Yesterday, I listened in to my friend Benoit Felten's excellent Yankee Group webinar "Fiber to the Home: Making that Business Model Work." Benoit and his colleagues built a high-level, generic model in order to flex the key assumptions (passive connection cost per home, customer uptake, cash margin per customer, ARPU) of the business case and test the impacts on payback periods. Consistent with other business cases I have seen, they found that the greatest sensitivities around payback period were initial passive connection cost and customer uptake levels.
They were up front about the fact that each project will inevitably have unique variables (soil quality/terrain, population density, ratio of MDUs, consumer purchasing power, etc.) which would influence each of the inputs, and consequently payback periods. Which is an obvious and essential point to stress. It's annoying to see sweeping generalizations in the media about the "huge cost" of fiber deployment, because each city, each street, each building, will present its own unique set of challenges and opportunities. In some situations it will make for a robust business case, in others payback will be a long time coming. Them's the breaks - it's physical infrastructure, like it or lump it.
Anyway, it was a good webinar, and I particularly like Benoit's emphasis on wholesale access to third parties. If you're an altnet trying to generate a return on a fiber deployment, and you can only achieve 30% initial uptake on your own retail services, why not open up to third parties? You generate additional revenue and margins in the early days, and if your customer satisfaction levels are superior, you will attract churning customers from the third parties in the long run. Let your wholesale customers do the hard work of converting and educating more risk-averse customers, and then win in the end through being better at customer service. I think it's an idea worthy of investigation, but we haven't seen any examples thus far.
At the more granular end of fiber network planning, my friend Kai Seim in Germany, who can tell you in a heartbeat how the cost per meter to trench fiber can change from one soil type to another (it's infrastructure - the physical world really matters), has published a great study on fiber activities in the German market, which you can purchase here for the nominal fee of €49.90. I have read it, and it's worth every eurocent.
And if you're feeling really gluttonous for market data, check out the OPTA analyst meeting presentation from Monday.
Elsewhere, France Telecom has been busy, joining the refinancing rush, conserving cash through a voluntary partial scrip dividend (I think dividend yields are generally overhyped - if you have genuine conviction on the company's strategy, you should be happy to add more equity exposure rather than suck out more cash during constrained times), and stamping its feet over ARCEP's ruling of last week. I shrug Gallically. Also check out this new presentation from FT on LTE - which once again underlines the backhaul timebomb.
The refinancing stampede continues unabated, with the market more than happy to take part. Word on the street is that Wind's €2.7bn issue is heavily oversubscribed, and SES Global's €650m deal was 5.8x oversubscribed. So much for cash sitting on the sidelines.
Long overdue consolidation in Germany seems to finally be materializing. United Internet/Freenet has been passed by the Cartel Office, the Hansenet auction seems to be moving toward conclusion, and today the FTD reports KDG is interested in another chunk of Orion.
Lastly, and on a down note, I checked out last week's report from Transparency International on corporate anti-corruption practices, and sadly telecom doesn't rank very highly.