Thursday, February 05, 2015

So BT have finalised a deal for EE

We woke this morning to the news that BT had agreed terms to acquire EE.  I have to say that if feels that I am in some strange fantasy world rather than one that understands the massive risk such a deal is.

Those that make a living as public analysts have all been very quick to jump on the bandwagon that this is wonderful news.  I feel somewhat differently.

If I were a shareholder in Orange I have to ask just how owning shares in BT is going to fund purchases in France aimed at consolidation?  It is also difficult to see how DT can say it got a fair price for finally exiting the UK mobile market (they bought One-2-One for £8.4bn).

But lets look at just what BT have bought and how they are unlikely to be able to execute an strategy that offers a return on the investment.

BT back in the retail game.

Part of the "prize" for BT is the fact that they will take over the stores of EE and thus have a presence on the High Street through which they can upsell other services.  BT used to have retail stores that they closed because they could not make them work.  I do not think that they have significantly changed so that they can offer a presence where you can talk people into Quad play services. If they can sell Quad play then it will be on the basis of discounting rather than quality.  

What can BT do will all the 4G Spectrum?

In the 4G auctions BT purchased spectrum that it was going to used for fixed mobile services and now has spectrum refarmed and purchase by EE.  The regulator will have demands about forfeiture of some of the Spectrum. Whilst divisions other than BT Retail will have requirements for Mobile Spectrum of its own, can these be met by the new holding?

BT's ability to invest in Fibre

If BT can find the money to buy a Mobile asset then why can't it find the money to better roll out Fibre Broadband, is likely to be the simplistic view of politicians.  Thus demand that BT deals speedily in building out Fibre to the 50% of households not covered by Virgin's footprint will increase.  Alongside the calls for faster upgrades to the Fibre estate will be demands that they wholesale access prices fall.

Talent blackhole when it comes to Mobile

BT does not have the Executive experience required to manage a Mobile Operation and the Management at EE is unlikely to want to work for BT.  This means that once the deal closes they will face a mass exit of know how just at a time that they need to up skill. If they wish to stop that then they will be over paying, if they don't then they will discover just how complex managing the build and maintenance of a Mobile Network is.

Everything just got a lot more expensive for BT

Anyone with something to sell to BT has just seen that they are happy to pay top prices.  So in order to close any significant move they will discover that the price has just risen by 15-20%.  If they can spend £12.5bn for EE they must have the money for ...

BT Executives are in my experience very far from reality.  They might feel that they are offering the consumer an enhanced product range that they should be happy to pay for.  The reality is that for the last fifteen years telecommunications has been a commodity that the user demands at an ever decreasing price.  Look at the UK retail space and you see a blood bath, experienced hands like Tesco, M&S and Topshop are hurting an BT thinks that they can be successful. BT adverts for Broadband services may win awards and get people talking but they do not seem to get people signing up for service.  If you pay out £12.5bn how long can you offer BT Sport free of charge to your Consumers? What will the price be and how many will pay it?

Rather than telling the CEO and Chairman that they have struck an excellent deal if I would a significant shareholder I would be selling off my holding as it is unlikely that I will see an increase in dividends from helping Germany and France exit the UK Mobile market.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

More thoughts on the BT purchase of EE

Reading today's Telegraph I start to see analysis that BT returning to the Mobile Market might not be a great idea. Whilst this is a start I don't think that it highlights the problems such a deal presents to BT.

The investment that in buying EE BT is making is 3 times that they have made in Superfast Broadband AND Sport.  This is just the table stakes, having joined the Mobile poker table they will have to double down if they are to fulfil the terms of the 4G Spectrum Licience.  This is at a time when the sector is shrinking rather than growing.

The way that EE was formed has seen the culture of the business very much free of Civil Servant style management, something very different to BT.  Thus in buying a Mobile Network will the Executives be brave and allow it to stand alone, would they be allowed to by the Regulators?  If they place the mobile unit as a subsidiary of BT Retail I predict that many of the members of staff that make the business work will exit in frustration if they can be persuaded to join in the first place. Most are likely to seek redundancy before the transaction closes.

In Gavin Patterson BT have a CEO who is all about Marketing with little understanding of Engineering.  This could well be a problem when it comes to developing products that utilise the new Mobile Asset.  At this moment in time BT are building three 4G core networks for use by customers in the UK thanks to the structure placed upon it by Regulation. These networks will be used to deliver different products none of which have a proven demand.  The last time BT owned both fixed and mobile assets it saw potential for converged mobile phones and invested heavily in projects such as the BT Bluephone which were commercial flops. I fear that they did not learn for such follies and will once again squander millions that could be spent upgrading fixed networks or boosting the income of sportsmen and women.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

BT buying a mobile network

Yesterday The Sunday Times ran another story on BT buying a Mobile Network for £10bn.  The story outlined the options faced by the CEO and his team without asking the questions a shareholder might want answered.

If the Mobile sector offers such riches to BT why are the two largest Networks prepared to pull up sticks and exit the market?

How do the Customers of EE or O2 overlap with those of BT and are they likely to remain given a change of ownership?

If BT were to buy either Network what will be the response of OFCOM when it comes to regulation?

After 14 years not managing Mobile Infrastructure Assets does BT have the Management expertise needed to make a return on the Investment given the vast changes over that period?

On the basis of just these questions then the rational response is thanks for the opportunity but I think BT is better served NOT doing the deal. Those likely to benefit from any deal in the short term will be Investment Bankers, Lawyers and Accountants who will be able to charge large fees for the transaction.  In the medium term the beneficiaries are likely to be the rivals of BT.

If the deal were to work for BT it would have to be able to convince the Consumer that buying all your connectivity requirements from a single provider is worth paying a premium for rather than a discount. It would need to hire Executives capable of building and running Mobile Networks and then given them the space and power to do so rather than hamstringing them as a subsidiary of an Operating Unit. Whilst spending vast sums on Marketing and Engineering in the Mobile Business it would need to also do so in the Fixed Business or face Investigation and Sanctions by OFCOM and Politicians.  These challenges are greater than those faced by the Board in the era when failure saw the sale of Cellnet.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Will Apple's iWatch be your friend?

Have been thinking about wearables since GSMA World in Barcelona this February and with the launch of Apple's iWatch I have started to formalise my opinions.

Setting aside the questions of does the device look suitable to take a place on my wrist the biggest question is what does an iWatch offer that I don't get from my handset?

The majority of Optimists tell me that if offers the opportunity to open a wide range of health benefits thanks to the App developer ecosytem taking the lifeloging data and improving what I do day to day.  I have looked at eHealth for quite some time and on the whole the processes that have been designed to make medicine better via technology have failed because of the silo nature of the stake holders. What has happened is that the increased data available has been used by the Insurance industry to raise premiums and or decline treatments.

Given what we have seen about breaches in data security by technology firms I do not hold out any hope that my data in anonymised given that the registration/purchasing functions used by Apple. Given that my working life requires long periods sat down and limited opportunities to exercise it would not be a surprise if the Actuary placed me in a high risk group and incentivised changes by financial penalties. Why should I make it easy for them by fitting a monitoring device that records how poor my time is used when it comes to health?

If I want to improve I think that I would invest in a Polar HRM system for the periods of the week when I am active and record the results in a Notebook rather than online rather than strap on an iWatch and give away health data.        

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Time for the Mobile Networks to change their Business Model?

Here in the UK we are starting to see increased take up of 4G services and as a result the Mobile Networks are looking to tweak their relationship with the consumer.

Over the past few weeks I have received a number of text messages telling offering me various offers.    None of these offers are of any interest to me and I am now concerned that my Network Provider now feels that it is entitled to SPAM me.  I have "opted out" of such marketing however it seems to take 5 days for my request to be acted on.  Having opted out will my number now be sold to third parties to try there luck directly with me.

I have stopped taking calls from Private Numbers and those that are not in my address book because of nuisance callers prospecting for claims firms. It has resulted in less minutes of voice use.  I fear that the actions of my Mobile Network could now result in a situation that I start to look at a way to remove messaging.

I am paying at the top end of the tariff structure and think that such charge should entitle me to be left alone by my Mobile Network when it comes to marketing of third party offers.

They are attempting a number of new services, for example they now offer the chance to jump the que on calls to the contact centre for a fee.

What I would like is the ability to make a quality voice call that does not drop out and be capable of using the 4G data connection more than I am using WiFi.  Lets face it despite a relationship that is over ten years old my Mobile Network knows very little about me, it does not seem to be interested in retaining information I do share with them, so what makes them think that it is capable of selling things to me that are from others?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

European M&A rumours....

Here is the text from an email I got today....

Posted: 12 Jun 2014 02:35 AM PDT
Does anybody else find it a bit odd that today's media coverage of the failed merger talks between Orange and Bouygues Telecom pretty much all fail to mention the bigger industry tale that has been rattling around European markets all week - the talk of a EURO 90 billion merger between Deutsche Telekom and Orange.

I know this one has been knocking around for the last few days and a bit of an 'old chestnut' of a deal story. But this time I think there may be something in it, so it's worthwhile a mention on Betaville this morning.

Indeed, Gary Parkinson, the market reporter over at the The Times, tweeted on Monday he had been hearing rumours Deutsche Telekom is preparing a takeover bid for France's Orange. And on Tuesday Bryce Elder and Paul Murphy over FT Alphaville said on their execellent Markets Live show they have heard similar things but people close the situation have been playing the gossip down.

Well, I hear that several investment banks have lined up on either side of this potential EURO 90 billion combination, adding credence to the scuttlebutt.

Deutsche Bank, Bank of American Merrill Lynch and Citigroup are said to be working with Deutsche Telekom on the possible merger. Orange is believed to be working with Credit Suisse, Lazard and Credit Agricole.

Rothschild is likely to advise the French government, which owns 27pc of Orange, on any merger deal although the venerable corporate adviser was mandated to work with Bouygues Telecom on its EURO 6 billion sale talks to Orange, whose shares fell yesterday about 4pc.

Anyway, that's the extra detail I have managed to glean from my sources. The idea of Deutsche Telekom and Orange combining has been around for several years (the two companies have already merged their British businesses into EE) but my sources tell me things are now "hotting up".

In part, this is because Deutsche Telekom is close to securing a deal to sell its 67pc stake in T-Mobile USA to Sprint, which is controlled by Japan's Softbank. Here is a link to last week's report on the matter:

Some of my sources reckon Deutsche Telekom will secure an upfront cash break fee payment of over EURO 1 billion from Sprint as it will take a long time for the US regulators to clear the sale.

Any deal between Deutsche Telekom and Orange is likely to see the German company pay for the French business using its own stock and a little bit of cash, claimed one source.

Bankers also tell me there is a political will to see both Deutsche Telekom and Orange come together to create a European telecoms champion that will be able to compete on a global stage. The German government owns 14.5pc of Deutsche Telekom and France has a 27pc stake in Orange.

I have to admit, though, I don't know whether this deal is just a glint in Deutsche Telekom's eye or whether talks - albeit informal, early or late stage - are "live". Market participants can make their own mind up what price Deutsche Telekom will/would have to pay for Orange

Deutsche Telekom and Orange both declined to comment although people close to the latter said there is "no project" being worked on.

The sender is a journalist.

I think that it is highly unlikely that any such deal will happen as the French are unlikely to accept the sale of Orange to the Germans.  If the deal was to happen I think that the EU regulators would have a serious look at what measures would be needed to make sure that wholesale access were fair and open to all as well as price regulations.  I cannot see where the New Co can make savings aimed at making the deal work medium to long term.

Whilst many Bankers are running models for consolidation I think that politics and personalities will make any such transactions limited to smaller markets or lesser players rather than former State Operators taking one another out.  That said I would welcome either DT or Orange buying BT.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

So where are we going in Mobile?

I look at the mobile ecosystem in Europe and fear that rather than making progress it is regressing, people are not innovating rather they are controlling costs in order to offer some kind of financial return for the shareholders.

Back in 2008 the former Strategy Director of Orange and I were telling everyone that if the Mobile Networks were to have a future as well as building out networks they needed to invest in improving Voice services or they would end up hollowing out the core business. Well I guess they were not listening.  My own family fear making telephone calls on the basis that they are too expensive regardless of the fact that I have told them that the tariff they are on means that they have unlimited to calls to fixed and mobile numbers in the UK. Asked to say how much a call costs they appear like a Government Politician asked the price of a pint of milk and a loaf of bread.

Meeting with others involved in Futurology and they have moved on from evangelising Apps to now push the rise of Wearables/Internet of Things/Big Data.  I am reminded of the Early Days of Imagineering at Orange  where they worked with Charles Church and Microsoft to build a House of the Future in Commuter Belt Hertfordshire.  People were asked to come and live in the house and then observed in an effort to understand what was possible and what was not.  The biggest issue I have with the Automation of the House is just how do we propose to install the technology into the millions of houses that we have already built because at 150-200K new homes a year it's going to take a very long time before the market is of significant scale without such.  I look outside my window at home and less than one in fifty houses where I live have a solar panel despite financial incentives. I know that I am due another round of renovations as it has been nearly ten years since I replaced the bathrooms and lighting. But I don't think that many others would say right now is the time to invest in enabling my house to be run by the Internet.

If I were to make the investment in enabling my house to be part of the next wave of technology what guarantee do I have that I have invested in the VHS solution rather than Betamax?  Worse still will my investment be that of MiniDisk proportions and in a few short months the novelty of the new has faded and I no longer wish to use Nest to control my heating system or who ever supplies my lighting system.  Worse still now will my connect fridge work if I persist in shopping at the Farmers Market rather than Whole Food Market? My artisan Butcher, Baker, Brewer and Cheese maker will not sully their products with smart tags and life is too short for me to inventory everything that comes into the house.

The fate of Nike's Fuel Band is something we can expect to see with Google's Glass and an number of current trendy fitness bands. Am I going to have another shoe box of tech junk that will only be fit for my own personal technology museum because they were once mass market and are now obsolete?

Perhaps now is the moment for the Mobile Networks to take greater control of there assets and whilst installing 4G technologies also adapt the API's that are used by Internet Firms to enable Apps and Internet of Things?  In doing so they can once again price the value of connectivity this time using terms such as Quality of Service, Security and Enhanced Bandwidth to get extra payment above that of basic utility prices.

We are at the very early stages of 4G in Europe, it will be another 2-3 years before the service is deployed to cover the majority of the Landmass in most countries and then the speeds available will slowly be increased and new services/businesses will come to the fore.  I do not expect that the companies that will dominate 4G are know yet just as Apple, Android and Apps were not on the tip of everyones tongue in 2003.