Telecom Italia ‘revives network separation and Open Fiber’ plans

23 January 2019 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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TIM’s new CEO has revived a project that may lead to a merger of its fixed infrastructure with that of Open Fiber.

Luigi Gubitosi, appointed in place of Amos Genish just two months ago, is to hire advisers “to study ideas including a network-sharing deal or merger with smaller rival Open Fiber”, according to a Bloomberg report this morning.

The report cites no sources, saying people “asked not to be identified as the deliberations are private”.

However Capacity has spoken to people within the group – formerly Telecom Italia – who believe it “is a waste” to have TIM and Open Fiber build rival national fibre networks.

Bloomberg’s sources say Gubitosi may alternatively seek to have a separate stock market listing for the company’s infrastructure operations. TIM ha already set up a wireless tower unit, Inwit, that may feature in the plans, says the agency.

Open Fiber is a joint venture of electricity group Enel and Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), the Italian state investment bank, which also owns a small but potentially significant share in TIM.

CDP’s stake of less than 5% in TIM is important as the future of the group is in the hands of two big warring shareholders, French media group Vivendi with 24% and US-based activist investor group Elliott, controlling around 9%. Elliott has been successful over the past few months in unseating the previous Vivendi-nominated CEO, Amos Genish, and replacing him with Gubitosi.

Elliott is believed to be supporting a model based on the UK’s Openreach, the last-mile copper and fibre subsidiary of BT, or even on Chorus, which was hived off from the former Telecom New Zealand – now Spark – into a separately owned entity.

TIM has toyed with the idea of full network separation for years – Franco Bernabè worked on an active plan when he was CEO a decade ago, and he resigned when the plan was rejected by the then board. Bernabè briefly returned to the TIM board in 2018.

In October 2018 TIM recruited the Rothschild bank to advise on possible future ownerships for Sparkle, the international wholesale division. Capacity understands that Sparkle is unlikely to be separated from the TIM group.