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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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