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August 1, 2023
Australian fibre operator Vocus is willing to splash some serious cash to expand its footprint.
On Tuesday it emerged that it is negotiating a A$6.3 billion ($4.2 billion) offer for a chunk of TPG Telecom’s enterprise, government, and wholesale assets, including Vision Network – its wholesale infrastructure arm.
The bid was confirmed by TPG in a stock exchange filing following a report by the Australian Financial Review. TPG describes the offer as “indicative, highly conditional, [and] non-binding.”
Vocus has been granted a period of exclusive due diligence, which will run until 6 September.
“Discussions between the parties remain incomplete and transaction terms are subject to ongoing negotiation. Securityholders should be aware that the Board of TPG has not made any decision to accept any offer, and there is no certainty an agreed transaction will eventuate,” TPG said.
Having sold off and leased back its remaining mobile towers last May, TPG then turned its attention to its fixed assets.
In September in 2022, it completed the reorganisation of its sprawling broadband networks under a functionally separate but wholly-owned wholesale brand, Vision Network. Comprised of FTTP, fibre-to-the-building (FTTB), fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), and hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) networks, Vision Network reaches approximately 410,000 premises, located predominantly in metropolitan areas.
Within a month of launch, TPG hired Bank of America to help it carry out a strategic review of Vision Network, and shop it around to potential suitors with an asking price of around A$1 billion for a 70-80% stake. At the time, TPG highlighted the unit’s 135,000 active subscriber base, and said it was on track to turn over A$100 million in 2023.
In January, Vision Network reportedly attracted interest from rival wholesaler Uniti Group – Vocus was also said to be sniffing around. However, in May, AFR reported that interest from other telcos had cooled, and that investment firm Pacific Equity Partners (PEP) was negotiating a deal with TPG instead.
No firm agreement emerged though, and now Vocus is back in the frame, having set its sights on more than just Vision Network.
Vocus is controlled by two infrastructure investment funds – Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (MIRA), and Aware Super – and therefore its interest in TPG underscores private equity’s continued efforts to capitalise on sustained demand for data and connectivity.
Rather than settle for just the infrastructure though, Vocus and its parents want a chunk of TPG’s enterprise, government and other wholesale operations too, hence the larger offer. Vocus is a direct competitor to TPG in these markets, operating a 25,000 km fibre network that includes a submarine cable system connecting Australia to Singapore.
Should an agreement be reached, it will significantly expand Vocus’ presence in these aforementioned markets. For TPG, it will help to clear its net debt – which stood at A$3.7 billion at the end of last year – and allow it focus its spending on services.
However, given how long Vision Network has been on the shelf now, and how many other potential suitors seem to have come and gone, this is far from a done deal.
Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.
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