Vodafone, Liberty Global, 5G, Spectrum, Wire: Telco 2.0 News Review

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Last week saw our Digital Asia 2014 event. A big 'thank you' to our sponsors, the speakers and the 220+ participants who made it both valuable and enjoyable.

As an early preview of findings, the brainstorm found that developing innovation skills was the top priority in the region, followed by improving the technological infrastructure, while regulation and under-developed early-stage investment communities were the biggest barriers to overcome. We'll report back more in coming weeks.

Next: a diary date: OnFuture Arabia, 21-22 April 2015, Dubai. Please email us at contact@telco2.net if you'd like to know more or get involved.

Vodafone denies bidding for Liberty Global; might bid for Metroweb; 5G visions; EE rural small cells

At an analyst meeting this week, Vodafone tried to convince everyone there's nothing in this Liberty Global bid talk. A deal would give the carrier a huge broadband network, plus content, and fix its fibre backhaul problem, but it would also be hugely expensive and problematic from a regulatory point of view.

This is of course being driven by the BT-O2 story. St├ęphane Richard of Orange seems to know something about it, saying that BT would make an announcement "before Christmas".

Sky, meanwhile, has hired investment bankers to advise it on what to do.

On the other hand, Vodafone certainly looks interested in Italian fibre operator, Metroweb. They've written to the regulator opposing any suggestion that Telecom Italia might acquire it, and suggesting instead that a joint venture between all the other operators could buy it. This is, of course, an old idea - an FTTH joint venture in Italy has been tried several times before.

In Spain, where Vodafone now owns a cable network, Orange is buying a fixed operator, Jazztel. The Euro-regulator is not convinced, and thinks that this would be a major reduction in competition for the triple-play market. As a result, they are opening a full inquiry, which must report before the 24th April 2015.

The regulator will also have to have a look at the merger of Telenor and TeliaSonera's Danish operations, as after all, the combined company would be a lovely little 40% of the market.

Ukko Mobile has launched in Finland, with the world's first 450MHz LTE network. They're planning to be mostly a wholesale or B2B operator, but also to offer a prepaid wireless broadband product for summerhouses. Now that's niche.

Telekom Srbija is looking at buying a bank to help them deliver mobile banking.

Back in the UK, here's an interesting writeup of EE's new small-cell product. EE is planning to use small cells to fill in notspots in its rural network in a targeted deployment. The technology comes from startup Parallel Wireless, and it works like this - one of a group of small cells sets up a link to a macro-cell over the existing 1800MHz 4G network, and then the others connect up as a mesh network operating in unlicensed spectrum to reach it. Those cells then begin providing service in the 1800 band. The master node acts as a virtual S1 interface, forwarding signalling between the small cells and the core network, and coordinates between the small cells and the macrocell on the X2 interface.

That might be a better idea than national roaming, which rears its head again. Vodafone and EE have both written to the UK government objecting to the idea and proposing different solutions, notably making it easier to get planning permission for new sites and even for the deployment of new equipment on existing ones. It also turns out that each site under the Mobile Infrastructure Project requires 19 different signatures, which may help to explain why it's only managed to roll out one site a year so far.

Virgin Media customers have been reporting problems reaching YouTube, which seems to be a problem with Google Cache servers deployed in Virgin Media's network, as it's possible to work around it by blacklisting them. 3UK says it's got 48% 4G coverage and it's about to start deploying 800MHz LTE.

And here's an interesting piece on the status of European 5G research. It seems the EU is painfully aware that 4G investment was much faster in the US and Asia, and is hoping to leapfrog into the next generation. A divide has opened up between the Europeans and the South Koreans, with the Koreans concentrating on much faster air interfaces and delivery by 2018, while the Europeans are more interested in better indoor coverage, device-to-device and Internet of Things applications, and lower latency. Here's a nice chart illustrating the EU's priorities:

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US spectrum - AWS-3, future of DISH, refarming; VZW small cells; fixed-wireless; against Comcast-TWC

The AWS-3 auction is still pushing prices higher, reaching $41bn this week, but there's been no advance on 42 of the licences for five rounds now, and only 12 are left on the table, of which five got more than one bid in this round. The "big" economic-area licences are mostly gone, and we're picking over the ones chopped up into communications market areas now. Still, the FCC set off with a reserve price of $10bn, so at least somebody's happy.

Here's an argument that DISH, still with its 2GHz spectrum burning a hole in Charlie "Satellite Cowboy" Ergen's pocket, plus whatever it can salvage from LightSquared and its purchases in the AWS-3 auction, might launch a wholesale and M2M-focused network. A problem here is that most of DISH's projected holdings are downlink-only, which is suited to the subset of M2M applications that involve pushing out heavy content (Amazon Whispernet, digital signage, in-car entertainment). But that's a subsegment, and one carriers are bitterly fighting over. Also, if you're proposing another wholesale network scheme for that spectrum block, you better have a good reason why it will work this time.

Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, has begun testing LTE in the 1900MHz band it uses for 3G CDMA service. They're also planning to roll out some LTE-A features next year, including carrier aggregation between the 700MHz and 1700 or 2100MHz bands, and later the 1900MHz as well, enhanced inter-cell coordination, and 4x4 MIMO on the cell site.

They're also getting into small cells, with SpiderCloud's solution. VZW has so far been pretty sceptical of small cells, so this is significant news. So far, they're planning to use SpiderCloud's technology to cover big enterprises' premises.

NTelos is selling up some of its markets to T-Mobile, which is mostly interested in the 1900MHz spectrum involved. It seems like they're keeping the 2.5GHz fixed-wireless network they operate as part of DISH's fixed-wireless plus satellite TV offering - here's a Canadian operator claiming to provide 25Mbps rural fixed-wireless, which is the sort of thing the US telcos would like to do in copper country.

The FCC has restarted the "clock" on the AT&T-DirecTV and Comcast-TWC deals, setting it to Days 70 and 85 out of the 180-day deadline respectively. The problem was that it was very difficult to get access to the terms of business between the various companies and content rightsholders. How difficult that might be is shown by this row between the FCC and AT&T. After AT&T said they would stop at 2 million FTTP homes under Title II, the FCC demanded to see what their deployment plans were. AT&T released the documents, but redacted all the "confidential information", which meant everything. A footnote, however, gave away that they were still counting U-Verse FTTC as "fibre".

Meanwhile, a promotion under which AT&T was offering 15GB of wireless data for the price of 10 has ended early, presumably after they realised how many people would take them up on it. A new coalition is launched to oppose Comcast-TWC. And here's the beginning of a beautiful friendship - telco lobbyists hurry to develop a relationship with new legislators.

Chinese operators form towers JV; Facebook and the Chinese regulator; Iran, Brazil, and India

Chinese MNOs have formed a joint towers company, unimaginatively called China Tower, which will build a million towers for their shared use. It is without doubt the biggest single infrastructure sharing project.

The head of China's Cyberspace Administration visits Google, Apple, and especially Facebook, where Mark Zuckerberg makes sure to be seen with a copy of the Chinese president Xi Jinping's latest book.

In India, Reliance Communications has outsourced its network to Ericsson Professional Services, including running 150,000km of fibre, the 2G, 3G, and CDMA mobile networks, and both residential and enterprise fixed access in 22 circles.

Telefonica's Brazilian opco turns on 4G in another 16 cities, while Equinix's new Rio data centre is the first Level III certified DC in Brazil and the first to accept containerised modules.

MTN Irancell claims to have 50% 4G population coverage.

Wire, Janus Friis' new app; Max Telecom's OTT voice; more WebRTC

Here's a new Voice 2.0 app - Wire, which provides for telephony, messaging, and content sharing in a conversation-focused app. Skype co-founder Janus Friis, plus some of the original teams behind projects like the Opus codec, are responsible. The two things that stand out? First of all, it doesn't bother with video calls. Second, it's really all about the UX and interaction design.

Dan York tries it out; Hacker News discusses it, mostly the encryption (SRTP for voice, TLS for everything else, with the data living in the European Union).

Tsahi Levent-Levi rounds up the current adaptive-radiation of messaging apps, and has another go at making sense of the WebRTC signalling debate.

Max, a Bulgarian operator, is launching its own OTT voice service. 3UK has quietly started offering virtual mobile numbers and bulk interconnection.

Using Twilio to alert volunteers to Indonesian forest fires.

Carrier WLAN growing; Apple VoWLAN a catalyst; Cisco/Arista spat; mesh beacons

The Wireless Broadband Alliance, not surprisingly, thinks carrier WiFi is a big deal. They reckon the fleet of public hotspots will hit 8m this year and reach 12.23m in 2018, and claim that some mobile operators have seen as much as 50% offload from their cellular networks when they deploy WLAN in high-traffic areas. Here's a chart from their report, which might not be the most helpful you've ever seen.

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Interestingly, here's another report, which thinks we're on the cusp of a massive carrier buildout, catalysed by the arrival of voice-over-WiFi in the iPhone. Cisco is also keen on VoWiFi.

Speaking of Cisco, they're suing Arista Networks, a company run by ex-Cisco people, for copying the command-line interface on their routers. This is important because it's wired into muscle memory for engineers around the world, and making a new networking device sell is much easier if it understands the patter. Arista hits back here.

We all know about iBeacons and Bluetooth Low Energy now. Here's a startup with beacons that mesh-network together, so they can reach your LAN from difficult places.

And the New America Foundation is offering grants for international deployments of the Commotion mesh-WLAN technology.

Copyright wars, again - BMG vs Cox; new mobile CDN; Psy breaks YouTube

Two US music industry companies are suing Cox because they didn't immediately terminate the accounts of people their management company alleged were copyright violators. The EFF points out that the Digital Millenium Copyright Act doesn't require any such thing.

Here's a writeup of an interesting new CDN provider focused on mobile networks. Rev uses a machine-learning model to pick which optimisations it applies to users and content sources, and also caches third-party resources websites request (this can make up half or more of a typical page).

Slingbox points out that TV-Everywhere services still don't offer the features that Slingbox does.

And YouTube has a slight problem with Psy's Gangnam Style - the database field that counts page views is a signed 32-bit integer, and now it's been viewed more than 2,147,483,647 times, the biggest number that can be so represented. As a result, the counter rolled back like the odometer on a dodgy car, back to counting down from -2,147,483,647. They have updated the software to use a 64-bit integer instead.

Mozilla diversifies its revenue; Google pivots back to the mobile Web; Sharp and YotaPhone gadgets; NSA wants your roaming agreements

Mozilla recently swapped Google for Yahoo! as default search engine and primary revenue source. This is actually a wider strategy - although Google money has been crucial to Mozilla's history, it's recently succeeded in diversifying its sources of cash quite substantially. Yahoo! is paying for default search, but Cisco is also now a supporter via its release of the H.264 codec, and so is Telefonica, both via its support for FirefoxOS and its ownership of Tokbox, the platform for Firefox Hello video chat.

Google seems to be upping its investment in mobile Web dramatically, having traditionally concentrated on native and Java apps in Android. Now, however, they're re-entering the mobile Web performance arms race, after iOS 8 deployed a much improved browser engine, and investing in developing more HTML5 APIs. One interesting one is push notifications for Web sites.

More and more devices are appearing with screens that go right to the edge, and over it. Here's Sharp's. Here's the new version of the YotaPhone with its e-ink double screen.

Electronic fraud is less of a problem than it seems, if you account for those thefts that are refunded immediately.

And a new Edward Snowden leak shows that the NSA and GCHQ have been routinely spying on GSMA working groups and filching IR.31 documents on roaming agreements. Watch where you leave your laptop at MWC.