How easy will it be for IBM to digest Red Hat?

Imagine our surprise the day before a lunch scheduled with the CTO of Red Hat when IBM announced it was buying his company.

Sometimes the journalism gods, those that are left, smile on even the humblest of hacks and today it was our turn. Lunch with Chris Wright (pictured below, with said hack) had already been arranged with the promise of delivering the kind of light Linux chit-chat over a glass of red that we all secretly crave. But then, out of the blue (pun intended) IBM announced it’s going to buy Red Hat for $34 billion and things suddenly got a bit more spicy.

Now, you don’t get to be the CTO of a major company by speaking injudiciously to the press, so we didn’t expect Wright to have much to say on the relative merits of the acquisition itself. Instead we wanted to know more about what Red Hat brings to the table, such that a venerable tech giant would want to drop such a serious chunk of change on it.

The core of Red Hat’s product strategy for the past few years has been the hybrid cloud. In its simplest terms this refers to the use of both private, on-premise server capacity and the public cloud as found in colossal data centers provided by the likes of AWS, Microsoft and Google. Increasingly this applies to pretty much all larger enterprises so it’s a pretty important place to be if you’re serious about the B2B tech space.

Sharing this writer’s love of a pun, Wright conceded that the cloud is a nebulous term, but that’s why you need companies that have made it their business to get their heads around it, such as Red Hat. IBM is, and always has been, a B2B tech company, so it’s easy to see why it would want to buy a company that specialises in one of the most important and arcane manifestations of that.

Everyone in tech has probably had to puzzle over one of those baffling software architecture slides that attempt to explain how everything fits together via the use of endless rectangles piled on top of each other like some geeky game of Jenga. Throw hundreds of those into a virtualised environment spanning any number of actual physical locations and you get somewhere close to the kind of challenge faced by today’s CTO.

Between the cloud and the cloud user lies an extended value chain of technologies and services dedicated to making that relationship as useful and intuitive as possible. One good example of this is the banking app, through which anyone can now whizz thousands of pounds around the world in an instant. For this to be made possible a hell of a lot of robust technologies have to exist between the bank’s servers and the client device.

According to Wright, Red Hat plays across that whole value chain, so for that reason alone it’s easy to see its appeal to IBM. But Red Hat is also deeply rooted in the Linux, open-source culture, which isn’t necessarily an obvious fit with IBM’s notoriously rigid corporate philosophy. As with so much M&A, how effectively the cultures of the two organisations are reconciled will be the single most important factor in determining whether this deal goes down smoothly or results in corporate indigestion.

Chris Wright Red Hat Telecoms

New York wades in to the T-Mobile/Sprint debate

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood could prove to be another hurdle for T-Mobile and Sprint to overcome in their headache-inducing merger.

The problem for the pair is there seem to be a lot more objections surrounding the tie-up than there has been support. After T-Mobile CEO John Legere seemingly got little response from his appeal to MVNOs to support the transaction, the wild-eyed leader has opened up to opinions from staff; a dangerous move considering some would certainly be under threat of redundancy.

Perhaps what the duo didn’t need are objections from the New York Attorney General Office over fears the consumer might get screwed. According to the New York Post, the objection is relatively simple. T-Mobile runs a prepaid service called MetroPCS, while Sprint has Boost and Virgin Mobile. Bringing all three into the same business could lead to one or more being scrapped, reducing competition. Secondly, all three are incredibly aggressive on pricing, but again, bringing all three into the same business could end this trend of undercutting, and an increase in price. The New Yorkers are concerned tariffs could become too expensive for some.

While objections from a few lawyers might not be the worst thing in the world for T-Mobile and Sprint, it seems there is a queue forming. In fact, the FCC released a notice last week which stated the Attorney General Offices of Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia have all requested information to assist their own investigations into the merger. The lawyers are lurking, and the more who gather around the fire, the less pleasing the situation appears for T-Mobile and Sprint.

This of course might mean nothing. All major parties in the US are perfectly entitled to do their own due diligence surrounding the deal as transitioning from a market with four major telcos down to three is a massive move. Considering there will be regions across the country where this transaction effectively creates a communications monopoly, every chance to scrutinise the deal should be taken.

As it stands, the self-appointed shot-clock on approving the deal at the FCC is on hold. This again is simply down to the magnitude and the potentially significant consequences of the deal, and should not be surprising at all, but the longer it stands still, we suspect the more nervous executives will become. Mergers of this nature have already been shot down in the US, and this deal does seem to be hanging in the balance.

IBM aims to boost its strategic imperatives with $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat

IBM has announced by far the largest acquisition in its history with the acquisition of cloud and open source software vendor Red Hat.

$34 billion is several times more than IBM has previously spent on an acquisition, which indicates just how important it thinks this is to its future prosperity. Red Hat has expanded from a developer of Linux-based business software to being involved in most places you might find B2B open source software, including the cloud and telecoms.

While most venerable tech companies seem to be in a constant state of so-called transformation, this has especially been the case with IBM as it seeks to replace its declining legacy businesses with shiny new ones. As a consequence it has four clear strategic imperatives in the form of cloud, security, analytics and mobile, revenue from which recently overtook legacy stuff for the first time.

But IBM has apparently decided this organic transformation isn’t happening quickly enough and has decided a nice, juicy bit of M&A is required to hasten the process. Most reports are focusing on how Red Hat will contribute to IBM’s hybrid cloud efforts, and thus give it a boost in competing with the likes of Amazon, but Red Hat’s activities in the telco cloud specifically shouldn’t be underplayed.

“The acquisition of Red Hat is a game-changer,” hyperbolised IBM Dictator (Chairman, President and CEO) Ginni Rometty. “It changes everything about the cloud market. IBM will become the world’s number one hybrid cloud provider, offering companies the only open cloud solution that will unlock the full value of the cloud for their businesses.

“Most companies today are only 20 percent along their cloud journey, renting compute power to cut costs,” she said. “The next 80 percent is about unlocking real business value and driving growth. This is the next chapter of the cloud. It requires shifting business applications to hybrid cloud, extracting more data and optimizing every part of the business, from supply chains to sales.”

IBM Red Hat Rometty Whitehurst cropped

“Open source is the default choice for modern IT solutions, and I’m incredibly proud of the role Red Hat has played in making that a reality in the enterprise,” said Jim Whitehurst, President and CEO, Red Hat (pictured, with Rometty). “Joining forces with IBM will provide us with a greater level of scale, resources and capabilities to accelerate the impact of open source as the basis for digital transformation and bring Red Hat to an even wider audience –  all while preserving our unique culture and unwavering commitment to open source innovation.”

Cloud and open source have been major themes in the tech M&A scene recently. Microsoft continued its transition from closed software box-shifter with the recent $7.5 billion acquisition of code sharing platform GitHub. Meanwhile open source big data vendors Cloudera and Hortonworks have decided to merge and earlier this year Salsforce dropped $6.5 billion on MuleSoft to power its Integration Cloud.

In M&A, the party line from the company being acquired is usually something along the lines of it enabling them to take the next step in its evolution thanks to the greater resources of its new parent, and this was no exception. “Powered by IBM, we can dramatically scale and accelerate what we are doing today,” said Whitehurst in his email to staff announcing the deal. “Imagine Red Hat with greater resources to grow into the opportunity ahead of us. Imagine Red Hat with the ability to invest even more and faster to accelerate open source innovation in emerging areas.” And so on.

He went on to explain that, while he will report directly to Rometty, Red Hat will continue to operate as a ‘distinct unit’, whatever that means. Usually this sort of talk is designed to sell the concept that it will remain the same company it was before the acquisition, but with loads more cash to play with. Let’s see.

IBM would be mad to mess around with Red Hat too much as it seems to be doing just fine and reported 14% revenue growth in its last quarterlies. Then again you don’t pay a 60% premium for a company just to accrue its revenue and how IBM integrates Red Hat into the rest of its offerings will be what determines the success of this bold move. There are, sadly, no signs the company plans to change its name to Big Blue Hat, which is a worrying early a missed opportunity.

CommScope likes the look of Arris – report

Reuters reckons US networking vendor CommScope is seriously courting UK cable and set top box company Arris.

The report, which cites those shadowy ‘people familiar with the matter’ that are so often responsible for such leaks, just claims the two companies are in talks for CommScope to acquire Arris. The exponentially-growing public demand for streaming video is apparently one of the big drivers behind the talks.

The market values of the two companies aren’t too far apart, but a big reason for this was CommScope’s share price going down the toilet when it announced its Q1 2018 numbers. Specifically forward guidance that indicating a degree of commoditisation in its core markets seemed to spook investors and it could well be that a good old bit of M&A might be just what they need to cheer them up.

Arris is no stranger to M&A of late, having grabbed Ruckus from Broadcom at the end of last year. There seems to be a bit of an accelerated trend towards consolidation among tier 2 kit vendors, apparently catalysed by fear of commoditisation. Light Reading has further analysis of the pros and cons of the potential move here.

For 5G to succeed European operators need a new deal on regulation and consolidation

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Bengt Nordstrom of Northsteam explains how regulation, M&A and consolidation in the European telecoms market have divided opinion over the industry’s future direction.

Europe’s large operators have long argued that anti-M&A measures by regulators undermine their future investments by preventing market consolidation. They contend that fewer national operators can devote more resources to better networks and services for their customers, including 5G.

But regulators disagree. They maintain that four-player national markets promote competition and therefore guarantee low prices and high service quality for consumers.

Can new players survive?

Regulators also encourage new players to enter and disrupt the market. That’s why regulators in Germany and Belgium over the summer opened the door for new players to enter their respective mobile markets. Both markets have already consolidated to three operators, but regulators are still prepared to offer spectrum to new players.

However, the overwhelming cost of building an entire nationwide network from scratch along with gaining access to suitable mast sites is the reason why we shouldn’t expect new players to enter the fray in Germany and Belgium.

No new customers in Europe

The reality in Europe is that there are no new customers to win. Operators currently engage in tit-for-tat price wars to steal subscribers from each other, either by lowering prices or through exclusive deals on new devices.

Questions remain over how profitable any new entrant can be in Europe’s largely saturated markets. Any new entrant that attempts to enter a mature European market is likely to be sold – probably at a loss – to a bigger incumbent operator a few years down the road.

Iliad launches in Italy

A case in point is Iliad in Italy. In May, the French operator group launched in Italy to compete against incumbents Telecom Italia, Vodafone and Wind Tre (who itself merged with Three Italia in July 2016). With its aggressively priced service plans, Iliad added one million users in its first 50 days in Italy: in the same quarter that Iliad launched, Vodafone recorded a 6.7 per cent drop in its Italian revenues.

It was Iliad who kicked off the current spate of operator price wars in Europe when, in 2012, it took the French retail market by storm with its cut-price voice and data services. However, since 2017, its share price on the Paris Exchange has dropped by fifty percent.

Analysts and investors are concerned by Iliad’s missed forecasts, plus its gamble on expanding into the Italian market. They’re also wary of the impact on Iliad’s subscriber numbers of France’s other operators investing in and upgrading their own networks for better service performance.

Iliad’s early success in Italy sounds impressive. But attracting one million customers from its competitors is not as much of an achievement when we consider that those customers are probably low ARPU subscribers who typically spend the least amount of money with their operator. These subscribers aren’t likely to be missed by their previous operator.

Iliad’s long-term prospects

The key question that Iliad – and any new entrant into a mature, saturated European market – must answer is whether its business is viable in the medium and long term. Does Iliad have deep enough pockets to keep fighting the price war it’s started in Italy?

Iliad depends on its Italian rivals for their networks and their coverage. None of them will offer it wholesale conditions that jeopardize their own businesses. And building an entire network of its own from scratch would be prohibitively expensive for Iliad.

What’s most likely is that Iliad – rather than become a long-term fourth operator in Italy – will instead sell its assets as part of some future consolidation of the Italian market.

Europe must catch up in 5G

Rock-bottom consumer prices versus continually rising data usage define how much capital operators can invest in upgrading and improving their networks – including 5G.

Europe currently trails both the Far East and North America in the move to 5G. Incumbent operators and investors alike have long demanded a more stable regulatory environment to deliver the sorts of returns needed to support future network rollouts, whether full-fibre or 5G.

If the current regulatory policy doesn’t change, the most likely outcome for Europe is continuing low prices for customers – but also very few 5G services by 2021.

Can France provide the answer?

Perhaps it’s appropriate that the next twist in this story might well come from France, where the current round of operator price wars began with Iliad in 2012. In May, Sebastien Soriano, Chairman of French regulator ARCEP, indicated in an interview that he would be open to allowing consolidation among the mobile players.

The reason? France’s operators have addressed the country’s coverage problems and infrastructure needs with two years of investment, including €9.6 billion in 2017.

Other national regulators, along with the EU, should be watching intently to see if policy changes by France that reduce the number of nationwide players to three will have a positive effect and trigger a fresh round of investment in 5G and fibre.

A new regulatory approach for 5G

In these changing circumstances, regulators should reevaluate their relationship with operators plus their own regulatory position. They can continue to protect consumers by closely monitoring both prices and service quality. At the same time, regulators must also remove their opposition to consolidation.

Instead, they should work more directly and closely with operators, to guarantee service quality targets for network performance issues like coverage, latency and speed. In this way, regulators can ensure fairness for customers, create new growth opportunities for operators, and help Europe catch up and compete in the race to 5G.

 

Bengt Nordstrom CEO NorthstreamBengt Nordstrom is CEO of strategic mobile telecoms consultancy Northstream, which he co-founded in 1998. A former CTO and Executive Director of Hong Kong mobile operator SmarTone, Bengt has also held senior management positions at Ericsson, Comviq and consultants Netcom. In addition, Bengt was a member of the Executive Committee of the GSM Association and chaired the GSMA’s Asia Pacific Interest Group.

Europe approves merger of Tele2 and Com Hem, Kirkby will move to TDC

The merger of Swedish MNO Tele2 with Swedish cableco Com Hem has been approved but Tele2’s CEO Allison Kirkby isn’t hanging around.

Europe had a look at the merger, as it invariably does with any telecoms M&A on the continent, and concluded it raises no competition concerns. The resulting creation of a multiplay operator doesn’t take any players out of either the mobile or fixed markets and therefore there’s still enough competition to allow the EC to sleep soundly at night. It has also concluded a general investigation into the Swedish telecoms market with not further action required.

“We are nearing the closing of this merger and my ambition to create a leading integrated connectivity provider in the Baltic Sea region will soon be realized,” said Kirkby. “I am immensely proud of the Tele2 team’s efforts throughout this process, as well as our incredible achievements the past years.”

“I will leave a Tele2 that is stronger and better positioned to act as an integrated customer champion in an ever more digitalized world. Once the merger is closed, I feel confident that the Tele2 team, including its new colleagues from Com Hem, will continue to challenge the status quo and fearlessly liberate people to live a more connected life.”

Scandinavia seems to have left a strong impression on Kirkby, who has been poached by Danish telco TDC Group to be its new CEO. Right now TDC seems only to have made the announcement via a Danish press release, but we trust Google Translate enough to run with it. Kirkby will start her new gig in December, right after the merger closes.

The CEO of the merged company, which looks like it will be called Tele2, will be the current CEO of Com Hem, Anders Nilsson. “As one company, we will be able to offer a portfolio of truly integrated services, with significant benefits for Swedish individuals, households, businesses and our shareholders as a result,” he said.

“My main focus now is our preparations for a rapid and efficient integration, to the benefit of both our employees and customers. Together with the new Leadership Team, I will also make sure to draw from the strength, knowledge and spirit of both the Tele2 and Com Hem organizations, as well as the Tele2 Board of Directors. When closing comes, we will be ready to kick off the integration.”

The only other thing worth noting is that Kirkby had been one of the people thought likely to be in the running for the BT CEO job. The search continues.

Telarix and Starhome Mach merge to offer global wholesale telecoms portfolio

A couple of companies involved in the areas of operator interconnectivity, roaming and general wholesale action have decided to merge.

The combination of Telarix and Starhome Mach inevitably claims to offer a full end-to-end set of wholesale solutions for operators, covering voice, SMS, clearing, settlement and fraud prevention. The new company has 450 customers in 130 countries. All this mucking about with telecoms plumbing also creates business opportunities in BSS, subscriber analytics and that sort of thing.

“CSPs must manage their complex partner ecosystem from negotiation to traffic management, to billing and settlement, while at the same time, providing differentiated services to consumers, businesses and IoT.,” said Telarix CEO Marco Limena. “This merger will enable the development of new  innovative solutions overcoming the complex challenges of today’s digital transformation era to drive desired business performance.”

“Our success in launching SaaS versions of our leading roaming and clearing platforms introduced a variety of other innovative solutions in real-time anti-fraud, Network Function Virtualization and the Internet of Things,” said Starhome Mach CEO, Itai Margalit. “Bringing our offerings together with Telarix’s solutions will bring new solutions to the market and we see a huge opportunity to accelerate company growth.”

“Telarix and Starhome Mach have been very successful in their respective markets,” said Steve Pusey, former Group CTO and Senior Board Advisor to Telarix. “The joining together of this expertise creates a unique opportunity to address the market demand for full spectrum solutions.”

While positioned as a merger this looks more like the acquisition of Starhome Mach by Telarix. Private equity is involved one both sides but only Vista Equity Partners, which is behand Telarix, will remain involved, it will be based in Telarix’s home of Vienna, Virginia, and Limena will be the CEO of the new company, with Margalit becoming President of the roaming silo. You can read further analysis of this move at Light Reading here.

FCC says new material means it needs more time to assess TMUS/Sprint merger

The US Federal Communications Commissions has indefinitely extended the amount of time it will take to sign off the country’s operator mega-merger.

Referring to an ‘informal shot clock’ of 180 days in which to assess the pros and cons of T-Mobile US and Sprint permanently hooking up, the FCC announced in a letter that it is being paused. The only stated reason is the submission of new material from TMUS that significantly alters the criteria by which the FCC will make its assessment, thus requiring more time.

“Today we are pausing the Commission’s informal 180-day transaction shot clock in this proceeding,” opens the letter. “Additional time is necessary to allow for thorough staff and third-party review of newly submitted and anticipated modeling relied on by the Applicants.

“Each of three separate developments require more time. First, on September 5, 2018, the Applicants submitted a substantially revised network engineering model… The newly-provided network engineering model is significantly larger and more complex than the engineering submissions already in the record.

“Further, in an August 29, 2018 exparte meeting, T-Mobile executives Mike Sievert and Peter Ewens described T-Mobile’s reliance on a business model, titled Build 9,’ which apparently provides the financial basis for the projected new network buildout. The Commission did not receive Build 9, and third parties did not have access to it, until September 5. Build 9 therefore requires further review.

“Finally, T-Mobile recently disclosed that it intends to submit additional economic modeling in support of the Applications, beyond that strictly responsive to the various economic analyses in the Petitions to Deny. This new economic modeling will also require additional time for review.”

So, in essence, TMUS recently decided to offer up a bunch more material in support of the merger and the FCC needs more time to review it. Seems fair enough. “The clock will remain stopped until the Applicants have completed the record on which they intend to rely and a reasonable period of time has passed for staff and third-party review,” concludes the letter. How long that reasonable period of time will be is unclear.