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BT tries to enter US market with Infonet purchase

Deal could prove another misadventure

BT Group is trying for a third time to crack the US market with the purchase of Infonet Services for a massive $965m (£520).

Infonet operates in over 70 countries and supplies services such as virtual private networks and ATM (asynchronous transfer mode), to thousands of multinational companies, including Nestle and Hitachi. However, it is loss-making.

Its shareholders are six network operators from across the world, all of whom thought they had hit the big time during the dotcom boom when Infonet was valued at a ridiculous $10bn. They have all agreed to sell their shares to BT, and you can't help but think they're glad to be shot of it.

Is BT setting itself up for another massive fall, following the abortive effort to get hold of MCI and then the knee-jerk reaction to set up Concert with AT&T, which proved to be a very expensive disaster? Quite possibly yes.

In fact, recognising the fact that BT shareholders will most likely be holding their head in their hands, BT has included in its press release announcing the deal an entire section called "Rationale for the Transaction". The main reason is Infonet's 1,800 multinational customers that BT wants to get hold of, in particular in the USA.

Existing customers will also benefit from Infonet's technology, BT claimed – cutting-edge fault management, order management, pricing and billing systems and tools. Although for $1bn you would be able to buy that technology much cheaper elsewhere.

"Infonet customers will for the first time be able to acquire in-country, as well as international, managed network services from a single truly global source," BT continues to promise. "In addition, BT expects to offer its portfolio of IT services, outsourcing solutions and its voice communications products to the Infonet customer base."

But not just yet: "Recognising the quality of both product sets and their importance to both sets of customers, BT intends to operate both platforms in parallel for some time. The integration and harmonisation of these will be managed so as to continue the best of both for the combined business and its customers."

Has BT just wasted nearly a billion dollars on chasing a long-lost dream? Quite probably, yes.

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