Wireless giant Rogers Communications Inc. expects to finish integrating Microcell Telecommunications Inc. by year-end -- an acquisition that chief executive officer Ted Rogers said yesterday is probably the ''finest'' the company has ever made.
Rogers will spend about $100-million this year on various tasks related to the integration, including upgrading portions of Microcell's wireless network, hiring outside consultants and training employees, John Gossling, chief financial officer of the wireless unit, said in an interview.
Those measures will help the company generate more than $100-million annually in operating savings by 2006, Nadir Mohamed, the wireless unit's chief executive officer, said during a conference call with analysts.
"Anybody can buy something," Mr. Rogers said during the conference call. "`It takes a lot of effort to make it worthwhile."
Toronto-based Rogers, Canada's biggest cable-television operator, is in a period of transition. It spent over $3-billion in the last three months of 2004 to acquire Montreal-based Microcell and the shares it didn't already own in Rogers' separately traded wireless unit, transforming itself into Canada's largest wireless company.
The acquisitions led to a loss for Rogers in the fourth quarter compared with a profit a year earlier. Over the year, it also had a loss, reflecting foreign exchange losses in 2004 in contrast with foreign exchange gains in 2003.
With Microcell, Rogers is investing in a business that is growing faster than its cable and media units. The company forecast that wireless network revenue will climb to between $3.42-billion and $3.47-billion this year, up as much as 15 per cent on a pro forma basis (including Microcell's revenue in the year-earlier period).
Rogers expects to add between 450,000 and 500,000 net wireless subscribers in 2005. And customers' bills are expected to be higher as they use more data services.
At the cable unit, Rogers forecasts 2005 revenue of between $2.09-billion and $2.13-billion, up as much as 9.4 per cent from 2004. It expects to sign up between 175,000 and 275,000 new digital-TV clients this year. The level of basic cable subscribers is expected to be flat or fall by as much as 1 per cent this year.
The potential for growth in average revenue per user (ARPU) from digital-TV service is "significant and growing," Mr. Rogers said. With digital-TV, Rogers can sell customers other products such as video on demand and high-definition TV.
"At the end of day, if you put a digital box in the home, it's a gateway to more revenues," said National Bank Financial analyst Greg MacDonald, who rates Rogers as "outperform."
Rogers also plans to launch an Internet-based telephone service, which it says will shave $15-million to $20-million off the cable division's operating profit this year.
In 2004, Rogers had a loss of $13.2-million or 28 cents a share, compared with a profit of $129.2-million or 35 cents in the previous year, while annual sales rose 17 per cent to $5.61-billion.
Higher expenses for depreciation and amortization and interest on long-term debt, stemming from the acquisitions, led to a fourth-quarter loss of $15.5-million or 12 cents a share; in the year-earlier period, the company reported a profit of $68.8-million, or 24 cents.
Fourth-quarter revenue rose 21 per cent to $1.57-billion, led by a 38-per-cent increase at the wireless unit. Revenue at the cable unit rose 7 per cent, while the media division posted a 1-per-cent increase.