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BRICS, 5G, Cloud, Net Neutrality, IoT: Telco 2.0 News Review

Brazilian spectrum; Vodafone joins Indian 4G rush; 2G phones fade in India; “Xiaomi clone”; exit Firefox OS

Brazil is auctioning off more spectrum, in the 1.8, 1.9, and 2.5GHz bands. Everyone you’d expect has registered to bid for the first two, while the high band is reserved for “small and medium operators licensed by municipalities”. You wonder how long it will take for someone to try a version of the DISH caper with a straw buyer, that is, if anyone feels that excited by the 2.5GHz.

The local ISP association, probably the people most concerned by the small operator concession, is complaining that there wasn’t enough time to prepare.

In India, after Bharti Airtel announced its “Project Leap” network build, Vodafone has jumped in with what it calls the world’s largest 4G network. Kerala will be the first area to go live, probably because Idea is meant to be launching 4G there within the next 30 days. Taking a lesson from some of the world’s most successful 4G deployments, Vodafone will be rolling out in the 1.8GHz 2G/4G band first.

Bharti, Vodafone, and Idea are responding to Reliance Jio’s ultra-ambitious 4G plans. Those, of course, have been sliding right again and launch won’t be until April, if they don’t miss the deadline again. But Reliance is not in the least bit daunted, and is talking about consolidation and looking for acquisitions, arguing that there ought to be maybe four operators in India.

Both Samsung and local vendor Micromax want to stop making 2G devices for the Indian market. Not only are 3G/4G chipsets getting cheap, demand for 2G phones has collapsed since the 4G rollout - they are down to 9% of total sales and the 3G premium is now about $4. As a result, we’re into the groundrush phase - retailers and distributors don’t want to restock them, and the supply chain will therefore shut down pretty damn quick.

South Africa, meanwhile, wants to shut down analogue TV by February and start refarming the low-band spectrum.

Turk Telekom has done its own low-cost Android, underscoring the way that ultra-low cost ODMs are sucking the value out of the market. Hardware, after all, is the new app - pretty much anyone can do their own Android device and most of them have.

Here’s Xiaomi’s Hugo Barra, singing a happy tune about bringing cheap smartphones to Africa. The detail that sticks out is that 50% of mobile shipments in Kenya are now smartphones, suggesting that the smartphones got to Africa before he did.

OnePlus is essentially a Xiaomi clone, right down to online-only, invitation-first direct-to-consumer sales. Unfortunately it didn’t raise a vast stash of venture capital when that was easy, so it’s now desperately trying to sell more gadgets in the US before it runs out of runway. Also, it seems to have missed the memo about Apple being a manufacturer:

“People were willing to pay a premium for something that is designed in California, even if it’s made in China,” he said. “That’s starting to change.”

Compare this ZDNet story, based on a Consumer Reports survey. There’s no correlation between price and reliability for laptops, unless you buy Apple. Then there is.

For example, HP’s top-end Envy lappies were near the bottom with a 20% three-year catastrophic failure rate, but the cheap Pavilions were better, or at least less bad, with 16%. The Macbooks were at 10%. This was especially impressive as the Macs were used more heavily, about 15% more uptime on average, implying that the mean time between failures was dramatically greater.  Also, a PC that fails once is more likely than not to fail again (55% multiple failures vs 42%). And the Macs didn’t show the classic bathtub curve - they fail at a steady 3% rate throughout their lives, which suggests that both that they last and that Apple doesn’t let many lemons out of the factory.

ZDNet points out that this is probably why Microsoft is turning into a hardware company - they’re tired of the OEMs’ flaky quality control making their software look bad.

Barra mentions that Xiaomi might do a VR device. Here’s your weekly dose of unicorn-slaughtering realism - the VR market is nowhere near big enough for the participants’ plans to be realised at anything like their breakeven prices, and Samsung is likely to win what business there is.

Mozilla is giving up on Firefox OS because, not to put too fine a point on it, nobody cares.

VZW wants 5G by 2017; AT&T CEO says 4G is 40% cheaper, small cells more expensive; ALU makes Chinese core routers

Well, that escalated quickly. Verizon Wireless wants to deploy 5G in 2017 and to start a commercial trial network around its headquarters within weeks. Unless someone else, probably Korean, comes up with a coup de theatre, that will make them the first. Lowell McAdam provided a couple of details - they’re targeting 1Gbps, pricing similar to current levels on 4G, and focusing on “video and point-to-point solutions”. Does he mean peer-to-peer, or point-to-point as in fixed-wireless? Those of us who were paying attention to the 3GPP RAN meeting will not be surprised to see the “early 5G” alliance between (Alcatel-) Nokia, Ericsson, and Qualcomm raise its head again.

Nokia and SKT have been demoing again, this time pushing for the 20Gbps mark the ITU set as part of the definition of 5G. Using 256QAM, 8x8 MIMO, and “just” 400MHz of spectrum, they reached 19.1Gbps. Close, but no cigar! Interestingly, they refer to “cmWave” by analogy to “mmWave”, the first time we’ve seen this buzzword. They also checked out 3x carrier aggregation for TD-LTE.

An interesting quote from AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson:

Also, LTE; we’re now at the place where the LTE conversion is done and so we’re adding capacity. LTE capacity runs about 30% to 40% cheaper than traditional UMTS capacity, downward bias on capital requirements. Rather than laying up T1s, DS1s and so forth, we’re laying up Ethernet. The capital requirements of Ethernet versus a T1, about 40% lower, okay.

Small-cell booster Marc Ganzi of ExeNet Systems is convinced VZW and AT&T are going to roll out 100,000 of the little fellas next year. In the previous item, Randall Stephenson said:

We have chosen to invest aggressively in the spectrum portfolio, which requires a much less dense cell site grid. It also says that we have less urgency to move to a small cell structure because of the spectrum portfolio we have pieced together.Will we push small cell technology? Of course, we will particularly in urban areas. I think it’s going to be a very important technology over time and it will scale over time. It is not by any stretch of the imagination the most cost efficient way of getting bandwidth to the market. In fact, small cells, bandwidth, the backhaul required to the small cell, the licensing and so forth on poles, it is a very expensive way to get bandwidth into the marketplace.

Maybe not, then.

The Aussie NBN is upgrading its fixed-wireless offering to 50Mbps down/20 up, which might actually be better than the fixed offering in the areas where it uses the Telstra copper.

Meanwhile, Alcatel-Lucent announced two more big Chinese contracts, both for its 7950-series IP routers, with China Mobile and China Unicom. Not only is this a case of Nokia/Alcatel’s continuing success in winning business in Huawei’s home market, it’s also a case of Alcatel creeping up on the router market. They have been doing well for some time against Cisco’s ASR middleweight product line, now they’re getting into the top-of-the-range.

Here’s some more detail about the OpenFastPath initiative. A major element of it is a new TCP/IP stack with user-space networking, optimised for network devices in 5G.

Google Edge Compute? Wave of MEC-ish announcements; smart DNS in AWS; more exits at Centurylink

Google has started selling CDN capacity on the Google Global Cache network, but is it going further and developing an edge cloud? The idea would be simple enough - pods of servers would be co-located where the existing GCC nodes are, and Google Compute Engine users could pay a premium to enjoy the low latency and geographical distribution. Having dramatically cut its prices, signed up interconnect between GCE and Akamai, and hired ex-VMWare CEO Diane Greene, Google certainly seems to be trying to get more attention in the cloud.

New STL research out now: Telcos’ Last Chance in Cloud? New $18bn Sovereign Cloud Opportunity

There’s a bit of this about. Huawei is talking about its “Application-Driven Network” or ADN. Wind River has launched a reference design for a standard enterprise virtual-CPE. AT&T is trying to get its NetBond VPN into more sites via a deal with data centre company Digital Realty. Here’s a software application for processing IoT sensor data at the edge.

HPE has launched a web portal for OpenNFV telco functions, with VNFs from 60 partners, notably Metaswitch. Telefonica and ZTE have been testing virtualised IMS and SBC applications.

AWS, meanwhile, has opened up some of its job-routing and global load-balancing technology to customers. Traffic Flow extends Route 53, their cloud service for DNS, so you can have the DNS respond with different IP addresses depending on complex rules you define. For example, you can link the DNS record to a server health check to provide automatic failover, create a split-horizon DNS that routes traffic depending on its geographic source, or even create an anycast-like setup based on server latency. At $50/name/month, it’s not cheap, but it’s probably cheaper than downtime.

Another cloud exec quits Centurylink. Level(3) isn’t giving its data centres up. Making a startup with no servers.

This Microsoft Research engineer’s award is an insight into the deep research behind the cloud.

Sender-pays, again; video, doomed or saved? VZ in for Y!; Google Fi review; Cogent vs DTAG

It looks like we’re in for another go-round of the sponsored data debate. After T-Mobile USA’s Binge On was cleared by the FCC, Verizon Wireless seems emboldened to have another go at sponsored/sender-pays/whatever, while AT&T has a product that’s been “in testing”, aka on the mantelpiece, for years just in case.

The distinction, of course, is that Binge On streams aren’t actually sponsored or paid for by the sender - the sender and receiver, essentially, volunteer to restrain themselves from blowing the doors off by keeping it down to 480p and using a cacheable variable-rate format. Nothing stops you from providing HD or even 4K video as an option for those users who care enough to burn data. An interesting twist here is that the parallel audio product, Music Freedom, works because T-Mobile is already willing to give away unlimited data at 128Kbps - that’s the rate you get capped down to if you blow through your data allowance, and also the rate that applies to their free tier of international roaming.

So there’s an emerging distinction between data at the margin, where it is likely to trigger upgrade thresholds or push other users under the implicit minimum service, and data usage that’s far enough from that level that it’s not actually worth billing for it. It’s argued here that T-Mobile is risking getting overwhelmed by a flood of video, but CDN operator Ooyala reports that the growth rate of mobile video is actually slowing down.

Part of the backstory to all this is carrier investment in content. AT&T may be planning its own streaming product in parallel to VZW’s Go90, while Verizon might buy Yahoo!. The VZW sponsored-data story suggests that they’re planning to make theirs ad-funded. In this context, T-Mo’s move looks like a clever way to avoid investing in an inevitably awful carrier media product and instead cozy up to streaming providers who actually have customers.

Meanwhile, the US FTTH surge continues. AT&T announced 38 more rollouts, while Google Fiber says its next deployments will be Chicago and LA. No biggy, then. Centurylink is hoping that more GPON fibre will stop it leaking subscribers. Comcast reckons 30% of its customers will have the X1 STB by the end of the year.

Here’s a positive review of Google Fi, their super-MVNO that roams between T-Mobile and Sprint. The main downside seems to be that it roams between T-Mobile and Sprint, but fortunately there’s a magic USSD code (*#*#34866#*#*) to force it back onto T-Mobile. Also, latency seems to be very, very good (25-80ms with an average of 40).

And Cogent is suing Deutsche Telekom because, it says, they won’t upgrade a congested port. Time was they’d just de-peer Germany.

Orange/Bouygues, Vivendi/TI rumours; rapid 4G rollout; UK blue-light network; Spanish spectrum; EU vs. Qualcomm

Chatter continues about some sort of Orange acquisition. Both Orange and Bouygues have denied that they might merge - given that a merged company would have 55% of the market, it would be very difficult to justify from a regulatory point of view. But did they deny it hard enough? The government minister in question says he’s not religious about 4 operators, but then he banned Altice-Bouygues as being too big to fail and that wasn’t as big as Orange-Bouygues.

On the other front, where the rumours centre on Telecom Italia and Vivendi, Vivendi is trying to block TI’s management from converting a class of so-called savings shares into ordinary shares. That would dilute both Vivendi and Xavier Niel’s stakes from about 35% of the company to 24%. The move needs a two-thirds majority of all shareholders, and Vivendi intends to abstain.

Back in France, Bouygues is suing the government for €2.3bn in damages. Their case is that they don’t want Free Mobile to exist…or more precisely that there was something dodgy about the Free-Orange roaming agreement, or even more precisely that a lower court was wrong to refuse to hear their case against it.

ARCEP’s annual report says that the 4G rollout has been much faster than either the 2G or 3G deployment was, and among other things, confirms that Free has overtaken Numericable-SFR for coverage and sites by a distance.

The European Commission has issued a questionnaire to UK mobile actors on four key areas of the 3UK-O2 deal: retail competition, sales channels, infrastructure and wholesale services provision. They seem to be especially concerned about the impact on Carphone Warehouse.

The UK government, meanwhile, has given the emergency services’ joint radio network contract to EE. Just one problem: the proposed service is provided by EE’s public, mainline 4G network, and therefore it doesn’t cover the London Underground. Back in 2005, when terrorists attacked London, everyone was horrified because the then-new (but already obsolete) Airwave network didn’t work in the tube. They fixed that. Ten years on, we’ve unfixed it.

CityFibre has bought up KCOM’s national metro-fibre network.

Spanish high-band spectrum is up for sale in January, including the 2.6GHz 2x10MHz block that Vodafone has to sell as a condition of buying Ono. Anyone want to be a Spanish MNO?

Euregulators accuse Qualcomm of directly paying off a “major tablet and smartphone manufacturer” in exchange for shutting out competitor Icera, later part of Nvidia and now shut down.

5.8m connected cars at AT&T; NB-IoT demo; dead IoT speakers

AT&T has issued some predictions for 2016 and not surprisingly they think the Internet of Things will be important. So far, so banal, but this story (and this one) does actually contain some useful data points - 23 million M2M/IoT SIMs, of which 5.8 million are connected cars, and AT&T added 1.6m more cars in Q3. They expect to reach 10m by 2017, implying a bit of a slowdown.

IBM’s new IoT division is now operational.

Huawei and Vodafone Spain claim they’ve successfully demonstrated NB-IoT, aka LTE-M.

And did you hear about the speakers that only work with Rdio, Niklas Zennström’s music streaming app? They’re now basically useless after Rdio bit the dust, part of an increasing problem of abandoned IoT systems.

VTech leak even worse; Dutch reseller leaks passwords; 70m jail phone calls leaked; DNS L-Root attacked

Last week’s data leak at VTech just gets worse. It now turns out that vast numbers of photos, audio recordings, and logged chat messages (190GB of photos from 2.3m users) also leaked. Several of VTech’s web sites have been shut down.

The Dutch version of The Phone House turns out to be a security vortex of epic proportions, with passwords for their dealer accounts with all the Dutch MNOs widely shared and reused, usually desperately weak, and left lying around in plain sight of the general public. Some companies responded well (KPN tightened up on its dealer portal and sent an “I hacked KPN” T-shirt); others less so (MediaMarkt threatened to sue).

A company that provides phone services to US prisons has leaked 70 million CDRs plus downloadable recordings of the calls. At least 14,000 and probably more are conversations between prisoners and their lawyers, and therefore recording them is a big legal no-no.

Root server DDOS attacks are back.

The Crown Prosecution Service closes the file on phone-hacking:

“The call data showed a regular pattern of two calls being placed to the same number (double tapping) and also a large number of calls placed to voicemail platform numbers,” the CPS statement said. “However, it is not possible to prove the fact that the ‘double taps’ and calls to voicemail platform numbers are definitely instances of phone hacking.

Something tougher than Tor, if very slow.

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