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May 31, 2016

5G, Verizon, 700MHz, HPE, Microsoft, Spotify: Telco 2.0 News Review

5G: Verizon fixed-wireless plans, Samsung Research, plus Nokia, Bouygues, SFR, DTAG, Intel news

Here’s an interesting panel on 5G - Verizon director of corporate technology, Gerry Flynn, is very clear that they are thinking primarily in terms of fixed wireless in the 28GHz band when they say 5G and they mean to shoot for very high data rates. AT&T’s director of advanced radio technologies, Arun Ghosh, makes the interesting point that the technology barrier for millimetre-wave spectrum is getting from a dish antenna to something you can fit in a phone. Obviously this is less of a problem if the form-factor is “something on the roof”.

If this Samsung European R&D presentation is anything to go by, they’re making progress on the problem. Also, 5G and 802.11ax WiFi have a lot in common, and the real gains from beamforming kick in once you start doing it in 3D.

CEO Lowell McAdam fills in some more detail. He says the carrier has tested up to 1.8Gbps, that he expects the roll-out to justify the CAPEX bill based purely on fixed-wireless, and that VZ will use it to expand its gigabit services beyond the FiOS footprint. That’s pretty big; the current rush to get more FTTH or DOCSIS 3.1 out there just got a new participant.

McAdam expects to be able to provide the service anywhere within 1km of a fibre run; not only does VZ Business have a hell of a lot of metro-fibre, companies like Zayo would be more than delighted to sell it to him, so that could spread really quite quickly.

Over in mobile, Bouygues says it’s achieved 1Gbps with quad-band LTE carrier aggregation, in a lab test. That used 60MHz of spectrum, 4x4 MIMO, and 256QAM modulation, with two bands for the uplink and four for the downlink. SFR, meanwhile, added its 1800MHz spectrum to its carrier aggregation and announced that speeds are up to 337Mbps if you have a Samsung S7 phone. Deutsche Telekom’s CAPEX is up 13% year-on-year.

Nokia has announced a 4G network in a rucksack for the usual public safety/disaster response/warlike use cases.

Juniper Networks has joined the Facebook-inspired Telecom Infra Project, specifically the working group on optical networking. Here’s an Intel presentation on the case for mobile edge computing.

VZ strike is over; T-Mo is smartphone No.1; 700MHz pricing; dodgy dealings; small cell costs; $2bn for rural broadband

The Verizon strike may be over, after the company reached a tentative agreement with the CWA and IBEW unions. The deal includes some of the flexibility provisions the management wanted, plus a substantial raise - 11 per cent over 4 years - and it recognises 65 union workers in Verizon Wireless retail stores, which sounds ridiculous but sets an important precedent as VZW wasn’t unionised at all. Although VZ is allowed to send customer service calls out-of-state under the deal, something management dearly wanted, it must maintain the overall proportion of calls handled by union workers.

With that out of the way, let’s get on with the show. T-Mobile has become the biggest single sales channel for smartphones, having just squeaked past Verizon Wireless. This represents their transition from a pure discounter to a value play, something you can also see in this analyst note. The authors expect the sheer pace of subscriber growth to slow down, but its composition to shift, including more high value retail postpaid smartphones. (This may already be happening.) As a result, they expect T-Mo’s FCF to break out on the upside.

Meanwhile, T-Mo has acquired a 700MHz spectrum block covering Chicago for some $420m. This was rather more than expected, but as it turns out, the spectrum has an interesting history. Originally auctioned in 2008 to Verizon Wireless, it was left unused due to interference issues for years. In 2013, the FCC took action on the interference, but VZW still didn’t utilise it, although its value has sharply increased. As the 600MHz won’t be available for a while, and it allows T-Mo to fill in a blank on the coverage map, its value has increased again and that’s why T-Mo forked out.

A pension fund manager reckons T-Mo gave itself a big hand by changing its accounting practices to avoid admitting quite how many of the phones it sells on the instalment plan walk at the end of the contract. This is a significant issue, as device instalment plans make operators carry a lot of unrealised receivables from their customers on the balance sheet. Complaints data suggests a lot of customers don’t realise they owe the carrier money at the end of the contract.

Would there be any news from Sprint, perchance? Yes, yes, there is. CFO Tarek Robbiati says we should expect action on the scheme to sell and lease back their spectrum holdings pretty soon. After all, they need the cash, as a large chunk of their debt falls due this year and in 2017. Robbiati says:

“We do want to retain ownership of the spectrum,” he said. “We want to do it in a way that allows us to raise capital without relinquishing the rights on the spectrum.”

All clear so far? Meanwhile, he also says their small cells cost “60 to 70 per cent” of a macro cell. Which is all very well, but if you need four times as many of the little chaps, that’s not much help. Robbiati also said Sprint is essentially giving up on M2M and wholesale in favour of total concentration on hanging on to retail postpaid customers.

A big part of Sprint’s small cells story is its partnership with Mobilitie, a company that acquires small cell sites and manages them on behalf of carriers. Here’s a weird story - it seems to have been going around putting in planning applications in the names of supposed utility companies or even government agencies, probably in the hope this will help it get approval quicker. If you remember, the original idea was to get Mobilitie registered as a CLEC telco in all 51 states, as this status brings with it various privileges in terms of planning and access to publicly owned rights-of-way. But apparently that wasn’t enough.

Lawyers for the local governments involved have been combing databases to identify the straw applicants, who are usually based at Mobilitie’s head office address (subtle!), and now they’ve had to promise not to do that again.

Here’s an interesting argument that the 600MHz auction might be enough spectrum, plus a lot of WiFi, to launch a new US mobile carrier, especially in the light of the FCC consultation on special access.

The FCC is going to be holding one of those reverse auction thingies it likes so much to allocate another $2bn for rural broadband.

Cox is the next cableco to start the DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade. Even more AT&T FTTH. Frontier lost 40k subscribers after the bungled switchover from Verizon.

And the widget on Verizon’s FiOS web site that says “4 agents are waiting” or whatever? It’s a random number.

European 700MHz; 3UK sues EE; Telefonica might keep O2 UK; more LoRa; Millicom sells, Orange buys

The European heads of government have signed off a plan to release the 700MHz for mobile broadband by the 30th of June, 2020, at the latest, with each country having the right to delay by two years if they have interference issues. Cross-border coordination must be completed by June 2017 and national-level plans published by December 2017. WRC-15 decided to leave the 470-694MHz bands for the broadcasters in exchange for handing over the 700, but the council also suggested that some of the 470s might in fact be used for mobile broadband.

This is interesting: 3UK is suing EE, claiming they’re not playing fair on their infrastructure-sharing agreement. 3UK says it was promised at least 3,000 more base stations back in 2010, when Orange UK merged with T-Mobile UK, with which 3UK had a pre-existing agreement, to create EE. However, it’s only actually been allowed to install its gear on 1,301 ex-Orange sites.

We remember hearing from a very senior EE executive that they were horrified by the state of the Orange infrastructure when they took it over, and most of the extra investment in voice a few years back went into fixing it, so does that have something to do with it?

Meanwhile, 3UK is encouraging its users to dump MMS for some over-the-top app instead, and increasing its prices 40% to get the message across. Presumably, traffic levels are so low they’d like to get rid of the infrastructure?

Telefonica is now thinking it might keep O2 UK after all, according to Bloomberg, although not so much that it’s not trying to tear up the exclusivity agreement with Hutchison. In the meantime, it has named a whole galaxy of banks as financial advisers and book runners for the IPO of its towerco, Telxius, which is expected as soon as July.

French regulator ARCEP has published a review that says network investment has gone up since the launch of Free Mobile, but that national roaming - i.e. the Free/Orange deal, there is no other - must go. Seeing as Free’s 4G base station count has caught up with SFR, the point is presumably that by the time they implement the end of national roaming, Free will already have built their way out of it. And that way, everyone will be happy.

BT has set a fibre-optic speed record. Telecom Italia has lost out in the bidding for Metroweb, in favour of the electricity grid operator ENEL.  Vodafone’s Chief Commercial and Strategy Officer, former Southern Europe and Italy CEO Paolo Bertoluzzo, is leaving. Tele2 is beginning to roll out LoRa. So is SK Telecom, and the lucky (but not surprising) winner is Samsung.

Orange may be about to buy Millicom’s Tigo operations in Senegal, Ghana, and Chad. Nigeria is auctioning 2.6GHz spectrum, and there is only one bidder - MTN. You know, the company Nigeria just hit with a $5bn fine. Forget it, Jack…

And Telstra’s CTO has quit amid allegations of CV-padding and plagiarism.

HPE-CSC; HPE “focusing on the cloud”; big AT&T SDN launch coming; Verizon NFV demo done; OSM Release Zero is out

So HPE just merged its IT services operation (i.e. the old EDS business) with CSC. This means, apparently, that the rump HPE will focus on data centres and the cloud, plus IoT, security, big data, and the Aruba networking business - although, of course, they recently gave up on the public cloud.

Confused? Well, they’re still developing Helion, their flavour of OpenStack, which recently released version 3.0 - although they also have a development platform that uses Amazon Web Services. You should be confused. Amid all this, the company actually had a decent quarter.

AT&T says it’s going to launch an SDN-based product in 63 countries simultaneously, later this year. It’s almost certainly something out of the business services line, although they’re not saying what yet. Meanwhile, Verizon says it’s finished deploying OpenStack in five data centres, supporting its own network-on-demand product.

The ETSI Open Source MANO project has shipped code, with Release 0 appearing a month ahead of schedule.

Telefonica, Facebook, and Microsoft are building a new transatlantic submarine cable network, between Northern Virginia and Bilbao, with spurs into the Mediterranean and northern Europe.

Microsoft cuts 1850 jobs in smartphones; grim numbers from Xiaomi, Lenovo; Siri SDK; Xilinx rumours

Last week we heard that Microsoft has sold the right to make Nokia phones. Now we hear they’re backing further away from the smartphone business - 1,850 jobs are going, although they plan to keep the Windows 10 Mobile version going. 1,300 of those are at “Microsoft Mobile” in Finland, aka the Nokia smartphone development team. Nokia itself isn’t helping - the Finnish trade unions suspect it’s going to sack as many as 15,000 people as it integrates Alcatel-Lucent.

If you’re a hardcore Nokia nostalgist, you’re probably one of the people who rushed to sign up for a Jolla phone under their crowdfunding initiative so fast they sold out.

Radio Free Mobile picks over the numbers from Xiaomi, and concludes that its shipments and therefore revenue will likely fall in 2016, the much-vaunted ecosystem hasn’t amounted to anything much, gross margin was 20% at best, and FCF margin last year might have been 3%. The company has $1bn in cash at the bank, so the margin for error is pretty tight. In the light of this, there is next to no chance of getting out for anything close to the $45bn paper valuation.

In fact, the Chinese smartphone market looks radioactive at the moment. Lenovo just announced that device shipments in China were down 85%, and startlingly few of them were (relatively) high-value Motorola smartphones.

Apple, meanwhile, is looking at its services game - there’s going to be a SDK for app developers to work with Siri, which sounds useful and fun. Siri is also, supposedly, coming to the next version of OS X, and 9to5Mac reckons it knows details of the new MacBooks coming later this year. Apple guru John Sculley, meanwhile, has his own Android phone out - it looks cool, and the pricing is very un-Apple indeed.

A whole lineup of semiconductor companies have agreed to standardise how their hardware accelerators (think GPUs) interface with the CPU cache, so as to make it easier to build custom systems-on-chips. The point is to compete more effectively against Intel in the data centre. ARM, IBM, Qualcomm, and FPGA specialist Xilinx are involved.

Speaking of Xilinx, there are rumours someone’s going to buy the company, possibly Intel. There’s a good discussion of the possible upshot here. Although FPGA development might slow down as a result, if Intel wants to deploy them more widely in the data centre, they might also become more available for desktop and mobile applications as a result. And telco vendors won’t get their own way all the time.

That Opera deal has gone ahead at the second time of asking.

Although Google won through against Oracle, it hasn’t stopped Huawei suing Samsung over a whole brick of assorted patents.

And Jawbone has dumped its whole inventory of fitness trackers on a distributor, and won’t be making any more. Apparently it’s going to concentrate on “clinical grade” devices, but would anyone be surprised to see them exiting?

Twilio Programmable Wireless, IPO details; open-source platform for WebRTC; H.264 wins the codec war

For years now, people have been saying things like “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could provision SIMs like you fire up a virtual machine in AWS EC2?” A few startups have had a go at that kind of super-MVNO - an honourable mention goes to the UK’s Simwood Mobile - but so far not many have tried and even fewer have conquered. Now, Voice 2.0 powerhouse Twilio is giving it a go with its Programmable Wireless. It will surprise exactly no-one that T-Mobile USA is the wholesale partner. There’s sample code here.

This TechCrunch piece has pricing - the first 1GB of data is priced at $25/mo, which suggests they’re actively trying to discourage you from running a nano-MVNO, as you can buy the same data volume direct from T-Mobile for $5/mo! Beyond that, you pay $2/SIM/mo flagfall, plus $0.10/MB/mo for traffic in “IoT mode”.

Twilio’s been busy lately - they’ve also launched an app store, and a new API to control notifications across multiple channels. And they’re going for an IPO - the S-1 form is here.

Some might say that if they can buy wholesale data service at $5/mo and resell at $25/mo, they damn well deserve one, but the numbers are harder - the company is still making a loss, of $35m in 2015, although it’s growing fast, from revenue of $49m in 2013 to $166m in 2015. Of the 900k developer accounts, 28k are classified as active customers, growing at the same rate as revenue. Also, 17% of its revenue comes from processing WhatsApp’s verification SMS. That said, the gross margin over and above the telco and AWS bill averages between 50 and 55%.

Swedish regulators say VoIP minutes of use overtook traditional at the end of 2015.

Here’s an open-source PaaS for WebRTC voice apps.

Microsoft Edge has just added H.264 support in its WebRTC implementation, which means H.264 is now the one codec that works across all the browser vendors.

Apple might “buy Time Warner”; AT&T might buy Yahoo!; Google Maps ads; 3UK adblocking; Spotify financials

Apple executives have apparently sounded-out the possibility of buying Time Warner, because merging with Time Warner has such a good record of success for Internet companies. Well, because everyone’s worrying about their volumes and they have $216bn of cash on the balance sheet.

But that’s not the most surprising content deal of the week. AT&T has jumped into the bidding for Yahoo!, apparently in order to get their advertising business. Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, meanwhile, won’t talk about the bid for Yahoo! but did say that the Go90 video app had been “overhyped”.

Google is going to start selling ads inside Google Maps Mobile, in the form of additional sponsored points-of-interest. Was anyone else surprised to learn you couldn’t do this already?

3UK is going to trial Shine’s ad-blocking through DPI technology.

Here’s an interesting report on the emerging arms-race between adblockers and anti-adblockers.

The ad crisis isn’t just for online companies - Daily Mail & General Trust is suffering.

Spotify is growing like hell, and is increasingly dominant in the paid-for streaming market, but its huge bills from the record labels mean that its growth just brings huger losses.

SoundCloud’s new “auto-mastering” feature is getting bad reviews.

The rays are back; really creepy targeted ads; SWIFT two-factor auth; North Korean Facebook

A pre-print study seems to suggest that the rays! give you cancer - however, they also make you live longer, they’re worse if they’re GSM, and the effect only exists if you’re male. And a rat. That’s probably why we have pre-print servers. (Also, a massive study of Australians going back to 1982 found nothing a couple of weeks ago.)

Anti-abortion activists have discovered geo-targeted mobile advertising. It’s as bad as that sounds.

After that thing where someone hacked the SWIFT inter-bank data network, they’re rolling out two-factor authentication.

A new twist on delivering malware through an ad network - only drop the payload onto some users, via the ad network’s own targeting capability. That way, you improve your chances of a successful exploit and make it more difficult to detect the attack, because it doesn’t happen if you’re not the target.

Google has paid out $65,000 for 42 bugs in Chrome.

And meet North Korea’s globally available clone of Facebook.

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May 26, 2016

SD-WAN: New Enterprise Opportunity for Telcos, or a Threat to MPLS, SDN & NFV?

We’ve published “SD-WAN: New Enterprise Opportunity for Telcos, or a Threat to MPLS, SDN & NFV?

Software-Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WANs) have catapulted to prominence in the enterprise networking world in the last 12 months, driven by the growth of demand for access to cloud applications, and businesses’ desire to control WAN costs and complexity. SD-WAN may be a new “intermediary” layer in the network which has the potential to disrupt telcos’ enterprise aspirations, particularly given that it is dominated by vendors and specialist providers rather than telcos. SD-WAN may reduce operators’ MPLS and WAN services revenues and could potentially restrict future NFV/SDN opportunities. But SD-WAN also offers opportunities, where it is embraced - tactically - as part of operators’ enterprise portfolios.

This report is part of the Teclo 2.0 Future of the Network Stream and the Cloud and Enterprise ICT Stream and you can read an extract here.

For more information on any of our services, please email contact@telco2.net or call +44 207 247 5003.

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May 23, 2016

Google I/O, Gigabit Cable, Xiaomi, Yahoo! - Telco 2.0 News Review

Google I/O: new apps, Assistant, radar UX, Chromebooks, TPU, much more

It was Google I/O time. Google announced a wave of new products, very few of them original, but all circling around what they hope is a competitive advantage in natural language processing, machine learning, and the data centres that underpin them.

There’s a new instant messaging app and a new voice/video app, both using a WhatsApp-like phone-number-as-ID model, but the point is probably to create a touch point for Google Assistant, the revamped OK Google. ZDNetpoints out that Google social apps don’t have a great record, but that might not be the point.

There’s a new version of the Android Wear operating system, letting app developers create their own UX elements on the watch (or whatever) and watches (or whatever) communicate directly to the Internet without going via a smartphone. More excitingly, Project Soli is a very short-range radar on a chip, manufactured by Infineon, that’s intended to support gestural UIs on tiny devices. It’s the work of Google Advanced Technologies and Products, the lab responsible for Project Tango. Interestingly, ARM Holdings just bought a company that designs chips for the kind of advanced video processing you need to do this stuff.

Android Instant Apps basically lazy-loads the components needed to run an app you’ve not installed yet, as and when you want to run it. The demonstration shows this triggered by an NFC tag. It seems harsh to point out that this is actually very like a Web page in HTML5.  

Chromebooks have become much more useful, after getting the ability to run Android apps - importantly that means the full line of Microsoft Office applications is available, and they might therefore become an option for enterprises. This could be interesting - Chromebooks outsold Macs in Q1, for the first time ever. Business Insider thinks it’s more of a threat to the PC industry, which would imply interesting changes in the Microsoft ecosystem, with Redmond going further down the road of apps and cloud services, Windows the OS being further de-emphasised, and heavy pricing pressure on the OEMs.

Data Center Knowledge is on the ball, as usual, picking up on the announcement of the Tensor Processing Unit or TPU, the machine Google uses for its AI projects like AlphaGo. There’s some more detail in the official blog post, which claims the device is 3 Moore’s Law generations ahead of any commercially available CPU or GPU.

Firebase, the messaging/sync platform Google acquired a few years ago, is being developed as its primary mobile app developer offering. It looks a lot like Facebook’s defunct PaaS, Parse. It will be interesting to see if this one beats the temptation of cheap IaaS.

At Google I/O, the company offered journalists some feedback from Project Loon. That’s the one without the robot Internet balloons. It’s gained a new mission - collecting weather data that Google “might” share with weather forecasters and scientists - but it’s still having problems with the balloons bursting.

Before the balloons, Google was keen on satellites and actually invested heavily in O3b Networks. You don’t hear so much about that one any more, which is a pity as it’s just deployed with an ISP in Chad.

And this is fascinating; after everyone had a good laugh at a string of Oracle and Google engineers trying to explain programming to the respective lawyers during their patent lawsuit, it turns out the judge is a hacker with a maths degree, and not at all impressed with Oracle’s claim:

I have done, and still do, a significant amount of programming in other languages. I’ve written blocks of code like rangeCheck a hundred times before. I could do it, you could do it. The idea that someone would copy that when they could do it themselves just as fast, it was an accident. There’s no way you could say that was speeding them along to the marketplace. You’re one of the best lawyers in America —how could you even make that kind of argument?


Google Allo, in the clear by default; wildlife scares 26% off Internet trade; $12bn of ad revenue, blocked

Google Allo, the new messaging app, has end-to-end encryption using Open Whisper Systems’ Signal protocol. Strangely, though, it only uses it if you explicitly tell it to, which led Edward Snowden to denounce it as “unsafe”. The answer seems to be that Google wants you to use all the fancy bot stuff, and that requires in-the-clear messaging. When you go off-the-record, the bots are no longer available.

Obviously, the bots could be given their own public keys - but in that case, they would collect lots and lots of private information to train their machine-learning models. That information would be vulnerable to security incidents, leaks, or demands for search and seizure by the government, but the users would think it was secure, being encrypted. That is presumably why Google did it this way.

For the “Don’t have nightmares” file, academic researchers reverse-engineered the NSA call-detail record mining program and concluded it’s as bad as everyone thought. Interestingly, well-known phone numbers like big corporate customer-service lines seem to allow the agency to circumvent the restriction on following up links beyond two degrees of separation - Joe Terrorist is almost certainly within one hop of, say, the American Airlines booking line, and so are you!

A survey conducted for NTIA suggests that material numbers of people are deterred from doing normal things on the Internet, like e-commerce, online banking, or howling into the maelstrom of rage, by security threats. 26% of all online households reported having avoided making an online purchase at least once on security grounds - that’s a lot of money left on the table.

pests.pngAlso, 19% report being deterred from “expressing a controversial opinion”, which was even more worrying when we realised that the group included…us.

Maybe no surprise, then, that adblockers might eliminate as much as $12bn of US ad revenue by 2020. Interestingly, the forecaster estimates that Facebook, with its focus on native ads, will be only minimally affected.

Why are Tor-based blogs so difficult? Uber turns out to be monitoring how long your phone battery will hold out, but it promises it’s not using this to charge the desperate higher fares. 

Simwood has launched its new VoIP fraud detection app, at Kamailo World this week. Speaking of which, all the talks from Kamailo World are online here and they’re usually well worth it.

Much of the evidence in the Megaupload case has been lost because the old hard disks involved failed.

The FCC has handled no fewer than 21,000 net neutrality complaints.

The new Public Safety LTE blog looks interesting. Did you know 3GPP laid down latency targets for “aquatic or submarine” robot control applications?

DOCSIS 3.1 “good for 2040” at 10Gbps; cable winning in the US; Cisco Q1; new VMED roll-outs

Tom Cloonan, CTO of cable vendor Arris, reckons that DOCSIS 3.1 will be good all the way to 2040 before the cablecos need to replace the final co-ax segment into homes. He argues that incremental upgrades, pulling backhaul fibre closer to the last street cabinet, adding more RF spectrum, and perhaps integrating exotic technology from the 5G space like full-duplex radio, will provide enough capacity to get to multi-gigabit speeds while also keeping up with 50%-ish annual traffic growth.

Relatedly, Bell Labs (sorry, “Nokia Bell Labs”) announced a successful trial of a 10Gbps symmetrical link over co-ax. The key detail does seem to be spectrum - they used 1.2GHz of it, compared to 1GHz in stock DOCSIS 3.1.

Telcos should expect no respite at all from the cableco challenge. That’s precisely what we see in the next story - Leichman Research reckons the US telcos saw basically no net-adds in fixed broadband during Q1, while the cablecos saw over a million. Although AT&T and Verizon net-gained 300k FiOS/GigaPower/U-Verse subscribers, they net-lost 324k DSL subs.

Wells Fargo knocked $343m and 50k net-adds off their estimates of VZ’s Q2 revenue and FiOS subscribers due to the continuing strike action. Speaking of which, the two parties to the strike are back around the table, with a US government mediator holding their hands.

The Google Fiber roll-out in San José seems to have been signed off by the city government. The only answer for telcos is to get the fibre out there, and AT&T is doing just that, with the GigaPower roll-out in San Francisco cranking up and deliberately targeting the Google fibrehoods.

Here’s an interview with the head of Sprint’s new wireline unit. Stand by for a major push on business Ethernet services, and even a rollout of Ethernet over DOCSIS. After all, it’s the only bit of Sprint that’s making money.

It’s going to be tough, though - Comcast is a huge player in this segment and it just became a Microsoft Office 365 reseller. 100/100Mbps, unlimited NANPA VoIP, and Office 365 sounds like a hard bundle for an SMB to resist.

As the Charter/TWC/Bright House deal closed, the co-CEOs of TWC sent the 50,000 employees a letter saying goodbye. This may prove prophetic.

Cisco saw a frankly weak Q1 in the key switching and routing segments, with sales down respectively 3% and 5%. They say a number of major service providers are going slow on the CAPEX. One of them is almost certainly Sprint. Meanwhile, CEO Chuck Robbins gave an actual number for sales through the Cisco/Ericsson strategic partnership: 17. This compares poorly with the “200 customer engagements” they were talking about. Although it’s only natural that there’s a pipeline outstanding, and not every lead turns into a sale, that could surely be better.

The CEO of BT has kissed a bonus goodbye because complaints are up. The British government has bitten the bullet and started the process of reviewing the Electronic Communications Code, which governs planning and tenancy terms for telecoms infrastructure. It’s a longstanding demand of basically everyone except BT and sometimes even them.

Gigabit cable comes to Denmark. Gigabit FTTH comes to Romania. Virgin Media announces the first rollouts under “Project Lightning”.

4G drives FTTH drives 4G; Vodafone “back to growth”; French price war eases; iPhone BOGOF

One reason to pull more fibre is that it serves multiple purposes. Verizon CFO Fran Shammo says that its renewed FiOS build in Boston was motivated by the need to put in more 4G coverage and find backhaul for it. Once the decision was taken to start building, it made a lot of sense to deploy extra fibres so as to serve business customers, and using those as the metro-distribution network for a FTTH build was a no-brainer. You can’t say that about football rights.

Vodafone’s Q1, meanwhile, announced a return to organic service revenue growth for the first time since 2008. Also, it’s declaring victory on the Project Spring CAPEX program. Despite that, it’s also announced a target to get much more fibre to base stations, something it’s been weak on for years. By 2020, it wants to pull fibre to 95% of sites in “European cities” over 100k population. And at the same time, it wants to have 5G launched and 3G shut down.

Interesting detail: the key driver of service revenue growth is greater in-bundle revenue, up by almost a billion, so it’s successfully upselling data bundles. That said, note that “reported” service revenue is still falling.

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Around the Vodasphere, Vodacom reported revenue up 7.5%, profits up 3.2%, and data revenue up 32%. It’s also dropped its trial of M-PESA in South Africa, apparently because too many people have bank accounts. On the other hand, a trial of LTE-U has gone live in Johannesburg, using the 5.8GHz band. Vodafone-Hutchison Australia has also been testing, a pre-standard (ha!) NB-IoT network. (Orange, however, just joined the LoRa Alliance.)

VHA used to be famous for outages, but Telstra has probably managed to beat that with yet a third national outage across the mobile, PSTN, and NBN networks this week. Interesting thought: there’s been a huge surge in IPv6 takeup in Australia recently. Is there an important bit of kit at Telstra whose IPv6 implementation leaves something to be desired?

MTS says it’s going to deploy a 5G test network in 2018, probably at a football ground, with Nokia. Sprint, meanwhile, is zero-rating football streaming during the Copa America. EE, for its part, has released a lot of data about streaming on their 4G network during the FA Cup Final.

ARCEP reckons the price war is slowing down - mobile service prices fell 5.5% in 2015, which is still very “fall-y”, but it’s not 26.6% like 2013. Relatedly, Free Mobile’s Q1 results are in. It’s now at 11.9m subscribers and 4.3m on 4G, after 215k net-adds in Q1 - the 4G number has doubled in a year, while 4G population coverage is at 67% and 3G at 82%. Service revenue was up 14%, while the broader Iliad group including fixed saw revenue up 6.6%.

Bouygues, meanwhile, actually outscored them on net-adds, very rare, with 240k. That takes it to 12.1m, of which 5.6m are on 4G. Revenue was up 6% but EBITDA only grew €28m. The company expects to reach 99% LTE population coverage by 2018, when it will have 20,000 eNode-Bs.

O2 UK CEO Ronan Dunne may be planning a management buy-out of the carrier, now that the 3UK/O2 deal has fallen through. Ex-T-Mobile and Virgin Mobile CEO Tom Alexander, also said to be planning something similar, may yet join his consortium.

Add unlimited data for your car, just $40/mo from AT&T (which suggests they don’t expect your car to use it). Sprint may be getting back out of 2-year contracts. And buy one iPhone 6, get one free. Guess who. Their residual CAPEX will be pretty much nothing but devices at this rate.

Xiaomi says Chinese volume has peaked; GfK says smartphones still growing; Nokia phones are back, sort of

Xiaomi’s CEO says the Chinese market for smartphones has probably peaked below 500 million units/year, and the IPO is well and truly off. Not only doesn’t the company need money, but volatility related to the Chinese economy and the US elections makes it unwise. The US elections? Oh. Right. We see it.

GfK disagrees dramatically with Strategy Analytics, saying that the world smartphone market grew 6% in 2015 rather than shrinking.

Meanwhile, it looks like the Chinese investment fund bidding for Opera Software is struggling to get enough shareholders to sign up ahead of the deadline. It’s at 73% and need 90% by tomorrow evening.

Apple has signed up to supply Reliance Jio with iPhones. Still no word on when there’s actually going to be a network, though…

A Finnish company has bought the old Nokia Phones business off Microsoft, and licensed the Nokia brand, so there will at last be a Nokia Android phone in some sense, although the actual Nokia content will be minimal as the devices will be manufactured and distributed by Foxconn.

Sony’s new Android flagship, the Xperia XA Ultra, is a photography-focused device with a huge borderless screen and a selfie cam that’s better than the main cam on most phones.

And the latest iteration of the Motorola Moto G adds 1080p video and a fingerprint sensor. At £169, it’s a lot of value as usual.

Yahoo! going cheap; MCX doesn’t look well; clampdown on Chinese video

The great Yahoo! sale may yet be a disappointment - after seeing due diligence information including Marissa Mayer’s sales presentation, the bidders have lowered their sights from $4-8bn to $2-3bn. That must have been quite a presentation.

MCX, the payments-and-customer-data play supported by a consortium of US retailers, has postponed a national launch and made 40% of its staff redundant (that’s 30 people). This doesn’t look good - one of the biggest backers, WalMart, has launched its own unilateral project, while another one, Best Buy, has started accepting Apple Pay.

The Chinese Communist Party is planning to have the government buy stakes in major Chinese streaming video platforms and impose its nominees on their boards. It’s mostly surprising it took this long.

Comcast’s CTO says advertisers are “doing the limbo” to get ad space on the X1 platform. They also have to comply with very strict guidelines to make sure their ads gel with the X1 look and feel. Both Google and Facebook want their simplified-publishing standards to do something similar.

Britain spends far more on online ads than any other European country. Meanwhile, Sprint has its own ad agency.

Cloud boom, cloud bust; is there any cannibalisation? Metaswitch vNow; HPE’s $100m for startups

This is interesting: over the last year or so, cloud companies have been buying up data centre space faster than the industry can create it. Now, however, a lot of capacity is about to hit the market. Will it get absorbed, or will there be a data centre glut?

Digital Realty is hoping not, as it’s just bought up the Equinix European data centres they had to sell for regulatory clearance to buy TeleCity.

In forecasting cloud revenue, you have to answer three questions: how fast is cloud adoption going to happen, what is the limit on its share of the market, and how big is the addressable market. This piece argues that there’s been a big surprise - the addressable market has grown enough that there’s been effectively no cannibalisation of the enterprise data centre yet.

AWS announces a new EC2 instance type for extremely RAM-intensive applications.

Here’s MetTel, a company using SD-WAN to run something like the old Savvis business model.

Metaswitch is offering an “NFV starter kit”.

And HPE is investing $100m in cloud startups.

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May 20, 2016

7 NFV Hurdles: DTAG, NTT, Verizon, Vodafone, Swisscom and Comcast

There are still major barriers to NFV transformation. Our latest analysis identifies seven key barriers that have slowed NFV roll out across six operators (Deutsche Telekom, NTT, Verizon, Vodafone, Swisscom and Comcast), and the approaches being used to overcome them.

This report is part of the Executive Briefing Servce and Telco 2.0 Transformation Stream, and you can read an extract here.

For more information on any of our services, please email contact@telco2.net or call +44 207 247 5003.

Extract chart from the report:

7NFVchallenges fig 1.pngSource: STL Partners

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May 16, 2016

Euregulators, WiFi, Google, Apple R&D, Alibaba, 5G: Telco 2.0 News Review

Euregulators nix 3UK/O2, probe DTAG vectoring; OFCOM consults on 160MHz more WiFi

Rewheel’s latest report points out that there is a drastic disparity in data pricing within Europe, and it’s between the markets with three or fewer operators, and the rest. In three-operator Germany, Vodafone users get 1GB of data for the same money, €35/mo, that gets Vodafone users in the four-operator UK 20GB. Typical data bundles in Holland doubled at the same price point after Tele2 launched the fourth 4G network. And France, once the dearest and least competitive market in Europe, is now the second-cheapest, powered by Free Mobile’s price-slashing.

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It’s no surprise, then, that the European Commission has announced its veto on the 3UK/O2 deal.

This immediately started the horses running on who else might take O2 UK off Telefonica’s hands - perhaps Liberty Global, via Virgin Media, or else maybe the durable industry figure Tom Alexander with backing from private equity funds? A Virgin-O2 merger would be a fearsome mobile/cable powerhouse, and it would also link the UK’s two infrastructure alliances and start all kinds of regulatory complexity.

Vimpelcom says it’s confident that the 3 Italia/Wind deal is going ahead, but you certainly wouldn’t bet on it now that the regulators have drawn a very clear line on four-to-three MNO mergers. The Zegona bid for Yoigo seems to be back on after the bidder found some funding - they may have bid as much as €600m this time.

Swiss operator Sunrise reported a strong Q1, with more subscribers, EBITDA, and profitability. So did Bouygues, where sales were up 6 per cent, EBITDA margin is stable at 25%, and the net loss is down to €33m. Iliad is planning to launch operators in the French overseas territories - their economies are notorious for pricey, monopolistic retail sectors, so hold tight for disruption.

European regulators are looking into DTAG’s plans to deploy a lot more vectoring DSL, on the grounds that it is likely to lock out competitors.

In the UK, meanwhile, a coalition of ISPs and mobile operators has started a fresh lobbying drive to demand the independence of Openreach from BT. TalkTalk’s surge of subscriber gains has gone into reverse, caught between last month’s security disasters and the challenge from BT’s massive football spending. Virgin Media added 70k net broadband subs in Q1. And BT Wholesale has started to make “naked”, i.e. no phone service, FTTC available.

OFCOM has opened a consultation on finding two more 80MHz channels for WiFi in the 5GHz band. 3UK has discovered that its VoLTE users sometimes roam accidentally, which causes their calls to be billed as data, to their delight and 3UK’s horror.

Three more Telenor execs have resigned over the Vimpelcom corruption affair. Meanwhile, their Grameenphone operation in Bangladesh is doing superbly well. Telecom Italia, however, can’t say that about TIM Brasil, whose revenues crashed by 36%. It has also, finally, put in a bid for Metroweb, valuing the company at €820m.

Google under pressure; Android share gains; Apple R&D spend surges; Buffett bids for Yahoo!

Those Euregulators are busy. Having killed off 3UK/O2, they’re also looking at imposing a truly enormous fine on Google, as much as €3bn, for pushing organic search results down below its adverts. Meanwhile, the US Federal Trade Commission is seeking more information on the workings of Google Search, with a view to re-opening its own investigation. And it turns out the collaboration between the Deep Mind research group and five London hospitals is quite possibly illegal - neither the Royal Free Hospital, nor Google, have applied for approval from a research ethics committee, nor have they registered the app as a medical device. And Google engineers are having to explain to the court in Oracle vs. Google what an API is.

Google Lawyer is going to be in demand, as is Google Lobbyist.

On the other hand, there’s good news from the Android ecosystem, where market share has increased sharply as Windows Phone slides beneath the waves and the Samsung S7s sell like hot cakes. And here’s something interesting: Google has released its natural-language processing technology as open-source software. That’s the sort of thing that used to give Google its aura of techy cool.

That said, the same report that says Android is gaining share says four of the top five apps belong to Facebook. Rather, one of them is WhatsApp and the rest all are different versions of Facebook itself. Here’s an interesting long read about how Facebook’s Internet.org/Free Basics project failed in India. Note the involvement of former FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin, now a telecoms lobbyist.

Speaking of India and problems of cultural communication, here’s Marc Andreesen making a fool of himself.

Here’s something interesting: Apple’s spending on R&D has surged dramatically, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of revenue.

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Does this mean they’re planning something big? Like a car? Well, perhaps, although we’d point out that they kept ramping up spending after the iPhone launch, as they brought more and more of its value-added in house. Anyway, why speculate? Here’s the next story. Apple just invested $1bn in a Chinese ride-hailing app.

Meanwhile, Chinese smartphone makers are struggling precisely because of rising incomes and cheaper iPhones. The Foxconn acquisition of Sharp is back on after the Japanese banks agreed to go easy on Sharp’s pile of debt. The Apple Music-ate-my-MP3s crisis turns out to be a bug in iTunes. There are those who would say a multi-billion R&D budget might only just be enough to sort iTunes out.

Why are music startups so fragile? Not surprisingly, it’s the licensing costs. It’s still somewhat surprising to realise just how exceptional Last.fm was in making a successful exit with $280m of CBS money. Sadly, it’s since joined Friends Reunited and Psion/Symbian among British startups who did it all, first, and paid the price.

HTC is burning cash at a fearsome rate and flogging any assets it can find to do it. Here’s a bear case on Cisco.

Another buyer is in for Yahoo!, and to everyone’s surprise it’s Warren Buffett, who wants to take the whole firm. He also just bought a boatload of Apple stock.

Big Tech really likes “adjusted” financial reporting:

Inevitably, non-GAAP figures are diverging ever further from accounting reality. In a study of 380 S&P 500 companies, the Analyst’s Accounting Observer calculated that their “adjusted” net income rose 6.6 per cent to $804bn last year. It sounds great until you discover that under GAAP precisely the opposite was happening. Net income at those same companies actually declined almost 11 per cent to $562bn — a full 30 per cent less.


AMD has signed a deal to licence its technology in China, which could mean a surge of revenue from the server/data centre market. Also, their new PC chip, Zen, is coming later this year.

Alibaba/Softbank’s cloud partnership; AWS invests in submarine cables; beyond containers; transit prices

In the cloud business this week, Alibaba.com and Softbank have started a project to push cloud computing for Japanese businesses. In China, cloud services are a fast-growing line of business for Alibaba, increasingly a clone of Amazon.com behind the great firewall. (Revenue from cloud tripled year-on-year in the most recent quarter, although it’s still only $153m.) Softbank will own 60% of the joint venture, whose first task will be to build a big data centre.

It will be tough to shake NTT’s grip though. Its full-year results were formidable to say the least.

Amazon.com has invested in a new submarine cable from the US to Australia and New Zealand, the third major system on that route. Interestingly, it lands in Oregon specifically to be close to the cloud cluster around the hydroelectric dams of the Bonneville Power Administration.

Meanwhile, AWS announced a new product, the Application Discovery Service, which digs through your network to find whatever random apps might be in there.

Here’s an interesting interview about the future of SDN and NFV - it may be necessary to get rid of the notion of a virtual machine, and even move beyond containers.

And Dan Rayburn updates North American IP transit pricing - down 10% year-on-year, again.

What happens to the data? This week’s leaks; 100m ABP users

So we put all the data in the cloud. But that wasn’t the whole story. We put the data in a bubble, and the bubble put it in the cloud! When the bubble bursts, the data will still be there. In the cloud. The Atlantic reports on exactly what happens when a unicorn stuffed with other people’s data goes bust. Data might be one of the most valuable assets left in the company, and it’s easy to imagine someone unscrupulous simply buying it from the official receiver.

Hell, if there were to be a proper .com crunch, you could make a business model of going round failed companies buying data sets up in bulk and cross-indexing them! Fortunately there is a precedent for the FTC to get involved and require that the data only be transferred to a company in the same line of business.

Danish researchers scraped 70,000 records from OKCupid and uploaded them to a public repository of scientific papers. Who thought that was a good idea? Meanwhile, it turns out that Runkeeper doesn’t stop tracking your movements when you stop running, and in fact it sells them to advertisers.

The Internet of Doorbells that let other people watch the inside of your house on CCTV.

Facebook, Twitter, and Google all face a lawsuit in France demanding that they do a better job of getting rid of anti-Semitic uploads.

Here’s a really terrible backdoor left in some cheap Android devices. Claims spammer generated
17.5m robocalls, fined £250k, went bust and won’t pay it.

Joint FTC/FCC action on Android security patches. Adblock Plus is up to 100 million users. And General Motors is trying to rush a V2V system into production before any of the security features have been completed. Why do they insist on vehicle-to-vehicle comms rather than radar or lidar? Because only with the comms option can you sell advertising!

Cable, the future of 5G? Detail on AT&T 5G plans; full duplex on test; Nokia Q1; China Unicom upgrades

Dave Burstein makes an important point here - future WiFi and 5G technology is likely to be very disruptive for cablecos, because they have so many potential access points in people’s homes, hooked to DOCSIS 3.1 gigabit backhaul. A potential Virgin/O2 deal should be seen in this light too.

VZW and AT&T are both saying that they expect 5G to include massive, multiple-user MIMO and they see this as even more important than millimetre wave technology. More specifically, AT&T is planning to start testing this summer at 15GHz, add 28GHz later on, and then add the 3.5GHz and lower at the same time as mobility is added to the tests, in early 2017. Meanwhile, the AT&T engineers will be spending most of this year rolling out 2.3GHz LTE in volume, getting started on the 1.7 and 2.1GHz bands in 2017.

Telecom Italia has a full-duplex radio system in field trials, using the technology developed by Kumu Networks, a company funded by both Verizon and Cisco.

Nokia has been testing MuLTEFire with Saudi Telecom. They also had a very mixed Q1 - net sales were down 8%, but operating profit was up 25%.

Turkey has reached 40m 4G subscribers, a month from launch. The question is, will this “launch by stealth” approach - the phones had the capability already, you didn’t need to get a “4G phone” - work for 5G?

China Unicom is planning to spend $2.2bn on its network in Shanghai alone, notably adding a lot of FTTH and 3-band carrier aggregation.

Vodafone says NB-IoT is coming next year.

Sprint and Amazon, Sprintlink for sale? Malone free of FCC conditions; 900MHz for NB-IoT; FirstNet going nowhere, still

The price war takes another twist. Sprint is offering a plan with 40GB of shared LTE data, plus a year of Amazon Prime membership. Question: is it reselling the Amazon service, or is Amazon spending some customer acquisition money? T-Mobile, not surprisingly, responded by bringing back another big-bundle plan.

It’s dawning on everyone that Sprint’s announcements last week basically mean no significant investment this year. There’s an argument here that it thinks the network is fixed, and it is concentrating purely on selling. The alternative would be that it is quite simply desperate for cash. The enterprise wireline/global carrier division, Sprintlink as was, has been reorganised to give it full P&L responsibility, which looks a lot like “prepared to be sold off”.

Republic Wireless, meanwhile, looks like it’s going to ditch Sprint for T-Mobile as its wholesale partner.

This is interesting: the California state PUC signed off the Charter/TWC/Bright House deal, which can now close. But guess who doesn’t have any FCC conditions at all? John Malone, despite the fact he personally owns 18 per cent of New Charter and a whole bunch of other cable and content assets.

Comcast, meanwhile, has bought a French programmatic advertising company.

The FCC is holding a public workshop to demonstrate how the 600MHz reverse auction will work, right down to the actual web application used.

The regulator is also keen to get the people who own 900MHz M-LMS spectrum to hand it over, or else find a use for it. This allocation was created to support a vehicle-tracking and navigation technology that was never deployed because GPS was cheaper and better. Now, the long-range, wall-busting 900MHz looks very valuable indeed, and the FCC wants it put to good use or else handed back. One of the owners has filed for a licence change to let them run NB-IoT in the band. Sounds interesting.

Sigfox says it’s going to cover 100 US cities by the end of the year.

The FirstNet emergency services/universal broadband show rolls on but it’s still not making any progress.

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May 11, 2016

Vertical Innovation Leaders: How Telstra’s Healthcare Jigsaw is Coming Together

We’ve published “Vertical Innovation Leaders: How Telstra’s Healthcare Jigsaw is Coming Together”.

We analyse the aggressive strategy Telstra has chosen to develop its digital healthcare business - which relies heavily on acquisitions across the whole eHealth value chain - and discuss how this fits into a wider companywide digital strategy, what it will take for Telstra to succeed in this vertical, and what insights other telcos can take away about their own digital health strategies.

This report is part of the Telco 2.0 Cloud & Enterprise ICT Stream and you can read an extract here.

For more information on any of our services, please email contact@telco2.net or call +44 207 247 5003.

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May 9, 2016

5G, Sprint, T-Mobile, BT, Ghana, Charter, Comcast: Telco 2.0 News Review

Sprint’s 5G plans; LTE-U tests clear for take-off; NI’s “beast” of a SDR; LTE-B use cases

Once VZW started the music playing, everyone had to get up and dance. This week, it’s Sprint that’s setting out plans to have something described as 5G out in the field as soon as possible. CEO Marcelo Claure is promising to have a trial of millimetre-wave spectrum at two of the stadiums for the Copa America in June, with Nokia and Ericsson. As always with Sprint, it’s all about trying to find a use for that 2.5GHz block - apparently it’s “the low-band spectrum for 5G”. We can remember when it was the “beach-front spectrum for 4G”.

The ugly truth of the matter is that Sprint has $2bn in promises of vendor financing specifically tied to the 2.5GHz band, and they’re too broke to pass up the money - that’s about as much money as their annual external financing roll.

The whole LTE-U story is taking a step forward, as the FCC has cleared Qualcomm and T-Mobile to start testing with it.

After the increasingly important Brooklyn 5G event, hosted by NYU Wireless, Nokia is very pleased by the range of vertical customers who showed up. Sadly, the use cases they mention are nothing but the usual.

Another US player that’s becoming more and more important in 5G is test vendor National Instruments. They recently launched a new SDR transceiver for 5G test applications, and as Wireless Week puts it, “good gracious, it’s a beast”, capable of operating with virtual carrier bandwidths up to 2GHz between 28 and 76GHz and data rates up to 15Gbps.

Here’s the announcement from the LTE Broadcast Alliance, set up the other week by VZW, Telstra, EE, and KT. Note that they’re thinking in terms of notifications, IoT applications, and software delivery as well as the obvious mobile TV and streaming video.

Andy Sutton, ex-EE network architect and now in academia, gives an interesting presentation on the ETSI Next-Generation Protocols working group and its efforts to design a new protocol stack for 5G. The benefit would be to get rid of a lot of the tunnelling-in-tunnelling that characterises the RAN, and gain back the capacity lost to packet overhead. Also, fewer sessions to set up and tear down might mean lower latency. But the whole process means moving the boundary of the TCP session towards the Internet core, while content might be moving the other way to make use of MEC. Regulatory controversy, here we come!

Sprint’s shrinking CAPEX; DTAG Q1; why T-Mobile is so good; BT plans - FTTH or Fibre to the Press Release? Ghanaian 4G

If Sprint is planning to deploy 5G, you’d think this would mean a lot of investment. Instead, as you’d expect from a company that’s desperate for cash, they’re planning to cut their CAPEX quite drastically. The target for this year is $3bn, compared with $4.7bn last year and $5.4bn the year before. Also, the device leasing program means Sprint must book their purchases of phones from the manufacturer as cash CAPEX, so the cut to network investment is actually significantly more dramatic. Last year, the leasing program cost about $1.2bn in CAPEX, so that suggests network CAPEX has been cut by nearly 50%.

Apparently, some or all of the small-cell deployment has been outsourced to neutral-host provider Mobilitie and small cell vendor CommScope, which may be footing some of the CAPEX. Of course, that doesn’t mean the costs have gone away. Also, Mobilitie has a CLEC licence, which should make it easier to get planning permission for the build - this was why Sprint itself was flirting with denying its regulatory status as a CMRS operator a few months back. But it doesn’t seem to be working, as much of the rollout has been pushed back to 2017 or beyond. This may be because the planning problem isn’t solved, because the small cells aren’t working as well as promised, or just in order to save cash.

Deutsche Telekom announced its Q1 results, which were boosted by the €2.5bn sale of their stake in EE. Without that, their net profit was actually down somewhat on a year-on-year basis. Revenues were up 4.7%, essentially because of T-Mobile USA’s storming quarter - in Germany, although they scored 270k net adds, revenue was down 2.5%, as was the rest of Europe.

If you wonder why T-Mobile is doing so well, wonder no more. Our data partner Apteligent found that T-Mobile USA is the lowest-latency mobile operator in the US, and further, has the lowest rate of latency events over 500ms.

Here’s a good blog post on what might trouble T-Mobile. The answer: not much, really, absent an earthquake like Comcast both wanting to buy Sprint, and being allowed to by the FCC, and Sprint first going into Chapter 11 bankruptcy and therefore getting rid of its debts. You wouldn’t bet against the last of those, but all three at once is a stretch.

An interesting point is that since the announcement of HaLow, the possibility of cable-WiFi operators competing seriously with mobile has gone up sharply. Just because the technology was originally touted as an LPWAN option for the Internet of Things doesn’t mean it has to be used that way. That would require the FCC to find a big block of low-band spectrum from somewhere and rezone it for unlicensed, which can’t be ruled out.

Meanwhile, VZW has been adding more wideband LTE coverage with 1.7 and 2.1GHz spectrum, as have the rural operators who rent spectrum from them. Strikers from the wireline division picketed the company’s annual meeting.

BT announced its results, the first to consolidate EE. Not surprisingly, adding the mobile operator boosted the numbers, but there was also real progress from the TV and fixed broadband businesses - TV subscribers are up 28 per cent and revenue is up 8 per cent, while fixed broadband net-added 214k subscribers in the quarter.

The company also announced new investment plans. Some of this just re-announced EE’s plans from a few weeks ago, but there was substantial news at Openreach, which is planning to reach 2 million more homes with FTTH by 2020. That would take the UK to 7% coverage, from the frankly pathetic 1% it currently achieves. Oddly, the peace between BT and Sky that broke out a week ago seems to have collapsed as a result:

“Today’s statement shows that BT continues to see copper as the basis of its network for 21st century Britain. Despite BT’s claims, it is clearer than ever that their plans for fibre to the premise (FTTP) broadband will bypass almost every existing UK home. This limited ambition has been dragged out of BT by the threat of regulatory action, demonstrating once again why an independent Openreach, free to raise its own long-term capital, is the best way for the UK to get the fibre network it needs.

This is probably because the rest of the £6bn investment plan is the mixture as before, with a lot of emphasis on G.fast and sweating the copper just a bit more. CityFibre doesn’t seem particularly impressed either. In comments, someone introduces the concept of “FTTPR” - Fibre to the Press Release.

Windstream will be rolling out more of its own fibre. Swisscom reported profits up 3.7%. Telenor might pick up Telstra’s half of a joint venture to start a third MNO in the Philippines after the Aussies pulled out. Ooredoo’s Q1 was reasonable. Idea Cellular, having exploded out of the blocks with 4G, is seeing strong growth but struggling a bit with profitability.

And MTN in Ghana is making a start on rolling out 4G in the 800MHz band. Ericsson is the lucky winner.

Charter-TWC passes FCC; amending the 3.5GHz; Swedish neutrality; Aussie 700MHz is back

Charter-TWC-Bright House passed the FCC vote. In a bit of last-minute drama, Republican commissioner Ajit Pai voted no on the grounds that the conditions imposed on the deal were too onerous, even after the Charter CEO rang up to say they were fine by him. But it didn’t matter, as Pai’s party colleague, Commissioner O’Rielly, didn’t vote the same way.

Pai and O’Rielly seem to have had more success amending the Citizens’ Broadband Radio Service, the new 3.5GHz shared spectrum scheme. They would like priority - i.e. licensed - spectrum to be available for sale even when only one operator is present - the original draft held that priority was irrelevant in this case (priority over who?) and therefore pointless. This moves it a bit further towards the classic licensed model, but to be frank, it’s still not very much like licensed spectrum. There is 150MHz at stake, though. CommLawBlog reckons it will take several years more to get it going.

Meanwhile, the proposal to make the 5.9GHz band available for unlicensed users is held up because the auto industry wants it for vehicle-to-vehicle, although they already have an allocation for vehicle-to-vehicle radar.

Vodafone-Hutchison Australia has had second thoughts about opting out of the 700MHz spectrum auction.

Alternative operators in the UK are sceptical of BT’s offer of access to ducts and poles. Vodafone complies with the end of EU roaming charges.

Telia begins zero-rating some content in Sweden, and a huge net neutrality row kicks off.

When computers are racist. Russian activists sue MTS for helping the spooks hack their Telegram accounts. We only want your e-mail address.

Comcast might be half the cable biz; Hulu, YouTube stream pay-TV; Arris Q1; AT&T drops Yahoo! portal

Can telcos entertain you? New Telco 2.0 research is out now, covering Vodafone and MTN’s innovative content strategies following up 3G and 4G rollout in Africa

Moody’s reckons Comcast might increase its EBITDA by 5% this year, which would mean it accounts for half the US cable industry’s earnings all on its own. They see the driver as high-def video on mobile devices, served over home WiFi, pulling through faster broadband. Comcast, meanwhile, is investing in NextVR, a company that plans to stream Live Nation concerts in VR. That would fill up the tubes all right.

So would this Hulu announcement - they’re going to stream pay-TV shows. YouTube is doing something similar. Both are targeting a price point of $35-40/mo.

Even though Arris missed out on the DOCSIS 3.1 CPE business from Comcast, the surge of gigabit cable is pretty good for them. Profits were up 33% in Q1, exactly in line with a surge in demand for their CPE. Also, the E6000 routers, which did get into the Comcast rollout, are selling like hot cakes.

Streaming and downloads have passed DVD sales as a source of revenue in the UK.

Ericsson’s media operation is setting up next to the BBC in Salford.

AdBlock Plus is planning to start letting you pay for web content.

And AT&T has binned Yahoo! as its web portal after 15 years.

Apple deletes your music; Indian smartphones; HTC loss; tech reviews; ping-pong tables aren’t selling in the Valley

Apple Music users are discovering that the service might delete their own music from their computers. It remains true after all these years that Apple doesn’t really do cloud. Apple is probably much more comfortable doing something like this - hiring GPU designers for the next iteration of its in-house strategy, or else developing an SDK for SAP HANA apps.

Apple and Lenovo are the fastest-growing vendors in India, and local hero Micromax is suffering as a result. Lenovo, interestingly, went for a strategy of concentrating on local resellers rather than online, the opposite of Xiaomi, and it seems to have worked.

HTC announces its losses for Q1.

Here’s a glowing review of the HP Elitebook Folio: “the MacBook as it should have been”, no less. Also reviewed positively, Ubiquiti’s WiFi access points and controller.

Free upgrades to Windows 10 might stop at the end of June, but they’re still well short of the target of a billion installs.

A key Valley indicator turns red - nobody’s buying ping-pong tables any more. That said, Uber is still hiring lobbyists, and this week they signed up former EU Commissioner, Neelie Kroes.

Microsoft buys an IoT platform, Solair, and integrates it into Azure IoT. Huawei has a live NB-IoT deployment with South East Water in Australia.

Yahoo! data centres up for sale; Telefonica, Earthlink, AT&T NFV news

While all the drama at Yahoo! goes on, their data centre teams keep the web sites on line. In fact they’re still adding more capacity. But there are rumours swirling around that Verizon now wants to buy just the infrastructure, not the content. You’d have thought the Terremark experience would have soured VZ on that, but Yahoo! has a history of good infrastructure engineering.

Singtel is providing its enterprise customers with virtualised firewalls and routers through their NFV deployment. Earthlink is touting a SD-WAN product. Telefonica has signed up for Red Hat’s mobile apps platform.

And here’s some interesting discussion of AT&T’s SDN transition and the strategy of retraining their own people rather than hiring fresh.

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May 5, 2016

Can Telcos Entertain You? Vodafone and MTN’s Emerging Market Strategies

We’ve just published ‘Can Telcos Entertain You? Vodafone and MTN’s Emerging Market Strategies’, a follow-up to last month’s report on telco entertainment plays in developed markets.

The report investigates how the spread of 3G and 4G mobile networks in Africa and developing Asia, together with the growing adoption of low cost smartphones, is helping Facebook, YouTube, Netflix and other global online entertainment platforms gain traction in emerging markets. But some major international telcos, such as Vodafone and MTN, also have well-established and multi-faceted online entertainment offerings in Africa and developing Asia. How robust are these telcos’ entertainment services? Can they fend off the mounting challenge from global Internet players? What is working for Vodafone India and MTN and what needs a rethink?

The report is part of the Telco 2.0 Dealing with Disruption Stream and you can read an extract here.

For more information on any of our services, please email contact@telco2.net or call +44 207 247 5003.

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May 3, 2016

Apple, Samsung, Intel, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon: Telco 2.0 News Review

Apple’s mediocre Q1; Samsung beats the Street; smartphone shipments drop; Google Devices; Xiaomi

Apple Q1s are in, and it was a significant down quarter. Revenue was off $8bn year-on-year, 13 per cent, while net income was down $3.1bn, 22 per cent, as gross margins dropped from 40.8% to 39.4%. (The document is here.) ZDNet digs into the operational volumes, and discovers a surprise - not only does the iPad seem saturated, but it was a horrible quarter for Macs, the worst since Q2 2014. iPhone numbers weren’t all that bad - it was still the fourth-biggest iQuarter ever - but the average selling price has slipped by almost $50 a phone. Because Apple derives a lot of margin from selling the extra Flash storage in a 64GB iPhone, customers trimming on the specifications is a disproportionate hit to profitability.

2016-04-2622-15-41.jpgNaturally, the punditsphere is racing to explain this with artificial intelligence, drones, bots, and the like. But it could just be good old-fashioned competition.

Samsung Q1s are in, and Sammy beat the consensus by $670m, with net income up 14% at $4.56bn on strong sales of the Galaxy S7s. It wasn’t just a miss for the analysts - they ended up pointing the wrong way entirely, as the Bloomberg consensus was a negative quarter. That wouldn’t explain the Mac problem, but it would certainly explain pricing pressure on iPhone.

Strategy Analytics and IDC have both published Q1 smartphone estimates showing a year-on-year decline in smartphone shipments, for the first time ever. SA reckons the crisis in the Chinese economy is the market-moving factor, and both Apple and Xiaomi suffered at opposite ends of the market.

Tomi Ahonen argues that this is basically noise, driven by the enormous sales of the iPhone 6S reverting to the mean, and the combination of iPhone SEs and Galaxy S7s at scale with continued featurephone-smartphone migration in the low-end will cause a strong Q2.

ABI Research reckons that Google is making some progress against the forkdroids with Android One. Meanwhile, Sundar Pichai used a letter to shareholders to predict that devices will fade away in the AI future, and further announce the creation of a new Google Devices division. Nexus phones and tables, Chromebook and Pixel C laptops, the Project Tango phone, OnHub router, and Google Glass (remember that?) will be rolled into Devices, led by former Motorola president of devices, Rick Osterloh.

And after a bad Q1 in China, Xiaomi is apparently going to launch a smart watch and, more interestingly, an in-house mobile CPU. Seeing as Lenovo chose to start by repackaging someone else’s, and Huawei chose to concentrate on RF technology, it’s going to be interesting to see what Xiaomi, a company which would seem to have less engineering capacity than either of those, comes up with.

Intel gets out of smartphones, again, for the IoT; satellites at AT&T; Ericsson Accelerator; data points from Jasper

Intel, meanwhile, is getting out of mobile again, at least if by mobile you mean smartphone Systems on Chips (SoCs). Only the Apollo Lake tablet/netbook platform is staying, while the Braxton and SoFIA smartphone chipsets have been cancelled. The three SoFIA-based devices that shipped in China earlier this year are therefore immediately obsolete. Intel seems to be getting tired of investing in phone projects to create a market for their chips, and it’s possible that the Client Computing division, where the PC chips live, is equally tired of having to eat mobile’s losses after the mobile projects were rolled into the division. Also, it’s an Intel strategy to set a target time-to-market and enforce it strictly, and the SoFIAs were running late.

Where is it going from here? Well, it’s the industry cliché of 2016, “5G, the cloud, and the Internet of Things”. 5G here meaning infrastructure, via the ex-Altera FPGA business, the cloud meaning data centre products, and IoT meaning, well, the IoT. That said, they’re also very much interested in going to war with Qualcomm for more RF modem business - Intel has recently hired Qualcomms’s former VP of Mobile - and this is likely to be an important field as we look towards 5G.

Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich explains himself a bit more in a blog post.

AT&T has signed up Globecomm in an effort to integrate satellite connectivity into their IoT products. Globecomm already provides the uplink teleports for DirecTV, so the company is no stranger. AT&T, for its part, has been showing much more interest in non-cellular solutions lately - presumably as its M2M volumes increase and its revenues don’t so much.

Here’s an interesting case study of LoRA in a municipal context, from Benoit Felten. Note that it seems to be viable to deploy your own LoRA down to a scale of 1,500 people and a €50k annual power bill.

On the other hand, you’ll look in vain for any non-cellular options in the announcement of Ericsson’s IoT Accelerator, a big comprehensive IoT platform it says will launch in Q3.

Jasper Wireless reckons between 35 and 50% of OPEX in a typical enterprise IoT deployment is network service, and a typical ARPU is $1.25/machine/month, derived from 2MB of data and 19KB of SMS.

Facebook’s massive Q1, Twitter’s mediocre Q1; Yahoo! conundrum; robots, DNA, etc

It was Q1s week in the Valley, and Facebook had pretty much nothing but good news. Although it seemed to experience a post-Christmas slump, its operating income seems to have settled above $2bn/quarter, dominated by North American mobile advertising. Even more impressively, the company is throwing off cash, with $2.83bn of FCF in Q4 and $2.98bn in Q1. Although CAPEX has doubled year-on-year, their capital spending is covered 2.64 times by FCF.

Facebook achieved an ARPU for the US and Canada of $12/mo, really very impressive for an ad-funded business. That drops to $3.21/mo worldwide, with Europe at $3.87 and APAC at $1.54. Interestingly, though, the other lines of business from things like payments are shrinking, and Europe makes up basically all the shrinkage. That said, it’s a trivial amount of money in context.

Twitter, on the other hand, isn’t going anywhere fast. User growth is down to 3%, but in the key US market, it’s at zero. Its adjusted EBITDA is apparently up 73% at an adjusted EBITDA margin of 30%, but if you leave out the “adjusted” bits, the company is still losing money. Traffic-acquisition costs are burning a ferocious amount of revenue - 57% of the cash coming in the door - and CEO Jack Dorsey’s remark that logged-out advertising cost-per-click is roughly the same as logged-in (transcript here) seems to imply that all its data gathering is worthless.

A personal experience here: one Telco 2.0er has a personal Twitter account that recently went through the 1,000 follower mark. Since then, Twitter has suddenly started pestering him with e-mail about advertising on Twitter. So the finely honed machine learning algo is “if followers > 1000 then send more e-mail”.

Here’s a deep Bloomberg Businessweek piece about Yahoo! One of its biggest problems is that the stakes in Alibaba and Yahoo! Japan and the cash pile between them are so valuable that their valuations imply the rest of the company has a negative net worth. But they can’t cash out the stakes because that would trigger an enormous tax bill.

This is interesting - there might at last be some actual evidence of a boom in robotics, as opposed to hype, vapourware, and toys.

Theranos as a twisted creature of the contemporary VC ecosystem.

A preview of Google I/O.

“Ten million DNA strands, thanks.”

And here’s a found poem made from Quora questions in the “Silicon Valley” category. We recommend reciting it aloud for the full effect.

Amazon Q1s: AWS crushing it; Verizon exits public cloud; Juniper, ZTE Q1s; EE’s open network in a box

Amazon.com announced its Q1 results, and there’s a surprise - they declared a $513m net profit! Digging into the data, we find that North American retailing is profitable, but only just, with an operating margin of 3.5%, while international is losing money, and AWS is crushing it, at 24% on sales of $2.5bn. Who says there’s no money in public cloud?

Well, Verizon, for one. The carrier is getting out of public cloud, giving the customers two months to move their data, and only saying in public that it’s stopped accepting credit cards. Meanwhile, VZ has also got into a much geekier version of John Legere vs Marcelo Claure - last week it claimed to have the biggest OpenStack NFV deployment, and AT&T disagrees quite strongly. Also, AT&T’s telegraphing that it may be getting the OpenStack Superuser award.

An interesting quote about Amazon:

It’s the trib­al knowl­edge: How to build Cloud in­fras­truc­ture that works in a fal­li­ble, messy, un­sta­ble world.

Juniper’s Q1 was a bit sticky, down sharply sequentially and flat year-on-year. It is hoping for an uptick in US telecom capex later this year. Meanwhile, ZTE’s net profits were up 16% despite the US trade row.

EE is sponsoring a fascinating project under Facebook’s TIP, Lime Micro. This is an open-source SDR device that can be configured as a network-in-a-box for basically any radio interface technology, based on the Ubuntu Core IoT-focused distribution of Linux. EE wants to use them to extend 4G coverage in the Highlands and Islands, but also wants to distribute them to developers.

Carrier Q1s: AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, America Movil, Telefonica, Orange, Telenor, Ooredoo, China Tel

AT&T Mobility’s Q1 numbers are in. The total looks encouraging - 1.8m net-adds - but the breakdown is much less so. That number includes 1.5m M2M devices and 500k prepaid, so there has to be a loss in there somewhere, and it’s wholesale, which shed 400k net users (does anyone find these numbers rather round?). And the key retail postpaid segment was lacklustre, although at least positive at +129k, compared to +640k for VZW. Digging down further, to the retail postpaid smartphone core market, AT&T net-lost 363k of the highest-value users on the planet. Service ARPU, postpaid ARPU, and postpaid phone-only ARPU are also significantly down. That said, profitability is up, probably driven by a pause in CAPEX, less smartphone giveaway spending, and some cost cutting.

T-Mobile USA, meanwhile, caught a whale in Q1 +2.2m net-adds in total, of which +1.1m was retail postpaid. Of that, 877k were retail postpaid smartphones, and 164k were mobile broadband devices. There were also 807k prepaid net-adds and 373k wholesale. Postpaid ARPU was $46.21, still a few dollars below AT&T’s. Net income was $479m for the quarter, compared to a $63m loss the year before.

Sprint, meanwhile, announced it had snagged another $1.1bn in cash from device leasing and a $2bn loan from Mizuho Bank. It also had Q1 numbers, and they’re like this.

264k prepaid net losses, 655k M2M net-adds, and 56k retail postpaid net-adds left them up 447k net-adds, but with a substantial adverse compositional shift. Postpaid churn was 1.72%, prepaid 5.65%, close to the levels we saw at Leap and MetroPCS just before exit. Postpaid ARPU is down $5.36/user/month over the last 12 months, while prepaid is flat. The company made a $554m net-loss - the last time it was in profit was Q2 2014.

Compare, if you will, the release, in which everything is apparently perfect.

Meanwhile, Verizon has announced its “best, final offer” to the CWA and IBEW workers out on strike, while also cutting the strikers’ health insurance off and hiring more contractors.

America Movil may be feeling AT&T’s arrival in Mexico. Revenue in Mexico was off 2.6% in Q1 and group-wide EBITDA was off 17%, apparently as voice prices dropped sharply.

Telefonica, meanwhile, announced a return to growth in Spain. You may have heard this one before. Revenue was indeed up year-on-year, by 0.2%, while operating income was up 2%. That’s the “organic” version of both metrics; in reported terms, that would have been an 8.6% surge in revenue and a 1.2% drop in operating income, or price-slashing with a vengeance.

Orange had a similar story to tell. Revenue was up, for the third quarter in succession. However, it was only up by 0.6%, while EBITDA was flat. Very interestingly, Orange says their mobile service revenue in France was up ex-national roaming, but the national roaming business saw a “more pronounced downturn”, and as a result, it’s not. This means Free Mobile has rolled out its network faster than they were expecting. Who would have imagined that the Orange CEO would be complaining that Free were rolling out too quickly?

Interestingly, though, Orange’s Spanish opco reported revenue up 1.8%, which is more like it. Meanwhile, it looks like Zegona, the team of ex-Virgin Media execs who were looking to buy Yoigo, has missed a key deadline to come up with the cash. TeliaSonera may now throw the deal back to Masmovil, which Zegona outbid substantially.

Telenor’s revenues were up 5% in Q1. Even better, its net income was up 19%. It also reported 5.4m net adds. 42m of those are in India, where CEO Sigve Brekke threatened to pull out if they don’t get a break on spectrum. Telenor probably won’t do anything dramatic until the whole awkward business of the CFO and the general counsel resigning over corruption at Vimpelcom’s settled down, though.

China Telecom’s quarter was solid and unremarkable. So was Ooredoo’s.

The IPv6 specialist and transit price-disruptor Hurricane Electric is setting up its first points of presence in Africa. Dave Burstein reckons this will bring wholesale pricing in Africa down towards European and North American levels quickly.

And BT, having signed up to £5bn worth of football, is putting up its prices, both by inching up the fixed broadband bundle price-points, and by upping line rental and voice prices.

Charter/TWC/BrightHouse nearly there; Comcast Q1; AT&T broadband Q1 just positive

The Charter/TWC/Bright House deal is nearly done, as the US Department of Justice signs off and Lawman Wheeler commends the report & order to the other FCC commissioners. Wheeler’s conditions require “New Charter” to build out broadband to another 2 million homes, to refrain from imposing any kind of usage-based Internet pricing, and to refrain from any new video interconnect fees. Presuming the FCC commissioners don’t overrule Wheeler - he has, after all, a majority - that just leaves the California Public Utilities Commission, which votes on it next month.

Comcast, meanwhile, reported Q1 customer numbers including 438k broadband net-adds and 53k TV net-adds, a big surprise on the upside. ARPU was up 4%, as the uptake of faster broadband and the X1 video platform improved. They also saw 102k voice net-adds, although revenue from this fell 1.1%. At the top level, cable revenue was up 7%. Oh, and they bought Dreamworks.

Comcast Business, meanwhile, saw revenue up 17.5%, with an especially strong performance from the mid-sized enterprises they’re targeting. Not surprisingly, they’re suddenly opposed to special access regulation.

Technicolor says its modems are the ones in Comcast’s DOCSIS 3.1 gigabit trial. Arris seems to have missed out, but it did get in on the network side, with the E6000 converged edge router.

AT&T fixed-line Q1s are in, and the carrier saw 186k net-adds to its “IP-based broadband platform”. That turns out to mean FTTC/FTTP as opposed to DSL, so the obvious question is whether it has managed to get the net-add on FTTx above the net-loss on DSL. Although FTTx net-adds are slowing down (413k a year ago), the answer is that DSL net-lost 181k subscribers and therefore AT&T’s broadband subscriber net-adds are positive, 5k. Cable competition has been fearsome, and it looks like Google Fiber is also dragging down pricing.

On the other hand, it net-lost 382k U-Verse TV subscribers and net-added 328k DirecTV subscribers, so if the broadband domain has just managed to hit positive territory and the mobile domain is losing quality, the TV domain of the quad-play is soundly negative to the tune of 54k net losses.

Verizon, Telstra, KT, and EE have formed an alliance to promote LTE Broadcast. SoundCloud has launched a Spotify-like paid option. Video mixing and editing in JavaScript, like HTML5 WebAudio but with video.

European 700MHz drafts; roaming caps hit; FCC 3.5GHz rules; TalkTalk’s femto wheeze

The European Commission has published draft regulations on how to open up the 700MHz band on a Europe-wide basis, including carve-outs for broadcasting and annoying corner-cases such as wireless microphones and the like. This kicks off the European legislative process that will eventually produce a Euro-regulation; not before time.

The FCC, meanwhile, has signed off a complex set of rules for shared use of the 3.5GHz band.

Meanwhile, the EU roaming price caps have gone into force.

Nobody’s idea of a surprise here, after 3UK/O2 was spiked - the EU is likely to object to the 3 Italia/Wind deal.

TalkTalk, it turns out, has a low-power licence for the old DECT guard band at 1780MHz, and it wants to alter the licence and use it for 4G femtocells. There’s only 3.3MHz of it, so the output is a bit underwhelming (16Mbps at 60ft), but presumably they’re either thinking the WiFi will do the heavy lifting, or else targeting not-spots.

CityFibre is planning a major fibre deployment using BT ducts under the new Duct & Pole Access product.

WhatsApp banned in Brazil, again; SWIFT hacked; Apple services out of China; Internet of Targets

A Brazilian judge has ordered WhatsApp to suspend its service for 72 hours, or hand over data it says it can’t decrypt. Some Brazilian politicians are pushing for a law to support this sort of thing, rather oddly claiming that the US does this routinely.

Meet Ran$umbin, a one-stop platform for everything you need to earn money from your ransomware attack.

You’ve heard of Swift on Security, now what about Security on SWIFT? The banks’ private network got hacked.

China does not like Apple’s services.

Samsung’s SmartThings IoT platform is horribly vulnerable. Someone in comments says it’s the Internet of Targets.

And, er, Google seems to have millions of Londoners’ medical records.

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