Lebanon backtracks on plan to tax voice calls made over the internet

Lebanon has decided to backtrack on a policy that would have resulted in a daily charge to users wanting to make voice calls over the internet.

The plan was to charge 20 cents per day for calls made over the web; including using services like WhatsApp and FaceTime Audio.

While it's a relatively small daily charge, Lebanon expected it to result in an extra $200 million per year for the cash-strapped government.

Lebanon recently declared an "economic emergency" and is currently in the process of seeking new revenue sources while shaking off its debts.

Telecom Minister Mohamed Chouchair had promised "something in return" would be announced next week. This would likely have taken the shape of some kind of compensation.

Given that Lebanon only has two operators, both of which are state-controlled, consumers would have been left with little choice but to accept the new daily charge if they wanted to use VoIP services.

Lebanon decided to backtrack on its policy amid fierce clashes between protestors and security forces in the biggest demonstrations in the country for five years.

The protestors are not just angry over the internet call tax, but also over fuel, food, and a general economic crisis which they blame on the government. They also point the finger at the government for alleged inaction in tackling the country's worst wildfires in decades.

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Fingers pointed towards 3G work for Three network outage

While the full-extent of the network outage has not been unveiled just yet, some are suggesting maintenance on the firms 3G network is the root cause.

Three has confirmed it was a change to the network which was being made overnight on Wednesday [October 16] which caused the outage, but it is being elusive with the specifics. Either it doesn’t know, which we doubt, or it doesn’t want to say.

There does appear to be customers who are struggling to connect to voice, SMS and data services, though the majority of the issues seem to have been settled. Networks appear to be up-and-running, and now the work begins to understand the cause of the outage. Perhaps more importantly, the team will also want to figure out how to ensure this incident does not occur again.

“Following the technical difficulties with our services yesterday, the majority of our customers can now make calls, send texts and use data,” Three said in a statement.

“Our engineers have worked overnight and are continuing to iron out a few remaining issues from a technical perspective. While voice and text have returned to normal, unfortunately a small number of customers may continue to experience intermittent issues with data.

“To help with the process we advise our customers to turn their phones off and on or turn airplane mode on and off, which will in most cases resolve the issue by resetting your phone’s connection to the network.”

Although the ‘turn it off and turn it on again’ request will infuriate a few, it is usually the best way to get things fixed. Three is suggesting the problems are in the past and it will be hoping its reputation has not taken too much of a hit.

Unfortunately for the team, there was a bit of a misguided attempt at humour during the saga. In one tweet, Three suggests O2 had unplugged its 3G network when plugging in its own 5G infrastructure, though a few commentators noted that it might have been a bit funnier if there weren’t customers continuing through the data-less struggle.

Looking at the root cause of the issue, there is still some ambiguity. Some have suggested it might have been teething problems for the new cloud core, being supplied by Nokia, though Three has denied this. Other reports have emerged suggesting maintenance and repairs on 3G infrastructure could be the reason.

The 3G work is an interesting angle, as while Three is attempting to switch-off 3G in pursuit of re-farming valuable spectrum for 4G and 5G, this is still a work in progress.

Interestingly enough, while the process of switching-off 3G networks is one which is gaining popularity, spectrum is a valuable resource after all, it might have a negative impact on the 2G networks which are still running.

Although it might seem unusual to discuss 2G in today’s world, a report from Tech UK suggests the need for 2G services is likely to continue into the 2030s. The services are still being made use of by the elderly, rural users and M2M applications, this will not change in the immediate future. If telcos are switching off 3G, the demand of these areas cannot be offset meaning 2G networks will have to be maintained for the foreseeable future.

“We sometimes focus on technology without fully understanding the impact on services people rely on,” said Tony Lavender, chair of the Spectrum Policy Forum Steering Board.

“Among other things, 2G enables smart metering and the mobile phones used by many vulnerable people in society. We need to think through the alternatives for these services before switching them off.”

While hiccups are rare in the connectivity world, they are certainly not unheard of. Last year, inadequacies from Ericsson resulted in an expired software license crashing O2’s network in the UK and Softbank’s in Japan. At the time of writing, Verizon is also entering the domain of damage control after users faced the connectivity baron land in the North-east and the Mid-west.

What is unclear is what the financial impact of the outage will be. As has been shown with the O2 network outage last year, consumers do not immediately flood towards the exit when services crash for an extended period of time. Three’s network does not crash regularly, therefore customers will likely tolerate this incident, but it might end up costing the firm a few million in compensation.

AT&T in talks to appease Elliott: sources

Reports have emerged to suggest the AT&T management team is attempting to reduce pressure from activist investor Elliott Management.

According to Reuters, AT&T has engaged the vulture fund to understand how demands can be met without causing too much disruption to the business or undermining the long-term ambitions of the business.

Elliott Management is pressing AT&T to cut costs, make changes in the management offices and scale back the wider ambitions of the business. One element to the call-to-action from Elliott Management has been to divest non-core assets.

Aside from saving their own jobs, the management team will want to appease the aggression of the vulture fund. With the acquisitions of both DirecTV and Time Warner, the ambition is to diversify revenues, capturing the excitement being generated in the content world. That said, should Elliott Management get its way the AT&T business would be much more commoditised focused almost exclusively on connectivity.

The AT&T business is an interesting one which has polarised opinion. It perhaps has been too cavalier with the cheque book, but few will dismiss the ambition to chase after new revenues. Every forward-looking telco recognises the threat of ignoring diversification and the slow trudge towards commoditisation, though this does not concern Elliott Management.

For Elliott Management, the objective is simple; increase dividend payments and raise share price. Once these two objectives have been met, the team will sell off its stake and collect the profits. This is a mid-term strategy, and it is effective for money men, but it does present a danger to the long-term positioning of AT&T as an influential player in the digital society.

Elliott Management can cause waves, though the ability of the management to control this disruption will give some sort of indication of what AT&T will look like in the future.

BT launches biggest TV campaign for two decades

BT has launched its biggest TV advertising campaign for 20 years’ in the hope it can link-up all the network and brand assets in pursuit of the convergence business.

The new campaign, running across all available channels, will hopefully build the foundations to reinvigorate an ageing BT brand and push towards creating a new business model, heavily relying on the new ‘Halo’ convergence product.

More than three and a half years after acquiring the EE business, BT is getting down to the difficult work of making sense of the business. The expensive and questionably beneficial venture into TV proved to be a useful distraction for the team, though now it seems it is making progress on validating the £12.5 billion deal which brought the mobile giant into the group.

“Today’s launch of the ‘Beyond Limits’ campaign represents a real shift for BT, inside and out,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer division.

“Our presence and scale across the UK means that we have an opportunity and responsibility to go further than ever to connect more people and businesses across the UK, help them make the most out of the technology they have, and equip them with the skills they need to shape the future. This campaign represents just that, a bold step into the future, helping people to break down barriers and realise their potential.”

The TV ad follows the story of a young girl as she travels through modern Britain to reach her classroom of the future. This aspect of the campaign draws attention to the innovations which are made capable as future-proofed networks, both 5G and full-fibre, are rolled out through the country.

While this aspect of the campaign does not pay too much homage to the wider scale of the BT business, it does draw attention to the digital skills and education campaign which the team has launched.

Alongside this TV campaign, BT will also brand all of its EE shops with the BT branding and will sponsor all four football unions representing the members of the UK. The BT business does need a brand refresh, it needs to be presented as a modern company in the same way Three and O2 has done in recent years, though we will be curious to see how these campaigns aim to marry the different assets in the mind of the consumer.

If you look at the assets which the UK telcos have at their disposal, BT should theoretically be untouchable. The largest mobile and fixed networks, a wifi footprints with five million access points and a new TV proposition, behind schedule currently but should be launched in the New Year.

The new BT brand is a good start, offering the company a fresh start, but soon enough someone will have to make the brave decision to retire the EE brand, as well as the expensive brand marketing campaign fronted by the likes of Kevin Bacon and Britney Spears. Not only is running two advertising campaigns very expensive, the perseverance of a multi-brand strategy does not help the push towards convergence.

Hopefully this is the first step in this journey forward. A significant brand marketing campaign will refresh the brand and drive towards repositioning the BT business. The TV ad does encourage the association with BT and future-tech and does provide the foundation to build bigger and better things. However, the team will still have to tackle the complicated job of marrying all the connectivity and entertainment assets into a single, bundled proposition.

Nokia gets some Telia love with 5G mall win

Swedish operator group Telia showed it’s not entirely monogamous with Ericsson by picking Nokia to run its new 5G network in the new Mall of Tripla in Helsinki.

While a single shopping centre might not seem like the biggest deal win, it will serve as a case study into all the capacity goodness promised by 5G. Using both Nokia base stations and small cell gear, shoppers at the mall will presumably be able to download the entire internet in one nanosecond and all the other good things promised by 5G enhanced mobile broadband.

“We are seeing increased demand for better connectivity at shopping centers, stadiums and large events, which is why the 5G network rollout at the Mall of Tripla is a milestone for both Nokia and Telia,” said Ari Kynäslahti, Head of Mobile Networks Product Management at Nokia.

I am particularly proud of the way our 5G AirScale Indoor Radio small cells have been able to be discretely installed inside the mall for excellent, seamless indoor coverage. The retail industry has the potential to be one of the big beneficiaries of 5G and we are excited to see how consumers and businesses benefit from this 5G network at the largest shopping center in the Nordics.”

Of course all that lovely bandwidth isn’t just about downloading movies, etc. There is an expectation that retail will be able to use both augmented and virtual reality to enhance the shopping experience in some way. On top of this being a handy case study for Nokia, it will be pleased to be reminded there is still room in Telia’s heart for it after being snubbed in Norway.

Ericsson scores 5G RAN and core deal with LG U+

South Korea’s third MNO will be leaning heavily on Swedish kit vendor for its nascent 5G network, having chosen it for both the RAN and the core.

The new news seems to concern specifically LG U+’s non-standalone 5G using the 3.5 GHz frequency band, for which Ericsson will supply at least some of the RAN kit. Ericsson is only announcing itself a ‘a’ supplier, rather than ‘the’ supplier, so we can assume there are others. It seems the 5G core gig was already known, but Ericsson decided to mention it again anyway.

“We are delighted to have Ericsson as a trusted 5G Core and 5G RAN vendor,” said Daehee Kim, Vice President, Network Strategy at LG U+. “Ericsson’s end-to-end 5G technology leadership is key to ramping-up our nationwide 5G ambitions in Korea. Ericsson will help us to deliver the very best enhanced mobile broadband experiences for our subscribers, as well as opening up innovation and job creation opportunities through the Internet of Things, Industry 4.0 and digitalized society.”

“We’re working in close partnership with LG U+ to strengthen its 5G network in Korea,” said Hakan Cervell, Head of Ericsson Korea. “We look forward to building the partnership to help LG U+ meet its 5G needs as its subscriber base grows across enhanced mobile broadband, IoT, and Industry 4.0. We’re also delighted to now be working with all three communication providers in Korea to use our 5G abilities to keep the country at the forefront of 5G innovation and benefits.”

Huawei seems to be largely frozen out of South Korea, but Samsung is presumably a stronger networking competitor there than anywhere else in the world, so this is still a decent deal win. We don’t know how much of LG U+’s 5G network will be covered by Ericsson, but North East Asia is a key market so it will take whatever’s going.

Customer service in the 5G era

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Simon Osborne, Head of Nokia Software Portfolio, offers some insight into customer service best practice as we move into the 5G era.

When reflecting on the word “service,” it can clearly be defined as the act of serving. But who exactly are communication service providers (CSPs) serving?

In the telecom industry, traditional service development has either been driven by what the network can do or what competitors are doing. This service tactic doesn’t always have a lot to do with the customer, and is ultimately a reactionary approach to innovation. The old define-and-push approach no longer works, and service providers everywhere know this has to change if they want to stay relevant.

Today, the vital approach needed is a demand-and-pull model that embraces the new ways people and companies consume services and content, rooted in the best possible experience. It requires reimagining the entire process to be based on “experience outcomes” and it has a direct impact on service provider operations.

Opening up the ecosystem to integrate the business

In order to embrace a demand-and-pull model, service providers must understand their business in totality, rather than simply the infrastructure elements behind individual customer touchpoints. The service is not just about what they provide or how they provide it or troubleshoot it when there are issues. It’s about all of those things combined.

CSPs who get this right by leveraging their customer insights will have the power to drive a different experience — and different outcomes.

The good news is that they don’t have to do it alone. In the 5G era, networks can be transformed into a platform that providers and their partners can utilize together to create services that meet customer needs, whether it be online gaming packages with the network built in or industrial automation services. The sky’s the limit.

Prioritizing the User Experience Above Everything

The ways people use their devices and data today aren’t yet reflected in the structure of the service provider industry. I think about the times I’ve tried to use online banking or a rideshare app while traveling, only to be hit with a roaming charge. As a user, I don’t care whose network I’m on – I just want to use my apps.

Imagine a scenario in which my provider offered me a premium to use my apps anywhere, rather than penalizing me for trying to use my device. I’d feel more taken care of – and I’d likely take the offer. For service providers, this is about seizing the moment in order to monetize it while also fostering relationships.

It is vital to begin viewing the network as a fluid platform for services that support those kinds of relationships with end customers. In order to make that happen, traditional processes need to be re-centered around the customer’s need so that all the handoffs within the network are geared toward meeting that need.

Designing service-centric operations

It takes more than putting a digital veneer on existing processes in order to shift to an outcomes-driven demand-and-pull model. Traditional CSPs have to become digital service providers. It’s a mindset that alters everything from service delivery to the innovation journey and requires being much more service-centric by getting past the idea that operations are simply the network operations center.

5G is changing the network and the customer journey — profoundly, and operations will need to change, too. We must break down the silos and move to a closed-loop approach that’s driven by business outcomes – not by simply what the network can do. It is vital that better balance be found between supply and demand based on intelligent, on-demand processes that support the management of digital services from end to end over a software-based network.

These kinds of services will be more complex than the ones offered today, without a doubt. However, this outcome-driven approach to service is vital for the 5G future by putting the focus on serving, above all else, the customer.

 

simon osborne nokiaAs the Head of Portfolio Strategy, Simon is responsible for the direction of the Nokia Software Portfolio. While the industry embraces all aspects of digitalization, Simon works with CSPs to solve these challenges by ensuring they have new software tools, approaches and architectures to be successful. During 25+ years in the OSS/BSS industry he has held senior positions in professional services, consulting, product engineering, product management and product strategy.

Samsung Galaxy S10 has a flaw that allows the fingerprint reader to be hacked

Following the discovery by a UK user that any fingerprint could unlock their phone, Samsung has announced it will issue a software patch.

The flaw was first made public earlier this week when Lisa Neilson from Castleford told the Sun newspaper about her discovery that she could unlock her Samsung Galaxy S10 with any finger, including her husband’s. It seems that the hack became possible when she put a screen protector on as the fingerprint reader in the S10 is embedded in the screen.

It looks like the reader was reading some kind of pattern on the screen protector rather than the finger pressing on it. Samsung rather unhelpfully responded that people should only buy Samsung-branded stuff, conveniently overlooking the fact that Samsung UK doesn’t even seem to sell screen protectors anyway.

There is also no advice offered on the problem anywhere on the Samsung UK site that we could see, but multiple media are reporting the following statement from Samsung: “We are investigating this issue and will be deploying a software patch soon.”

If it takes more than a software patch then Samsung would have to do yet another expensive product recall. For the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor to be hacked by something as simple as a screen protector is pretty embarrassing for Samsung. Furthermore, if it doesn’t provide a definitive answer to this issue very quickly then public trust in the security of its latest phones will start to erode rapidly.

Ericsson is beating revenue forecasts as 5G rollout continues

Telecoms equipment maker Ericsson has surpassed quarterly earnings expectations and increased its market forecast for 2019 and sales target for 2020, owing to a quicker increase in demand for superfast 5G networks. 

Ericsson CEO Borje Ekholm, said, “We see a much faster pace of introduction of 5G than expected,” citing particular strength in the US and South Korea. Shares of the company jumped as much as 7.4% to a three month high of SEK 89.94, pulling up Nokia’s shares in their wake.

In the Q3/2019, the company’s adjusted operating earnings rose to SEK 6.5 billion from SEK 3.8 billion a year earlier, corresponding to an 11.4% margin and beating the SEK 5.2 billion mean forecast seen in a Refinitiv poll of analysts.

The company expected 5G deployments in China, where it has invested to gain market share, to start “near term”, adding they were likely to have “challenging margins” initially. It changed its 2022 margin target to 12-14% from more than 12% previously.

Ericsson expects the Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment market to grow by 5% in 2019, up from July’s forecast for 3% growth. 

In a research note, Credit Suisse said that Ericsson’s Q3/2019 results were “better on all metrics”, while Carnegie said the update was “very strong”.

Meanwhile, 5G networks are at the centre of a looming technology war between the US and China, as they are expected to host critical functions from driverless vehicles to smart electric grids and military communications, emphasizing their importance to national security. 

Washington has put Chinese supplier Huawei on a trade blacklist and led a global campaign persuading allies to ban the firm from their 5G networks, alleging its equipment could be used by Beijing for spying – which the company has repeatedly denied.

Ericsson, which together with Nokia and Huawei sells the bulk of radio access network equipment that is key for 5G mobile services, said it was now targeting sales of SEK 230-240 billion in 2020, up from SEK 210-220 billion previously.

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Uber is much more than a taxi firm

To most people, Uber is just a cheap and convenient way to get home after a few drinks, but the scope of the business is extraordinary.

While the inclusion of Uber at a broadband conference might have raised a few eyebrows, the overview given by Global Head of Connectivity Rahul Vijay demonstrated the creativity, innovation and stubborn drive which has ensured Silicon Valley and its residents are some of the most influential in the world.

First and foremost, no-one should consider Uber as a taxi company anymore, at least not in the traditional sense. The taxi’s might still account for the majority of annual revenues, but the team is expanding into so many different areas it is difficult to sum up the business in a single sentence.

Aside from the taxi business we all know and love, Uber has a commercial business working with the travel teams at large corporations, the food delivery business unit is solidly position in a fast-growing segment, the team also work with insurance companies to make sure patients make it to their hospital appointments and it is also making promising moves into the freight world. In markets in south east Asia, the team has launched a 2G-compatible app and is also applying the same business model to mopeds and scooters. In Croatia, Uber has launched a boat taxi service.

These are the ideas which are up-and-running or currently being live trialled, though the R&D unit is also playing around with some interesting ideas. Autonomous vehicles, flying taxis and drone delivery initiatives are just some of the blue-thinking projects. This is a company where a lot is going on.

The interesting aspect of the autonomous vehicles is not just the technology but the supporting connectivity landscape.

“Without mobility there is no Uber,” Vijay said at Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam.

Some have suggested that Uber will never be profitable until autonomous vehicles are commonplace through the fleet, though it doesn’t seem to be the technology which is worrying Vijay; connectivity is too expensive today.

The test vehicles which are currently purring around the highways of North America transmit as much as 2 TB of data a day. This is not only a monstrous amount of information to store and analyse, but the economics of taking this data from the car to the data centres is not there. Vijay said it is still by far and away cheaper to transmit this data through optical cables than over the air, which is not practical. Until 5G arrives, and is scaled throughout the transportation infrastructure, autonomous vehicles are not a commercially viable concept for Uber.

This also opens the door up to another very useful revenue stream for Uber. With more than 110 million users around the world, 200 new trips are started every second. These vehicles are travelling through cities, countryside’s and down highways. The amount of information on mobile signal strength or the performance of mobile handoff between cell sites is boggling. These are only two areas, but Vijay suggested there could be hordes of valuable information which could be collected by the vehicles as they fulfil the core primary business objective.

For telcos, regulators, governments or cloud companies, this insight could be incredibly valuable. It could inform investment strategies or encourage policy changes. If data is the new oil, Uber is sitting on a very significant reserve.

As it stands, the company brings in a lot of money, but the prospect of profits are questionable. In the three months ending June 30, Uber revenues attributable to bookings stood at $15.756 billion. The loss from these operations was $5.485 billion. The transportation game operates on very fine margins. Share price has declined by 28% since this earnings call, though there is hope on the horizon.

If Uber can gain traction in the new markets it is pushing aggressively into there will be increased revenues, though in monetizing assets which it creates organically, the data collected from taxi trips, there could be some interesting developments.