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September 28, 2015

Cloud, UK, Sprint, BlackBerry, Ads: Telco 2.0 News Review

Vodafone-Liberty is off; O-3 to IPO; BT/EE/O3 lobbyfest; VF UK has no money, they say; FreedomPop

The talks are off between Vodafone and Liberty Global. According to the Daily Telegraph, the stumbling block is that Virgin Media contains years of accumulated losses from the cable rollout era and John Malone won’t part with them for fear he might have to pay tax.

If the 3UK-O2 deal goes ahead, Hutchison CEO Canning Fok says, Hutch might float the merged operator on the London stock exchange. Also, O2 UK CEO Ronan Dunne would leave the company, being replaced by 3UK’s David Dyson.

Whether any of that happens depends crucially on the regulators, and that in turn depends on the fate of BT. Here’s another lobbying effort, by a gaggle of independent ISPs, wanting Openreach separated from BT.

BT CEO Gavin Patterson, meanwhile, promised that the company would “never say no” to providing communities with faster broadband, and said they would go beyond the Government 95% “superfast” target.

He didn’t say by how much, or mention a target speed. It’s interesting that he said “fibre”, though - the target is for “superfast”, not for any specific technology, but “superfast” is a notoriously snakey concept. Some “superfast” projects, after all, are “up to 24Mbps”, aka the same promises they made for ADSL2+, and OFCOM data shows it’s possible to be on the “fibre”, i.e. FTTC, network but not get “superfast” speeds. He also said that 10 million homes might get “ultrafast”, i.e. between 300 and 500Mbps, by 2020 thanks to G.fast.

Peter Cochrane, former BT CTO, says none of this is anywhere near enough.

Vodafone, for its part, is pleading poverty, claiming that Vodafone UK only keeps going because of transfers from the wider Vodafone Group, because the UK is such a terrible place. Oddly, if it’s really that bad, the UK was the only one of their major European markets to see year-on-year growth in Q2. You might also wonder if Vodafone also chooses to make some of its profits in a lower-tax jurisdiction.

Ultra-low cost MVNO FreedomPop has opened in the UK, and has 250,000 users signed up. You get 200 minutes, 200 texts, and 200MB of data a month for nothing, but expect to be upsold heavily. Also, you can get unlimited data if you’re willing to take surveys. Interestingly the most common upsells in the US turn out to be data roll-over, and a second virtual number for international calls.

And the UK Government’s Mobile Infrastructure Project has still only built 8 cell sites in 4 years.

GSMA vs. CEPT over spectrum; OFCOM fees; US special access, LTE coverage; LTE-U; Free deploys cold-call filter

The GSMA and CEPT, that ultimate old-school regulatory body, have fallen out over spectrum. CEPT has, as expected, decided to take forwards the 1400MHz L-band for mobile broadband at this year’s WRC-15. This fits pretty well with last week’s 3GPP RAN decision to concentrate on the sub-6GHz bands in the first phase of 5G. GSMA, however, says it’s not enough and wants the 2.7GHz band, too.

OFCOM tied up the sale of Qualcomm’s L-band holding to Vodafone and 3UK this week, and announced its final, final decision on annual spectrum fees. Nobody is going to like it - Vodafone, Telefonica/O2, and EE will all have to fork out £50m more a year for their 900 and 1800MHz, while even 3UK will have to pay an extra £17m.

The FCC is going to publish data it collects on special access, the $40bn or so market for dark fibre and access to civil infrastructure like ducts and poles. This is mostly interesting because of the cablecos and others pushing into the B2B market, who argue that the traditional telcos own too much of the infrastructure.

Verizon denies there’s a problem and asserts that the market is deeply competitive, not surprisingly as they’ve now fallen behind L(3) in the Ethernet market.

OpenSignal’s LTE report is out and it’s causing some heart-searching. The United States is 10th by coverage but 50th by speed, for example, and Harold Feld, for one, is not a happy bunny about it. It could be worse - he could be in Europe, where a few carriers do make it into the top 10 for speed, but none make it for coverage.

Ericsson and Qualcomm demonstrate LTE-U carrier aggregation with a Snappy 820 device. As CableLabs points out, though, although the WiFi industry’s coordinated push got ETSI to start work on making LTE-LAA compatible with the WiFi listen-before-talk protocol, the non- or pre-standard LTE-U hasn’t. The cablecos’ lobby, NCTA, is taking the matter to the FCC.

A classic “customer receives ridiculous bill” story: Verizon Wireless sends Oregon customer $2m bill after “programming error”.

Earlier this week we learned that OFCOM has fined a company £200,000 for generating vast numbers of cold calls. The killer detail, though, was that some of the cold calls were selling a device to filter cold calls. Some people prefer direct action, and one of those is Xavier Niel. As of this week Free has deployed a distributed blacklist.

BlackBerry Android; Sprint cranks the price war up with iPhones; Samsung pays customers’ instalments; world shipments; Xiaomi is an MVNO

BlackBerry’s Android phone is out. The gadget drops its “Project Venice” codename in favour of “Priv”, apparently standing for both privacy and privilege. It includes a slider keyboard - there’s some video here. The question, though, is what this means for BBOS 10, which they are confusingly continuing to support while also launching Android devices and porting BlackBerry apps over.

The new iPhones are on sale as of Friday. T-Mobile timed the deployment of dozens of new 700MHz markets to greet the gadgets, which have the Band 12 support required to make use of the spectrum.

If you trade in an iPhone 6, though, Sprint will let you have a new 6S for $1 a month. They say this is because they can monetise the old gadgets, and presumably also future 6S trade-ins when the iPhone 7 rolls around, via their control of distributor, Brightstar. Alternatively, they’re just doubling-down on the price wars yet again.

An interesting detail: if you use Apple’s new instalment plan, you have to sign up for AppleCare +. This adds as much as $129 to the total price, although it probably won’t seem that way when you drop it in the khazi.

Not to be outdone in the price wars, Samsung is running its own giveaway. Buy a Samsung flagship on a carrier instalment plan, and Sammy will give you $120 towards the bill. Specifically, if you register the gadget, Samsung will make a number of payments on your behalf - or to put it another way, give you a discount. Also, if you bring in a working iPhone 4S or better, they’ll give you a $100 Google Play voucher.

Perhaps all this discounting is explained by the following news. Gartner has cut its forecast for device shipments in 2015 again. So far they’ve gone from 2.8% growth to 1.5% growth to 1%…shrinkage. However, this includes PCs, “ultramobiles”, tablets, and phones - smartphones alone, they think, will be up 14%, 43% in APAC, and the broader phone category up 1.4%.

Here’s an interesting crash inquiry into Nokia, from INSEAD’s house journal.

The second generation of the Blackphone security-hardened Android is here, and reviewed.

And Xiaomi is an MVNO now.

Adblockers and retail, an awkward conversation; robots vs. advertisers; mobile browsers still crucial; 56% of music ad-funded; HEVC news

The history of ad-blockers in the PC context is repeating itself rapidly on mobile. Fortune notes that numerous retailers are finding that their mobile sites end up broken in an adblocker environment. That might be another way of saying they’re too heavy, of course, and that’s a lesson adblockers taught retailers back when AdBlock Plus launched. Also, the adblocker developers are beginning to change things to fix these problems, and also to allow ads they consider “acceptable”, as in, less privacy-invading or aesthetically obtrusive.

But something has to change, as Bloomberg Businessweek points out. Some advertisers now reckon that where once 50% of ad spending was wasted, but you didn’t know which 50%, now 50% of it is stolen by clickfraud but you don’t know which half.

And it’s important - there is twice as much mobile browser traffic as app traffic, it’s growing faster, and only two of the top 30 US retailers get more sales via the app than via the website. Those are Amazon and WalMart. People don’t want to install shops on their phones.

Also, Openwave reckons 80% of mobile data traffic will be at least SSL-encrypted within 12 months, so don’t go thinking you can run ads against it.

That said, much as the music industry doesn’t like it, 56% of US streaming is free and ad-supported, far in excess of any other channel.

This sounds like it could be a problem for anyone who wants to do next-generation audio in an ad-supported context. The equivalent of HEVC for 3D audio, writes Dan Rayburn, costs so much in intellectual property rights it will eat most of a plausible subscription fee. Might be trouble for Voice 2.0 apps, come to think of it.

Meanwhile, MediaTek has joined the HEVC Advance patent pool and it seems to be willing to moderate its prices. The refreshed Amazon Fire TV will support the technology and Amazon is actually advertising it.

And Verizon Wireless wants to use LTE Multicast to make their new video service work, but they don’t know how many users’ phones actually support it until launch.

Sprint says no to more spectrum; Claure, Legere flirt with cablecos; Altice says later; VZ warns on growth; 500k new 4G cells this year at China U; TI worries about Brazil; DTAG in “Internet of planes”

Sprint just noped-out of the 600MHz auction, claiming it has all the spectrum it needs and it can add as much capacity as it needs with more small cells and carrier-aggregation, and denying that it might not be able to afford a spectrum bid. Sprint specifically denied needing to raise capital through the market for equities or “public debt”. Note this doesn’t deny a trade sale or other private transaction. Since they burned $2.2bn in cash during Q2, they must be very confident in monetising the quick-upgrade receivables and old phones…or they have a deal in their pocket.

CEO Marcelo Claure also suggested that a deal with a cable operator would help - of course it would - but having put it on the table, he then denied anything of the sort was actually happening. Interestingly, T-Mobile USA chief John Legere also said that the timing of a potential mobile-cable deal was down to “who blinks first”. So both Claure and Legere are hinting heavily that a cash-rich cableco might want to buy a mobile operator.

Altice, however, the obvious suspect, says it wants to take a break from acquisitions and get some work done integrating the last lot, to say nothing of finding the free cash flow to repay debts that fall due in 2016. However, they do make one exception: if Cox comes up for sale, they’re in. Cox, for its part, will be trialling DOCSIS 3.1 next year, while Midcontinent says it will roll out 1Gbps service with the technology next year.

It looks like another crushing quarter from T-Mo, with 2.1m net adds.

On the other hand, Lowell McAdam warns Verizon shareholders not to expect much growth in 2016, and rather unconvincingly points to his new video app and M2M as a growth case for 2017.

Will Comcast buy L(3) or just rely on its interconnects with other cablecos?

Meanwhile, AT&T launches its FTTH overbuild of cablecos Comcast and TWC in San Antonio next week. Fixed operator Frontier is offering the whole Nest smart home line, rather unusually for a wireline telco. In one of the Florida networks it’s selling to Frontier, Verizon is pushing symmetrical 100Mbps service as an upsell.

China Unicom is speeding up its LTE rollout to catch up with China Mobile, which means 500,000 new cells this year. Oh, and they’re dropping any further investment in the 3G net.

Telecom Italia is reviewing its plans to roll out much more 4G in Brazil after the Brazilian economy hit a rock.

Reliance hopes to finish selling its towers by the 22nd of October.

And Deutsche Telekom is the launch partner for Inmarsat’s European Aviation Network. This consists of a S-band space ship - Inmarsat has 2x15MHz over the whole of the EU - and 300 LTE cells pointing upwards.

Get the Mobile Edge; AT&T VPNs in CSC’s cloud; Free launches OpenPOWER cloud; $157bn of SDN & NFV

ETSI has published a technical whitepaper on Mobile Edge Computing, “a key technology towards 5G”. MEC’s the one where you move the cloud servers out to the cell sites to get full benefit of the ultra-low latency promised in 5G and hopefully snag some of the money that goes to Amazon, Rackspace, Akamai et al.

Expect to hear much more of this, and don’t forget to check out our in-depth coverage in the How 5G is Disrupting Cloud and Network Strategy Today Executive Briefing

Meanwhile, AT&T has finished integrating its NetBond VPN product into CSC’s cloud management software.

Rely on Xavier Niel and the rest of the gang at Free to be innovative: as well as their bare-metal cloud based on low-power ARM hardware, they’ve now got a similar offering based on IBM’s OpenPOWER architecture. The ARM option is targeted at Web applications scaling-out, while the OpenPOWER setup is more about computation-intensive loads that want…well, power. Interestingly, Free went with IBM’s server solution for the OpenPOWER machines.

Will Internet exchanges get more important thanks to SDN and NFV?

A forecast suggests that telco spending on SDN and NFV will reach $157bn by 2020, with 75% of that coming from ex-incumbent telcos, and the ramp-up hitting in 2017.

And Microsoft has agreed to include Baidu in place of Bing when it’s in China.

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September 21, 2015

Altice, Euregulators, 5G, M2M, Cloud: Telco 2.0 News Review

Drahi plunges on Cablevision; Comcast’s new enterprise unit; VZ - speed first, don’t expect growth for 2 years

So, Patrick Drahi and Altice strike again with another cableco deal. This time it’s a biggy, Cablevision, the fourth-biggest US MSO and the one that covers New York City. The deal means that the Dolan family, pioneer investors in cable for the last 42 years, are making their exit. Drahi is promising to drive down costs because he “doesn’t like to pay salaries”, but he did stretch to the $128m golden goodbye for the current CEO.

The deal is pricey, valuing Cablevision at 10x its FCF, and the debt-financed structure will take the leverage ratio up to 7x EBITDA.

As usual, Drahi is using other people’s money in spades; Altice is only paying $3bn in cash out of the $17.7bn total, and as well as the banks, two pension funds are taking 30% of the equity. However, Cablevision has the highest monthly ARPU in the business at $158, so if the cost reductions really exist, there’s substantial scope to drive up margins. Drahi has pencilled in $900m of “synergies” and a target 50% margin, compared to 39% at Suddenlink and 40-odd in some of the European MSOs. If that was delivered, the financials look much better, with the leverage ratio going under 5.

If 50% margins were delivered, of course, that would suggest all cablecos ought to be much richer, as a Moffett analyst points out here. But that might be harder than it looks. Cablevision’s footprint is a key market for Verizon FiOS, too, a tougher proposition than a copper-line telco. US content rights are dear, especially for a cableco that’s not Comcast, and Drahi says he wants to deploy FTTH, implying a forklift-upgrade rather than an incremental DOCSIS 3.1 rollout.

Cablevision also has a under-reported enterprise operation, Lightpath. This week, Comcast announced the startup of a new division focusing on large enterprises, both inside and outside its footprint, after it signed up network-to-network interconnection for managed Ethernet with essentially all the other cablecos.

Level(3) is playing this down, arguing that it’s more likely to bring them more backbone traffic than it is to nick their customers. They’re also cutting jobs in the division most exposed to competition from Comcast, though. Meanwhile, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts gives a number of 11m public WiFi hotspots and seems to be angling for carrier offload business, and their X1 STB platform is on trial with Cox.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam says they won’t be selling the wireline division, they will be concentrating on more speed, and they are “open” to resuming FiOS rollout. It does look like DOCSIS 3 and up is pushing US wireline into an investment cycle. McAdam also warned not to expect much profits growth in the next two years.

Typically, moving from U-Verse to DirecTV means a $17 price cut. AT&T says it’s not a problem.

FCC Commissioner Pai says the RLECs should get universal service money for broadband-only plant. Mozilla gets a grant to popularise muni-fibre. Moody’s downgrades Sprint’s credit. And AT&T has put up a $250,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the mystery fibre chopper of Berkeley, who caused yet another major outage last week.

VF/Liberty still hanging fire; Euregulators want to see 3’s O2 homework; TeliaSonera exits Eurasia

The rumour mill has been grinding away on the idea of Vodafone making a bid for Liberty Global, or some sub-set of it, for ages. John Malone said this week that the talks between the two companies haven’t yet arrived at any solution, although “conceptually there could be some real value created”. He gives the impression that the talks go on, but one option - a full-cream, outright Vodafone bid for the whole of Liberty Global - is off the table as Vodafone just doesn’t want to spend that much money.

Meanwhile, the European Commission’s decision to kibosh TeliaSonera/Telenor Denmark is being read as the strongest possible signal that Commissioner Vestager has made up her mind, and come down strongly on the “competition first” side rather than the “E5 telco” side. In the Brussels political game, this also suggests that Vestager and Competition, and perhaps also the Digital Single Market vice-president, Andrus Ansip, have won out over Günther Oettinger’s Digital Economy & Society directorate.

As a result, all other telco M&A in Europe is back up in the air. Having already started a preliminary inquiry, Vestager is apparently going to move straight to an in-depth Stage 2 review of the 3UK-O2 merger, and Hutchison is actively looking at what concessions it could make to save the deal. An alternative would be to badger the UK national authorities to assert their authority over the matter, and the Competition and Markets Authority is seeking comments on whether or not to do it.

After last week’s surprising push by the indie fibre deployers to defend BT, this week Vodafone, TalkTalk, Sky, and a gaggle of lobbies wrote to OFCOM arguing for the full separation of Openreach. Interestingly, OFCOM director Sharon White has tweed that the market might need “lighter” regulation; does this mean let BT do what it wants, or does it mean “if we break up BT, then we won’t need so much micro-regulation?”

Telecom Italia denies that Vivendi is increasing its stake towards 20%.

Not very surprisingly, the Norwegian regulator finds that Telenor has a dominant market position.

TeliaSonera is pulling out of its Eurasian markets, closing an extended soap opera of bitter ownership disputes, lawsuits, and corruption allegations. OpCos in Nepal, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Tajikistan are up for sale as a result, but TeliaSonera expects to take its time over the disposals. Another Swedish company, Tele2, has just reached Moscow with its network rollout.

Commissioner Pai admits that T-Mobile zero-rating music is effectively a net-neutrality violation.

Here’s an interesting story. After the FCC’s universal access programs were criticised for being open to fraud, the commission required a lot more documentation before you got a subsidised mobe. Suspecting that the carriers might lose or misuse this personally-identifying information, the commission also required them to destroy it after use. Now, MVNO Tracfone, CTIA, and USTA are suing for the right to keep it.

One solution to Lawman Wheeler vs. the Satellite Cowboy: abolish the small business discount entirely.

Mexico has dramatically lowered the access prices for its planned 700MHz national wholesale network. Nigeria’s broadcast regulator has reassigned a block of the 700 band to MTN Nigeria without asking the telecoms regulator. Cote d’Ivoire wants a fourth operator.

It turns out anyone can read Vodafone’s twitter conversations with customers.

3GPP sketches out the 5G plan - target 2019; Nokia wants to go faster; AT&T disses VZ’s 5G-by-2017 boast

3GPP fired the starting gun for 5G RAN standardisation this week, at its workshop in Phoenix. The upshot, according to the WG chairman Dino Flore, is that three use cases are being taken forward as a priority: enhanced mobile broadband, massive M2M, and ultra-low latency communication. To achieve this, the 3GPP decided, we will indeed need a new, “non-backward compatible” radio air interface, although LTE-A development will go on in parallel.

The RAN70 meeting in December will start work on the study item for the new radio, with the first phase of the project targeting the end of 3GPP Release 15 in H2 2018, and the second the deadline for IMT 2020 submissions in December 2019, which also happens to match Release 16. Channel modelling work is expected to begin in Q1 2016, with the first report back in March. At the link, there’s a vast supply of slideware from every company you can imagine and a few others.

Nokia Networks, meanwhile, screams because it wants to go faster, targeting a full, commercial 5G deployment for the 2020 European Championships. As that year’s championship will be spread over 13 European nations, rather than having a host country, they’re basically arguing for EU-wide 5G within six months of the standard being released.

How many times has the 5G centre at the University of Surrey been announced? Once more will do it, because it’s opened.

AT&T is unsurprisingly sceptical of Verizon’s claim to deploy 5G by 2017.

Telstra has launched its first tri-band LTE-A device. Like every other such device we’ve heard of, it’s a Qualcomm X12 modem under the bonnet, which also makes its way into the Snapdragon 820 SoC.

Here’s a cool open-source telecoms project from Pakistan.

LTE-M goes into 3GPP; Orange LoRa goes national; T-Mobile.cz does Sigfox; ALU buys Mformation

3GPP has also been busy about M2M this week. Although there were two very distinct schools of thought going into the meeting, they’ve agreed to work out a harmonised proposal for so-called Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), aka LTE-M, that will go into Release 13 next year. The point is to provide an M2M version of LTE that runs in a much narrower subchannel, in a lower band (probably GSM900) and at lower power.

Over on the LPWAN side of the fence, Orange has announced it’s deploying a LoRa network across France. Meanwhile, T-Mobile’s Czech opco claims it’s going to cover the whole of Czech territory with Sigfox.

Alcatel-Lucent has acquired Mformation, the M2M device management company. ALU reckons this means it has 700 million M2M devices under management, more than anyone else, and it matters because at least 50 million devices are known to have been compromised or recalled in the last year.

IBM is offering connected cars as a service in the cloud - now if they were only self-driving, they’d have the most buzzwords in one headline ever.

Creative Connectivity calls bubble on the smart home. EETimes does something similar with wearables.

And ViaSat’s KA-band broadband service is coming to Boeing aircraft.

Skype is down; Skype is also increasingly a WebRTC app; 3UK VoLTE; voice and messaging as an interface

Skype is down for much of the world. Interestingly, instant messaging still works, but not presence, and calls fail because of the inability to see presence. Unless, of course, you’re using the new Skype for Browsers web page.

Does that have something to do with Microsoft’s wider agenda? Microsoft just announced that ORTC, their flavour of the WebRTC JavaScript API, landed in both Edge, the new browser, and Skype. The result is this complicated vision of how Skype, Skype for Business, the web site, and SIP-based devices fit together:


Which might also give us a clue what’s broken - the signalling service. There’s much more analysis of MS, Skype, and ORTC/WebRTC here.

Skype is increasingly marketing itself to broadcasters as an ingestion solution, in the unexpected form of hardware. Chris Kranky’s event reports back. 3UK VoLTE is here.

Here’s something interesting: why make a user interface when you can use messaging? And again, at WalMart.

VMWare OpenStack? Microsoft Linux! AWS down; 30k jobs go at HP; Uber architecture

We discuss the ongoing transformation of Microsoft in this Executive Briefing, but we weren’t expecting this - not only does MS not have any problem with Linux in Azure these days, it’s developed its own Linux distro. Azure Cloud Switch is a high performance SDN virtual switch that uses the Open Compute Project API to configure the ASIC hardware it runs on and speaks the usual SDN protocols north to the controller.

On a similar theme, VMWare is offering VIO, or VMWare Integrated OpenStack, to customers who would like a one-click install with less complexity. “VMWare OpenStack” isn’t quite as startling as “Microsoft Linux” but it’s not far off.

A massive outage ripped through Amazon Web Services’ oldest and biggest Availability Zone, US-EAST-1, at the weekend. This disrupted an enormous range of websites, notably Airbnb, Tinder, and Netflix.

HP is scaling down a controversial direct sales channel that was accused of competing with their network of VARs, but that’s as nothing to what’s happening to their workforce.

Brocade builds its SDN Controller 2.0 on the OpenDaylight codebase.

And here’s a High Scalability writeup of how Uber works.

App Store hacked; CDN provides 80% iOS 9 boost; night of the adblockers; Google’s Indian railways WiFi

The App Store has been compromised. Attackers succeeded in getting app developers to download a malicious version of the Apple XCode developer suite, which added malicious code to anything you compiled on it (thus implementing part of the classic On Trusting Trust paper). Now they’re scrambling to track down and revoke all the apps affected. One of them is…Tencent’s WeChat. In fact the source of the malware seems to be a server in China that local developers may have used because it was a much faster way to download the whole XCode ball of wax than going to the source.

Elsewhere, Dan Rayburn shares data from PeerApp showing that 80% of the iOS 9 downloads on their customers’ networks are being served from the CDN.

One effect of iOS 9 is that it makes it much easier to create ad blockers. This has led to near panic in the advertising world, which in turn caused the author of the most popular app, Peace, to pull it for fear it was too effective and would harm publishers. If VentureBeat is right, we’re going to need every ad blocker we can get pretty soon.

Here’s a positive review of the Moto X Pure.

Valve says it now has 1500 games on Steam for Linux, rising 100/month.

Google is deploying WiFi at Indian railway stations, under a deal that lets it use the railway right-of-way for fibre paths.

Scary Cisco malware. And the threat to your mobile phone is coming from inside your PC.

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September 14, 2015

iPad Pro, CDNs, Openreach, Orange, 5G, cars, VHA: Telco 2.0 News Review

New iPad Pro, Siri-fuelled iTelly, Apple’s own iPhone leasing plan.

No prizes for guessing what this week’s news event might be. Apple launched the iPad Pro, a 13” tablet it claims is faster than 90 per cent of PCs that shipped in the last year. Like the Microsoft Surface, it comes with a cover that acts as a keyboard and kickstand, and no fewer than four speakers to help you annoy people on trains. It also comes with a stylus, the Apple Pencil, so Steve Jobs will be spinning in his grave just as long as it takes to read him the Q2 results announcement and the iPhone pre-order numbers. Pricing is premium, to say the least, with the top-end, 128GB LTE model coming in at $1099, plus another $169 for the cover/keyboard - that’s edging into MacBook territory.

The iPhone adds an “s”, so we get the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. These get incremental improvements to the hardware, and the new 3D Touch haptics API (previously called Force Touch until someone noticed it was creepy). This lets you long-press on a link to get a quick preview of whatever app is on the other end, and then tap it again to open it if you find it interesting. Sounds recondite, but changes to Apple’s UX affordances often have far-reaching effects.

An important commercial announcement is that Apple is now selling iPhones on a pay-monthly basis. For example, you can pay $34/mo for an unlocked 16GB iPhone 6S with AppleCare support, and after 12 months, either keep paying for the next 12 months, or trade the gadget in for a newer model (when that rolls around).

This is going to shake up the Apple/telcos relationship - on the one hand, the operators get to dump the subsidy and offer annual! new! iPhones!, on the other hand, they can’t jack up the implied interest rate in a leasing/hire-purchase model to make more money, and neither can they use the terms of the device sale to lock subscribers into a 2-year contract. Presumably, the old phones go through Apple’s existing rework line and back out into the refurb channel, so the operators don’t get to monetise the returned iPhones either.

Within 24 hours of the new version of iOS shipping, a jailbreak is available.

Perhaps the biggest Apple news, though, was beyond the smartphone. The new Apple TV is here, and it has a new operating system, TvOS, a touchscreen remote, access to its content library through Siri, and an API for TV-specific apps using XML and JavaScript, although mainline iOS apps will run on it. The link to the remote is Bluetooth 4, so it doesn’t have to be line-of-sight, but Apple has interestingly decided not to bother with any smart-home protocols.

That said, are we completely crazy to think people will grab their iPhones to control the thing instead of bothering with the remote?

Elsewhere, Samsung denied that it’s going to sack 10% of its head office staff but did say it was freezing salaries this year. Here’s a very positive review of the Galaxy Note 5. Microsoft has just EOLd the various Nokia Lumia photography apps, and yes, the photos hosted in them are going away. Android Pay launches in the US, although the in-app payments element isn’t there on day zero.

Google’s “discounts for peers” program; Azure builds more CDN; HTTP 2.0; Vodafone FTTF

What with all that streaming TV, it’s probably time to look to your CDN. Something genuinely interesting is up: Google is offering discounts on its cloud services for customers of four CDNs, Level(3), Fastly, Highwinds, and CloudFlare. The reason is that these CDNs have agreed to setup direct peering between their edge locations and Google’s network, essentially bringing Google Cloud Platform customers’ apps on board and saving both parties some bandwidth. Google is then passing back some of the saving to its customers as lower pricing for egress traffic.

Meanwhile, Alcatel-Lucent has a new CDN software solution. It won’t be available commercially until 2016, but apparently part of it is in production with TalkTalk.

The Russian government wants anyone who holds Russian citizens’ personal data to do so in Russia. For privacy, of course. Of course. So far, only about 10% of the companies concerned have actually moved anything into a Russian data centre, but one of those is Apple.

Microsoft Azure has launched a lot of new CDN- and video-related features into general availability, inlcuding a full on-the-fly transcoding solution and media indexing. Ericsson, meanwhile, has acquired a company that does similar things, for some $125m.

TiVo has a new, low-end version of its software for cablecos who want to upgrade without handing out the latest-and-greatest hardware to everyone.

This is interesting: Cablevision has been selling a broadband + broadcast package, and they say it’s not cannibalising the cable TV base but rather reclaiming cord-cutters.

Dan Rayburn points out that HTTP 2.0 is coming and some CDNs are already trialling it. In comments, there’s a great Packet Pushers’ Podcast on the technology, making the point that it makes non-cooperative caching or proxying strategies much harder compared to true CDN.

Vodafone UK is pulling fibre to a collection of big sports stadiums as part of a partnership with SIS, the outside-broadcast company. The idea seems to be that SIS will use it to provide broadcasters with their HD video feeds and Vodafone will provide back-up microwave connectivity, but we wouldn’t be that surprised if Vodafone also started pulling fibre outwards from the new sites. Is that FTTF - Fibre to the Football?

UK fixed operators in push to save Openreach; gigacable news; VZ admits to crisis in the enterprise

The great lobbyfest around the BT-EE and 3UK-O2 deals is getting deadly serious. Virgin Media, CityFibre, and Zayo have formed a coalition to lobby against OFCOM’s proposal to make Openreach offer regulated dark fibre. Not so long ago, they were in favour of cutting BT down to size, but not like that… The key issue is really price - the Infrastructure Investors’ Group, as they’re calling themselves, is worried that Openreach’s regulated pricing would undercut their prices and spoil their business model. VMED, of course, will be worrying about its lucrative mobile backhaul business.

BT will be delighted, as they will no doubt be pushing for the highest price attainable. Isn’t there a word for the situation where a group of firms who are meant to be competing get together to drive up their prices? The Openreach CEO, meanwhile, is in the Daily Telegraph arguing that OFCOM shouldn’t break the company up because of self-driving cars.

This is probably as good as any time to checkpoint just how many FTTH lines the rebel alliance has managed to put in. ISPReview has the data - it looks like about 200,000 homes passed, not counting either BT or VMED, growing about 40% annually. Also, literally half BT’s 160k FTTH homes are in Cornwall.

John Stephens of AT&T says they don’t think the extra 11.7m FTTH homes they signed up to get the DirecTV deal approved will be a problem, because they will usually be within the FTTN footprint and a lot of the work has already been done. He says CAPEX is likely to stay under 15% of revenue for the next four years.

Centurylink is hoping the Charter-TWC merger will be disruptive enough, in the other sense of the word, that they will have a window of opportunity to roll out a lot more FTTH before the cable upgrades hit. The so-called “shot clock” or 180 day time limit for the deal’s regulatory review, meanwhile, started on Friday and the FCC would like comments by the 13th of October, thank you.

Arris, after its acquisition of Pace Micro, seems to be winning most of the early DOCSIS 3.1 spending, says a rather good FierceCable writeup on the beginnings of gigabit cable. Mediacom will sell you gigabit cable for $149/mo.

Windstream is keeping its data centres and signing up with HP for Helion (aka HP-branded OpenStack). Three more possible Google Fibre markets.

And Verizon EVP of operations John Stratton admits that something is wrong with their Global Business division:

“As we look at the performance of network business, this is where all the pressure is: from two flavors,” Stratton said. “One is the secular decline of the core copper network and we see technology displacement to fiber and Ethernet and with IP networking we have seen in the last 18 months some pretty significant compression on the retail rate per bit.”

Click here for in-depth Telco 2.0 coverage. Interestingly, Verizon is looking to SDN for the solution, using a Cisco product, but that might just be a repeat of their mistake of outsourcing their whole cloud strategy to their vendor.

Orange CEO calls the turn in Europe; Nokia claims 1Gbps cell; VZW claims 5G next year(!) Shinzo Abe demands price cuts

Les Echos has a mammoth interview with Orange boss Stéphane Richard, and there is news. Richard argues that the European markets are beginning to turn upwards, and predicts that there might be some consolidation in France once the next lot of spectrum auctions is out of the way in 2016. He also claims that Orange France has managed to increase its ARPU in mobile by €3/mo with 4G deployment and €5/mo in fixed with FTTH. Not surprisingly in that light, he’s much keener on investing in the network than in content. He also names a figure of 50% annual mobile data growth - high, if true - and 10% smartphone penetration in Orange’s African markets.

He also complains that the French are obsessed with low prices, there are too many regulators in Europe, and that the public has been hard on ALU CEO Michel Combes over his payoff. It didn’t help - Combes has had to give back half the money, leaving him with only €8m to take away from the Nokia-Alcatel deal.

It didn’t help with the regulators, either. TeliaSonera and Telenor have walked away from their JV in Denmark, as Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager insisted on keeping four operators there. Hardly had that sunk in, when the official submission for 3UK/O2 landed in her in-tray. The regulator has until the 16th of October to issue a provisional response.

Orange, meanwhile, has signed up to a partnership with DTAG, SingTel, and Telefonica to co-operate on their support for developers and startups.

Richard thinks French politicians are obsessed with trying to beat down telcos’ pricing. Here’s Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, doing just that. Japan has some of the highest ARPUs in the world and a three-carrier market dominated by NTT DoCoMo. Abe has tasked his telecoms minister to look at how to change that, with the result that NTT shares plunged.

Nokia Networks, meanwhile, has a clutch of announcements including what it calls the first 1Gbps small cell. It gets there by combining three LTE bands or a mixture of LTE and WiFi, whether via LTE-LAA or LWA. There’s also a new wireless backhaul product to support that, which comes from partner Tarana Wireless, and something called “Het-Net Engine Room”, a planning tool for placing small cells. Inevitably, there’s also a claim of being “5G-ready”; can “pre-5G” be far off?

Well, here’s Verizon Wireless claiming they’re going to test a 5G network next year, by which time 5G still won’t exist as a standard.

Before we get there, VZW and Samsung will be testing LTE-LAA small cells this year. Tom Wheeler, meanwhile, said he was “supremely confident” that the 600MHz incentive auction would happen on time, and that it might be used for 5G. T-Mobile is getting more of its 700MHz holding into the game, and now they’re offering your first monthly bill back if you’re disappointed by coverage after the “Extended Range LTE” arrives in your area.

Sprint is hoping that the iPhone 6S’s carrier-aggregation support will do them a good turn. They’re also not happy that AT&T won’t sell them ad space on DirecTV for their massive gimme offer aimed at DirecTV subscribers.

AnywhereSIM is trying the “MVNO on a foreign operator to get national roaming” trick again.

VF UK WiFi calling; 25% of smartphones are < 1 call a week; WebRTC without plugins; cool app

After EE and T-Mobile USA, Vodafone UK has introduced VoWiFi.

OFCOM, meanwhile, is planning to provide device benchmark tests including voice, just in time for everyone to have stopped making calls. According to Deloitte’s Mobile Consumer survey, 25% of smartphone users make fewer than one call a week, and if current trends continue, that will reach 50% in mid-2018. However, they also expect continuing growth in application-specific voice.

Speaking of which, it looks like plugin-free WebRTC is close, as both Apple and Microsoft now support the webrtc-in-webkit project.

Here’s a new video-calling app for Android TVs. Note that they had to give up on Skype and then GTalk due to Microsoft and Google decisions, but with WebRTC they don’t need to worry about it.

Polycom has started building Skype for Business into its enterprise hardware products.

How to do attended transfer right with Twilio. Also, shock political star Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign built its own virtual phone bank app and what’s the betting that’s using Twilio?

AT&T wins Jaguar-Land Rover M2M; EE Connect; Inmarsat for Things; how smart meters work

AT&T’s head of mobility, Glenn Lurie, talked up the new personal security app in their Digital Life suite in his CTIA keynote, but the real news was that AT&T has snagged Jaguar-Land Rover’s connected car business. JLR is currently pushing out exports at a rate of knots, and connected cars are usually well towards the $10-15 end of the M2M ARPU scale, so that’s going to do them nothing but good.

EE Connect is their new M2M platform. We remember a couple of years ago asking them which M2M platform they used; after a bit of persuasion they owned up that there were three, one for Orange, one for T-Mobile, and one for the new 4G network. Connect is presumably meant to put this behind them. They also mention a number of 2 million M2M devices on the network, and say they’ve replaced “all” their 2G equipment.

Inmarsat is offering a new M2M product for “the Internet of Everywhere”. This consists of two products, a low-bandwidth, low-power monitoring solution, and an M2M profile for their BGAN broadband network. They’re also signing up strategic VARs.

How about a lightbulb that runs Linux and does TCP/IP over visible light?

Vodafone Ghana is opening an M2M platform.

And here’s an interesting High Scalability post on how smart meters actually work.

M2M isn’t just for wireless: here’s Cox buying a health monitoring company.

Privacy disaster at VHA; massive health insurance leak; WhatsApp bug; Mars rover bug

So an Aussie journalist investigated reports that Vodafone-Hutchison Australia’s CRM system was wide open to anyone who wanted to poke around in the data. And what happened? A VHA employee promptly pulled her CDRs in order to find the whistleblower. The effort to cover that up percolated up to Vodafone Group level. Now there are at least two parallel government inquiries.

10 million health insurance files leaked. WhatsApp executes arbitrary code if it comes in a vCard. Two critical patches for literally all versions of Windows. vxWorks, the operating system in the Curiosity Mars rover and vast amounts of important industrial stuff, has a major vulnerability.

OKCupid still isn’t HTTPS. If you’re not going to pick a strong password for your AshleyMadison account…it’s probably time we replaced passwords. This was probably inevitable. Really clever. You might want to turn this off. Listing non-US crypto.

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September 11, 2015

New Telco 2.0 Research: Microsoft’s Pivot to a Communications-Centric Business

Microsoft is a company besieged by disruptive forces. The Wintel model that served them so well is challenged by mobile-first and cloud-native technologies, the consumerisation of the enterprise, and direct competition from an Apple rejuvenated by its decision since the iPhone 3G to develop its own silicon and make a strength of its command of the supply chain.

Microsoft Comms Centric Fig 2 Annual Revenue and Gross Margin.png

Earlier this summer, they were forced to abandon their biggest strategic initiative yet - the strategic partnership with, and then acquisition of, Nokia’s smartphone business. This set them back $8.5bn. At the same time, over in the former Online Services division, their parallel effort to compete head-on with Google has racked up $12bn in accrued losses.

This looks like a story of failure, but Microsoft is also in the process of carrying out its own disruptive strategy shift. In the cloud, Azure has developed a strong reputation for quality, and is becoming an increasingly important driver of revenue, while Office 365 has become Microsoft’s strongest product. Microsoft has essentially re-focused its strategy, moving from one centred on Windows as a ubiquitous platform, to one centred on communications and collaboration through the Office 365 suite and Skype for Business. And even the Bing businesses are beginning to improve.


To find out more, click here to read our Microsoft: Pivoting to a Communications-Centric Business Executive Briefing.

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September 7, 2015

Cable, LTE-LAA, Eurecovery, new flagships, 14nm chips: Telco 2.0 News Review

Google Fiber heads for Phoenix; world cable upgrades; TEF goes Juniper; Orange, BT lead global Ethernet

The US FTTH race continues. Google has the green light from Phoenix’s city council to start building, in a city where Centurylink is the incumbent telco and Cox has the cable licence. As Google already has agreements with Tempe and Scottsdale, Arizona is clearly becoming a priority for the 1Gbps deployment and it’s a fair guess that the other competitors will be responding soon enough.

After all, Altice-owned Suddenlink just began another round of 1Gbps upgrades.

They’re using a Hitron DOCSIS 3.0 modem that will get to those speeds, and they claim they’re doing the entire service area rather than picking individual “fiberhoods”. A gig is $109/mo, but the deployment also brings with it substantial speed jumps all the way through the rate-card - 75Mbps customers are going up to 100, 100Mbps customers to 200.

In the UK, more Virgin Media speedtests are seeping through, showing 12/200 and 20/300 speed tiers in test. As ThinkBroadband points out, Virgin usually overprovisions, so the tests hit the promised mark on the nail. ISPReview has details of tiers and times - some time this month for the 90+% of their customers on the EuroDOCSIS 3.0 network. Meanwhile, here’s an interesting, because urban, community fibre deployment.

DTAG has been migrating its remaining landline customers off the ISDN network, because that was a thing in Germany, and heavily upselling its quad-play Magenta tariff as it does so. This has led to some discontent - it turns out that their DSL network isn’t necessarily up to providing the VoIP element of the package, some people have been overcharged, and the copper infrastructure isn’t as well documented as they thought. The answer? Up the LTE speed tiers.

Verizon would dearly love to do something similar - just shrug off all that copper. This is proving politically fraught, though. The Communications Workers of America has filed papers with 11 state PUCs and the FCC alleging that the carrier won’t maintain the copper network adequately, in order to “de-facto retire” it.

Of course, this isn’t a purely disinterested concern for a robust voice service of last resort. The CWA is currently negotiating with VZ over their new labour contract, and it’s been pretty gnarly. This week, the union launched a website, GoFundVerizon.com, where the public can donate to buy CEO Lowell McAdam a new yacht. You’ve got to laugh.

Telefonica is planning a big DTAG Terastream-style rebuild of its Spanish networks. (Well, hopefully Terastream, it could always end up being like BT 21CN.) The idea is that fixed and mobile broadband, enterprise VPNs, voice, and multicast IPTV will run over the common fabric, and Juniper Networks will be the lucky vendor.

Although AT&T, Centurylink, and cable are killing it in North American Ethernet, Vertical Systems reckons the world market leaders are BT and Orange Business Services. Behind them, there’s a chasing pack consisting of Colt, AT&T, VZ, L(3), and NTT, but within that group, VZ is slipping behind and AT&T pressing ahead. Where have we heard that before?

Speaking of NTT, someone there recently created this lovely visualisation of the Internet core.

3GPP meets IEEE; LTE-LAA makes it into Ericsson 16A; Nokia more and more committed to MEC, telco cloud

That 3GPP workshop with the IEEE 802 and WiFi Alliance people went ahead, in Beijing, and the 3GPP issued the following truly gnomic statement. We guarantee you won’t find any information in it, but for what it’s worth, they confirm that the 802ers, WiFi allies, and cablecos showed up and took part, and that they “interacted”. They hint that there might, just might be some sort of collaboration on co-existence testing.

A draft meeting report is available by FTP from here, which suggests that the LAA spec is going to concentrate on downlink-only first, there’s going to be more IEEE802 input notably on testing, but the deadlines in December and March are considered sacrosanct (notably by Samsung). Also, Dave Burstein is on the list of attendees. That guy gets everywhere.

Ericsson, meanwhile, is trying to create facts on the ground; the new release of Network Software, 16A, includes “LTE-U” as a feature. It also includes higher order encoding for indoor small cells and a sleep mode for cells.

Nokia Networks, for its part, has announced “a concept” for 5G:

a fully self-aware software defined transport network [that] automatically adapts itself to changing service requirements

Right. There’s also this:

A distributed telco cloud structure, enabled by the Nokia AirFrame Data Center Solution*, will support a new generation of critical services in such sectors as automotive and industrial.

This is presumably more Mobile Edge Computing. Nokia is mad keen on this stuff - its cloud-based network is also all about those AirFrame servers, implying they see MEC as a way to integrate applications, content, and network functions on a common computing platform.

Here’s a bit of full-duplex radio, from Fujitsu. And Metaswitch has a new CEO.

SKT heads for 35k tri-band cells; Spanish 2.6GHz; Eircom recovery; Orange MEA reshuffle; SmarTone FY

SKT is rolling out much, much more tri-band LTE. 30,000 sites already have it, in 85 cities, but 5,000 more are coming by the end of the year. The aggregation uses 10MHz of 800, 20MHz of 1800, and 10MHz of 2100 in both directions. For context, the target for 2015 of 35,000 tri-band sites is out of 230,000 LTE sites total.

The Spanish 2.6GHz auction is coming within weeks, adding to the sense that things might be looking up at last. 

On a similar theme, Eircom’s revenue rose year-on-year for the first time in seven years, by as much as 5%, with pre-pay subscribers falling and post-pay rising. EBITDA margins are up to 25%, which takes EBITDA itself up 62% year-on-year.

Sprint shares have risen sharply, supposedly because they might do better reselling ex-lease smartphones than the competition. Alternatively, perhaps they were just really cheap.

The tortuous FirstNet public-safety 4G project has had a successful deployment with the New Jersey state police.

Orange has swapped out the CEOs of its Middle East & African networks. Orange is planning to get 5% revenue growth from there, and wants to trim any market where they’re not 1st or 2nd, like Kenya.

And SmarTone in Hong Kong has strong results to say the least - service revenue up 3% annually and handset sales up 67%.

SmarTone’s new e-commerce platform; m-payments in LatAm; Android carrier billing in Africa; PayPal.me

SmarTone is also going for a spin of the mobile operator e-commerce wheel. They have a new platform called Kiss, which goes live by the end of the year. As usual the key determiners are merchant adoption and the onboarding process; does CEO Douglas Li sound a little worried about this?

SmarTone CEO Douglas Li (pictured) told Mobile World Live that it needs time to explain the system to the public and gain a critical mass with retailers. He said it also takes some time to integrate the platform with each retailer’s point-of-sales terminal.

It has hired about a dozen new sales people to work on merchant acquisition together with its corporate accounts sales team, which is much larger. Li said the sales team has been transforming itself from selling connectivity to selling services for a couple of years.

It has signed up a couple of hundred retailers, but he wouldn’t say the number required for critical mass.

Anyway, it’s not operator-exclusive, and it provides a variety of marketing and loyalty options, targeted at small businesses that probably don’t have a website. If it works in Hong Kong, SmarTone wants to licence it in China.

AT&T, meanwhile, wants to be No.1 in Mexico, and Telefonica is willing to cooperate with them in their battle to topple Carlos Slim’s America Movil across Latin America. There’s some interesting discussion of which markets might be appropriate for an m-payments play.

Telkom (the South African one, not the Indonesian one) has launched the first carrier billing for Android in Africa, which is well worth doing as 89% of the smartphones there are ‘droids, and essentially all of the 75% of shipments under $200 are. Bango is providing the software, and they say they typically get a 300-400% uplift in digital content sales when they deploy in an emerging market.

Samsung has signed up Gemalto for its Samsung Pay launch in Europe, in order to use their Trusted Service Manager as the interface with financial networks.

PayPal has a new option that basically gives you a URI to receive money.

Perhaps more interestingly, a lot of the apps in Vodafone’s Farmers’ Club, which is launching in India, Ghana, Kenya, and Tanzania, could be considered m-commerce or payments.

YouTube opens up to ad scrutiny; Google Play for China; Comcast Watchable; Amazon buys Elemental; boring VR

YouTube is going to let advertisers inject third-party tracking code so as to see how often their ads get shown, seen, or clicked, after they complained of a lack of visibility into how often Google actually served up the ads they were paying for.

You might think it was a problem more widely at Google - here’s their new lineup of full-screen interstitial ads for app downloads, all Material Design-compliant, and here’s the official notification that interstitial download ads will lose you precious PageRank points. Clear as mud.

They’re also trying to come up with a way of getting back into China and exerting some influence over the vast forkdroid industry there. The Information claims they’re working on a China-specific app store and a version of the Google Play suite.

Watchable is Comcast’s new online video product, and it seems to have leaked out of closed trials. It’s described as being a like “something between YouTube and Hulu”.

Ericsson reports a huge increase in the consumption of on-demand streaming TV.

Amazon has acquired Elemental, a cloud-based video delivery company. By that, they mean that it processes the video before it gets streamed, rather than being a CDN. It’s a big deal, though, as Elemental serves the BBC iPlayer mobile app and a lot of other super-scale TV apps.

Speaking of the BBC, the iPlayer infrastructure might be opened to other broadcasters.

The FCC is changing the cable TV retransmission rules. The cablecos are happy but the TV networks aren’t.

Time Warner Cable will be operating a dedicated 24-hour channel for the Pope’s visit to the US, containing nothing but papal content. Meanwhile, the mobile operators are preparing their COWs for the crowds.

Vodafone’s latest ad campaign has been banned by the ad regulator. 

And what if virtual reality is just boring?

The phone for METAL!!; new Sony, Huawei flagships; Qualcomm 820; Intel Skylake; weird Sony watch

To go with all that content news, what about a hands-on review of the Marshall London music-focused…well…let’s say rock-focused smartphone?

At the IFA, meanwhile, Sony revealed a new line of Xperias. This includes the new flagship, the Z5 Premium, which they claim is the first “4K smartphone”, doubling the pixel count of the iPhone 6. It also gets a new 23MP camera, and supposedly the fastest autofocus in a smartphone, to go with the 5.5” 4K display. The non-Premium Z5 is 5.2” and not quite 4K, and there’s a compact at 4.6”.

Meanwhile, Huawei has integrated a Force Touch-like capability into its new flagship, beating Apple to the punch, if probably only by weeks. Confusingly, the gadget’s called the Mate, rather like the HTC flagship before last.

The Sony gadgets reportedly use the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, the chip Samsung rejected from the Galaxy S6 line in favour of their own Exynos because it overheated so badly. Ars Technica reports that Qualcomm is talking up the successor to the 810, the unimaginatively named 820. Big deal, you might say, but the new chip is the first to use a new architecture codenamed Kryo, which replaces the Krait design used ever since 2012’s Snapdragon S4 of HTC Evo/SG III/Moto Razr Droid fame. The 810 was a transitional design, a stopgap to get new ARM 64bit features available quickly…which is what they all say, and also makes you wonder what Sony sees in it.

Intel’s new line of PC processors, Skylake, is out. Intel is hoping that the new chip might encourage the public to think about upgrading 2010-era PCs. Both the Skylakes and the 820 are coming because the semiconductor world has figured out how to manufacture reliably at 14nm; we note that Qualcomm has shifted its business from TSMC to Samsung, so Sammy has acquired yet another awkward co-opetition relationship.

Strange product of the week: the mechanical smartwatch. This doesn’t mean that it has a little paper map on rollers for the navigation app, although that would be awesome. Sony’s “Wena” is a proper watch with smartwatch functionality embedded in the strap. A tad baroque?

And BlackBerry has made an acquisition, buying up MDM specialist Good Technology.

IBM auto-registers ARM IoT devices; Facebook IoT SDKs; Seagate, Fiat-Chrysler on the naughty step

IBM has a new M2M initiative - they’re integrating ARM’s IoT-focused devices into their Bluemix developer platform, so your ARM mbed chips will just register automatically and show up. One wonders if they do that if you don’t want them to, but it’s the sort of sensible thing you’d expect from them.

Everyone’s got an Internet of Things initiative these days. Facebook’s Parse developer platform now has a SDK for various IoT devices, because nothing says “social” quite like Internet light bulbs! There’s some detail here. Also, the boss of Parse has quit.

Yet another IoT security fiasco: Seagate wireless hard disks have an undocumented telnet interface with the username and password both set to “root”, allowing you to do basically anything to the device and the data stored on it.

And even more Jeeps are recalled over IoT security.

Valley titans settle wages lawsuit; new .tlds are 90% .dodgy; ARCEP barks at Orange

Apple, Google, Intel, and Adobe have agreed to settle the so-called “wage theft” lawsuit, which arose after their employees discovered that the four companies had entered into a secret “no-poaching agreement” that kept them from bidding up engineering salaries in Silicon Valley. As a result, the four companies parties to the agreement will have to pay $415m in compensation to the 64,000 current and former employees who signed the class-action, about $6500 each.

AT&T is challenging the award of Florida’s government telecoms services to a competitor.

This is interesting: Verizon has an app that plugs into the well-known Splunk analytics platform, letting you sift through past data breaches to identify threats.

The new top-level domains are a bit of a disaster; some of them are over 90% malware, and .zip is 100%. Worse, .zip isn’t even meant to exist yet. On the other hand, .london is almost as safe as .church.

Switzerland’s net neutrality ombudsman becomes operational this week.

ARCEP says Orange can’t impose an extra fee on wholesale infrastructure if it’s used for mobile backhaul. The problem, of course, is that Free uses its ISP network for a very large chunk of its mobile needs, and that uses a lot of unbundled Orange infrastructure.

And Poland is considering re-running its 4G auction because it’s…made too much money.

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September 2, 2015

Apple Enterprise, Comcast, Free, China, Telstra, HEVC: Telco 2.0 News Review

Apple to the Enterprise, with Cisco; Android Wear for iOS; Amazon dumps hardware development

Apple has announced a new partnership around enterprise apps to go with the IBM one it announced last year. This time, the other end of the deal is Cisco. The big idea is to optimise enterprise iOS apps to work better with the network, presumably as long as it’s based on Cisco hardware. Another important element is better interoperability between Apple devices and Cisco’s collaboration software, like WebEx and Spark.

TalkingPointz points out that on one hand, Apple and Cisco compete more than Apple and IBM - FaceTime, for example, competes directly with Cisco’s videoconferencing products - and the partnership is the work of John Chambers and Padmasree Warrior on Cisco’s side, both of whom have now checked out of Cisco for good. On the other hand, the collaboration line of business is worth $4bn to Cisco, there are already iOS clients for all their services and they use some quite recondite features of the OS like ultrasonic pairing, and Cisco Spark demonstrations always seem to use Apple hardware.

One thing it certainly brings Apple is a very capable enterprise sales channel. Horace explains why this is necessary and why it historically hasn’t worked very well with mobile. Read down to Jack Schofield’s comment for an interesting story about Michael Dell.

While this is happening in the enterprise, Apple is also opening up the ecosystem in another direction.

Google just launched iOS support for Android Wear, which presumably required Apple’s agreement to get through approval, as it’s an update to the Google app for iOS. From Apple’s point of view, presumably, it’s better business to make sure there’s no barrier to someone with Android wearables getting an iPhone than it is to try to upsell someone with an iPhone to an Apple Watch. Watches are dear and nichey; iPhones are the core product.

Samsung is notorious for spending a lot of money on marketing, but this is ridiculous: anyone in the US can have a SG6 Edge+ or a Note 5, with a live SIM, for a month if they pay a dollar. At the end of 30 days, you have the option to pay for it or return it. Can this be the best roaming offer for travellers to the US ever? Well, at least since T-Mobile offered something similar on the iPhone 5S.

Amazon is laying off much of the non-Kindle engineering team after the failure of the Fire phone and nothing you’d call a success with Echo or Button. It seems like yesterday everyone was talking about their supersecret Lab126. Now it’s looking for a job.

It looks like a new BlackBerry is coming, and if the leaked photos are any guide, it’s running stock Android 5.1, although things like BlackBerry Hub and other software USPs have been ported as Android apps. This will come as bad news to the BlackBerry Passport user we spoke to on a Eurostar recently; he loved the device, not least because not having his usual Android games meant it didn’t distract him from work e-mail.

Gigabit cable attacks this year. In Q4, to be precise. Comcast X1. C-Mobile?

Comcast already started the gigabit race, of course, using FTTH technology in selected markets. But we’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop,the mass upgrade of the cable network to DOCSIS 3.1. This threatens to deliver multigigabit broadband and gigabit WiFi into most places that have cable, and represents a dire threat to telcos’ fixed broadband businesses where they haven’t deployed fibre.

Now, Comcast SVP of network architecture Robert Howald says it’s coming to the whole footprint in the next two years, targeting 1Gbps in the first wave. Trial deployments begin in Q4, and the bulk of the rollout is planned for 2016. Also, CableLabs announced in a blog post that they’ve now concluded the fourth interop event for DOCSIS 3.1, expect to certify products very soon, and are also seeing good progress with test equipment.

See our Gigabit Cable Attacks This Year Executive Briefing for in-depth coverage

Meanwhile, Comcast’s CFO hinted at some sort of quad-play or wireless move. This is being read as a deal, but we note that job ads appeared some months ago for a Comcast mobile/WLAN project, so it could be that?

All very exciting, of course, but it’s now three years since Comcast announced its HTML5-based X1 set-top box platform and FierceCable points out that still very few of their customers - at most half, at least 5 million or 25% - have got their hands on the product. Part of the point is that Comcast is running an agile software development cycle and constantly pushing new releases - in order for this strategy to work, though, the hardware has to be powerful enough to stay relevant for years. That costs money.

The deal story, meanwhile, is supposedly that Comcast, or some cableco or group of them, might buy T-Mobile. There’s certainly synergy between a cable network and a mobile network (here’s KDG rolling out a lot more 200Mbps), especially in the light of the coming DOCSIS 3.1 rollout, but it’s a dear do and like all T-Rumours, assumes that DTAG won’t just let it run. Also, if the cablecos really wanted in, they could have backed the Free-T deal last year and got the most disruptive management team in mobile to boot…

A cableco bid makes more sense, at least, than the hardy perennial DISH bid. If DISH doesn’t buy T-Mobile, then, will it sell its AWS-3 spectrum to Verizon? Also, T-CEO John Legere seems to have found a new group of people to insult: his own customers.

Centurylink has made it to No.2 in the US for SIP trunking, but what’s this coming over the horizon? Cablecos are an increasing threat in hosted PBX and will soon start on trunking.

Millicom has a new strategy and a new cable-industry CEO, but they went for an ex-Orange exec as chief commercial officer.

Free, 3UK H1s, giant 4G bundles; IEEE802 vs 3GPP, only one can win over LTE-LAA

Free Mobile announced H1 results that turned the page on the T-bid and the French merger mania. For the 14th successive quarter, they topped the table for net-adds with 820k, taking them to 10.9 million subscribers or 16% market share, with revenue up 18% and service revenue up 23%. 2.4m of those subscribers take 4G, and the 4G network is now at 50% population coverage, with a target of 60% by year-end. Also, EBITDA margins are improving as more traffic is taken over from national roaming to their own 3G, and then further on to their own 4G and their own WiFi.

It wouldn’t be Free results day if there wasn’t a shock, and here it comes - the data bundle for their postpaid customers has been hiked from 20GB to 50GB/mo at no extra price. Interestingly, this only applies while you’re on the 4G or the WiFi - there is a separate 3GB allowance for 3G data, suggesting that LTE deployment is delivering a really impressive reduction in cost per bit.

Meanwhile, Bouygues says it’s got 42% of its non-M2M customers onto the 4G. Interestingly, they say 25% of their 4G customers hit the 3GB cap in an average month and the average usage is 2.4GB/mo, so Free may be selling a lot of data it will never have to deliver, even though its user base is rich in early adopter geeks.

Michel Combes, who’s taking over at SFR after selling Alcatel-Lucent to Nokia, says he’s not planning to launch a price war. Maybe so, but it’s probably up to Xavier Niel.

Another operator that’s selling a lot of data, cheap, is 3UK. A new dongle offer provides 40GB of 4G data, plus 600 minutes of voice and unlimited SMS, for £45/mo. 3UK specialises in chasing high users - it claims its users account for 45% of UK mobile data traffic, running at an average of 4.65GB/mo, and 50% have taken up the no-extra 4G offer - but the target here is slightly hard to make out.

Although the marginal price is seriously cheap at £1.13/GB, it’s a big mobile bill in the context of an operator with a £20 ARPU, and as a dongle/mobile hotspot product, it’s over-and-above a phone plan. But as a DSL-replacement product, it’s very, very dear - 40GB is a restrictive landline bundle and UK DSL products can be had for next to nothing once the line rental is paid.

It doesn’t seem to be causing them any trouble, though - 3UK reported 10% subscriber growth year-on-year for H1, with ARPU down 3% at £20.38, adding up to revenues up 9%. On the agenda for H2: 800MHz LTE rollout.

Back on the WiFi front, the LTE-LAA row is hotting up. 3GPP held a workshop in Beijing, and everyone who was anyone came. The WiFi Alliance, IEEE802, a cable industry delegation, and General Motors are jointly seeking a technical review of the specification, which they fear will interfere with WiFi networks.

Specifically, the IEEE 802 standardisers want 3GPP to use a listen-before-talk protocol for LTE-LAA that would interoperate with the one WLAN uses for 5GHz channels. They point out that 3GPP’s own working papers show they think this could work. But the problem is likely to be that IEEE 802’s deck reads very much as if they want to take over - integrating IEEE people into the 3GPP working group, sending the 3GPP spec for external review, and setting up a neutral (ie non-3GPP) test platform. Oy. And in case you’re wondering, GM is involved because they’re worried about mobile hotspots in cars that have their own hotspots, moving through an LTE-LAA mobile network.

The Alliance also wrote to the FCC, asking it to hold up testing LTE-LAA equipment until they’ve finished their own experiments. This caused Verizon, T-Mobile, and the major telecoms vendors to write too, arguing that the FCC should let’er rip. The cablecos, via NCTA, and the tech industry are siding with the WiFi-ers, while Qualcomm is sitting on the fence. Vendor Q wrote to the FCC arguing that LTE-LAA was actually good for WiFi, not just harmless, but they’re also promoting their own technology fix, LWA, as an alternative.

Public Knowledge points out in this context that unlicensed spectrum doesn’t mean spectrum with no rules, and in fact the requirement to cause no undue interference goes back to the Radio Act of 1912.

Swisscom is providing VoLTE handoff between 4G and WiFi for users of its Advanced Calling service.

Meet 802.11ah, the WiFi for M2M.

Simwood Mobile, the UK’s developer-focused MVNO, has launched. Here’s a deceptively simple service from Telefonica - alert banks when their customers are abroad.

Showdown at the DISH Corral; cheeky BT; Telia-Nor JV sent back; stop it, Mr Chang

The Satellite Cowboy has finally pushed Lawman Wheeler far enough, and so the posse is coming to fetch his ill-gotten gains. Harold Feldcovers the whole gunfight in a massive three-part series, turning on the key issue: DISH technically obeyed all the rules when it used the two front companies to snag the $3bn discount for being a $26bn small business. The rules were there for a reason.

So what right does Wheeler have to intervene? The star on his chest and the Colt on his hip, roughly; being FCC Chairman comes with quite a lot of discretionary power. Also, the reason the rules are what they are was to help America’s minorities get into the wireless business. Congress probably didn’t mean “the former director of the FCC Wireless Bureau” when they debated that, though.

Like any genuinely American story, then, whatever happens at the corral shootout doesn’t matter a damn - the real action will be at the courthouse later.

Meanwhile, three CLECs argue that the FCC should regulate special-access rates. One of them goes so far as to say:

AT&T and Verizon are price gouging competitors that purchase special access services, driving them and others to raise the price of service they charge to their large multi-site business customers.

Which CLEC might that be? Why, BT Americas. Yes, as in BT, the carrier that’s currently vigorously refusing to provide the equivalent service back in the UK.

The 600MHz whitespaces will be available on an unlicensed basis for things like wireless microphones.

New York City may be about to sue Verizon over its 2008 FiOS rollout commitment.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has sent TeliaSonera and Telenor back to come up with new proposals for their joint venture in Denmark.

Registering all the SIM cards in Mozambique turns out to be difficult.

And Mr. Chang in Queens has been ordered to stop emitting 1900MHz RF, as it’s jamming Sprint cells in the neighbourhood.

VZ turns down CAF-II, AT&T, Centurylink very much don’t

Telco says NO TO CASH - some headline! It was Big Block of Cheese Day at the FCC this week, via Phase II of their Connect America Fund, and Verizon has turned down $144m a year for the next six years. The money is intended to pay for broadband network development in the rural areas VZ serves, so this has set a wave of rumours going that VZ is planning to sell off another big chunk of its copper network.

The obvious candidate would be Frontier, which keeps buying unwanted VZ assets. They say the latest lot of acquisitions is doing rather well with $1.45bn of revenue and 28% EBITDA margin. Interestingly, VZ has taken some CAF money with regard to these networks, but it’s keeping it until the Frontier deal completes in order to hand it to Frontier.

Centurylink has absolutely no such reserve - in fact it said very much YES TO CASH, accepting $500m a year over the same period, or a total of $3bn. Before the money flows, it has to show it has provided at least 1/10Mbps to 1.2m premises in areas defined by the FCC in at least 33 states.

AT&T took $427m a year in exchange for reaching 2.2m more rural homes and businesses in 18 of the 21 states where it operates. They also announced another wave of GigaPower FTTH rollouts, including Atlanta, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Kansas City, Houston, and Dallas-Ft. Worth.

Zayo says its fibre-to-the-cell customers increasingly just want dark fibre, not least so they can run CPRI fronthaul for small cells and DAS over it.

The Vodafone-O2 UK infrastructure sharing project, Cornerstone, isn’t going to make its 98% coverage target.

Pricing is out for the Sky element of the York joint FTTH build, and it’s even cheap for Yorkshire folk.

Chinese carrier execs, H1s; Indian 4G; Turkish auction; Telstra in the Philippines

As the Chinese stock market plummeted, there was a major shake-up of Chinese mobile execs. The chairman of China Unicom, Chang Xiaobing, is moving to the same job at China Telecom, while the chairman of China Telecom, Wang Xiaochu, is moving to the same job at China Unicom. All clear so far? Also, the vice-minister of the information industry, Shang Bing, is going to be the chairman of China Mobile. The last time a rotation like this happened was in 2004, back before the industry itself was rotated. Presumably Shang’s appointment is something to do with the proposal that China Mobile and China Tietong merge - the last re-org left China Mobile on its own as a (relatively) pure-play mobile operator, and the deal would give it fixed assets.

China Mobile, meanwhile, would like some low-band spectrum if it’s expected to push up rural broadband speeds.

Their H1 results are in, and revenue was up 4.9%, but only 0.8% of that was service revenue. CMCC is now a majority-data carrier, with 50.6% of their revenue coming from data, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing - EBITDA margin was a respectable 37.2% and service margin was 42.4%. That was almost exactly in line with China Unicom on 42%, up from 37.6% year-on-year. Unicom, though, is getting 71% of its service revenue from mobile broadband.

ZTE reported net profits up 43.2% for H1, on revenue up 21%. They’ve discovered “Industry 4.0”, too.

The Indian government, meanwhile, has offered to host cell towers if that helps reduce dropped calls - but they’d quite like it if operators stopped accounting for spectrum licences as CAPEX, thus reducing their tax liability and inflating their claims of capital investment.

Vodafone is launching 4G in India in Q4.

And the Turkish government decided to go through with its 4G auction after all, having flirted with going straight to 5G. Good call - it raised €3.36bn, with Turkcell taking 44% of the total.

Is Telstra planning to launch a 700MHz LTE network in the Philippines?

Alliance for New Codecs pits Microsoft vs. software patents

The Alliance for Open Media: a massive project to create a video codec that isn’t patent-encumbered. Ironically - very ironically - Microsoft is a founder member. How things have changed. Google, Mozilla, Cisco, Intel, Netflix, and Amazon are on board. The point is clearly to smoke out the rival HEVC Advance patent pool. Dan Rayburn points out both that Cisco seems to be the technical lead, and that the prize would be getting Google to open-source its VP9 codec, at which point everyone could go home and be happy.

Interestingly, VP9 just showed up in the Microsoft Edge roadmap.

The CDN bill for whatever new streaming content offer Apple is planning may be surprisingly trivial.

BT has bought the rights to the next Ashes series. Some details of AT&T’s DirecTV offering.

Sprint is offering a year’s free service, plus up to $300 of ETF buyout, to anyone who drops DirecTV.

Microsoft delivered the world’s biggest software update, Windows 10, with P2P.

Google Chrome no longer shows Flash ads. Those horrible “install the app!!” ads will now be punished in Google Search.

And bots roam Github looking for Amazon EC2 keys to steal.

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