Over the past couple of years, Paris-based Alcatel Lucent SA (ADR) (NYSE:ALU) has been going down a rocky road, struggling to put its finances in the black while reeling under the burden of cutthroat competition.
The telecommunications-gear maker just won a contract to help build Telefonica S.A. (ADR) (NYSE:TEF)‘s next-generation wireless network in Spain. Will Alcatel Lucent SA (ADR) (NYSE:ALU) give its peers a run for their money, after all?
Why this deal is so important
Alcatel Lucent SA (ADR) (NYSE:ALU) will deploy 8,000 4G LTE, stand-alone base stations overlaying Telefonica S.A. (ADR) (NYSE:TEF)’s existing 3G network. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to T MOBILE US INC (NYSE:TMUS)‘s LTE rollout in the U.S., which involves 37,000 next-generation base stations. In addition, Alcatel is not the only one having a hand in Telefonica’s LTE buildout. Market leader Ericsson (ADR) (NASDAQ:ERIC) will provide the Spanish provider with 1,000 nodes in 2013 alone, including the ones in Barcelona and Madrid.
Even so, that’s the biggest 4G LTE contract Alcatel Lucent SA (ADR) (NYSE:ALU) has ever landed in Western Europe. Amid macroeconomic headwinds and plummeting service revenues, European telecom operators have been dragging their feet on deploying 4G networks. On top of that, Alcatel’s decision to focus on the “overlay” technology solution, which is more popular in the U.S. market and not so much in Europe, weighed on its European wireless business. That’s all about to change. This contract could be a shot in the arm for Alcatel, enabling it to get a firm grip on the European LTE market.
As far as Telefonica S.A. (ADR) (NYSE:TEF) is concerned, it’s about time it got the ball rolling on its own nationwide network. Vodafone Group Plc (ADR) (NASDAQ:VOD), Orange SA (ADR) (NYSE:ORAN) and TeliaSonera-owned Yoigo have already launched their 4G services in Spain.
In order to keep up with its peers, Telefonica S.A. (ADR) (NYSE:TEF) signed a network-sharing agreement with Yoigo last month. Under the terms of the agreement, which will run until 2016, Yoigo gave Telefonica access to its LTE network. In return, Yoigo will use Telefonica’s fiber network, meaning that it will be able to offer fixed broadband services along with mobile services.
Competition is obviously heating up in a market that’s crucial for Telefonica S.A. (ADR) (NYSE:TEF), since the company’s Spanish division manages the access of around 37% of its total clients in Europe. The sooner Telefonica wraps up its 4G build-out, the better.
Wait a minute…
This contract is a feather in Alcatel Lucent SA (ADR) (NYSE:ALU)’s cap, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the company’s wireless problems in Europe are a thing of the past. EU regulators’ plans to ban roaming charges for incoming calls and to put a lid on other tariffs next year raise a red flag.
As soon as regulators go through with their plans, Telefonica S.A. (ADR) (NYSE:TEF) will be faced with skimpy profit margins, leaving Alcatel Lucent SA (ADR) (NYSE:ALU), as well as other equipment makers, sort of up the creek.
However, over the medium term, a possible consolidation of the telecom services industry in Europe could benefit Alcatel Lucent SA (ADR) (NYSE:ALU). It’s highly likely that big telecom operators will jump at the chance to take over smaller, less profitable rivals in hopes of achieving economies of scale. Eventually, they will have to ramp up spending on network infrastructure.
Moreover, Nokia Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:NOK)‘s latest business moves have created quite a stir.
Nokia Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:NOK) sold its handset-manufacturing unit to Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) for $7.2 billion and bought Siemens AG (ADR) (NYSE:SI)‘ stake in Nokia Solutions and Networks, or NSN, a specialist in mobile broadband formerly called Nokia Siemens Networks. This unit will account for almost 90% of Nokia’s revenues.
Following the Microsoft deal, analysts have been buzzing with speculation that the Finnish telecom will bid for Alcatel Lucent SA (ADR) (NYSE:ALU)’s wireless unit — a move that would make NSN a much stronger player. Nokia Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:NOK) is clearly chasing networking-equipment profits, making waves in the entire network infrastructure industry.