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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:


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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