FCC permits SpaceX to launch additional 7,518 broadband satellites

SpaceX has been granted approval by the Federal Communications Commission to launch a further 7,518 broadband satellites.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said today:

"From providing high-speed broadband services in remote areas to offering global connectivity to the Internet of Things through 'routers in space' for data backhaul, I'm excited to see what services these proposed constellations have to offer.

Our approach to these applications reflects this commission's fundamental approach: encourage the private sector to invest and innovate and allow market forces to deliver value to American consumers."

Earlier this year, SpaceX was permitted to launch 4,425 low-orbit satellites for its global broadband ambitions. The company requested its next batch to be operated even closer to the ground.

SpaceX gave two key reasons for wanting to operate satellites in lower orbit:

  • Performance – SpaceX claims that operating closer to ground will reduce latency and boost capacity. Latency could be just 25ms, similar to current fibre broadband.

  • Reducing debris – SpaceX requested 1,584 of its latest satellites to be authorised for operation at 550 kilometres instead of the 1,110-1,325km of the others. Moving the satellites lower means they can get the same results with 16 fewer in orbit.

SpaceX also claims operating in lower altitude means when the satellite is no longer operational it’s more likely to be dragged towards the planet. That means dead satellites will burn up in the atmosphere rather than remain and increase the likelihood of collisions.

A recent NASA study (PDF) found 99 percent of satellites will need to be taken out of orbit, reliably, within five years of launch – otherwise, the risk of satellite collisions goes up substantially.

The FCC is seeking public comment (PDF) on debris mitigation plans. SpaceX has submitted its own, but the FCC said:

"While we appreciate the level of detail and analysis that SpaceX has provided for its orbital-debris mitigation and end-of-life disposal plans, we conclude that the unprecedented number of satellites proposed by SpaceX and the other NGSO FSS systems in this processing round will necessitate a further assessment of the appropriate reliability standards of these spacecraft, as well as the reliability of these systems' methods for deorbiting the spacecraft."

Following the newly-approved satellite launches, SpaceX will have a total of 11,943 in orbit.

The company’s satellite broadband programme hasn’t always run smoothly. Earlier this month, Telecoms reported SpaceX CEO Elon Musk fired several execs over an alleged lack of progress.

In addition to SpaceX’s satellites, the FCC also approved today similar systems developed by Kepler Communications, Telesat Canada, and LeoSat.

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The two favourites for TIM CEO job revealed – source

A source close to Vivendi has revealed the names of the two people they think are most likely to get the TIM CEO job vacated this week by Amos Genish.

They are Alfredo Altavilla and Luigi Gubitosi, both current TIM board members, who were proposed by activist investor group Elliott when it purged the board after winning its struggle with Vivendi in May of this year. If Altavilla got the gig he would have the added benefit of being the Chairman of the TIM Nomination and Remuneration Committee, which sets executive pay.

The same source, who spoke to us on condition of anonymity, also advised that Genish was about to get on the plane to Korea to sign a new 5G deal with Samsung last Sunday (11/11) when he read rumours of his demise. Apparently he got in touch with TIM Chairman Fulvio Conti, also proposed by Elliott, who gave him written confirmation that they were greatly exaggerated and that no board meeting had been scheduled. On the back on this Genish got on the plane, only to be told just two days later that the meeting had taken place and that he was history.

“It is ironic that the people who worked together to oust Amos Genish are now fighting for his job and the company is in more disarray than ever,” said the source. They also advised that Genish feel betrayed by the people who conspired to get rid of him, although he plans to fight on as a board member.

If our admittedly pro-Vivendi source is correct and Elliott is successful in installing once of its people as CEO then it will have run out of scapegoats. TIM will have an Elliot board and an Elliott CEO, so the buck stops there regarding its business performance. How Vivendi reacts to such an outcome will be critical and it could push for another AGM and board vote.

We have contacted TIM for comment and are awaiting response.

Rural connectivity still a minor concern for some people, finds uSwitch

Price comparison service uSwitch has done a survey that found some people are deterred from moving to the country because they’re worried about connectivity.

Yes, we know, not the most earth-shattering revelation, but it’s a Friday and some people might care. The table below shows how urban survey respondents answered when asked “Have you read or heard about any of the following issues used to describe living in the countryside?” Just over half (around 900 respondents) flagged up connectivity issues and uSwitch has decided that’s enough data to justify the following headline for its press release: “Dodgy broadband deters nine million from rural living”.

Rural living concern % of people concerned
Poor transport links 61%
Slow or unreliable broadband connections 58%
Poor or no mobile signal 55%
Lack of public services (eg doctor surgeries, schools etc) 48%
Lack of activities available (eg cinemas, restaurants etc) 42%

“It’s ludicrous that in 2018 broadband and mobile phone signal is a factor influencing where in the UK people choose to live,” said Ernest Doku of uSwitch. “The only explanation is that providers have been guilty of a ‘build it and they will come’ mentality – simply assuming that their work is done as soon as they have provided the infrastructure for faster services and not doing enough to make sure that their customers are aware that better services are available.”

So the big scoop seems to be that, despite rural connectivity infrastructure being quite good, a few people don’t realise that and so factor that into their thinking when contemplating a move to the country. Cost, commuting, other infrastructure and their feelings about the smell of dung may also play a part too, of course.

Even by the standards of politicians, the canned quote uSwitch got from Shadow Digital Minister Liam Byrne was shamelessly opportunistic. “These Teletext Tories are simply failing to provide the investment we need to rollout high speed broadband in areas that are harder to reach,” he whittered. “This has not been helped by the fact we’ve seen four different culture secretaries in just two years and now we’re lagging behind our European neighbours. The Tories seem determined to leave Britain as a cyber slow coach.”

It’s not obvious what the point of all this was. USwitch has a strategic interest in making everyone in the UK as dissatisfied with their utilities as possible, because then they’re more likely to go to uSwitch and use it to shop around, resulting in revenue for uSwitch. But which demographic is more likely to change CSP as a result of this news?

EE and Virgin Media fined for ripping off customers when they leave early

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has fined EE and Virgin Media millions of pounds for excessive early-exit charges.

Churn (loss of customers) is a constant worry for communications service providers and the best way to reduce it is to provide such a good communications service that subscribers don’t want to leave. Another way is to make it so odious and costly to leave that most people just can’t be bothered with the hassle and it seems EE and VM went a bit too far with the latter strategy.

Ofcom says it’s OK for CSPs to attach conditions to the early exit from contracts, but that those must be ‘clear, comprehensive and easily accessible’. Furthermore Ofcom stipulates “Communications providers shall ensure that conditions or procedure for contract termination do not act as disincentives for end-users against changing their communications provider”. It thinks thinks that’s what happened with EE and VM, which is why it has fined them £6.3 million and £7 million, respectively.

“EE and Virgin Media broke our rules by overcharging people who ended their contracts early,” said Ofcom’s spectacularly-named Director of Investigations and Enforcement, Gaucho Rasmussen. “Those people were left out of pocket, and the charges amounted to millions of pounds. That is unacceptable. These fines send a clear message to all phone and broadband firms that they must play by the rules, in the interests of their customers.”

VM doesn’t see it in quite the same way and is appealing the ruling. “We profoundly disagree with Ofcom’s ruling,” said Tom Mockridge, CEO of Virgin Media. “This decision and fine is not justified, proportionate or reasonable. A small percentage of customers were charged an incorrect amount when they ended one or more of their services early and for that we are very sorry.

“As soon as we became aware of the mistake we apologised and took swift action to put it right by paying refunds, with interest, to everyone affected. For those few people we could not locate, we have made an equivalent donation to charity.  We also reviewed our internal processes and systems, and improved our customer communications to make sure that this does not happen again.

“We wholeheartedly reject the claim by Ofcom that our ETC levels dissuaded customers from switching. This unreasonable decision and excessive fine does not reflect the swift actions we took, the strong evidence we have presented, or our consistent, open and transparent cooperation with the regulator.  We will be appealing Ofcom’s decision.”

EE hadn’t sent us a statement at time of writing, nor had it issued a press release. Read into that what you will but the fact that Ofcom reduced its fine by 30% in return for it not kicking up a fuss would seem to be significant.

Mockridge’s moan can be interpreted in a few ways. Taken at face value it’s easy to feel some sympathy. If indeed it was a small, innocent mistake that VM moved to correct as soon as it was aware of it, then the fine does seem excessive. If, however, VM knew what it was doing and thinks it should be able to get away with it just by saying sorry after it was caught, then it doesn’t.

At the very least the relative fines seem disproportionate. EE over-billed 400,000 of its customers for a total of £13.5 million in early exit charges over a six year period, while VM only rinsed 82,000 of its punters for £2.8 million in less than a year. Surely the scale of EE’s breach was far greater and it looks like it’s being too generously rewarded by Ofcom for its capitulation.

Telefónica will use IBM’s blockchain to manage international calls

Telefónica has signed a partnership with IBM to use its blockchain technology for the management of international call traffic.

Using the IBM Blockchain Platform, Telefónica hopes it will improve the traceability of international call data including things such as origin, destination, and duration.

Gonzalo Martín-Villa, Chief Innovation Officer of Telefónica, says:

"This project is one of our first initiatives to secure real benefits from the adoption of blockchain in our core business.

We believe that the new paradigm of process decentralisation that blockchain facilitates perfectly fits with the telecommunications industry and can help us to significantly improve the way we have been traditionally solving the integrations between partners.

Blockchain will allow operators to generate a new layer of confidence in the Internet, based not on the players that generate the data and the transactions, but on the data itself."

IBM’s partnership with the world’s seventh largest telecoms company is a huge vote of confidence in blockchain technology, and its own platform.

The platform will also be used to build a network of peers consisting of operators, service providers, vendors, and other parties.

Ignacio Martín Santos, MD for Telefónica Integrated Account at IBM, comments:

“In a world that is increasingly focused on data, customer experience, trust and digital ecosystems, blockchain can help communications service providers to streamline internal processes or, as in the project we are working with Telefónica, to increase trust among the different partners in the communications ecosystem, avoiding the need for call data reconciliation and thus achieving high potential benefits like reduced risk, time-saving, and cost removal.”

IBM has been a huge backer of blockchain technology. The company is partnered with Stellar, a company aiming to ‘develop the world’s new financial system’.

If that goal sounds familiar, it’s because it’s similar to Ripple – which this week overtook Ethereum as the world’s second largest cryptocurrency. One founder, Jed McCaleb, left to co-found Stellar to pursue a more decentralised, non-profit vision.

IBM said it’s worked on projects with Ripple, but ultimately decided to partner with Stellar as it shares their vision. According to Lumenauts, IBM picked Stellar for five reasons: 1) its non-profit status, 2) scalability, 3) team, 4) token ownership transparency, and 5) ability to support any asset type.

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