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Eurobites: 'Burner phone' allegations put the heat on Orange's Scheen

Also in today's EMEA regional roundup: Vivendi flexes muscles at Telecom Italia; Virgin Media O2's Q3; Vodafone and Microsoft combine on cloud services.

  • Text messages have emerged in a UK court case that suggest a top Orange executive tried to arrange a "burner phone" conversation with his then opposite number at Vodafone to secretly discuss a collective withdrawal of their products from Phones 4U, the retailer that collapsed in 2014. As the Daily Telegraph reports, Benoit Scheen, who in 2014 was in charge of Orange's European business outside France, allegedly approached Vodafone's Philip Humm via text to suggest a "'secured call' with both of us using a new prepaid number" to discuss the matter at hand. In the end, Humm rebuffed Scheen's advances. The allegations have arisen in a case being brought by the administrators of Phones 4U, who are seeking damages of more than £1 billion (US$1.35 billion) over claims that the UK's mobile network operators illegally colluded to effectively force the retailer out of business by withdrawing their products from it.

  • French media giant Vivendi, which holds a 23.8% stake in Telecom Italia (TIM), is flexing its shareholder muscle and putting pressure on TIM CEO Luigi Gubitosi after two recent profit warnings at the Italian operator. That, at least, is the view of two unnamed sources cited by Reuters, which reports that Vivendi has managed to get TIM to agree to an extraordinary board meeting on November 11. (See TIM Q3 hit by worsening market conditions.)

  • Overall third-quarter revenue at Virgin Media O2 increased 0.7% year-on-year (though technically speaking the company has only been in existence for about half a year), to £2.6 billion ($3.5 billion), with mobile revenue was broadly flat at £1.46 billion ($1.97 billion), despite a 7.4% increase in handset revenue fueled by increased upgrade activity. On the fixed side there were more than 38,000 customer adds, taking the fixed-line base to 5.7 million. Going forward, Virgin Media O2 is pinning its hopes on its recent "Volt" rebrand, which uses a number of inducements to persuade customers to go down the heretofore not-that-popular bundle route. (See Virgin Media O2 sparks into converged life with Volt and Virgin Media and O2 merger cleared for take-off.)

  • Vodafone Business and Microsoft have agreed on a five-year partnership to offer cloud-based services to small and midsized business across Europe. In effect, this means that Vodafone's SMB customers will get access to Microsoft 365, Teams Phone System and Microsoft Azure, among other things. The first area of collaboration, however, centers on so-called "mixed reality," which looks to combine Vodafone's edge computing services with Microsoft's software and HoloLens 2 headset to help companies with their remote working and training processes.

  • Connected fridges, eh? Are they really worth the bother? Well, apparently yes, because the security unit of Dutch operator KPN is teaming up with Kiwa, a testing and certification company, to help manufacturers looking to have their IoT consumer electronics products independently assessed and verified against the ETSI EN 303 645 standard.

  • Third-quarter group EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) at South Africa's MTN rose by 24.1% year-on-year, as momentum grew in its major markets. Though group subscriber numbers rose slightly, to 271.9 million, growth was constrained by the introduction of SIM card registration regulations in Nigeria which have seen that operation lose 7.5 million users in the course of a year. Looking ahead, MTN has increased its guidance on capital expenditure to approximately 31.1 billion South African rand ($2.04 billion) for 2021 as it seeks to boost the capacity and resilience of its networks in South African and Nigeria.

    — Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, Light Reading

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