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Eurobites: Activist Investor Elliott Stirs Things Up at Vodafone

Also in today's EMEA regional roundup: big business wants an earlier copper switch-off in UK; Deutsche Telekom's pre-paid IoT offer; KPN invests in cybersecurity startup.

  • Financial website DealReporter recently reported that activist investor Elliott Advisors -- which has already made its presence felt at Telecom Italia (TIM) -- has taken a stake in Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) and will push for a shake-up at the mobile giant. This comes at a time when the Vodafone CEO role is transitioning from long-standing boss Vittorio Colao to his finance chief, Nick Read, and as regulatory clearance for the acquisition of several European cable businesses from Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) is still pending. According to Bloomberg, Elliott might seek to persuade Vodafone to sell off mobile towers, pull out of the Liberty deal and instead buy back shares, sell businesses in peripheral countries, and cut back on its fiber deployment plans.

    Heavy Reading senior analyst James Crawshaw is unconvinced: "I don't think selling mobile towers adds a huge amount of value. You reduce the debt but then have an ongoing lease commitment so financially you are back to square one. Cutting back on fiber deployment and buying wholesale capacity instead might make sense but why would Elliott have a better understanding of the economics than Vodafone?" (See Telecom Italia Molders as Shareholders Feud.)

  • The Institute of Directors, an influential lobbying group that campaigns for the interests of big business in the UK, has called on the British government to set a firm date for the switch-off of the country's copper network in order to accelerate a universal fiber rollout. Last week, in its Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, the government proposed the switchover could be "underway in the majority of the country by 2030," but the IoD is urging them to be more ambitious, and is recommending the switchover takes "as soon as possible after 2025." According to a poll the IoD conducted of 700 of its members, the biggest benefit of improved broadband for the business community would be the opportunity it would give to employees to work more flexibly, though it would also, the IoD argues, allow companies themselves to become more agile, using and offering more cloud-based services. (See Eurobites: UK Fine-Tunes Its Full-Fiber Future.)

  • Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) has teamed up with Internet of Things specialist 1NCE to offer business customers pre-paid SIM cards loaded with a data volume of 500MB and 250 SMS messages and intended to cover the entire lifetime of connected devices operating in the IoT environment. If the data volume is used up before the end of the device's lifetime, the customer can top up with additional data packages. The deal also allows the customer to use 1NCE's cloud platform for managing active SIM cards.

  • The investment fund arm of KPN Telecom NV (NYSE: KPN) has participated as lead investor in the $3.5 million "seed" round of ZecOps, a cybersecurity startup based in San Francisco and Tel Aviv that focuses on automated threat analysis. According to its backers, ZecOps' software "learns from attackers' mistakes" in order to "burn the threat actors' exploits." Is it just us, or is all this sounding a bit Die Hard?

  • And on the subject of embryonic companies: UK data management startup Hazy has announced that it has received an additional $1.8 million of seed funding in a round led by the UCL Technology Fund, alongside Nationwide Building Society, Pentland, Amadeus Capital Partners, AI Seed and others. By the way, the folk at Hazy believe that "data is the new fur." You probably had to be there.

    — Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, Light Reading

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