LatAm, Title II, Voice 2.0, Internet of Things: Telco 2.0 News Review

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Oi-Portugal Telecom - things become more serious; AT&T buys into Iusacell

So Altice, aka the holding company for Numericable and now SFR, went ahead and put down a bid of €7bn for Portugal Telecom. Technically, PTel is part of the way through merging with Brazilian operator Oi, and Oi is not happy about it.

Oi has had to put up with a lot since it decided to get involved with PTel - first there was the whole sorry business where PTel lost almost a billion euros of the joint treasury in the wreck of Banco Espiritu Santo, then the CEO had to resign, and then there was this. In case you're wondering, the Altice bid specifically excludes any of the investments in one of Espiritu Santo's special purpose vehicles PTel sunk its cash into.

Now, as if it wasn't enough, here comes Africa's richest woman, Isabel dos Santos, also leaping in with a bid for the carrier. (Don't think of some sort of bottom-of-the-pyramid entrepreneur here, by the way - she's the daughter of oil-rich Angola's dictator.) Oi is now even less happy.

"Having been informed about the launched takeover bid ... Oi's board considers inopportune any change in the previously agreed terms of definitive contracts signed with Portugal Telecom SGPS on Sept. 8 2014,"

There's also a bid from at least one private-equity fund lurking out there. This Reuters story details some of the financials. Trading in PTel is suspended.

Elsewhere, Argentina auctioned $2bn worth of LTE spectrum in four bands and may be getting a new MNO as a result, and TIM Brasil, the MNO everybody wants to buy, saw its EBITDA rise 6% in Q3 on strong data revenues, up 23% year on year.

We also note that although there are now more mobile broadband than fixed broadband users in Mexico, the number is still growing - although perhaps that's not quite as surprising as all that, seeeing as total mobile broadband revenues have overtaken fixed broadband revenues in Spain.

In Mexico, AT&T has acquired Iusacell, spending $2.5bn to take control of a 3G network with 8.6m subscribers, 70% population coverage, and 25MHz of 800MHz spectrum. Interestingly, seeing how TV-focused they've been in the US, they're going to sell the company's pay-TV assets back to its existing shareholders, perhaps not wanting to compete with anything DirecTV might do south of the border.

World wireless CapEx; UK national roaming; Ericsson Radio Dot; spaceships

At the end of the press release on Iusacell, AT&T quietly points out that it has done all the 4G and FTTH roll-out it wants to, and the CapEx associated with "Project VIP" is now going to taper off. It's no surprise, then, that another report thinks wireless CapEx is slowing down. ABI Research puts a number of 5.9% annual growth on 2014, a considerable slowdown over 2013, although at least it's growth. This spending will be concentrated on Latin America, Asia, and Africa, as the North American 4G rollouts complete.

Interestingly, they suggest that small-cells have quite a bit of room to grow. $37bn of world CapEx will go into traditional macro-cell RANs this year and $2.1bn into small cells. However, there are signs that networks might be adding quite a lot of them - microwave backhaul spending is up 40%. At the levels of capacity we see today, macrosites really need fibre, so this may be a signal that operators are getting the infrastructure in place to deploy more small cells that need to be reached by radio links.

Speaking of small cells, The Mobile Network has an interesting article on how it took Ericsson so long to get its Radio Dot technology into a real product, and why they went with something closer to a distributed antenna system rather than an integrated small cell.

Ericsson's Johan Wibergh, EVP Networks, argues that they needed time to convince the market that the Dot could work, which is hardly a recommendation. Their case for the Dot is that it has all the features of their RBS macrocells, because it's really a macrocell baseband chip, but it doesn't cost as much as a small cell set-up, because the dots contain only radios rather than a whole computer. They're also against edge computing, and Wibergh argues Intel Atom chips are too expensive.

The UK government has a consultation out which goes beyond national roaming to involve quite a lot of new ideas, including permitting MVNOs to do on-the-fly provisioning, something like the so-called Dutch solution where customers can get their own Mobile Network Code and have roaming agreements with as many operators as they like.

At the same time, it's releasing another big chunk of ex-defence spectrum, in the 2.3 and 3.4GHz bands. The target date is late 2015 or early 2016. Strangely, given the new concern about "notspots", there is no population coverage requirement.

Here's an interview with Dana Pressman Tobak, CEO of Hyperoptic, about their further deployment plans. The most interesting points are probably that the rule-of-thumb minimum scale for one of their builds is now down to 50 homes, and in fact there's one with only 18, and further that broadband is the "driver and enabler" of the business and TV is a secondary concern. Also, they are using precisely no BT ducts.

"Fibre to the press release", a useful phrase and one we'll probably hear more of.

This was predicted at the time, notably by Xavier Niel: Numericable is pulling out of SFR's planned FTTH builds, on the principle that it's happy with its own cable infrastructure and doesn't see the need for fibre.

And here goes another of those plans for a big network of low-earth orbit satellites. This one has backing from Greg Wyler, formerly of O3b Networks and Google, and Elon Musk, the PayPal billionaire and SpaceX founder. Musk's got a rocket and Wyler's got a satellite - what could possibly go wrong? The answer may lurk in the fact Wyler is now an ex-Googler, having brought his satellite-ISP idea to Google in the first place.

AT&T's Stephenson vs. Title II...Title II wins; Inside the Netflix/Verizon dispute

So AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson appealed directly to the FCC chairman not to reclassify broadband under Title II. Then President Obama did the opposite.

Well, if anything's a first-class regulatory event this must be it.

Is it anything to do with this scoop at Ars Technica? It turns out that during the Netflix/Comcast (or Netflix/Verizon) dispute, transit provider Cogent was applying preferential quality of service to its retail customers (in context, businesses that used it as their ISP) at the expense of its wholesale transit customers (i.e other carriers and content providers). To put it another way, when so many people thought Netflix should pay to deliver its packets, it was actually the carrier Netflix was paying to deliver packets that wasn't delivering them.

Then, when Netflix and Comcast came to an agreement, Cogent put speed-test measurement traffic into the preferential group, giving the impression of an immediate and dramatic improvement. None of this is even close to complying with the Open Internet Order.

US price wars grind on, Sprint suffers; DTAG, Zain Q3s, Free coverage plans

Xavier Niel has let slip some data points about Free's mobile roll-out. He claims that they have already passed their target of 75% population coverage on 3G, required by January 2015, and that the new target is 95% by end-2016, whereas the regulatory requirement is 90% by 2018. Further, he claims that they already have 50% population coverage on 4G.

If this is true, the end of the national roaming agreement with Orange is in sight - the obligation to provide national roaming runs out once Free reaches the regulatory coverage target. Niel says he won't miss it, as it is "plagued by saturation problems". He also says that he doesn't believe any further consolidation will be allowed by the regulator. Interestingly, it also turns out that France has more public WiFi per capita than any other country.

Deutsche Telekom's Q3s are out, and "all strategy-related trends are clearly on an upward trajectory". Well, except for net profit, which was down 2.8% year-on-year. Zain's Q3 and YTD numbers were similarly down a tad, although an EBITDA margin of 42% is nothing to complain about.

Sprint announced Q3s, they weren't good. In fact they were bad enough to drag down Softbank's groupwide results. Perhaps the worst detail was that monthly churn in postpaid is now over 2%. As a result the Softbank EVP and CTO, Junichi Miyakawa is going to be Sprint's Technical COO.

Bharti Airtel's data revenues were up 73% in Q3. Fascinatingly, they've dusted off WAP, in order to set up a basic, introductory Internet offering for featurephone users.

And MTN's CEO would like regulators to let him buy out some other MNOs, as Uganda probably doesn't need six of them.

VoLTE moves into deployment; Tropo in the cloud; Microsoft, Android, and WebRTC

The iPhone 6 is driving a surge in the uptake of VoLTE, and a plunge in 3G circuit-switched voice calls, says RAN analytics company Newfield Wireless. In fact you could make something similar out around the news.

Verizon Wireless and AT&T announced in a joint statement that they expect to turn up VoLTE interoperability some time next year. T-Mobile USA's John Legere was typically sarcastic about the fact they weren't invited.

That said, this blogger has tried VZW's VoLTE product and has nothing good to say about it, complaining of dropped calls and problems with 3G/4G interworking. Notably, it can't fall back to 3G voice, and the media gateway used for interworking with the PSTN and PLMN is introducing noise. They compare it unfavourably with both T-Mobile's VoWLAN and over-the-top mobile SIP.

Last week Microsoft announced that Skype would henceforth support Object-RTC, their flavour of WebRTC. Chris Kranky argues that quite soon, Internet Explorer may actually be ahead of Chrome for WebRTC implementation as a result.

Tsahi Levent-Levi points out that the vendors who have rushed to announce "ORTC support" after this are considerably less keen to say that ORTC is even less finished as a standard than WebRTC 1.0, which isn't.

Meanwhile, here's a post comparing the Google and Ericsson implementations of WebRTC.

201411-WebRTCorg-vs-OpenWebRTCio.png

Android 5.0, codename Lollipop, is out now and reviewed here. The highlight? WebRTC is now supported in the Webview embedded browser.

KPN has deployed the first cloud-based PTT service in Europe, using Kodiak's solution. Apple now lets you explicitly pull your phone number out of iMessage. Chris Kranky is joining &yet, a real-time Web-focused startup.

And you can now launch a private instance of Tropo's platform in your Amdocs cloud.

MNOs swing to the cloud; Google containers are here

Here's a good Wireless Watch piece on the way mobile infrastructure vendors are facing up to the cloud and the completion of North American 4G roll-outs. Both Nokia Networks and Ericsson are thinking in terms of software, whether for SDN or applications, but Nokia is betting on distributing processing power right down to the cellsite whereas Ericsson expects it to be centralised in huge data centres.

Google has refreshed its Compute Engine offering. The biggest story is that their Kubernetes container-deployment system is now generally available under the name Google Container Engine as a cloud-based API.

They also moved Managed VMs in App Engine into beta status, cut prices on most services, and pushed a lot of new features. The full blog is here. Note that a lot of the changes involve interconnection and peering - you can now set up direct peering with Google cloud services, hook up a VPN, or use one of a group of telcos to reach Google over a dedicated link.

Lenovo mobile sales disappoint; Amazon Echo; Deploying Nest

Lenovo announced results for its Q2, and despite their impressively shiny shiny gadgets (anyone remember the big statue at MWC?) sales have been disappointing in mobile. Although shipments were up 38%, making them 4th in the world before the Moto acquisition closed, sales were down 6% year-on-year by value.

BlackBerry's CEO, John Chen, says the company will be concentrating on a small portfolio of phones in future.

Filings in the lawsuit between GT Advanced and Apple suggest that being a supplier to Apple is a hard dollar.

IDC reckons the Internet of Things market will be worth $3.04 trillion by 2020, from $1.3tn in 2013.

If anything like that is going to happen, we'll need more deals like this. Utility provider Electric Ireland is offering Google's Nest smart-home kit to its customers on a two-year plan, with no up-front charge, presumably so that power savings over the contract life will pay for them.

Here's the Amazon Echo, a device that responds to voice queries. And a group of computer scientists told the US Supreme Court that copyright on APIs is evil.

Beware hotel Wi-Fi; gov.uk's disruptive ID plans

Kaspersky has identified a pattern of hacker attacks on travelling executives who log on to hotel WiFi, and get hit with trojans masquerading as software updates.

Nikka is a hardware crypto device that plugs into any server.

And four years after the UK's hugely controversial national identity register was scrapped, the government is rolling out a very different, disruptive, federated, privacy-respecting single sign-on system.