MobiledgeX launches enterprise edge computing collective Seamster

Edge computing specialist MobiledgeX has created an organization dedicated to enterprise use case exploration and adoption with some big names already on board.

“Our purpose is to provide a clear, comprehensive understanding of the edge market and to support industry-wide adoption of edge-enabled technologies and innovations,” says the Seamster website. To help it do that, it already has Accedian, Dell EMC, MobiledgeX, Stratacache, Topio Networks, VMware, and Worldwide Technology mucking in to the collective effort.

“When you start with the critical question about who the edge is for, you begin to see this massive opportunity from a very different perspective,” said MobiledgeX CEO Jason Hoffman. “Seamster is bringing together an eclectic array of players to expedite the information, support and resources needed to help enterprises leverage 5G and edge computing to finally solve problems in their digital transformation efforts. We invite all companies interested in pursuing this common goal to join Seamster.”

For all this talk of 5G the founding fathers are thinly represented by the telecoms community. Accedian is all about network assurance but the Dell ecosystem is very much from the enterprise perspective and the networks Topio creates are the human kind. Edge computing is where the IT and telecoms worlds collide and it would be good to see a few members of the latter join the part before long.

Having said that MobiledgeX itself was created by Deutsche Telekom back in 2018, so maybe the whole point of it is to get more enterprise companies involved. Either way it seems like a good idea to help the IT and telecoms sectors understand each other better. If this sort of thing takes off it may remove any doubt that it’s only by working together will the broader ICT world make the most of the edge opportunity.

The two-year wait for the T-Mobile/Sprint merger is finally over

653 days ago, T-Mobile US and Sprint formally submitted the paperwork to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a $26 billion merger, and today it is officially complete.

As of April 1, 2020, the merged business unit will now trade on the NASDAQ Global Select Market under the symbol ‘TMUS’, officially bringing an end to Sprint as a corporation. This has been a drawn-out and very expensive period for the two firms, but the management teams can finally relax.

And for the energetic, erratic and eccentric John Legere, the days over leading the Magenta Army into battle have also drawn to a close.

Mike Sievert, the new CEO of the combined company, might not have the energy or flair Legere possesses, but perhaps that is a good thing for the next few months. Over the last few years, T-Mobile US perhaps needed a flamboyant CEO to mount a challenge to the leadership position of AT&T and Verizon, but the immediate future for this firm requires a different type of manager.

Now the legal and regulatory hurdles have been negotiated, the new business will need a logical, pragmatic and steady hand to lead integration efforts. Perhaps this is what Sievert is? Having been Legere’s first hire, maybe he was the yin to yang, the balance to the madness which the wild-eyed John brought to the firm.

“During this extraordinary time, it has become abundantly clear how vital a strong and reliable network is to the world we live in,” said Sievert. “The New T-Mobile’s commitment to delivering a transformative broad and deep nationwide 5G network is more important and more needed than ever and what we are building is mission-critical for consumers.

“With this powerful network, the New T-Mobile will deliver real choice and value to wireless and home broadband customers and double down on all the things customers have always loved about the Un-carrier. T-Mobile has been changing wireless for good — and now we are going to do it on a whole new level.”

With today (April 1) being the first day of operations under the new cloud of expectation, T-Mobile has to deliver on the promises it has been making. This is the challenge which Sievert will face.

Firstly, the integration of the two businesses is no small feat. Secondly, the aggressive 5G rollout has to continue. And finally, the promises made to the various different regulators and Attorney Generals will have to be honoured. And perhaps above all else, business value will have to be demonstrated to investors otherwise heads will roll.

And what do we have to look forward to over the next couple of years:

  • The promise of a network which will have 14X more capacity than T-Mobile could deliver alone. The new company has set a six-year timeline to meet this milestone
  • Within six years, the team promises download speeds which are 15X faster than what can be delivered today
  • Also within the six-year window, 100 Mbps 5G download speeds will be available to 90% of the US population, while 5G will be available to 99% of the population
  • $40 billion will be invested into the network
  • The deal has promised to unlock at least $43 billion in synergies for all shareholders
  • Create 1,000 jobs in a customer service centre in Kingsburg, California
  • Create 1,000 jobs in Rochester, New York
  • Open 600 new retail stores across the country

Some of these commitments will have been made to ensure the lawyers stop being a nuisance blocking the completion of the transaction, but now it is over to Sievert who has the unenviable job of delivering on promises made by wild-eyed Legere.

The MVNO private networking opportunity

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issue. In this exclusive thought piece, Will Townsend, a Senior Analyst responsible for Networking Infrastructure and Carrier Services at Moor Insights & Strategy, discusses private networking, and the opportunity it presents to MVNOs.

Private cellular based networking is gaining momentum globally for use cases that span energy, transportation, logistics, healthcare, mining, and manufacturing among others. Enterprises are beginning to tap its potential with current 4G LTE infrastructure given longer signal propagation outdoors and lower latency relative to Wi-Fi. As 5G is deployed, there will be dramatic improvements over LTE in the form of latency, throughput, and the ability to virtualize network functions. Private networking will also bring needed operational agility in form of fine-tuning performance for specific application needs.

The ultimate success of private networking deployments will lie in the ability for it to be delivered as an integrated solution. Consequently, Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) are well positioned to capitalize on the monetization opportunity. Enterprises simply don’t have the competency to piecemeal cellular-based networks together, and MVNOs possess cellular infrastructure management “know how” that will be invaluable to enterprises. Nokia Enterprise in my mind is leading private networking infrastructure enablement for service providers and should serve MVNOs that wish to create managed service offerings. If interested, you can learn more details about Nokia’s offerings here.

In my mind, the democratization of licensed spectrum with initiatives such as the CBRS Alliance in the United States, similar initiatives and investigations in Europe and Asia, and the availability of non-carrier grade private networking equipment presents a unique opportunity for MVNOs. In a 5G world, operator leadership will be defined by innovative service delivery and not access. Private networking is poised to improve manufacturing yields in an industrial 4.0 era, create safer workplaces, and accelerate digital transformation in a multitude of industries. Those MVNOs that seize the opportunity have the potential to differentiate themselves and reap the financial rewards.

 

Mr. Townsend advises some of the largest networking infrastructure providers and carriers in the world. He has been featured on NPR, CNBC, in the Wall Street Journal, and frequently contributes on Forbes.com providing insights into both enterprise networking and 5G. Mr. Townsend is also ranked as one of the top networking analysts in the world as measured by ARInsights. In September 2020, Mr. Townsend is set to speak at MVNOs World Congress in Berlin.

KDDI and Softbank join the network sharing craze as Rakuten risk rises

Japanese telcos KDDI and Softbank have inked a network sharing partnership to ease the commercial pressures of connectivity in the rural regions.

Network sharing agreements are becoming increasingly common, perhaps one of the more prominent trends of 2020, owing to the financial pressures being placed on the telcos. With 5G and full-fibre projects on the books for many telcos, deploying connectivity infrastructure in the more sparsely populated regions, were ROI is significantly lower, is a tricky spreadsheet to balance. Telcos are increasingly looking to network sharing partnerships, to ease the financial burdens of building the foundations of the digital economy.

The new company, which will be known as 5G Japan Co, will be managed by co-CEOs Noriaki Terao (seconded from KDDI) and Eiji Otaki (seconded from SoftBank). With each telco owning 50% of the company, the network will reach out into the rural regions to provide suitable densification of 5G base stations for the 28 GHz and 3.7 GHz airwaves.

While network sharing agreements to create a more attractive ROI are not uncommon, perhaps there is more demand in Japan than many other nations. These are telcos who may have to deal with a very significant disruption in the shape of Rakuten.

As the poster boy for the open movement, Rakuten is building a network as many telcos would love to; a greenfield project, completely disassociated from the concept of legacy technologies and systems. This sort of network deployment is a dream come true for any telco and has the potential to offer significant benefits.

Firstly, it has been claimed the network can be run with only 350 employees, a fraction of the workforce running competitors’ networks. Secondly, it could be significantly cheaper to construct, thanks to Rakuten’s embrace of the OpenRAN movement. And thirdly, due to the acceptance of openness, upgrades should be faster and cheaper. This is the sort of network which everyone would build if they could start from scratch tomorrow.

There is still plenty which could go wrong with Rakuten’s business. The network could fail, or it might not be as successful as hoped in teasing subscriptions away from rivals, but the threat is very real for the Japanese telco industry. With investments substantially reduced for network construction, maintenance and upgrades, the demands on ROI are lessened. Rakuten is suddenly afforded a lot more flexibility when it comes to pricing.

At the beginning of March, Rakuten unveiled its ‘UN-LIMIT’ 5G data tariff costing 2,980 Yen per month, roughly half of what rivals have been offering. What is worth noting is that when customers are out of range of a Rakuten owned base station, a 2 GB download limit will be introduced as well as data throttling. This will be a disadvantage for the telco as it is rolling out its network, though the risk of pricing disruption is very clear.

Reliance Jio in India has already demonstrated how a market can be turned upside-down if a disruptor is allowed to gather too much momentum. This is a lesson which the likes of KDDI, Softbank and NTT Docomo should be learning as Rakuten comes online; new initiatives will have to be introduced across operations to realise efficiencies.

Without these initiatives, network sharing partnerships being one, the traditional Japanese telcos will not be able to sustainably compete with the Rakuten tariffs.

European techies launch proximity tracing app initiative

Smartphones are a great way of tracking the spread of the pandemic, but that comes with major civil liberties implications.

So a bunch of European tech companies and research organizations have got together to launch an initiative called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing. As the name implies, it’s all about being able to detect how many people are exposed to a given outbreak, and warn them, without compromising their privacy.

“PEPP-PT makes it possible to interrupt new chains of SARS-CoV-2 transmission rapidly and effectively by informing potentially exposed people,” says the new website. “We are a large and inclusive European team. We provide standards, technology, and services to countries and developers. We embrace a fully privacy-preserving approach. We build on well-tested, fully implemented proximity measurement and scalable backend service. We enable tracing of infection chains across national borders.

Right now they’re inviting more people to get involved and have even published a manifesto for anyone considering it. Among the founding members are Fraunhofer and Vodafone. We can see no evidence of the European Commission being involved in this initiative but they presumably at least payed their respects to the continental Godfather before they made their move.

Xiaomi’s overseas growth engine threatened by pandemic

Other Chinese companies might be facing difficulties in this aggressive political climate, but Xiaomi seems to be getting on just fine if 2019’s numbers are anything to go by.

What is worth noting is this is the financial period prior to the disruptions caused by coronavirus, running through to December 31. Xiaomi noted there was certainly an impact to offline sales and manufacturing capabilities are only running at 80-90% of capacity, but it seems to have weathered the storm quite well. However, the most promising growth is coming in the markets where COVID-19 is causing chaos today.

As you can see from the numbers below, Xiaomi had a very good 12 months.

Q4 2019 Year-on-year FY 2019 Year-on-year
Revenue 7,956 +27.1% 29,001 +17.7%
Gross profit 1,105 +38.5 4,023 +28.7%
Smartphone 4,339 +22% 15,968 +6%
IoT and lifestyle 2,746 +30% 7768 +40%
Internet services 802 +41% 985 +23%
Others 68 +31% 255 +85%

Figures in millions (US$)

Xiaomi is of course primarily a smartphone business, but ventures into parallel segments are starting to look very successful. The IoT and lifestyle segment is an obvious move, these are hardware products which are increasingly based in the connectivity world, though internet services are an interesting one. Few companies have been successful when attempting to wrestle profits from internet giants, though Xiaomi seems to be gathering momentum.

In the internet services business, Xiaomi is pushing very aggressively into multiple segments. News services, advertising, gaming, the Youpin e-commerce platform, fintech and TV internet services are just some of the areas. Naturally, some of these efforts will fail, but Xiaomi only needs a few to succeed to gain a foothold in the software and services world. These successes will allow Xiaomi to build credibility, the critical foundation for expansion and diversification.

And while these numbers are very promising for a business which has seen rapid growth over the last few years, much of this has been fuelled by the international markets. This could present a problem for those shareholders who might expect the same results in 2020.

Over the course of 2019, the overseas markets accounted for 46.8% of group revenues. At any other time, having the international business unit as the growth engine would be a very positive thing, but at a time where COVID-19 is set to take a considerable bite out of industry profits, the domestic business unit will have to accelerate to pick up the slack.

Western Europe, India and LATAM are three areas where Xiaomi has seen considerable success in recent memory, though these are all the markets which are facing the prospect of a coronavirus encouraged recession. Looking at the individual markets in the final three months of 2019, Xiaomi was the leading smartphone brand collecting 28% market share, the second largest in Spain were 65.7% year-on-year growth made 22.8% market share, while it ranked fourth in both France and Italy where shipments increased 69.9% and 206.2% respectively.

The Chinese domestic market is a very interesting one. Although this is a country where 5G got off to a sluggish start compared to some, the deployment of 5G base stations from the three major MNOs is accelerating at an unprecedented pace and consumers have seemingly bought into the craze; China Mobile recently said it has secured 15 million 5G subscriptions. This momentum will force China through a smartphone refreshment cycle, and with Xiaomi owning roughly 9% of market share, this could prove to be a very profitable period, even more so if success in the overseas markets can be brought to China.

With reports in China suggesting society is resisting a second wave from the pandemic, consumer spending might well recover adequately, though whether this is enough to compensate from what would appear to be a downturn in Xiaomi’s international markets remains to be seen. Western Europe and India are important growth engines for the ambitious firm, though these are two regions where the risk of COVID-19 is significant.

Chinese vendors win nearly all of China Mobile’s 5G business – there’s a shock

China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator, has completed the second phase of its 5G tender and 86% of the work went to Huawei and ZTE.

The news comes courtesy of C114.com.cn and is written in Chinese, so we’re once more indebted to our China correspondent for a translation, as Google Translate really struggles with that language. “China Mobile’s second phase 5G construction has selected bid winners, total investment CNY 37.1 billion. Huawei and ZTE combined win 86% of the total,” reads the headline.

The main event is the table below, which displays the following information, from left to right: Province | Number of base stations | Huawei | ZTE | Ericsson | China Information Communication Technologies Group Corporation. Underneath each vendor is the bidding price in CNY and the proportion of the base stations won.

Some of the mechanics of the bidding process remain a mystery, especially with such similar bids yielding such different proportions. In one province Ericsson seems to have out-bid CICT but got a smaller proportion of the work. Notable by its absence is Nokia, which apparently did get involved but failed to win anything.

While we’re sure everything about the bidding process was totally transparent and above board, it comes as no surprise to see the process dominated by Chinese vendors. All the aggro around Huawei and the US was already threatening a balkanisation of the technology industry and growing western criticism of China’s role in the coronavirus pandemic will surely only accelerate that process.

COVID-19 puts Year of 5G on hold

The telco industry might be in the limelight for the moment, but 5G looks like it is now taking a breather as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on society.

2020 was supposed to be the year 5G started to pay dividends. Telcos have been promising financial rewards in the enterprise segments, enterprise customers have been envisioning connectivity-based business models and the vendors were supposed to be supplying the technology to underpin it all. The party might have to be delayed by another year.

“At Omdia we are revising our 5G forecast,” said Omdia 5G Practice Leader Dario Talmesio. “There are many factors to be looked at, including consumer confidence, business confidence, disposable income, employment data, availability of networks, availability of devices, retail environment, marketing budgets. all these are converging to one direction which is very negative for 5G eMBB.

“We previously believed that 2020 was going to be the real year of 5G. This is no longer that case under the current circumstances.”

Everyone in the industry has been building towards 5G. The chip makers have been scaling capabilities quickly, the infrastructure vendors have been fine tuning base stations, cloud companies are rapidly growing footprints and devices manufacturers have been planning launches. But the reality is attention has been drawn elsewhere.

Speaking at a media briefing, Huawei SVP Victor Zhang said the telcos are prioritising projects to improve resilience in existing networks as more customers work from home. There is only so much which can be done to continue the 5G rollout as engineers are forced to prioritise the network strain which is threatening today. 5G deployments will slow down as a result.

This is not necessarily a huge consequence for some vendors, Huawei and Nokia for instance have fixed broadband business units, but it might cause headaches for those who are focused on mobile.

Ahead of the Ericsson Annual General Meeting (AGM), which will take place virtually, CEO Börje Ekholm suggested there was no material impact to the firm just yet. Pointing to the 86 commercial 5G agreements and 27 live networks, Ekholm is seemingly trying to build confidence in the business but it becomes difficult to ignore the logic behind a 5G slowdown.

Attention from the telcos is being diverted as reliable broadband and 4G networks are the gold standard during the outbreak, but you have to question whether there is the 5G demand from the consumer to underpin aggressive deployment strategies from the MNOs.

Looking ahead, September would have been a very interesting month for 5G excitement thanks to launch of Apple’s flagship device for the year. This would have been a 5G-capable smartphone and would have stirred the iCultists into a frenzy. Many analysts have suggested this launch could push 5G into the mainstream, but reports have been circulating that claim the bonanza could be scaled back.

It was suggested Apple would launch four devices in the autumn, ticking the boxes for multiple demographics, but supply problems for components might be the spanner in the works. What is worth noting is that there are also reports Apple is on track. As with everything associated with the media-shy iGiant, mixed reports are muddying the waters.

Looking at the wider smartphone segment, the demand is not likely to scale over the next few months to completely justify an aggressive 5G rollout.

If the telcos are to rationalize additional expenditure on 5G deployments, there would have to be customers on the other side to make use of the shiny, speedy networks. As it stands, some enterprise customers are prioritising manpower and investments towards existing day-to-day operations and also trying to reduce out-goings as a recession looms on the horizon, while consumers are also becoming increasingly cash conscious and with retail locations closed, sales are likely to become less common.

Last week, Counterpoint Research suggested smartphone shipments had declined by 14% over the course of February, and it would be very fair to assume the trend would continue (if not worsen) through March and beyond as more self-isolation measures are introduced around the world. New smartphone purchases are likely to be delayed for many for various reasons, eroding the demand for 5G connectivity.

Another very obvious issue which the telcos may well face is the sourcing of products and components. Although the main suppliers have been very vocal in suggesting their manufacturing capabilities are secure, that could change in a matter of weeks. These are companies who could be thrown off course by their own supply chains, and even if there have been business continuity measures put in place, we are heading to the realms of the unknown. Predicting the status quo of tomorrow and the impact of this pandemic is becoming almost impossible.

As it stands, the telcos are being forced to prioritise investment and attention elsewhere, forecasts on the number of 5G capable devices are likely to be lowered and delicately balanced supply chains could be thrown off course in a matter of days. The Chinese telcos could certainly counter this assumption with their own deployments, but it would be a fair to bet on 2021 being the new Year of 5G.

NTT Docomo pulls its NB-IoT service after less than a year

Japanese telco NTT Docomo has decided providing services based on NB-IoT narrowband technology isn’t worth the hassle, so it’s going to stop.

The brief announcement was published only in Japanese, so we’re indebted to Google Translate once more. It apparently said NTT has been offering NB-IoT services since 25 April 2019, but in the light of the current business environment it’s going to stop, in order to concentrate management resources.

Read into that translation what you will, but it seems clear that the technology just isn’t adding up. Even more damning is the fact that NTT is going to keep providing IoT services based on Cat 1 and LTE-M technology, which implies it’s specifically the standard, rather than IoT in general, which is failing to deliver.

To find out why that might be we spoke to wireless technology expert William Webb. “NB-IoT looked at one time as if it would become the only wide-area IoT network, sweeping all others away,” said Webb. “Its advantages seemed to be overwhelming – it can be deployed by a software update to existing 4G base stations, quickly and cost-effectively delivering nationwide IoT coverage. Chipsets are available from Huawei and others and many module designs are in the marketplace although these have not yet hit the price points and power consumption levels that were originally promised.

“But things have not gone quite to plan. NB-IoT has not been widely deployed. In some countries only one MNO has deployed, resulting in no competition. In other countries operators are deploying ‘on demand’, waiting until they have an order and then delivering the coverage required (eg across a campus). Only in a very few places is there vibrant competition.

“Why is this? Broadly it is due to the business case. Revenues are very weak with 10-year IoT SIM cards available for around $10, so only $1/year, miniscule by cellular standards. Volumes have been low, as they have for all IoT systems, questioning whether this is a large market. Sales have been difficult, requiring complex systems offerings, at high cost. As a result, many MNOs are struggling to make NB-IoT viable. And there is an opportunity cost as NB-IoT takes some spectrum away from the cellular network.”

Webb concluded by noting that this move is likely to send shockwaves around the telecoms world, as it will cause everyone else to question the viability of investing in NB-IoT services. That, in turn, could well initiate a self-reinforcing downward spiral. NTT made no mention of COVID-19 in its announcement, but it seems safe to assume the business environment will be very risk-averse for the rest of this year, which is further bad news for the LPWAN standard that once looked destined to dominate the IoT world.

Huawei posts strong annual report but warns of challenges ahead

Huawei held a virtual press conference to launch its latest annual report amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The past year was always going to be a difficult one for Huawei due to the US applying sanctions and increasing pressure globally to ban the vendor’s equipment. A pandemic that’s led to broader market disruption has only amplified those struggles.

"2019 was an extraordinary year for Huawei," said Eric Xu, Huawei's Rotating Chairman. "Despite enormous outside pressure, our team forged ahead with a singular focus on creating value for our customers. We worked hard to earn their respect and trust, as well as that of our partners around the globe. Business remains solid."

The company’s overall revenue in 2019 increased by 19.1 percent to ¥858.8 billion ($120.9 billion). Of that revenue, net profit increased by 5.6 percent to ¥62.7 billion ($8.8 billion).

While countries like Australia have decided to ban Huawei from national 5G infrastructure, the vendor’s global marketshare continues to grow. According to Statista, Huawei holds the largest marketshare (~35.3%) of any vendor. The second-largest, Nokia, holds less than half Huawei’s marketshare at around 16.1 percent.

However, it's likely too early to see the impacts of some pivotal moments over the past year in this report.

Many were awaiting the decision of the UK government, as a key US ally and major intelligence player, to observe their approach to Huawei’s equipment. Following an intense multi-year security review, the UK decided to allow Huawei’s equipment with significant caveats.

Huawei’s equipment will be allowed in no more than 35 percent of British access networks which connect devices and equipment to mobile phone masts. Furthermore, Huawei will not be permitted in any critical infrastructure or sensitive sites like nuclear sites and military bases. All equipment will also continue to be checked at the dedicated Huawei Cyber Security Centre in Banbury for any potential risks.

Following the decision, Huawei VP Victor Zhang said: “We were reassured by the UK government’s decision in January that we could continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll-out on track. It was an evidence-based decision that will result in a more advanced, more secure, and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure.”

Many operators are reluctant to give up their relationship with Huawei due to the costs and delays involved with removing existing gear and purchasing and installing equipment from another vendor.

Even under the UK's current plan to limit the use of Huawei's equipment, BT alone estimates the decision will cost it around £500 million over the next five years. Delays in the 5G rollout will also impact the economy and global competitiveness.

The consumer side of Huawei’s business is also under significant pressures. US sanctions forced Huawei to end its relationship with Google, meaning new smartphones – like the P40 flagship announced this week – will launch without Google’s services like the Play Store.

Further sanctions under consideration by the Trump administration may result in changes to the Foreign Direct Product Rule which intends to restrict Huawei’s access to chips made using American technologies and equipment.

Despite the pressures, Huawei’s consumer business flourished last year and grew 34 percent. For comparison, Huawei’s enterprise business grew 8.6 percent and its carrier business grew 3.8 percent.

revenue-by-business-huawei-2019
"The external environment will only get more complicated going forward," Xu cautioned. "We need to keep enhancing the competitiveness of our products and services, promoting open innovation, and creating greater value for our customers and society at large.”

“This is the only way we can seize the historic opportunities presented by the digital and intelligent transformation of industries, and maintain robust growth in the long run."

You can find a full copy of Huawei’s 2019 annual report here (PDF)

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data ExpoCyber Security & Cloud Expo and 5G Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.