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March 31, 2015

Digital Services: What is Your Digital Business Worth?


We’ve just published a new research paper ‘Digital Services: What is Your Digital Business Worth?’. In the report we outline our ‘proxy model’ for valuing Digital Services Businesses, based on current best practice, which has significant advantages over traditional approaches. The report also provides a worked example of a telco-owned digital business in Asia that is already worth $1bn, and includes an analysis of approaches being taken by some leading telcos today.

The report is part of the Executive Briefing Service and Telco 2.0 Transformation Stream, and you can read an excerpt of the report here. For more on any of our services, please email contact@telco2.net or call +44 207 247 5003.

Extract chart from the report:

Valuation 2 Figure 1.PNG

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March 30, 2015

India, Intel/Altera, OpenNFV, Title II, BT 4G, LoRa - Telco 2.0 News Review

[Ed: Also, we’ve just published a new report on Facebook: Telcos’ New Best Friend? as part of our new ‘Dealing with Disruption Stream’.]

Indian spectrum auction goes BOOM; Nokia runs VHA’s network from India; Softbank buys into Micromax

The Indian spectrum auction is done, and it was a record blowout in the end. Idea Cellular spent the most but arguably Bharti Airtel got the best deal, acquiring or renewing 111MHz of spectrum. A lot of that was 1800MHz, which means that Bharti is now in a position to use 2G/4G working to deploy 4G nationally. Overall, the bidding went up to $18bn, replicating the bidding war that broke out over the 3G spectrum.

Marten Pieters, Vodafone CEO in India, who is retiring soon, accused the government of taking too much money out of the industry. The FT points out that almost 75% of revenues are concentrated in the top 3 operators, although there are 8 MNOs, and argues that consolidation is likely. The Indian government reckons prices will only rise by a fraction of a US cent a minute.

Last time out, though, the overspending paradoxically led to a price war, as the operators were desperate to add enough customers to fill the spectrum they’d paid so much for. The presence of a new entrant, Reliance Jio, also suggests that if there is going to be consolidation, it will come via a bout of deflation and customer-acquisition spending followed by a shakeout.

The GSMA seems worried about the auction and wants the Indian government to do…something. They don’t say what, but they presumably mean the operators should get a regulatory let-off of some sort in exchange for paying over the cash.

Vodafone-Hutchison Australia’s much maligned network is going to be managed from India, under an extension of their managed-service agreement with Nokia Networks. The deal will run for the next four years and costs VHA about $200m. The 2006-2011 version of their relationship, famously, cost VHA about 1.8m customers after the network failed completely, twice.

Softbank, meanwhile, is buying a 20% stake in Micromax, the Indian handset maker associated with the Android One entry-level smartphone program. That will cost it $1bn. Canalys reckons Micromax outsold Samsung in India in Q4, which presumably explains their interest.

In China, Apple may be starting a trade-in option for iPhones, like the one that exists in the US. This would be rolled out as they double the number of Apple Stores in China over the next 12 months. The trade-in gadgets would go into a rework process and be marketed by Foxconn via Alibaba.com’s Taobao auction website. It’s worth noting that the US carriers’ quick-upgrade plans mean that they will accumulate a lot of recent flagship devices as trade-ins, and we should expect to see them trying to monetise them.

Indosat is likely to see lower margins as its rivals get their 3G going, but it will have an advantage because it has 900MHz spectrum, so says Fitch.

MTN’s CEO for South Africa, Ahmad Farroukh, reckons data prices are too low, but might be OK if they just gave him more spectrum. And Brazilian mobile users can look forward to a whole new digit in their phone numbers.

Intel bids for Altera, teams up with Oracle in NFV; BlackBerry Q4; 5G & cloud news

Intel is trying to acquire Altera, a manufacturer of FPGA chips, ones which can be reprogrammed post-shipment. They’re common in a lot of embedded, industrial, and Internet of Things applications, which is why Intel is interested after a poor first quarter due to poor sales into the PC supply chain. They’re also quite common in mobile network infrastructure, and Intel has been trying to get deeper into the mobile business since forever, as Reuters points out. The Motley Fool notes that although Intel badly wants to put more cellular modems into PCs, buying Altera would be handy in itself even if that didn’t wirk out. Altera would set them back $10bn, but then Intel has $14.4bn in cash at the bank, so…

In the NFV space, two major alliances are emerging, both of them starting with OpenStack but then taking different directions. Oracle will be selling Intel’s Open Network Platform, which consists of Intel servers and OpenStack with the Enhanced Platform Awareness extensions, along with its telco products. Meanwhile, Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux and a key contributor to OpenStack, will be working together with none other than Ericsson. It may not be surprising, then, that the head of the Open Networking Foundation is concerned that the SDN (or NFV) industry is getting too heavily influenced by the big vendors.

Google, meanwhile, has added pre-baked containers for 120 popular apps to its Compute Engine cloud, while Alcatel-Lucent is starting a consultancy shop within Bell Labs.

This is interesting - live streaming specialist Ustream is considering licensing its “software-defined CDN”, or at least taking wholesale customers on it. The system is able to provision capacity on multiple third-party CDNs at once, as a sort of “CDN exchange”.

Here’s an interesting Q&A with 5G researchers from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, who claim to have the best full-duplex solution. They also say MU-MIMO is too complicated to be worth doing. Ericsson is sponsoring a 5G Tactile Internet research group at King’s College, London, in an unprecedented concentration of buzzwords. NTT has demonstrated the first PON fibre-optic system that also uses wavelength-division multiplexing, like the backbone, providing a dramatic increase in capacity and also in flexibility.

The WBA, not surprisingly, thinks WiFi is the best option for location-based services.

ZTE’s profits in 2014 sprang back, rising 94% from a bad 2013. BlackBerry made money, just, in the fourth quarter, with a bottom line of $28m after $115m from a sale of patents was included. That compares to a loss of $423m a year ago, though. The one-off gain is flattering, but there are good signs - the company is generating cash, and has $3bn of it on hand, the average selling price is up to $211 from $180 in the previous quarter, and the software division is growing 20% year-on-year. That said, it’s a deeply diminished company - it shipped 1.6m smartphones in the quarter, far from the numbers it could once count on.

Having finished the M9 smartphone, HTC’s head of industrial design, Jonah Becker, is leaving the company. Here’s a gushingly positive review of the Sammy G6.

SG6 phones fuel the price war; first lawsuit against Title II; 3.5GHz shared spectrum

Speaking of the G6, its arrival in the US was always bound to cause a fresh splurge in the price war. T-Mobile US will offer you a year’s free Netflix if you sign up for one. To get the free movies, you have to redeem the offer from a Samsung website, so the famous Samsung marketing/vendor financing budget is obviously getting a workout again. Sprint, for its part, offered free international roaming including 2G data to G6 users, and further offered the gadget itself “free” under their hire-purchase option. There goes another dollop of vendor finance.

As for service pricing, T-Mobile is now offering a $30/mo plan under the MetroPCS name with unlimited voice and messaging, and a gigabyte of HSPA+ data. As well as simply thrashing prices, part of the point is to get the remaining MetroPCS CDMA users to sign up for something modern so they can shut down the network and get at the 1.7, 1.9. and 2.1GHz spectrum it uses.

Rural operator iWireless is launching LTE through a combination of Nokia Networks modernising its own network, and roaming on T-Mobile. Sprint’s CEO went to the CCA shindig, where the regional carriers get together, in order to sell their partnerships with rural operators. Interestingly, the rural operators seem furious with DISH for buying spectrum via a specially-created small business in order to tap government money, but also keen to lease the stuff from them. FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly is also not a happy bunny about the DISH caper.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler blogged this week that he wants to assign the 3.5GHz band for a “citizens’ wireless broadband service”, which would be a shared-access setup with a database, rather like the UK whitespace.

The USTA - a lobby group for AT&T and Verizon, basically - has filed its lawsuit against Title II reclassification, and Harold Feld has a very detailed walkthrough of the legalities. Ironically, AT&T has just used Title II to get a refund from two local phone companies in Michigan.

AT&T is offering a managed public WiFi product for SMBs. Verizon management has had a substantial raise.

BT 4G launches at agonisingly low prices; VF - break up BT; EE - stay together for 5G’s sake

BT’s mobile product is here and it looks like the plan is to smash prices The service begins with a selection of three SIM-only tariffs, and they are priced to go. £5/mo gets you 200 minutes of voice and 500MB of data, £12/mo gets you 500 minutes and 2GB, while £20/mo gets you unlimited voice and 20GB of data. All of those include access to BT WiFi hotspots and a BT Sport app. If you’re not a BT fixed subscriber, you pay £5/mo extra.

There’s certainly a flavour of Free Mobile about the low, low prices, the emphasis on WiFi, and the equally heavy emphasis on quad-play integration, but the big question is surely whether this will last in our post-consolidation future. Speaking of which…Hutchison and Telefonica have finalised the 3UK-O2 merger, and Vodafone has weighed into the lobbyfest around the OFCOM strategic review, claiming that BT has benefited unfairly from its control of backhaul assets originally created when it was a nationalised industry, that the time to fix faults has been rising steadily, and BT has made £5.5bn additional margin over and above OFCOM’s benchmark rate of return in the last eight years. Therefore, they say, OFCOM should break it up.

EE CEO Olaf Swantee, meanwhile, says the merger must go ahead for the sake of 5G. So 5G is a justification, as well as a behaviour, a special generation, and a whole lot of other things! His boss, DTAG chief Timotheus Höttges, meanwhile complained about “US companies” in Europe. He probably gets more of a hearing from Günther Oettinger than he does from Oettinger’s boss Andrus Ansip - Ansip is campaigning for an end to geo-blocking content within Europe, while Oettinger wants to let German film producers keep doing it.

Meanwhile, the operators were cooperating to lobby OFCOM over the electronic communications code, which governs the terms on which they rent base station sites. The MNOs would like to be treated on the same basis as other utilities, which they estimate would save £271 million. They claim that would be enough to reach the new geographic coverage targets without spending any public money.

Vodafone UK’s Jeroen Hoetcamp, meanwhile, isn’t happy about paying more annual spectrum fees, but he might be OK with it if he got to put up 40-metre tall base stations without going through planning permission. Well, yes.

The Government would like Network Rail to sell its telecoms network, because there’s no reason for a railway to have its own telecomms…hold on, isn’t there some kind of special GSM standard for railways? Nothing could go wrong, could it?

CityFibre has finished the first phase of the York FTTH build. Virgin Media claims to get 1.3Gbps out of the 802.11ac WiFi in its new router. BT has set a date to start trialling “naked FTTC”, i.e. without a circuit-switched phone service.

Against expectations, Numericable-SFR is still adding fibre, in this case in the Loire valley, where it’s passed another 288k homes with FTTH.

LoRa is go for launch with Bouygues; $60 car-hacking kit; UK smart metering project struggling

Bouygues Telecom is preparing to launch a new M2M network in June. The system will use the LoRa low-power wide-area network technology we saw at MWC, based on their existing sites. With this, SigFox/TDF’s network, and whatever cellular M2M gets deployed, France looks like it’s going to be heavily covered by diverse IoT systems. This is in part because Grenoble University is a centre for research on some of the radio aspects.

Here’s a $60 open-source hardware developer kit that lets you receive and send events on your car’s CANBus internal network.

And Nick Hunn at Creative Connectivity warns that the UK smart metering programme is going nowhere fast. Interoperability tests haven’t happened, which is no surprise as the interop specification isn’t finished. Cost estimates are rising. And the utilities’ IT departments don’t want the data the meters will thrust upon them. However, the gas and electricity clearing houses, which do, aren’t on the list of those allowed to see it.

Facebook F8: embedded video, Messenger API, ads; WhatsApp; WebRTC for WebKit

We just published a new Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing on Facebook and why it’s the MNOs’ new best friend. Check it out!

Facebook’s F8 developer event, as predicted, announced that the API for Messenger is opening up to third parties. It also launched a new embedded player for Facebook-hosted video, i.e. an alternative to YouTube, with a variety of enhancements to the video upload and curation process to come. In parallel with this, the voice element of WhatsApp is about to launch for Apple iOS users.

The complete set of F8 talks is available here. It is very telling how many of them deal with advertising, the Facebook Advertising API, growth/marketing, and similar business-related issues. (Meanwhile, we’ve been wondering about how Facebook came to outdo Google Ads so badly in mobile. Recently we had our answer; every webpage we open in Firefox for Android seems to contain a huge Google ad for Android. Why on earth would you send someone you know already chose Android general-purpose brand-building ads for Android, rather than, say, ads for the Galaxy S6 or M9, or to encourage them to upgrade to 5.0?)

Facebook has also released a tool it developed that lets you test your app in different simulated network conditions, eg. “fast, but flaky WiFi” or “2G, but good 2G”.

Chris Kranky argues that WhatsApp for Web is a genuinely creative use of QR codes to authenticate the TextSecure ID on your phone to the web browser, while Tsahi Levent-Levi points out that WhatsApp uses WebRTC, but only to get photos or sound, not to communicate them. It’s just easier to call getUserMedia() than to work with the filesystem that you’re not meant to use on iOS, it seems.

A project to port full WebRTC support into WebKit, the open-source browser engine that underlies Safari and Opera, is being sponsored by Ericsson Research.

And why can’t I have native SIP on my iPhone? What you want, Sir, is a Nokia E71…

And finally, here’s what happens when you climb a base station mast and find a bear prowling around below:

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March 25, 2015

Facebook: Telcos’ New Best Friend?


Facebook needs telcos’ help to succeed in its huge ambitions, but can telcos find a way to work with Facebook to mutual benefit? We analyse this opportunity in depth in our latest research Facebook: Telcos’ New Best Friend?.

Facebook has changed substantially since we first analysed the company in 2011. In the new report, we explore the accuracy of our 2011 predictions regarding users, revenue and strategy, and renew our forward views. The chart below shows that we were slightly under on volume forecasts back in 2011, but we’re feeling pretty smug about the revenue forecasts in the full report.

We also examine Facebook’s current aspirations and challenges and explain why, where and how operators should be working with Facebook to build value.

facebook march 2015 fig 3.png

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March 23, 2015

Telco 2.0 News Review: Bregulation, TV, 5G, Facebook F8

[Ed: Also, we’ve just published a new report on The Internet of Things: Impact on M2M, where it’s going, and what to do about it? as part of our new ‘Executive Briefing Service’.]

OFCOM VULA decision; fibre-to-the-cell key to UK mergers; “ultrafast” is slower than today’s cable

So, OFCOM has decided to regulate BT’s unbundling prices to ensure independent ISPs can make a margin between wholesale and retail pricing. In doing so, it’s decided to take the effects of BT Sport into account, both as an advantage for BT and also as an additional cost. However, having made the momentous decision, OFCOM also decided things are pretty much OK as it stands and there’s no reason to activate the ruling. Nicely done.

Elsewhere, the lobbyfest ahead of the OFCOM Strategic Review is beginning to crank up. The terms of reference are out (get them here) and they seem to include OTT services but count out content, although only tentatively.

At the same time, the Competition & Markets Authority has opened the parallel anti-trust review of the BT-EE deal with a request for comments. As well as the obvious retail services, the CMA has asserted a special interest in the market for mobile backhaul. It’s as if they read our BT/EE: Huge Regulatory Headache and Trigger for European Transformation Executive Briefing. Quote of note:

“When BT was giving us all the same sort of service without being in the game, that was OK,” said one rival executive, quoted by the FT. “But it will own the largest mobile group and will in effect be paying itself for access to its mobile backhaul.”

CityFibre Holdings beat everyone else into the pool, issuing a response to the consultation that demanded the demerger of Openreach, no less, and argued that the takeover of EE was likely to result in BT forcing it to buy all its backhaul internally.

This affects CityFibre because it has a framework agreement with EE and 3UK under which they will lease dark fibre to the cell, acting as the anchor tenant for CityFibre’s metro-network projects around the UK. The first build, in Hull, is still going ahead, but the rest of the programme, probably the biggest investment in UK fibre, looks distinctly shaky.

BT doesn’t like selling dark fibre, and would like it even less if it was competing in the mobile business. CF, not surprisingly, is also against OFCOM forcing them to sell it because, after all, CF is in the business of selling dark fibre. So, they say, OFCOM should either demerge Openreach or require that MBNL, the EE-3UK infrastructure alliance, tender for backhaul openly. It’s just getting started and it’s already getting complicated.

BT Consumer CEO John Petter, meanwhile, attacked Sky, TalkTalk, and the indies generally, saying:

“I think instead of sniping from the sidelines and relentlessly pushing for lower wholesale input prices, that our industry should be working together to invest to give consumers the service standards that they deserve.”

Ironically, in the light of Petter’s rant, a survey for Which? appeared this week showing BT was dead last in the industry for customer satisfaction:

2015-Broadband-best-and-worst-table.jpg

BT also announced that its long-promised mobile product is going to launch, or at least soft-launch, next week. It seems that the service, a mixture of WiFi, perhaps femtocells, and EE MVNO service, will be offered to existing subscribers only, will probably be a bit cheaper than mainline cellular, and might include BT Sport content. To begin with at least it’s going to be SIM only, implying that BT doesn’t want to start spending on customer acquisition when it might be getting a whole EE for its birthday.

The UK government has announced that it wants a universal service obligation for broadband, which would mean you have a right to demand 5Mbps down, 1 up, whereever you might be in this here United Kingdom. We remember when the same government insisted on stripping the 2x2Mbps universal service out of the Digital Economy Act 2010. Also, that universal service would be significantly worse than first-generation BT ADSL.

In the world of politics, it’s often surprising what you can achieve if you have really low expectations. Hence we have the new “National Ambition for Ultra-Fast Broadband”. Clearly, “superfast” is no longer super enough, so we need new buzzwords. This doesn’t involve any money or any legislation - it’s an “ambition” - but does say it would be nice if there was 100Mbps to “nearly all homes” in the UK. To put it another way, the blue-sky national ambition is actually rather less than Virgin Media offers throughout its footprint today. Is that what they call a stretch target?

Meanwhile, half the UK’s local governments expect the existing “superfast broadband” target to “slip”, as most of the recent contract announcements are expected to complete in 2018 or 2019. “Slip”, of course, is a polite way of saying “missed”. Also, note that they’re not even trying to deny that “superfast” is defined as 24Mbps, aka mid-2000s ADSL2+, any more.

Hyperoptic has some new tariffs for FTTB. A good piece on network sharing. OFCOM confirms its previous decision on mobile termination rates. Peregrine falcons seize key Vodafone infrastructure.

And a Vodafone customer has resolved a disputed £15,000 bill by showing up at Vodafone HQ and refusing to leave until he got his way.

BT, Apple, Sony, Vodafone TV plans; peak cable; Google CDN finally deploys to France

BT seems to be planning something drastic in the TV business this summer, and it has started with a big shakeup of the TV unit’s management. The head of BT TV, Alex Green, is out, as are the head of commercial, the head of business development, and the head of content. You can see why they feel the need to change something in this STL chart. The launch of football drove a surge of net adds, but once those were done, they were done, although the rights bills kept coming.

Screenshot from 2015-03-23 13:47:36.png

The plans include a new set-top box supporting ultra-high definition footy, charging for the Champions’ League, and new tariffs for pubs.

More excitingly, another round of speculation about an Apple TV service has broken out. ReadWrite reads the tea-leaves, thinking it might be a subscription service delivered via an app to Apple TVs and iOS gadgets, about $30-40/mo.

Horace argues that cable TV is an expensive and unimpressive product likely to be disrupted. Of course, cablecos have been making progressively more money from broadband ever since they started providing broadband.

The FCC has hit the pause button again on the AT&T-DirecTV deal, owing to a dispute about confidential information on content deals that might get disclosed. The 180-day clock is now at 170 days and holding.

Here’s some detail about Sony’s planned streaming TV service, PlayStation Vue. It’s being trialled in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Here’s some detail about Vodafone’s planned TV service.

With Apple, Sony, Vodafone, and BT all streaming ultra-high definition content, the CDN world is in for some interesting times. Dan Rayburn follows up on a WSJ piece suggesting content companies including HBO, Sony, and Showtime wanted some sort of “Internet fast lane”. It’s not clear whether the source meant prioritisation, CDN, peering, colocation, or what, and Rayburn’s ISP sources haven’t heard anything.

In France, it seems that the long-standing anomaly in which French ISPs don’t peer with content providers (and barely with each other) is over: Google Global Cache CDN nodes have made their appearance in Free.fr and SFR’s networks. The thread contains a lot of interesting information about how GGC works.

The percentage of mobile data traffic encrypted with SSL is going up fast. Some operators worry about this because it makes it harder to cache, compress, or spy on it. In many cases they probably shouldn’t worry, because their efforts to “optimise” TCP traffic were doing much more harm than good.

Sensible remarks about LTE Broadcast and net neutrality.

AWS-3 blowout gets broadcasters’ attention; T-Mobile deploys 700MHz 4G “furiously”; price war gets crazier still

The US TV lobby suddenly likes the sound of that 600MHz “incentive auction” thing a lot more after the AWS-3 blowout. To recap, the idea is that the broadcasters who currently have the 600MHz spectrum would get a cut of whatever the mobile operators paid in the auction, to encourage them to give up as much of it as possible. After the AWS-3 auction reached for the skies and the bottom of its pocket, this looks a lot more lucrative.

T-Mobile, meanwhile, says it’s deploying 700MHz LTE “furiously”. We weren’t aware you could do that. They hope to reach 4G population coverage of 300 million by year’s end, and they’re currently at 275 million. The main problem is that there are still TV stations interfering with about 25% of the 700MHz blocks. On a related topic, AT&T has seemingly caved to the regulators about device support for 700MHz Band 12 interop, something needed for national roaming.

Meanwhile, the price war raged on. Sprint has announced it will pay 100% of the cost of switching from any other national carrier. That includes early termination fees and also outstanding device instalments. In return, Sprint wants you to turn in a phone in working order and buy one of theirs. They hope to monetise the second-hand gadgets via their sister distributor, Brightstar.

T-Mobile, of course, responded, offering to do likewise up to a maximum $650 buyout. They also announced a new SMB tariff with pooled data, heavy discounting, and MS Office 365. Sprint, meanwhile, announced a new and rather more ambitious enterprise product.

Telus is offering RingCentral’s Voice 2.0 apps to its enterprise customers.

Here are some details of Verizon Wireless’s small cell deployment. Note the remark from Crown Castle’s CEO that “fibre is the horizontal tower”. VZ has also opened new cloud services data centres in Asia Pacific.

5G: we may not know what it is, but at least we know when it’s coming

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! The 3GPP has issued a draft timeline for 5G development, so even if we’re still not sure if it’s a behaviour, a special generation, or something to do with self-driving cars, at least we have some idea of when 5G is coming. That’s progress of a sort. It looks like much of the agenda is going to be defined through 3GPP from here to September 2016, before ITU-R evaluation begins. A key workshop is planned for Phoenix, Arizona this September to start the 3GPP RAN working group, which will then feed into the ITU-R IMT2020 stream, so you probably want to get your idea into that one.

timeline.jpg

Telefonica’s CTO, Enrique Blanco, hopes that a lot of the eventual 5G technology will be introduced as incremental updates to 4G, and that they will be able to offer a 1Gbps mobile service. The key to this is carrier aggregation - Blanco reckons that using three carriers, from the 800, 1800, and 2600MHz bands, together they could do 370Mbps. He also wants to deploy full-duplex radio, requiring the funky self-interference cancellation we’ve occasionally blogged. Interestingly, OpenSignal reckons Spain has the fastest LTE service on average.

The UK government, meanwhile, is perhaps feeling that “ultrafast” broadband that’s slower than the UK’s biggest cable operator’s mainline service wasn’t that impressive a “national ambition” after all. How else to explain its sudden discovery of 6G wireless? It’s not just 6G, it’s “quantum 6G”, too. And apparently ours for only £15m.

Commissioner Oettinger is worried that Europe isn’t investing enough in 4G, never mind 5G. Infonetics reckons the mobile infrastructure market grew 10% last year, with LTE up 69%, mostly driven by China Mobile’s rollout. Ericsson is still no.1, Huawei no.2, Nokia Networks 3.

LG U+ is deploying virtualised EPC and getting started on LTE-LAA. 10.2 million small cells have been manufactured and basically all of those deployed, says the Small Cells Forum, implying that there is very little inventory in the pipeline.

And here’s Swisscom’s LoRa low-power M2M network.

China Mobile FY2014; Xavier Niel, port of call: Singapore; ironic Q4 at MTS

China Mobile has now deployed 720,000 LTE base stations as its 4G rollout continues, and it is seeing both a massive surge in data traffic and a steady decline in voice. Voice revenues are falling 13% annually and SMS 16%, while data volume was up 115%. However, data revenue was up 42% as prices fell. At the end of the day, the growth in data revenue just outdid the decline of voice, leaving them with revenue up 1.8% for 2014.

It looks like Xavier Niel’s next move is…Singapore’s fourth MNO, of all things. They’re operating a fixed ISP on the Singaporean NBN and hoping to bid for 4G spectrum, and they intend to smash prices - what else? - with cheaper 1Gbps fixed packages and 12GB mobile data bundles.

Russian operator MTS saw a 90+% crash in its profits, after the devaluation of the Ukrainian currency hit its share in Kyivstar and it lost a huge amount of money in a failed Ukrainian bank. Ironically, it was MTS whose network originated those dodgy SS7 switching messages that hacked the Ukrainian MNOs.

French MNOs are expected to close notspots within a year, says the prime minister, who’s got €1bn to help out.

The European Commission review of Orange-Jazztel is on hold waiting for more information about how it will affect consumer prices. German regulators are criticised by the EU over fixed termination.

Facebook: payments, Messenger API, voice. New HTC CEO. BlackBerry as software

Facebook’s F8 developer conference is coming up, and it looks like it will be heavy with announcements. First up, they will be opening up Messenger for third-party apps, and they have as many as 20 partnerships already signed up.

Then, they’re offering the ability to send money via Messenger. Both parties need to register a credit or debit card.

And there’s also a new Android dialler app called, inspiringly, “Phone”.

An interesting deck on WebRTC vs unified comms.

HTC has promoted co-founder Cher Wang as CEO, moving Peter Chou to run the “Future Development Lab”.

Here’s a new BlackBerry tablet that’s actually manufactured by Samsung - BlackBerry as pure software play. Microsoft would like to get rid of passwords from Windows 10.

Google being evil. Shazam for objects, which is at least less creepy than last year when they wanted to have the app listen continuously in background. And you can read Wikipedia on a 1986 Mac, just, with significant software development.

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March 17, 2015

The IoT: Impact on M2M, where it’s going, and what to do about it?


We’ve just published a new research paper ‘The Internet of Things: Impact on M2M, where it’s going, and what to do about it?’. The report contains a high-level analysis of the M2M market, including the strategies of Vodafone, AT&T and Telefonica, and discusses the impact that the Internet of Things and new entrants such as Google and others will have with new business models. What are the implications for operators, and where is it all leading?

The report is part of the Executive Briefing Service, and you can read an excerpt of the report here. For more on any of our services, please email contact@telco2.net or call +44 207 247 5003.

Extract chart from the report:

Digital IoT Convergence.PNG

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March 16, 2015

Telco 2.0 News Review: Small Cells, Regulation, Free, Cable, IoT

[Ed: Also, we’ve just published a new report on NFV: Great Promises, but How to Deliver? as part of our new ‘Cloud and Enterprise ICT’ Stream.]

VZW not daunted by AT&T 40k plan failure; “total” mobile data doubled in 2014; Super COW

Last week we learned that AT&T was backing out of its plan to deploy 40,000 small cells, after it proved unexpectedly difficult to get site access, backhaul, power, regulatory approval, and all that boring-but-important stuff sorted out, and Leap’s macro-network assets became available. This week, Verizon CFO Fran Shammo said that the carrier would be deploying small cells with fibre backhaul, especially into markets where they didn’t win any AWS-3 spectrum. “Markets where they didn’t get AWS” includes Chicago, so this is a big deal. We also know that VZW has tapped Vodafone-backed startup SpiderCloud for its enterprise deployments.

FierceWireless points out that this means a lot more fibre-to-the-cell, and notes that three regional carriers have recently started developing a speciality in it. Fairpoint has fibre to 1100 of 1700 base stations it serves, Cincinnati Bell seems to be specialising in serving a major carrier (that sounds like VZW) after exiting the mobile market, and Lumos is doing more.

One of the biggest providers is Centurylink, which serves both VZW and T-Mobile USA. They’re refusing to confirm or deny that they might sell off some copper assets, which would be ironic as they are better known for buying them. They’re also unconcerned about the FCC decision to make broadband=25Mbps.

This matters, because data traffic growth hasn’t gone anywhere. Strategy Analytics reckons mobile volume doubled in the US in 2014 - if you add up cellular and WiFi, that is. This demonstrates just how important offload to WiFi has been to mobile operators. It also demonstrates that offload to WiFi is all well and good but it still needs to be backhauled away.

Boingo, meanwhile, has signed up a “tier one US carrier” for automatic log-in to its network of WiFi hotspots. The statement mentions a number of 40 million handsets that will ship with the client app installed, and that they will be using the Passpoint, aka Hotspot 2.0, standard for SIM-based automatic authentication.

The cost of installing small cells might reach $5bn a year by 2019, sez ABI Research. Not very surprisingly, they think most of that will go to Ericsson, ALU, and Nokia Networks.

Cambridge is a bit of a small cells cluster, so it’s interesting to see that Cambridge Wireless is getting a new boss, from UKTI.

It’s SXSW time, and AT&T has deployed a Super COW to add more LTE capacity in downtown Austin. What makes the COW super is its spherical antenna, providing 12 sectors. It looks like this:

luneburg_lens_antenna_946x432.jpg

At least they’re keeping Austin weird. But we feel they could have at least painted it up in Frisian black and white.

Apple products; Qualcomm $15bn buyback; reviews; Google may be buying InMobi

As you no doubt already know, Apple launched its new line of smartwatches, to mixed reviews. Pricing ranges from $349 to over $10,000 depending on the sheer shininess of the gadgets. The reception for the new MacBook laptop was much clearer - everyone loves it even if the decision to use one single USB-C port for everything is a bit annoying.

Horace argues that Apple’s brand has moved from appealing to the mind to appealing to the glands, maybe true. On the other hand, meet the fund managers who wish for one thing - changes to their covenants so they can buy more Apple shares.

If that’s a problem now, it might get worse, because Qualcomm is planning to buy back $15bn of its own stock.

Huawei has a “global aesthetics research centre”.

Here’s another review of the refreshed Moto E, again very positive. Here’s a long term review of the BlackBerry Passport, very positive indeed.

Google Chrome has added push notifications for web sites. Google may also be buying InMobi, the Indian mobile-ad network, which went profitable in Q4 for the first time. Is this at last some attention to the core ads business at Google?

Free Mobile smashes 15% market share, launches Android TV, denies consolidation

Xavier Niel is in the news, saying that he doesn’t think any more consolidation is likely in France and that “I simply don’t believe it”. He argues that Martin Bouygues is unlikely to sell at any price, and that the regulator would force any consolidator to sell assets to Free, giving them an effective veto. However, he also says:

“If we are not the motor on this, then it will not occur,” he said. “It will not happen.”

So, no consolidation…unless Free starts it. Very Niel. He also announced a new triple-play service, heavily discounted as always, in a statement that caused French mobile operators’ shares to rise - ahead of the announcement, they plummeted for fear he was going to cut mobile prices again. Actually, he sort of did - Free fixed subscribers now get the discount on four mobile lines, not just two - but the company’s results, the new TV product, and the M&A trash-talk overshadowed it a bit.

Interestingly, the set-top box for the new product, which includes 4K TV, runs Android TV, something his close collaborator Maxime Lombardini attacked when other operators did it a few months ago. Of course, the point here is that the others may just have handed the STB keys to Google, but there’s no reason why you can’t fork the Android implementation and customise it to your requirements, if you have the chops.

Here’s an interesting interview with the ARCEP director, who wants to “wean” Free (and others) off national roaming and substitute it with more network sharing outside the ZTDs (high density zones).

And, of course, there were results. Free had 2 million net-adds in mobile in 2014, 228k in fixed, and has reached 15% market share at T plus 3 years. Mobile turnover is €1.6bn, up 28%, and the groupwide EBITDA is up 6.6%. Although the end of their special deal on termination fees weighs on the results, on the other hand, they’re carrying more traffic on their own network and therefore using less national roaming, having lit up 1,900 more 3G and 1,400 more 4G sites last year.

Within that, they are also probably carrying more traffic on the WiFi, too, as quietly, the Freebox Revolution has gained 802.11ac.

EU: no-deal at Ministers, Competition sounds very tough; OFCOM goes for total review; lobbyists, start your engines!

Here’s a useful rundown of exactly how the FCC net neutrality order will go into action, from Harold Feld’s personal blog.

In the European Union, meanwhile, the council of ministers couldn’t agree on a text, so it’s the turn of the EU Commission and the European Parliament to thrash something out. In Holland they’re worried that this might pre-empt their national net neutrality legislation, but then the mood music has been so E5-heavy lately that a failure to agree might have been the best possible outcome on that score.

Commissioner Oettinger is, of course, very worked up about sender-pays and quality-of-service, and he called everyone who disagrees with him the Taliban. He might be placated by this Strategy Analytics report, which argues that neither is incompatible with net neutrality as the FCC defines it.

That said, Oettinger isn’t the only actor in Brussels. Although he sounds very old-school telco, you also have to watch his boss, Digital VP Andrus Ansip, and the Competition Commissioner, Margrete Vestager. (After all, Neelie Kroes was if anything more scary from an E5 telco point of view than Viviane Reding.) Vestager sounds deeply sceptical, especially about anything that involves going down from four to three MNOs.

In the UK, OFCOM has decided; there’s going to be a full-blown Strategic Review of the Communications Market. This is news - the last time they did this, it resulted in the creation of BT Openreach and the beginning of LLU.

Not surprisingly, everyone is rushing to take up their positions. The official terms of reference are here. Sky and TalkTalk have decided to kick off with the big ask, demanding nothing less than that OFCOM break up BT, forcing it to spin off Openreach. Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch went on to accuse it of a conflict of interest, while TalkTalk’s Dido Harding also wants them to block the EE acquisition.

Inevitably, unnamed mobile operators are also trying to get OFCOM to “regulate” over-the-top services so they “contribute to network investment”. Here we go again. Or alternatively, OFCOM might “deregulate them”, i.e. operators, “so their costs are reduced”. Either way, the lobby wanna biscuit.

Elsewhere around the world, Orange has made the trust-busters an offer regarding their bid for Jazztel, but they won’t say what it was. In Austria, since Hutchison and Orange’s local opcos merged, prices have gone up and so have complaints. How could it happen? America Movil is making the new Mexican regulator an offer, to spin off their 11,000 towers and rent them to other operators.

The Indian spectrum auction has gone through $15bn, with a 900MHz block in Bihar going for three times the reserve price. It looks like a repeat of the 3G auction is on the cards, with the operators getting into a bidding frenzy. At least in that case the government won’t try to take the spectrum back.

AT&T blogged back against T-Mobile’s complaints over the AWS-3 auction this week. They say the spectrum was obviously worth what they paid for it, and T-Mo should just have dug deeper. They also aren’t particularly happy about DISH bidding on the off-chance through its two front companies and getting a special subsidy for being a “small business”, but then neither is T-Mo nor anyone except DISH. The FCC is rushing through a draft-NPRM intended to stop this happening again.

Cablecos grow with broadband, no fear of Netflix. NBN flips to DOCSIS 3.1. Mexican 700MHz. Broadband for planes

European cable operators’ revenue grew 4.6% in 2014, comparing very well to the slow but remorseless declines at the ex-incumbent fixed operators. As Manuel Cubero, CEO of Kabel Deutschland, says, “cable is growing because of broadband”. As in the US, there is actually some gradual loss of TV subscribers, overshadowed by the growth of their broadband businesses. Here’s a great quote:

“People would like to say ‘oh Netflix is an enemy’,” said Mike Fries, CEO of Europe’s largest cable group Liberty Global. “Not really. They drive broadband consumption.”

And the Aussie NBN is turning to cable technology. We’ve known for some time that the new plan involves keeping the cable network, but at last there’s some clarity. They’re planning to upgrade it to DOCSIS 3.1, which would in fact deliver serious broadband, although only to those homes in the cable footprint, of course.

That said, UK rural subscribers are, somewhat surprisingly, actually still seeing some performance improvements on ADSL. Swindon, meanwhile, is looking to fixed-wireless.

The 3G, 4G, and 5G Wireless Blog has an interesting post on “broadband for planes”, with a fascinating presentation on a joint test between Airbus and DTAG:

And tenders are sought for Mexico’s planned NBN, a $10bn, 700MHz wireless project.

Telia “M2M in a Box”; LoRa deploys with Swisscom; use cases; Nokia, Ericssson LTE-M solutions

TeliaSonera is offering “M2M in a Box”. For $1,090 a month you get a collection of 25 sensors, a radio module with SIM, batteries and chargers, wireless service, and access to their cloud portal. The idea is that it’s a starter pack that will get you going, although it seems dear for a developer kit.

Swisscom is rolling out a new low-power wide area network (LPWAN) using the LoRa technology shown off at MWC for very long battery lives (as in, the battery should outlast the gadget). That said, their dev kit will set you back €2,500.

Here’s a use case for long-range, low power M2M:

Meanwhile, on the other side of the hill, the mainstream cellular vendors are pushing an adaptation of LTE with dramatically narrower channels as an M2M solution. The 3G, 4G, and 5G Wireless Blog has details.

Be your own cloud provider with Cisco & Microsoft; data centres for the edge; making a search engine

Cisco and Microsoft are offering what is basically a licensed version of Microsoft Azure, running on Cisco gear for customers who want to provide their own cloud services.

It looks like Cisco is the biggest seller of equipment for the public cloud, with HP having that title for private cloud. Between them, they account for 27% of cloud CAPEX.

Bank of America is using the Facebook-led Open Compute Project technology for its migration to a software-defined data centre.

Here’s a new kind of data centre module, Open Compute compliant, optimised for small forward-deployed data centres, the sort of thing you might find at the foot of a 5G base station.

A good post on Dan Rayburn’s blog explains when it becomes worthwhile to start using video optimisation based on CDN costs.

You might be surprised how small some search indices are.

Limelight Networks is getting into the DDOS protection business. Here’s a rundown of P2P CDN use cases with WebRTC.

TI-Orange: no. Hutch-Vimp: maybe yes. Vodafone VoLTE. 80% of Ooredoo Myanmar on smartphones

Telecom Italia denies there have been any merger talks with Orange, but the Hutch-Vimpelcom ones are apparently close to success.

Vodafone is launching both VoLTE and VoWiFi in the UK this summer, with circuit-switched fallback to come once the technology improves.

Genband, the VoIP and soft switch vendor, is looking for operators to deploy, or just interconnect with, Fring, the SIP app they acquired in 2013.

Tropo has a new API, Tropo Connect, focused on apps that are used within the call.

China Mobile has never liked the time-division variants of 3G and 4G the Ministry of the Information Industry insisted that it used. Quietly, they’re applying for a licence for FDD-LTE, aka just LTE, as a “complement” to the existing network.

Ooredoo has had a bad quarter, due to “security costs in Iraq” and the costs of starting up in Myanmar. Detail: 80 per cent of subscribers there have a smartphone!

O3b Networks has some customers: three Somali telcos.

You can now send money in M-PESA between Safaricom and Vodacom Tanzania.

Germany’s barrage of silent SMS; weird routing incident at nuclear research lab, with Russians

German spies are addicted to Class 0 SMS, so-called “silent” SMS, as a tool of surveillance. In H2 2014, they sent 142,000 such messages towards their suspects, typically to verify that a mobile phone is switched on and very often to locate it. This compares with a total of 66,000 for all German police forces together.

A BT reseller in Ukraine leaked routes over the weekend, causing traffic heading to the UK Atomic Weapons Establishment among many other organisations (including the UK air traffic control system, a helicopter manufacturer, a government ministry, and network infrastructure at both BT and KCOM, as well as many more anodyne entities) to be routed through Kyiv. Seems slightly strange, especially as the leaked routes included VPN endpoints and mail servers for most of the affected organisations, and the traffic routed to Kyiv ended up being routed back on its way via…Russia.

A rundown of secure voice & IM apps. Aussie carriers want to know how much this retention will cost them. GCHQ builds a cloud of Raspberry Pis.

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March 12, 2015

NFV: Great Promises, but How to Deliver?


NFV (Network Functions Virtualisation) potentially offers operators benefits of up to 80% network opex reduction and significant improvements in agility, and threatens a shake-up of the vendor landscape. We look at the challenges to making it happen, and what telcos and vendors need to do to succeed in our latest briefing ‘NFV: Great Promises, but How to Deliver?’, part of our Cloud and Enterprise ICT in-depth research stream.

Figure 1 - Intel: comparative hardware performance gains
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March 9, 2015

MWC Special 5G Issue: Telco 2.0 News Review

Net neutrality is here; Eurotelcos launch massive pushback at MWC; where is Andrus?; Indian spectrum auction

So, MWC. It was certainly busy, although news-wise it’s probably fair to say that this one was for the connoisseurs - fewer shiny gadgets and developer events, more network infrastructure and regulation. On that score, the whole event was under the sign of net neutrality, as Tom Wheeler’s FCC formally voted to introduce the iconic measure the week before, and Wheeler himself showed up in Barcelona to bring the gospel to the mobile industry. After all, one of the biggest changes that his new rules will bring is precisely that it covers mobile data.

Tom Wheeler, however, would point out that the new settlement is patterned in large part on the one that exists for mobile voice, as he said during his MWC keynote.

Ironically, while net neutrality is the law of the land in the US, the pushback was in full effect for Europe, as the EU council of ministers issued its own draft of the proposed telecoms directive. Compared to the draft agreed between the European Parliament and the Commission, this would put off the evil day when roaming charges end within Europe and water down the net neutrality element quite a bit.

As a result, 100 MEPs wrote to the Council demanding they reconsider, and it looks like the Liberals in the parliament will vote against it. The new Commissioner, Günther Oettinger, meanwhile, issued an astonishing rant in which he compared neutrality advocates to the Taliban and said he was happy for his YouTube videos to jitter for the sake of road safety. Because self-driving cars’ communications are certain to go over the public Internet, right?

We should probably get ready for a lot more of this stuff. Oettinger also got support from DTAG boss Timotheus Höttges and Rajeev Puri from Nokia Networks - watch carefully for a lobbying drive that equates net neutrality with the NSA, would be our tip, especially as Höttges called for “enlightened patriotism”. Or in other words, if you don’t fill up my new $6bn network you’re a bad European. PS, want some Microsoft Office 365 subscriptions? Lobbying is rarely an edifying prospect.

On the other side, expect the EU Competition Commissioner to be crucial to the pushback against the pushback. Also, telco lobbyists might be speaking too soon if they’re rejoicing at Oettinger’s apparent conversion, because it’s not necessarily him who decides in the new Commission structure. Oettinger reports to the vice-president for the digital single market, former Estonian prime minister Andrus Ansip. Interestingly, we haven’t seen him in the headlines much.

In other big name MWC keynotes, Mark Zuckerberg appears to have noticed that while Facebook and Google are playing with their Internet balloons, mobile operators are rolling out infrastructure into the wilds.

Meanwhile, far from MWC, the Indian spectrum auction pushed through $10bn after six rounds. Most of the bidding concentrated on the 2G spectrum, where several operators are forced buyers as their licences are running out.

5G: is it a behaviour, a special generation, or will it SAVE THE WORLD?

No buzzword at MWC had quite the same welly as this one: “5G”. Nobody’s quite sure what it is, or when it’s likely to show up, but everyone’s desperate to take up their positions before the dance begins. Someone told us that 5G was “a behaviour”, which is surely only a hair away from being a way of life, or a new shade of the colour blue. Durable industry figure Mike Short, these days Telefonica Europe’s VP of public affairs, suggested that we should think of it as a “special generation”.

But there was plenty to talk about. Perhaps the biggest debate was about the time-line, and how much of the eventual 5G standard might be brought forward as incremental improvements to LTE before then.

Stéphane Richard from Orange leads the sceptical camp, suggesting we should “enjoy 4G” before looking at 5G. Marcus Weldon, Alcatel-Lucent CTO and president of Bell Labs, pours some cold water on the claimed speeds. Well, up to a point. He refuses to name a figure and mocks his competitors for hyping theoretical maximum speeds, but then he also says “it’s about the digitisation of everything, people and machines”, while Richard says it will “shape a greater world”. Just that, then - no biggy.

Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf also argues for going slow, on the grounds that a lot of 5G advances could be delivered in the existing LTE paradigm. We had an interesting conversation with Ericsson CTO Ulf Ewaldsson about this - he thinks that the full benefits from beamforming won’t be felt until we move up to 6GHz and above, but the spectrum issues won’t be taken in hand until WRC-19 in 2019. So the WiFi world, which already has beamforming in 802.11ac, has a clear run for the next five years.

On the other hand, SKT wants to be the “front runner in 5G” and deploy something by the time of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea. The ROK has already made some progress on allocating 6GHz spectrum. KT, meanwhile, signed up Nokia and Ericsson to work on a 5G deployment by 2018. And Huawei plans to spend $600m on 5G research in the next five years, but says it will probably beat that. Their rotating-CEO, Ken Hu, also promised it would provide multiple gigabit/second links to 100 billion devices. And Nokia Networks demonstrated a 2Gbps radio link, operating at 70GHz, with NTT DoCoMo.

(There’s something charmingly old school about saying “Nokia Networks” again, no?)

So it looks like the Asian operators are mad keen as usual, but everyone else is waiting and seeing. Well, not really. We already noted Nokia, but the Europeans are also very keen to get started. The 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership has landed, and it includes the European vendors, Orange and DTAG, and the Koreans, plus satellite operator SES and Intel. With supreme irony, though, there are actually two different efforts to clear up what on earth 5G actually is - 5GIPP, and a parallel one at the NGMN.

The Brits aren’t keeping out of it either - here’s an interesting event OFCOM is holding later this month to discuss the spectrum requirements.

LTE-LAA - huge row coming as T-Mo races to deploy; AT&T 40k small cells plan fails; cloud-RAN, meet edge computing

5G, whether it’s a behaviour or a faint but not unpleasant smell or an intelligent pond near Sheffield or whatever, is clearly some way off. In the short term, though, there’s a major push on to get so-called LAA, Licensed-Assisted Access, out there and deployed. LAA is the GSMA-approved term for what the vendors called LTE-U for LTE Unlicensed at last MWC - basically, LTE running in unlicensed spectrum, carrier-aggregated with a sliver of licensed spectrum. T-Mobile USA wants it bad, and as a result, they staged a demo of “pre-standard” LAA with Nokia Networks at MWC.

The game here is getting some of the abundant 5GHz WiFi spectrum for cellular, and if you think that’s controversial, you’d be right. A lot of people see this as a land-grab by the MNOs, trying to annex public spectrum they’d otherwise have to pay for, and incidentally parking their tanks on WiFi users’ lawns in the process. The point of the demo was among other things to demonstrate interworking between LAA and WiFi, but don’t think this won’t be difficult. One of the reasons this is all happening so quickly is to create facts on the ground, hoping that once T-Mobile has enabled it on 60,000 Node-Bs the FCC won’t dare make them roll it back.

As a result, T-Mobile is also working with Alcatel-Lucent and Qualcomm. The announcement sounds like they’ve committed to buying some ALU small cells with Qualcomm chipsets.

Small cells have been a reliable MWC staple for some time. Here’s an interesting story. Not long ago AT&T wowed the event by announcing the deployment of 40,000 of the little fellas as part of Project VIP. More recently, they’ve soft-pedalled that one, and now we get the confirmation - in part, they’ve covered some of their capacity needs with the acquisition of Leap Wireless’ assets and spectrum, but in part, it seems to have been much more troublesome than they anticipated to get access to sites for all those cells. In fact, “only” 20,000 of them eventually rolled out. (That said, here’s Vodafone.nl putting Ericsson small cells in its shops, and Spidercloud were suitably proud of their deployment with Verizon Wireless’ enterprise customers.)

On the other hand, if anything, AT&T is doubling-down on its SDN plans and the related Domain 2.0 supplier diversification initiative. They have 2 US states on the new Network on Demand infrastructure, and hope to be 75% SDN by 2020. That contrasts dramatically with their arch-rival, Verizon - VZW showed off their LTE multicast stadium set-up at MWC, but as always at VZW, everything was Alcatel-Lucent under the bonnet.

Here’s good news for vendors: China Unicom is planning to spend $16bn in CAPEX this year.

There was more cloud and virtualisation than is really worth mentioning. Here’s a video in which Telefonica’s CTO discusses their plans to build a SDN infrastructure using HP’s OpenNFV technology. Meanwhile, Intel and ALU showed off their virtualised radio network, the “vRAN”. They reckon you can now run the BBUs in a data centre up to 100km from the radiohead, so you could theoretically have one DC per city. There’s only one problem: in 5G, the latency target is 10ms, so the applications servers moving to the edge are going to pass the BBUs moving to the cloud.

And Intel, especially, believes in that - the most interesting technology we saw was the Mobile Edge Computing project they’re doing with ETSI and Nokia Networks.

Apple is No.1 in the world; MWC shiny; Orange’s $40 Firefox OS package; smart pocket watch

As usual, the biggest news in terms of shiny gadgets came from a company that wasn’t even at the show. More data confirms that Apple was the world No.1 in smartphones during Q4, beating Samsung by 1.8m phones. Samsung has lost 10 percentage points of market share. The key driver was Apple’s breakthrough in China, where Kantar Worldpanel reckons they have 25% of the “urban” smartphone market, up 4.5% year-on-year. That’s only 2.2 points behind the much-hyped Xiaomi. Meanwhile, the biggest fall in Android market share was registered in…the UK.

The company that wasn’t at MWC also cued up a new MacBook Air to go with the Apple Watch launch this week.

In response to this brutal beating, Samsung announced the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, and Note 4. The difference between the S6 and the Edge is that the Edge has one of those screens that wrap around the edge of the gadget. As usual, they’re stuffed with features and technology (octo-core processors, 3GB of RAM, etc, etc), but Samsung trimmed some quite important things from the S6, like a micro-SD slot, a removeable battery, and the waterproofing in the S5. If you want the full line of features you need the Note 4. This reminds us a little of the era when Nokia N- and E-series smartphones were always missing one important feature in the hope you’d buy another phone, which isn’t promising.

HTC’s One M9 gets a good review from ZDNet. BlackBerry has a new big-touchscreen smartphone, the Leap.

There was a predictably large number of fitness trackers and other “wearables”, but no Google Glass users we saw. However, several Telco 2.0ers brought their Fitbits (or whatever), and as a result we can report that a typical MWC delegate walks between 16 and 19km a day on average. Even those of us who didn’t use any electronics can report that our feet still hurt, so that’s probably quite accurate.

Here’s a comparison of Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay.

But most of the action was in the mid-range and below. Huawei, for example, didn’t bother announcing any smartphones at MWC. Here’s a very positive review of the refreshed Moto E, which packs LTE and a 4.5in qHD display into less than $150.

Orange is offering a $40/mo tariff including bundled voice, SMS, and data, plus a phone, across 13 Middle Eastern and African markets, and the gadget will be one of Alcatel Onetouch’s new range shown at MWC, specifically the Klif. That gives you up to 21Mbps connectivity, dual-SIM support, a micro-SD slot, and a 2 megapixel camera. Interestingly, although the manufacturer will provide the Klif with Android, the Orange ones will be running Firefox OS.

Here’s an interesting blog post about feature phones in Africa; the Klif will be formidable competition for them.

Mozilla is also promising a new “category” of devices coming in 2016 with partners including KDDI, LG U+, Telefonica and Verizon Wireless. As well as new phones, Mozilla announced an app, Webmaker for Firefox OS users to make basic web sites quickly, and a new partnership with LG to put the OS in smart-TVs and STBs.

But surely the best gadget at MWC must be the Monohm Runcible, the world’s first smart pocket watch. Seriously. It’s a circular smartphone with a wooden back, usually showing an analogue clockface, with a deliberate restriction to 12 contacts stored on the device so you’re not tempted to use it for work. It comes with a maps app that will send you to your destination by a deliberately randomised route. Photos taken on the Runcible come out round. Bubbles floating across the clock tell you when you’re being noticed on Twitter (or whatever). And it runs Firefox OS. It is completely ridiculous, and somehow delightful.

Google MVNO plans; cablecos gear up for VoWiFi launches all over the place

So we’ve got confirmation. The Google MVNO is a thing. Googler Sundar Pichai disclosed it during an MWC keynote, and the details are baffling. It’s roughly what we expected - an MVNO-plus, with deep cellular-WiFi integration. Google plans to buy wholesale airtime from Sprint and also T-Mobile, and provide handoff between the networks. However:

We don’t intend to be a carrier at scale

With US pricing spiralling down, a discount play doesn’t make much sense. A lot of Google projects justified by “the data” haven’t gone anywhere. And if it’s not “at scale”, it’s not a strategic initiative to help Android battle the Cupertino Empire. So what’s it for?

One of the reasons why this might not be the best moment to get into US MVNOs is here. Mavenir, acquired by Mitel during the week, has just launched a cloud-based VoWiFi product optimised for cable operators (i.e. it has the right interfaces to slot into their non-telco billing infrastructure), and they say they’re doing the job for both Cablevision and Comcast’s mobile products.

Another VoWiFi vendor we spoke to, meanwhile, confirmed a surge of enquiries from cablecos in both Europe and North America. So look out for a lot more of this stuff - and cablecos have a lot more homes with STBs, head-ends, street cabinets, and other places to put WLAN hardware than Google does.

LoRa; NXP acquires Freescale for $11.8bn; Broadcom, Indosat, Vodafone M2M progress

There was a lot of IoT at MWC. As well as the world’s supply of gadgets acting as an excuse for a SIM, there was the new LoRa Alliance, a standards group for a low-power, long-range radio technology developed in France. They claim they can provide a few kbps of data at 12-15km range, bidirectionally (which differentiates them from the related startup, Sigfox), for more than 10 years before the battery runs down, using an ultra-narrowband but spread-spectrum signal and protocols like 6LOPAN. As with Sigfox, it’s interesting that they have industrial customers on board already.

Freescale, the former Motorola chips division, is one of those companies that ought to be better known. It produces a wide range of chips for IoT, embedded, radio, and connected-car applications - essentially, “boring important stuff that makes money”, as someone said of industrial M2M at MWC. Now, NXP Semiconductors has bought it for $11.8bn, plus assumption of $5bn of Freescale debt, creating the eight-biggest chipmaker.

Just because it’s embedded doesn’t mean it’s some sort of ultra-basic microcontroller. Here’s their quad-core processor designed specifically for self-driving cars.

Broadcom, meanwhile, announced a new WiFi chipset for smartphones that adds 802.11ac, but also permits concurrent 2.4GHz and 5GHz working. This is interesting, in part, because you can’t stay connected to some WiFi network while you connect to some IoT device with WiFi Direct…except now you can.

Panasonic has started its own MVNO to provide M2M solutions for its vast range of machinery, notably heating/ventilation/air conditioning systems.

Vodafone has a new M2M product, developed with a German company u-blox, plus Huawei, which they’re sharing with 3GPP. This seems to be a developer kit plus Huawei’s LTE M2M solution, basically LTE but with 250kHz subchannels.

And Indosat is launching a cloud-based M2M platform using Ericsson’s Device Connection Platform. This is an Ooredoo groupwide initiative, with Qatar, Algeria, and Tunisia rolling out in due core.

Apple’s Cook: privacy is a human right. Android encryption not default after all. Our MWC experiment

Tim Cook, Apple CEO gave an interview immediately before MWC in which he argued that privacy is a human right and boasted that Apple’s business model itself protects it. Because the point of the company is to sell hardware, they don’t need to stockpile personal data like the ad-funded (starts with G or F) or recommendations-driven guys (starts with A) or indeed the telcos.

Google has decided against making Android 5.0 encrypt everything on the device by default, due to performance issues writing to and from SD cards. Instead, full disk encryption is recommended, and can be activated by the user, while Google hopes to implement it by default at some point in the future.

No, DTAG and Mozilla didn’t launch a privacy-focused phone. Whoops. But Jolla did announce a security-optimised version of Sailfish, and the Blackphone was refreshed to version 2.0. Open WhisperSystems released a new version of Signal, the hardened voice and messaging app, including iOS support.

A horrible bug has been discovered in numerous SSL implementations. The FTC will give a $25k prize to the best app for detecting robo-calls.

Orange says it wants to be a “privacy champion” thanks to the GSMA-backed Mobile Connect standard.

Unfortunately that relies on the SIM and there was that bad thing that happened just before the show. In hindsight, perhaps the most remarkable thing at MWC was the degree of denial on show about the discovery that the spooks had been fiddling with SIMs - GSMA chairman Jon Fredrik Baksaas even had the Gemalto logo on his slides when he presented Mobile Connect.

That said, we brought an IMSI Catcher Detector app to MWC and it didn’t go off all week; but perhaps we’re part of the conspiracy.

Microsoft’s “dirty secret”; AT&T gets Office 365; OpenPOWER!!; Salesforce meetings must be >30% women

Microsoft’s “dirty secret” is apparently “consumption”, or rather, what fraction of customers who take a cloud service actually ever use it. It seems that MSFT salesmen, having been ordered to close more cloud sales, took to offering their customers a huge discount on their software licences if they would take the cloud product as well. The headline price would be the same, the customer didn’t have to actually use it, the salesman made the numbers…everyone was happy, except the MS cloudsters. Now, CEO Satya Nadella has decreed that bonuses will be conditional on actual usage of the cloud…

AT&T is the latest operator to start reselling MS Office 365.

IBM is using the open-source OpenPOWER OS for the new bare-metal option in SoftLayer hosting. The OS is designed for IBM’s own POWER8 chips, which is why they decided to open-source it in an effort to revive the business. Google is apparently a customer, which can’t be bad.

BitTorrent is getting all respectable these days, offering BitTorrent Sync, a business-oriented file sync tool. We heard at MWC that they’re also working on a low-latency live-streaming product.

Salesforce has decided that all important meetings must include at least 30% women. It’s probably the right moment to note that the rather good Business of IoT session on the last day at MWC, chaired by Camille Mendler from Informa, was 50% women, the only MWC session we can think of that can say that, not counting the chair. And it was a full house despite starting at 2.30pm on Day Four, Zzzz for Zombie Day, when it’s usually a struggle to get anyone to show up and still less to pay attention.

And HP has tried to patent basic principles of continuous integration in software, that have been in use (and baked into software like Jenkins) for at least 10 years.

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