Telco 2.0 News Review: Bregulation, TV, 5G, Facebook F8

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[Ed: Also, we've just published a new report on The Internet of Things: Impact on M2M, where it's going, and what to do about it? as part of our new 'Executive Briefing Service'.]

OFCOM VULA decision; fibre-to-the-cell key to UK mergers; "ultrafast" is slower than today's cable

So, OFCOM has decided to regulate BT's unbundling prices to ensure independent ISPs can make a margin between wholesale and retail pricing. In doing so, it's decided to take the effects of BT Sport into account, both as an advantage for BT and also as an additional cost. However, having made the momentous decision, OFCOM also decided things are pretty much OK as it stands and there's no reason to activate the ruling. Nicely done.

Elsewhere, the lobbyfest ahead of the OFCOM Strategic Review is beginning to crank up. The terms of reference are out (get them here) and they seem to include OTT services but count out content, although only tentatively.

At the same time, the Competition & Markets Authority has opened the parallel anti-trust review of the BT-EE deal with a request for comments. As well as the obvious retail services, the CMA has asserted a special interest in the market for mobile backhaul. It's as if they read our BT/EE: Huge Regulatory Headache and Trigger for European Transformation Executive Briefing. Quote of note:

"When BT was giving us all the same sort of service without being in the game, that was OK," said one rival executive, quoted by the FT. "But it will own the largest mobile group and will in effect be paying itself for access to its mobile backhaul."

CityFibre Holdings beat everyone else into the pool, issuing a response to the consultation that demanded the demerger of Openreach, no less, and argued that the takeover of EE was likely to result in BT forcing it to buy all its backhaul internally.

This affects CityFibre because it has a framework agreement with EE and 3UK under which they will lease dark fibre to the cell, acting as the anchor tenant for CityFibre's metro-network projects around the UK. The first build, in Hull, is still going ahead, but the rest of the programme, probably the biggest investment in UK fibre, looks distinctly shaky.

BT doesn't like selling dark fibre, and would like it even less if it was competing in the mobile business. CF, not surprisingly, is also against OFCOM forcing them to sell it because, after all, CF is in the business of selling dark fibre. So, they say, OFCOM should either demerge Openreach or require that MBNL, the EE-3UK infrastructure alliance, tender for backhaul openly. It's just getting started and it's already getting complicated.

BT Consumer CEO John Petter, meanwhile, attacked Sky, TalkTalk, and the indies generally, saying:

"I think instead of sniping from the sidelines and relentlessly pushing for lower wholesale input prices, that our industry should be working together to invest to give consumers the service standards that they deserve."

Ironically, in the light of Petter's rant, a survey for Which? appeared this week showing BT was dead last in the industry for customer satisfaction:

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BT also announced that its long-promised mobile product is going to launch, or at least soft-launch, next week. It seems that the service, a mixture of WiFi, perhaps femtocells, and EE MVNO service, will be offered to existing subscribers only, will probably be a bit cheaper than mainline cellular, and might include BT Sport content. To begin with at least it's going to be SIM only, implying that BT doesn't want to start spending on customer acquisition when it might be getting a whole EE for its birthday.

The UK government has announced that it wants a universal service obligation for broadband, which would mean you have a right to demand 5Mbps down, 1 up, whereever you might be in this here United Kingdom. We remember when the same government insisted on stripping the 2x2Mbps universal service out of the Digital Economy Act 2010. Also, that universal service would be significantly worse than first-generation BT ADSL.

In the world of politics, it's often surprising what you can achieve if you have really low expectations. Hence we have the new "National Ambition for Ultra-Fast Broadband". Clearly, "superfast" is no longer super enough, so we need new buzzwords. This doesn't involve any money or any legislation - it's an "ambition" - but does say it would be nice if there was 100Mbps to "nearly all homes" in the UK. To put it another way, the blue-sky national ambition is actually rather less than Virgin Media offers throughout its footprint today. Is that what they call a stretch target?

Meanwhile, half the UK's local governments expect the existing "superfast broadband" target to "slip", as most of the recent contract announcements are expected to complete in 2018 or 2019. "Slip", of course, is a polite way of saying "missed". Also, note that they're not even trying to deny that "superfast" is defined as 24Mbps, aka mid-2000s ADSL2+, any more.

Hyperoptic has some new tariffs for FTTB. A good piece on network sharing. OFCOM confirms its previous decision on mobile termination rates. Peregrine falcons seize key Vodafone infrastructure.

And a Vodafone customer has resolved a disputed £15,000 bill by showing up at Vodafone HQ and refusing to leave until he got his way.

BT, Apple, Sony, Vodafone TV plans; peak cable; Google CDN finally deploys to France

BT seems to be planning something drastic in the TV business this summer, and it has started with a big shakeup of the TV unit's management. The head of BT TV, Alex Green, is out, as are the head of commercial, the head of business development, and the head of content. You can see why they feel the need to change something in this STL chart. The launch of football drove a surge of net adds, but once those were done, they were done, although the rights bills kept coming.

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The plans include a new set-top box supporting ultra-high definition footy, charging for the Champions' League, and new tariffs for pubs.

More excitingly, another round of speculation about an Apple TV service has broken out. ReadWrite reads the tea-leaves, thinking it might be a subscription service delivered via an app to Apple TVs and iOS gadgets, about $30-40/mo.

Horace argues that cable TV is an expensive and unimpressive product likely to be disrupted. Of course, cablecos have been making progressively more money from broadband ever since they started providing broadband.

The FCC has hit the pause button again on the AT&T-DirecTV deal, owing to a dispute about confidential information on content deals that might get disclosed. The 180-day clock is now at 170 days and holding.

Here's some detail about Sony's planned streaming TV service, PlayStation Vue. It's being trialled in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Here's some detail about Vodafone's planned TV service.

With Apple, Sony, Vodafone, and BT all streaming ultra-high definition content, the CDN world is in for some interesting times. Dan Rayburn follows up on a WSJ piece suggesting content companies including HBO, Sony, and Showtime wanted some sort of "Internet fast lane". It's not clear whether the source meant prioritisation, CDN, peering, colocation, or what, and Rayburn's ISP sources haven't heard anything.

In France, it seems that the long-standing anomaly in which French ISPs don't peer with content providers (and barely with each other) is over: Google Global Cache CDN nodes have made their appearance in Free.fr and SFR's networks. The thread contains a lot of interesting information about how GGC works.

The percentage of mobile data traffic encrypted with SSL is going up fast. Some operators worry about this because it makes it harder to cache, compress, or spy on it. In many cases they probably shouldn't worry, because their efforts to "optimise" TCP traffic were doing much more harm than good.

Sensible remarks about LTE Broadcast and net neutrality.

AWS-3 blowout gets broadcasters' attention; T-Mobile deploys 700MHz 4G "furiously"; price war gets crazier still

The US TV lobby suddenly likes the sound of that 600MHz "incentive auction" thing a lot more after the AWS-3 blowout. To recap, the idea is that the broadcasters who currently have the 600MHz spectrum would get a cut of whatever the mobile operators paid in the auction, to encourage them to give up as much of it as possible. After the AWS-3 auction reached for the skies and the bottom of its pocket, this looks a lot more lucrative.

T-Mobile, meanwhile, says it's deploying 700MHz LTE "furiously". We weren't aware you could do that. They hope to reach 4G population coverage of 300 million by year's end, and they're currently at 275 million. The main problem is that there are still TV stations interfering with about 25% of the 700MHz blocks. On a related topic, AT&T has seemingly caved to the regulators about device support for 700MHz Band 12 interop, something needed for national roaming.

Meanwhile, the price war raged on. Sprint has announced it will pay 100% of the cost of switching from any other national carrier. That includes early termination fees and also outstanding device instalments. In return, Sprint wants you to turn in a phone in working order and buy one of theirs. They hope to monetise the second-hand gadgets via their sister distributor, Brightstar.

T-Mobile, of course, responded, offering to do likewise up to a maximum $650 buyout. They also announced a new SMB tariff with pooled data, heavy discounting, and MS Office 365. Sprint, meanwhile, announced a new and rather more ambitious enterprise product.

Telus is offering RingCentral's Voice 2.0 apps to its enterprise customers.

Here are some details of Verizon Wireless's small cell deployment. Note the remark from Crown Castle's CEO that "fibre is the horizontal tower". VZ has also opened new cloud services data centres in Asia Pacific.

5G: we may not know what it is, but at least we know when it's coming

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! The 3GPP has issued a draft timeline for 5G development, so even if we're still not sure if it's a behaviour, a special generation, or something to do with self-driving cars, at least we have some idea of when 5G is coming. That's progress of a sort. It looks like much of the agenda is going to be defined through 3GPP from here to September 2016, before ITU-R evaluation begins. A key workshop is planned for Phoenix, Arizona this September to start the 3GPP RAN working group, which will then feed into the ITU-R IMT2020 stream, so you probably want to get your idea into that one.

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Telefonica's CTO, Enrique Blanco, hopes that a lot of the eventual 5G technology will be introduced as incremental updates to 4G, and that they will be able to offer a 1Gbps mobile service. The key to this is carrier aggregation - Blanco reckons that using three carriers, from the 800, 1800, and 2600MHz bands, together they could do 370Mbps. He also wants to deploy full-duplex radio, requiring the funky self-interference cancellation we've occasionally blogged. Interestingly, OpenSignal reckons Spain has the fastest LTE service on average.

The UK government, meanwhile, is perhaps feeling that "ultrafast" broadband that's slower than the UK's biggest cable operator's mainline service wasn't that impressive a "national ambition" after all. How else to explain its sudden discovery of 6G wireless? It's not just 6G, it's "quantum 6G", too. And apparently ours for only £15m.

Commissioner Oettinger is worried that Europe isn't investing enough in 4G, never mind 5G. Infonetics reckons the mobile infrastructure market grew 10% last year, with LTE up 69%, mostly driven by China Mobile's rollout. Ericsson is still no.1, Huawei no.2, Nokia Networks 3.

LG U+ is deploying virtualised EPC and getting started on LTE-LAA. 10.2 million small cells have been manufactured and basically all of those deployed, says the Small Cells Forum, implying that there is very little inventory in the pipeline.

And here's Swisscom's LoRa low-power M2M network.

China Mobile FY2014; Xavier Niel, port of call: Singapore; ironic Q4 at MTS

China Mobile has now deployed 720,000 LTE base stations as its 4G rollout continues, and it is seeing both a massive surge in data traffic and a steady decline in voice. Voice revenues are falling 13% annually and SMS 16%, while data volume was up 115%. However, data revenue was up 42% as prices fell. At the end of the day, the growth in data revenue just outdid the decline of voice, leaving them with revenue up 1.8% for 2014.

It looks like Xavier Niel's next move is...Singapore's fourth MNO, of all things. They're operating a fixed ISP on the Singaporean NBN and hoping to bid for 4G spectrum, and they intend to smash prices - what else? - with cheaper 1Gbps fixed packages and 12GB mobile data bundles.

Russian operator MTS saw a 90+% crash in its profits, after the devaluation of the Ukrainian currency hit its share in Kyivstar and it lost a huge amount of money in a failed Ukrainian bank. Ironically, it was MTS whose network originated those dodgy SS7 switching messages that hacked the Ukrainian MNOs.

French MNOs are expected to close notspots within a year, says the prime minister, who's got €1bn to help out.

The European Commission review of Orange-Jazztel is on hold waiting for more information about how it will affect consumer prices. German regulators are criticised by the EU over fixed termination.

Facebook: payments, Messenger API, voice. New HTC CEO. BlackBerry as software

Facebook's F8 developer conference is coming up, and it looks like it will be heavy with announcements. First up, they will be opening up Messenger for third-party apps, and they have as many as 20 partnerships already signed up.

Then, they're offering the ability to send money via Messenger. Both parties need to register a credit or debit card.

And there's also a new Android dialler app called, inspiringly, "Phone".

An interesting deck on WebRTC vs unified comms.

HTC has promoted co-founder Cher Wang as CEO, moving Peter Chou to run the "Future Development Lab".

Here's a new BlackBerry tablet that's actually manufactured by Samsung - BlackBerry as pure software play. Microsoft would like to get rid of passwords from Windows 10.

Google being evil. Shazam for objects, which is at least less creepy than last year when they wanted to have the app listen continuously in background. And you can read Wikipedia on a 1986 Mac, just, with significant software development.