forecasts for the year, citing the troublesome Indian market and other factors.

The team will also be keeping an eye on developments with Sprint and T-Mobile, with the pair accounting for 4% and 3% (respectively) of American Tower’s consolidated property revenues. While there is still three to four years left on non-cancellable lease agreements, and the team anticipate aggressive spending to catch up to the top tier, consolidation of two major customers generally doesn’t bode well for the supplier.

Whether there is any acquisition left in American Tower remains to be seen, though the team has stated it is continuing to review and act on expansion opportunities in international markets. It does not seem to be shy about living by the ‘speculate to accumulate’ mantra.

Iliad profits grow as it looks across to Italy

It’s easy to get distracted by the whole Vivendi/TIM saga, but Iliad is another French business looking towards the land of pizzas, Vespas and slicked back hair for future fortunes.

Looking at the financials first, the French telco had a positive 12 months adding just short of one million subscribers to take its total market share up to 19% of the French market. On the broadband side, the business is looking pretty positive as well. Iliad currently boasts of 6.5 million broadband subscribers, 556,000 of which are FTTH, up from 310,000 at the end of 2016. Looking at the spreadsheets, total revenues for the year increased to €4.987 billion, a year-on-year increase of 5.6%. Not bad.

Iliad is a company we rarely speak about in the UK, partly because Orange is a more dominant player on the wider European space and the Vivendi/TIM situation is too unusual to pass on, but these are some pretty solid results. After disrupting the market with its Free Mobile offering, the telco is showing it wants more than 15 minutes of fame with its investment plans as well. FTTH plans are continuing to develop as 6.2 million homes are now fibre connectable, up two million compared to 2016, while the team claims to have 4G coverage of 86% of the French population.

Over the next 12 months the team plan to open another 2000 new sites, driving 4G coverage up to 90% of the population and 3G to 95%, while also finalizing the migration of 4G sites to 1,800 MHz. In the broadband business, the aim is to increase the FTTH subscriber base by 300,000 to 500,000 and have 9 million connectible FTTH sockets by the end of the year.

Aside from consolidating its position in the French market, Iliad has also ramped up plans to become Italy’s fourth mobile operator before the summer. 2017 was a year of planning and organization, the team hired 80 employees, put in place a management team and €220 million paid to the Italian government for the re-farming of 1,800 MHz frequencies, but 2018 is the year to make some noise.

The next couple of months could make the Italian market a very interesting place, with Iliad planning to achieve an EBITDA break-even in Italy with less than 10% market share and also the separation of the fixed network business from TIM. With Vivendi/TIM looking to capitalise on the media market to turn a profit and Iliad possibly aiming to use the same strategy which brought success in France, it could be a perfect mixing bowl of chaos.

Elsewhere in the French market, Altice has announced it has entered into an exclusive agreement to sell its international wholesale voice carrier business to Tofane Global. The announcement is part of a wider Altice strategy to remove any non-critical assets from the portfolio.