Mobile services

Eurobites: 'Uzbekgate' Costs VimpelCom $795M

Also in today's EMEA regional roundup: MTN shares plummet on results warning; 3 looks to block mobile ads; new wearables spec wins support.

  • Russia's VimpelCom Ltd. (NYSE: VIP) has been forced to pay $795 million in fines to US and Dutch authorities for bribing a government official in Uzbekistan to win licenses to operate there. But, as the Financial Times reports (subscription required), this was no faceless bureaucrat pocketing the filthy lucre, but Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the country's dictator. She and her accomplice relieved VimpelCom of $114 million before disappearing from view. Telenor Group (Nasdaq: TELN), which is trying to sell its 33% stake in VimpelCom, is understandably keen to disassociate itself from the Uzbek shenanigans, and has issued a statement condemning VimpelCom's actions. The scandal has already claimed the scalps of several executives at VimpelCom and Telenor, notably respective former CEOs Jo Lunder and Jon Fredrik Baksaas. (See Eurobites: 'Uzbekgate' Claims More Victims at Telenor, Eurobites: Ex-VimpelCom Boss Held Over Uzbek Deals and Eurobites: Norway Dumps Telenor Chairman.)

  • Shares in South Africa's MTN Group Ltd. fell almost 18% in early trading after the operator warned shareholders on Thursday that it expects annual earnings -- released on March 3 -- to be down by more than 20%, reports AFP. MTN is currently appealing against a $5.2 billion fine slapped on it by the Nigerian government for failing to disconnect unregistered SIM cards and thereby, it is claimed, helping criminal gangs evade capture. (See MTN to Challenge $3.9B Fine in Nigerian Court, Eurobites: Mega-Fine Topples MTN CEO and Eurobites: MTN Shares Suspended After $5.2B Fine.)

  • Three UK and 3 Italia , two European outposts of the Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. (Hong Kong: 0013; Pink Sheets: HUWHY) empire, are collaborating with Israel's Shine Technologies to make use of Shine's ad-blocking technologies in their networks. Details are sketchy at the moment, but the general idea is that, in the words of the press release, 3's users should "not to have their data experience in mobile degraded by excessive, intrusive, unwanted or irrelevant adverts." It is fair to say, however, that the advertising industry may not be impressed. (See Operators Should Block Ads to Get Their Cut, Startup Says .)

  • Several major EMEA operators, including Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, EE, Telefónica and Vodafone, have given their backing to a new "wearables" specification unveiled by the GSM Association (GSMA) that allows consumers to remotely activate the SIM embedded in a device such as a smart watch, fitness band or tablet. The new specification is the first fruit of the GSMA's industry-backed Consumer Remote SIM Provisioning initiative.

  • Banking giant HSBC is preparing to launch new voice-recognition technology for its UK telephone banking customers, reports the BBC. The voice biometrics technology is being supplied by Nuance Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NUAN).

  • The European Commission is set to give its unconditional approval to the proposed $67 billion takeover of EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) by Dell Technologies (Nasdaq: DELL), according to a Reuters report. The deal is expected to close around the middle of the year. (See Dell Buys EMC for $67B in Biggest Tech Deal Ever.)

  • A new report jointly produced by Telia Company and Arthur D. Little is predicting that there will be 150 million "connected and communicating things" in the Nordic countries by 2020 -- which equates to more than five connected devices per person.

    — Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, Light Reading

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