Vodafone Italia and TIM join the network sharing bonanza

Vodafone’s Italian business and Telecom Italia are the latest pair to join the sharing euphoria which seems to be sweeping the Vodafone group.

After network sharing agreements were signed in Spain with Orange and O2 in the UK, Vodafone has swept across to Italy to join forces with market leader, albeit a stressed business currently, Telecom Italia.

“This agreement will enable us to step up the rollout of 5G for the benefit of our customers and the community as a whole,” said Aldo Bisio, CEO of Vodafone Italia. “5G has a key role to play in modernising the country.

“It will provide the technology platform from which to launch innovative new services capable of making business models more efficient and improving productivity throughout the value chain, helping to build a more competitive digital economy. Network sharing reaps the benefits of 5G and at the same time reduces the impact on the environment and lowers rollout costs, allowing more investment in services for customer.”

This announcement actually has two components to it. Firstly, in pursuit of an accelerated 5G deployment plan, Vodafone Italia and TIM will enter into a network sharing partnership which will include active equipment. Secondly, the Vodafone passive tower business will be merged with INWIT, TIM’s own tower business.

Starting with the first component, once again Vodafone has decided to go down the route of sharing active equipment. This was the case when pooling resources in the UK with O2, though it is a slightly unusual approach as the only differentiator now is the spectrum which the duo has acquired individually. However, like the UK the larger cities will be excluded from the network sharing partnership.

Although sharing active equipment has been viewed as relatively unusual in the past, perhaps this is an indication of Vodafone’s position in both of these markets. In the UK, it is sitting firmly in third place in the market share rankings with a lot of ground to make up, while in Italy there are financial pressures thanks to the pricing disruption of Iliad. In both cases, Vodafone will welcome opportunities to free-up cash.

Using this approach, Vodafone suggests it will be able to free-up €800 million over the next 10 years which will certainly be useful for other R&D or reallocating for customer acquisition efforts.

The second aspect of this deal will see the Vodafone Italia tower business merge with TIM’s INWIT, with Vodafone taking a 37.5% and a lump sum of just over €2 billion. What we’re not too sure about is how this will impact the potential spin-off of Vodafone’s tower business in the future.

This was an announcement which got investors excited last week, as Group CEO Nick Read suggested monetizing the tower infrastructure business alongside declining revenues for the latest quarterly statement. This seemed to have forced a positive reaction from the market, though presumably any Italian assets would now have to be excluded from a European-scaled tower infrastructure business.

TIM and Vodafone Italia sign 5G network sharing pact

Competing Italian MNOs TIM and Vodafone Italia have decided it makes sense to pool their resources when it comes to 5G infrastructure.

Having blown their reserves on the recent 5G spectrum auction, the two have presumably spent the intervening time contemplating awkward concepts like return on investment. Rivals tend not to partner unless they’re so desperate for the return on such a move that it outweighs their instinctive aversion to cooperating with each other.

Hence they have signed one of those rather limp memoranda of understanding, that in this case is a public statement that they’re both up for active network sharing over 5G, but they can also bail out as and when they no longer fancy the idea. Active network sharing involves the actual kit, while passive just means sites, towers, etc.

They already have a passive sharing agreement in place for 4G and that has presumably gone smoothly. So TIM and Vodafone now reckon it may be time to take their relationship to the next level and get active with each other. The main focus of all this activity is 5G but they’re seriously considering extending that to 4G too.

“This partnership will allow our customers to enter the 5G revolution faster and deeper, while at the same time making the best use of both companies’ resources,” said TIM CEO Luigi Gubitosi. “We believe that network sharing is key to do more, effectively and better for the benefit of our clients and all stakeholders, in view of the process of change that will be triggered by the launch of 5G in the years to come and that will be paramount for the development and digitalization of our country.”

“This partnership will allow us to generate significant benefits for our customers and other stakeholders, who will be able to enjoy the best 5G experience, made available in a shorter period of time and across a wider geographical area,” said Aldo Bisio, CEO of Vodafone Italia. “5G represents a technological breakthrough that will have a profound impact on society, and that requires investment, efficiency and a rapid rollout. This has led us to broaden the scope of our existing successful partnership.”

They even have aggressive ambitions for the passive side of things and are contemplating combining the 22,000 towers they collectively own into one company. This wouldn’t be entirely straightforward as TIM’s tower division – Inwit – is partly independently listed so there will be extra scrutiny over the pros and cons of the move.

The announcement coincides with TIM’s full-year 2018 numbers and its announcement of a new cunning plan for the next three years. Revenue growth was flat and the plan is the usual corporate stuff about efficiencies, profit, etc. While partnerships like this have a distinctly defensive feel about them that doesn’t mean they’re a bad idea and if they’re shown to boost the bottom line then everyone’s a winner.