Off with a bang

05 Feb 2007
00:00

2007 has barely begun, and we've already seen many of the year's likely big themes foreshadowed. For the terminal market, the major development is the iPhone. It's six months away from shipping, 12 months from Asian stores, and it lacks 3G connectivity, but its looks and fresh interface give it the ability to drive the high-end market.

For sure, it's never going to take a big share out of the mobile device market, but a billion handsets were shipped worldwide in 2006, and at $500-$600 per unit, even just 1% market share makes for a nice chunk of change.

Nokia and Motorola should be a little worried. Not just at the bottom line impact, but that they are going to have to share the mantle of industry leadership with a newcomer.

Meanwhile, the tilt at Pacific Internet by Asia Netcom's parents reminds us of the growing role of private equity in telecoms.

Takeover targets

Ashmore, Spinnaker and Clearwater, three funds that combined to acquire ANC last year, have made a $138 million bid for the Singapore-based regional ISP through their vehicle Connect Holdings.
Expect to see more of those.

Remember it was Macquarie Bank, later joined by TPG Newbridge, whose bid for PCCW put the Hong Kong telco into play. They were unsuccessful, you will recall, for political not financial reasons. In the current climate, we can expect more of those.

The role of hedge funds is already an issue of concern to financial regulators, given the massive size of the funds and their gearing.

Of course telcos fear that private funds will slash, burn and asset-strip.
They might do that, but they might also inject some value into stocks that have been underperforming in the market ramp-up of the last three years.
Service providers could just benefit from the aggression and fresh thinking that private equity can bring. A lot of fund managers seem to think so.

The next straw in the 2007 wind was the complaint from US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez that China is delaying 3G in order to give a leg-up to its homegrown standard.

Whether that's true or not, it matters not. The US is growing impatient at China's foot-dragging on 3G and is signaling the issue will go on the table at the next round of trade talks in the absence of any China response.

However, we can be confident that after so many years of missed expectations, '07 will be the year of 3G in China.

That's simply because this is the last chance to ensure 3G services are available to visitors to the Beijing Olympics in September next year. That might not be considered reason enough elsewhere, but it is in China, which is nothing if not focused on the Games.

As to how licenses will be issued, or to whom, it's unlikely that no one, even Beijing, knows right now.

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