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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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