Telco 2.0 News Review: IoT, UK Upheaval, GigaCable, and More

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[Ed: Also, we've just published a new report on Digital Services: What is Your Digital Business Worth? as part of our Executive Briefing Service.]

IBM opens $3bn IoT unit; GM hopes to make $350m from 4G; AT&T winning the connected car

IBM is opening a new business unit dedicated to the Internet-of-Things and investing at least $3bn in the project. This is going to roll up other projects like their heavily hyped Smarter Cities and Smarter Planet initiatives, create a new IoT space within their Bluemix developer platform, and not least, train 2,000 of their consultants on their IoT product lineup. They're also developing a relationship with Freescale and ARM for IoT device hardware.

General Motors CFO, Chuck Stevens, reckons that the company will earn an additional $350m in profits from the deployment of 4G in its connected-car products between now and 2018. More than 30 of the 2015 models have it and the whole 2016 model year will.

OnStar, the GM connected car system, is of course the anchor customer for AT&T's M2M business after they beat out Verizon Wireless to get the job. AT&T announced that it's signed up Autonet, a connected-car platform used by Chrysler/Fiat, Subaru, GM, and Maserati, and that it's deploying more features in the product it offers with Voxx Electronics, notably the slightly disturbing "crash notification" and "geo-fencing". This is largely of interest to insurance companies who might want to offer usage-based or behavioural products. AT&T Mobility is on something of a roll in M2M - they signed up Audi last month, too, while as RCR Wireless points out, since GM took its business elsewhere, we've not heard very much from VZW's "4G Venture Forum for Connected Cars".

Improbably, WebOS, the pioneering smartphone operating system developed at Palm, sold to HP, and basically abandoned by them, is having an afterlife in the IoT space. LG and Panasonic are using it for smart TVs, and now Fujitsu has given it the ability to dynamically load hardware drivers as apps, which should facilitate using it with IoT gadgets quite a bit.

The Wireless IoT Forum launches, in case you needed another IoT standardisation group. Interestingly, this one seems to be an extension of the Cambridge tech cluster, as its leadership come from Ubiquisys, CSR, and OFCOM via a couple of startups in that part of the world.

Amazon has launched a button that you stick on something or other, such as a washing machine, and press to re-order a product. It works by talking to an app on your phone using Bluetooth Low Energy, and the idea is that manufacturers will eventually start embedding the functionality into appliances. This does sound a bit like an e-mail fridge.

And BT gives an award to a "comprehensive mobile health service".

Don't expect huge savings from BT-EE; lobbying wars rage; EE furious with OFCOM

BT has issued a document recommending the EE acquisition to its shareholders. In it they warn that increased competition is driving down mobile prices and that the process of closing the Orange and T-Mobile brands and integrating EE might lose them customers, but they don't include regulatory action as one of the possible risks.

Possible cost savings come out at about £3bn NPV over four years - in the BT-EE - Huge Regulatory Headache Executive Briefing, we noted that Vodafone estimated the synergies in its acquisition of KDG at a four-year NPV of about two-thirds annual revenue, but BT-EE would miss the £5bn this implied by a distance, because BT doesn't bring anything like the broadband capacity to the table a cable operator does.

We also said in that note that the key to whatever happened in the UK post-merger would be the ownership of fixed broadband assets and especially mobile backhaul. BT's biggest competitor, Virgin Media, has signed a joint letter with BT pleading with OFCOM to let BT keep Openreach on something like the current terms. Fairly obviously, if BT had to divest Openreach or make a dramatic change in its terms of business, it would be very hard to argue that VMED shouldn't at least have to provide wholesale access to its network.

BT and Virgin claim that letting other operators fiddle with the network would cause "service faults" - you wonder what RevK thinks about that after his latest struggle to get BT to fix something.

Meanwhile, OFCOM ran some tests over all four UK networks and found that although EE had the highest peak data rate, they had the worst showing in terms of the average web page load time. EE is furious and is threatening to sue the regulator, which used ETSI's mKepler measurement tool. The explanation might be really simple, of course - although the average is good, the distribution might be skewed. EE has also deployed a voice-over-WiFi app.

In Hull, CityFibre has signed up one of several local fixed-wireless providers for its metro-fibre network.

Google turns to Hutch; Comcast launches 2Gbps cable; Charter buying BrightHouse; "priority" mobile data

Will Google's MVNO do something exciting around roaming? It is being widely reported that they are in talks with Hutchison about a roaming deal. This is mostly interesting because Hutchison opcos offer roaming at no extra cost on-network, i.e. among each other, and have done for many years, so Google would be able to offer "free roaming"...as long as you're going to a country where Hutchison operates.

The gigabit cable iceberg is getting closer. Comcast launches 2Gbps service around Atlanta next month, where they pass about 1.5 million homes. This would beat both Google Fiber and AT&T's GigaPower, both for speed and for scale. A national rollout is then expected to begin. Clench your stomach muscles now, telcos.

Charter Communications, meanwhile, announced a $10.4bn bid for Bright House, combining the 4th and 6th biggest US cablecos and adding about 2 million customers and 45,000 WiFi access points to Charter's fleet.

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Which reminds us that the Comcast-TWC and AT&T-DirecTV mergers are still hanging fire. Elsewhere in the US, the mid-band spectrum AT&T handed over to T-Mobile as part of the break fee from their failed merger has dramatically increased in value. This is, however, basically fictional unless T-Mo was to sell it, and how likely is that?

America Movil is planning to spin off its towers. Oi is making some layoffs, while something interesting has happened in the saga of its deal with PTel. Apparently, PT SGPS, the holding company, has transferred a huge quantity of Oi preference shares to something called PT International Finance BV, a company in the Netherlands, which turns out to be controlled by Oi.

On a similar theme, the long-running dispute between the owners of Turkcell has broken out again. Cukurova Group, the Turkish shareholder in the company, has invoked arbitration in an effort to force Alfa Group, the Russian company best known as the owner of Vimpelcom, to sell its stake. Alfa is eventually controlled by Russian zillionaire Mikhail Fridman, whose business partner Alexei Reznikovich told the Financial Times this week that the Turkish government had "quasi-nationalised" the company. Let us just note that the author of this post first covered Alfa Group ownership disputes and Turkcell for Mobile Communications International in 2005.

Tele2's CEO doesn't believe in quadplay. KPN's Belgian opco may be on sale. The EU scrutiny of Jazztel resumes with a deadline of 1st June.

And SFR is offering a "priority" mobile tariff for its biggest spenders. The fine print suggests this is less exciting than it sounds. First of all, it only applies to 3G, not 4G. Second, the priority is not applied if the radio network is actually struggling, for fear of affecting emergency calls. Naturally, priority quality-of-service is only useful if the network is congested, so you're paying for the right to go to the front of the queue, but only if there isn't a very big queue, and only on 3G.

Huawei profits; ALU builds Chinese 4G; LG U+ cuts back on tri-band LTE; 2.3GHz; 5G news

Huawei announced its highest ever net profit for FY 2014, seeing strong growth in carrier, enterprise, and most of all, in smartphones. The key products were mobile broadband, data centre, and emerging market devices. Deputy chairman Ken Hu finishes his term as rotating CEO and is replaced by Eric Xu for the next six months.

Alcatel-Lucent, however, is going to deploy FDD-LTE, i.e. the world standard kind in 40 Chinese cities for China Telecom, using its 9926 eNodeB and starting in H1 2015.

Although the Korean operators have been very aggressive about the drive towards 5G, promising a deployment for the 2018 Winter Olympics, LG U+ is walking back its plans, a bit. In January 2014 it acquired 40MHz of 2.6GHz spectrum, and it promised to deploy LTE-A with tri-band carrier aggregation. It's now decided to cut back its investment in the roll-out:

LG Uplus earlier planned to build up the tri-band LTE-A across the country. However, this will heavily cost us. We believe very few customers could feel a difference between LTE-A and tri-band LTE-A. Uplus will try hard to provide more enhancements to our existing clients by saving costs.

AT&T is planning to start deploying 4G into its 2.3GHz spectrum in the summer, targeting the major cities. The FCC, meanwhile, has moved the proposed Citizens' Mobile Broadband scheme in the 3.5GHz on, issuing a draft Report & Order, the next step after an NPRM. ARCEP hopes to start the 700MHz auction process in France in July.

The 3.5GHz plan is all about WiFi and small cells, and ABI Research reckons that the market for small cell hardware will grow at a 43% annual clip from here to 2020, even though they will be competing with WiFi and newer distributed antenna systems.

Ruckus Wireless claims it has the first WiFi access point that supports Wave 2 of 802.11ac, including multiple-user MIMO and four different spatial beams. If it's even close to true, the WiFi vendors are quite a long way down the road towards 5G already.

Here's a good blog post answering questions about 5G, even if it does say that 5G is "a destination to be defined by the journey", when it's already a special generation, a behaviour, and the last of the Gs according to Mischa Dohler, who heads the Ericsson-sponsored 5G lab at King's College London. Stanford University, meanwhile, is working with DTAG on its SoftRAN project, which seems to be more like a distributed data centre integrated with the base station.

NBN Co is going to build out to 550k more homes. And more and more sales of IPv4 addresses are happening, and weirdly, most of them seem to involve Romanian companies selling them to Iranian ones. (Remember this Executive Briefing?)

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CoreOS brings Google infrastructure to enterprises; OpenMANO; mobile CDN startups

CoreOS, the container-based Linux distro, has raised $12m in VC funding to deploy its new enterprise version, which uses the Kubernetes cloud manager developed at Google to keep track of all your stuff. The idea is to "build and deliver Google's infrastructure to everyone else", as CEO Alex Polvi says.

The equivalent in telcoland is the MANO (Management and Organisation) element of ETSI NFV, and Telefonica has just released its OpenMANO implementation on Github so anyone who wants can grab the code, send in a pull request, etc.

There's been a little wave of mobile CDN startups. Twin Prime is an app-accelerator solution that's meant to use existing CDN deployments and pick the best option based on network conditions. It's just hopped out of stealth mode with $9.5m in VC funding. Kwicr claims to do something similar at the protocol level for mobile video.

Good old Limelight Networks has added much improved support for a surprisingly important element of CDN - getting rid of content you want to stop serving. Cache invalidation is a famously difficult problem in computer science, and it's increasingly important from a regulatory/legal/political point of view that content you want deleted gets deleted, now.

Meerkat is a highly fashionable livestreaming app, and High Scalability tries to work out how it works. HTTP Live Streaming is important, and it turns out it's easier to serve the video than it is to provide the instant messaging/chat/social element. They could probably do with a mobile CDN, though.

Samsung Q1s beat low expectations; Apple brings A9 chip back to Samsung; Watch pricing

Samsung's estimated results for Q1 beat the consensus expectation. That's one way of putting it. Another way of putting it is that operating profit is thought to be down 30.5% and revenue 12.4%, implying that pricing has suffered even more than volume. But at least it's the least bad result in the last three quarters.

Apparently some Galaxy S6 phones are getting switched on in transit, with the result that they arrive with a flat battery. The solution is just to charge them.

Some good news: it looks like Apple will be going back to Samsung for the next lot of iPhones' A9 chips. We knew, meanwhile, that the S6 uses the in-house Exynos processor, but we didn't know until know that it also uses a Samsung-made radio modem, the Shannon 333, replacing the Qualcomm Gobi. In fact, the S6's internals seem to be approaching 100% Samsung content.

Apple's device pricing, famously, is all about selling extra storage really dear. Horace points out that the Apple Watch is all about selling dearer materials, but fortunately for Apple, nobody needs convincing that gold is expensive.

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In the UK, Apple's not interested in selling the Watch through Dixons or Carphone Warehouse.

Why is Apple taking so long to implement WebRTC that Ericsson is having to do the job? Possibly because a lot of older iDevices don't have the mandatory VP8 codec in hardware, and Apple would rather wait for them to be flushed out of the installed base than give them a battery-thrashing software encoder.

And meet the Galaxy Blade Edge Chef's Edition, our favourite April fool.

Skype for Business lands April 14th, enterprise voice watch out!

On the 14th of April, Microsoft rolls out Skype for Business, replacing the Lync app in Office 2013. This brings with it a new UX, plus a lot more hardware support and enterprise voice features, especially for Office 365 users and those who run a Skype for Business server.

Microsoft is doing some interesting things at the moment. Here's Office Lens, their take on one of the many, many apps that uses your phone camera as a scanner. That's nothing new, but Lens can identify things you sketch on a whiteboard and cut them out as graphical sprites you can then use in a PowerPoint presentation, or generate a Word file from a photo of a printed document while preserving its structure, and file them in a OneNote notebook.

OneNote is getting important as a way of integrating MS apps these days - see this blog post on using it with Dynamics CRM.

They're also being reasonable about support for Open Document formats in Office 365, after the British government, a major ODF backer and a Microsoft mega-customer, leant on them.

Sprint denies Tidal investment; Airtel zero-rating; Vivendi buys Dailymotion; creepy? there's an app for that now

Sprint and Softbank deny that they are investors in Jay-Z's Spotify-clone streaming service, Tidal, but confirm that they are discussing bundling the service, which is meant to offer artists a bigger payout and fans higher-quality audio (and therefore, network engineers a bigger headache).

Bharti Airtel is opening a platform that lets marketers or developers pay to zero-rate their apps.

Vivendi is buying Dailymotion off France Telecom for some €250m, after the French government growled at PCCW's rival offer.

British artists Blast Theory introduce Karen, a life-coaching app that gets...overfamiliar, and increasingly creepy the more it knows about you.

Here's an interview with Pavel Durov, founder of VKontakte and Telegram.

41% of Millennials use Adblock Plus or something similar. This one is only surprised it's so few.

And RIP, John Simopoulos, original UK phone phreaker (and professor of philosophy at St. Catherine's College, Oxford).