Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ever-changing landscape

It's getting challenging to keep up with the consolidation news and anticipate what it means and what's next. This morning Pipex does another deal to boost its subscriber base, adding in the process a retail distribution presence - a nice thing to have if you were, say, planning on using your 168MHz of WiMax spectrum to offer a "Mobile 2.0" service to the consumer market...

Across the Channel, a story is moving on Reuters newswire saying that Liberty Global has sold UPC France to Cinven and Altice for EUR1.25bn - don't know what's going on here, unless it's a tacit admission that DSL is simply too tough to compete with in the French market. UPC only took out Suez's 20% interest in Noos in July 2004, to gain 100% control, in a transaction which valued Noos at EUR615m. Where will the proceeds be redeployed? Liberty Global's last acquisition was Austrian DSL player Inode, so I guess anything is possible.

Lastly, in the wake of Telecom Italia's recent announcement that EUR1bn in disposals were on the cards for 2006, I have to wonder what's happening over in the Netherlands regarding bbned, TI's broadband property there. For one thing, it's a significant player in the DSL market, with 9% market share. For another, and more importantly, it's the network partner for the FTTH project in Amsterdam. KPN has been a consistent acquirer in the Dutch market, which helped take its national market share in broadband to 36% from 30% over the past year (retail DSL share I calculate at around 60%). I would therefore expect it to be in the running in any sale of bbned, though I wonder what the regulator makes of another 9% market share being concentrated with the incumbent. I also wonder about the politics involved in a change of control at bbned as it relates to Amsterdam's fiber plans - I assume all the contractual stuff is in place to protect the project, but how would all the parties reconcile what would obviously be a potentially very conflicted situation? And who gets involved if things go wrong - an existing market disruptor like Wanadoo, or a newcomer like Belgacom?

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