BT dumbs down digital transformation

BT Global Services has unveiled its new Business Platform-as-a-Service, which it has given the catchy name of Personalised Compute Management System, or PCMS for the time oppressed.

It’s essentially a ‘digital for dummies’ guide, which allows some of the more traditional organizations who are being impacted by the digital challengers to keep pace. It’s being billed as the very glamourous and mysterious ‘platform enabling platform’, which BT claims can help the digitalisation of products and services for your customers and employees.

It appears to be a ‘digital in a box’ proposition for those who haven’t nailed it yet. Right now, there are 45 fully digitalised business support processes, such as product management, customer management, user authentication, order management, service management and billing and collections.

“PCMS brings to life a vision of how businesses can innovate in the digital economy,” said Neil Lock, VP of Compute, BT Global Services. “It is a ready-made platform that allows new ways for companies to digitalise, manage and build profitable business models from their own vibrant ecosystem of consumers, producers and innovators.

“By building on a proven platform, businesses can confidently bring their digital services to market within shorter timescales and concentrate time and resources on innovation and development. It’s a great example of how BT’s Cloud of Clouds portfolio strategy empowers customers to create new business relationships.”

The statement and the homepage of the offering has been through several rounds of buzzword bingo, but it’s not actually a bad idea. There will be an uncountable number of businesses who are suffering at the hands of the digital revolution, who either don’t have the in-house capabilities or the self-awareness to enforce change and remain competitive. This way someone else can do it.

T-Mobile US breathes a sigh of relief as first phone to support 600 MHz is launched

The new LG V30 is the first phone that can use the 600 MHz band, which is especially handy for TMUS following its latest piece of premature triumphalism.

A couple of weeks ago the magenta army started banging on about how big its spectrum is thanks to winning some nice, long-range 600 MHz band in the recent auction. At the time this was an especially pointless piece of posturing – even by Legere’s lofty standards – since there were no devices that supported that band.

Now LG has come to the rescue with the launch of its new flagship smartphone – the V30 – at the IFA consumer electronics show, which is the first to support the band. Typically TMUS has had the nerve to claim even this as a victory by trying to infer that the two week wait for a single supporting phone is some kind of herculean achievement. Conveniently overlooked is the fact that the V30 is still months away from finding its way onto US shelves.

“We’re lighting up our new super spectrum for LTE and laying the foundation for 5G so fast we’re making the other guys’ heads spin – and with the LG V30, everything is coming together in record time,” ranted TMUS CEO John Legere. “While the carriers try to fake their way to 5G and back off unlimited to keep their networks from caving even more, the Un-carrier’s building the future of wireless and a bigger, better, faster, future-proof network.”

“They said it wouldn’t be possible,” raved TMUS CTO Neville Ray. “They said it wouldn’t be quick. Clearly, they don’t know T-Mobile. Smartphones are coming, we just lit up another location with LTE on 600 MHz and we’re laying a foundation for nationwide 5G at the same time. The carriers must get tired of T-Mobile continually running circles ‘round them!” And breathe.

TMUS also threw Ericsson a bone by acknowledging its role in a claimed 5G network rollout Ray first shouted about at an Ericsson event at MWC this year. Ericsson is specifically providing the kit for 5G over 600 MHz. “The US has hit another milestone with the historic rollout of 5G-ready technology in record-breaking time,” effused Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm. “The work we’re doing with T-Mobile on its low-band spectrum is paving the way for 5G in rural America and nationwide.”

Ericsson is also making sweet, sweet 5G with Softbank in Japan, issuing an especially short and inconsequential press release today saying they will do a proof of concept trial over the 4.5 GHz band in urban areas once Softbank gets a license to do so. Why that warranted a special announcement all of its own is not clear.

Exfo set to snap up Astellia

Test and measurement specialist Exfo has announced it will acquire a 33% stake in Astellia, and will soon be launching a voluntary takeover bid of the company.

The purchase of Astellia will eventually take Exfo into new waters, as the organization is primarily focused on testing new solutions prior to commercial launches. With Astellia in its armoury there is potential for the team to move into the on-going network management space as Astellia focuses on performance analysis of mobile networks and subscriber experience.

Astellia describes itself as a provider of network and subscriber intelligence enabling mobile operators to improve service quality, maximize operational efficiency, reduce churn and develop revenues. The main focus of the business in recent months has been automated optimization, actionable geolocated insights and big-data analytics for operations, customer service and marketing functions of the business. In other words, it claims to give tips to operators on how to do things better. One of those ones.

“This investment in Astellia is in line with our strategy to increase our critical mass and our client base, and to expand our addressable market in the global analytics and service assurance industry,” said Germain Lamonde, Executive Chairman of Exfo’s Board of Directors.

“If our public tender offer is successful, we’ll be able to combine Astellia’s solutions and services with those of Exfo and become a world leader in the network monitoring and analytics sector and target growth opportunities such as network virtualization, 5G and the Internet of things.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Exfo will purchase the company from the three Astellia founders, as well as Isatis Capital. The deal itself is yet to clear the approval of French foreign investment authorities and the supervision of Autorité des marchés financiers. That said, Astellia’s Board of Directors has already given the thumbs up to the deal, which will total roughly €25.9 million. The deal is expected to close during the latter stages of 2017.

IFA 2017 is more connected than ever

The world’s second biggest consumer electronics show is increasingly all about connected devices as IoT becomes endemic.

IFA has always been a strange event to report on, with sexy smartphones sitting incongruously alongside washing machines and other frumpy domestic appliances. But with the irresistible ubiquity of connectivity those two words are increasingly colliding in a more substantial way. IFA technically opens tomorrow, but just as with MWC most of the juicy stuff comes out early.

Samsung

As probably the world’s biggest consumer electronics company Samsung usually steals the show, but the big launch of the definitely-not-explosive-in-any-way-honest Galaxy Note 8 happened a week ago. Instead Samsung focused on wearables – specifically the kind of fitness-focused smartwatch that seems to be all the rage these days.

Gear Sport is the main offering in this category. Samsung has wisely gone for a circular form factor for this smartwatch and, apart from that and the usual suite of sensors and software designed to cater to the fitness obsessive’s every need, the emphasis is on ruggedization, including 50m water resistance.

The same applies to the more stripped-down Gear Fit2, which Samsung calls an ‘advanced GPS fitness band’. Both products have partnered with iconic pose-pouch swim brand Speedo to support its swim-tracking platform Speedo On, ensuring you can now humble-brag on social media about your trip to the pool too. Lastly there are some Bluetooth ear buds called Gear IconX. Watch the video below to get a sense of just how much of a better person you will be if you buy all this new Samsung stuff.

 

Smartphones

IFA tends to be where phablets are launched, and in the absence of the Note 8 the biggest news seems to be in the form of LG’s V30 6-inch flagship smartphone. The emphasis seems to be on video capture and playback. Claiming the first F1.6 aperture camera lens, the first glass Crystal Clear Lens, the first OLED FullVision display and Cine Video mode for producing movie-quality videos.

The phone, which also features some co-branding with premium audio brand B&O, seem to be well received and compared favourably to LG’s previous flagship effort. LG, of course, is also a huge CE brand so it has launched a bunch of other stuff, much of which will offer connectivity in the off chance we ever solve the smart fridge puzzle. Oh, and it looks like Sony and Huawei are among the other major brands to whack out new smartphones at the show.

LG V30

Smart assistants

One possible step forward for the connected home may be the current trend for devices to feature in-built support for smart assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. LG went big on this and seems optimistic that, while we’re still not prepared to delegate the weekly shop to the fridge, we may be happy to talk to it.

“The development of voice recognition technology plays an crucial role in advancing our own IoT and smart technologies,” said Song Dae-hyun, President of LG’s home appliance bit. “By adhering to LG’s Open Platform philosophy, we’re able to deliver a diverse range of benefits and services for our customers that is unrivaled in the industry. By strengthening our relationships with Google, Amazon and other players in this space, we’re making amazing headway in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Plenty of other devices have been launched that support either or both of these platforms and that trend is likely to continue at CES next January. Apple’s Siri is notably absent from most of these announcements and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see how Apple’s closed approach to these things can thrive in the very heterogeneous home appliance environment. Even Microsoft seems to have got the memo.

Mixed reality

Microsoft is offering a different take on virtual reality in the form of ‘mixed reality’. In theory this was expected to be a mix of VR and augmented reality – superimposing digital images on the real world – with some external motion-tracking tech thrown in for good measure.

Microsoft has been banging on about this for a while, and the price points are quite aggressive, but initial, appropriately mixed, reviews indicate it’s struggling to justify the hype. Nonetheless Asus and Dell have launched mixed reality products at the show as part of a general Microsoft love-in incorporating new PCs, etc.

Asus mixed reality

Vodafone launches VOXI sub-brand to get ‘down with the kids’

Vodafone has launched a new SIM-only deal for people aged 25 and under. Welcome to the party VOXI, innit!

The service itself follows the unveiling of Three’s new Smarty proposition, which targets a similar audience of youngsters. Like Smarty, it’s a month-by-month contract, which offers various data packages, with several apps not being included in the monthly data allowance. The idea here seems to be flexibility, an important factor in the lives of younger generations. Many want the idea of freedom, but the dreaded thought of looking for a new deal will mean they probably won’t.

“Why should young people make do with the same mobile plans as everyone else, when they use their phones differently and often can’t access the best deals?” said Dan Lambrou, who will be in charge of the new venture.

“We’ve worked with hundreds of people aged 25 and under, and have really listened to them. They are a generation that’s tired of being stereotyped and talked at. We created VOXI, a transparent new mobile service that gives our audience a platform to connect to the things that matter to them, whatever they’re into.”

In terms of the services available for ‘free’, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter and Viber all make the grade. What is worth noting is that once your data allocation has been used up, ‘free’ access to the above apps will be paused until this is rectified.

The team has also snuck in a condition for data throttling, though no specific were given in the statement. We’ve been told it will be measured on a case-by-case basis, but Vodafone has essentially given itself permission to throttle performance if ‘usage adversely impacts the service for other customers’. It’s a risky move, as while such grey areas and lack of concrete definitions leave wiggle room for Vodafone, but it also leaves the telco open to criticism from both customers and competitors.

The party line is that they don’t expect to use it. The right to throttle will be reserved for those who essentially slow down the network because of their excessive usage. According to Vodafone, this will be because of commercial or fraudulent use of the contracts, though this is still a considerable amount of wiggle room for the team.

If this is starting to sound a bit like zero rating, then don’t worry, because it essentially is. The idea of promoting certain services over others has proved to be a bitter battle ground in the states, but we’ve largely avoided it here in the UK. That said, the zero rating trend kicked off a lot earlier on the other side of the pond; might we be in for a net neutrality brawl over the next couple of months?

Although Vodafone has stated it is open to approaches for new apps to be included in the zero rating offering, we wonder how many will actually be considered. It would not be difficult to imagine there being some sort of contra-relationship in the background to facilitate the zero-rating partnerships, but whether a new player would have any leverage to convince Vodafone its app should also be included in the deal is another matter.

This is the basic foundation of the net neutrality argument. Net neutrality supporters will state a company cannot ‘pay’ for better internet or a better experience for customers, which is essentially what zero rating deals offer. It gives them an advantage over potential competitors or challenges as data-conscious consumers will always favour the free option over the premium one.

To be honest, you can’t blame Vodafone here. It’s trying to keep in-line with the rest of the industry and hasn’t been held accountable by regulators. Three has launched Go Binge, Virgin Media offers zero rating for Twitter, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, and EE has an offer which allows for free streaming of Apple Music. These companies will push the boundaries until being told to stop. Ofcom should have a look here before frustration from the darker corners of the ecosystem becomes more vocal.

Comcast focusing on smart homes with current strategy

US-based telecommunications company Comcast is expediting its efforts in home automation, as it looks to tap into connected devices and expand its home security business.

As reported by Reuters, the company’s push to diversify comes in the backdrop of many US consumers dropping traditional cable television packages to opt for cheaper alternatives.

The company has witnessed exponential growth in its Xfinity Home security service wherein subscribers have more than doubled to more than one million in the last two years. It is now focusing on home automation that will allow consumers to remotely control their home appliances. Daniel Herscovici, senior vice president and general manager of Xfinity Home said that the home security industry offered certain advantages such as low churn, or attrition. About 55% of Xfinity Home customers convert to new Comcast subscribers.

According to Strategy Analytics, Comcast has roughly 10% of the market for interactive security, the category of home security that offers remote monitoring and arming of systems. With its acquisition of IControl Networks in March 2017, Comcast is looking to increase its share in the market.

Comcast recently bagged an Emmy Award for Technology and Engineering for its contribution towards Xfinity X1 Voice Remote and the software platform powering it. This is the third time X1 has been honoured with an Emmy Award.

The company built and deployed the Natural Language Processing platform that allows the remote to understand the commands given by the consumer by making optimum use of machine learning to deliver highly relevant results.

Separately, Comcast has signed a 40-month agreement with Sunrun to accelerate the adoption of solar energy through the installation of Sunrun’s leading rooftop solar products and provide consumers with savings on their electric bills. 

There are loads of mobile subscriptions – Ericsson

Ericsson has released its Mobility Report for the second quarter of 2017, and some of the statistics are somewhat surprising.

Firstly, let’s have a look at mobile subscriptions. Over the second quarter of 2017, an additional 92 million subscriptions were added to the global total. The number itself is actually growing 6% year-on-year, bringing the total up to 7.7 billion. That’s right, there are more mobile phone subscriptions than there are people on the planet. And there are those who would call today’s generations over-indulgent.

The total number of unique subscriptions around the world currently stands at 5.3 billion, which means that on average, for every person there are 1.45 mobile phone subscriptions. Next time you are sat on the tube, look to your right and then to your left. Statistically, one of those greedy b*stards has two mobile phone subscriptions. We bet it’s the guy who has the shirt with different colour cuffs and collar to the rest of the material.

Sitting at the top of the pile, in terms of net additions, is China with 19 million. There will be few surprises there, and perhaps few with the next couple of entries. India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Ghana complete the top five. In fact, when you go back to the total number of subscriptions, there are more in China and India (just over 2.5 billion), than there are in Europe, the Middle East, North America and South America combined.

Another interesting area is the room for growth in the smartphone market. Smartphones now account for 56% of the total subscriptions, accounting for 80% of all sales across the most recent quarter. The budget smartphone market is not one which is seen as attractive to the big boys, but if someone could come up with a practical and affordable smartphone which would suit the emerging markets, there is a lot of room to make money. Unfortunately, this is not seen as a viable or attractive business model.

In terms of the total amount of traffic which is crossing the networks now, this is another area which has seen a notable uplift. An increase in data just goes without saying, however Ericsson has noted pricing trends in India and the introduction of more favourable data plans, has bumped up the numbers further than expected year-on-year. Sequentially, the total amount of data consumed increased by 10%, though comparing Q2 to the same quarter in 2016, the uplift stands at 67%.

Mobile Subscriptions 2 Mobile Subscriptions

KPN and China Unicom sign reciprocal IoT network deal

Dutch telco KPN has cosied up to China Unicom to improve its access to the Chinese IoT market and will return the favour in Europe.

The two companies will offer reciprocal access to each other’s IoT networks, making use of remotely provisionable SIMs in IoT devices that allow switching to the cheaper network depending on where the device happens to find itself. Europe, of course, has gotten rid of roaming premiums so KPN’s domestic tariffs apply across the continent.

“This agreement will enable our customers to become global IoT players, since we are able to handle international requests quickly and easily,” said Carolien Nijhuis, Managing Director of KPN IoT. “We are constantly looking for strong partnerships and have found a trusted partner in China Unicom.”

“It’s really an exciting moment that China Unicom will be able to provide a global IoT solution partnering with KPN,” said Li Chong (Chairman, China Unicom Global Ltd) and Chen Xiaotian (General Manager, China Unicom IoT Business Unit), apparently in unison. “With this solution we are offering ‘one SIM, one portal, one experience’ to our customers. The partnership between China Unicom and KPN will enable Chinese and European enterprise customers to bridge the digital gap between global IoT deployments.”

The two operators will also offer a unified connectivity management portal, but how companies will track and manage their IoT devices when they’re not in either Europe or China remains a mystery. The trick is presumably to fly over Russia, India and the Middle East as quickly as possible and cross your fingers.

Google gives in to Gaggle over shopping shenanigans

Google has put forward details on how it will submit to the will of the European Commission (hereafter known as the Gaggle of Red-tapers) after it was hit with a €2.4 billion fine relating to Google Shopping search results.

Details are a bit thin on the ground at the moment, though Google told Telecoms.com it has informed the Gagglers how it plans to comply with the decision. It just hasn’t told anyone else yet.

For some it might come as a bit of a surprise. Those of a combative mind set might have assumed Google might have flexed its legal muscles and snarled over the Atlantic, but it would appear even the ‘do no evil’ giant is just as human as the rest of us; it can also succumb to the weight of red tape, just as the rest of us have at some point given up and accepted a penalty due to the cumbersome, illogical and inefficient public sector processes.

Back in June, the Gagglers hit the Googlers with a fine of €2.42 billion, a record amount would you know, for favouring its own shopping comparison service in some search results. As you might expect with anything associated with the European Commission, this was a saga which had been dragging on for some time, though the scale of the fine wowed a few people.

This would be the reason some would have expected a fight from Google. Rumours circulated in the weeks prior to the announcement of a €1 billion fine, but the actual amount was certainly a bit higher.

“What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate,” said Chief Gaggler Margrethe Vestager, at the time. “And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation.”

As well as ordering Google come up with a solution which evened the playing field, the lethargic legislator ordered the company to sort it all out by September 28. Failure to do so would have resulted in additional daily fines of 5% of revenues. Going on 2016 revenues, that would have been roughly $12 million a day. There certainly was some incentive there.

Perhaps this is the reason Google chose to comply with the ruling as opposed to fight it. Most people would presume the legal might of Google is considerable, but in this case there was a lot to lose should the boresome bureaucrat work wonders with the red tape and coffee breaks.

“It is Google’s sole responsibility to ensure compliance with the Commission antitrust decision,” the European Commission has said in a statement.

“The Commission’s role is to monitor Google’s compliance. In this context the Commission can confirm that, as required by the Commission decision, it has received information from Google on how the company intends to ensure compliance with the Commission decision by the set deadline. Furthermore, Google will continue to be under an obligation to keep the Commission informed of its actions by submitting periodic reports.

“The Commission decision requires Google to stop its illegal conduct within 90 days of the decision and refrain from any measure that has the same or an equivalent object or effect. In particular, the Commission decision sets out the principle that Google has to give equal treatment to rival comparison shopping services and its own service.”

While the boresome bureaucrats might be slapping their backs in Brussels in between mouthfuls of waffles and exceptionally strong beer, there is another battle on the horizon. This might be a landmark win for the Gaggle, but when taking on Google in antitrust case concerning Android, the Silicon Valley techies might not be as compliant. Google has a lot more to lose when it comes to the operating system, so this might be where we see the true legal might of the search engine giant.

Alexa gets into bed with Cortana

Amazon and Microsoft have announced their previously competing voice-driven AI assistants are now an item.

The world can be a lonely place for virtual assistants. All the company they have are demanding millennials constantly asking what their latest email is or a retiree wondering what the weather is like in Florida or Beijing.

But for no longer. The sympathetic chaps over at Microsoft and Amazon have shown they have a caring side, arranging a playdate for Cortana with Alexa. As part of the new tie up, the two virtual assistants will be hooked up, meaning users can switch between the two, just by asking the assistant itself.

It’s a simple process. By simply saying ‘hey Cortana, open Alexa’ you’ll be able to liaise directly with your Amazon virtual assistant for shopping, or vice versa if you want to check your emails or your calendar on Outlook.

“Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. “Bringing Cortana’s knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal.”

“The world is big and so multifaceted,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO. “There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas. Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience. It’s great for Echo owners to get easy access to Cortana.”

From Microsoft’s perspective it is a pretty smart move. Most people will use their virtual assistant for the trivial everyday things. Checking the weather, the weekly shop or changing music for instance. The virtual assistant trends are being realised in the consumer world, an arena which Microsoft doesn’t really have much say in nowadays. The tie in with Alexa brings Cortana into everyday life, and normalizes the idea of virtual assistants in your professional lives as well.

It’s not available yet, but before too long you’ll be able to access Alexa on via Cortana on Windows 10 PCs, followed by Android and iOS. On the other side of things, you’ll be able to access Cortana on Alexa-enabled devices like the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Show.

Elsewhere in the Alexa world, Amazon has released its Connected Speaker APIs, which allows customers to ask Alexa to play music wireless or multi-room speakers including brands like Sonos, Sound United, Bose, and Samsung.

This might seem like another small bit of news, but it is quite an important one; like the partnership with Microsoft, Alexa is spreading its influence to hardware which isn’t Amazon’s. The initial financial reward of virtual assistants like Alexa will be the hardware purchased by customers, but the long-term (and substantially bigger) prize will be controlling access to the customer.

Facebook created the social media walled garden and charges access to the customer. The potential is there for virtual assistants, as can be seen with Amazon’s recent tie up with UK online grocer Ocado. Users ask Alexa to add items to the shopping list, and then a delivery time is arranged at some point in the future. Google did a similar tie up with Walmart as well, and you can bet there will be more partnerships of this nature. Financials of such arrangements have not been unveiled just yet, but it would be a safe bet to assume the virtual assistants will be taking a cut for being the friendly face to the consumer.

The battle for control of the living room is beginning to hot up, and we originally thought Google was in the lead, but we’re not too sure anymore. The Ocado tie up is a good basis to build Amazon’s challenge to traditional supermarket shopping, with Microsoft it adds a different element with a monstrous user base and with the Connected Speaker API it is saying that Alexa can be everywhere, not just on Amazon or Microsoft hardware.

Predicting the winner is going to be difficult, as while Amazon is making headway right now, Google has a significant advantage. Google has claimed there are more than two billion Android monthly active users, which essentially means there are two billion devices which are there for the Google Assistant to enter the fray. The dominance of Android in the operating system game certainly gives Google an advantage, and that’s not even taking into account the Google Home devices which have been sold.

This is going to be a fascinating battle. We have two technology giants, with hugely respected and trusted brands, as well as different experiences in monetizing the digital revolution, going head-to-head to win control of the living room. Amazon has the retail experience, but Google has the advertising relationship. No-one else can really compete with the credentials, footprint or the current progress which has been made.

Google Assistant versus Alexa, it will be an epic one. Sorry Siri.