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.

 

Apple continues its transition from products to services

Quarterly revenues for gadget giant Apple were up year-on-year but down for the full year, as the company increasingly relies on services.

The headline of Apple’s latest quarterly announcement read: ‘Services Revenue Reaches All-Time High of $12.5 Billion’. This achievement masked the fact iPhone revenues continue to decline, which in turn dragged full year revenues into the red. On the whole, however, these were solid results for Apple and it seems to be managing its strategic transition well.

“We concluded a groundbreaking fiscal 2019 with our highest Q4 revenue ever, fueled by accelerating growth from Services, Wearables and iPad,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “With customers and reviewers raving about the new generation of iPhones, today’s debut of new, noise-cancelling AirPods Pro, the hotly-anticipated arrival of Apple TV+ just two days away, and our best lineup of products and services ever, we’re very optimistic about what the holiday quarter has in store.”

The services side of things was the focus of the tech press in its analysis. Apparently Apple pay transaction volume overtook that of PayPal in the most recent quarter. A significant initiative that illustrates the symbiosis of the services and hardware side is Apple’s decision to offer interest-free financing of new iPhones through its own credit card. This will also be a significant blow for the postpaid phone contract sector as subscribers will no longer be dependent on operators for handset financing.

The fact that iPhone shipments are declining is not disastrous, so long as Apple maintains the massive iOS installed -base. As the Apple Pay numbers show, Apple’s services are bound to do well so long as there are lots of iPhones in use. The financing initiative implies Apple is worried about that installed-base declining, however, and may not be the last time we see Apple further incentivising people to buy iPhones.

The columns in the table below are as follows: fiscal Q4 2019, Q4 2018, full fiscal year 2019, full year 2018.

 

https://telecoms.com/500678/apple-continues-its-transition-from-products-to-services/

Amazon profits fall and its share price follows

Internet giant Amazon announced strong sales growth but that didn’t translate into profit after it invested heavily in one-day shipping.

The consequent significant year-on-year rise in operating expenses, combined with shrinking margin at AWS, where most of Amazon’s profit comes from, resulted in quarterly operating income declining for the first time in a while. While investors had been warned about the increased overheads, they were apparently even greater than expected, because Amazon’s share price declined 6% on the news.

“We are ramping up to make our 25th holiday season the best ever for Prime customers — with millions of products available for free one-day delivery,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “Customers love the transition of Prime from two days to one day — they’ve already ordered billions of items with free one-day delivery this year.

“It’s a big investment, and it’s the right long-term decision for customers. And although it’s counterintuitive, the fastest delivery speeds generate the least carbon emissions because these products ship from fulfillment centers very close to the customer — it simply becomes impractical to use air or long ground routes. Huge thanks to all the teams helping deliver for customers this holiday.”

As you can see from the table below, Amazon’s total overheads were 14 billion bucks higher in the most recent quarter than they were a year ago. North America is still where most of its sales are and thus where most of the overheads come from too. Profits disproportionality come from its AWS cloud services division, but even there margins are significantly reduced year-on-year.

Amazon has spent its entire history sacrificing profit on the altar of investment, and that seems to have paid off. So it’s hard to read too much into the share price fall other than a realisation among investors that Amazon is serious about this one-day delivery stuff. That will probably pay off in the long term too, and we expect Bezos isn’t very bothered about the short term reaction to his grand plan.

Singtel to push forward with 5G cloud gaming trial

In partnership with Razer and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Singtel is testing the readiness of its network to capitalise on the fast-growing cloud gaming segment.

As a concept, cloud gaming is attracting a lot of attention in the industry and is attempting to wrestle the crown of go-to 5G usecase away from robotic surgery. Now it seems the Singapore consortium is getting in on the act with its own trials.

“While this is not the roll out of a commercial cloud gaming service, this opportunity is the first step for Singapore to spearhead 5G projects,” said Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan.

“5G is a literal game-changer when it comes to cloud gaming,” said Mr Yuen Kuan Moon, CEO, Consumer Singapore at Singtel. “Latency and bandwidth are crucial to internet streaming and 5G will deliver next-generation connectivity that will support immersive gaming, even on mobile devices.”

The trial itself will focus on the demands of cloud gaming as a usecase on a 5G network, as well as the design and engineering of low latency hardware for cloud gaming. More specifically on the hardware side, ultra-fast responsiveness, portability and seamless device-to-device sync to cloud servers will be the focus of investigations.

With mobile devices commanding growth revenues in the gaming industry, the cloud gaming usecase is charging-up the priority list for telcos. This is perhaps particularly prevalent in the APAC markets, where mobile gaming has gained more traction than the Western markets, though it should not be forgotten this is very applicable for consoles also.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign for the cloud gaming segment is the aggressive moves being made by the internet giants to gain supremacy in the space. Amazon, Microsoft and Google are all fighting for attention in the early days, though it is worth bearing in mind more niche players such as Nvidia and HTC are also making moves.

This is maybe one of the most encouraging signs for telcos. Usually, there is very much a ‘built it and they will come’ attitude for network investment, though with cloud gaming services already being created and marketed, the demand from service providers is awaiting the creation of networks.

 

BT Mobile joins the 5G fray

BT has become the latest mobile player to enter the race for 5G subscriptions, though it does beg the question how economically attractive it is to own two rival services.

Launching in 20 cities and towns around the country, BT Plus and BT Business customers will be the first to be offered upgrades to the service. Convergence is a key pillar of the BT turnaround strategy, and the introduction of 5G to the BT brand does build in more relevance moving forward.

“Our 5G service provides customers with a faster and more reliable connection in high demand, crowded areas across the UK at peak times,” said BT Consumer CEO Marc Allera.

“When combined with the best fibre, the UK’s fastest 4G network and biggest wi-fi network, BT is helping consumers and businesses stay connected wherever they are and whatever they need to do.”

Despite the fact BT is in the most powerful position in the UK when it comes to connectivity assets, it hasn’t really been able to cash-in on the convergence craze just yet. The issue which has not been addressed to date, and now we suspect it won’t be in the near future, is rival brands, fighting for the same consumer, to contribute profits to the same bank account.

Customer acquisition in a mature and saturated market is incredibly expensive. The most successful strategies are generally those geared towards price, though this does create the dreaded ‘race to the bottom’. Perhaps one of the reasons convergence has not hit the high notes at BT is the multi-brand strategy which the team is persisting with.

EE has an excellent mobile brand, but it found wanting in broadband. BT leads the market in broadband but lacks clout in mobile. If either of these brands want to create value through convergence, they will have to lure customers onto a secondary-service which does not have the reputation of rivals. This is an expensive means of customer acquisition, both in terms of advertising and lower ARPUs.

These brands are not only fighting to lure the same customers away from the same rivals, they are also attempting to steal subscriptions from each other. It doesn’t seem like the most logical plan.

At some point, the brands will have to merge into one. Convergence doesn’t make the most sense when you trying to sell two different brands in the same bundle. We suspect the BT brand will win out, especially when you see the expensive brand advertising campaign which has been launched with the England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland football associations.

That said, it is important for the BT brand to enter the 5G fight if it does want to remain relevant in the mobile world moving forward.

Looking at the deal, BT consumer customers can choose from 6 GB, 30 GB, or 60 GB 5G mobile plans, and can also gain a £10 monthly discount if the plan is purchased alongside a broadband package. This might gain some traction, though there is still plenty of opportunity for pricing strategies to shift over the coming months.

Although many of those with 5G ambitions have unveiled their pricing strategies, there is still plenty of volatility left to realise. Pricing seems to expensive right now, though the telcos will be stubborn while the early adopters are purchasing. These are consumer who are less likely to be deterred by price. As soon as the mass market starts to get interested, this is where we can envision the pricing war genuinely kicking off.

http://telecoms.com/500275/bt-mobile-joins-the-5g-fracas/

Huawei and Sunrise claim 3.67 Gbps from one 5G cell to multiple phones

Swiss operator Sunrise is happy to work with Huawei on 5G and their collaboration is yielding some impressive download speeds.

Not only do they claim to have hit a 3.67 Gbps top speed on a 5G downlink, they say they managed it to ‘multiple’ smartphones from one 5G cell. Sunrise was one of the first European operators to go live with 5G and that fact, together with announcements like these, ad weight to the fear that countries which ban Huawei from their 5G networks may lag behind those who don’t.

Having said that this was just a test, rather than a live network. It was conducted over 100 MHz of C-Band spectrum on Sunrise’s commercial network, using Huawei 5G gear. Huawei took the opportunity to plug its MU-MIMO technology, which is says ‘substantially increases 5G capacity without additional requirement of spectrum and power resource.’

Switzerland has long been a geopolitically neutral country and seems to feel free to go easier on Huawei than many other western countries have. Perhaps as a consequence Huawei will be hosting its latest 5G client event in Switzerland. Announcement like this, as well as general statements of 5G prowess, could also be designed to put pressure on other European countries by showing them what they will be missing out on if they block Huawei.

http://telecoms.com/500258/huawei-and-sunrise-claim-3-67-gbps-from-one-5g-cell-to-multiple-phones/

Telefónica demos surgery with a bit of help from 5G

Some surgeries were performed in Spain with real-time assistance from Japan thanks to the low latency of 5G.

This is still far from the remote surgery that has for so long been used as an illustration of the utopian potential of 5G, but is nonetheless a dramatic illustration of the kind of things it could unlock. A surgeon performed some operations in Malaga and had real-time assistance from another doctor who was dialling in from Tokyo. That assistance would have been far less useful if there had been a lag on the line.

The demo was part of the Advanced Digestive Endoscopy Conference and featured some degree of augmented reality. It claims also to be the first in medical congress in which the training sessions have been broadcast live with almost no latency, thus enabling attendees to interact thanks to 5G and AR.

“The operations organised at this conference are just an example of the numerous practical applications that 5G can have in healthcare,” said Mercedes Fernández, Innovation Manager at Telefónica. “Thanks to two key features of this technology – the low latency that allows transmission without delays and the ability to handle large video streams at high speed – it was possible to perform this intervention with the added value of doing so live and in real time with the interaction of doctors and attendees to provide solutions and ask questions about the clinical case that was undertaken.”

“The experience of previous years in organising innovative training courses in digestive endoscopy allows us this year to provide a global training course thanks to 5G technology, something that might seem science fiction but that we are making reality today” said Dr Pedro Rosón the surgeon who performed the operations.

“The use of 5G and augmented reality is, without doubt, what stands out in comparison with our previous editions and with any other standard medical workshops. We are therefore proud to keep and to continue offering an innovative training space with the live conducting of cases by specialists from Spain and abroad, with an emphasis on theory and reviewing the latest advances in interventional endoscopy.”

Remote assistance via 5G that makes use of AR may well be one of the primary use-cases used to sell 5G to industry. The potential it offers for providing training in the field is clear and it could transform the way training and mentoring is conducted. These are still early days, but each demo such as this one likely makes mainstream acceptance of this kind of technology more likely.

http://telecoms.com/500163/telefonica-demos-surgery-with-a-bit-of-help-from-5g/