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Telco 2.0 News Review: French Revolution

French revolution: Free hits results out of the ground again, Bouygues/SFR and Bouygues/Free deals; future RANs

All eyes this week are on France, where the disruption initiated by Free Mobile is working itself out. Everything is in flux, and the personalities of France Telecom CEO Stéphane Richard, Bouygues owner Martin Bouygues, and Free founder Xavier Niel play an unusually important role, as a good story in Le Monde makes clear.

Vivendi faces two possible buyers, Bouygues, which is offering €10.5bn in cash and a 46% stake in the combined company, and Altice, the parent company of French cableco Numericable.

Altice’s terms haven’t been disclosed publicly. Bouygues and SFR operate a shared network over much of France (everywhere except the top 32 urban areas, for about 57% population coverage); going with Bouygues would represent doubling down on pure play mobile, while Altice would add a credible fixed broadband network.

Free’s results, which dropped in the midst of all this, were superb. Market share in mobile hit 12%, revenue was up 19% at €3.7bn, and net profits were up 42% at €265m. Their good day continued when Bouygues announced that they would be willing to sell much of their own network to Free as a concession to buy regulatory approval of a deal with SFR, for a relative snip of €1.8bn.

It’s obviously more than a little ironic that France, having gained a fourth operator so recently, is now looking at going down to three MNOs. The minister of industry, Arnaud Montebourg, sounds sympathetic, although it’s worth remembering that he’s the guy who thinks there is an operator cartel to hold down prices. The minister of telecoms sounds less keen.

Another very important question is which bit of the network Bouygues wants to sell - the rural and exurban zone shared with SFR, or the non-shared urban zone? If it’s the first, SFR is turning into a towerco hosting three radio networks. If it’s the second, we’re seeing the French market turning into a fight between macrocell and small cell RAN strategies, with Free concentrating on the urban and suburban zones and placing femtocells in villages, and SFR/Bouygues and Orange grabbing hilltops for their macrocells.

Orange, meanwhile, had decent results, although a lot of this was just the effect of goodwill charges dropping out.

Meanwhile, Telecom Italia announced a “trend reversal” in its results, which turns out to mean that revenue in Italy fell only 7.7% in Q3 compared to 10.5% in Q1. Tellingly, mobile voice revenue from consumers was down by €693 million during 2013. The GSMA, for its part, wrote to Neelie Kroes asking for less regulation.

FCC edges towards action on no-muni laws; Verizon edges towards non-neutrality; Sprint network execs zapped

The FCC is looking at whether state laws can stop cities deploying their own FTTH. This has been a sore point in the US in recent years, where 20 state-level jurisdictions have passed measures to make municipal broadband illegal, usually with a lot of help from the cable operators. Now, the FCC is considering whether this is entirely legal. The most recent case, in Kansas, would have ruled out Google Fiber, and clearly you don’t say no to the Google.

Public Knowledge, meanwhile, publishes a paper on lessons from the attempted shutdown of Verizon’s network on Fire Island. Recommended.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam made a gesture towards net non-neutrality in a conference presentation. AT&T, for its part, turned up LTE carrier aggregation in Chicago, linking its 700MHz and AWS bands. To begin with, the only device that can use it is their mobile hotspot product.

AT&T also cut prices further on its Mobile Share plans and promised it would be “disruptive” with the Cricket low-cost MVNO brand once its acquisition of Leap closed. T-Mobile changed details of its tariff, overall in the direction of a price cut although individual plans vary.

More thuds and screams were heard from inside Sprint this week. President of network operations, Steve Elfman, and SVP of networks, Bob Azzi are both out. John Saw, former CTO of Clearwire and Sprint SVP of network architecture, is promoted to a new job as Chief Network Officer, but some of Azzi’s old team are being carved out to report to the Sprint CTO, Stephen Bye. FierceWireless points out that Elfman was the architect of the Network Vision strategy (Sprint mainline LTE with Clearwire as an offload) which is now being dumped in favour of Spark (tri-band LTE across the whole spectrum portfolio). You’ve got to wonder about the structure, though - there’s a Chief Network Officer and a CTO?

DISH has collected the whole of the H-block of spectrum for some $1.5bn.

Consumerist hails the publication of the US National Broadband Map.

Google Fiber: is GPON; the awe-inspiring power of Korean WLAN; Vodafone upgrades

Google Fiber, unexpectedly, turns out to be a GPON system rather than a home-run Ethernet one. Current Analysis’s Network Matter blog discusses the implications.

EE says (again) that it’s deploying LTE-Advanced carrier aggregation within London, and that will be the world’s fastest mobile service. If you don’t count either South Korea’s mobile operators, that is, or their gigabit-class WLAN. Via the 3G, 4G, and 5G Wireless Blog, here’s a quick rundown of the Carrier Wi-Fi sessions at MWC - check out the SKT and KT presentations. 1.4Gbps at 300 metres’ range on 802.11ac.


The prime minister announced a collaboration with Surrey University to work on 5G. If this sounds like you heard it before, it’s because you did - the news is that a German university has joined it. It would not be too harsh to say that EE and the PM are both re-announcing their news a lot.

Virgin Media, meanwhile, is monitoring the BDUK projects to see if BT is using taxpayers’ money to overbuild their DOCSIS 3 network. Given how well BDUK has gone so far, expect lawsuits.

The House of Commons’s business, innovation, and skills committee wants to review the basis on which British businesses are charged property taxes. Famously, this applies to BT and its rivals on a radically different basis - BT only pays a higher rate when new fibre is actually lit, only in arrears, and only if it makes a profit, while its ISP competitors pay in advance and as soon as it is installed, and Virgin Media pays on the basis of homes passed.

Vodafone is buying Huawei’s SingleRAN for 15 countries under Project Spring, and starting its German network upgrade in Hamburg. VF plans to spend €4bn in Germany; this particular deployment includes dual-carrier HSPA+ and better voice quality.

Vodafone New Zealand, meanwhile, suggested that the government might just leave its national fibre network and use wholesale access to their cable assets. The government disagreed.

Swantee: don’t treat voice as a commodity (but don’t do VoLTE yet); Simwood building a new platform; Amazon Mayday=WebRTC

In the interview we linked to above, EE’s CEO, Olaf Swantee, also said that:

“Network differentiation is not possible without voice, do not treat voice as a commodity”

EE also said that they weren’t in a hurry to deploy VoLTE because the fallback time from 4G to 2G was less than two seconds, because they are operating both in the 1800MHz band. And, as we have seen, voice is also an investment priority for Vodafone.de.

Simwood, the British wholesale VoIP provider, has a tantalising blog post suggesting that they’re building some sort of cloud-based voice platform to replace their Asterisk servers and potentially yours too. There’s also a job for a developer with strong Redis, node.js, and PHP skills.

Amazon Mayday is indeed WebRTC, says WebRTC Hacks after examining traffic with Wireshark. However, as with a lot of WebRTC, it’s mostly a frontend to a very traditional call-centre infrastructure with session border controllers and all.

Opera has added WebRTC support.

Skype’s plugin for Outlook.com is now available, and providing HD video calls where both parties’ hardware supports it and the network will take it.

Nimbuzz is partnering with 3 Indian MNOs. Chris Kranky says that “WebRTC market size” is as meaningful as “HTML market size”.

UK banks go for mobile payments; small MNOs and M2M; LTE Radar at DTAG

Here’s a case that MWC reflects operators’ widening interests in the enterprise rather than becoming bloated and unfocused.

9 UK banks are launching a joint mobile payments project, backed by the organisation that runs the UK interbank clearing system. You have to sign up to receive them, but anyone with a British current account can send them.

How should smaller MNOs approach M2M? Here’s an argument that they should focus on existing enterprise customers, and specialise in one or two key verticals.

QR codes will appear on energy bills, supposedly to make it easier to change provider.

Google promises an Android SDK for wearable devices.

Deutsche Telekom is interested in the Device to Device features of LTE as a basis for location- or proximity-based services. They are talking about a developer API, which would also be very useful for peer-to-peer distribution or communication apps.


And Pocketlint reviews the quality of pre-MWC rumours.

Volkswagen CEO: Fight the Data Monster!; FaceApp WhatsBook sued; KT spills 12 million records

Everyone loves the connected car. Here’s AT&T, working on a video-streaming platform for cars, AT&T Drive Studio, after last week’s announcement from Apple. Apparently:

its solution includes a configurable, customisable client application, support for adaptive streaming, content protection with DRM solutions, dynamic advertising, banner ad support, multi-language support and featured content.

But then, the CEO of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn, stood up at CeBIT and said that we must all “fight the data monster”.

“I clearly say yes to Big Data, yes to greater security and convenience, but no to paternalism and Big Brother. At this point, the entire industry is called upon. We need a voluntary commitment by the automobile industry,” he said

…Modern vehicles have become mobile computers, with 1.5km of cables, more than 50 control units and the computing power of 20 advanced personal computers, Mr Winterkorn noted. “The car must not become a data monster,” he said.

Volkswagen produces more cars than anyone else, so this is serious stuff.

Speaking of data monsters, a group of privacy campaigners have filed suit with the FTC to block the Facebook acquisition of WhatsApp if Facebook doesn’t maintain WhatsApp’s commitment to not selling user data.

KT may have epic Wi-Fi, but its data security is as shocking as everyone else’s; about 12 million subscribers’ addresses, national identity numbers, and bank account details have been lost to hackers, three of whom have been arrested.

As many as 95% of cash points are running Windows XP and are therefore out of support at the end of the month.

Last week saw Apple confess to a terrible bug in its SSL support. This week, it was Linux that had a similar problem.

Apple iPhone 5s may keep collecting accelerometer data even when the battery is apparently flat.

Serious malware on the Google Play store.

A solution for password-cracking?

Facebook’s flatpack data centre; the fate of Silly Roundabout; IPv6 at T-Mobile USA

Facebook has chosen a novel prefabrication system for its new data centre in Sweden, Lulea 2.

15 telcos are building the latest SEA-ME-WE cable.

Details of IBM’s cloud portfolio.

Do you really need an app? Jeff Atwood thinks not. See also, WTF Mobile Web.

Is the property boom killing Silicon Roundabout?

Spotify buys a huge database of songs.

A really great presentation at APRICOT on deploying IPv6 in mobile, from Cameron Byrne of T-Mobile USA. It’s especially impressive when you think he was the unwilling star of this 2011 NANOG thread, in which it turned out T-Mo had 34 million subscribers in someone else’s IP address block.


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