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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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