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Eurobites: Clouds Descend on Project Lightning

Paul Rainford

Also in today's EMEA regional roundup: MTN trials 4x4 MIMO; Telecom Italia concerned about its French connection; Ericsson lands Canadian IPTV deal; BT's bad month continues.

  • Project Lightning has brought stormy weather to Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq: VMED). The Financial Times reports (subscription required) that the UK cable operator has suspended four senior employees and launched an internal inquiry after they had been found guilty of misrepresenting the progress made on its Project Lightning fiber rollout in the company's fourth-quarter results statement in February. Virgin said that its network had grown to pass 215,000 UK homes in the three months to December 2016, but it turns out the actual figure is 86,000. (See Virgin Media Plots £3B Invasion of BT Turf.)

  • On less controversial ground, Virgin has expanded its relationship with Netcracker Technology Corp. by choosing the US vendor's revenue management offering in a multi-year deal.

  • South Africa's MTN Group Ltd. has completed a field trial of 4x4 MIMO technology on a live network with Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM). The trio claim that average download throughput increased by 74% compared to "traditional" LTE 2x2 MIMO and, based on that, MTN now plans to roll out South Africa's largest 4x4 MIMO network in 2017.

  • Telecom Italia (TIM) 's auditors have warned the operator that its main stakeholder, French media conglomerate Vivendi , is exerting undue influence on other board members at the Italian incumbent, Reuters reports. Vivendi's presence in Italy has been growing steadily of late -- it has also taken a major holding in broadcaster Mediaset S.p.A. .

  • Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) has landed an IPTV deal with SaskTel , an operator based in Saskatchewan, Canada. SaskTel will start to implement the MediaFirst offering this year, with plans to commercially launch its improved IPTV service in early 2018. The news comes a day after Ericsson announced its TV/media business is no longer part of its long-term plans. (See Sasktel Picks Ericsson for IPTV and Ericsson Tightens Focus, Warns of $1.7B Q1 Hit.)

  • Sky (NYSE, London: SKY), the UK-based pay-TV giant that has recently got into mobile, has launched what it says is a "radically new" approach to handset upgrades, at least by British standards. Under the Swap12 scheme, customers can trade in their handsets for a new model after a year without incurring any upgrade fees or admin charges. (Swap24 extends the same principle to two years.) For customers who would prefer to hang on to their old-faithful phone, Sky Mobile will reduce their monthly payments until the end of their contract.

  • The latest batch of complaints data from UK regulator Ofcom doesn't make pleasant reading for BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA). BT, currently bedeviled by various crises of its own making, tops the fourth-quarter complaints table in the broadband and pay-TV categories, while its "value" subsidiary, PlusNet plc , is attracting the most brickbats in landline. (See Eurobites: BT 'Fesses Up to Compensation-Fiddling on Ethernet Services.)

    — Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, Light Reading

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