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Rural internet provider Xplornet to be acquired by U.S. private equity firm Stonepeak – The Globe and Mail

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Rural internet provider Xplornet Communications Inc. has struck a deal to be acquired by New York-based private-equity firm Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Xplornet, which serves about a million rural Canadians across the country, uses a combination of fibre optics and wireless to provide internet and voice service, typically just outside city limits. It also uses satellites to provide service to more remote areas of the country.

One source pegged the deal at around US$2-billion, including Xplornet’s significant debt load. The Woodstock, N.B.-based company has borrowed heavily to build out its network, purchase spectrum licences and lease satellite capacity and is expected to carry more than US$1.2-billion of debt after the transaction.

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The Globe and Mail is not identifying the sources because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. A representative for Xplornet declined to comment. Representatives for Stonepeak could not be reached.

One of Xplornet’s private-equity owners, Sandler Capital Management of New York, first invested in the company more than 15 years ago, a relatively long holding period for funds that typically try to cash in on holdings within 10 years of making their initial investment. Xplornet’s other major backers include New York-based Catalyst Investors and Calgary-based Werklund Capital, founded by former oil services company owner David Werklund. Sandler, Catalyst and Werklund did not respond to requests for comment.

Last fall, Xplornet needed additional capital to expand its business and at least one of its private-equity investors was interested in cashing out of the company, according to an investment banking source who advises the telecom company. At that point, Xplornet started a process aimed at either bringing in capital from a new investor, or selling the entire company.

Xplornet’s acquirer, Stonepeak, is a New York-based infrastructure fund with US$15-billion of investments, including a stake in a European wireless internet service. A banking source said the US$2-billion price tag on Xplornet means Stonepeak is paying approximately 10 times the Canadian company’s forecast earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) for the current year.

Credit rating agency Moody’s, which has assigned the company a non-investment-grade B3 rating, says Xplornet is expected to benefit from strong subscriber growth, as there are roughly 2.8 million rural and remote homes in need of high-speed internet.

However, the company also faces risks stemming from the fact that it is an early-stage company that has relied heavily on debt to finance its rapid growth, Moody’s said in its most recent note.

“Despite expectations of 15-to-20 per cent year-over-year revenue growth, the company is persistently cash flow negative because of network capital expenditures and low [average revenue per user],” Moody’s said in the note, dated May, 2019.

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Earlier this month, Xplornet acquired Brantford, Ont.-based Silo Wireless Inc., a rural provider in Southwestern Ontario that operates more than 100 fixed wireless towers and a fibre-to-the-home network, for an undisclosed amount.

Xplornet also recently announced plans to expand its fibre-optic network to more than 24,000 homes and businesses in rural Nova Scotia, providing them with faster internet speeds and unlimited data.

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Ransomware attacks soar, hackers set to become more aggressive – Canada spy agency

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Global ransomware attacks increased by 151% in the first half of 2021 compared with 2020 and hackers are set to become increasingly aggressive, Canada‘s signals intelligence agency said on Monday.

The Communications Security Establishment (CSE), citing attacks on North American health facilities and a U.S. pipeline, said the scale and scope of ransomware operators represented both security and economic risks to Canada and its allies.

“Ransomware operators will likely become increasingly aggressive in their targeting, including against critical infrastructure,” said a report issued by the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security https://cyber.gc.ca/sites/default/files/2021-12/Cyber-ransomware-update-threat-bulletin_e.pdf, a unit of CSE.

The agency said it knew of 235 ransomware incidents against Canadian victims from Jan. 1 to Nov. 16 this year. More than

half of these victims were critical infrastructure providers.

In 2021, the global average total cost of recovery from a ransomware incident has more than doubled to C$2.3 million ($1.8 million).

“Ransom payments are likely reaching a market equilibrium, where cybercriminals are becoming better at tailoring their demands to what their victims are most likely to pay,” CSE said.

The agency reiterated previous statements that actors in Russia, China and Iran posed a major threat.

“Russian intelligence services and law enforcement almost certainly maintain relationships with cybercriminals, either through association or recruitment, and allow them to operate with near impunity as long as they focus their attacks against targets located outside Russia,” it said.

($1 = 1.2786 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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Raven Software employees walk out to protest Activision Blizzard layoffs – VentureBeat

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Join gaming leaders, alongside GamesBeat and Facebook Gaming, for their 2nd Annual GamesBeat & Facebook Gaming Summit | GamesBeat: Into the Metaverse 2 this upcoming January 25-27, 2022. Learn more about the event. 


Several employees at Raven Software, one of the development teams under Activision Blizzard, are walking out to protest layoffs at the company. Several members of the QA team were laid off last week, and other employees are asking that they be reinstated, saying Activision Blizzard had promised them better pay in the future.

The Washington Post reported on the layoffs last Friday, saying that management laid off (or planned to lay off) up to a third of Raven’s quality assurance team. Associate community manager Austin O’Brien shed some more light on it in a tweet chain, saying that Activision promised the QA team better pay following an upcoming pay restructure, only for some to be let go instead. Some had also recently relocated to Madison, Wisconsin. At the time of this writing, some workers still do not know whether they are being kept on or being let go.

Raven Software is the major development team behind Call of Duty Warzone, one of Activision’s staple games. The most recent release, Call of Duty: Vanguard, is due to cross over with Warzone shortly. According to a letter written by the protesting workers to management, Warzone generates $5.2 million a day. Alex Dupont, a member of the QA team, told Bloomberg that the other members who were let go were not given a clear reason for it.

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Activision Blizzard initially responded to the news of the layoffs with a statement that implied that these workers were the unfortunate few whose contracts were not upgraded to a full-time position, but that 500 contract workers would be upgraded eventually.

This is just the latest in a series of problems at Activision Blizzard. Its sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination scandal has continued apace since July, when the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the company. More and more employees are coming forward with new reports from within the company. Most recently, a report last month in the Wall Street Journal leveled allegations against CEO Bobby Kotick.

Activision Blizzard employees have walked out during those previous reports in protest of the way the company handled these allegations. Other major figures in the gaming industry, including the heads of all three console manufacturers (Phil Spencer of Xbox, Jim Ryan of PlayStation, and Doug Bowser of Nintendo), have criticized the company’s actions.

The company has also shown signs of problems on the game development side, too. At its recent quarterly report, Activision revealed it was maintaining decent numbers, but it was also delaying two of its most anticipated releases: Diablo IV and Overwatch 2. The company currently has thousands of job openings, and seems to be eager to bring in new talent.

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New 'Halo' game debuts as Xbox turns 20 – Global Times

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People play a video game. Photo: VCG

 Fans will this week get their hands on the latest Halo video game, as Microsoft marks 20 years of the franchise that turned its Xbox console into a hit.

Halo Infinite is out Wednesday – but to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the cult sci-fi series, Microsoft and developer 343 Industries have already released a free-to-play “beta” test version. 

Within an hour of its launch on November 15 some 100,000 people were logged on to play simultaneously via online platform Steam, in a taste of the excitement around the sixth installment’s return to a 26th-century space war. 

“The entire Halo community has been anxiously awaiting the arrival of this game,” said 28-year-old Jenn, a competitive Halo player who goes by the gaming alias Queen x3.

“The beta was a lot of fun and created a lot more excitement leading up to the official launch.”

As for the appeal of the game, seen through the eyes of a heavily armed cyber-soldier, she said it was in the thrill of the challenge.

“Halo is truly one of the most competitive first-person shooters out there – not many people can pick up a controller for the first time and be great.”

Set in a future where humans have colonized many planets, Halo: Combat Evolved arrived in November 2001 as the debut game for Microsoft’s brand-new Xbox console. 

The series quickly became what is known as a “killer app” – the product driving sales of the Xbox – as Microsoft sought to turn itself into a US rival to Japan’s Nintendo and Sony in the already-lucrative market for gaming consoles. 

Two decades later Xbox remains a key player in a video game industry now thought to be larger than the movie sector, with market research firm Mordor Intelligence valuing it at $173.7 billion in 2020.

Its Xbox Live platform was a pioneer in turning online gaming into a social phenomenon, with people logging on to play against friends or strangers. 

It now has more than 100 million monthly users. 

The Xbox console still lags far behind the Japanese behemoths, with an estimated 6.7 million sold by 2021 compared to nearly 90 million Nintendo Switches and 12.8 million PlayStation 5s, according to an analysis by Ampere.

But the latest versions of the Xbox, Series X and S, are the fastest-selling in the company’s history, according to Microsoft.

“It’s not as if the title is needed to move consoles off shelves, although it will certainly help increase demand,” NPD gaming analyst Mat Piscatella said of the new Halo release. 

The game series – which has sold 91 million copies – has spawned an entire media franchise, with films, books, comics and a forthcoming TV series starring The Wire actor Pablo Schreiber as protagonist Master Chief.

It has even given rise to the expression “Halo Killer,” meaning a game good enough to beat its success. 

Joshua “Mash” Mashlan, a professional coach for Halo e-sports tournaments, remembers its rise as a time when finally, “you weren’t a nerd for liking the game.”

“Everybody wanted to play,” the 28-year-old told AFP. 

He was so excited about the release of the beta version in November that he scheduled a day off work to play it, and has been enjoying it despite “a lot of little glitches.”

“It’s a fresh start to a game we’ve been playing for 20 years,” he said. 

It’s a pleasant surprise for a title whose release has been delayed by more than a year, due in part to complications linked to COVID-19 teleworking but also criticism from players of the early artwork, derided as basic. 

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