Also in today's EMEA regional roundup: Inwit deal completes; Elliott cuts stake in TIM; GSMA looking at virus-related data sharing?
Ericsson became the biggest supplier of radio access network (RAN) products to MTS after landing a new deal with the Russian operator, the Swedish vendor claimed today. According to its official statement, it has landed a contract for the "modernization" of 2G, 3G and 4G systems covering several thousand sites in central Russia. A spokesperson for Ericsson said the deal represented a "market share gain" without disclosing details. MTS representatives told Light Reading the operator, which maintains Russia's largest mobile network, continues to use Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia in roughly equal proportions. The latest deal with Ericsson is for an area home to about 40 million people, said the spokesperson. Ericsson is providing MTS with its Ericsson Radio System portfolio of products, which can be software-upgraded to support 5G services in future, it says. (See The Murky Status of Russian 5G.)
The coronavirus has prompted Ericsson to cut its forthcoming annual general meeting further down to size: No speeches by Ericsson execs will be given at the meeting and presentation of proposals will be kept to a minimum. Speeches will instead be pre-recorded and the plan is to make available at www.ericsson.com before the meeting, which takes place on March 31 in Kista.
Telecom Italia (TIM), Vodafone and Inwit have completed the merger of Vodafone Italy's towers into Inwit, the passive tower infrastructure arm of incumbent TIM. TIM and Vodafone will each retain a 37.5% stake in Inwit, but may reduce their respective ownership levels over time to a minimum of 25%. The deal, which has faced opposition from rival Iliad Italia, makes Inwit Italy's largest tower operator, and Europe's second-largest, after Cellnex. (See EC clears Inwit tower deal, Vodafone banks €2.14B cash windfall .)
In related matters, US-based activist hedge fund Elliott Management has cut its stake in TIM, from 9.72% to 6.97%, Reuters reports. An unnamed source cited by Reuters described the move as a "portfolio rebalancing". (See Elliott Ups Telecom Italia Stake as It Battles Vivendi for Control.)
A "senior official" at the GSM Association (GSMA) has been in talks with a company capable of tracking individuals' movements through their mobile devices as part of a potential plan to step up and coordinate the fight against COVID-19 through increased data sharing, according to a report in the Guardian. The GSMA, which lobbies on behalf of the mobile industry, denied that was specifically involved in such a project, saying only that "the GSMA and its members are doing everything they can to help the global fight against COVID-19." In some European countries, mobile operators already seem to be involved in similar activities: In Italy, for example, Vodafone appears to have already delivered "heat map" data to authorities in the virus-stricken region of Lombardy. (See COVID-19 stokes fear of the surveillance society.)
Mobile UK, an industry group comprising EE, O2, Three and Vodafone, has set up a website providing information that it hopes will be useful to their customers during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Among the measures the operators have taken is zero-rating any mobile data used in accessing National Health Service websites.
— Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, Light Reading