Telecoms

CHIPS: Chinese Buyer Makes Last-Ditch Effort at Lattice

Bottom line: Lattice Semiconductor’s sale to a Chinese buyer stands a 50-50 chance of getting national security clearance, benefiting from warming ties between the US and China and lack of defense-related technologies involved.

Lattice still trying to sell to Chinese buyer

More than a year after it first became an acquisition target for chip-hungry Chinese buyers, Lattice Semiconductor (Nasdaq: LSCC) is back in the headlines again with what looks like a last-ditch effort at salvaging a sale. Lattice is clearly a mid-sized maker of microchips that fits the profile of what Beijing would like to buy, with a market cap of about $840 million, as China tries to build up its own semiconductor sector that can compete with global giants like Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) and TSMC (Taipei: 2330).

But western governments are wary of China’s aggressive ambitions, which include generous funds for M&A of Asian and western chip makers. A deal first announced more than a year ago saw one of the most aggressive buyers, Tsinghua Unigroup, buy a small stake in Lattice, but then fail to parlay that into an outright acquisition. Now another group, Canyon Bridge Capital Partners, is getting ready to make a third appeal for its plan to purchase Lattice in a filing to the regulator that reviews such deals for national security considerations. Read Full Post…

SMARTPHONES: Lenovo Eyeing CEO Change?

Bottom line: Yang Yuanqing is likely to cede his CEO title at Lenovo to recently returned executive Liu Jun soon, which could be followed by more risk taking and big changes to the company’s lackluster smartphone unit.

Lenovo’s Yang set to cede CEO title?

I used to make fun of mobile carrier China Unicom (HKEx: 763; NYSE: CHU) for its never-ending management reshuffles, but now the more respectable Lenovo (HKEx: 992) is quickly taking that title with its own series of nonstop personnel moves in a bid to right its sputtering ship. What’s interesting to note is that the series of moves are gradually creeping their way to the top of the company, meaning they could eventually unseat chief Yang Yuanqing, which is what I’ve been calling for all along.

This latest move would certainly be the highest yet, and follows Lenovo’s announcement last month of the reorganization of its China region that accounts for more than a quarter of its business. (English article) One part of that overhaul saw the return of former executive Liu Jun to the company to take a top position, and if the latest reports are true Liu could soon take over Yang’s title as company CEO. Read Full Post…

INTERNET: Crisis Grows for LeEco’s Coolpad, Yidao

Bottom line: Ongoing crises being faced by LeEco-backed Yidao and Coolpad are likely to deepen in the month ahead, as each company gets abandoned by its major stakeholder and is forced to grapple with rapidly deteriorating business.

Coolpad releases preliminary 2016 results

Two companies snapped up by former online video superstar LeEco (Shenzhen: 300104) are in the crisis headlines this morning, with smartphone maker Coolpad (HKEx: 2369) and car services operator Yidao both driving rapidly towards financial collapse. The first headline has Coolpad announcing preliminary results for 2016 that look quite alarming, as an ongoing back-and-forth with its auditor adds more worries to its story.

The second story has Yidao promising its increasingly unhappy unpaid drivers they will finally get their money late this month, as it tells the world it’s in the process of raising new funds. And if you believe that one, I have a nice bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: Huawei in US Hot Seat Over Iran Sales?

Bottom line: Huawei is likely to be found guilty of selling products to Iran in violation of US sanctions, and could be fined up to $2 billion but won’t face additional punishment.

Huawei being probed for Iran violations?

When word first emerged four years ago that telecoms equipment maker ZTE (HKEx: 763; Shenzhen: 000063) was being investigated for selling American equipment to Iran in violation of US sanctions, other reports also indicated that crosstown rival Huawei was also being probed over the same matter. Huawei’s name later disappeared from the headlines, though it was never really clear if the company had been cleared of suspicion in the matter. Now it appears the company may still be under investigation, meaning it could potentially be slapped with a fine even bigger than the nearly $1 billion levied on ZTE. Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: China Telecom Displays Aggression, Unicom Conservatism

Bottom line: China Telecom’s aggressive bidding for a government contract highlights its more entrepreneurial style, while Unicom’s latest announcement on its private ownership plans reflects it conservative, bureaucratic style.

Unicom mixed ownership program crawls ahead

Two of China’s trio of wireless telcos are in the news today, reflecting an effort by Beijing to breathe some life into these laggard state-run behemoths that always seem unable to realize their potential. The first headline has China Telecom (HKex: 728; NYSE: CHA), the smallest of the nation’s 3 carriers, making an aggressive bid to essentially provide services  for free to a government agency in northeast Liaoning province. The second has Unicom (HKEx: 762; NYSE: CHU), the second largest carrier, disclosing some more details on its plan to introduce some private capital to the company. Read Full Post…

SMARTPHONES: Oppo Lands in India Protest Storm

Bottom line: A mass protest against Oppo in India over a Chinese manager’s desecration of the national flag won’t impact the company beyond a week or two, and reflects cultural sensitivity issues Chinese firms will face as they expand abroad.

Oppo under fire in India

Smartphone high-flyer Oppo is quickly learning the road to India isn’t always so smooth, with word of a mass protest at the company’s local operation due to a controversy involving desecration of the Indian flag. In this case the company appears to be learning a fast lesson in cultural sensitivity, which underscores one of the more subtle lessons that Chinese firms will need to learn as they expand abroad.

I doubt this particular incident will have any long-lasting impact on Oppo, though it will be interesting to see if it might affect its recent major cricket sponsorship deal in India. (previous post) The incident could also make Oppo think twice about its other big plans for the market, namely the building of a major production base there.  Read Full Post…

TELCOMS: China Telecom Eyes 5G Network Sharing

Bottom line: China Telecom, Unicom and China Broadcasting Network could share the costs of a 5G network to lower costs, while China Mobile is likely to construct a network on its own.

China telcos consider 5G network sharing

As earnings season reaches a crescendo, wireless carrier China Telecom (HKEx: 728; NYSE: CHA) is raising an old theme by saying it might consider sharing resources with someone else in building a next-generation 5G network. This particular topic first surfaced more than a year ago when China Telecom and rival Unicom (HKEx: 763; NYSE: CHU) studied the possibility of sharing 4G resources, even though they ultimately each built their own networks. (previous post)

The interesting twist this time is that Beijing is rolling out a program to inject private capital into the telecoms sector, meaning perhaps China Telecom and the other telcos could be allowed to pick private-sector partners for their 5G networks. Another interesting wrinkle comes in the form of a fourth state-run telco that was assembled from the nation’s many cable TV companies last year and would probably like to have its own telecoms network. Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: ZTE Settles with US, Looks Forward

Bottom line: ZTE’s settlement with the US over illegal sales to Iran will help the company focus on the future, as it advances with plans to move away from low-margin businesses and find more promising new growth areas.

ZTE settles US accusations of illegal sales to Iran

After a year of living in a state akin to suspended animation amid a US probe against it for illegal sales to Iran, telecoms giant ZTE (HKEx: 763; Shenzhen: 000063) is finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, with word that it has finally reached a settlement in the matter. The company previously indicated the settlement would be no small deal, and the nearly $900 million fine it will have to pay proves that’s certainly the case.

But more important is the fact that ZTE has finally settled the case, meaning it can now get on with business without this major distraction hanging over its head. Before the settlement, ZTE had faced the possibility that it might get cut off from its key US suppliers as punishment for illegally selling US-made equipment to Iran in violation of earlier US sanctions against the country related to its nuclear program. Read Full Post…

SMARTPHONES: Xiaomi, Vivo Skip Barcelona Telecoms Bash

UPDATE: After publishing this earlier this morning, a source in Barcelona informs me that Oppo is indeed attending and is holding a press event to show off their newest products. Headline and photo caption changed to reflect Oppo’s attendance, but the rest of the original post remains the same.

Bottom line: The absence of Oppo and Vivo from the world’s top telecoms trade show in Spain this week reflects their overwhelming reliance on China sales, while Xiaomi’s absence from the show could be a cash conservation move.

Vivo, Xiaomi absent from top telecoms trade show

Most eyes from the telecoms world will be focused on Barcelona this week, where an annual show that’s arguably the world’s most important for smartphones is taking place. That seems like a good opportunity to look at who from China’s crowded smartphone arena is attending this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Spain, even though I’m personally not at the show.

Attending the event is by no means cheap, which is probably why some companies may choose the skip the affair. But the decision to attend or not does provide some insight as to what companies are thinking, since you would expect anyone with truly global aspirations to make an appearance at this showcase for the newest telecoms products. Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: VNO Movement Finally Gains Traction

Bottom line: China’s VNO program appears to be gaining momentum heading into its third year, and could reach the 200 million subscriber mark by the end of 2017.

Virtual network operators gain momentum

It’s been more than a year since I last wrote about China’s fledgling attempt to breathe new life into its telecoms services sector by creating virtual network operators (VNO), mostly because the program seemed to be sputtering in its first couple of years. But new data from the telecoms regulator seems to suggest the industry may finally be finding its legs, and could be starting to take some meaningful market share from the nation’s monopoly of 3 big state-run telcos.

The headline figure underpinning my assertion is 43 million, which appears to be the number of VNO subscribers in China at the end of last year. (Chinese article) I need to give a quick disclaimer here, as nowhere in the article is the term VNO or variant MVNO used to describe this sector, which is called the “mobile resale business”. But that term, combined with a description of the program, does seem to indicate that these are VNO subscribers. Read Full Post…

SMARTPHONES: Brick-and-Mortar Xiaomi Eyes 2017 Comeback

Bottom line: Xiaomi stands a better than 50 percent chance of stabilizing this year and reversing its 2-year-old decline, based on its push into brick-and-mortar retailing and positive reviews for its newest higher-end model.

Xiaomi builds up brick-and-mortar presence

Blame it on the Internet. That seems to be the message coming from Xiaomi, the smartphone maker that’s in a bit of an identity crisis, trying to explain its rapid descent over the last 2 years following a meteoric rise in 2014. A couple of other reports are also saying the company is preparing to roll out its own processor later this year, and have charismatic chief Lei Jun criticizing rival Huawei for lacking the “internet sensibility” needed to succeed in the online era. Read Full Post…