Verizon on M&A: Who Needs a Cableco?
Despite rampant speculation that Verizon could team up with a cable operator to improve its wireline footprint across the US, company executives are now hinting broadly that such a deal -- specifically for cable's fiber assets -- is unlikely.
As CFO Matt Ellis explains it, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) remains keen on building out the reach and capacity of its fiber network. Hence the reason the telco acquired XO with its fiber rings in 45 of the top metro areas around the US, and why the company made a deal with Corning Inc. (NYSE: GLW) to spend $1.5 billion on optical equipment over the next three years. (See Verizon's Fiber Spend Won't End With Corning.)
However, Ellis clarifies that Verizon is only interested in M&A transactions if they accelerate the company's growth opportunity and add more value than an in-house alternative. And on the fiber front, cable doesn't meet those criteria. Specifically, Ellis says that there's a lot of fiber already deployed in the US, but it's not the quality of fiber that Verizon is seeking.
"We haven't seen anyone that's got the network architecture we're looking for," says Ellis, who spoke this morning at MoffettNathanson's 4th Annual Media & Communications Summit.
The statement is similar to something CEO Lowell McAdam said last month, but McAdam then complicated matters by also saying he'd be willing to talk to Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) CEO Brian Roberts about a deal if he came knocking. (See Verizon CEO Comments Feed Merger Frenzy.)
The reason Ellis says that Verizon isn't interested in any fiber infrastructure it's seen is because the operator wants to differentiate based on the quality of its network. That's why, he adds, Verizon sold off a chunk of copper infrastructure (with Fios fiber as well) to Frontier Communications Corp. (NYSE: FTR) in 2016, and why the company is talking about deploying an almost unheard of 1,700 strands per fiber cable in its Boston buildout.
Ellis also emphasizes that Verizon sees Boston as a blueprint for fiber deployments in other areas, suggesting that the company may pursue similar One Fiber initiatives elsewhere. In essence, Verizon is looking at dense, high-capacity fiber buildouts that can be used to support a variety of applications, from business services to IoT to 5G wireless. (See Verizon Hails Boston Fios Launch but Eyes 5G and Verizon's Boston Smart Cities Pilot Begins.)
The big question, as far as fiber is concerned, is where Fios fits into Verizon's current strategy. Ellis is less enthusiastic when talking about Fios than other fiber projects, but he does still insist that Fios "is a great business." He also makes a point to talk about the importance of residential broadband, although whether that service for Verizon will look more like Fios in the future or a fixed wireless alternative remains to be seen.
Back at Mobile World Congress in February, Verizon showed off an all-IP version of its Fios TV service, which could be delivered over a fiber-to-the-home network, or, presumably, over high-capacity fixed wireless infrastructure. It may be that the next generation of Fios fits in more with a Boston-like, advanced wireless deployment supported by dense metro fiber than it does with the FTTH model Verizon first heralded more than a decade ago. (See This Is the New Fios TV From Verizon.)
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading