Take two: Oi Brasil again asks for help with money problems

Oi, described as the largest landline telephone operator in Brazil, has reportedly filed its second request for judicial recovery with the aim of protecting cash resources and avoiding bankruptcy.

On Thursday 2 February Oi and its subsidiaries Portugal Telecom International Finance and Oi Brasil Holdings Cooperatief apparently asked a business court in Rio de Janeiro for « urgent precautionary protection » to suspend some payments.

The order aims to suspend the enforceability of certain obligations and allow the company to continue negotiations with its creditors.

According to Brazilian press reports, the company’s request refers to “the unquestionable success of the first judicial reorganization ». This took place in 2016. However, the company also admits that its financial situation has worsened « due to various unpredictable and uncontrollable factors », which are not detailed in the request. Thus it is again resorting to judicial protection.

The company’s current debt is said to be 29 billion reais (about US$5.7 billion), of which a payment of 600 million reais is due this Sunday.

As we noted in December, although the obligations related to the original recovery plan were deemed by the Seventh Business Court of Rio de Janeiro to have been met, unpaid creditors will still be able to continue to make claims. Oi faced claims from some 65,000 creditors, and not all cases have been settled to date.

Oi has sold many of its assets, notably its mobile operations, a submarine cable company, a fibre optic company and thousands of fixed telephone towers, to deal with its debts. However, it seems as though it may still have some tricky debt management ahead.


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Nokia: The new Metaverse and our 2030 Vision

Viewpoint Article

By Azfar Aslam, Vice President & Chief Technology Officer, Europe at Nokia

For a long time, industries have been looking for ways to boost productivity, efficiency and resilience, with digitalisation becoming one of the central methods to achieve that. COVID-19 has allowed companies to accelerate their digital transformation journeys, opening up a myriad of opportunities many never thought possible before.

One path many have taken is the adoption of emerging Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as artificial intelligence (AI), edge cloud computing and SaaS models. Driven by trends such as environmental sustainability and cybersecurity, this move will allow for more innovative solutions to be born, and, fused with 5G networks, is set to add $8 trillion to the global GDP by 2030.

Whilst most digital industries such as online retail, media and banking have pivoted during COVID, more physical sectors such as manufacturing, healthcare, transportation and energy have only scratched the surface of the significant value that digitalisation can  generate in terms of increased safety, productivity and efficiency (SPE).

Luckily, the world is now approaching the ‘big inversion’ – a new ecosystem of 5G and key-related technologies such as edge cloud infrastructure, softwarisation, augmented intelligence/machine learning, as well as advanced sensors and robotics.  Infused with these capabilities that we refer to as 5G+, the Operational Technologies in physical and digital industries will find the necessary solutions to undergo the much needed digital transformation within the next ten years.

As a result, the need for digital skills of the future will become more critical, fuelled by the emerging technologies powering Web3, the cloud and perhaps one of the biggest ICT innovations of all, the Metaverse.

The rise of the Industrial and Enterprise Metaverse

Described as ‘the next evolution in social connection and the successor to the mobile internet’, the Metaverse’s focus to date has been on consumer-led experiences driven by brands’ engagement. However, the biggest and most impactful opportunities will come from other forms of this virtual and augmented environment: the Industrial and Enterprise Metaverse. It is these applications which will allow organisations to blur the lines between physical and digital environments and reshape the world –  referred to as ‘digital twins’.

In practice, this means that projects can take place virtually before being replicated in the real world. For example, using Augmented and Virtual Realities (AR/VR), employees at a factory will be able to design and test equipment before deploying it to a live production line, thus limiting risks and more precisely, predicting production volumes. The current use of 5G+ networks in certain industries is already a great testimony to the further benefits the Industrial and Enterprise Metaverse can bring.

We are already reaping rewards from digitalisation in several industries. An analysis of an iron ore mine in Australia showed that the use of private wireless networks instead of WiFi had seen a 20x reduction in wireless access points and a 4x reduction in the personnel required to maintain sites, bringing annual savings of €70 million. In another case, a farm in the Netherlands deployed a precision farming approach with 5G technologies where an application identified good crops from weeds and remotely triggered automatic spraying to eliminate the weeds. This resulted in a 6.7x increase in productivity, and if the same technology was applied to at least 15% of global farms, would lead to an increase in yields by up to 300 million tonnes and a reduction in water consumption by up to 150 billion cubic meters annually.

Further advancement of the Metaverse and the ability to initiate or replicate projects in the virtual environment will mean less time, lower costs and reduced risks. As mentioned by Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark at Brooklyn summit, take the Brooklyn Bridge as an example – it took 14 years to build, with at least 20 casualties back in the 19th century. If the construction took place today, the approach would be completely different.

Using 3D modelling in the virtual environment, engineers can design construction projects like bridges down to the smallest detail and plot their life cycles up to 100 years in the future. Using the bridge as an example, the Enterprise Metaverse allows project players to co-design and interact with the bridge no matter where they are, providing space for limitless collaboration. Similarly, the Industrial Metaverse allows for sections of the bridge to be prefabricated in factories using AI-powered systems, with production workers ‘operating’ machines through AR and VR tools. Moreover, once the bridge is built, applying sensors to every stress point allows authorities to monitor its condition in real-time and maintain it using drones and robotic technologies. The Brooklyn Bridge of the 21st century could be completed in less than a third of the time, with zero fatalities, and maintained without significant closures and disruption to traffic.

But it’s not just the construction industry that can benefit from the Metaverse. Break-through discoveries in medicine and science will happen at a quicker pace too, allowing for organisations and nations to come together to solve pressing world problems such as finding a cure for cancer or tackling the climate crisis: not just leveraging the power of today’s cloud, but realtime interactions with the genome or climate digital twins from anywhere in the world Clearly, the advantages are numerous. However, in order to allow for a fully immersive experience, there are a few other technology solutions that will need to catch up first.

The connectivity opportunities of the Metaverse

The Metaverse is accessed via smart devices and wearables, which require a high-speed, flexible and stable internet connection. To accommodate this, networks need to make significant advancements in latency, reliability and speed, including retiring or recycling legacy 2G and 3G networks and frequencies in favour of those focused on 5G and 6G.

As we enter a new era of unprecedented immersion and industrial digitalisation, there will be a new level of expectations set for network providers based on the reliability, ubiquity, security and sustainability of the networks they operate on. Whilst consumer adoption will come after several years, we are already seeing industrial and enterprise adoption taking place at a fast pace. To cite an example, IBM already has a digital twin exchange platform that allows organisations to purchase digital twins from their partners. With this in mind, there is a clear argument to move towards a standard of open accessibility for both established and emerging companies looking to improve and grow the potential of the Metaverse.

The launch of 6G networks will finally see the full fusion of our digital and physical lives, which will help companies build the underlying infrastructure of the Metaverse. The development of programmes such as Hexa-X-II, the second phase of European 6G flagship initiative led by the European Commission that will form the basis of 6G standardisation, will also allow organisations to come together and drive future developments in connectivity.

Collaboration is the key to success

The Metaverse economy is predicted to reach over $824 billion by 2030. Organisations investing in this technology now are the ones that will win the initial innovation race. However, the Metaverse can only achieve its full potential if organisations work together to create an open, secure, ecologically sustainable and all-inclusive environment that encourages innovation and translates into value for everyone involved. This will require heavy investment and technology adaptation, sophisticated content creation tools and large servers in order to maintain the stability of the system and create a truly immersive experience.

For this reason alone, the Metaverse can never be solely owned by one person or organisation, and initiatives such as the Metaverse Standards Forum should help drive industry standards of cooperation and openness. Long gone are the days when technology start-ups were able to break through and build their empires on their own. As we move from the 5G to the 6G era, digital transformation will take over every industry through technology collaborations and digital-physical fusion ecosystems.

By 2030, everything taking place in the digital world will affect the physical one and vice versa, and every physical object that can be linked to the digital world will be connected. Whilst many consumers will be looking at Metaverse as a new means to join communities and engaging activities, businesses and entire nations will be using the Industrial and Enterprise Metaverse to boost innovation, collaboration and economy, as well as to create safer and simpler ways of operating highly complex technologies. This is where the Metaverse really does become exciting.

Keep up with all the latest news and views from the telecoms sector with Total Telecom’s daily newsletter

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Airtel Africa records profit gain

Airtel Africa booked higher revenues and profits on the back of rising subscriber numbers and service uptake.

Profit after tax grew 1.7% to US$523 million, while revenue was up more significantly at 12.1% to US$3.9 billion. Revenue grew as the company reported growth across its units.

Mobile services grew across its 14 markets, with Nigeria, its largest market, seeing growth of 20.9%. Whereas East Africa experienced a rise of 11.9% and Francophone Africa by 11.8%. Breaking down mobile services, data revenue was the highest riser at 22.3% while voice services were up by 12.7%.  

The growth coincided with swelling subscriber numbers as the total customer base increased by 10.1% to 138.5 million across Airtel’s footprint. The customer base for data grew 13.6% while mobile money customer was up 22.2%.

CEO Segun Ogunsanya highlighted in a financial call today (Feb 2) the profile of Nigerian customers is shifting. Around 20% are on 4G, 15% use 3G, and the rest of the base is still using 2G phones. The chief executive said this leaves plenty of room for growth by transferring customers over to 4G to gain revenues from services such as mobile finance.

Capex in the last three quarters grew 5.8% to US$457 million, as the group acquired spectrum in Nigeria, DRC, Tanzania, Zambia and Kenya.

Ogunsanya said: “We will continue to invest in expanding our network and evolving our service offerings to further deepen both financial and digital inclusion across our markets. We have especially focused on enhancing our spectrum footprint across all our markets. Over the last nine months we have spent almost $490m on 4G and 5G spectrum across key markets to improve network capacity and quality, future-proof the company for continued growth opportunities and facilitate economic progress in all our markets.


Bullish Jansen questions need for choice

BT’s trading update for the nine months to 31 December 2022 showed a fall in revenues but a massive growth in profit in what the company described as ‘strong performance in tough market conditions.’

Neil Shah, Director of Content and Strategy at Edison Group, reaffirmed BT’s own statement saying “Today’s announcement from BT Group is a welcome one for investors and only just below market expectations. The company reiterated its full-year outlook, despite seeing third-quarter revenues slip by 3% to £5.2bn, with adjusted earnings rising 2% to £2.01bn.”

Post-tax profit grew 49 per cent to £1.3billion for the latter nine months of 2022. The strong performance was driven on one hand by the formation of a 50-50 JV with Warner Bros. Discovery, boosting the division’s underlying earnings by 15%, and on the other hand by the performance  of the group around fibre-to-the-premises customers.

It was the latter area that prompted Philip Jansen, Chief Executive, to say “On full fibre, we’re building – and now connecting – like fury: 9.6 million premises reached to date, with 29% already connected”.

More controversially he is quoted by the Financial Times as later saying “There is only going to be one national network,” and “Why do you need to have multiple providers?”

It is likely to be these latter comments that will likely draw ire from the likes of CityFibre and VirginMedia O2 as will Jansen’s comment that the market would ultimately be just a “couple of big players” a process that would “end in tears” for many of the other operators.

CityFibre’s CEO, Greg Mesch, in particular said publicly at Connected Britain in 2019 that “that no one operator can deliver on the UK’s fibre targets alone” and the company has just reported 2022 to be their most productive year ever, with the network footprint increasing 83%. However yesterday CityFibre showed its not all plain sailing, announcing a restructuring process that could result in up to 20% of their 2,000 strong workforce losing their jobs.

Greg Mesch stressed the need to take responsible financial and operational decisions saying, “The UK’s economy is struggling, and this is affecting both the market and our customers.”

How many operators can the UK market support? Join the debate around the rollout of fibre networks at our Connected North event in Manchester this April. Find out more here.

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Vodafone’s struggle continues as revenue dips in key markets


The operator’s latest results show service revenue down in Germany, Italy, and Spain, with the UK the company’s only major growth market

This week, beleaguered operator group Vodafone has announced its latest financial results, the first under the stewardship of interim CEO Margherita Della Valle.

As expected, they company continues to struggle in some of its largest markets, with revenues falling in Germany, Italy, and Spain by 1.8%, 8.7%, and 3.3%, respectively.

These three markets remain highly competitive, with Vodafone’s fibre business in Germany losing subscribers to rivals, and mobile price wars in Spain and Italy driving down revenues.

The UK was the only large market in which Vodafone’s service revenues had increased, rising 5.3%, largely as a result of inflation-linked price rises.

Vodafone is currently seeking to merge its UK operations with those of CK Hutchison’s Three UK, with Della Valle confirming that talks are ongoing between the two companies.

In total, these Q3 results showed total revenues of €11.64 billion, 0.4% lower than those reported for the same time last year.

Nonetheless, Della Valle said the company would not alter its forecasts for the year, still targeting full year EBITDA of €15–15.2 billion.

“Although we’re continuing to target our financial guidance for the year, the recent decline in revenue in Europe shows we can do better. We need to do more for our customers by delivering quality connectivity in an easy way,” said Vodafone’s interim CEO Margherita Della Valle.

Vodafone has been struggling to find growth for numerous years now, with key shareholders – notably activist investor Cevian capital –increasingly calling for an organisational shakeup.

Previous CEO Nick Read, who stepped down from the role after four years at the end of 2022, had long argued for market consolidation as the key to returning the organisation to growth, but very few deals at scale were ultimately struck during his tenure. Meanwhile, the company’s share value declined by around 40% during this period.

Della Valle took over as interim CEO at the start of this year, with the search for a permanent replacement still ongoing.

Now, Vodafone is pursuing a number of new strategies in order to reduce costs, having announced last year that it would seek to save €1 billion by 2026.

According to Della Valle, initiatives aimed at generating around €500 million in cost savings are already underway.

“We’ve already taken action, including simplifying our structure to give local markets full autonomy and accountability to make the best commercial decisions for their customers. In addition, we now have initiatives underway to generate around half of our €1 billion cost savings target. There is more to do and our focus is to provide a better service to our customers, become a simpler business and deliver growth,” said Della Valle.

It should be noted that this cost cutting plan includes the loss of at least several hundred jobs across the business, with the first batch of job cuts announced earlier this year. The company’s London office is expected to account for the lion’s share of the losses.

Vodafone is not alone in making job cuts in the UK, with BT also notably announcing a reduction in staff earlier this month.

Want to keep up to date with all of the latest changes in the UK telecoms sector? Join the ecosystem in discussion at this year’s live Connected North conference in Manchester

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