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Vodafone, Tele2, LoRA, Silicon: Telco 2.0 News Review

Vodafone H1s: recovery but not Eurecovery. Bouygues & Free crush it, again. Tele2 promises Dutch disruption.

More Eurecovery, or maybe not? Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao says we’ve reached the turning point as the carrier posted service revenue and EBITDA in positive territory for H1. Group service revenue was up 1% year-on-year and 1.2% sequentially, the fifth consecutive quarter of growth and more than expected. EBITDA was up 1.9% and the company upped the full-year guidance a tad, from “between £11.5bn and £12bn” to “£11.7bn to £12bn”.

On the other hand, service revenue in Europe is still falling, down 1.3%, which compares pretty poorly to the 6.4% growth recorded in the African, Middle Eastern, and Asia-Pacific markets. Within that, Germany was down 1.5% under price pressure in postpaid, and the UK was off 0.1%. And, at the end of the day, Vodafone lost money in H1. Given those numbers it’s not surprising Vodafone decided against spinning off the AMAP division - it’s more surprising they even considered it. Apparently the idea was that it would make a deal with Liberty Global easier, but surely this begs the question. They’re also planning to invest $2bn in the Indian operation, although they might easily make that back when it floats.

Paul Lambert at Informa reckons the improvement was driven by migration to 4G, which should be good news as about 80% of their subscribers are still to make the jump.

Vittorio Colao evidently doesn’t like the BT-EE deal one little bit, saying that he fears “re-monopolisation” in both the UK and also Germany, and wants the regulators to stop it. He’s also denying that Vodafone might get out of the MVNO business after the Mobile by Sainsbury’s joint venture annouced it was shutting down.

That said, it wouldn’t do to write off European recovery just on the basis of Vodafone’s half. Bouygues joined the merry band of operators returning to growth with its Q3 results, showing revenue growth up year-on-year for the first time since Q2 2011. Sales were up 4 per cent, and the company scored 208k net-adds, with 46.6% of its subscriber base on 4G, having nearly doubled in a year. Margins were 24.7%, up two percentage points.

Iliad, the Free.fr parent company, was also reporting this week. It could point to 6.4% revenue growth, basically all of which came from the mobile operation, where they stacked up another 390k net-adds in the quarter and increased their revenue by 15.1%. 2.4m customers are now on 4G, using an average of 2.8GB/mo, and the 4G network has reached 57% population coverage.  Interestingly, although Free Mobile doesn’t have a 4G premium, it seems to be lagging on 3G-4G migration - where Bouygues is approaching 50%, they’re at 20%. Presumably a lot of bargain hunters on their low-cost plans don’t want to spend money on a new phone, and Free doesn’t subsidise.

It’s probably worth pointing out that Bouygues and Free’s strong results should come as no surprise if you read our recent Mobile App Latency in Europe report. The two carriers show both the lowest average latency, and more importantly the lowest rate of unacceptably high-latency events, out of all operators in the top five European markets.

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French regulators had to settle a dispute about tower-sharing between Free and SFR this week. Speaking of Xavier Niel, he also had a “good cappucino” with Telecom Italia CEO Marco Patuano this week. The result of this is that Patuano is convinced there is no concert party between Niel and the other big shareholder, Vivendi, which also re-denied it. And Niel is apparently “interested in our industrial strategy and convinced of the opportunity there is in Italy”. Does that mean “pushing Patuano to do something drastic”?

Tele2 seems to be planning something drastic and Niel-esque in the Netherlands, where it launched its 4G network this week. They are promising to achieve a “permanent shift in Dutch data consumption”. And it looks like they mean upwards - the network has LTE-A at launch and claims speeds up to 225Mbps, and they are offering a 24GB data bundle for €35/mo. That’s smash mouth pricing, and they claim they want customers to “drown themselves in data”. They also claim to be the first 4G-only operator.

Perhaps that’s why KPN is openly hinting that it might be up for sale and DTAG is selling T-Mobile Netherlands? It’s less clear why the private equity fund in the last link would want to buy a Dutch MNO at this juncture. However, another buyer might be KPN itself if the regulator would stomach it - they just completed their exit from Germany, raising €805m for the remaining 5% they held in Telefonica O2 Germany.

BT Openreach has issued some data about the FTTC rollout, and data traffic turns out to be growing about 40% year-on-year, which is roughly what Andrew Odlyzko estimated the long-run average throughout the history of the Internet was years ago.

Right over on the other side of the world, Vodafone New Zealand owns a cable network, and this week, it joined the dash towards gigabit speeds, upgrading to DOCSIS 3.1.

Charter-TWC deal; DISH numbers; AT&T drives managed services with fibre; VZ denies enterprise exit; YouTube subscription app

It was regulatory last call this week for the Charter-TWC-Bright House deal, and Verizon, AT&T, and DISH all jumped in to oppose it. The telcos claim to be worried about John Malone’s role in the transaction, as he also controls several other cable networks and content companies they compete with. DISH took a different tack, claiming that Charter were “refusing to acknowledge the competitive stance of online video distributors”. You wonder how many of the online distributors believe DISH, a competitor, truly has their interests at heart. Malone, for his part, offered to resign if that was the price of closing the deal, although to what extent he means it is a good question. He said he “didn’t have to be part of Charter’s controlling ownership”, which implies a shuffle of the board at one of the Liberty companies might be enough.

Here’s an interesting exercise in spreadsheet origami - if DISH reports 23k net-losses, but started counting Sling TV users in, how many satellite users did they actually lose? It turns out their gross adds number is actually gross adds plus Sling TV net-adds, and the net loss was more like 180k, meaning DISH is accounting for half of total cord cutting all by itself.

Comcast is trying to play up its archive of content as a way to replace linear TV with on-demand, while also hoping to win young people with streaming and later upsell the whole bundle. Meanwhile, Cox says it’s happy with its trials of Comcast’s X1 STB and is going ahead with the deployment, and both Comcast and TWC are investing in a VR broadcasting startup.

It looks like AT&T U-Verse was considerably pricier than DirecTV’s offering, as the subscribers seem to pay about $17 more per month. Will they be able to maintain that as the DirecTVers come over? Meanwhile, AT&T says that where it’s rolled out fibre-to-the-building, it’s doing much better in cloud services.

Fran Shammo denies Verizon is doing anything like selling the Enterprise Solutions unit, saying he’s “seeing signs of stabilisation”. He also says the FiOS build is coming to an end and further installs won’t require much CAPEX, as many homes in the footprint have been prepared in advance.

Altice has upped its fibre rollout targets in both France and Portugal.

Here’s the YouTube subscription music app. Apparently Google user research with “heavy music users” showed they didn’t like ads. There’s a surprise; TWC is planning to reduce how many it shows, a far cry from a few years ago when they were speeding up their shows to pack more in.

SingTel Q3s; Thai 4G auction; Indonesian refarming; Globe Q3s; Iraqi 4th MNO

SingTel Q3 results were a bit dodgy - revenue was off 2.9%, EBITDA off 3.3%, and net profit off 0.8%. They blame the foreign exchange market, and point to a strong performance from Optus where revenue was up 13%, and the fact that Singapore is now 50% LTE and Aussie is getting that way.

Thailand’s 4G auction eventually went ahead, and AIS and True Move, the 1st and 3rd operators, got the first pair of licenses, 15MHz of 1800MHz each, for some $2.25bn. The auction ran for some 30 hours, and neither dtac nor a new entrant, Jasmine, got anything. They’ll have to hope for better luck in the 900MHz refarming auction in December. The regulator says it’s changing the rules to stop the bidding running away, which suggests that one will probably be a disappointment.

In Indonesia, the 1800MHz refarming process is almost done, with only two weeks’ work left in the Jakarta area.

Globe Telecom in the Philippines is having a mobile data boom, with active users up 126%, traffic up 89%, and revenue up 39%. The upshot is service revenue up 18% and net income up 47%. Not time to break out the scissors chart, then, but they will be spending an additional $800m CAPEX this year, half of which is going on the mobile network.

Iraq wants a fourth mobile operator, and as much as 46MHz in the 1800s is available to the lucky winner.

Oi results are out. Revenue is down 2% year-on-year, which they’re blaming on MTR cuts.

African towers investor Helios bought Orange Kenya.

Probably wisely, the Nigerian regulator has given MTN time to pay the $5bn fine pending negotiations.

Startup wants in on 600MHz; the spectrum glut; T-Video, out of a T-CDN? Sprint takes a risk

A US startup claims it’s raising the money it would need to buy 600MHz spectrum nationally. CEO Chamath Palihapitiya is an early Facebook exec and already owns 10MHz in his native Sri Lanka. He reckons it would take between $4bn and $10bn to reach the start line, before building out a network. In that, he’s banking on the FCC reserving some of the spectrum for small competitors. He also says he wants to use microcells, although whether he means specifically the biggest class of small cells, or small cells generally, isn’t clear.

They might get lucky. Dave Burstein points out that between the majors and DISH, there’s enough spare spectrum for between 3 and 5 Verizon Wireless-sized networks. As a result, the auction might turn out to be disappointingly cheap. That said, the so-called incentive auction depends on cash from the bidders to buy out the broadcasters, so there might be slim pickings for a new entrant if the auction was a bust.

Verizon Wireless won’t say whether it will be taking part, but it doesn’t sound like it, especially as the 87% of their data traffic on LTE fits into 40% of their spectrum holdings. Here’s an interesting comparison of US and other wireless networks in terms of people per base station - we note that the current Chinese 4G builds are aiming for a very high standard on this metric.

T-Mobile USA has now added 24 video providers to the list of content sources who are exempt from their usage caps. They also doubled the data allowances in most of their plans, while rejigging the pricing so that it ramps up faster. $50 now gets you 2GB rather than 1GB, but the next increment is now $65 rather than $60, although it gets you 6GB rather than 3GB. Interestingly, the implied marginal price is still $5/GB. You have to take at least 3GB to get the free video, which is essentially a whack of free data service, as their typical customer uses 1.6GB of video a month.

The usual suspects are all on the list for free video streaming, with the interesting exception of YouTube. You might wonder if there is any business relationship between T-Mobile and the content players on the list, and it looks like there is. See this quote:

However, T-Mobile executives said that they are open to adding any streaming service to Binge On including YouTube, but they noted that in some cases that support requires a provider to communicate with T-Mobile so that T-Mobile’s proprietary streaming network technology would be able to identify the stream and add it to Binge On.

Does that mean T-Mobile is putting the zero-rated sources into some sort of internal CDN? If they are, Sprint CFO Tarek Robbiati may end up looking a fool after prophesying that the offer would wreck T-Mo’s network.

AT&T launches free roaming on their Mexican network.

VZW targets 2017 for early 5G after Nokia, ZTE tests; Nokatel exec jobs; Qualcomm-CableLabs spat

And Verizon Wireless wants to get beamforming and massive MIMO on trials with a view to production in 2017. This puts them very much in the “Qualcomm/Nokia” camp with regard to 5G, pushing for the early release of a capacity-focused “first phase” 5G.

Nokia’s CTO, Hossein Moiin, reckons they’re ready to test a 35-antenna system as soon as next year. Interestingly, ZTE also claimed a succesful trial of something similar this week.

Over at Nokia, they’re handing out the jobs after the Nokatel merger. Alcatel’s Marc Weldon, who was the CTO and the president of Bell Labs, stays as groupwide CTO, but they haven’t explained how that interworks with either Moiin or the Chief Innovation & Operations Officer, Marc Rouanne. Meanwhile, the existing Nokia Networks SVP of Europe, Markus Borchert, stays as the group’s Head of Europe. Notably, he was the head of Nokia operations in China in 2012-2015 - aka the period when they broke back into China Mobile’s CAPEX budget.

Here’s an interesting piece on how Nokia and Alcatel came to merge. Who was the mysterious Company B?

The Mobile Network blogs the slides from the Ericsson-Cisco announcement, if you missed them.

Expect a lot more of this: Beeline has cancelled all further investment in its 3G network to concentrate on the 4G.

Qualcomm claims it has test results that proves its LTE-U technology can work with Wi-Fi, and further that CableLabs was involved and they’re all about the Wi-Fi, so nyah nyah. CableLabs says it still wants to put it all through the standards process, and it’s not happy about Qualcomm trying to get its patents into the standards.

Centurylink is deploying a new SDN with Nuage Networks to support its enterprise services.

The silicon war of 2016 begins here: Apple, Samsung, Qualcomm, Imagination Tech, Intel.

Here’s an Ars Technica review of the BlackBerry PRIV. It is scathing. The hardware is disappointing, the device is pricey, the Android version is old, and even the keyboard is poor. Compare their review of the Apple iPad Pro - yes, it’s a nice gadget, but just look at it crushing the benchmarks for sheer power. The A9X processor is hammering not just its fellow Apple devices, not just the Surface Pro, but some quite recent Intel Core chips. And the latest MacBook Pro only just squeaks past it. Really interestingly, the A9 had three cores, and the A9X goes back to two - Apple is achieving this performance via a very different strategy to the octacore Snapdragons or the big.LITTLE architecture ARM itself and Samsung like.

Speaking of which, Samsung just showed off the Exynos 8 SoC, and it looks like they mean it about flushing Qualcomm chips from their top-end products. It’s an octa-core, and it’s a big.LITTLE design, with four low-power and four high-power cores. But it’s a custom, in-house Samsung CPU, and it also includes an in-house LTE modem they say is at least as good as the Snapdragon X12. They chuck in a standard ARM GPU, but it’s the latest one. The Exynos 7 in the Galaxy 6 phones has been outstanding, and it seems to have convinced Sammy that owning the silicon like Apple is the way to go.

Qualcomm, for their part, announced the Snapdragon 820, their riposte to the Exynos challenge. Where the 810 used ARM Cortex 53 and 57 cores, this one uses a Qualcomm microarchitecture codenamed Kryo although it sticks with the ARM v8 instruction set. It also gets the X12 radio, a new Adreno GPU, and a new DSP module.

What with the Apple A9X, Samsung’s big decision, Qualcomm’s introduction of Kryo, and Imagination Technologies’ launch of three MIPS-based mobile chips, it looks like we’re in for an old-fashioned silicon technology war.

On the network side, Intel announced a new Xeon optimised for NFV and Mobile Edge Computing. Although the top end of the Atom range is actually faster in terms of clock speed, the D-1500 is benchmarked as performing 3-6 times faster on networking applications and interestingly, on streaming video and serving web pages.

Lenovo lost $714m in Q3, largely because it had to clear a lot of unsold gadgets.

And Glenn Lurie, currently the head of AT&T Mobility, looks back at the experience of launching the iPhone. AT&T nearly didn’t go through with it. If they hadn’t, would the company still exist in its current form?

LoRA deploys to Russia, India, France, and outer space; more new LPWANs; Amazon robots have radar

Here comes another big LPWAN deployment: the Russian electricity grid wants to monitor 400,000 smart meters around St. Petersburg with LoRA. The managed network service is provided by Lace, the local LoRA partner, which claims it already covers 11.5m homes in Russia.

Meanwhile, Tata is planning a really enormous deployment in India, covering as many as 400 million people, and Orange is happy enough with its trials in Grenoble to go national. Dave Burstein asks if this means the carriers are never going to find the IoT pony. Here’s a survey of 10 different LPWAN protocols.

And LoRA is going to space.  The LoRA Alliance and a IoT platform, Stream Technologies, has been testing the technology on Iridium’s satellites, which would in theory give it global coverage. A lot of the usual trouble with satellites - sky-high latency, slow and expensive transfer - doesn’t matter much in this context.

And another. Ingenu is a new LPWAN rolling out in the south-western US, using its own radio technology.

Saudi Telecom has deployed a new virtual EPC just for M2M applications, from Affirmed Networks.

What’s buzzier than the Internet of Things? The cloud! What’s buzzier than the cloud? Robots! I give you Amazon’s filing with the FCC to be allowed to use 433MHz spectrum to keep track of its robots with radar.

Medical IoT is impossibly terrifying.

TV so smart it watches you; Microsoft Azure makes DTAG its data trustee; waiting for Android patches, in the field

Vizio’s smart TVs send back a kind of hash of whatever is on the screen to a web service every second. Oh, and tvinteractive.tv is hiding behind an anonymous domain name. Also, the smart TV doesn’t actually validate the SSL certificate for that site, so anyone between you and it could read the traffic and hack your TV. That said, it’s thanks to the security breach that we know they watch.

BlackBerry is pushing a new voice encryption app, on the slightly contradictory basis that it’s cloud-based.

Microsoft Azure is now offering a new cloud service based in Germany, where your data is formally placed in the control of a local trustee. The idea is that even if the NSA gets a court order to make Microsoft hand it over, they have no jurisdiction over a German citizen in Germany and the trustee could simply say “no”. The trustee turns out to be Deutsche Telekom T-Systems. Reassured?

Edward Snowden offers some practical privacy advice. He’s keen on adblockers.

How much use really is one of Theresa May’s Internet Connection Records? Tim Panton made his own and found out.

And you think waiting for Android patches is bad? Just think what it’s like for the people with classified military Androids, who are waiting just as long and sometimes longer.

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