India, Intel/Altera, OpenNFV, Title II, BT 4G, LoRa - Telco 2.0 News Review

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[Ed: Also, we've just published a new report on Facebook: Telcos' New Best Friend? as part of our new 'Dealing with Disruption Stream'.]

Indian spectrum auction goes BOOM; Nokia runs VHA's network from India; Softbank buys into Micromax

The Indian spectrum auction is done, and it was a record blowout in the end. Idea Cellular spent the most but arguably Bharti Airtel got the best deal, acquiring or renewing 111MHz of spectrum. A lot of that was 1800MHz, which means that Bharti is now in a position to use 2G/4G working to deploy 4G nationally. Overall, the bidding went up to $18bn, replicating the bidding war that broke out over the 3G spectrum.

Marten Pieters, Vodafone CEO in India, who is retiring soon, accused the government of taking too much money out of the industry. The FT points out that almost 75% of revenues are concentrated in the top 3 operators, although there are 8 MNOs, and argues that consolidation is likely. The Indian government reckons prices will only rise by a fraction of a US cent a minute.

Last time out, though, the overspending paradoxically led to a price war, as the operators were desperate to add enough customers to fill the spectrum they'd paid so much for. The presence of a new entrant, Reliance Jio, also suggests that if there is going to be consolidation, it will come via a bout of deflation and customer-acquisition spending followed by a shakeout.

The GSMA seems worried about the auction and wants the Indian government to do...something. They don't say what, but they presumably mean the operators should get a regulatory let-off of some sort in exchange for paying over the cash.

Vodafone-Hutchison Australia's much maligned network is going to be managed from India, under an extension of their managed-service agreement with Nokia Networks. The deal will run for the next four years and costs VHA about $200m. The 2006-2011 version of their relationship, famously, cost VHA about 1.8m customers after the network failed completely, twice.

Softbank, meanwhile, is buying a 20% stake in Micromax, the Indian handset maker associated with the Android One entry-level smartphone program. That will cost it $1bn. Canalys reckons Micromax outsold Samsung in India in Q4, which presumably explains their interest.

In China, Apple may be starting a trade-in option for iPhones, like the one that exists in the US. This would be rolled out as they double the number of Apple Stores in China over the next 12 months. The trade-in gadgets would go into a rework process and be marketed by Foxconn via Alibaba.com's Taobao auction website. It's worth noting that the US carriers' quick-upgrade plans mean that they will accumulate a lot of recent flagship devices as trade-ins, and we should expect to see them trying to monetise them.

Indosat is likely to see lower margins as its rivals get their 3G going, but it will have an advantage because it has 900MHz spectrum, so says Fitch.

MTN's CEO for South Africa, Ahmad Farroukh, reckons data prices are too low, but might be OK if they just gave him more spectrum. And Brazilian mobile users can look forward to a whole new digit in their phone numbers.

Intel bids for Altera, teams up with Oracle in NFV; BlackBerry Q4; 5G & cloud news

Intel is trying to acquire Altera, a manufacturer of FPGA chips, ones which can be reprogrammed post-shipment. They're common in a lot of embedded, industrial, and Internet of Things applications, which is why Intel is interested after a poor first quarter due to poor sales into the PC supply chain. They're also quite common in mobile network infrastructure, and Intel has been trying to get deeper into the mobile business since forever, as Reuters points out. The Motley Fool notes that although Intel badly wants to put more cellular modems into PCs, buying Altera would be handy in itself even if that didn't wirk out. Altera would set them back $10bn, but then Intel has $14.4bn in cash at the bank, so...

In the NFV space, two major alliances are emerging, both of them starting with OpenStack but then taking different directions. Oracle will be selling Intel's Open Network Platform, which consists of Intel servers and OpenStack with the Enhanced Platform Awareness extensions, along with its telco products. Meanwhile, Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux and a key contributor to OpenStack, will be working together with none other than Ericsson. It may not be surprising, then, that the head of the Open Networking Foundation is concerned that the SDN (or NFV) industry is getting too heavily influenced by the big vendors.

Google, meanwhile, has added pre-baked containers for 120 popular apps to its Compute Engine cloud, while Alcatel-Lucent is starting a consultancy shop within Bell Labs.

This is interesting - live streaming specialist Ustream is considering licensing its "software-defined CDN", or at least taking wholesale customers on it. The system is able to provision capacity on multiple third-party CDNs at once, as a sort of "CDN exchange".

Here's an interesting Q&A with 5G researchers from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, who claim to have the best full-duplex solution. They also say MU-MIMO is too complicated to be worth doing. Ericsson is sponsoring a 5G Tactile Internet research group at King's College, London, in an unprecedented concentration of buzzwords. NTT has demonstrated the first PON fibre-optic system that also uses wavelength-division multiplexing, like the backbone, providing a dramatic increase in capacity and also in flexibility.

The WBA, not surprisingly, thinks WiFi is the best option for location-based services.

ZTE's profits in 2014 sprang back, rising 94% from a bad 2013. BlackBerry made money, just, in the fourth quarter, with a bottom line of $28m after $115m from a sale of patents was included. That compares to a loss of $423m a year ago, though. The one-off gain is flattering, but there are good signs - the company is generating cash, and has $3bn of it on hand, the average selling price is up to $211 from $180 in the previous quarter, and the software division is growing 20% year-on-year. That said, it's a deeply diminished company - it shipped 1.6m smartphones in the quarter, far from the numbers it could once count on.

Having finished the M9 smartphone, HTC's head of industrial design, Jonah Becker, is leaving the company. Here's a gushingly positive review of the Sammy G6.

SG6 phones fuel the price war; first lawsuit against Title II; 3.5GHz shared spectrum

Speaking of the G6, its arrival in the US was always bound to cause a fresh splurge in the price war. T-Mobile US will offer you a year's free Netflix if you sign up for one. To get the free movies, you have to redeem the offer from a Samsung website, so the famous Samsung marketing/vendor financing budget is obviously getting a workout again. Sprint, for its part, offered free international roaming including 2G data to G6 users, and further offered the gadget itself "free" under their hire-purchase option. There goes another dollop of vendor finance.

As for service pricing, T-Mobile is now offering a $30/mo plan under the MetroPCS name with unlimited voice and messaging, and a gigabyte of HSPA+ data. As well as simply thrashing prices, part of the point is to get the remaining MetroPCS CDMA users to sign up for something modern so they can shut down the network and get at the 1.7, 1.9. and 2.1GHz spectrum it uses.

Rural operator iWireless is launching LTE through a combination of Nokia Networks modernising its own network, and roaming on T-Mobile. Sprint's CEO went to the CCA shindig, where the regional carriers get together, in order to sell their partnerships with rural operators. Interestingly, the rural operators seem furious with DISH for buying spectrum via a specially-created small business in order to tap government money, but also keen to lease the stuff from them. FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly is also not a happy bunny about the DISH caper.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler blogged this week that he wants to assign the 3.5GHz band for a "citizens' wireless broadband service", which would be a shared-access setup with a database, rather like the UK whitespace.

The USTA - a lobby group for AT&T and Verizon, basically - has filed its lawsuit against Title II reclassification, and Harold Feld has a very detailed walkthrough of the legalities. Ironically, AT&T has just used Title II to get a refund from two local phone companies in Michigan.

AT&T is offering a managed public WiFi product for SMBs. Verizon management has had a substantial raise.

BT 4G launches at agonisingly low prices; VF - break up BT; EE - stay together for 5G's sake

BT's mobile product is here and it looks like the plan is to smash prices The service begins with a selection of three SIM-only tariffs, and they are priced to go. £5/mo gets you 200 minutes of voice and 500MB of data, £12/mo gets you 500 minutes and 2GB, while £20/mo gets you unlimited voice and 20GB of data. All of those include access to BT WiFi hotspots and a BT Sport app. If you're not a BT fixed subscriber, you pay £5/mo extra.

There's certainly a flavour of Free Mobile about the low, low prices, the emphasis on WiFi, and the equally heavy emphasis on quad-play integration, but the big question is surely whether this will last in our post-consolidation future. Speaking of which...Hutchison and Telefonica have finalised the 3UK-O2 merger, and Vodafone has weighed into the lobbyfest around the OFCOM strategic review, claiming that BT has benefited unfairly from its control of backhaul assets originally created when it was a nationalised industry, that the time to fix faults has been rising steadily, and BT has made £5.5bn additional margin over and above OFCOM's benchmark rate of return in the last eight years. Therefore, they say, OFCOM should break it up.

EE CEO Olaf Swantee, meanwhile, says the merger must go ahead for the sake of 5G. So 5G is a justification, as well as a behaviour, a special generation, and a whole lot of other things! His boss, DTAG chief Timotheus Höttges, meanwhile complained about "US companies" in Europe. He probably gets more of a hearing from Günther Oettinger than he does from Oettinger's boss Andrus Ansip - Ansip is campaigning for an end to geo-blocking content within Europe, while Oettinger wants to let German film producers keep doing it.

Meanwhile, the operators were cooperating to lobby OFCOM over the electronic communications code, which governs the terms on which they rent base station sites. The MNOs would like to be treated on the same basis as other utilities, which they estimate would save £271 million. They claim that would be enough to reach the new geographic coverage targets without spending any public money.

Vodafone UK's Jeroen Hoetcamp, meanwhile, isn't happy about paying more annual spectrum fees, but he might be OK with it if he got to put up 40-metre tall base stations without going through planning permission. Well, yes.

The Government would like Network Rail to sell its telecoms network, because there's no reason for a railway to have its own telecomms...hold on, isn't there some kind of special GSM standard for railways? Nothing could go wrong, could it?

CityFibre has finished the first phase of the York FTTH build. Virgin Media claims to get 1.3Gbps out of the 802.11ac WiFi in its new router. BT has set a date to start trialling "naked FTTC", i.e. without a circuit-switched phone service.

Against expectations, Numericable-SFR is still adding fibre, in this case in the Loire valley, where it's passed another 288k homes with FTTH.

LoRa is go for launch with Bouygues; $60 car-hacking kit; UK smart metering project struggling

Bouygues Telecom is preparing to launch a new M2M network in June. The system will use the LoRa low-power wide-area network technology we saw at MWC, based on their existing sites. With this, SigFox/TDF's network, and whatever cellular M2M gets deployed, France looks like it's going to be heavily covered by diverse IoT systems. This is in part because Grenoble University is a centre for research on some of the radio aspects.

Here's a $60 open-source hardware developer kit that lets you receive and send events on your car's CANBus internal network.

And Nick Hunn at Creative Connectivity warns that the UK smart metering programme is going nowhere fast. Interoperability tests haven't happened, which is no surprise as the interop specification isn't finished. Cost estimates are rising. And the utilities' IT departments don't want the data the meters will thrust upon them. However, the gas and electricity clearing houses, which do, aren't on the list of those allowed to see it.

Facebook F8: embedded video, Messenger API, ads; WhatsApp; WebRTC for WebKit

We just published a new Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing on Facebook and why it's the MNOs' new best friend. Check it out!

Facebook's F8 developer event, as predicted, announced that the API for Messenger is opening up to third parties. It also launched a new embedded player for Facebook-hosted video, i.e. an alternative to YouTube, with a variety of enhancements to the video upload and curation process to come. In parallel with this, the voice element of WhatsApp is about to launch for Apple iOS users.

The complete set of F8 talks is available here. It is very telling how many of them deal with advertising, the Facebook Advertising API, growth/marketing, and similar business-related issues. (Meanwhile, we've been wondering about how Facebook came to outdo Google Ads so badly in mobile. Recently we had our answer; every webpage we open in Firefox for Android seems to contain a huge Google ad for Android. Why on earth would you send someone you know already chose Android general-purpose brand-building ads for Android, rather than, say, ads for the Galaxy S6 or M9, or to encourage them to upgrade to 5.0?)

Facebook has also released a tool it developed that lets you test your app in different simulated network conditions, eg. "fast, but flaky WiFi" or "2G, but good 2G".

Chris Kranky argues that WhatsApp for Web is a genuinely creative use of QR codes to authenticate the TextSecure ID on your phone to the web browser, while Tsahi Levent-Levi points out that WhatsApp uses WebRTC, but only to get photos or sound, not to communicate them. It's just easier to call getUserMedia() than to work with the filesystem that you're not meant to use on iOS, it seems.

A project to port full WebRTC support into WebKit, the open-source browser engine that underlies Safari and Opera, is being sponsored by Ericsson Research.

And why can't I have native SIP on my iPhone? What you want, Sir, is a Nokia E71...

And finally, here's what happens when you climb a base station mast and find a bear prowling around below: