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China, AT&T fibre, New Nextel, Nvidia, when diallers attack: Telco 2.0 News Review

  • China Mobile gets iPhones; ZTE re-orgs and supplies 4G for India; when Google won’t play ball with Chinese OEMs; Embratel pours cash into Claro

    China Mobile’s iPhone deal was eventually signed just before Christmas. The terms are not disclosed. China Mobile started taking orders on the 25th and the first gadgets will ship on the 17th of January. Interestingly, this may have a useful side effect for Sprint - its current 2.5GHz allocation isn’t supported by the LTE radios in US iPhones, but the ones for China Mobile will have that band. Huawei, meanwhile, expects its revenue from LTE equipment to rise steeply this year, a fair guess if China starts filling up with iPhones.

  • ZTE, meanwhile, has carried out a re-organisation, creating an autonomous business unit for devices and a new enterprise division. Their idea of “enterprise” is rather different from, say, Huawei’s, as it includes cloud, big data, but also the Internet of Things and smart city projects.

    Meanwhile, Aircel has begun rolling out LTE using ZTE’s equipment. To begin with, they’re covering Chennai, Tamil Nadu, and a few “business critical” areas, presumably major urban cores or similar.

    One of last year’s developments was Google’s shift of emphasis from Android itself to the suite of Google apps that ships with it. Having realised they don’t have anything like “control” over Android, Google concentrated on using their own apps as a lever to influence both vendors and carriers. Very interestingly, the vast Chinese OEM industry is complaining that Google doesn’t care about them and won’t arrange for them to take the tests that grant you access to the G-suite apps. Inevitably, a black market has arisen in “cracked” copies of the software. As these vendors collectively ship hundreds of millions of devices, this is an important issue and worth watching.

    Richard Li’s Hong Kong Telecom, meanwhile, is buying out rival Hong Kong operator CSL. Telstra owns 76% of the carrier, and they’re selling for $2.4bn. This would be a big change in the Hong Kong market, as CSL is the market leader and HKT is the fifth placed mobile operator.

    The South Korean government is investing the equivalent of $478m in research on future mobile networks, so-called 5G, with the objective of having a test network operating by 2020.

    In Brazil, meanwhile, it was reported that Telefonica is in the process of setting up a financial solution that would let it break up TIM Brasil, thus clearing the way for a takeover of Telecom Italia. Today, Telefonica denied any such deal and said that it had not discussed it with the Brazilian regulator.

    That said, Claro, Carlos Slim’s Brazilian MNO, is getting a major investment from his Brazilian fixed operator, Embratel. This is officially part of a strategy to integrate the fixed and mobile investments into a converged operator. If Slim took part in a sale or breakup of TIM Brasil, though, Claro would presumably need to raise funds, and one way to do that would be from his fixed operator.

    And in Indonesia, here’s an example of getting mobile coverage into the real wilds through radically cheap equipment and community self-management.

    100 years of AT&T; Stephenson U-turns on fibre, or perhaps not; vectoring DSL isn’t vectoring; will Sprint bring back Nextel?

    The 19th of December marked 100 years since the Kingsbury Commitment essentially founded the Bell System and therefore AT&T, and really everything we associate with classical telecoms for good or ill. It’s therefore remarkable that AT&T’s Randall Stephenson has thrown a U-turn over fibre to the home. Or has he? Here’s the quote:

    “The cost dynamics of deploying fiber have radically changed. The interfaces. the home wiring requirements, how you get a drop to a pole and splice it, it’s just totally changed.”

    As Dave Burstein points out, this implies his estimate of cost-to-pass and cost-to-connect are now below the rule of thumb values of $700 and $600 respectively established by his arch rivals at Verizon. It also suggests that AT&T might melt its backhoes out of their block of carbonite and deploy some fibre. Back in 2004-2005, Stephenson found that what was then SBC was planning a major FTTH build, and killed it because nobody needed more than 24Mbps. As a result, AT&T conceded the lead in broadband to Verizon and Comcast, concentrating on wireless and TV. The problem with TV, of course, is that you have to give about 25% of ARPU straight to Hollywood for content rights…

    That said, don’t get excited just yet - Stephenson is still talking up “advanced DSL” and hasn’t offered any additional CAPEX. The argument goes like this: Deutsche Telekom reckons that they can get fibre to “within 500-1000 metres” of all of Germany for a cost to pass of $400, and with vectoring, bonding, etc, you can get the downlink to 100Mbps. So what’s not to love?

    Well, DTAG won’t be turning the vectoring on for another six months, for the simple reason that it doesn’t work, and they and their vendors (Alcatel and Adtran) have taken to reporting “vectoring-ready lines” rather than “vectoring lines”.

    Part of the problem is that non-vectored lines interfere with the vectored ones, but really this is more like a specific case of the general problem with all “DSL/wireless that’s almost like fibre” products - they only work if you’re really, really close to the exchange, on brand-new copper, in a perfectly clean RF environment.

    While we’re talking fixed, will the cable half of Rogers switch to FTTH? They’re certainly sticking a toe in the water by doing a trial deployment.

    Meanwhile, AT&T’s commitment to fixed can be measured by the fact they just sold their whole network in Connecticut to Frontier Communications for $2bn. That brings Frontier some 900,000 additional lines, of which 415,000 are broadband and 180,000 take IPTV.

    In wireless, though, it’s a different story. AT&T Mobility has started the year with an aggressive counter-attack on T-Mobile USA, whose “uncarrier” strategy was surely the surprise package of 2013. AT&T’s new idea is simple: if you’re a T-Mobile subscriber who churns to them and trades-in your old smartphone, they’ll give you as much as $450 in service credit. To get the full whack, you have to sign on for the AT&T Next quick-upgrade plan. As the obvious thing to do with $450 of AT&T credit once you’ve signed up for service is to get a new phone, this is handset subsidy and then some.

    As the US price war gets under way, perhaps the next stop will be literally handing new subscribers a wedge of cash?

    We started the year expecting great things from Softbank’s ownership of Sprint, but in the event, it was T-Mobile that delivered. Now, the latest rumour is that the Samurai Son is looking at buying T-Mobile USA and talking to his bankers, who would have to front him about $40bn. The big question is of course whether the FCC likes the idea of going down to 3 national operators any more than it did when it said no to AT&T-Mobile.

    Meanwhile, Sprint’s new owners may be tidying up its assortment of prepaid brands into one “Sprint Freedom” line. This is harder than it sounds, as some of them (Boost and Virgin Mobile USA) are MVNOs rather than just Sprint-owned branding entities and therefore have owners who presumably have ideas of their own.

    The real surprise, though, is that they’re supposedly thinking about bringing back the Nextel name, only months after the network was shut down. Apparently the idea would be a “premium” or “business-class” product, using the infrastructure of Clearwire but running LTE rather than WiMAX.

    Despite all the drama of Satellite Cowboy Charlie Ergen’s struggle to tempt Sprint away from the Samurai Son, Sprint and DISH are cooperating these days. DISH wants to offer broadband to its rural satellite TV customers, and Sprint would like to sell them both broadband and voice. So the idea is that DISH’s satellite installers could also put in fixed-wireless antennas.

    DukeNet is demonstrating SDN with OpenStack across its wide-area network.

    Free’s rivals complain to regulator, wholesale to MVNO that’s even cheaper; GSMA says yes to over-the-air SIM updates

    We’ve had Free Mobile’s no-premium LTE, and its smartphone leasing plan. Now, the French government’s telecoms minister is promising to give ARCEP more power to enforce “quality”, which is read to mean “do something about Free”.

    But the cat is out of the bag. Coriolis, an MVNO running on SFR’s network, will offering you unlimited voice and SMS, plus 100MB of data, for the equivalent of €9.50/mo. If you want a GB of data with that - i.e. a Vodafone £29/mo bundle - you’ll pay €14.50/mo. This is price disruption with a vengeance, and Dave Burstein argues that it’s evidence that most mobile operators have all the capacity they need.

    For all the regulatory whining, the French carriers are clearly willing to sell capacity wholesale at these rock-bottom rates, and to anyone who pays, not just via Free’s special national roaming arrangement - otherwise they wouldn’t do it.

    Just before the holiday, the GSMA surprised everyone by issuing a specification for over-the-air provisioning of SIMs. Carriers and the GSMA have always hated the idea, on the grounds that it makes it far too easy for a vendor to become their own MVNO and far too hard for users to choose a carrier, but M2M types would really like to be able to update their devices and change operator without having to visit each and every gadget.

    In the UK, EE will be providing inbound roaming for AT&T’s LTE subscribers, in one of the world’s first LTE roaming agreements.

    OFCOM, meanwhile, has told BT that its Openreach infrastructure division will have to improve its customer service. Unless 80% of new installations get an appointment within 12 working days, and 80% of faults are fixed within 2, Openreach faces a fine.

    UK TV networks are not happy with the planned whitespace trial, and their umbrella group (Digital UK) has said so in its submission to OFCOM.

    The European Commission has started a 90-day review of the Telefonica acquisition of E-Plus. They’re concerned about Germany going down to three operators, and especially about the future of MVNOs. A report must be provided by the 12th of May.

    KPN, meanwhile, has discontinued its network sharing project with Vodafone.

    Vimpelcom wants out of Wind Italia, which is about $14bn in debt. 3 Italia is a potential buyer.

    Nvidia puts desktop GPUs into mobile chips; why the Valley doesn’t get Qualcomm; BlackBerry partners with Foxconn

    Nvidia launched a new version of its Tegra chips this week, which puts the same GPU architecture they use in desktop systems into mobile devices. For context, the new chip will have similar GPU performance to a cheap dedicated GPU from last year. It also supports the whole OpenGL 4.4 API, which should make porting apps from the desktop or console space easier. The first ones should ship in H1. This implies bigger, faster, shinier mobile gaming, and probably fairly dreadful battery life.

    In other chip news, here’s a good piece about Qualcomm and why Silicon Valley doesn’t understand what they do. The graphic is nice, too, and sums up a lot of what Telco 2.0 is about.


    It looks like Samsung has a couple of new devices for CES tomorrow, and incredibly enough they’re big touchscreen tablets/phablets.

    BlackBerry confessed to another horrible quarter, with a $4.4bn loss. They also had some positive news - they’ve signed up with Foxconn to manufacture a BB10-based, 3G device for developing markets, and reorganised to create separate divisions for the QNX operating system, messaging, enterprise, and gadgets. The new device is expected to launch in Indonesia first.

    Meanwhile, HTC reported a quarter just marginally in profit, by $10m. Nokia has pulled the HERE Maps app from the Apple app store.

    Here’s a review of the new Mac Pro.

    When alternative diallers pinch your phone number; will IMS get close to $4bn a year? O2’s new video-sharing app

    More and more Voice 2.0 apps take over control of diallers and messaging. Sometimes this can be a good thing - Google’s Hangouts app, for example, is a truly excellent way to use SMS - but sometimes it goes too far. TelecomTV takes issue with an ABI Research forecast showing IMS spending rising to $4bn a year by 2017, making the good point that whatever IMS features operators actually need might well be provided as virtualised software, or even hosted in the cloud, much cheaper.

    Dean Bubley agrees, harder. Meanwhile, Alianza’s Kevin Mitchell rounds up major news in cloud voice last year - Genband bought Fring so as to have a voice platform, Level(3) deployed Alianza, and several new hosted voice options for telcos appeared in the US. He also argues that voice as a feature means that only the cloud can keep costs down far enough.

    O2 UK has a beta app, Clip It!, that lets you send anyone 63 seconds of video, instantly, whether or not you’re an O2 subscriber. The app was developed through Telefonica Digital’s Wayra innovations initiative.

    Sqwiggle, meanwhile, takes photos of you at intervals and shares them with a group of your friends/colleagues/whoever.

    The difference between “best phone camera” and “best camera” is like the difference between “best camera” and “best camera from 2007”

    All the video, photos, and AR content whizzing around starts with a camera, so it’s no surprise that this is a crucial theatre of competition these days. DPReview has a fascinating deep-dive review of the Nokia Lumia 1020, Apple iPhone 5S, a high-end film camera, and a range of digital SLRs from the last 10 years. They conclude that the Nokia is behind the best digital SLR, at about a $2,000 price point, by about as much as the best digital SLR of 6 years ago is. In other words, 6 years’ technical progress is enough to beat the physical advantages of the DSLR’s lens and form factor. They also have a nice chart using the DXOmark benchmark - note that the series aren’t directly comparable, but check out how fast the smartphones are improving:


    Snappycam is a very popular iOS app that takes over the camera and lets you do burst photography and 4x lossless digital zoom, and now Apple has acquired the developer’s company.

    YouTube and Netflix, meanwhile, are both planning to show 4K video content at CES. You can get a 4K-capable video camera for $399; how long before it’s in a smartphone?

    We all remember Robert Scoble’s gushing enthusiasm for Google Glass last year. He seems to have calmed down.

    A detailed look at the arguments about who controls content rights for TV apps.

    And here’s a billboard that uses a face recognition system to only show the advert to women.

    Snowden: how the NSA hacked all your equipment; VZ, AT&T come clean about data requests; don’t click on Yahoo! ads; Vodafone Egypt accused of broadcasting secret messages in puppet advert

    Edward Snowden offered us all a Christmas present in his own inimitable way - by telling us that the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations team possessed backdoor access to all sorts of equipment, notably Cisco and Huawei routers, HP ProLiant servers, and various GSM base stations. A full list of the documents is available here.

    Both Verizon and AT&T have now agreed to publish regular reports on their cooperation with government requests for data.

    Yahoo! confesses that some of its ads contain malware.

    And where do we start with this one? So Vodafone Egypt published an advert using the Egyptian equivalent of the Muppets. And Egyptian state security officials decided that one of the puppets is signalling secret messages to Islamist terrorists, after a tip off from a pro-army activist known as “Ahmed Spider” (this is not a joke).

    The muppets in the ad clearly aren’t the only ones.

    IBM Research claims to have found a way to do analytics on data without decrypting it; here’s a deep investigation into how Netflix tags movies; Linksys brings back the WRT routers, with the alternative Linux distro; AllThingsD shuts down.

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