Big Interview

iBasis brand to return under Pébereau’s control

Alexandre Pebereau Tofane iBasis.jpg

Tofane founder Alexandre Pébereau expects to complete the purchase of iBasis in the first full week of February. He tells Alan Burkitt-Gray of plans for a relaunch and integration with the former Altice wholesale operation

The new, expanded Tofane Global will make its first public appearances at Mobile World Congress and Capacity Middle East – as iBasis.

The company, which last year completed its purchase of Altice Europe’s wholesale business, will face the market under the long-established name of its second buy.

In mid-January Tofane’s founder and CEO, Alexandre Pébereau, was confident enough that his acquisition of iBasis from KPN that he was happy to give his first interview about the relaunch to Capacity for our February-March 2019 issue. [Update: the deal was completed on Friday 8 February.]

“We will keep the name iBasis but will refresh the brand. The market said iBasis has a long track record and the name is very strong in the carrier community. Everything will be under the name iBasis, for voice, for mobile and for IoT.”

The Tofane Global name will stay, but only as the holding company. “Tofane powers iBasis,” he says.

Pébereau, who was CEO of Orange International Carriers until 2016, announced the two planned acquisitions within days of each other in March 2018, first the whole of iBasis, KPN’s wholesale arm, and then the international wholesale activities of Altice Europe, the company that owns SFR in France, the former Portugal Telecom and a mobile business in the Dominican Republic.

“It’s one of the fastest acquisitions in this industry,” he says of the iBasis deal. “We have done it in less than 10 months.”

The two wholesale operations will be integrated, creating a company “with $1 billion in revenues, with 30.5 billion international minutes”, he adds. “We are the third largest wholesale voice carrier and in the top three for LTE IPX. We have more than 1,000 customers worldwide, with 300 employees, and 18 offices on four continents.”

Tofane’s next target: the international voice, data and mobile market, which Pébereau puts at more than $46 billion.

The wholesale operation acquired from Altice, in a deal that was completed in September 2018, already brings Tofane substantial business in the French and Portuguese-speaking world.

The pair of acquisitions has brought Tofane – or the new iBasis – strong relationships with KPN, the former owner of the old iBasis, and with Altice’s businesses, including SFR and the former Portugal Telecom, now Altice Portugal.

“We could be much stronger in French and Portuguese speaking markets, in north and west Africa, and in East Timor in Asia,” says Pébereau.

These areas are “very complementary to the iBasis footprint”, he adds, which is “very strong in North America and western Europe”. With the addition of iBasis, Tofane will get “60-70% of additional traffic on top of Altice”.

The scope of the deals expanded even before they were complete. Originally Pébereau was planning just to buy Altice’s wholesale fixed voice business, but that was expanded before completion to include mobile voice.

Now he wants to invest in several new product segments, including mobile data and the internet of things (IoT), he tells me. “We intend to be much stronger.” He wants to build “a mobile services portfolio.” There are also opportunities in anti-fraud services. Fraud “has become not only a plague but also a source of added value”, he notes – added value, that is, to companies that offer services to combat it.

But let’s take a step back. For someone who has run the international wholesale business of a major global telco, Orange, what is the advantage of a company that is just an international wholesale carrier, with no national retail services? It’s focus, he says. “The telecoms industry has so many deep changes nationally that international services get lost in the loop. We have that focus. The international business is 5% of the business, but only 5%. The added value we bring is that we care.”

And “the international part is very complicated”, he adds. Carriers have to contend with specialised equipment as well as a different set of regulations and many different currencies. “It’s a lot to do, but the market is big enough for an international player.” There’s an extra point: “We are independent,” he says.

What Pébereau refuses to talk about is how much Tofane has spent on its two acquisitions. “All figures are confidential. We cannot comment on the price,” he says.

But “we are backed by strong financial partners, and we have the money to do it”. Tofane Global’s website lists a number of backers, mainly French private equity investors focused on small and medium sized companies.

He’s recruited Patrick George, formerly of Orange, Syniverse and BICS; Manuela Simões, a subsea cable engineer who was later head of roaming and international traffic at Portugal Telecom; Nicolas Barret, formerly SFR’s international VP; and Céline Grégoire, once at Teleglobe and Tata Communications. Technology and IT are in the hands of François de Vulpillieres, once at Nortel and later SFR. “We plan to integrate – everything about the IT and the network has been prepared,” says Pébereau. “Now we are going to deliver our plan for the investors and our customers in the next

12 months.”