Telecom Italia kicks out CEO Amos Genish

In one of the least surprising board room purges ever, Telecom Italia (or TIM for short) has got rid of its CEO Amos Genish.

“TIM’s Board of Directors met today and deliberated by a majority vote to revoke with immediate effect all powers conferred to Director Amos Genish, giving mandate to the Chairman to resolve further obligations in relation to the existing working relationship with Genish,” said a TIM announcement today.

“In accordance with the succession plan for Executive Directors adopted by TIM, the proxies revoked to Director Amos Genish were provisionally assigned to the Chairman of the Board. The Chairman of the Nomination and Remuneration Committee has called for a meeting of the latter, in compliance with its responsibility in identifying the new CEO.

“A new meeting of the Board of Directors to appoint a new CEO was convened for November 18. The Board of Directors thanks Amos Genish for the work done in the interest of the Company and all its stakeholders in these fourteen months of intense activity.”

The removal of Genish had seemed inevitable since investor group Elliott won a battle with French conglomerate Vivendi, for control of the TIM board room, back in May of this year. Genish had previously been installed as CEO while Vivendi was still calling the shots, but after winning control Elliott made all the right noises about Genish having their full confidence.

This always seemed somewhat tenuous, with Genish’s loyalties presumably under suspicion and him providing at the very least a convenient scapegoat as and when things took a bad turn at the company. That came to pass last week when TIM said it was writing down the value of its assets by €2 billion and exacerbated by a disagreement between Genish and the board over what to do about TIM’s fixed line network.

Rumours emerged early this week that Genish’s days were numbered and that the board was about to convene a special meeting to agree on his demise. Hilariously TIM issued statements to the press denying such a thing was going to happen just a day or two before it did. TIM has a rich history of deceptive press communications but this outright lie was shameless even by its standards.

“This is a shock,” Analyst Paolo Pescatore of Midia Research told Telecoms.com. “However, ongoing turmoil at the company continues to drag it down. The company is very well placed given its assets and early move to secure a leadership position in 5G. Further tussles will hand its fierce rivals a competitive edge.”

So what next? Elliott apparently has less than a week to come up with an alternative CEO that will do its bidding and the remaining Vivendi board members will presumably oppose whoever they put forward. Above everything else, however, this is another opportunity to finally appoint a CEO whose first name is Tim. Surely everyone can agree on the importance of that.

UK telecoms complaints at an all time low

The latest complaints data shared by UK telecoms regulator Ofcom reveals the level of moaning are at their lowest since it started collating them.

Ofcom has been logging consumer complaints about landline, broadband, mobile and pay TV services since 2010. The fact that they are at their lowest level ever would appear to indicate UK CSPs are doing a great job. Of course people could have just given up, or have become steadily more apathetic, or have found more effective ways to punish errant telcos than moaning to Ofcom, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

“Although we’re encouraged that complaints are at their lowest levels since we started shining a light on this, some telecoms and TV companies are still falling short,” said Jane Rumble, Ofcom’s Director of Consumer Policy. “We expect those providers to up their game and deliver better service to all their customers.”

In the tables below you can see first the historical totals for the four categories of complaints and then the most recent ones for broadband, mobile and pay TV. We haven’t bothered with the landline ones because we figure nobody cares anymore. Now that Vodafone has got its act together there are no outstanding poor performers in mobile and similarly BT seems to have sorted out its pay TV operations.

Ofcom Q2 18 complaints historical

Broadband

Ofcom Q2 18 complaints broadband

Mobile

Ofcom Q2 18 complaints mobile

Pay TV

Ofcom Q2 18 complaints pay TV

The rumours were true – Philip Jansen will be the next BT boss

A week after the news was widely leaked, BT has confirmed that its next Chief Exec will be current Worldpay boss Philip Jansen.

Various factors made the move seem plausible, including the fact that Jansen had already resigned from Worldpay and the conspicuous lack of any other viable candidates revealing themselves in the months since the search to replace Gavin Patterson commenced.

Jansen has plenty of top-table pedigree, having been the main man at Worldpay for five years, during which he took the company public and then oversaw its merger with Vantiv at the start of this year. Both moves presumably didn’t do his bank balance any harm, which does call into question his motivation for taking on such a tricky job, but these CEO types just can’t help themselves, can they?

“I’m honoured to be appointed as the next Chief Executive of BT Group,” said Jansen. “BT is a special company with a wonderful history and a very exciting future. It has built a leading position across fixed and mobile networks, creating an opportunity to deliver increasing benefits for our customers, the UK economy and our shareholders.

“In a competitive market we will need to be absolutely focused on our customers’ needs and pursue the right technology investments to help grow the business. I’m excited to get to know all the people at BT and work together to take the business forward.”

“The Board is delighted to have appointed Philip as our new Chief Executive,” said BT Chairman Jan du Plessis. “He is a proven leader with outstanding experience in managing large complex businesses. Philip’s strong leadership has inspired his teams, successfully transformed businesses across multiple industries and created significant value for shareholders. His most recent success at Worldpay, a technology-led business, means he is well suited to build on the solid foundations that are in place at BT. I look forward to working with him to position BT at the heart of the UK’s digital economy.”

Jansen will join BT at the start of next year and will spend a month shadowing Patterson to make sure he knows the ropes before the latter retreats to the life of leisure it’s tempting to assume he’s already made a head-start on. The starting salary for BT CEO is £1.1 million plus a portfolio of benefits breathtaking in its opulence, including nearly $1 million in BT shares to compensate him for whatever Worldpay options he’s no longer able to cash in.

Worldpay is an electronic payments company so Jansen will have some adjusting to do at BT, but he was MD of Telewest a while back so all the telecomsy stuff will presumably come flooding back before long. Just bang on about 5G and fibre mate – it’s easy. The Openreach problem seems to be largely resolved but there will still be plenty of Ofcom fun to be had and it will be interesting to see how his style contrasts with Patterson’s.

FCC modifies frequency policy to encourage 5G investment

Changes to licence regulations on 3.5 Ghz have been approved by the FCC in an effort to encourage the 5G rollout.

The 150 MHz wide spectrum on the 3.5 GHz (3550MHz to 3700MHz.) band, or Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), is very busy. Following the rules of the FCC established in 2015, three tiers of users are sharing this band. There are the Incumbent Access Users, in particular the US Navy Radar Operators; the Priority Access Licenses (PALs) which are mainly commercial users like the telcos; and dinally, General Authorized Access (GAA) users which are permitted to use any portion of the 150 MHz frequency so long as it has not been granted to the other two tiers.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who was tasked to lead the review of current regulations and deliberation of new policies with special focus on PALs, claimed the old rules “would not support large-scale deployments, such as mobile or 5G networks… The rules in place favored small-scale, fixed networks, by making it unattractive for any other type of deployment. Basically, the rules were designed so that a select group could get licenses on the cheap.”

The Report and Order published by the FCC on Tuesday October 23 has kept the three tiers in place, but has made modifications to the specific implementations, including:

  • Changes the size of PAL license areas from census tracts to counties;
  • Extends the PAL license term to ten years and makes these licenses renewable;
  • Establishes end-of-term performance requirements;
  • Ensures seven PALs are available in each license area;
  • Allows the use of bidding credits for rural and Tribal entities;
  • Permits partitioning and disaggregation of PALs;
  • Updates information security requirements to protect registration information; and
  • Facilitates transmission over wider channels while maintaining protections for other services

In addition to extending the license term from three years to ten years and changing it from unrenewable to renewable, the new rules also did away with the limitations on the number of PALs a single applicant can have in one licence area (currently capped at four) and the bandwidth a PAL can use (currently limited to 10 MHz).

Ajit Pai, Chairman of FCC, admitted there has been debate on the new size of PAL licence, with different entrenched interest either arguing for maintaining the current census tract-sized licence, or demanding vastly enlarged areas. He had to cite support from Rural Wireless Association and Competitive Carrier Association, which represents smaller carriers, to defend the Commission’s  decision to opt for county-size license.

“We find that county-based licenses are just right,” said Pai. “This compromise will allow most interested parties, large and small, to bid on 3.5 GHz spectrum in order to provide 5G services. License sizes aside, we make other necessary changes today to promote investment and innovation in the 3.5 GHz band, including extending the license terms and giving an expectancy of license renewal.”

Pai also reassured the GAA users that “even after PALs are granted, General Authorized Access users can provide service in the PAL spectrum until licensees deploy. Taken together, these reforms will help make this band a sandbox for 5G and represent another aspect of our comprehensive 5G FAST plan to secure American leadership in the next generation of wireless connectivity.”

The rule modifications might not look revolutionary, but they should prove positive for more aggressive 5G rollout in the US. With the extended licence term and the possibility of renewal the new regulations provide more confidence to investors looking at long term. Meanwhile, it also strikes a balance both to encourage scale and to protect operators with local ambitions only.

Verizon might have launched 5G, but new iPhone pulls subscribers

Verizon published Q3 results, beating market estimates on earnings and subscriber adds.

Verizon published Q3 results today, narrowly beating market expectations. On the wireless side, Verizon Wireless added 510,000 net postpaid smartphone subscribers, with the postpaid churn rate at 0.8%. The strong marketing activities following the launch of the new iPhone, including an offer of up to $750 off new models, has helped attract new subscribers. As an important operation landmark right at the end of Q3, Verizon launched fixed wireless access service on 5G in four cities, therefore could claim to be the first to offer 5G in the country.

“Verizon has posted a third quarter of strong operational and financial performance,” said CEO Hans Vestberg. “With the beginning of the 5G era in this fourth quarter, we expect that trend to continue. We are investing in networks, creating platforms to add value for customers and maintaining a focused, disciplined strategy. Verizon is best positioned to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the new game-changing generation of technology.”

On the broadband and TV side, Verizon’s Fios gained 54,000 new internet users, slower than the 66,000 it gained the same period last year, and lost 63,000 cable TV subscribers, faster than the 18,000 it lost last year, another indication that the cord-cutting trend shows no sign of abating.

Verizon Wireless continued to make the largest financial contribution. It generated $23 billion revenue (70.5% of group total) and brought in $11 billion EBITDA (90% of group total). The wireline business’ total revenues went down by 3.7% to $7.4 billion. The consumer side of the wireline business largely held at $3.1 billion (-2.1% year on year), with the corporate business dropped by over 5%.

On the group level, the total revenues of $32.6 billion, up 2.8% from last year, beating market expectation by $110 million, with non-GAAP earnings per share of $1.22, beating expectations by $0.03. GAAP EPS of $1.19 was right in line with market expectations.

Like most telecom operators, Verizon is a mature business that does not often disappoint but seldom excites. The management guidance pointed to low-to-mid single-digit percentage of full-year consolidated revenue growth and low single-digit percentage growth in EPS, which makes us pay some attention to another area of interest, Oath, the Media & IoT business mainly comprised of AOL and Yahoo.

If Verizon was to bank on this division to herald its future growth then it might be disappointed. Total revenues went down from $2 billion a year ago to $1.8 billion. More importantly, Verizon does not expect Oath to hit the $10 billion revenue target it set for the division earlier.

Verizon’s share price gained by 1.4% in pre-market trading.

Vermont follows Califorina into the dock over net neutrality

The State of Vermont has been hit with a net neutrality lawsuit after passing a Senate Bill and signing an Executive Order forcing ISPs to follow the banned principles for government contracts.

The lawsuit, filed by the CTIA, cable industry lobby NCTA, telco lobby USTelecom, the New England Cable & Telecommunications Association, and the American Cable Association (ACA), calls into question requirements for ISPs to follow net neutrality rules should they want to be considered for government contracts. The lawsuit follows the same argument as the California case; it contradicts the Communications Act, the ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ rules and two clauses in the US Constitution.
“This case concerns two interrelated attempts by the State of Vermont to unconstitutionally regulate the provision of broadband Internet service” the filing states.
“As the FCC has repeatedly recognized, Internet traffic flows freely between states, making it difficult or impossible for a provider to distinguish traffic moving within Vermont from traffic that crosses stateborders. Both the Supremacy Clause and the dormant Commerce Clause protect broadband Internet service providers from a patch work of inconsistent regulations that are impossible for them to comply with as a practical matter. The Court should declare that the Executive Order and S.289 are preempted and unconstitutional, and should permanently enjoin the Defendants from enforcing or giving effect to them.”

Senate Bill 289 was signed by Governor Phil Scott on May 22, while the Executive Order from Scott was signed in February. The telco lobbyists might be a bit slow off the mark, but this is a bit more of a complicated matter.

In California, and Washington State for that matter, net neutrality rules are being applied to the ISPs in every context. This is a much easier position for the telcos to push back against, though in the Vermont case it is only conditions for public sector contracts. The argument here is relatively nuanced; organizations should be allowed to apply their buying power to place requirements on vendors competing for lucrative contracts, but it does contradict rules set forward by the FCC.

Because this is not a blanket approach to net neutrality regulations, as is the case in California and Washington State, there is a better chance of the rules standing. The rules are being applied to specific relationships which lean on conditional approval and benchmarks for applicability. These are not unusual concepts in the world of procurement, but the net neutrality seems to be too contentious for any exceptions to be considered. The court will be interferring with market dynamics in Vermont, it is a delicate matter.

Another interesting idea is that of precedent. States such as Hawaii, New Jersey, Montana and Rhode Island have all passed similar rules, dictating ISPs wanting to compete for public sector contracts would have to adhere to net neutrality principles, and will be watching the outcome of this case closely. If Vermont wins there is precedent to maintain their position, however a win from the telco coalition will destroy the foundations.

Both cases, California and Vermont, come down to the old state versus federal battle ground and the interpretation of clauses in the Communications Act and the US Constitution. This is the bueaty and beast of the legal world, interpretation of the law and its implications means so much. The telco lobbyists do have a strong position though, especially considering the potential for a constitutional crisis.

Finally, perhaps the most interesting aspect of this on-going saga are the lawsuits themselves. In searching for a more light-touch regulatory landscape, the telco lobbyists are, ironically, seeking state intervention to maintain their position.

Jio readies itself for fixed broadband assault

Reliance Jio is set to pile more misery on Bharti Airtel with the launch of a low-cost fixed broadband offering.

It’s no secret Reliance Jio is eyeing up the fixed broadband market, though Bharti Airtel executives thought they might have had a bit more time. According to the Economic Times, Reliance Jio has bought controlling stakes in Den Networks and Hathway Cable, giving it a ‘headstart’ on the potentially lucrative segment.

The worry regarding the fixed broadband market is the opportunity. This might sound like a daft thing to say, but the opportunity has been staring incumbents in the face for years. None have actually done anything about it. Like the mobile market prior to the chaos caused by Reliance Jio, it is slumbering due to inaction, but that might all be about to change. If Reliance Jio can carry the momentum from the mobile and value services segments into the broadband space as well, the misery could continue for market incumbents.

According to the lastest figures from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI),while mobile subscription is surging (and with still a lot of room for growth), the fixed broadband market is stagnent in most regions and actually shrinking in others. There are currently 22.2 million broadband subscriptions in the country, compared to roughly 250 million households. Just to put things in perspective, broadband would have to grow 50-fold to even come close to the same scale as mobile.

With the acquisitions of Den Networks and Hathway Cable, Reliance Jio has a starting point. It can begin to rollout its own branded service and undercutting the market in the same way it did for mobile. Over the coming months, expect to see the insurgent telco aggresively spending to expand this infrastructure. Details are thin on the ground at the moment, though the intentions were outlined in May at Light Reading Big Communications Event by Mathew Oommen, President of Reliance Jio Infocomm. Home and enterprise penetration is incredibly low; there are billions to be made for those who are willing to spend to capitalise on the opportunity.

For the traditional telcos in the market, inaction might prove to be the downfall once again. Reliance Jio has destroyed profits for challengers in mobile and the same gameplan could work for fixed broadband. With such low penetration, the opportunity has always been there, but if you are happy with the status quo you are nothing more than a sitting duck. The likes of Bharti Airtel have no-one but itself to blame for missing out on the potential cash bonanza.

One of the most tired phrases in the technology world is disrupt or be disrupted. It’s a cliche which people dread hearing, but it is incredibly true here.

Q&A with Pierre-Francois Dubois from Orange

Pierre-Francois Dubois is the Director Marketing Products at Orange. Here’s what he had to say ahead of the Voice and Advanced Communications Summit 2018, where he is speaking about the new revenue streams and monetisation opportunities for voice and advanced communications.

How is the demand for Telco communications services changing and what is the place of the traditional Voice Telco offering in this ecosystem?

Because of mobile data, communications services tend to be unlimited which is why new business models need to be found to invest in enhancing these services. Nevertheless, I believe that operators will keep investing in voice services at least for the few years to come. Compared to messaging there are relatively limited levels of substitution of operator’s voice, even if it is more visible with international calls. Therefore, traditional Voice Telco remains something very important for the users and it is still also the simplest way for them to experience the quality of the network: drop calls and sound quality are associated with poor coverage or capacity limitations. Hence competition between Telcos has been a driver for investing on HD Voice, VoLTE, VoWiFi and it will probably remain true if we can find technologies that can enhance the voice service.

What has Orange identified as the most exciting new communication services opportunities and what is your work to develop and bring them to market?

Orange, like many other players and carriers, believe that business messaging is a major opportunity. The migration from SMS to RCS for businesses who want to interact with their customers on their smartphones is becoming a reality. We are currently rolling out RCS in several of our affiliates and like other Telcos, we have started experimenting with the potential of RCS business messaging with several brands. We believe this is the beginning of a new digital revolution which will be powered by AI, even if you don’t need AI in the beginning.

What are the new applications that are being developed by the Telcos to retain Voice revenues while stepping up their advanced communications offering?

With voice being unlimited, I don’t think that you can retain or recreate Voice revenues the way they used to be. The first goal is to remain relevant in the eyes of the customers, the new business models can be defined. As I explained, competition between Telcos has been the main driver to enhance the voice service and customers are still using our service. But this is not enough: we believe that we must go one step further and leverage, at least on Android where it is possible. The opportunity to replace the green button which is facing the customer on the smartphone with our own application, providing the customer with a full Orange experience -this is what Orange Telephone is aiming at.

You will be speaking at the Voice and Advanced Communications Summit on 9 – 10 October 2018 in Amsterdam on ‘New revenue streams & monetization opportunities for voice & advanced communications’. Can you give us a sneak peek at what your speech will entail?

Mobile apps were a digital revolution 10 years ago. Many among us believe that conversational commerce platforms like RCS associated with artificial intelligence and digital identity management will be the next one and that operators can play a role: we can develop bots for our B2B customers in this new ecosystem, we can develop new marketplaces, we can promote our payment solutions and our identity management to avoid fraud. All these monetization opportunities are B2B, but we first need to grow the RCS base.

What are you most looking forward to for the Summit and what has attracted you to attend the Summit this year?

Firstly, these Summits have a clear focus and it is a very good place to meet Telcos and vendors to check if the ecosystem is moving in the direction you anticipated. Also, this year should be a special year because we are anticipating the first 5G roll out for next year.
Join Pierre at the Voice and Advanced Communications Summit on 9 – 10 October 2018 in Amsterdam, where he will deliver a presentation on from LTE to 5G: how to support voice and minimize the risks?

Brexit doesn’t matter to us, as long as it doesn’t kill the economy – Vodafone UK CEO

Brexit has been an incredibly divisive topic of conversation for many, but Vodafone hasn’t concerned itself with lobbying at all. Brexit doesn’t actually matter, the success of the UK economy is the primary concern.

“We reflect the health of the UK economy, so we need the economy to thrive,” said Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffrey at Future Ready, a somewhat glorious name for a technology showcase and press conference.

Although responses were carefully worded, reading between the lines the message was simple. In or out of the European Union doesn’t actually matter for Vodafone, this is a company where the success in intrinsically linked to the success of the UK’s economy. For Vodafone UK to thrive, the UK economy needs to continue heading in the right direction.

There are of course worries for the business on the whole. As a multi-national corporation, Vodafone moves a lot of people, data and currency between the various different operating groups, a proposition Jeffrey would like to see continue, though as a national business, in or out of the Union is irrelevant.

A good example of this attitude is with the part PR pitch, part clever business move, taking the form of the Vodafone incubation initiatives. Tech Starter and Bright Sparks are two of the initiatives, both aimed at driving scale for start-up organizations, and creating growth in the UK technology industry.

“We have three of the top ten research universities in the world; innovation does absolutely happen in the UK,” said Helen Lamprell, Vodafone UK’s General Counsel & External Affairs Director. “We want to enable innovation and create exciting new jobs.”

Tech Starter offers a prize fund for start-ups who have working prototypes but lack the support to go to the next level, while Bright Sparks is a mentoring programme where the same organizations can lean on Vodafone’s experts, from digital sales strategy through to GDPR. Encouraging growth not only moves the economy in the right direction, an important point for Vodafone, but supporting these young businesses get Vodafone in on the ground floor.

With more than 50% of Vodafone UK’s business reliant on the enterprise market, if the economy is heading in the right direction, its business is likely to as well. With this in mind, the Brexit outcome matters very little, as long as it doesn’t tank the UK economy.

UK MNOs accused of using handset subsidies to rip off their customers

Research from Citizens Advice reckons four million people in the UK are still paying back their phone subsidies after the end of their contracts.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who has reached the end of a postpaid contract that came with a subsidised handset. It’s universally understood that such things are part service contract and part financing on the device, but MNOs are generally deficient in contacting their customers when the contract period is over.

They do get in touch, but usually with misleading offers such as ‘free’ new handsets, when in fact they’re merely calling for the customer to initiate a fresh postpaid contract, complete with a subsidised handset. An honest exchange would also offer a SIM-only deal that would offer far more data for far less money in the absence of a new device.

Citizens Advice specifically calls out EE, Vodafone and Three, implying O2 does a better job on this matter. It reckons these four million mugs are being overcharged, on average, by £22 per month, which seems about right. It also found that most of the time we’re paying more for the handset by getting it subsidised by the operator than if we just bought it on the open market, but there’s no surprise there.

“It is unacceptable that mobile providers are knowingly overcharging customers for phones they already own,” said Gillian Guy, Chief Exec of Citizens Advice. “We’ve heard a lot of talk from government and the regulator but now we need action. Other companies have already stopped doing this so we’re looking for these three major providers to follow suit. In the meantime, consumers should check their phone bills to see if they can save money with a SIM-only contract or upgrade to a new phone.”

Like most studies accusing utilities of ripping off their customers this ultimately comes down to telling them not to be lazy and check their contract every now and then. It’s not difficult to give yourself a reminder to renegotiate your contract when it expires so those who don’t should receive limited sympathy. On the other hand, from an industry that constantly wrings its hands about churn, this is hardly an example of customer service best practice.