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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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