AI and edge computing replaces the Pilgrims in the new Mayflower

IBM’s AI and edge computing technologies are going to guide a crewless boat to chart the same route the Pilgrims did 400 years ago.

I was at an IBM analyst event when I met Don Scott, CTO of Marine Ai, a venture that is working on an automatic boat, named “Mayflower”, that will sail from Plymouth, England, where the Marine Ai is based, to Plymouth, Massachusetts in September this year, 400 years after the original ship carried the Pilgrims across the Atlantic Ocean.

My first question was on why IBM, considering companies like Google would probably have more expertise in autonomous driving. The problem with Google seems to be two-fold. On one hand, Google demands that all new “knowledge” developed from their AI tools should be owned by Google. On the other hand, Google’s AI tools are not transparent enough to satisfy the maritime regulators.

On the other hand, Scott said IBM has responded to his request with enthusiasm. In addition to reversing Google’s position on those two pain points above, IBM is helping develop the boat’s control system on its Power System servers. Meanwhile, other partners in the projects, including the University of Plymouth, one of the world’s leading research institute of marine science, and the non-profit organisation ProMare, are training IBM’s PowerAI engine with real data from the ocean, for example recognising other ships, whales, floating debris.

The boat will be equipped with an edge computing module using the data from the AI engine to make onboard decisions, similar to the way autonomous cars are doing on the road. What is different is that, while autonomous cars are typically always online (it is one of the leading use cases for 5G, for example), connectivity to the internet when the boat sales out to sea will be sporadic at the best. It will use some satellite communication, but the majority of the computing will be done “on the edge”.

The motor power of the boat, which is made of aluminium and composite materials and measures 15 metres by 6 metres, will come from onboard batteries, charge with solar power and back-up biofuel generator. When I asked him what the boat can do in addition to charting ocean geography, Scott said the first mission would include measure the level of microplastic in the sea, which has increasingly become a big concern for those of us that worry about the environment. In the future, similar sea vessels may even be used to clean the ocean.

I was fully aware that Marine Ai was present at the event because it is a showcase for IBM technologies. However, I could not deny that the project fascinated me in its own right. If edge computing and AI, as well as cloud computing and satellite communication, are pushing the boundary of what they can do, this should count as one case.

All-Optical Network Strategy and Coordinated Planning Are the Cornerstone for Building Full-Service Target Networks

“Even perfect tactics cannot make up for a lack of strategy.” What is strategy? Strategy is a methodology of continuously maintaining an enterprise’s competitiveness and sustainable development capabilities, with medium- and long-term business value as the goal.

What is coordinated planning? The business departments of operators are assigned with different responsibilities based on 2B, 2C, and 2H service types. However, network planning and construction departments need to coordinate business requirements and network planning. Therefore, cost reduction does not merely depend on procurement, but also depends on other factors such as network architecture, coordinated planning, and top-level design. Coordinated planning is a key initiative to implement enterprises’ development strategies.

What are full services? In addition to traditional broadband, mobile, and value-added services, operators are moving towards digital transformation services thanks to their resource advantages in cloud-network convergence/synergy, freeing them from becoming dumb pipe providers.

All-optical networks are also known as fiber to the x (FTTx), which can refer to fiber to the site, fiber to the building, and fiber to the home. The coordinated planning of full-service areas and unified optical cable networks is critical to implementing all-optical networks.

1 Successful Experience of Chinese Operators

Strategic directions and coordinated planning embody the success of Chinese operators.

According to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) of China, by November 2019, the total number of broadband users of the three major operators (China Telecom, China Mobile, and China Unicom) had reached 452 million, among which optical network users account for 92.5%. Moreover, the total number of mobile users had exceeded 1.6 billion, among which 4G users take up 79.7%. China had deployed more than six million base stations, of which more than five million are 4G base stations. Additionally, around 130,000 5G base stations had been built by the end of 2019. China’s strong broadband networks and abundant fiber resources lead to stronger mobile networks.

China Telecom, China Mobile, and China Unicom are all listed companies, and adhere to the fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) strategy. Their network construction is driven by four factors: policies, competition, services, and technologies. Among them, competition is the major driver. The Chinese government has not only issued competitive policies such as triple play, higher speed and lower prices, and mobile number portability (MNP), but also issued supportive policies, such as joint construction and sharing of infrastructure, standardization of fiber communications auxiliary construction for real estate developers, and lower prices for 5G spectrum.

Chinese people believe that to get rich, build road first. Similarly, Chinese operators believe that to develop services and increase revenue, construct network infrastructure first. However, network construction cannot be done blindly. Instead, value identification is required before network construction. Only strong networks can facilitate service growth. In the Internet era, the bandwidth and latency of networks will always be competitive, especially in the 2B field.

With regard to investment, Chinese operators believe the following concepts: Look at the big picture, not merely small segments. Look at mid- and long-term goals, not merely short-term goals. Look at the competition landscape, not merely business revenue. Look at gaining sustainable development capabilities, not merely immediate interests. Expanding the user base is Chinese operators’ top priority.

2 China Telecom’s CT2025 Strategy

As early as 2016, China Telecom proposed its CT2025 strategy and Internet Plus action plan, as shown in Figure 2-1.

Figure 2-1 Business and technical strategies of China Telecom’s CT2025

China Telecom’s business strategy is to build a 2+5 ecological tree. The root of this tree is broadband and 4G pipes (focusing on gigabit broadband + 5G). The entire tree will thrive only if its root grows well. The branches of the tree are five ecosystems, including smart connectivity, Internet of things (IoT), smart home, novel ICT applications, and Internet finance.

The technical strategy of China Telecom is to transform from ICT into DICT (Data Tech + ICT). Data Tech include AI, Block chain, Cloud, Big Data, Edge Computing, Five G, Smart Home, and IoT (ABCDEFGHI for short).

In 2018, China Telecom proposed that its strategy would shift from “optical transformation” to “cloud transformation” over the next decade.

3 Composition of Full Services

Full services consist of 2B, 2C, and 2H services. 2C and 2H services are relatively simple and focus on package design, whereas 2B services are complex. This document describes the rough classification of 2B services only, as shown in Figure 3-1.

Figure 3-1 Classification of 2B services

2B services fall into four types: private lines, IoT, ICT, and Internet Data Center (IDC).

  1. Private lines

Private line products focus on differentiated requirements, and can be classified into the following types:

(1) Networking private lines, which are further classified into premium optical transport network (OTN) private lines (rigid pipes), IP RAN private lines (elastic pipes), and PON VPN private lines (wide-coverage and low-cost elastic pipes).

(2) Internet private lines, which are further divided into two types: fixed IP address and dial-up. Unlike home broadband (HBB), Internet private lines provide symmetric upload and download rates and better after-sales services.

(3) Cloud private lines, including networking private lines + cloud and Internet private lines + cloud.

Private line services are usually provided for end users as products. This requires product design, packaging, promotion, marketing, channels, application handling, as well as in-sales and after-sales services.

  1. IoT

IoT supports two access modes: wired and mobile, which are key network technologies in the smart city domain.

(1) Wired access adopts PON technology and is widely used in the video surveillance domain.

(2) In the 4G era, mobile access adopts NB-IoT technology, which later evolves to eMTC technology. In the 5G era, mobile access adopts mMTC technology.

  1. ICT

Traditional ICT is being replaced by cloudification.

(1) ICT includes optical network + cloud and 4G/5G + cloud. This provides digital transformation services for governments, society, industries, and enterprises, in conjunction with state-of-the-art technologies such as Big Data, artificial intelligence (AI), and edge computing.

(2) IoT is within the application scope of ICT. Operators usually provide IoT services through project cooperation and delivery.

  1. IDC

IDC server hosting not only provides leasing of equipment rooms, power supplies, and air conditioners, but also generates revenue from pipe leasing. Traditional fixed network operators can utilize their abundant equipment room resources to develop IDC services.

4 Full-Service Target Network Portfolio

Figure 4-1 shows the full-service target network portfolio.

Figure 4-1 Full-service target network portfolio

The full-service target network architecture consists of the 4G/5G network (mobile access), cloud, and all-optical network. This requires FMC and cloud-network convergence/synergy.

  1. Mobile access

(1) Enhance 4G network coverage, increase 4G network capacity, and enable VoLTE. Gradually phase out 2G/3G networks to implement frequency refarming and reconstruction of infrastructure such as equipment rooms, towers, and poles, reducing long-term O&M costs and paving the way for sustainable development of mobile networks.

(2) IoT technology applications, including NB-IoT/eMTC in the 4G era and mMTC in the 5G era.

(3) Three 5G application scenarios (eMBB, URLLC, and mMTC) and non-standalone/standalone (NSA/SA) converged networking.

  1. Cloudification

(1) CT to the cloud: implements network virtualization and intelligence, including the virtualized IP multimedia subsystem (vIMS), virtualized evolved packet core (vEPC), and virtual broadband network gateway (vBNG).

(2) IT to the cloud: enables operators’ business support systems (BSSs) and operations support systems (OSSs) to go digital, implementing smart network and service operations.

(3) Services to the cloud: builds an ecosystem by migrating services from governments, enterprises, industries, households, and individuals to the cloud. There are three types of clouds: public, private, and hybrid. Hybrid clouds are crucial to operators. The collaboration between operator networks and self-built clouds is called cloud-network convergence, whereas the collaboration between operator networks and public clouds is called cloud-network synergy. Migrating services to the cloud can enlarge operators’ pipes, which is crucial to the current and future development of operators’ private line services. Therefore, operators should take advantage of network resources and strengthen cooperation with OTT players to provide multi-cloud on-demand services.

(4) In 2016, China Telecom proposed three strategic transformation directions: network intelligence (CT to the cloud), service ecosystem (services to the cloud), and smart operation (IT to the cloud). These strategies underline China Telecom’s vision to become a leader in the hybrid cloud market. According to IDC, China Telecom’s e-Surfing Cloud ranked seventh in the global public cloud market in 2018, and China Telecom was the only telecom operator among the top 10 cloud providers.

  1. All-optical network

(1) Full-service areas and unified optical cable networks are the foundation of all-optical networks, and therefore need to coordinate 2B, 2C, and 2H services.

(2) The unified transport network (OTN) features high bandwidth, low latency, and multiple services. This network can be used for premium private lines, Data Center Interconnect (DCI), IP links, and mobile network fronthaul.

(3) The IP integrated transport network has Flex-E and IPv6 Segment Routing (SRv6) features and is the foundation for network slicing. This network can be used for IP RAN private lines, broadband transport, and mobile backhaul.

(4) PON enables full-service access. Comb PON and Flex PON are widely recognized in the industry and can be used for PON VPN, Internet private lines, regional networking, and smart homes. They are widely used in video surveillance and industrial control, and in public areas and buildings (such as harbors, campuses, hotels, airports, commercial buildings, as well as train and bus stations).

(5) Software-defined networking (SDN) supports intelligent, on-demand selection of bandwidth, clouds, value-added applications, and after-sales services, and utilizes the underlay mode to leverage differentiated competitive advantages of operators’ network control.

The modules shown in the blue boxes of Figure 4-1 are closely related to 5G network planning and service development. 5G is not only an innovation in air interface technologies, but also a fundamental innovation in E2E network architecture and cloudification. Therefore, coordinated planning is required to unlock the potential of 5G.

5 Operators’ Strategies

Figure 5-1 shows the strategy for implementing the full-service target network.

Figure 5-1 Full-service target network strategy

  1. Three strategies

To implement the full-service target network, operators need to focus on three strategies: 5G, FMC, and cloudification. To implement these three strategies, operators need to focus on the all-optical network strategy, which is both the foundation and key.

(1) The 5G strategy focuses on technology leadership, helping operators seize the window period of differentiated service competition.

(2) For FMC, service convergence is the objective, and network convergence is the method. Service convergence can significantly improve product competitiveness, enhance product stickiness, and improve user experience by providing only one bill. Network convergence can reduce CAPEX and OPEX, with one fixed network transmitting and carrying all services.

(3) Cloudification is aimed at offering agile and digital networks and services. Cloud-network convergence/synergy is an inevitable trend and the future of operators. Operators need to focus on building strong networks to boost the growth of cloud services.

  1. Chinese operators’ strategy implementation

China’s three tier-1 operators have fully implemented FMC and all-optical network 1.0. They are currently implementing cloudification and 5G NSA network construction at scale. Estimates indicate that China Telecom and China Mobile will both take the lead in building 5G SA networks in 2020. Before the advent of 4G, China Telecom Shanghai completed the construction of an FTTH network, paving the way for 4G network development. In addition, China Telecom Shanghai completed full gigabit network coverage by the end of 2018 before the arrival of 5G, making Shanghai the world’s first gigabit city. China Telecom Shanghai is now fully engaged in 5G network construction.

  1. Chinese operators’ all-optical network strategy

Wei Leping, Director of the Technology Committee and Chief Scientist at China Telecom Group, proposed the concepts of all-optical network 1.0 and 2.0. According to Wei Leping, all-optical network 1.0 refers to all-optical access networks (FTTH), and all-optical network 2.0 refers to OXC+ROADM-enabled metro networks and gigabit (10G PON) access networks. China’s three tier-1 operators have fully implemented all-optical network 1.0 and are making significant progress towards all-optical network 2.0.

6 Methods and Means of Coordinated Planning

  1. Planning methods

(1) Collaborative planning

Collaborative planning includes two aspects: The first is collaboration of services, technologies, and network planning. Service planning drives technical planning, which in turns drives network planning and rolling planning. The second is collaborative planning across professions, departments, front-end and back-end, industry chains, as well as industries.

(2) FMC planning

The key to achieving FMC lies in the convergence of infrastructure, especially sites. After infrastructure is converged, optical cable networks, transport networks, IP networks, and access networks will also be converged naturally.

(3) Value-oriented planning

Value-oriented planning refers to the process of making an overall plan for the entire network and implementing the plan step by step based on the priorities of high-value areas and services.

(4) Coordinated investment planning

Coordinated investment refers to investing in core competitiveness and focusing on current strategies. In contrast, blind investment leads to inefficient utilization of funds.

If business departments cannot propose business plans, we need to perform strategy-based network planning because network planning and construction are lengthy processes. Network construction merely based on service requirements is bound to miss the window period, which is the most important differentiator, and the network architecture design will lack a global, E2E, or entire-network perspective.

  1. Planning means

(1) Identify high-value users and services by area.

(2) Formulate standards for network planning and construction. Only through standardization, can industrialization be promoted and large-scale construction ultimately achieved. However, standardization must also entail differentiation, which is derived from scenario-specific summaries.

(3) Planning tools are required to achieve digital planning and construction.

7 Principles for Planning Full-Service Areas and Unified Optical Cable Networks

In terms of global development trends, fixed network operators have gradually gained advantages with regard to mobile network construction. Mobile operators that do not build fixed networks will miss out on the FMC window period over the next two to three years, and lose sustainable competitiveness. Coordinated planning of full-service areas and unified optical cable networks is the key to implementing all-optical network and FMC strategies. This is because equipment rooms and optical cables will always be the core assets of operators.

China Mobile adopts the “full-service areas and one optical cable network” planning method. Within just five years after China Mobile obtained a fixed network operations license, its number of broadband users surpassed that of China Telecom, setting a model for mobile operators worldwide to build fixed networks.

  1. Benefits and functions

Mobile network operations are centralized and intensive, while fixed network operations are centralized, intensive, and localized. Planning full-service areas is key to building a “planning, construction, marketing, installation, and maintenance” organization and production system suitable for fixed networks as well as achieving large-scale, sustainable development of mobile operators’ fixed networks.

Unified optical cable networks are planned and constructed based on 2B, 2C, and 2H service requirements, serving as the foundation for various professional networks.

  1. Planning guidelines

(1) Planning of full-service areas and unified optical cable networks should not be based on a single service. Instead, as the infrastructure, coordinated planning should be based on the development of all services, as well as networking requirements of all domains.

(2) Planning of full-service areas should be based on 10-year development goals at the least, and that of unified optical cable networks should be based on three-year development goals at the least and updated in a rolling manner.

(3) Planning of full-service areas and unified optical cable networks should be based on city planning as well as the development strategies of the local country and operators.

(4) Planning of full-service areas is the foundation of all other planning, and site planning is the key.

(5) An optical cable network is not merely point-to-point lines, but should be flexible and scalable to facilitate networking and fast service access. During the planning of an optical cable network, operators should take into account resource utilization instead of just considering cost reduction.

  1. Planning methods

Stable infrastructure architecture is the cornerstone of target network development. Physical site planning is central to planning full-service areas and needs to be completed first. A clear and hierarchical all-optical network architecture can be created in three steps: determining points, dividing boundaries, and connecting cables.

Figure 7-1 shows the methods for planning full-service areas and unified optical cable networks.

Figure 7-1 Methods for planning full-service areas and unified optical cable networks

(1) Determining points

To determine points, you need to use two approaches: top down and bottom up. Using the top down approach, determine core nodes, aggregation nodes, and full-service access nodes (also known as central offices, COs for short) of metro networks, and establish their homing relationships based on levels and areas, in conjunction with administrative divisions. Using the bottom up approach, locate high-value users through value identification.

(2) Dividing boundaries

After determining COs, take the COs as the core and comprehensively consider various factors such as administrative divisions, balanced distribution of users and services, and route suitability to define the service boundary of each CO. The service area of each CO is a grid.

Grids can be further divided into microgrids based on business value and service density. Microgrids will be small if service density is high, and large if service density is low. A fiber cross-connect device is deployed in each microgrid. Therefore, a microgrid is a fiber cross-connect area responsible for full-service fiber access within the microgrid. A microgrid can be a business building, a campus, or one or more residential communities. It is the minimum unit for front-end and back-end correlated operations.

In the future, digital tools will be used to provide grid-based front-end and back-end correlated management, further enhancing operators’ refined management, including user distribution and requirement analysis (value identification), service policy formulation, network planning and investment, construction progress control, service and user development, and area-based appraisal.

(3) Connecting cables

Based on pipe and pole availability, connect optical cables between core nodes and aggregation nodes on metro networks, and between aggregation nodes and COs.

Based on pipe and pole availability, connect optical cables between COs and fiber cross-connect devices within grid boundaries.

8 Summary

Networks will not have strong capabilities without fibers, service development will be instable without FMC, and revenue growth will be slow without 2B. When calculating return on FTTx investment, operators should also consider 2B and 2C services, as opposed to just HBB services.

Operators without clear investment directions can opt to invest in fibers. This is because fibers are the foundation of full-service transmission, and technologies that can replace fibers in terms of transmission capacity have not yet emerged. Furthermore, fibers have a 30-year service life, and are high-quality assets due to their long payback period. However, fiber investment should not be done blindly. Before investing in fibers, operators need to perform the following steps: First, identify high-value users and services. Second, design a flexible optical cable network structure to improve resource utilization. Traditional fixed network operators’ copper line reconstruction is neither competitive nor sustainable.

 

References:

  1. Report on the Economic Situation of the Communications Industry from January to November 2019, by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China
  2. China Telecom’s “Internet Plus” Action White Paper in 2016

Why doesn’t Huawei publish the details of its 5G deal wins?

Huawei says it has signed more 5G contracts than any of its competitors, but for some reason chooses not to publish any details.

This stands in stark contrast with Ericsson and Nokia, who both have publicly available web pages that not only offer a live total of their 5G deals wins (Ericsson says ‘commercial 5G agreements or contracts’ which seems a bit slippery), they also name as many of them as they have been authorised to and even detail how many live networks their kit is present in. Ericsson is especially transparent in that last regard.

Huawei has no publicly available information that we’re aware of, apart from ad hoc updates such as the one we reported on yesterday. We don’t know any of the operators it has signed 5G contracts with, nor how many live networks it is part of. Only in response to our specific questioning yesterday did we learn that the 91 number refers only to unique operator 5G RAN wins.

We asked Huawei why this is and were told that it’s up to their customers when the agreements are announced. The inference, then, is that none of its customers have given Huawei permission to go public, which seems odd. Or maybe not. It’s no secret that doing business with Huawei now has major geopolitical implications, so maybe all of its 5G partners want to keep that fact quiet, for fear of drawing the petulant attention of the US.

It’s hard to believe that not a single operator, for example the three Chinese MNOs, would want to go public. In fact Huawei execs were perfectly happy to name them when we asked about this yesterday, so why not publish? Vodafone’s European operations were also mentioned, so that’s a bunch of named wins already. And what about the other 24 wins in Asia, surely they’re not all scared of Trump.

The problem this creates for Huawei is that it helps bolster the US-driven narrative that a lack of transparency is reason enough to call all Huawei’s activities into question. We have written many times that Huawei deserves the same legal due process granted to everyone else, but it doesn’t help its cause when it chooses to be more opaque than its competitors over even minor matters such as this.

Fitbit financials tumble but that might not worry Google

Fitbit might not be the profit bonanza it once was, but with sales increasing it offers Google another interface to collect data and launch new services.

Although the financial results do not seem the most attractive at first glance, it is always worth remembering what the new objective of this business is likely to be. Google acquired Fitbit in November, and while the Mountain View residents never say no to money, there is a bigger picture.

Fitbit is most likely about exposure, increasing the number of Google interfaces in society and offering more opportunity for the internet giant to create services. This is where Google’s expertise lies, in software not hardware, but it does occasionally need to encourage the development and adoption of supporting ecosystems to realise its own goals. If more smart devices are being worn by consumers, the greater the opportunity for Google to make money.

“In 2019, we continued to advance our mission of making health accessible to more people around the world by delivering devices, software and services at affordable prices that help improve peoples’ health,” said CEO James Park.

“As a result, we sold 16 million devices and our smartwatch business grew 45% at retail, due to strong demand for Versa 2. Our community of active users increased to nearly 30 million, and Fitbit Health Solutions grew 17%, underscoring the strength of the Fitbit brand.”

2019 2018 Change
Total Revenue 1,434.8 1,512 (5%)
Net Income (120.8) (320.7) (264%)
Devices Sold 16 13.9 15%
Monthly Active Users (MAUs) 29.6 27.6 7%

Figures in millions (US$)

The full year financial measurements are clearly not heading in the right direction, though part of this can be attributed to the average selling price of the devices decreasing 17% to $87. This trend is thanks to the decision to introduce more accessible and affordable devices, increase the range of devices and various promotions or offers.

Perhaps the most important statistic to note here is the number of devices sold over the period. This is up 15% on 2018, while 61% of sales came from completely new customers. For the repeat customers, 54% came from customers who were inactive during a prior period meaning Fitbit is re-engaging those it might have lost as well.

Google might have spent $2.1 billion to acquire the Fitbit business, but it was highly unlikely going to be driven by the direct revenues it would achieve. $1.434 billion is nothing to turn you nose up at, but it is a drop in the ocean if Google can scale wearable devices in the same way it has done to smart speakers.

Prior to the entry of Google and Amazon, the smart speaker segment was sluggish. Adoption was almost non-existent, and interest was even lower. But in introducing their own, more affordable, devices and very cash-intensive advertising campaigns, these two internet giants drove up engagement and sales, whilst also forcing competitors to create their own products.

Looking at the final quarter of 2019, Strategy Analytics estimates that 55 million devices were sold globally, with Google collecting a 24.9% market share. Others are catching-up, but that won’t bother Google.

The more smart devices which are in the world, the more opportunity there is for Google to own the platform which services are build on and through. Android extends the Google influence into the smartphone world, the smart speaker gives it a voice interface in multiple rooms in the home and Wear OS is a version of Google’s Android operating system designed for smartwatches and other wearables.

From here on forward, pay a bit of attention to the financials of Fitbit, but be more interested in the number of devices which are being sold and the number of customers who are signing up to not only Fitbit’s health monitoring services, but also Google’s. This is a new data treasure trove for Google and a further opportunity to monetize digital lifestyles through a new interface.

Huawei makes a number of bold claims at MWC replacement event

Huawei released a string of new products at its MWC replacement event in London and claimed to be number one in every field.

At its product and solution launch event, dubbed “5G, Bring New Value”, Huawei unveiled a number of new products including a new chipset, an updated 5G core, new solutions for private networks and optical transmission, a new IP router, and a new software suite.

These products were launched one by one after Ryan Ding, Huawei’s President of Carrier Business Group, already unveiled the 64T64R Massive MIMO 5G base station during his keynote, when he reiterated the claim he made a year ago that Huawei enjoyed 18 months’ leadership over its competitors. When asked to substantiate the claim in a subsequent analyst briefing, Huawei simply said its leadership is in all technologies.

Similar claims, if not down to the specific number of months of its leadership, were repeated in the other product launches. After the new flagship base station and other 5G solutions (Blade AAU, 5G X-Haul for higher network slicing precision, a new optical module for ultra-broadband transmission) were introduced in more details by Yang Chaobin, Huawei’s 5G Product Line President, Henk Koopmans (pictured), CEO of Huawei’s R&D UK, took the stage to unveil the new 5G chipset, called 5G pre-module. It has a 2/3/4/5G-in-one baseband that will work on frequency bands from sub-6GHz to mmWave.

Huawei stressed the reference design that comes with it which will make it easier for Huawei’s customers to onboard the platform and design and make their products. What is puzzling is Koopmans’s claim that this chipset, on a 7nm process, is the world’s most advanced design, and is the world’s first to support both standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) 5G modes, clearly undeterred by the fact that the new Qualcomm 5G chipset launched two days earlier does exactly that, and is designed on a 5nm process.

Huawei’s new private network solutions, called HiCampus, include LAN switch and fibre. It focuses on providing its customers with full wireless connectivity, full fibre, and full AI. The AI capability is highlighted in the context of fast detection of root causes for network errors. Huawei claims that over 85% of its customers’ network errors can be automatically resolved.

Other new products introduced at the event include Huawei’s new 5G core, with highlight on what it calls “deterministic networking” (including E2E network slicing, service & topology awareness, and resource orchestration); intelligent optical network solutions, called OptiX, to deliver enhanced experience for home use (especially supported by embedded AI) and private networks (with passive optical LAN); NetEngine 8000, Huawei’s new IP router for data communications which the company claims to be the world’s first to be able to deliver service level agreement (SLA) assurance. Huawei’s new billing system, called Huawei 5G CBS R20, was the final launch at the event. The company claimed that the billing system has achieved the first live 5G SA implementation, with STC Kuwait.

Another key theme that threads all the product launches at the event was Huawei’s stress on the “green” advantage of its new products, with different percentages of energy consumption reduction attached to the feature introductions. This is assumed to not only demonstrate the power consumption efficiency that can save OPEX for its customers, but also echo the message from the GSMA representative at the event that telecoms industry is the first sector to comply with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

3GPP’s Release 16 timeline hangs in the balance thanks to coronavirus

Much has been made of the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the telecoms industry, though it now appears the critically important Release 16 timeline could be under threat.

Now the initial shock of the Mobile World Congress cancellation has settled, business is seemingly back to normal, though the coronavirus outbreak has not been contained. The Barcelona trip was cancelled, but so were a horde of other ventures into foreign lands. The 3GPP 5G standards meetings also fell onto the chopping block.

Interestingly enough, Release 16 from the 3GPP, industry specifications to deal with 5G standalone RAN, virtualisation, the 5G core, network slicing and various other topics, could also feel the impact of the virus. The consequence could be further delay on the release of the industry specifications.

“When experiments with e-meetings have happened in the past it is very easy for discussion to spiral and go quite tangential,” one insider told Telecoms.com. “90% of the negotiation to reach agreements on contentious topics happen over coffee, lunch and dinner… you don’t get that opportunity in an e-meeting.”

As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, all Technical Specification Group (TSG) and Working Group (WG) meetings have now been replaced with electronic meetings for the first quarter. 3GPP has said this is only applicable where practical, and when not, presumably the meeting is cancelled.

For Q2, where the meetings were set to take place in China, activities have been cancelled for the moment. Replacement venues are being sought, but it is by no-means a guarantee the outbreak would be contained by this point.

In December 2018, 3GPP already announced a delay to the release of the standards. It might be stubbornly sticking to the existing timelines right now, but if it was not able to stay on schedule in 2018, what chance will it have while the coronavirus outbreak is still at large?

“We are obliged to suspend belief, but I suspect it won’t take much to blow past March plenaries without agreement on some key topics,” our source continued.

“The problem is it will only take one little thing to hold up the whole lot. The release has to be an independently implantable document set. If anything that is mandatory to support is not included, they have to make it optional, remove it completely to the next release or delay. First two options would require a lot of work in themselves.

“e-meetings do not make agreement easy, and it would only take one topic to get political to have someone attempt to throw everything into question as a tactic.”

As it stands, the group is attempting to negotiate the specifications for the RAN aspect of Release 16. The virtualisation components are all largely finalised, while the core aspect is not due until June, when Release 16 would be theoretically frozen. That said, any delay would push these timelines back once again.

According to Dario Talmesio, Principal Analyst & Practice Leader for Omdia, further delay to Release 16 could cascade and possibly have an echo effect throughout the industry. Time to ROI would be increased, which would not be considered welcome news for the financially strained telcos or vendors which have been promised shareholders 5G fortunes.

With RAN being the topic of debate currently, the standards hang in a precarious position. RAN is the aspect of network infrastructure which attracts the most attention because of the scale of deployment. While other standards missions can run in parallel, RAN is critical to product development timelines. Delays here would be heart-breaking for telcos and vendors, but there could also be a knock-on effect for the International Mobile Telecommunications-2020 requirements issued by the ITU.

Although our source was not necessarily the most confident, there are some who are a bit more optimistic.

“The next set of 3GPP meetings have been turned ‘virtual’ and in 3GPP SA2 at least all Release 17 proposals are postponed until the April meeting,” said Alan Carlton, VP of Wireless and Internet Technologies at InterDigital.

“In the upcoming meeting companies will only be allowed to submit corrections to Release 16. This will obviously cause some delays. New ad hoc meetings to catch up will have to be approved and it is not certain all companies will agree to that. Hopefully this is just a blip and thing will get caught-up post this somewhat unusual ‘flu’ season.”

The 3GPP is maintaining an optimistic position on the meetings for the next six weeks and will not make a call on the timelines until TSG Chairs have a chance to discuss progress.

Congress asks Amazon whether it is becoming a police snitch

The Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy has written to Amazon asking the internet to explain partnerships between surveillance company Ring and local police departments.

Home security and surveillance products are becoming increasingly popular with the consumer, though it appears the subcommittee is asking Amazon to explain the fine print. As with most products and services launched by Silicon Valley residents, Ring seems to be accompanied with legal jargon few will understand and may well compromise privacy and data protection principles.

“The Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy is writing to request documents and information about Ring’s partnerships with city governments and local police departments, along with the company’s policies governing the data it collects,” the letter states.

“The Subcommittee is examining traditional constitutional protections against surveilling Americans and the balancing of civil liberties and security interests.”

The question which the politicians seem to be asking is how compliant Ring will in handing over information to law enforcement agencies or local government authorities, as well as the fundamentals of the partnerships themselves. Once again it appears the technology industry is revelling in the grey lands of nuance and half-statements.

Ring currently has partnerships with more than 900 law enforcement and local government agencies, it is critically important that everything is above board. This isn’t just a quirky product adopted by a few individuals anymore, this is potentially a scaled-surveillance programme. The opportunity for abuse is present once again, offering validity for Congress to wade into the situation and start splashing.

Optimists might suggest Ring is being a good corporate citizen, aiding police and security forces where possible. Cynics, on the other hand, would question whether Amazon is attempting to create a private, for-profit surveillance network.

One area which the Subcommittee would like some clarification on is to do with how compliant Ring would be when offering data to government agencies. Ring has said it would not turn over data unless it is “required to do so to comply with a legally valid and binding order”, though the wording of the terms of service seem to undermine this firm stance.

Ring may access, use, preserve and/or disclose your Content to law enforcement authorities, government officials and/or third parties, if legally required to do so or if we have a good faith belief that such access, use, preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary to: (a) comply with applicable law, regulation, legal process or reasonable governmental request.

The final point of this clause, reasonable government request, is what should be considered worrying. This is unnecessarily vague and flexible language which can be used for a wide range of justifications or explanations for wrongdoing.

More often than not, politicians on such subcommittees are usually chasing a headline, but this seems to be a case where proper investigation is warranted. Law enforcement agencies and the internet giants have shown themselves on numerous occasions not to be trustworthy with minimal oversight. And when you are talking about a topic as sensitive as data privacy, no blind trust should be afforded at all.

Nokia and Ericsson compete for KDDI’s 5G core business

Within hours of each other Nordic kit vendors Nokia and Ericsson issued press releases announcing the completion of 5G core trials with Japanese operator KDDI.

Nokia is all about the standalone 5G core when it comes to KDDI and the trial it just completed involved its AirGile gear. Nokia likes to use the term ‘cloud-native’ a lot when taking up AirGile, as if the clever combination of ‘air’ and ‘agile’ into a neologism wasn’t enough. The 5G core is all about cloudy concepts such as agility and scalability, you see, and Nokia reckons it’s got all that stuff covered.

Here’s what the announcement had to say about the trial. “Nokia applied a service-based architecture to the 5G control plane, moving control functions completely into a cloud-based environment which provides operators with improved scalability, velocity and flexibility. The trial allows KDDI to highlight how a 5G control plane can utilize the communication model of today’s web services to create multiple software instances in a cloud environment.” If you want more than that you’ll have to go to the source.

“For Nokia, 5G is much more than radio,” said John Harrington, Head of Nokia Japan. “It’s an end-to-end network transformation. We are pleased to have successfully completed this 5G core SA network trial together with KDDI, as it marks a crucial milestone for KDDI’s 5G SA deployment as well as for Japan’s 5G. Nokia will continue to contribute to  the best of 5G and the cloud to enhance business processes and bring new applications and benefits to more markets and consumers.”

Hot on Nokia’s heels came Ericsson, which claimed a 5G cloud-native CI/CD software pipeline breakthrough, no less. For those telecoms dunces at the back, that stands for Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery, which is presumably preferable to sporadic or whimsical. “The container-based technology enables automatic deployment of new software and functionalities, while maintaining the high quality and availability of the 5G Core network,” we’re told.

“Our market-leading 5G core and unique CI/CD capabilities mean faster time-to-market, higher performance and cost efficiency,” said Jan Karlsson, Head of Business Area Digital Services at Ericsson. “Agile delivery of services while maintaining high quality and availability is a must in 5G Core networks. Our CI/CD end-to-end software pipeline achieves this. We are happy to continue to work with KDDI to automate their network operation.”

Based on our extremely limited understanding of these matters, the Nokia announcement feels like the more significant one, especially since the Ericsson one is represented by is digital services rather than networks unit. Since Japan has gone cold on Huawei, much of the business of its operators will be a straight fight between these two vendors. When it comes to KDDI’s 5G core, Nokia seems to be ahead right now.

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