The big promise
If there's one thing hotter than solar and/or fuel-cell-powered, blimp-borne Internet communications, it's gotta be Russian WiMAX. At least that's what the folks at GlobeTel (AMEX: GTE ) would like you to believe. And speculators have been buying it.
GlobeTel stock shot up 75% in a single day last month after the firm, which describes itself as a "diversified, global telecommunications and financial services company" announced a $600 million "WiMAX wireless network" deal for the "30 largest Russian cities."
If that excites you, then simmer down. Last summer, GlobeTel announced a deal to put Internet blimps over Colombia. (The GlobeTel faithful want us to call these "Stratellites," but hey, ol' Doc Magillicutty wanted us to call his castor oil "revitalizing tonic." Some things just are what they are.)
And GlobeTel also deals in other hot technologies. The firm has announced "turnkey VoIP products," deals for wireless networks in China, Japan, and Germany, and many other projects that so far seem to have produced nothing more than penny-stock froth.
Details were pretty slim on this Russian pact, including only a couple of names: Maxim Chernizov, "founding principle" of "Internafta," the company on the Russian end of this deal. "Internafta," by the way, translates to something more like "International Oil." Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places, but it doesn't appear in any Moscow directory I can find, and just about every entry with the word "nafta" is a gas station or oil services outfit.
Sounds like a natural partner for Russia's next big WiMAX network, right? No? Then you're already onto the usual tack that real investors need to take with GlobeTel: Hide that wallet.
Let's get something straight. GlobeTel is not the next Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM ) , Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO ) , Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) , Motorola (NYSE: MOT ) , or Skype -- now owned by eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY ) . It's pretty tough to be a WiMAX or VoIP powerhouse given the measly $1 million it spent for the year for research and development as of the latest reports for 2005 -- with much of that going to the blimps, it appears.
It's not even the next Qwest (NYSE: Q ) , though, in fact, it's closer to that company than any of the high-tech network folks that speculators might confuse it for.
That's because GlobeTel gets 100% of its revenue from the dirty old phone biz, something it's so good at -- and by good I mean bad -- that its margins are zero (when they're not negative) right after the cost of goods sold. And it only loses more money as you move down the income statement.
And this is how things go with GlobeTel. According to the information I've got from Capital IQ, GlobeTel has lost a grand total of $43.9 million since 2000, and it's also running cash-flow negative. It survives on loans and stock sales.
GlobeTel has so far declined to provide me with the most basic contact information about the Russian partner (its PR contact explained to me that it would be highly unusual for a company to provide such information. I find that highly unusual.) She did promise to send my request further up the food chain. I'm not asking them to show me the money. Just show me the phone number.
I'd love to talk with these folks about their past accomplishments in the WiMAX world, hear about their expertise with these systems, their plans for the future, and why they chose a company like GlobeTel for this impressive-sounding deal. Finally, I'd like to know why, on the strength of the single, limited, in-building wireless network demo described in the press release, someone would decide to spend $600 million on an otherwise unproven wireless infrastructure. (Especially when the blimps that GlobeTel has been touting can supposedly spread broadband to an area the size of Texas for a cost of about $30 million each.)
Foolish bottom line
If I hear anything, I'll report it in this space. Until there's some real information that makes this announcement look the least bit likely, investors should assume that this deal, like the blimp announcements, is nothing but hot air.
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Seth Jayson is always on the lookout for the next big thing, because it's usually a great big bust. At the time of publication, he had no positions in any company mentioned here, meaning he's NOT short GTE. Though he's thinking about it. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.