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Net Neutrality, US Cable, Africa, 4.5G: Telco 2.0 News Review

Binge On! passes net neutrality, Comcast Stream not so much; 99% of Xbox streaming is from CDNs

T-Mobile USA has shaken everything up with last week’s announcement that key video providers were going to be zero-rated. Their customers are not surprisingly delighted, but how can this possibly be reconciled with net neutrality, and how will T-Mo deliver the goods? Lawman Wheeler says he’s cool with that.

The answer seems to be in this T-Mo document, which sets out technical requirements to join Binge On.

Most importantly from a regulatory point of view, T-Mo isn’t charging to join the program, nor is it exercising any editorial judgment; any video streamer who fulfils the requirements will be included, perhaps automatically. Further, customers’ participation is voluntary, as they can opt out.

The technical requirements are as follows - the traffic should be identifiable as streaming video, although encryption is allowable, the video resolution should be restricted to a maximum of 480p, and an adaptive bit-rate codec must be used. There’s also a general requirement to co-ordinate with T-Mobile engineers before doing anything that might frighten the horses.

The requirement that the streaming content be identifiable as such suggests that T-Mobile may plan to cache it within their network. They also say that the adaptive codec must respond to “the capabilities of the data connection” and also “as otherwise indicated by the T-Mobile network”, which may suggest that they are planning to use TCP Explicit Congestion Notification and/or the CoDEL TCP extension to manage the queues. Both are supported in iOS 9.

So the net neutrality objection is addressed by making the zero-rated video streams back off when congestion is detected, thus sharing capacity fairly between the Binge On providers and the rest of the Internet.

Comcast, meanwhile, launched its Stream IP-video service this week and wants to exempt it from its new data caps. Their argument is as follows:

“Stream TV is an in-home IP-cable service delivered over Comcast’s cable network, not over the public Internet,” Comcast said in a statement. “IP-cable is not an ‘over-the-top’ streaming video service. Stream enables customers to enjoy their cable TV service on mobile devices in the home delivered over the managed cable network, without the need for additional equipment, like a traditional set-top-box.”

Are they actually arguing that the last-mile isn’t part of the Internet? Creative. Or do they mean they want to deliver Stream content using a different DOCSIS channel to the one they use for broadband? But how could that work without a cable STB to sort it out? John Bergmayer at Public Knowledge points out that the pre-Title II concept of specialised services can’t help now, and of course Comcast’s content competitors can’t opt-in to Stream in the way they can to Binge On.

Here’s some interesting data on Xbox live streaming. Microsoft aims to offload 99% of the traffic into the CDN and serve no more than 400Mbps from the source servers.

OFCOM has relaxed the requirement that Sky wholesales Sky Sports 1 and 2, on the basis that they are now doing so on a commercial basis.

Gigabit cable crushes Q3; Altice to build FTTH? Sprint rebrands, sells $1.2bn of old phones, doubles down on price war

In Q3, US telcos lost 140k net broadband customers. The moving parts here are quite simple - AT&T, Verizon, and whoever usually have a new network with some combination of FTTC and FTTH, which is adding customers, and an old one running on DSL, which is losing them. The challenge is therefore twofold - win customers off the competition, and transfer DSL customers onto the new network without letting them leak to the cable world. Between AT&T and VZ, they saw 305k net-adds on the new networks, but also 432k net-losses from the old networks, generating a 127k net outflow from just those two carriers and 143k from the top eight.

According to Strategy Analytics, the cablesphere made 804k net-adds in Q3, while the wider fixed broadband sector achieved 679k. 804-679 = 125, so the difference essentially matches up to the net outflow from telcos to cable. The answer is simply that the cable operators are first with the speed upgrades - broadband ARPU is rising in both telco and cable as higher speed tiers roll out, but the DOCSIS 3 upgrade path gives the cableguys a structural advantage.

See our in-depth coverage of the rise of gigabit cable, here, here, and here

Elsewhere, will Altice offer to overbuild Verizon FiOS in New York City in order to get regulatory clearance for the acquisition of Cablevision?

Sprint, meanwhile, is drawing a veil over its Spark program. From now on, it’s called LTE Plus and there are meant to be 77 markets of it. However, the content is much the same - they’re promising higher speeds from tri-band carrier aggregation and 8T8R MIMO, plus more small cells. In the meantime, the company is re-organising and decentralising into 19 regional offices or “19 Sprints”, but most of all, it’s laying people off.

It’s also finally closed on the much-promised leasing deal. Mobile Leasing Solutions, a special-purpose vehicle created for the job, will receive $1.3bn worth of phones in their quick-upgrade plan. In exchange for this, it will pay Sprint $1.2bn in cash. Sprint will then pay it to lease the phones.

As with all special-purpose vehicle deals, the point here is that Sprint just borrowed a ton of money without it showing up in their books, and in fact the Sprint release says straight out that this is a much cheaper way of raising cash than borrowing in their own name. The lenders have the comfort of the phones as collateral, and the further reassurance of a deal with Foxconn to buy them forward at current prices. Sprint is also selling off another $1bn in device receivables outside this transaction.

The upshot is that Sprint’s “adjusted” EBITDA will actually fall because of the additional repayments to MLS, but operating cash flow will increase because of the $2.2bn one-off influx of cash.

Having hocked the leased phones, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure then picked a fight with T-Mobile and found a use for some of that cash. Customers churning from VZW, T-Mo, or AT&T are being promised a 50% discount on their previous bill plus no less than $650 to buy out their old contract. The price war must be back on or something.

That said, it’s still paid out as a gift card, not a wad of stained, tattered U.S. green, so we’ve not hit the bottom yet. Yet. Even if British journalists followed Lebara’s private detectives following Lyca Mobile employees carrying huge bags of raw cash around London in what is undoubtedly the weirdest mobile story for years.

Nokia confident about Africa; 1bn MBB users by 2020; more MTN $5bn fine; Vodacom row; Telkom/CellC off

Nokia Networks is optimistic about its sales in Africa despite some worrying macroeconomic data driven by the falling prices of oil and commodities. They reason, fairly simply, that voice traffic is rising and data traffic much faster. The spice must flow, and therefore operators will need their products. Nokia sales in Africa grew 6% last year, so perhaps they have a point.

Ovum, for example, estimates that there will be a billion mobile broadband subscribers on the continent by 2020, up from 147m at end-2014 and 223m this year. Data revenues are expected to grow at a 18.2% CAGR. Headline growth in subscribers is slowing (down from 15% last year to 10% this year as it approaches the billion), but on the other hand, mobile broadband adoption is surging, running about 50% year-on-year.

Ovum is also pretty confident that MTN Nigeria will still be the biggest operator in Africa by 2020. MTN is of course being pursued with a $5.2bn fine by the Nigerian authorities. Last week, they showed some readiness to conciliate by renewing their spectrum licences. This week, however, the governors of Nigeria’s 36 provinces issued a joint statement encouraging the regulator to press on and collect.

The owner of Vodacom’s local partner in the DRC, Alieu Conteh, has sued Vodacom for no less than $14bn over a complex dispute going back to 2009.

Telkom has walked away from its deal with Cell C after the two parties failed to agree on a price.

And although the oil slump has hit the Angolan economy, the first African country to roll out LTE (actually before the UK) is still adding more coverage.

1st live LTE-LAA @ Vodafone.nl; 150m 5Gers by 2021? Hm. RJio puts it off again. Liberty Global buys CWC

Well, well, well. Ericsson, Vodafone, and Qualcomm together claim that they’ve demonstrated the world’s first LTE carrier aggregation between licensed and unlicensed bands in a commercial network. And they did it in Europe, when the debate about this has been almost exclusively US-centric. Specifically, they tested a Qualcomm X12 modem against a Ericsson RBS 6402 small cell within Vodafone’s Dutch network, using 20MHz of 1800MHz licensed and 20MHz of 5GHz unlicensed spectrum. They claim this “further validates fair co-existence of LTE [with WLAN] in 5 GHz unlicensed band”.

The interesting bit here is what they don’t say. For example, they don’t use either the term “LTE-U” so dear to Qualcomm’s heart, nor do they even use the less provocative “LTE-LAA” favoured by the Eurovendors, they just refer to carrier aggregation. As a result, we don’t know if they used the so-called “duty cycle” solution Qualcomm has been touting, or the WLAN-style listen-before-talk that some European LTE-LAA implementations use. However, this Fierce Wireless piece based on Vodafone sources states both that it’s LAA, and that Vodafone intends to wait for 3GPP standardisation (which in this case includes coordination with IEEE 802) before deploying anything.

Ericsson, meanwhile, reckons we’ll have 150m 5G subscribers by 2021. That sounds super-bullish if the technology won’t be here until 2020! But Ericsson is very much supporting the “early 5G” camp in the standardisation, and the definition they are using is elastic - “a new radio access, an evolved LTE radio access, and an enhanced core network”. That would both match the Nokia/Qualcomm vision from 3GPP RAN of the new 5G radio as an add-on to 4G, and also include any and all devices beyond LTE R13.

Ericsson also denied they’d ever considered a merger with Cisco.

TIM is claiming 300Mbps downlink for its tri-band LTE, which just launched commercially if you live in Rome and have a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+. It’s the Ericsson/Qualcomm technology. Turkcell, meanwhile, has named the day for 4G launch - it’s the 1st of April 2016 - and says it hopes to offer 375Mbps out of the box using three bands. In support of this, they’re pulling fibre to many more base stations (from 18% now to 38% in 2018).

Reliance Jio, though, has put back its launch again until FY 2016-7. That means a revised deadline of 1st April. Ooredoo has signed up a framework agreement with Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, and Huawei for five years’ infrastructure build. ALU provides optical gear, microwave backhaul, and IP routers, while Ericsson does the softswitching, and Huawei the radio.

Another major Chinese 4G contract goes West. This time it’s China Tel and Alcatel-Lucent.

The French 700MHz auction is done, raising €2.8bn. Orange and Free both acquired 2 2x5MHz blocks, Bouygues and SFR only one each. The GSMA nagged the WRC-15 delegates about getting mobile broadband more ex-TV spectrum below 700MHz.

Palestinian MNOs can finally launch 3G after an agreement is reached to clear the spectrum.

Minority shareholders in TI are worried about Vivendi’s stakebuilding.

Liberty Global has taken out Cable & Wireless Communications in a $8bn deal that values C&WC at 10.7x EBITDA. That’s the C&W that runs small islands’ MNOs, not the enterprisey one. Liberty is apparently keen to use the presence in Latin America to get better content terms.

The Israeli government is likely to nix the Cellcom acquisition of Golan Telecom.

Huawei up to No.3. Windows gains from featurephones, loses to Apple. OpenFog. Intel hires Qualcomm mobile boss. Google hires VMWare founder.

Per Gartner, Huawei is now the No.3 world smartphone maker and fourth-biggest mobile phone maker overall. Tellingly, Huawei barely manufactures any non-smartphones, with 27.2m smartphones shipped in Q3 versus 27.4m total units. Samsung remains no.1 in both categories, but Huawei’s sales are growing much faster. 84.7% of smartphones are Android, 13.1% Apple iOS, then there’s everything else. That may be why Jolla has sent half its employees home.

Charles Arthur points out that the Windows platform is gaining users from the featurephone base and then losing them to Apple iOS in a wave, each time a new iPhone drops. This review of the Lumia 950 flagship, with its Ubuntu for Android-like PC mode, won’t change that.

Here’s something interesting: Samsung’s Tizen-powered Z3 is rising up the charts on the back of interest from Indian customers, and is outselling BlackBerry OS devices.

LG has opened a Apple- or Samsung-like payments service, and canned its smartwatch.

Qualcomm is being investigated by another regulator, Korean this time. Here’s their new 4G femtocell:

Well, you can certainly imagine those getting everywhere, and also leaving plenty of space and power for MEC cleverness in the cell form factor. This week, a string of major tech companies started the OpenFog Consortium to standardise their Mobile Edge Computing products. The 3G, 4G, and 5G Wireless Blog, meanwhile, has a useful post with a list of patents involved in MEC.

Intel has pulled off a coup this week, hiring the head of mobile computing at Qualcomm away from them. Venkata “Murthy” Renduchintala is going to head a new Client & IoT group at Intel. In a similar story, Google just acqui-hired VMWare founder Diane Greene to run a new division encompassing all Google’s cloud products. That includes Google for Work, Google Apps, and Cloud Platform.

Facebook is testing a new home-grown ultra-dense Ethernet switch, with 32 100Gbps ports.

Cisco just acquired Acano, a collaboration technology startup founded by ex-Cisco and Tandberg people, for $700m. Here’s a case that they should have bought Slack instead.

GSM 2.0 for the IoT; Sigfox goes to Ireland; Internet of Ships; 33% of Uber OPEX is M2M

This is interesting. The 3G, 4G, and 5G Wireless Blog has a roundup of alternative approaches to cellular IoT, and as well as narrowband LTE and LTE-M, there’s also a revived version of good old GSM in there. There’s also some interesting discussion in the comments; it sounds like Weightless ought to be getting a hearing, but it’s fated to be the Betamax option.

ComparisonOf3GPPIotProposals.pngHowever, the LoRA and Sigfox options are rolling out fast and it’s possible that the whole thing will miss the boat. As if to underline that, Sigfox hit its 12th market this week with a deployment in the Republic of Ireland.

That said, did you know one-third of Uber’s OPEX is its bill from Jasper Wireless? Nor did we.

Ericsson will be reselling Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress service for the Internet of Ships.

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