Enel to replicate Open Fiber model overseas

Enel will look to build wholesale fibre networks in markets outside of Italy, according to its CEO, who also indicated that the sale of its domestic Open Fiber business could be just days away.

The industry has been waiting on Enel to make a decision about its ongoing participation in the Open Fiber wholesale fibre network project in Italy for some months. The state-owned utility is almost certainly about the announce the sale of some or all of its 50% stake to Australia’s Macquarie, a deal that will serve as a precursor to the creation of a single ultrafast broadband network in Italy.

But while Enel wants out of Open Fiber, the project has proved sufficiently lucrative as to whet its appetite for more of the same elsewhere.

“We will replicate this model in other parts of the world where we see similar or parallel situations,” Enel chief executive Francesco Starace revealed at the company’s capital markets day on Tuesday.

Enel has a presence in 32 countries worldwide, including 2.2 million kilometres of power lines in eight countries: Italy, Spain and Romania in Europe; and Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru in Latin America. Based on that network, Latin America looks like a good bet. Indeed, Enel picked up a 21% stake in Latin American wholesale fibre operator Ufinet two years ago.

In Italy, Enel rolled out a wholesale-only fibre network as a form of challenge to incumbent telecoms operator TIM, which was dragging its heels on fibre deployment.

“In four years we have more than doubled the incumbent’s capability and connections,” Starace said. “And today we see the ability to monetise the value created in a big way.”

It is two months since Enel announced that it had received a binding offer from Macquarie Infrastructure & Real Assets of €2.65 billion for its 50% stake in Open Fiber. It has not provided any specifics since then, but it is an open secret that the deal is progressing and the industry is champing at the bid to know when the transaction will be finalised.

In an interview with Bloomberg this week, Starace declined to put a timeframe on the deal, but it was clear that we should not have to wait too much longer.

“We all want to have a deal done soon…but [deals] need to be done properly, not soon,” Starace said.

It’s a question of “allowing a few more weeks to go by, or a few more days,” he said. “We are basically there.” While he does not expect an announcement as early as next week, it is “a question of weeks,” he said.

While Macquarie made an offer for Enel’s entire 50% stake in Open Fiber, there is still talk of a deal emerging in which the Australian firms takes a smaller stake with Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), which holds the other 50% of Open Fiber upping its stake. Enel has not openly discussed the likelihood of such a move, but Starace’s latest comments suggest that such a major detail of the deal must already have been worked out.

“The price is not anymore a part of the conversation. It is past that. We are talking about tiny things, small details,” he said.

Looks like Enel is about to get a multi-billion-euro Christmas present.

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