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Openreach, Microsoft, Chips, AT&T, Ads, AWS M2M: Telco 2.0 News Review

Lobbies battle over Openreach; OFCOM boss comes out for 4 MNOs; Xavier Niel was right (again); Google vs. Russia

The lobbying war around the OFCOM Communications Market Review is peaking as we reach the deadline for submissions. Here’s a useful roundup that makes clear that BT’s line, as ever, is that it will deploy what’s now called “ultrafast” broadband real soon now if the regulators give it what it wants, the other operators’ line is that they can’t stand another minute of working with Openreach, and the Government minister is leaning towards BT’s position, apparently because the Government gave it so much money under the BDUK program. Isn’t the sunk-cost fallacy meant to be, well, a fallacy?

Speaking of BDUK, the House of Commons will be debating the programme at 3pm BST today, and BT has brought fibre-on-demand back, but only if you’re Welsh, because the Welsh regional government insisted.

That said, the minister isn’t the key actor here. That’s OFCOM director Sharon White, former second permanent secretary to the Treasury (for non-Brits, imagine the scariest super-bureaucrat you can think of and square them). She has come right out against going down to three operators. Therefore, 3UK-O2 is in trouble, and she was pretty critical of BT-EE too. Drawing a line at four operators also puts her in step with EU Commissioner Vestager, who’s recently blocked TeliaSonera/Telenor in Denmark and called in Liberty Global’s bid for BASE.

Meanwhile, BT’s final submission is in. So is Sky’s, and Vodafone’s. Not surprisingly, Sky and Vodafone both want Openreach separating out of BT. Amusingly, Sky and BT both cite New Zealand’s UFB programme, but BT says it’s a disaster while Sky thinks it’s cracking; this week, the Kiwis upped the targets to 50Mbps for 99% of the population by 2025, with 5Mbps for the remaining 1%.

We remember Xavier Niel saying that SFR would probably neglect their FTTH rollout if they merged with Numericable, falling back on the cheaper option of the existing cable network. The French competition regulator is now investigating Numericable-SFR for doing just that. It’s their business because SFR is deploying FTTH jointly with Bouygues, and the regulator made it a condition of the merger that Numericable-SFR respects the agreement with Bouygues.

When SFR and Bouygues were both pureplay mobile operators, this wasn’t a problem; now Bouygues’ use of the fibre is in competition with Numericable’s cable offering. Bouygues alleges that SFR is doing the “horizontal” rollout, which it needs to feed cable head-ends and for wireless backhaul, but going slow on the “vertical” installations into buildings so Bouygues can’t deliver them to its customers.

Harold Feld explains in great detail how LTE-LAA could accidentally-on-purpose make the 5GHz band useless for WiFi. If you accept the logic of his argument, the FCC should really have no choice but to nix it without really sweeping concessions by the carriers and, especially, Qualcomm. 

Cogent seems positively transformed by net neutrality; it’s settled another peering dispute, this time with Time Warner Cable. Can it be that just the possibility that the FCC might impose its own terms is a nudge, encouraging operators to do this the nice way?

Russia is not happy with the terms under which Google apps and the Play Store are made available to handset manufacturers, after a complaint from local searchco Yandex, which has a forkdroid product.

And local-loop unbundling is coming to Mexico.

Microsoft makes a laptop; Qualcomm inside; Apple A9s in two flavours; 5m BlackBerrys or we’re done

Microsoft gets to be less and less “soft” these days. Their latest launch event saw two new phones, a fitness gadget, a refresh of the Surface Pro to compete with the iPad Pro (they claim it’s “50% more powerful” than a MacBook Air), and a laptop, dammit. The Surface Book is a high-end device that looks more than a bit like a recent MacBook, but the screen can be unshipped for use as a tablet, at the cost of leaving the GPU behind with the keyboard. At $2,500 a go it’s only Apple users who can afford them.

Most Windows 10 devices that have a cellular radio will be getting it from Qualcomm, which announced that the ones manufactured by Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Panasonic will use the X5, X7, or X12 LTE modem. The X12 is the one that keeps cropping up in LTE carrier aggregation demos.

Here’s a strong case that Apple’s success since 2010 is built on its command of manufacturing and especially of chip design. We said as much in this Executive Briefing.

The context is this fascinating blog post. It turns out that Apple’s A9 chips are manufactured both by Samsung and by TSMC, in subtly different versions. Samsung’s is made at 14nm, TSMC’s at 16nm, and some users claim to have measured differences in battery life between apparently identical iPhones, by as much as 2 hours. Is this why? Apple says there should be no more than 2-3% variance between them. Anandtech points out that the so-called silicon lottery - the inherent statistical noise in the manufacturing process - may be enough to explain the variation.

Some useful rules-of-thumb for mobile energy optimisation.

Samsung says its profits will rise in Q3, but it’s basically all down to the chips in all those iPhone 6+ gadgets.

BlackBerry CEO John Chen says they’re out of the hardware market if they don’t shift 5 million gadgets a year.

Nokia has given some details of how Nokia-Alcatel will work and who’s going to be in charge. Federico Guillén, the current president of fixed networks at ALU, will take over the complete fixed business. Basil Alwan, currently the head of IP routing and transport for ALU, will run a new unit rolling up the ALU IP router, optical, and video businesses with the Nokia Packet Core group, plus Alcatel’s Nuage SDN group.

The wider company will consist of four divisions, for mobile, fixed, applications, and IP & Optical, although the Nokia Technologies licensing unit will be carved out for reporting purposes. At the top, it’s all Nokia - the CEO and CFO stay in place, the Nokia Networks Chief Business Officer becomes the groupwide Chief Customer Operations Officer, and the Nokia Networks EVP of mobile broadband is promoted to be Chief Innovation & Operating Officer.

Sharp has developed a smartphone that’s a robot, or perhaps vice versa. Detail: you can make phone calls by picking up the robot and putting it to your ear. Of course.

What happens when it gets hacked? It seems that 87% of Android devices aren’t getting security updates in a timely manner, if at all.

AT&T CORD moves to field trials; Facebook, Yahoo!, Switch all building again; Amazon Live?

AT&T’s transition to cloud continues to make progress. The CORD (Central Office Re-architected as a Data centre) concept they demonstrated earlier this year is going into field trials, as part of their GigaPower FTTH rollout. In the FTTH context, it’s going to include a virtualised OLT (Optical Line Terminal, the fibre equivalent of a DSLAM). Meanwhile, they’re up to 170 markets where the Network-on-Demand switched Ethernet product is available, and 200 enterprises are now live.

Here’s quite a bit more detail on HP’s open-source OS for virtual switches.

Facebook just announced the third phase of its Forest City data centre campus, where they currently have two major data centres plus a so-called cold storage site for rarely accessed data. A figure of $200m CAPEX is given,although they don’t say how big the site or what the power draw might be. The facility will use ambient cooling and Open Compute Project hardware.

Yahoo! is also building, adding 300,000 sq ft in Quincy, Washington. The facility will use their Computing Coop air-cooled design.

Switch & Data, the company known for its string of ultra-huge wholesale data centres around Las Vegas, is coming to Europe with a 450,000 sq ft build just outside Milan. The site is built to Uptime Institute Level IV, with a 40MW power capacity, and a budget of €300m.

Amazon may be considering adding live streaming to Amazon Prime video. Dan Rayburn points out that this might explain why they paid so much (5x revenue) for cloud video ingestion company Elemental Technologies.

And all this agile talk might be overrated; Zappos’s website has been frozen for two whole years while they port the whole operation into Amazon EC2, and they’re still in business.

Dell goes $53bn in the hole for EMC; $400m of Chinese money seeks unicorns; massive ad fraud; Twitter layoffs

Well, here’s a deal for you. Dell - having gone private - is buying EMC, the storage company currently best known for owning 81 per cent of VMWare. The price is $65bn, to be paid mostly in cash ($53bn of it) and partly in a curious sort of pseudo-equity linked to the price of the 20% of VMWare that’s publicly traded.  It’s pretty rare for a privately-held company to do a deal like this, and with good reason - if you can’t tap the stock market, you need to load up with debt. That’s precisely what Dell and its private-equity backer Silver Lake Partners intend to do.

Meanwhile, a Chinese investment fund with $400m to spend is going on a Silicon Valley unicorn hunt. Interestingly, they’ve been sold on the idea by AngelList, a company which tries to match angel investors with early-stage startups. AngelList CEO Naval Ravikant says:

“It’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t create a bubble,” he said of the new Chinese investment vehicle. The fund could have topped $1bn but was capped to limit its impact on the seed market, Mr Ravikant added.

Hmmm. The top site for video ad inventory on AdX, with $1.5m weekly revenue at the going rate, turns out to be a vacuous content farm with no actual video ads. Twitter is about to make substantial layoffs - that’s what they brought Jack Dorsey back for, it turns out. And capital investment just dived in India. We might be wanting a bubble created pretty soon.

Google is pushing a new, cut-down page format without third-party content to publishers, who see it as an answer to adblockers.

Of course, we could also just double-down. Verizon’s notorious “supercookie”, a unique identifier tied to their CRM that they add to your Web traffic, is being integrated with AOL’s ad-tracking, so even more ad-targeting data can follow you around the Web. The worst of it is possibly that the cookie is sent in the clear, so literally any dog on the Internet can read it.

Swisscom plans for GSM shutdown; No-cells trial at DTAG: Telenor exits Russia; Sprint wants robots

Swisscom says it’s going to turn GSM off by Q4 2020 in order to make room for more mobile broadband. They argue that 0.5% of the traffic is now carried over GSM, but it uses about 30% of their antenna capacity. (You might ask how much of the value is carried over GSM, but that’s another question.) Also, only 2% of their customers are now left on 2G. They plan to make them a “generous” offer. They intend to launch 5G at the same time as 2G shuts down, with more LTE-A being progressively deployed in the meantime.

Interesting detail: Swisscom wants to install small cells under manhole covers where they have fibre runs. Mobile to the Manhole.

DTAG and Samsung claim they’ve successfully trialled Inter-Sector MIMO. This technology comes up in a lot of 5G plans under different names (e.g. CoMP, User-Centric Networking, or No Cells) but the idea is the same - rather than mobile devices being attached to one base station at a time, they could attach to multiple stations, spreading the signal among them in the same way a MIMO device does between multiple antennas. The advantage is that in theory, it would eliminate cell-edge conditions and inter-cell interference.

After TeliaSonera, Telenor sells up and leaves Russia in order to focus on other markets.

Facebook announces some contracts for Internet.org. One is a “partnership” with Eutelsat for Ka-band backhaul, another is with Engava, a startup that makes a solar-powered GSM-in-a-box device. The idea is apparently that local micro-entrepreneurs set one of these up and collect money. How they sort out numbering and spectrum seems just to have been blithely ignored:

However, CEO Kurtis Heimerl defended Endaga’s approach. He told Fast Company “as a research group and an individual, I’m not a cross-the-T’s and dot-the-I’s kind of person. In these areas we ducked under the bureaucracy. We just didn’t do the friction. If you really want to be innovative, you’re going to have to push on these regulations. Our network is demonstration of that.”

I wonder what the Kenyans, after all the effort they put into building Safaricom, would make of a bunch of Americans distributing what are basically jammers or even IMSI catchers from their point of view? Google Loon, meanwhile, is going commercial real soon now, but at least it’s talking to the operators.

Verizon Wireless is really determined to get rid of its unlimited data customers - they’ve just put the price up by $20/line/mo. The amusing thing at this point is that the holdouts have by definition been with VZW since Q2 2011 at the latest, possibly much longer, and also by definition, they are some of their most satisfied customers…you’d think VZW could think of a way either to turn it to advantage, or to make nice with them. That said, the new rate is $50/mo for open slather LTE, and that’s still a great price.

And Sprint is considering deploying robots in its shops. The ‘bots in question were developed by Softbank and would apparently greet customers. Here’s a video interview with someone from Sprint about it.

AWS gives IoT startups hell with new platform; Comcast X1 moves into smart home; Italian Sigfox

Amazon Web Services launches its Internet of Things platform and it looks impressive, providing a simple, cloud-based way to register and deregister devices and process events they send and receive according to rules. A lot of IoT startups are probably shuddering with fear right now, and a lot of telcos probably should be.

HERE is trialling a connected-car/traffic information/vehicle-to-vehicle set up on three Finnish motorways.

Comcast’s X1 set-top box platform is beginning to add IoT apps from third parties. They’re also going to be providing technical support and adding voice control.

Here’s a rundown of US carriers’ IoT efforts.

Italy is the latest market for a Sigfox LPWAN. This one’s going to be called NETROTTER - presumably that’s meant to be NeTROTTER, not Net Rotter? you never know. Sigfox is now in 10 countries.

There’s been a little row about how much data from the CanBUS system Android Auto wants.

And now you can talk to your light bulbs, or rather, you can talk to them and they will listen.

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