America-T-Movil, BT Cellnet 2.0, PSTN transition, Free's cloud - Telco 2.0 News Review

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America T-Movil? AT&T after Nextel.mx, TI after Oi, Oi wants to sell PTel to Altice

Will America Movil make a bid for T-Mobile USA? Deutsche Telekom CEO Timotheus Höttges mentioned them in a list of hypothetical buyers that also included DISH and also Comcast, but denied being in any talks or indeed really wanting to sell any time soon. America Movil, of course, faces the arrival of real competition in Mexico and is keen to diversify. It also owns pre-pay MVNO Tracfone, which is under heavy pressure from T-Mobile's price cuts.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, meanwhile, has denied any interest in the assets America Movil has to sell in Mexico, while confirming that the carrier is very interested indeed in Mexico. Rather than the America Movil assets, AT&T is keen on buying up Nextel Mexico, whose 800MHz spectrum has become more valuable in the context of LTE.

In Brazil, meanwhile, Telecom Italia's CEO, Marco Patuano, has come down in favour of a bid for Oi. He envisages combining Oi and TIM Brasil, with TI holding a controlling stake, and argues that giving Oi a fixed network and cutting out duplication would amount to savings of $7.8 billion to $11.7 billion. TI, he thought, might have to raise $2.5bn in new capital to fund the deal, although it also sounds like TIM is about to sell its towers, kicking in $1.1bn from that transaction alone. TI denies that it might need to raise any capital.

Oi, meanwhile, is supporting the bid for Portugal Telecom by French cableco Altice. They are much less keen on the bid for a different PTel holding company by Isabel dos Santos's company Terra Pelengrin, which they say would:

overcomplicate its ongoing restructuring process

To put it another way, Oi has clearly tired of the whole mess and wants to get PTel off its hands as quickly as possible, in order to deal with the Brazilian situation.

Altice has quietly become seriously acquisitive. Having bought SFR and chucked in a bid for PTel, it's now making noises about bidding for Bouygues and taking France back to three MNOs. What would the regulator make of that?

Meanwhile, Telefonica launched its Tuenti sub-brand/social network in Argentina, having already rolled it out in Spain, Mexico, and Peru. It's a sign of the times that although Tuenti started as a Facebook-clone social networking app, one of its main selling points is now that it offers unlimited WhatsApp.

The former head of Chile's regulator says that if his former colleagues don't get their skates on and licence the 700MHz band, the mobile networks will "collapse" in the first half of 2016.

Ecuador has a new submarine cable.

Surf the Net. Surf the BT Cellnet; UK operators challenge BT infrastructure access; Airwave 2.0 up for grabs

Telefonica may be about to sell O2 UK, right back to its original parent, BT. This time, thanks to technological progress, you really will be able to "Surf the Net. Surf the BT Cellnet". Snark aside, the back story here is that Telefonica has fallen behind schedule on its plans to reduce its enormous debts. O2 UK is an attractive asset, BT is both shy a mobile network and relatively unleveraged, so there's your deal. In the event it happens, Telefonica wants to keep 20% of the combined company and sign a "strategic alliance" with BT.

That would probably put the kibosh on BT's plans for a Free-like, small-cells and WiFi centric, mobile operator in the chunk of 2.6GHz spectrum it acquired last year. Faultline argues that the UK is heading for a French-style quad-play disruption, but they were writing before the Telefonica-BT deal broke. The suggestion that TalkTalk might pull something disruptive is interesting, though, as is the idea that Vodafone is moving towards a major commitment to fibre. It's not just that Vodafone could sell retail broadband and TV down it - it's also that Vodafone is in need of more fibre to the cell to compete with 3UK's 90%+ coverage with fibre backhaul, as this chart from our Differentiated Mobile Data Executive Briefing shows.

Screenshot from 2014-11-24 13:02:35.png

Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao is distinctly cool about buying content, as he might well be after that chart, although he's clearly worried that BT football spending will drag them in.

Last week, BT announced that it wanted to fold BT Wholesale into Openreach. This week, a who's who of UK altnets, ISPs, and mobile operators wrote to OFCOM protesting what they call a BT monopoly and demanding that OFCOM force BT to let them install cable in BT passive infrastructure (ducts, poles etc) and unbundle links to businesses (in context, Gigabit Ethernet backhaul links) as well as retail ones.

Network Rail, the state entity that manages the UK's railway infrastructure, owns an extensive fibre-optic network, and also a variety of mobile and voice systems. They have just applied to start offering dark fibre to customers outside the railways, notably rural broadband projects.

OFCOM, meanwhile, has announced that it expects to get the 700MHz band available by 2022 or perhaps 2020.

The Home Office, meanwhile, is looking at contracts for the emergency services' future radio network. The £2.9bn contract for the existing Airwave service, a TETRA network originally built by O2, runs out in 2016. It's fair to say it's been one of those procurement fiascos - the 2G network came into service in 2005-2006, just in time to be hopelessly obsolete, after years of wrangling between the different services about their requirements, and it fell behind the demand for bandwidth very quickly. Unfortunately, the lucky bidder will have to deal with both the government and the new Police ICT company, although nobody's quite sure how this organisation will work.

Meanwhile, the Police 101 and NHS 111 not-quite-emergency phone numbers were down this weekend after something went wrong at Vodafone UK. BT's outsourced Yahoo! e-mail was also outaged, after a submarine cable cut.

Are the towercos the new monopolists? FCC takes up PSTN transition; AWS-3 explodes; against "competition vs investment"

We mentioned the importance of fibre-to-the-cell. Here's Adtran CEO Ronan Kelly discussing how operators with FTTH assets can make it part of their business as well as using it themselves.

Ironically, as more and more operators sell off their towers, the differentiation between mobile operators may end up being more about their fixed fibre networks than their radio networks. TalkingPointz points out that Verizon Wireless is the latest US operator to look at selling its towers, and like the others, the buyer is Crown Castle. From the operator's point of view, this is just a financial choice - towers can be financed with equity or with debt, or the problem can be given to someone else in exchange for rent.

For the rest of us, though, doesn't this increasing consolidation of infrastructure ownership start to look like an unregulated monopoly, or alternatively, an unregulated infrastructure-sharing alliance? How long before the regulators get involved?

The regulators have quite a bit of business on their plate at the moment. This week, the FCC voted to take up two proposals regulating the transition of the PSTN to all-IP and the future of the 911 service. Chairman Wheeler asserted some principles in this blog post. Harold Feld explains here, and argues that AT&T ought to be pleased.

Meanwhile, the AWS-3 spectrum auction has turned into a bidding war, pushing up to a record $34bn in bids. Of course, we'll all pay for that in our phone bills.

The UK government may be moving towards supporting net neutrality, while the European legislation seems to be getting watered down.

Benoit Felten takes issue with the idea, floated by Commissioner Oettinger, that operators should be allowed to have a monopoly in under-served areas. He argues instead for stronger structural separation, going all the way to the New Zealand model, and points out that there is no evidence that there is a trade-off between competition and investment. We found something similar in Differentiated Mobile Data - all the three breakaway mobile operators (3UK, Telenor Sweden, and Free Mobile) are challengers rather than incumbents. And in the US, independent telephone companies are much more likely to invest in gigabit fibre.

French regulator ARCEP has published a major study on usage of the access network. Update your CAGR estimates: ARCEP puts annual data traffic growth at 20% on wireline and 60% on wireless.

WhatsApp encrypts all traffic; new drive to secure the whole web; naughty telco, meet naughty cops

WhatsApp is now encrypted from end to end with perfect-forward secrecy. Specifically, the new client is a wrapper around WhisperSystems' open-source TextSecure client, already popular among the security-conscious, and which provides encryption all the way from user to user. This of course means that Facebook can't read the traffic or insert ads into it, although as the system is client-server, they do know that the communication occurred. Exactly how this fits their business model is unclear, but it suffices to note that this is almost certainly the biggest single crypto deployment ever.

Cisco, Akamai, Mozilla, the EFF, and Michigan University are starting a new SSL certificate authority, intended to be a model for others and also to provide an extremely simple and free way of getting more websites to deploy HTTPS. They hope to launch in summer 2015 and to eventually make it possible to get rid of unencrypted HTTP completely.

A group of New Mexico cops have been caught sending fake court orders to telcos demanding subscriber data, having never gone to court to get a warrant. The following operators complied with the phony documents: Verizon
AT&T, T-Mobile, Commnet, Cricket (since acquired by AT&T), Level 3 Communications, MetroPCS, Sprint.

Project Nigella was the codename for GCHQ's cooperation with Cable & Wireless, then with Vodafone, to tap a major submarine cable. The figure of "trillions of gigabytes" seems to be wrong.

Carnage in the Sprint boardroom; China Mobile 4G network plans; Vodafone partners with new African 4G builder

Heads roll at Sprint. The CMO who invented "Framily" plans, Jeff Hallock, is out. So is the president of enterprise solutions, Matt Carter, and the head of corporate communications, Bill White. White is replaced by former AT&T PR, Doug Michelman, and a new post of Chief Experience Officer is created for Bob Johnson, until now president of retail and CIO. They're also hiring a chief procurement officer, IT consultant Frank Boyer.

China Mobile EVP Li Zhengmao says that the carrier hopes to achieve gigabit speeds in 4G, rather than waiting for 5G to materialise. He pointed out that since 4G deployment began, they had already pushed the peak throughput from 14Mbps to 110. Fortunately, the cost per bit is estimated at being one-third what it was on 2G and one-fourth what it was on 3G, interestingly suggesting that progress went into reverse on 3G. (You've heard of that difficult second album - it was that difficult third world-wide mobile network standard.)

Axiata reported Q3 net profits down 11.3%, although it blamed this on exchange rates.

Afrimax, which is planning to launch TD-LTE networks around southern Africa, is going to be a Vodafone network partner.

MTN Uganda has 7 million financial services users and 50,000 agents, and it's using Ericsson's Converged Wallet solution.

Tele2's own network is going live in January in the Netherlands.

Huawei 4G plans oddly like China Mobile's; Alcatel's LTE in the sky; Qualcomm guidance

Huawei's Ryan Ding, president of products and solutions, said that they would be rolling out more technology enhancements to their 4G products in 2016, but wouldn't call it 5G. Perhaps 4.5G, or 4GX, or whatever - as he quite rightly says, it's a marketing term. He's targeting a gigabit, just like China Mobile. It's as if there was some sort of plan.

Meanwhile, Marcus Weldon, Alcatel-Lucent's CTO, argues that small cells are the only solution, basing this on the well-known fact that most capacity comes from subdivision.

Alcatel is working with Inmarsat on a hybrid terrestrial-satellite network it hopes will provide 4G connectivity on aircraft over Europe. It consists of ground stations and a new satellite, all working in the S-band between 2 and 2.2GHz.

Qualcomm expects "only" 8 to 10% revenue growth for the next few years, what with the Chinese anti-trust and the topping-out of smartphone shipments in the US.

And a sheep farmer in South Africa has caught a Google Loon balloon.

Disappointment at Samsung; revival at BlackBerry; M2M; WebRTC; Free's cloud

Samsung's Galaxy S5 is proving a disappointment: 12 million have sold in the time it took to house 16 million S4s, and there is much angst at Samsung as a result. The company is considering re-organising, but in truth a lot of things are on hold until the hospitalised boss returns.

Perhaps the problem is that the S5 isn't a product so much as a thousand features flying in close formation. The concept was basically "like the S4, but with more of everything", after all. Compare this strongly positive review of the BlackBerry Passport, which has a very strong product identity and user profile, and which BlackBerry is struggling to keep in stock because they sell as they come in.

If your needs are even more niche than the Passport, you might try supporting the Jolla tablet, which is being crowdfunded.

AT&T has signed up Rockwell Automation to use its global SIM and M2M apps platform. ABI Research thinks M2M platforms are growing 28% year-on-year, but that will only get them to $1.4bn by 2020.

Jasper Wireless may be preparing to IPO, targeting an $150m valuation. There's an interview with the founder here.

The great debate about WebRTC video codecs is now over, at least for a while. The IETF working group has reached agreement, roughly on the lines that anything a human is likely to interact with has to support both VP8 and H.264, while anything that doesn't rise to the level of a full user agent can pick one. This gives Google and Mozilla most of what they wanted, Cisco and Microsoft some of what they wanted, and makes things fairly simple for apps developers. Smaller browsers have lost out in that they might not be able to use the Cisco-offered free H.264 licence.

Tropo's Adam Kalsey presented at the recent TADS conference on voice and the cloud:

Here's a rundown of some recent WebRTC platform startups. It's interesting how many of them started off as original Voice 2.0 companies (Fring, Rebtel, and Digium are all in there).

If Xavier Niel's merry men at Iliad built a cloud, you just know it would be awesome. Their hosting arm has done, and it's interesting - based on a lot of low-power ARM chips and entirely bare-metal, sans hypervisors. In some ways, it's managed hosting that looks like a cloud.

A really high performance distributed messaging system.

And it's over - after 10 years, Yahoo! takes over as Firefox's default search engine and as a result, major revenue source.