Huawei gets limited 5G network approval from UK Government

The interminable UK Supply Chain Review has now been concluded and while there might be limitations, it is pretty good news for under-fire Chinese vendor Huawei.

In short, vendors which are deemed ‘high-risk’ will not be able to provide equipment for the core of the UK’s 5G networks and will be limited to providing no more than 35% of the RAN equipment. These vendors will also be banned from providing equipment to Critical National Infrastructure or sensitive geographic locations, such as nuclear sites and military bases.

There are limitations for Huawei which could prove to be awkward, and perhaps a step-down from the market dominance it exhibited in the 4G era, but this is still a significant win for the vendor.

“We want world-class connectivity as soon as possible but this must not be at the expense of our national security,” said Digital Secretary Baroness Nicky Morgan. “High-risk vendors never have been and never will be in our most sensitive networks.”

Morgan is not 100% correct in this statement. The EE core network uses Huawei equipment, and under the guidelines provided by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Huawei falls under the definition of a ‘high-risk vendor’. Either that, or the Government has and does not consider EE’s 4G network that important.

“The government has reviewed the supply chain for telecoms networks and concluded today it is necessary to have tight restrictions on the presence of high-risk vendors,” Morgan continued.

“This is a UK-specific solution for UK-specific reasons and the decision deals with the challenges we face right now. It not only paves the way for secure and resilient networks, with our sovereignty over data protected, but it also builds on our strategy to develop a diversity of suppliers.”

The supporting documentation itself is perhaps just as interesting as the main announcement. The definition of ‘high-risk’ is effectively nuanced, not pointing the finger directly at Huawei or China. UK telcos will have three years to get below the 35% access equipment network share. This ratio could also be reduced in coming years as the market diversifies, most notably, if OpenRAN progresses at its current pace.

While the end of the Supply Chain Review will be celebrated throughout the UK telecoms industry, there are a still few unknowns:

  • What is the definition of Critical National Infrastructure? It is unclear whether the EE Emergency Services Network which is being constructed for the Home Office falls into this category
  • Will the 35% cap be applied to new equipment which is going in the network, or will it have to be back dated through the generations? Rip and replace will cause a significant headache
  • Could the 35% cap be too low to offer telcos leverage over other network infrastructure vendors and drive competition? Nokia and Ericsson now know it is effectively a duopoly for 65% of the RAN

Perhaps the most significant question is how this will impact the telcos and 5G deployment plans over the short- to mid-term.

O2’s network has been largely supplied by Ericsson and Nokia. EE is reliant on Huawei though there is healthy supplier diversity. Vodafone might find itself above the 35% cap, though it also works with Ericsson and Nokia. Three is in a precarious position as it has agreed to swap out Samsung equipment with Huawei to become its sole supplier of 5G RAN equipment.

Huawei is currently present in the EE 4G network core, though EE has already said it will search for a new supplier for its 5G core. None of the other MNOs have Huawei in the core.

On the fixed infrastructure side, Openreach currently only works with two suppliers for its access network, with Huawei being one. It has already begun the process of seeking a third supplier and should not be impacted too greatly by the announcement.

There are still grey areas to be addressed, but the conclusion of the Supply Chain Review is a monumental step forward for the UK telecoms industry. The I’s still need to be dotted and the T’s crossed, but this is huge progress towards the goal of clarity and continuity.

 

TIM claims 5G speed record with help from Ericsson and Qualcomm

A trio of telecoms trailblazers managed to break the 2 Gbps barrier with 5G over 26 GHz, which is apparently a European record.

TIM, Ericsson and Qualcomm have a rich history of collaborating in the name of self-promotion over 5G and there’s nothing like a speed record for a bit of corporate chest-beating. TIM has a whopping 400MHz of spectrum in this millimetre wave band, which is the main reason it’s able to set records such as this. Meanwhile, as ever, Ericsson provided the radio and Qualcomm the modem.

“This milestone paves the way to the development of new 5G solutions to grant fixed ultrabroadband to families, companies and public authorities not yet covered,” said Michele Gamberini, TIM’s CTIO. “This also includes coverage dedicated to the development of robotics and automation digital services in the smart manufacturing area. All of our customers will therefore be able to take advantage of a wide range of integrated solutions that will allow them to fully enter the digital society”.

“We are extremely pleased that TIM has chosen Ericsson’s 5G technology to achieve this important milestone, placing our country at the forefront of the commercial implementation of the fifth generation of mobile networks,” said Emanuele Iannetti, Country Manager at Ericsson Italy. “Ericsson thus confirms its technological leadership and its readiness to anticipate any market demands.”

“Qualcomm Technologies congratulates TIM on this significant milestone which again demonstrates the potential of 5G mmWave technology and shows how operators are able to use a wide range of spectrum bands to deploy 5G,” said Enrico Salvatori, president, Qualcomm EMEA. “2020 will see a significant expansion in 5G coverage and the use of mmWave bands will play a clear role in the build-out.”

The rest of the TIM press release was mostly spent going on about how this proves the company was right to blow loads of cash at the last Italian spectrum auction. It still remains to be seen how useful high frequency spectrum will be in real life, or indeed how much use there will be for such high data rates, but it’s always nice to be able to claim you’re at the cutting edge regardless.

Qualcomm all-in on cars at CES 2020

At the first big tech show of the year mobile chip giant Qualcomm is focusing on cars rather than phones.

The most eye-catching of its many CES announcements is Qualcomm Snapdragon Ride, a new autonomous driving platform. It consists of the family of Snapdragon Ride Safety SoCs, Snapdragon Ride Safety Accelerator and Snapdragon Ride Autonomous Stack. Qualcomm claims it’s one of the automotive industry’s most advanced, scalable and open autonomous driving solutions, but then it would.

In common with the smartphone Snapdragon platform, Qualcomm is aiming to provide as much of the technology required to enable autonomous driving as possible in one package. Right now that includes the following: L1/L2 Active Safety ADAS for vehicles that include automatic emergency braking, traffic sign recognition and lane keeping assist functions; L2+ Convenience ADAS for vehicles featuring Automated Highway Driving, Self-Parking and Urban Driving in Stop-and-Go traffic; and L4/L5 Fully Autonomous Driving for autonomous urban driving, robo-taxis and robo-logistics.

“Today, we are pleased to be introducing our first-generation Snapdragon Ride platform, which is highly scalable, open, fully customizable and highly power optimized autonomous driving solution designed to address a range of requirements from NCAP to L2+ Highway Autopilot to Robo Taxis,” said Nakul Duggal, SVP of product management at Qualcomm.

“Combined with our Snapdragon Ride Autonomous Stack, or an automaker or tier-1’s own algorithms, our platform aims at accelerating the deployment of high-performance autonomous driving to mass market vehicles. We’ve spent the last several years researching and developing our new autonomous platform and accompanying driving stack, identifying challenges and gathering insights from data analysis to address the complexities automakers want to solve.”

There were a bunch of other related announcements, including new strategic partnerships with GM, Denso and Sasken, as well as some other additions to Qualcomm’s connected car portfolio. Elsewhere the Bluetooth industry received another boost with Qualcomm’s launch of aptX Voice high quality audio. CES has always offered Qualcomm the opportunity to show off what it offers outside of the smartphone space and it seems to be taking good advantage this year.

GlobalData: expect a flood of 5G devices in 2020

5G networks have been launched, though uptake has been questionable, but this is set to change in 2020 according to research firm GlobalData.

One of the reasons for the sluggish uptake in the opening months might down to the unattractive native of geographical coverage, though it might also be attributed to the affordability of devices. GlobalData believes this aspect of the industry might be set to run wild over the coming months.

“In 2020, we will see manufacturers such as Lenovo and HMD in the US, along with Xiaomi and Oppo in Europe and Asia, hitting the market with lower-priced 5G smartphones in the $500-$700 range, with some even being offered for less than $500,” said Anisha Bhatia, Senior Device Analyst at GlobalData.

“As more devices become available across price tiers, 2020 will be the ramp-up year for 5G. Coverage will continue to grow across regions, and carriers will engage with partners to find ways to monetize 5G devices and services.”

As it stands, there isn’t a huge amount of choice available for the 5G enthusiast of today.

Device Price (rough estimate) USD
Huawei Mate 20 X 5G $1,240
LG V 50 ThinQ $1,152
OnePlus 7 Pro 5G $749
Samsung Galaxy A90 5G $810
Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G $1,299
Oppo Reno 5G Ocean Green $1037
Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G $840

Unfortunately, not all of these devices are available in every market, or through every telco. The choice for the consumer is rather limited.

This presents an unpleasant ‘chicken and egg’ situation for the 5G ecosystem. Device manufacturers will not go 100% unless there is genuine interest from consumers, who in turn might be waiting for the price to come down, 5G applications to appear or coverage to increase. The 5G applications will not increase unless there is an install base, and network deployment will be staggered unless the technology is embraced. Economies of scale cannot be achieved by the OEMs unless there is appetite from the rest of the ecosystem, but cheaper devices are needed for this to come true.

It is a mish-mass of complicated result-and-outcome knock-ons, but GlobalData anticipates the launch of several new devices over the course of 2020 which should be more palatable for the consumer’s wallet. This might well be the catalyst which drives excitement (and investment) throughout the rest of the ecosystem.

According to GlobalData, the launch of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765 was a very important event this year. This chip, designed for mid-range devices, could enable the creation of new devices in the $500-700 range. These are still not cheap in comparison to what is available today, but it is a price point which is accessible to the mass market.

California drives forward with autonomous delivery

California has opened the traps for wide-scale testing and commercial application of autonomous vehicles for delivery companies across the state.

The application process for testing the vehicles will be almost exactly the same as that for autonomous passenger delivery vehicles, though if the companies involved want to charge a delivery fee to customers, an additional commercial licence will also have to be sought. The licences will cover self-driving systems in passenger cars, midsized pickup trucks and cargo vans, and may not have to feature a back-up safety driver.

“The adoption of these regulations means Californians soon could receive deliveries from an autonomous vehicle provided the company fulfils the requirements,” California DMV Director Steve Gordon said. “As always, public safety is our primary focus.”

The conditions for licences which include a safety driver are largely as you would expect, though the DMV has taken a somewhat surprising step by creating a separate list of requirements for vehicles where there is no back-up option.

  • Permission from the local authorities
  • Provide a link between the vehicle and a remote operator
  • Provide a link between the vehicle and law enforcement agencies
  • Demonstrate the vehicle can meet Level 4 or Level 5 under the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) autonomous technology descriptions

There are of course other conditions, including cybersecurity certifications. Interestingly enough, the cybersecurity element is a bit hazy. Whereas other conditions have been linked to specific bodies or agencies for certification, the security element needs to ‘meet industry standards’, a very nuanced term.

As it stands, there are currently 65 companies in California who have permits to test autonomous vehicles. These companies include all the automotive giants which you would expect, as well as the software firms powering the ‘brain’ of the vehicle, though we suspect this list will start to grow very quickly.

The larger logistics and delivery companies will of course want to be involved here, while we suspect there will also be entrepreneurs who will want to create their own fleet to serve smaller companies who exclusively focus on the primary business. Bob’s Burger down the road will never own its own fleet of autonomous delivery vehicles, but it could offer a slice of profits to make use of a supplier’s vehicles.

O2 signs on for 4G trials on London Underground

It seems like we have been promised the internet on the London Underground for years, and it might well become a reality in the next couple of months.

O2  has signed an agreement to pilot 4G in the London Underground tubes in March 2020. The Jubilee line between Canning Town and Westminster stations will be the first to experience 4G below the streets.

“The pilot will allow us to continue working hand in hand with TfL, and other network operators, to bring connectivity to commuters across London,” said Derek McManus, COO at O2. “This unique collaboration builds on the recent announcement of the Shared Rural Network, showing how the telecommunications industry is spearheading a more connected, mobile Britain.”

“It’s great that O2 have signed up to bring their 4G network to Jubilee line customers,” said Shashi Verma, CTO at Transport for London (TfL). “The London Underground network is an incredibly challenging environment in which to deliver technological improvements, but we remain on course for customers to start benefiting from our pilot from March 2020.”

Like the rollout of 5G, it would be unfair to promise too much in the early days. This is only a trial for the moment, and due to the complexities of laying communications infrastructure in underground tunnels which have trains running through them almost 19 hours a day, deployment across the entire network is likely to take a very long time.

The trial will begin in March 2020, with plans to award commercial contracts in the summer.

What is worth noting, is that while the O2 statements make it appear although it is an exclusive agreement, it is far from.

Three has confirmed it is also in agreement with TfL to participate in the trial, while TfL also confirmed that Vodafone signed-on in October. Sources have also suggested to Telecoms.com that EE will be signing a similar agreement in the near-term future. TfL is working to create a five-way agreement with all the UK MNOs to deliver 4G services to all customers on the London Underground, irrelevant as to which company they pay for connectivity.

 

Orange launches first operator-branded 5G smartphone

Orange has launched what it claims is the first operator-brand 5G compatible smartphone, the Orange Neva jet, which will be debuted in Romania.

While 4G and 3G compatible versions of the device will be available in various markets, the 5G version will be sold as and when 5G networks are switched-on. Romania was the first of Orange’s national business to enter the 5G fracas in recent weeks, though the rest will have to wait until 2020.

“As we gear up to launch our 5G networks in 2020, the Orange Neva jet is testimony to our long-held promise to deliver the very best innovation and technology,” said Philippe Lucas, SVP of Customer Equipment and Partnerships at Orange.

“This is the start of that journey as we prepare customers for the arrival of 5G.”

Looking at the device itself, it is a customisation of the ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G variant. Orange is keen to point out this is not simply a re-branding of the ZTE device however, with several distinctions on both the software and hardware elements.

Starting with the software, the smartphone will use Android Pie OS software but also include the Orange Experience with Live Screen, the content aggregation tool, as well as Gestures, a feature which allows specific actions to dictate functionality, such as speed-dialling or launching apps. The app store will also feature specialised applications for the device.

On the hardware side, the design and finish of the phone have been customised for Orange. Components such as the battery, processors and cameras are identical, though let’s not forget that Orange is not a smartphone manufacturer.

Another important point to note about ZTE is that its own branded devices will not be on sale through the Orange distribution channels.

The wider range of Neva devices (start, play, zen and link) will now be available in France, Spain, Romania, Poland, Slovakia and Moldova, while the 5G version will be available as soon as the 5G networks are switched-on in the respective markets.

Orange does have history in selling its own branded devices, it has sold 12 million since 2002, though this is an interesting proposition. Priced at €899, it is certainly more friendly to the wallet than other 5G devices. Orange has an incredibly strong brand across its European footprint, so it should surprise few if this device proves to be popular.

 

T-Mobile US promises nationwide 5G before Christmas

T-Mobile US has made the very bold statement that it will switch on a nationwide 5G network on December 6.

With the 5G race heating up, the industry should be prepared to tolerate some interesting statements and might well have to swallow some considerable exaggerations. This certainly has the potential to be an example.

“We’re building a 5G network that will allow us to deliver future New T-Mobile moves that are going to be so massive we couldn’t wait to share the first few,” said CEO John Legere.

“We have definitively put a stake in the ground around the kind of company the supercharged Un-carrier will be and the ways we can put this radically better 5G network to work doing goof for this country — good for consumers, good for competition and good for innovation.

“Only the New T-Mobile’s transformative 5G network will finally have the capacity and reach to make the bold moves we announced today that are squarely aimed at solving inequities that have huge impacts on our society. When it comes to wireless service, many have been taken advantage of, left behind or completely forgotten. It’s time for another wave of change and the New T-Mobile will be at the forefront of that.”

Legere certainly has precedent in making wild claims, though in fairness, he does usually deliver. After all, this is the man which led the T-Mobile US business out of the shadows of irrelevance to a position where it is challenge the dominance of AT&T and Verizon.

However, you have to take such claims with a pinch of salt. The network will make use of the 600 MHz spectrum hording at T-Mobile US, allowing it to reach 200 million people with extended range, however there will be a compromise on speed. This spectrum will not deliver the eye-watering download speeds which have been promised in the 5G era.

This might be 5G, but not the 5G which many have been talking about. The spectrum in question was purchased in 2017, when T-Mobile US paid $7.9 billion for 1,525 regional 600 MHz licences. The assets are already powering the ‘Extended Range’ LTE service for the telco across 2,700 locations.

In conjunction with the launch of the 600 MHz powered 5G network, T-Mobile US is also making use of the mmWave airwaves in strategic locations. This spectrum will deliver the vastly superior download speeds, though with the 600 MHz spectrum aided to the mix, at least customers will be able to see the 5G logo on their screen more often.

Vivo introduces FTTH franchising model in Brazil

Telefonica’s Brazilian brands Vivo and Terra have launched a franchise model for its fibre rollout plans seemingly to ease the financial demands of the digital economy.

Working with local partners, the initiative will focus on cities with populations between 20,000 and 50,000. The aim will be to add an additional 1 million households to the fibre footprint by 2021, taking the total north of 15 million.

“Population demand is for the internet, and Vivo is the only company in Latin America to invest heavily in a fiber project, promoting a unique experience for its customers,” said Fernando Duschitz, Senior Franchise Manager at Vivo.

“This new business model from Vivo is an opportunity for companies and investors who want to enter this market, as well as for those already acting as providers, to benefit from the strength of the Terra brand, with Telefonica scale, and Vivo quality, as well as of all our experience in expanding fiber, present today in 154 cities across the country.”

Just to paint a bit of context to the situation, Telefonica is a company which is not in the most comfortable position when it comes to debt. While debt had been reduced to €41.785 billion, this is still seemed too steep for investors. Various other strategies have been introduced, such as a new business model for the tower division, though this franchise idea also aids the pursuit of a future-proofed network.

This is the conundrum being faced by Telefonica. The management team does need to reduce debt, though it also needs to find investment for fibre and 5G deployments. Without these investments, rivals would gain the upper hand and potentially erode profits as customers elect for better services. Franchising certain localities in Brazil is a compromise, lessening the financial impact to fuel the mission for future-proofed networks, but weakening control.

Franchisees will be responsible for developing all necessary network infrastructure, as well as managing the operation, including sales, service and installation. On the other side of the deal, Vivo will offer agile processes, managerial and technical training, access to tiered qualified suppliers, unique central call centre, network topology ensuring stability and scalability.

Although not many telcos are facing the same debt challenges as Telefonica, finding cash to fuel network upgrades and deployment is an industry-wide conundrum. Compromises will need to be made, and this is certainly an interesting idea.

Facebook revenues surge as EU antitrust team revs its engine

Facebook has been on somewhat of a rollercoaster ride over the last 24 hours, revealing another quarter of impressive year-on-year growth, while rumours circulate it could be facing a competition probe.

In Menlo Park, California, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and CFO David Wehner boasted of another quarter which demonstrated the Facebook advertising machine is not slowing down, while on the other side of the Atlantic, Reuters has suggested the European Commission has taken the first steps in an antitrust investigation concerning the Marketplace feature.

What is worth noting is these are only the preliminary steps, and it will be some time before the European Commission decides whether to formally launch a full-investigation. After complaints alleged Facebook was using its market power to create an unfair competitive advantage, the European Commission has sent surveys to various players in the industry to better understand how the competitive landscape has developed.

For Facebook, this should be seen as a worrying sign. Details are thin on the ground for the moment, but it does appear rivals in the ‘classified ads’ segment are suggesting Facebook should not be allowed to diversify. The questionnaire sent to various players in the industry asks how many referrals came from the social media platform.

The question which seems to be asked here is whether it should be allowed to leverage such a massive user-base to steal business of rivals. The issue which Facebook might face is that it doesn’t collect revenue in the same way as those who are challenging the Marketplace.

Traditionally, the ‘seller’ is charged by the media outlet to engage the ‘buyers’ though Facebook has undermined this transaction. There is no charge to sellers to list products, with revenues being driven through sponsored listings and promotions embedded through the search results. Facebook is using its traditional ‘walled garden’ approach, creating an experience for users but charging companies for the pleasure of engagement.

Should the European Commission come to the consumer this is an abuse of market behaviour, rather than the evolution of commerce as we progress towards the digital economy, Facebook’s pursuit of new revenues by expanding the ‘walled garden’ model to new segments could be threatened.

Although revenues are looking healthy for the moment, a glass ceiling will be hit unless Facebook can offer new experiences. Advertising revenues have grown in-line with the userbase of the platforms, though there are only a finite number of users across the world. Facebook has to think of new ways to keep people on the platforms for longer, and for new reasons. Marketplace has been a success, though this is a threat to all diversification not just eCommerce.

From a revenue perspective, these new initiatives do seem to be aiding growth. Total revenues for the three-month period ending September 30 stood at $17.383 billion, a year-on-year increase of 28%, while net income was $6.091 billion, up 19%.

Daily actives users and monthly active users are also on the up, 9% and 8%, with the team now claiming 2.2 billion people now use Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, or Messenger on a daily basis.

Facebook is a business which is certainly facing risks, though the potential to diversify is quite remarkable. New elements such as the Marketplace or the dating features being tested, are re-engaging users at a time when the social media giant seemed to have lost its way. However, this progress could be undermined should European antitrust authorities believe the Facebook disruption is only possible because of an unfair advantage.