Wednesday, May 9, 2018

FWD: The death of ZTE

Zhongxing Telecommunication Equipment Corporation (ZTE), one of the world's largest suppliers of network infrastructure products, informed the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that "the major operating activities of the Company have ceased". 

If the notice means what we think it means, then ZTE is dead.


It took only 3 weeks from the day that the U.S. Commerce Department' Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued its order prohibiting companies or individuals from participating in any way in an export transaction with ZTE for this multinational giant based in Shenzhen to collapse. I'm not sure there has been any other corporate collapse in the networking sector of this magnitude and in this accelerated time frame. The nearest comparison would be the collapse of Nortel in 2009, but that took years to occur rather than just weeks.

ZTE's website has already started to disappear. Many product, technology and news archive pages are now gone.

The most proximate reason for the death of the company is that without new deliveries of chipsets and optical components from U.S. vendors, the manufacturing lines for ZTE must have already come to a halt, leaving the company unable to ship products. Just-in-time manufacturing probably means that the company has insufficient inventory to sustain operations during a protracted appeal or legal fight with the U.S. Department of Commerce. More importantly, if the market has lost confidence, the sharks smell blood, and normal operations become impossible.

There will be a scramble amongst investors, creditors, employees, competitors, suppliers, and customers to secure whatever value remains in the organisation. There should be plenty.

Salvaging the good bits

First, there is a huge installed base of ZTE equipment worldwide in carrier networks, in data centres, in enterprise IT centres, and in home networks. The value of this equipment could be in the tens of billions if we take a cumulative count of sales over the last four years. These networks, which belong to the customers and their lenders, will need to be supported.  There is ongoing business here for someone.

ZTE holds the No.1 or No. 2 markets share position on many of the core infrastructure projects of the big three carriers in China -- China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom.

All of ZTE's product segments were growing. Here are the 2017 annual growth rates:

  • Carrier networks 8.3%
  • Gov't and corporate 10.4%
  • Consumer 5.2%


Outside of China, ZTE has many current sales contracts and open purchase orders for new equipment, with good prospects of upcoming fibre broadband, 4G, 4G, and core network projects. 

ZTE has a very extensive telecom equipment portfolio, covering every sector of wireless networks, core networks, access & bearer networks, services and terminals. 

ZTE has been listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange since 1997 and on the Hong Kong Exchange since 2004. Trading has been suspended since April 16 and so there is no way to know quite yet if the shares are now worthless. The company's balance sheet at the end of 2017 showed RMB 31.647 billion in current assets, and the company's most recent statement said it was conserving cash.

ZTE has abundant in-house and contracted production facilities capable of manufacturing large volume of smartphones, customer premise equipment, and carrier infrastructure products. 

ZTE has many current and next-generation product designs using the latest silicon from U.S., Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and other international suppliers. The product designs could be sold to other equipment suppliers.

ZTE has a considerable patent portfolio. ZTE claims to amongst the most prolific corporate patent filers in recent years. As of 30-June-2017, ZTE Group 68,000 patents, including 29,000 granted global patents.

As of mid-2017, the company was operating 20 R&D centres in China, the United States, Sweden, France, Japan and Canada, as well as more than 10 joint innovation centres established in association with leading carriers.

There is a talented pool of 74,773 employees (including 58,940 as employees of the parent company), with an average age of 33. Many of these employees have deep subject matter expertise, the vast majority of whom had nothing to do with the business decisions that got ZTE into trouble. 

ZTE was gearing up for a big play in 5G

At this year's  Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, ZTE captured the “Best Technology Innovation for 5G" award for its end-to-end vision encompassing the radio access network, the core network, bearer platforms, custom 5G silicon and CPE terminals. As with other suppliers, many of these are “works in progress” rather than commercially deployable solutions right now.

ZTE's has pushed hard on Massive MIMO, the antenna technology which has been shown to improve spectral efficiency up to 8 times.

It has been pioneering a multi-user shared access (MUSA) technology to effectively increase the number of connections served, and thereby enable support for scenarios involving mass connectivity with low power consumption. This could be extremely useful in very crowded areas, such as subway systems, when everyone is using their smartphone. The MUSA technology works by allowing high overload and eliminating scheduling operations, thereby increasing the number of connections by between 3- and 6-fold. It uses advanced spread spectrum sequence and SIC technology to simplify terminal implementation and help reduce energy consumption.

In the network core, ZTE is ready to commercialize end-to-end 5G network slicing. Its Cloud ServCore platform implements lightweight micro-service components to enable the network slices to operate independently and with easy scalability. This will allow IoT applications, for instance, to scale smoothly and without impacting other network slices.

ZTE is also readying a 5G Flexhaul bearer solution based on next-gen FlexE technology. Part of this vision to achieve a unified bearer network for 3G / 4G / 5G traffic. ZTE says its 5G Flexhaul achieves end-to-end protection switching time of less than 1ms, as well as single node forwarding latency of less than 0.5μs.




ZTE was a $20 billion company on the rise

Prior to receiving the death sentence for sanctions violations and lying to the U.S. government during a probationary period, ZTE was profitable and on a $20 billion per year sales run rate.

For Q1 2018, the company reported revenue of RMB 28.879 billion (US$5.548 billion), up 12% over the same period in 2017. Net profit after extraordinary items attributable to holders of ordinary shares of the listed company amounted to RMB 1.368 billion (US$216 million). For the full year 2017, ZTE reported operating revenue of RMB 108.82 billion, 7.49% higher than a year earlier,  

Net profit for 2017 was reported at RMB 4.55 billion, an increase of 293%. Net cash flow from operating activities for 2017 was approximately RMB 6.78 billion, about 28.88% year-on-year growth. This was a quite a recovery from 2016, when revenues grew just 4% and profits were lower. With booming handset sales in China, India and other developing markets, along with good prospects for 5G, things were looking pretty good for ZTE, until its troubles with the long-running exports violation case came to a head.

Big fine in 2017

ZTE's 2017 results were impacted by troubles with the U.S. government. In March 2017, ZTE made penalty payments of over US$1.19 billion to the U.S. government-- this too for the case involving the shipment of U.S.-origin technology to Iran during the period of economic sanctions. ZTE plead guilty in the case and paid the fine. It also agreed to a number of other conditions, which were not fulfilled, according to the U.S. Commerce Department, or which ZTE subsequently lied about. 

Huawei as the beneficiary? 

ZTE generates about 40% of its revenue abroad. 

We can surmise that many of the large carrier projects that ZTE currently has underway internationally will have been funded by the Bank of China,  the China Development Bank (CDB), or other government-backed, export/import financial institutions. These carrier customers are facing the prospect of suspended or canceled projects. This presents an opportunity for other network vendors to step in and capture the business. 


However, the customer would need to secure another funding source. Huawei is the most likely to be the ZTE replacement, especially if the Bank of China or CDB were to transfer project loans on their behalf. Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and others also have an opening to entice these ZTE carrier customers with their offerings.

But what if Huawei is next?

However,  it is conceivable that the Trump administration will ratchet up the pressure on Huawei, for instance by extending all of parts of the ZTE export ban to them, or by persuading other governments to block Huawei as has been done in the U.S.. Many analysts expected that the ZTE ban was a bargaining chip in the recent, first round of trade negotiations between the U.S. and China. There was, and perhaps continues to be, hope that the order would be rescinded after the trade talks. This did not happen. Perhaps the trade tensions will get worse, with Huawei coming under pressure next.

With this possibility at hand, some large carriers in countries such as Japan, Germany or Singapore, may rethink their future plans with Chinese equipment vendors in general on critical projects so as not to face supply disruptions like we now see with ZTE. In Germany, Deutsche Telekom recently announced a 5G pilot deployment in Berlin using Huawei equipment. In the U.S., T-Mobile is prohibited from using Huawei as a supplier. With T-Mobile now seeking to merge with Sprint, U.S. regulators conceivably could require the German parent company to remove all Huawei gear from all of its networks as a condition for approving the merger. 

In other countries, there will be other geopolitical considerations. In Russia, ZTE has just clinched a 70% share of the first stage of  Rostelecom's the access network modernization project. ZTE's Multi-Service Access Network (MSAN) product delivers VDSL. Rostelcom is currently testing G.vectoring and G.fast for deployment in a second stage of its upgrade project. Rostelecom, of course, is Russia's leading broadband and pay-TV provider with over 12.7 million fixed-line broadband subscribers and over 9.7 million pay-TV subscribers, over 4.7 million of which are subscribed to its IPTV service. Given the need for Rostelcom to complete this network upgrade successfully, on-time and on budget, they will look for other suppliers.. but probably not from the U.S.

In India, ZTE is now a major supplier of low-cost smartphones and optical transmission gear. In October 2017, ZTE announced a 100G WDM Backbone Network Project and metro area network (MAN) construction contract with Idea Cellular, the third largest mobile operator in India with 189 million subscribers. With this deal, ZTE’s OTN optical transport platform captured a 95% share in the metro optical backbones that carry Idea Cellular’s traffic. ZTE has previously disclosed major contracts with Bharti Airtel as well. This success comes despite some protectionist voices in India warning against Chinese suppliers for critical network infrastructure.

Other recent contract wins include the Ooredoo Group, which serves 164 million customers across the Middle East, and South Africa based MTN. For Ooredoo Group, ZTE was expected to supply end-to-end networks, applications, and terminals in preparation for a 5G launch. MTN was also looking at deploying ZTE’s 5G NR radio access, 5G virtualized network slicing, carrier DevOps and container-based vEPC, and 5G Flexhaul bearer network.

The ZTE effect on suppliers

For those companies who were supplying chipsets, optical components, memories, display technologies, protocol stacks, etc. to ZTE, there will be a waiting game to see who takes up the slack. We can presume that the size and growth of the market will remain the same before and after this incident. If ZTE doesn't supply that core router, someone else will. 

What comes next?

The ZTE statement about ceasing normal activities holds out a glimmer of hope that the U.S. government might hear an appeal and grant a reprieve. Last week, U.S. trade negotiators visited China. Obviously, no deal occurred or ZTE would not have made its statement. 

Whatever comes next, it better happen quickly because sales contracts and talented employees will not stick around to what eventually emerges. The best people and ideas will move on to competitors or new ventures.

The most likely outcome is that ZTE individual business units are sold off, spun out, or otherwise reorganised into new corporate entities. In other words, the same cast of characters with the same products but operating under a new name.

ZTE: Major operating activities have ceased

ZTE stated that "the major operating activities of the Company have ceased" due to the export ban imposed on it by the U.S. Commerce Department' Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS).

The announcement was made in a regulatory filing with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Trading of the company's shares have been suspended since April 16th.

ZTE also said that it is actively communicating with the U.S. government in order to secure a reversal of the ban.

http://res.www.zte.com.cn/mediares/zte/Investor/20180509/E1.pdf


Vodafone to acquire Liberty Global operations for $22.7 billion

Vodafone agreed to acquire Liberty Global's operations in Germany, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic in a deal valued at approximately €19.0 billion ($22.7 billion). The combination is also notable for bringing together mobile infrastructure with cable operations.

Vodafone said the acquisition accelerates its convergence story and strengthens its position as a leading next generation infrastructure owner in Europe. After the merger is complete, Vodafone will have 54 million cable/fibre homes ‘on-net’ and a total NGN reach of 110 million homes and businesses, including wholesale arrangements.

In Germany, the combination of Vodafone and Unitymedia’s non-overlapping regional operations will establish a strong second national provider of digital infrastructure in the German market. The ambition is to bring Gigabit connections to around 25 million German homes (62% of total German households) by 2022.

In eastern Europe, the Liberty Global properties will complement Vodafone’s existing mobile operations in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania. In these markets, the combined businesses will reach over 6.4 million homes (39% of total households) and will serve 15.8 million
mobile, 1.8 million broadband, and 2.1 million TV customers.

Liberty Global said these four businesses represent approximately 28% of its consolidated 2017 operating cash flow (OCF), not including its 50% share of OCF from the VodafoneZiggo joint venture in the Netherlands. After completion of the transaction, Liberty Global will continue to be Europe’s leading cable television and broadband provider, with consolidated operations in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland, Poland
and Slovakia. Together, these country operations reach 24 million homes, account for 26 million video, broadband and fixed-line telephony subscribers

The sale price represents a total enterprise value for all four businesses combined of 11.5 times 2017 adjusted Segment OCF, or approximately 24.0 times 2017 operating free cash flow (“OFCF”), with an implied adjusted Segment OCF multiple for Liberty Global’s German operation of 12.0 times.

"This transaction will create the first truly converged pan-European champion of competition. It represents a step change in Europe’s transition to a Gigabit Society and a transformative combination for Vodafone that will generate significant value for shareholders. We are committed to accelerating and deepening investment in next generation mobile and fixed networks, building on Vodafone’s track record of ensuring that customers benefit from the choice of a strong and sustainable challenger to dominant incumbent operators. Vodafone will become Europe’s leading next generation network owner, serving the largest number of mobile customers and households across the EU.”

Equinix and Telxius collaborate on cable landing station architecture

Equinix and Telxius, Telefónica's infrastructure subsidiary, are collaborating on U.S. facilities and services for the next-generation cable landing station architecture for the MAREA and BRUSA cable systems, both of which terminate at a cable landing station in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

The next-generation cable landing station architecture will extend the backhaul capacity into Equinix DC2 International Business Exchange (IBX) data center, simplifying network design and providing access to a dense, rich ecosystem of networks, clouds and IT service providers. Equinix customers will have direct access to the MAREA and BRUSA cable systems via a simple cross connect from any IBX data center.

The 6,600 km MAREA subsea cable, which was jointly funded by Microsoft and Facebook, is the highest capacity subsea cable system built across the Atlantic, consisting of eight fiber pairs with an initial estimated design capacity of 160 Tbps. Telxius is responsible for the operation of the cable and leverages its IP, capacity, colocation and security services through it.

Telxius is also building BRUSA, a new subsea cable spanning 10,900 km linking Rio de Janeiro and Fortaleza, Brazil, with San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Virginia Beach, VA. BRUSA, which is slated for completion by mid-2018, also features eight fiber pairs. 

Telxius has points of presence (PoPs) in more than 20 Equinix IBX data centers around the globe to support the Telxius network, including DC2 and DC6; MI1 and MI2; SP1, SP2, SP3 and SP4; RJ1 and RJ2 at which the MAREA and BRUSA cable systems terminate.

"We're partnering on new cable landing station projects that give our customers improved access to the expanding global subsea cable network. With this next-generation cable landing station design, the cables extend directly to an Equinix IBX data center. That means any user of a subsea cable system that lands inside one of our Equinix global data center termination points has instant, low-latency access to a host of vibrant industry ecosystems inside Equinix, and that's a huge advantage," stated Jim Poole, Vice President, Business Development, Equinix.

"This new cable landing station design effectively connects the data center and submarine communications worlds and opens the door to faster growth in bandwidth rates for our customers. This cutting-edge architecture leverages the ultra-high capacity of BRUSA and MAREA, two of the highest capacity cables ever built. It has been developed to fully address the needs of our customers in terms of both capacity and efficiency," stated Rafael Arranz, Chief Operations Officer, Telxius Cable Business

Telefónica's Telxius infrastructure arm expands its global reach


Telxius, Telefónica's infrastructure arm, was established in February 2016. It owns and operates a portfolio comprising nearly 16,300 telecom towers in five countries and manages an international network with around 65,000 km of submarine optical cable, including around 31,000 km owned by Telxius. The Telxius-owned network includes SAM-1 linking the U.S., Central and South America, PCCS (Pacific Caribbean Cable System) and Unisur, which connects...


EU's Metro-Haul Project aims for smarter optical infrastructure supporting 5G

The Metro-Haul Project, a Horizon 2020 European Union research and innovation program, held its third plenary meeting last month at Coriant's R&D facility in Lisbon, Portugal to discuss the practical points of convergence for access and metro networks, and the establishment of suitable architecture and fundamental structure of future metro networks. Discussions also included the critical role of storage, compute, and virtual function capabilities; underpinned with flexible and elastic optical nodes in support of the demands of the 5G network.

The aim of the €7.7 million Metro-Haul project is to design and build a smart optical metro infrastructure able to support traffic originating from heterogeneous 5G access networks, addressing the anticipated capacity increase and its specific characteristics, including mobility, low latency, and low jitter. This infrastructure will also support a wide variety of services and use cases with special emphasis on services from various industries vertical to the ICT.

“The Metro-Haul project targets are ambitious but realistic for the demands of 5G,” said Emilio Riccardi from TIM, the Italian telecommunications company. “We aim to enable optical metro networks with 100 times the capacity, 10 times less energy consumption, support for latency-sensitive services, and end-to-end SDN-based management that enables fast configuration leading to a 20% reduction in OPEX. The cooperation between equipment manufacturers and network operators within Metro-Haul offers the possibility of achieving these targets and making a huge difference to the industry.”

“With active support from industry leaders and European academic institutions, Metro-Haul is making important contributions to the understanding of the demands that emerging 5G use cases will place on metro network infrastructure,” said Carlos Ferreira, Country Manager for Coriant Portugal. “We were pleased to host the third plenary session and help facilitate driving this important work forward. The implications of bandwidth growth on metro networks represent a pressing issue for our customers, and the research Metro-Haul provides is an invaluable source of architecture, technology, and use case information that will help maximize the value of 5G-optimized networks.”

https://metro-haul.eu

CenturyLink sees rise in business, dip in consumer sales

CenturyLink reported revenues of $5.95 billion for first quarter 2018, compared to $4.21 billion for first quarter 2017. Diluted earnings per share was $0.11 for first quarter 2018, compared to diluted earnings per share of $0.30 for first quarter 2017.

"CenturyLink achieved solid results for first quarter 2018, the first full quarter of operations following the acquisition of Level 3," said Glen F. Post, III, CenturyLink chief executive officer. "Now positioned as one of the world's leading network providers, we believe we have significant opportunities to grow our business and drive long-term shareholder value," Post concluded.

"We are focused on our sales force integration and driving profitable revenue growth while improving our customer experience," said Jeff Storey, CenturyLink president and chief operating officer. "Our integration efforts to date are leading to the synergies we expected and helping us move toward sustainable improved profitability and cash flow generation."



Infinera posts Q1 revenue of $203 million

Infinera reported GAAP revenue for its first quarter ended March 31, 2018 of $202.7 million compared to $195.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2017 and $175.5 million in the first quarter of 2017.

GAAP gross margin for the quarter was 40.5% compared to 24.1% in the fourth quarter of 2017 and 36.5% in the first quarter of 2017. GAAP net loss for the quarter was $(26.3) million, or $(0.17) per share, compared to a net loss of $(40.5) million, or $(0.28) per share, in the first quarter of 2017. Non-GAAP net loss for the quarter was $(7.2) million, or $(0.05) per share, compared to a net loss of $(18.6) million, or $(0.12) per share, in the fourth quarter of 2017, and net loss of $(21.7) million, or $(0.15) per share, in the first quarter of 2017.

“Our financial performance in Q1 reflects continued strong growth from our next-generation products that offset typical seasonal weakness,” said Tom Fallon, Infinera’s Chief Executive Officer. “In 2018, we remain focused on winning new customers that will diversify our revenue base, drive multi-year growth and leverage our unique vertically-integrated operating model. We also remain committed to returning to profitability during the second half of 2018.”

Ryanair goes all-in on AWS

Ryanair is going "all-in" in moving its infrastructure to AWS.

Ryanair, which is the leading budget airline in Europe, now plans to close the vast majority of its data centers over the next three years. The airline already runs several core production workloads on AWS, such as Ryanair Rooms and Ryanair.com, and is building a company-wide data lake on Amazon S3, leveraging Amazon Kinesis to gain deeper insights from customer and business data.

“We’ve chosen to work with the world’s leading cloud to develop and deliver services that will transform our customers’ travel experiences. By rebuilding core applications, converting data into actionable insights, and creating intelligent applications, we are putting the solutions in place to continue our leadership in the travel industry,” said John Hurley, Chief Technology Officer at Ryanair.

Google Cloud intros managed in-memory data store for Redis

Google launched a public beta of a fully-managed in-memory data store service for Redis,

The company says its Cloud Memorystore provides a scalable, more secure and highly available Redis service that is fully compatible with open source Redis, letting you migrate your applications to Google Cloud Platform (GCP) with zero code changes.

Redis is an open-source in-memory database project implementing a distributed, in-memory key-value store. It supports data structures and features like persistence, replication and pub-sub.

See also