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.

Tele2 claims eSIM first in partnership with Microsoft

Sweden’s mobile operator Tele2 announced it will collaborate with Microsoft to enable eSIM on Windows 10 based devices.

A Mobile Plans application will be preloaded on Windows 10 devices coming with embedded SIM, eSIM, chips, e.g. laptops or tablets. When activated, users can take their devices out of Wi-Fi or fixed internet environment and remain connected through Tele2’s mobile network.

eSIM, has been controversial when it comes to mobile operator acceptance. This is chiefly down to the fear that the operators feel they will lose control over and the direct relations with their customers as they do now with the physical SIM cards. By definition, eSIM users can switch operators remotely without visiting a retail shop. In this particular case though, because Tele2 is the first operator to offer eSIM service in Sweden, the concern for churn is mitigated, at least until its competitors follow suit.

This deal can bring multiple benefits. For Tele2, this opens a new revenue stream to mobile broadband, in addition to enhancing its reputation as an innovator. However, we believe the offer in its current form is more a symbolic move than substantial business opportunity.

To start with, consumer PC usage is declining, and not many models are being shipped with eSIM capability. (A quick search for eSIM enabled devices on the homepage of Sweden’s leading electronics store Elgiganten does not return many results.) When PCs are being used, they are mainly in indoor environment where more often than not there is already either a Wi-Fi or a fixed connection in place, and, ironically, where cellular coverage is normally inferior.

In outdoor uses cases, which predominantly are for tablets (and much larger number of smartphones), iOS and Android tablets outsell Windows based tablets (Microsoft’s Surface series and a few 2-1 models primarily made by Lenovo) by a big margin, making the addressable market for this deal very limited.

However this will be a useful test for Tele2 to gauge consumer use patterns, before it expands into the more mainstream iOS and Android segments. Maybe more importantly, it will also serve as a testbed of the technology for the more lucrative corporate market, where PCs are still widely used, without frustrating the corporate IT departments with immature products.

For Microsoft, this is a good (re-)entry point to the mobile market, after its ill-fated venture into smartphones through the partnership, then acquisition, of Nokia’s mobile device business.

Multiplay time in Sweden as Tele2 buys Com Hem for $3.3 billion

The global trend towards consolation across telecoms, and content has reached Sweden with the acquisition of cable player Com Hem by operator group Tele2 for $3.3 billion.

The general theory behind multiplay is for a company to try to become a one-stop-shop for all a customer’s communications needs, which includes the internet and content streamed from it. Despite the fact that many big bets on content from the likes of BT have yet to deliver much return, operators don’t seem to have a plan B so are still doubling down on consolidation.

There’s a whole bunch of detail about the structure of the acquisition, who gets what equity, etc, but frankly it’s just too boring to detail. The price premium paid is only around 12% and the resulting company will be run by current Com Hem CEO Anders Nilsson, with Tele2 CEO Allison Kirkby calling it a day.

“We are delighted to have reached agreement to combine two great Nordic companies to create a leading integrated connectivity provider in the Swedish market,” said Tele2 Chairman Mike Parton. “Allison Kirkby has led Tele2 through a challenging period with great energy and commitment. We as a Board would like to thank her for everything she has done for the Tele2 group and especially for her pivotal role in laying solid foundations from which Enlarged Tele2 can prosper.

“In this exciting new chapter for Tele2, the Board would like to welcome Anders Nilsson as the incoming CEO at completion. His broad and deep operational experience in the Nordic media and connectivity market makes him extremely well suited to lead Tele2 to drive integration and delivery of the significant value creation potential that this transaction enables.”

“Merging is the best possible next step for both companies as it will enable us to meet the demands of tomorrow and unleash the power for the best possible digital quality of life in Sweden,” said Nilsson. “The combined company will be very well-positioned for the future to meet the expectations of our shareholders, customers and employees.”

“Enlarged Tele2 will be able to provide a wide range of complementary connectivity and digital services; a base that makes us well positioned to act as a customer champion in an increasingly integrated world,” said Kirkby. “I am confident that, at completion, I will hand over a company in very good shape and with Anders Nilsson and the current Tele2 management team leading the organization, it is in great hands to be even more successful going forward.”

There you have it. The driver of this deal is investment company Kinnevik and the underlying strategy is to make the most effective competitor for Telia. For the benefit of other investors the companies have to tick various boxes such as synergy and scale but at the end of the day prevailing sentiment in telecoms seems to be consolidate or die.

Rare European telco consolidation as T-Mobile Netherlands moves to acquire Tele2

T-Mobile Netherlands is bidding €190 million plus a quarter of the combined company to buy rival Tele2.

While this is an interesting piece of potential disruption in the Dutch market, the real intrigue lies in the position this puts European competition authorities in. According to Ovum’s WCIS service KPN is the dominant Dutch operator with a 55% subscriber share. Vodafone is second with 22%, then comes T-Mobile with 17% and Tele2 with 5%.

Combining the latter two would still only achieve parity with Vodafone and be miles short of KPN, so it’s hard to see what possible objections there can be to this deal on competition grounds. But Eurocrats have consistently shown themselves to be almost religiously inclined towards maintaining the number of operator players in a given market at four, so they’re left with a bit of a dilemma over this one.

As you would expect T-Mobile is acutely aware of this regulatory dogma and is wasting no time in telling anyone who will listen how uncompetitive the Dutch market is and thus, by extension, what a great idea this acquisition is.

“I would like to congratulate all our customers and all others who are looking for attractive alternatives,” said Søren Abildgaard, CEO of T-Mobile. “This combination means justice for customers. This duo has been getting away with this game for far too long and there was only one victim, namely the customer! No more. No longer. We will be able to compete against the duopoly much more efficiently and give all Dutch customers a fair choice. We are never going to stop breaking down barriers and will continue to challenge this industry in the years to come.”

Abildgaard seems to have been talking to his colleague in the US – John Legere – who has turned bombastic disruption into an art form over in the US, and he’s not the only one. “We’ve started our journey to disrupt the Dutch market and we will be creating a viable and strong attacker of the duopoly KPN and VodafoneZiggo.” said Thorsten Langheim, Head of the Group Development segment of Deutsche Telekom overseeing T-Mobile NL.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to speed up development of the Dutch telco market and to spur effective competition to the benefit of the Dutch population,” said Allison Kirkby, President and CEO of Tele2 AB. “I see this as a logical next step to become part of a stronger number three player that will benefit our customers, our shareholders and our employees.”

T-Mobile is hoping this deal will close on the second half of next year, but that seems optimistic on two counts. The first is the strong possibility that Europe will just say ‘four good, three bad’ and then stick it’s fingers in its ears. The second is that it will take a year just to start mulling the whole thing over because massive, publicly-funded lunches don’t eat themselves. Let’s see.