BigAir to take on Telstra in mine camps

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BigAir to take on Telstra in mine camps

Makes headway with Perth business buyout.

BigAir will jump-start a two-year bid to enter the lucrative communications market at remote mining camps by purchasing Perth's Intelligent IP Communications for at least $10 million.

The ASX-listed fixed wireless operator first revealed its intention to pursue the mine accommodation market in August 2011, but found it tough to make significant headway in a market dominated by Telstra with its Smart Camp service.

The work typically involves bringing internet services and entertainment to the residents of remote mining camps and accommodation villages.

BigAir has a stronghold in an adjacent market, servicing student accommodation, and had hoped to expand its horizons with a shift into the mining sector.

"We've been knocking on the door for a while," BigAir CEO Jason Ashton told iTnews.

"There's a lot of incumbent operators in that space and it's a difficult market to break into without any runs on the board.

"In the end we just made a strategic decision to make this acquisition."

Ashton said BigAir had rolled out some microwave links for mining firms in the past two years but hadn't managed to get to the point of providing "wi-fi, voice and video" into camp sites.

"We were working on some greenfields [mine] stuff but [those projects are] a couple of years in advance," Ashton said.

"Also, the problem with greenfields [mines] in the current environment is obviously that there's been a bit of a slowdown in new projects being green-lighted".

Intelligent IP Communications' customers include Consolidated Minerals' Woodie Woodie manganese mine in the Pilbara and gold miner St Barbara Mines, according to spectrum records.

The company also has microwave links running into a quarry, a wind farm, utilities and emergency services.

However, Ashton is also keen on some of the company's other assets (apart from its resources customer base and microwave point-to-point links).

"Outside of Western Australia they rely on a lot of traditional fixed line networks and fibre and ethernet over copper," he said.

Unified comms play

IIPC also makes a unified communications product that Ashton has plans for.

"Their unified comms product is really very elegant and robust, and because they own the intellectual property it's got a low cost base so it can be very disruptive," he said.

Ashton has no immediate plans to centralise the unified communications assets under BigAir.

"We'll keep it in IIPC," he said.

"They built that thing from scratch so those guys know it well, but we will white label it and ... offer it to some of our other customer segments."

Keeping things separate

Ashton said he anticipated keeping IIPC as a separate entity for at least two years.

"There'll be a lot of synergy and operating overlap between the businesses over the next two years, but we won't be merging all the engineering operations for the unified comms and we won't be changing brands at this point in time," he said.

BigAir would, however, work closely with IIPC to expand its reach in the mine camp market.

"We're going to combine forces," Ashton said. "They'll certainly be the lead in WA, but we'll be able to support them with our national network, our lower cost base on the comms side and our balance sheet".

Ashton said that balance sheet requirements had previously kept IIPC out of some of the larger mining projects.

"Now that they're part of the BigAir Group, we've got access to capital and we're generating good free cash flow, so we're in a good position to help them take on some of the bigger opportunities on the comms side," Ashton said.

"There are some massive projects in that mining communications space where to date Telstra's pretty much had it all to themselves.

"It's a real opportunity there for a new entrant that can come in at a disruptive price point and offer some substantial differentiation at a price and service level."

BigAir's purchase of IIPC is expected to be completed by the end of the month. The minimum purchase price is $10 million "with a further $10 million to be paid based on the performance of IIPC in FY2014 and FY2015".

The initial $10 million consists of $6.5 million in cash and $3.5 million in shares.

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