Vodafone in Japan? A dramatic change of Vodafone’s mind?

Vodafone quits Japan, sells Vodafone Japan to SoftBank

“Vodafone K.K.’s Tsuda, 津田志郎, seeks growth in Japan, not sale”

However, sale to SoftBank may be the way forward

About one year ago, in an interview with Bloomberg (“Vodafone KK’s Tsuda seeks growth in Japan, not sale“), I mentioned that a sale of Vodafone’s Japan operations to Softbank might be the way Vodafone will go in Japan. This seems to be happening now and negotiations to this effect were confirmed by both Softbank and Vodafone over the weekend.

The potential deal

Although a deal has not been closed yet, it is widely reported that a sale of Vodafone’s Japan operations to Softbank is very likely to be closed within a few weeks. What could this deal look like?

As reported by Bloomberg Vodafone KK’s capitalization at the point of delisting from the Tokyo Stock Exchange was around YEN 1.4 Trillion (= about US$ 12 Billion). Bloomberg mentions estimations by London based analysts who value Vodafone KK in the range US$ 14 to 16 Billion. Of course, if a deal is actually concluded, it might be a complex deal with several components, not just a simple cash price, and any cash value will not be determined by analysts in London, but on the negotiating table between Softbank and Vodafone, and the final deal could be more complex than a simple sale against cash payment.

In any case, this deal – if it happens – promises to become one of the largest M&A transactions ever in Japan sofar in terms of cash value. Vodafone is reported to prefer a cash deal, and Softbank has been reported to consider a leveraged buy-out (LBO) where Softbank will take debt against the to-be-acquired company.

It has also been reported that Softbank seems to be planning to change the name of the resulting company, so the “Vodafone” brand is not likely to survive in Japan.

What is Softbank likely to do with Vodafone’s Japan operations

An acquisition of Vodafone’s Japan operations will be the completion of Softbank‘s march to build a full-scale telecommunications group on a par with NTT and KDDI through a series of acquisitions plus internal growth.

Softbank in this new shape will become a much more serious competitor for NTT and KDDI, which both have succeeded to transform themselves from former monopolies into some of the world’s most advanced telecom operators.

In a sense Softbank is already where DoCoMo and KDDI are working very hard to get to: DoCoMo and KDDI are working hard to build content and transaction businesses (such as shopping, financial services, auctions and music), because pure traffic revenue (ARPU) is driven down by relentless competition.

Softbank is strongly linked to YAHOO-Japan, and YAHOO-Japan demonstrated it’s strength by driving eBay out of Japan – so Softbank is already where DoCoMo and KDDI want to go. All Softbank still needed was a wireless network, and with a Vodafone acquisition, Softbank will have a wireless network much faster than expected.

A Vodafone/Softbank deal will not be a good development for eAccess/eMobile, and eAccess/eMobile is reported to have submitted documents to Japan’s regulatory authorities regarding Softbank’s wireless license. It will be interesting how the regulating government ministry will decide on the regulatory aspects of any Softbank/Vodafone deal. In the past few years Japan’s government has been singularly focused on creating the conditions to make Japan the most advanced IT market in the world, so I think we can
be confident to expect a wise decision – wise for Japan, not necessarily beneficial for particular mobile operators.

What made Vodafone change it’s mind about Japan?

As reported by Bloomberg, one year ago Vodafone had the clear intention to remain in Japan for the next 10, 20, 30 years. What made Vodafone change it’s mind?

As widely reported, Vodafone was loosing market share in Japan’s mobile phone market over the last several years.

With number portability being introduced in Japan from autumn 2006, and with three new operators entering the market during 2006-2007, the competitive environment will become much more severe than it is now, decreasing pure network profitability, while at the same time massive network investments are necessary.

Analysis of Vodafone-Japan’s subscriber numbers shows that early warning signs appeared already in 2002 – 2002 would have been the time for Vodafone to take decisive action to turn the business around in Japan.

More about Japan’s telecom sector: download our JCOMM-Report.

See also: my comments in Der Standard (German language) “Aus fuer Vodafone in Japan”

UPI also quotes us: “Globe Talk: Vodafone’s sayonara problems”

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