One.Tel firesale: telcos pick carcass

One.Tel firesale: telcos pick carcass

Telstra and Optus have divided the spoils of One.Tel's mobile phone, fixed line and Internet businesses over the last 14 days, leaving its large technology creditors, Lucent Technologies and Compaq, with something of a question mark beside their names.

The PC and networking vendors sit at the top of One.Tel's 3000-long creditors list, along with Optus and Telstra. They are followed by a myriad of smaller IT contractors, service providers, suppliers and retail outlets. In total, One.Tel creditors are owed in excess of $600 million.

In a press conference last week, Steve Sherman of administrators Ferrier Hodgson said it was too early to speculate on the dollar returns to creditors. However, the pecking order will see employees, then creditors and lastly shareholders paid out, if indeed there is anything to pay out at all. Late last week no guarantee of a return had been issued.

Lucent's debt, accrued through the construction and funding of One.Tel's Next Generation GSM network, has been downscaled from original figures of $600 million to $50 million for the Adelaide and Perth segments of the network only. Out of the five capital cities involved in the rollout, these are the only two that One.Tel already has customers in. This means that Lucent exclusively owns the Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney networks, an outcome the vendor may not be thrilled about considering the low dollar-value of networks in the current climate. Lucent is also entitled to the Adelaide and Perth networks.

Lucent refused to comment

on its predicament, however, it is understood it has appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers to manage its One.Tel affairs. It is unclear what level of severity this recent blow will deliver the vendor, which has been slashing staff worldwide and downscaling profit projections. Some feel Lucent's pockets are deep enough to wait for GSM capacity to re-emerge, which is likely if mobile growth continues on its current course. Investors on the other hand are not so convinced, a scepticism reflected by the network giant's sliding share price.

It remains to be seen what becomes of One.Tel's primary asset, Spectrum, for which it paid $500 million last year and which has since depreciated in value significantly.

Australian telecommunications company Apple Communications announced an offer last week to buy One.Tel's Hong Kong business and 200,000-strong subscriber base.

Daniel Cheng, Apple Communications executive chairman, said the company could move quickly to integrate One.Tel's operation into its own because of its external telecommunications licence and existing management structure operating in Hong Kong.

Sherman sidestepped repeated attempts to draw out whether or not One.Tel had been trading while insolvent. However, he did say that all directors, including Lachlan Murdoch and Kerry Packer, would be liable in the event that the company is found to have been trading insolvently.

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