Opinion: Accurate and objective testing is key in making 5G a reality

With 5G seemingly on the horizon, people across the UK are dreaming up the possibilities that this super-fast connectivity will bring. Before that time comes, however, we will need to acquire the right technology, plus objective and accurate data concerning the user experience and coverage.

Building 5G

Although 4G and 3G were both designed primarily as new air interfaces, the same is not true of 5G. Instead, it has largely been driven by discussions on use cases and applications, resulting in the scopes of 5G being defined by what is required of it.

Once implemented, 5G connectivity will improve the day to day life of many consumers by supporting more automatic and interactive connected services and machines. Emerging technologies like driverless cars, smart cities and the internet of things (IoT), for example, are dependent on consistent and agile 5G connectivity, which will also enable a number of enhanced services such as: high-speed entertainment in vehicles, on-demand services for connected objects and wider areas of service for devices like smartphones, wearables and M2M devices.

From a technological perspective, 5G is focussed on new network system performances, such as reaching speeds of up to one Gbps for indoor smart office environments and 300 Mbps in dense outdoor urban areas as well as ultra-low latencies of or below single digit milliseconds and support for vehicles at speeds of up to 300 mph. Though the latter may sound excessive, trains in Japan and China have already exceeded this benchmark in speed tests, and the near future will likely see viable commercial speeds racing towards 300 mph.

Defining 5G

The good news is that the UK is well-positioned for the 5G revolution, thanks to the overall speed and network quality of 4G throughout the country, which has reached a high percentage of customer penetration in a relatively short amount of time. Even in mostly rural areas, all operators provide coverage to a large extent, with UK customers being able to access 4G in more areas than several other European countries.  In addition to this, the UK has been home to many independent trials with new service ideas based on 4G networks but also looking forward to 5G capabilities, such as driverless cars and smart cities.

Though many organisations and individuals have envisioned and began developing the new capabilities 5G will bring to our daily lives, 5G still lacks a standardised definition. Upcoming developments, which will likely be driven by the 2018 and 2020 Olympic Games – in Pyeongchang and Tokyo, respectively – are likely to face some problems due to the unstandardised nature of the technology.

The 5G future

In order to move forward into the 5G future it is vital that continuous testing and monitoring of networks and devices is embraced, so standards can be determined and continually improved. Ambiguous standards have, in the past, led to inoperability issues in mobile networks, especially when multiple vendors are in the mix.

Rigorous monitoring should be undertaken in all standards dealing with: 5G trials, radio interfaces, device requirements, security, IoT, self-organising networks (SON), network function organisation (NFV), network architecture changes and the requirements of new services.

It is vital that this testing and monitoring is not solely undertaken by service providers themselves, as they will be understandably selective of what results they publish and promote, pointing out major success stories while ignoring more negative issues such as areas not under coverage, unconnected customers or variances in speed, latency, dropped calls, etc.

A neutral and independent institute can fill these gaps, ensuring thorough results are released year on year in order to build an historic view of the developments and progress of telecoms networks and service levels. This sort of data is essential for governments and regulators, who need reliable information and comparable data in order to prepare decisions on future developments.

In today’s world, regular, rigorous and objective testing is already important and well-respected. It is without a doubt that these requirements will become increasingly important as technology and its applications become more complex, as customers won’t have the chance to do the research themselves before signing a contract with a service provider. With this in mind, there will always be a need for neutral and fair testing and monitoring.

What are your thoughts on 5G testing? Let us know in the comments.

Nokia, AT&T, Qualcomm and Ford have a C-V2X party

Cellular-vehicle-to-whatever is a bit of a mouthful, so Nokia, AT&T, Qualcomm and Ford decided to abbreviate it. Nice work.

To celebrate their new abbreviation, the fantastic four decided to plan a nice lot of lovely testing in San Diego, California. The goal of the trials is to demonstrate the potential of C-V2X technologies, including support for improved automotive safety, automated driving and traffic efficiency.

There seems to be a bit of a spate of trying show what a good idea connected/autonomous/extremely clever cars are. Google’s Waymo subsidiary has been making persuasive videos down the road in Phoenix, Arizona, featuring wholesome, happy families enjoying incident-free autonomous car journeys.

The reasons for all this are clear: C-V2X, autonomous driving, etc are emerging technologies that promise to disrupt not only business models but social ones too. You can’t just inflict new things on the world and then be surprised at a degree of hesitance and luddite friction. Companies have learned that you need to prime the market first.

Lots of partners means lots of canned quotes, and since Qualcomm seems to have been put in charge of the press release, that will probably mean generic, risk-averse and self-congratulatory, but let’s find out eh?

“Leveraging the evolution of embedded cellular technologies for V2X communications holds great potential to advance safety benefits to all road users,” said Cameron Coursey, VP of AT&T Internet of Things Solutions. “Working with industry leaders, such as Ford, Nokia, Qualcomm Technologies, and state and local government agencies, we will together lead the way to safer, more secure, cost-effective, and efficient next-generation solutions.”

“The advancement of cellular technology for C-V2X applications is very encouraging,” said Don Butler, executive director, connected vehicle and services at Ford. “This technology promises to meet, and in some cases, exceed the performance requirements of vehicle communication being proposed by relevant government agencies while leveraging existing in-vehicle connectivity frameworks.

“C-V2X provides a reassuring path to technology advancements necessary to support emerging developments in autonomy, automated driving, and mobility. We are keen to investigate all aspects of this opportunity and support cross industry efforts that make that possible.”

“LTE and 5G technologies have the potential to dramatically transform our lives, and none more so than in transportation,” said Thorsten Robrecht, head of vertical network slices at Nokia. “Nokia has a keen interest in creating safe, efficient, and dynamic operating environments for autonomous vehicles, and we have gained much experience from our European projects over the last few years. As such, we are extremely excited to be involved in this project with AT&T, Ford, and Qualcomm Technologies, taking meaningful steps to evaluate what this technology will be able to deliver.”

“Qualcomm Technologies is working towards solutions designed for tomorrow’s safer and autonomous vehicles, not only by contributing and evolving C-V2X technology, but also by designing technological breakthroughs in other key areas such as 4G and 5G, precise positioning, machine learning, and computer vision,” said Nakul Duggal, VP, product management, automotive at Qualcomm. “We are pleased to work with industry and government leaders, in our hometown, testing and refining the technologies for the more connected, automated vehicle of tomorrow and advanced cellular infrastructure which includes small cells and roadside units.”

Told you.

A new consortium appears to lay another massive cable

A horde of big names has come together to build a high-capacity cable system that will connect Maruyama and Shima in Japan with Los Angeles in the USA and Daet in the Philippines.

So who is in the consortium; PCCW Global, Amazon, Facebook, NTT Communications, PLDT and SoftBank. Scheduled to be ready for service by early 2020, the Jupiter Cable will be approximately 14,000 km in length and has a design capacity of more than 60 Tbps.

“The demand for bandwidth in the Pacific region continues to grow at a remarkable rate, and is accompanied by the rise of capacity-dependent applications like live video, augmented and virtual reality, and 4k/8k video,” said Koji Ishii of SoftBank, co-chairperson of Jupiter consortium.

“Jupiter will provide the necessary diversity of connections and the highest capacity available to meet the needs of the evolving marketplace. TE SubCom has a proven record of success in the design and implementation of innovative, scalable and robust transoceanic cable systems, making the company the most reliable choice for the Jupiter supply partner.”

The cable itself has been configured as a trunk and branch system with submersible ROADM (reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexer) using WSS (wavelength selective switch) for a gridless and flexible bandwidth configuration. The team claim the ROADM nodes in the design are the most advanced form of this technology to date, providing bandwidth reconfiguration flexibility in an undersea network.

Bandwidth demand over the trans-Pacific route has more than tripled in just four years, though this is only going to increase as new, bandwidth-intensive technologies including Virtual Reality (VR), social media applications, video streaming, and gaming content start to gain traction in the mass market.

“Consumers and enterprises continue to require significantly increasing amounts of bandwidth whether for their own applications, or for their interface with content providers, hosting companies and cloud services,” said Marc Halbfinger, CEO of PCCW Global. “The Jupiter network will play a crucial role in serving this increased demand across the key trans-Pacific artery.”

This is of course not the only cable which is being laid to deal with the rising demand of cat videos. Others include the Trident Subsea Cable, the Hawaiki cable and the FASTER cable. These are only three other examples, but the bottom of the ocean might start looking like the back of your PC before too long.

JUPITER Cable Map

BT has bright idea to steal Amazon credibility

BT has seemingly got tired of a reputation riddled with accounting scandals and mediocre football coverage. Amazon has a good brand so why not tie up with its cloud computing business?

The new partnership will help BT grow its ‘Cloud of Clouds’ portfolio strategy, focusing on networking, security and managed cloud services. BT will hope such an association will provide more credibility as they aim to helps customers consume and utilise AWS at scale. The effects of handsome Gavin Hasselhoff Patterson seem to be waring off, and the Ryan Reynolds adverts were frankly a bit irritating, so why not go for something a bit more traditionally associated with the telecoms space. And who doesn’t love a partnership.

“The new strategic collaboration with AWS represents a major evolution in BT’s Cloud of Clouds,” said Bas Burger, CEO of Global Services at BT. “Together, BT and AWS are uniquely placed to help customers around the world remove complexity from their digital transformation journey. Today’s announcement is just the beginning, with much more to come.”

“Cloud is the new normal and organisations around the world are moving their applications to AWS so that they can focus on delivering the best for their customers,” said Gavin Jackson, UK Managing Director at AWS. “BT’s investment and expertise in the cloud will further help enterprise customers fully leverage the scale, security and agility of AWS.”

One of the initiatives which will be launched through the partnership will be known as the ‘hybrid cloud landing zone’, which essentially is a hybrid-for-dummies guide, while another will be a new portfolio of services focused more specifically for the security conscious. These products will include embedded network security, anti-DDoS and threat intelligence, all of which will be available through the AWS marketplace.

We applaud BT’s more traditional approach, now if only it could have a chat with its mates over at EE to see if they can be convinced to ditch Kevin Bacon. Whoever thought that was going to be a good idea should be told to sat in the corner.

China Telecom chooses Bridge Alliance as partner to provide M2M and IoT services

China Telecom and Bridge Alliance have signed a machine to machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT) services deal, with both sides aiming to capitalise on the impetus the IoT is receiving in the Asia Pacific region.

The business partnership deal will allow China Telecom to offer IoT/M2M services to multinational enterprise customers across Bridge Alliance's footprint of 34 markets.

Deng Xiao Feng, managing director of China Telecom’s global business department, said: "We are excited to join Bridge Alliance as a business partner. China Telecom has a strong portfolio of multinational enterprise customers who are looking to deploy their products and services across the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions. Bridge Alliance is the ideal partner to fulfil such requirements. Likewise, China Telecom is also ready to support any inbound opportunities from the member operators into China.

“With the supporting common platform and the business opportunities across these different regions, we are confident this partnership will be a mutually beneficial and win-win business collaboration.”

Eileen Tan, CEO of Bridge Alliance, said: "We are pleased and excited about this partnership with China Telecom. With the growing China market, the addition of China Telecom to Bridge Alliance's network of partners will certainly bolster our position to serve our global enterprise customers better. We look forward to future collective wins and co-innovating with China Telecom.”

Elsewhere, as this publication reported last month, Versa Networks has been picked by the Beijing-based telecom company as a primary vendor for software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) and security (SD-Security) to meet the requirements of its customer base worldwide.

Records profits and new leadership at Samsung – busy week

Only a couple of weeks after the resignation of CEO Oh-Hyun Kwon, due to an ‘unprecedented crisis’ at the company, Samsung now has more CEOs than it knows what to do with.

Samsung might have lost one CEO, but it is gaining three. Kim Ki-nam is now in charge of the components business, Kim Hyun-suk will be heading up the consumer electronics side of things, while Koh Dong-jin is running the mobile and IT unit. For the moment, it is not clear whether any one of the CEOs will have an elevated role, or perhaps they will try to emulate Huawei and put in place a CEO carousel.

“The next generation of leaders are well suited to accelerate the pace of innovation and address the demands of the connected world,” said Kwon. “They have proven track records with extensive experience and outstanding expertise in their fields.”

Another move at the top table will concern Sang-Hoon Lee, currently serving as President and CFO, who will now become the new Chairman of the business. Interestingly enough, this is the first time the CEO and Chairman roles have been separated. Considering the number of scandals which have hit the business in recent years, perhaps separating two important positions such as CEO and Chairman is a sensible move.

Such changes might have proved to be a distraction to some businesses, but this does not seem to be the case if you look at Samsung’s quarterly earnings. Scandals are increasingly proving not to have a lasting impact in the technology world, and this has only been reinforced by record profits at Samsung.

Over the last three months, Samsung recorded total revenues of roughly $55.4 billion, with profits sitting quite nicely at around $13 billion. This is the highest profit Samsung has ever recorded over a quarterly period.

The winner here was the semiconductor business, as has been the case quite often recently, but the mobile team also recorded a win. The global rollout of the Galaxy Note 8 posted some very positive numbers for the group, but profitability did take a slight dip due to increased sales of lower-end models taking a greater proportion. The semiconductor business accounted for roughly one third of the total revenues, and almost two thirds of the profit for the quarter.

Over the next quarter, Samsung anticipates another strong quarter for its memory business, partly owing to increased demand for servers and mobile devices (cynics can comment on possible underhand tactics if they wish), while the strong performance of the Galaxy Note 8 is expected to continue.

This momentum is expected to continue through to 2018, with high-density, high-performance NAND leading the way for the memory business. The team also expect positive growth in the DRAM market which it has attributed to the big data and AI euphoria.

Openreach renews calls for industry whip-round to build FTTP network

If we want fibre to the premises throughout the UK everyone needs to chip in, including wholesale customers and the state, says Openreach.

In an announcement entitled ‘Industry welcomes Openreach ambition to build a large FTTP broadband network’, the semi-independent fixed-line wholesale arm of BT revealed its recent consultation seemed to go well. Everyone agrees FTTP would be great, but inevitably opinion is divided about who should pay for it.

In principle the return on network investment comes from charging more for improved services, but we’re in an era when people seem to expect constant upgrades without resulting price increases, so Openreach is struggling to see where the ROI is going to come from. The answer is to spread the investment risk, according to Openreach, which was also beating this drum at BBWF last week.

“We believe that under the right conditions, we could build FTTP connections to ten million homes and businesses by the mid-2020s,” said Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach. “We want to do it, we think it’s the right thing to do for the UK, but it’s clear that we can’t do it alone, so I’m encouraged to hear that our wholesale customers support our vision.

“Having said that, we’re under no illusions about the challenges that lie ahead because we need to build a business case that’s workable and fair for everyone. That means we need a regulatory environment that encourages investment, and we need to agree how the costs of such a huge engineering project can be recovered fairly from all those that stand to benefit.

“Of course that’s going to be tough, but we need to get into the detail of that now with our customers, with Ofcom and with Government. I believe Openreach has a critical role to play in achieving such an ambitious goal, and the prize for our CP customers, their customers and the UK as a whole could be huge.”

The phrase ‘support our vision’ seems to be deliberately nuanced. Openreach’s wholesale customers like the idea of full FTTP but, according to the report, only some are interested in chipping-in, but even then only in return for preferential access. Openreach reckons the whole gig would cost three-to-six billion quid and will come back to customers and Openreach with some more specific proposals on how to go about it before the end of the year.

SK Telecom says its 5G rollout is moving quicker than expected

The incremental crawl towards 5G is going slightly faster in South Korea, if SK Telecoms latest boasts are to be believed.

Its trial 5G network in Bundang was augmented with a relay repeater operating in both the 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz bands. The main point of this sort of thing is to overcome the propagation issues faced when using higher frequency spectrum – i.e. it doesn’t penetrate walls very well. The obvious solution to this is to install boosters anywhere the main 5G signal is struggling to reach.

One interesting nugget within this news is a partnership with SK Telesys to develop an in-building relay repeater, which can deliver 5G radio signals in 3.5 GHz using the existing mobile communications infrastructure installed inside buildings.

In another demo SK Telecom collaborated with Samsung to do a 360-degree VR video call via a tablet device. The big deal here is that the call was even maintained while moving around a high-rise urban environment, thus demonstrating the ability to keep a high bandwidth connection going in spite of real-world challenges, thanks to bits of 5G cleverness such as beamforming.

“The success of 5G wireless communications in the real-world environment will give us momentum to accelerate our effort to roll out 5G service earlier than expected,” said Park Jin-hyo, Head of Network Technology R&D Center at SK Telecom. “We, at SK Telecom will continue to develop our capabilities to rollout 5G networks in order to offer differentiated services to our customers.”

All this talk of thongs happening ‘earlier than expected’ has limited resonance without stating what those expectations were. Nonetheless the steady stream of claimed 5G firsts from South Korea contribute to the sense that it’s the current front-runner in the race to 5G. Now make some money out of it SK Telecom – then we’ll be impressed.

Softbank set to pull the plug on Sprint T-Mobile merger, or is it?

In the absence of any recent romcoms coming out of Hollywood, Sprint and T-Mobile US are doing their best impression of a will-they/won’t they drama.

The latest chapter of the saga is a trough. According to Nikkei, it’s over, they’ve gone their separate ways. At this point in the movie, one would be out in a bar, sozzled and throwing crazy shapes to Taylor Swift, trying to find another partner, while the other would be crying into a tub of ice cream watching the Notebook.

The currently unconfirmed reports claim Softbank is the one which is ready to walk away, though this might be confirmed in the near future. Softbank executives plan to inform counterparts at T-Mobile US today (Tuesday), and the market not happy about the rumours. Over the course of the day, shares in the Japanese telco have dropped almost 5%, though the same cannot be said about Deutsche Telekom, where the price has remained steady.

Who knows whether this is a genuine breakup or if it is just a negotiating tactic, but investors seemed to have picked up on what we already knew in the telco space; Sprint needs this merger more than T-Mobile US does. Perhaps someone should tell the Softbank execs they do not have the upper hand in this negotiation.

The reported reasoning behind the split is down to control. Deutsche Telekom wanted to negotiate a controlling stake in the newly merged entity, which was apparently accepted to start with, though the Japanese still wanted to exercise some influence over decision making. Now it seems executives at Softbank aren’t happy at relinquishing control, and are prepared to ditch any deal which would see the Germans gain the upper hand.

What Softbank doesn’t seem to realize is that T-Mobile US doesn’t explicitly need this deal. It would be a nice to have, the customer base would immediately increase, coverage would be cemented and more efficient network investments could be realized, but this is a telco which is growing at a very attractive rate already. This deal would be to capitalize on momentum, not reverse ill fortunes.

Sprint used to be number three in the states, and now it is number four. But even these numbers are flattering. Sprint was never in a position to challenge the duopoly at the top of the US table. We’re not just talking about a different ballpark, we’re talking a different sport. Irrelevant of what metrics you look at, Sprint has been going downwards for some time, and this was only reinforced by the latest earnings call.

Back in Q2, Sprint recorded a profit of $206 million, but this now seems little more than a false dawn as the telco returned to the norm in Q3, with a loss of $48 million. On the flip side, T-Mobile US brought in $10 billion in total revenues, up 8% y-o-y, net income of $550 million, up 50% y-o-y. In terms of customers, the team is claiming 1.3 million total net additions for the quarter, the 18th straight quarters of adding more than 1 million.

T-Mobile US is growing healthily, and providing a genuine alternative to customers, something Sprint was not able to do during its long tenure in the number three spot. Why Softbank feels it can play hardball is beyond us. T-Mobile US doesn’t explicitly need this merger, things are already on track, Sprint does however.

And just like every good will they/won’t they story, this is unlikely to be the final chapter. Softbank CEO and Founder Masayoshi Son is an incredibly rich man, and with success usually comes a sense of arrogance. Why would he want to take a backseat at a company which could have the potential to challenge the US duopoly? Perhaps the message here is the Son-way or no-way. It wouldn’t surprise us, so there might just be another development before too long.

AT&T comes up with sensible idea to cash in on AI craze

It isn’t often we actually say this, but a telco has come up with a good idea as opposed to ripping someone else off, reinventing the wheel or using Kevin Bacon to make the brand seem cool (in someone’s head this made sense).

AT&T has paired up with Tech Mahindra to build AI marketplace called Acumos, which will be hosted by The Linux Foundation. It is a relatively simple idea as well. But all the best ones are.

With the craze of AI building every day, there are countless applications which do very specific things, whatever that might be. Incorporating these applications into a business function or creating a new product with AI as the foundation is complicated, as there are so many different moving parts. Acumos creates a single marketplace where you can stitch together various different applications to make a complete solution, without having to hunt around extensively.

Assuming there is traction with the developers, it could turn into a very useful little marketplace. All the AI ideas in one place. The complicated bit, which might decide whether it is a success or failure, will be making it accessible. AT&T and Tech Mahindra have said this isn’t just for data scientists, but for any developer who has a focus on creating apps and microservices. Translating this into an effective user-centric proposition for those who have limited (or no) AI experience will not be a simple task.

Just to demonstrate how it works, we’ve copied AT&T’s example below.

 

AI example

 

“Our goal with open sourcing the Acumos platform is to make building and deploying AI applications as easy as creating a website,” said Mazin Gilbert, VP of Advanced Technology at AT&T Labs.

“We’re collaborating with Tech Mahindra to establish an industry standard for AI in the networking space. We invite others to join us to create a global harmonization in AI and set the stage for all future AI network applications and services”

This is not the first venture for AT&T into such open source initiatives. The same model was used to launch the Open Networking Automation Platform (ONAP), but in this example the team spent a while developing an internal platform, called ECOMP, before releasing it into open source. AT&T and Tech Mahindra are still working on the governance side of things now, so a 2018 release does seen more realistic.