Singtel plans to deploy IoT-driven smart meters in Singapore

Singtel and global smart metering solutions provider EDMI are collaborating to deploy a smart electric metering infrastructure in Singapore.

The two companies have tested the use of smart electric meters over Singtel's nationwide LTE Cat-M1 cellular IoT network to facilitate the wireless transmission of real-time meter readings to the power grid.

The partnership aims to cater IoT-powered smart metering solutions for residential, commercial, and industrial areas as part of the Energy Market Authority's plan to roll out smart meters in the city in H2/2018. Singtel is also currently providing M2M connectivity for EDMI's digital electric meters in Singapore.

Andrew Lim, Business Group Managing Director at Singtel’s Group Enterprise, said:

“Giving electricity suppliers real-time data on electricity consumption allows them to optimise the distribution of electricity to certain areas and times of the day especially when demand is peaking. The pairing of smart meters with our IoT network will give consumers more accurate meter readings and ultimately bring cost savings.”

Singtel is also working alongside Ericsson in a joint IoT innovation lab conducting trials with over 20 potential partners on the Cat-M1 IoT network; which launched back in September.

What are your thoughts on the collaboration? Let us know in the comments.

Google’s Eric Schmidt is stepping down as Executive Chairman

One of the most recognizable names in the technology industry will be taking more a backseat role at Google, as Eric Schmidt steps down as Executive Chairman.

Schmidt will remain in place until the next general meeting on 18 January, though his new position will be as a technical advisor to the company while continuing to serve on its board. Details on why Schmidt will be moving away from the bright lights are thin for the moment, but perhaps it is just time for a bit of relaxation for man who was probably one of the busiest Googler’s in recent years.

“Since 2001, Eric has provided us with business and engineering expertise and a clear vision about the future of technology,” said Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet.

“Continuing his 17 years of service to the company, he’ll now be helping us as a technical advisor on science and technology issues. I’m incredibly excited about the progress our companies are making, and about the strong leaders who are driving that innovation.”

Schmidt, who Forbes ranked Schmidt as the 119th-richest person in the world in 2017, served as the CEO of Google from 2001 to 2011, a period which laid down the foundations for Google’s dominance today. Schmidt handed over control of Google in 2011 to founder Larry Page, but continued as Executive Chairman as the company restructured to form Alphabet.

“Larry (Page), Sergey (Binn), Sundar (Pichai) and I all believe that the time is right in Alphabet’s evolution for this transition. The Alphabet structure is working well, and Google and the Other Bets are thriving,” said Schmidt. “In recent years, I’ve been spending a lot of my time on science and technology issues, and philanthropy, and I plan to expand that work.”

A new Executive Chairman will be announced in January, and perhaps there will be a bit more detail on what Schmidt’s role will actually be. Considering the growing influence of the ‘Other bets’ business unit in Google, this might not be the last time you hear from the man.

Man City sign eSports star – not something you see every day

Friday isn’t the most serious day in the world, so here’s something from the lighter side of the tech industry. Premier League leader, Manchester City, has signed its second FIFA eSports player, Marcus ‘ExpectSporting’ Jorgensen.

18-year old PS4 player Jorgensen will join Xbox player Kieran ‘Kez’ Brown in Man City’s stable of eSports stars, demonstrating the potential which is quickly developing in the eSports world. During 2017, Jorgensen became inaugural champion at the FIFA Interactive Club World Cup in Aug 2017, beating competitors from top European football clubs, and also reaching the FIFA Interactive World Cup Grand Final in London.

“We’re really excited to be signing Marcus to represent Manchester City in tournaments and fan events around the world. He has already demonstrated that he can compete amongst the best esports FIFA players around so we can’t wait to see how he progresses,” said Nuria Tarre, Chief Marketing Officer for City Football Group.

“The growth in eSports over the past 18 months has been significant and our increasing presence in this field has provided another exciting platform for us to engage with City fans, both here in the UK and further afield.”

The growth in eSports over the last couple of years has been staggering. Once considered a shelter for geeks and misfits, eSports is now penetrating the mass market, proving the most popular past time in certain markets in Asia. For those of you who are new to the area, here are a few of the numbers from the Intel Extreme Masters, a series of international eSports tournaments held in countries around the world:

  • $5,593,650 in prize money awarded so far
  • 113,000 attendees at the Katowice event in 2016
  • 1,300 crew members at the Katowice event
  • ESL One Hamburg powered by Intel, Europe’s largest Dota 2 festival, had 25 million unique online viewers

Considering the price of entering into the sports content market, perhaps this is an area telcos should seriously start thinking about. The popularity of eSports is growing incredibly quickly, and is starting to generate fan bases not too dissimilar from physical sports. The emotional connection is almost certainly there, but we doubt there will be many who will have the foresight to actually consider such a bet.

Telcos are hardly the most adventurous, usually waiting for a trend to prove it’s a genuine thing before investing. By this point, the telcos have to overspend to catch up with the early adopters, meaning a lot of the value is lost in overpriced assets. Maybe someone will prove us wrong, Telefonica is having a go at eSports in Spain, but the majority will probably stick to the same risk-adverse path which is taking the industry towards commoditization.

We could see commercial 5G products as soon as next year

After years of probing, posturing and prognosticating the telecoms industry has committed to the first 5G New Radio standard.

At Mobile World Congress earlier this year the decision was unilaterally made, with some dissent, to fork the development of 5G NR into standalone and non-standalone versions. The apparent need for this fork was so that we could get on with the air interface part without having to wait for the core and all the attendant mind-boggling complexity to be finalised.

As a consequence, while much of the 5G core will have to wait until the middle of next year to reach its first standard ‘freeze’ (i.e. the work done so far is set in stone), we have been able to freeze the first standard for just the air interface component of 5G. Because this will still rely on the legacy 4G core it is referred to as non-standalone (NSA – not to be confused with the National Security Agency, or indeed No Strings Attached).

To get a better sense of the significance of this we spoke to Ulises Olvera-Hernandez of InterDigital, who is an active participant in the system architecture group of the 3GPP and has generally been elbows-deep in the 5G standardisation process from the start. “This is a very significant drop for the 5G specification,” he said.

“The physical and control layers are fully developed at this point. This is very significant because the base station and terminal chips can now be made. The radio will be pretty much the same between NSA and SA. The Summer 2018 release will bring the SA radio, which will mean the NSA radio we have just standardized will be able to connect to the new 5G core.”

5G NR NSA SA

As has been extensively covered, 5G is about a lot more than just more 4G – i.e. improved data rates. The world also wants 5G to enable massive IoT with technology that combines very low energy use with limitless scalability. And as if that’s not enough we also need 5G to offer the kind of robustness, efficiency and flexibility that will allow utopian use-cases such as autonomous vehicles and robotic surgery.

“This release includes something that is referred to as ‘ultra-reliable, low latency communications’,” said Olvera-Hernandez. “In simple terms this requires a new radio interface that is able to respond much quicker.” He also said the whole IoT aspect has not been covered in this release but will be addressed subsequently.

One other significance of this milestone is how it positions the 3GPP in the overall 5G standard mix. This stuff is ultimately adjudicated by the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) via its IMT2020 group and the deadline is looming. You can see the submission timeline below.

IMT2020 submission timeplan

“This also prepares for the IMT2020 submission,” said Olvera-Hernandez. “3GPP will be one of the radio interface technologies that are proposed and the first submission is due in February 2018. So that is a key aspect of this release.”

But the most immediate and conspicuous consequence of freezing the 5G RAN standard will be the legitimization of the use of 5G by the marketing teams of any company even remotely associated with the telecoms world. They hardly need encouraging, of course, but the 5G spam we have had to endure to date will pale into insignificance compared with the deluge to come.

“Companies will now be able to say they have a 5G radio interface and that their core network is ‘5G ready’,” said Olvera-Hernandez. 5G ready. The phrase alone is enough to make those of us who earn a living by spending an unhealthy about of time banging on about phone stuff shudder in grim anticipation. We will probably see the first 5G ready claims as soon as everyone has got over their New Year hangovers but, more surprisingly, we might even see actual commercial products to back that claim up before the end of the year.

“I believe we will see 5G in the form of NSA in 2018,” said Olvera-Hernandez. “I think that towards the end of next year you will see commercial 5G products, as a year should be sufficient to make this happen. We will see voice carried in a better way in the 5G system than it has been with 4G because there has been a complete re-engineering of the quality-of-service aspects of 4G.”

The decision to go with NSA first seems pretty sensible on one level, but while it has sped up the process by which various telecoms industry stakeholders can legitimately claim to have 5G products and services, it also creates a separate set of complexities. The marketing frenzy is inevitable but it does risk setting unrealistic expectations, which will be exacerbated if the process of reconciling NSA with SA doesn’t go smoothly.

If all this has merely served to whet your appetite for telecoms technicalities you can have yourself a very geeky Christmas by reading this 3GPP brief introduction (!) to the 5G system architecture. On a lighter note we’ll leave you with this photo of the 3GPP architecture working group on the lash, having hit their milestone.

3GPP drinks

Deutsche Telekom forks out €1.9bn to boost Austrian business

After a failed attempt to buy Sprint in the US, Deutsche Telekom has proved it still knows its way through the acquisition maze, with its second purchase in a matter of days.

Last week it announced the acquisition of Tele2 for €190 million, and now it has tabled €1.9 billion to buy cable operator UPC Austria. Consolidation in the telco space is certainly a rare discussion, especially in Europe where the boresome Brussels brigade of bureaucrats are fixated on four operators per market, but DT is slowly gathering momentum across the continent.

“With this acquisition Deutsche Telekom is taking another major step to realize our strategy to become a fully converged operator in our European footprint,” said Srini Gopalan, Board Member for Deutsche Telekom Europe.

“The acquired cable network will be a perfect match with our best mobile network. It will allow customers to benefit from extended scope of services with fixed and mobile offerings from one source. We see a significant potential to accelerate growth in the Austrian market.”

Fortunes in Austria have been a big of a mixed bag for DT in recent years. There has always been a relatively solid footprint and performance in the market, though it has yet to make a genuine challenge against market incumbent Telekom Austria. DT also had to sit and watch Three charge up the market share table, as it secured second place last year.

By bringing the country’s leading cable provider into the fold, DT is starting to realise its wider European strategy in Austria; convergence. Alongside fixed and mobile broadband internet, IoT and telephony, the combined organization will have a much stronger presence in the TV and entertainment space. It might not add billions onto the bottom line straight away, but convergence certainly lowers churn, and the ability to be more creative with expenditure in the future.

In terms of the stats, UPC Austria is the largest cable operator in Austria with coverage of 36% of the households in the market, mostly in urban areas, as well as 500,000 customers in the broadband space, making it number two. It is market leader when it comes to Premium-TV market with 400,000 customers throughout Austria.

Through this acquisition, DT also gets its hands on a notable infrastructure. To date, the Austrian subsidiary, T-Mobile Austria, has mostly been a mobile player, though DT believes it has the assets and presence to be a strong competitor in both the consumer and businesses segments of the broadband market now.

Aptly named Sprint is first out the door with 5G promise

Sprint is living up to its name with one of the first timeline promises for 5G, even if it a vague and middling ambition.

Following the first release of the Non-Standalone 3GPP 5G NR specification there will be a tidal wave of promises made, and Sprint has edged its nose in front of the pack. Working alongside Qualcomm and Softbank, the team is aiming to deliver for wide-scale 5G deployment, to provide commercial services and devices in late 2019.

“This is an important milestone and we’re making great progress accelerating the development and commercialization of 5G NR in the 2.5 GHz band,” said Dr. John Saw, Sprint CTO. “5G will spur dramatic innovation and progress around the world, and we see great opportunity in mobile 5G, massive machine type communications, and ultra-reliable and low-latency communications.”

And while announcements like this will generate a bit of short-term positive PR for the telco, unfortunately the humbleness of the ambition will probably get lost in the noise before too long. 5G by late 2019 is likely to be a timeline we’ll see quite a lot, or at least this will the ambitions of the telcos. Perhaps it is better to be first, and bathe in the glory for a short while, than to over promise on the speediness of delivery.

The specification includes bandwidths up to 100 MHz for an n41 (2.5 GHz) single component carrier versus today’s 20 MHz per component carrier for 4G LTE. With this now written in stone, Sprint is in a pretty solid position, with more than 160 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum available in the top 100 US markets. It claims to be the largest hoarder of sub-6 GHz 5G spectrum available for wide-scale use in the country.

The first steps towards the 5G promised land will begin next year with the deployment of 2.5 GHz Massive MIMO radios slated for commercial use in 2018. These 64T64R radios will all be software-upgradable to 5G NR, though this is not exactly a unique claim for the telco; most are working in some fashion to deliver these foundation blocks.

Perhaps the stars are beginning to align for a telco which struggling to compete with the duopoly (AT&T and Verizon) in the 4G world, and couldn’t adapt quick enough to meet the challenge of the marauding T-Mobile US. The assets are certainly there for Sprint to shine in the bright 5G world, but this is a company which has a lot of things to sort out before it earns the right to dine at the top table once again. The potential is there, Sprint just needs to prove its more than just a fast starter now.

Yesterday AT&T promised 7000 jobs, today it sacks 700 just in time for Christmas

The much publicised tax reforms by President Trump saw AT&T state it would invest to create jobs for Americans and now it has handed pink-slips to 700 DirecTV home installers.

According to The New York Post, due to the company’s more stringent focus on its DirecTV Now streaming business, the workers have been handed their marching orders. The timing could be better considering the news came to light a matter of days after AT&T put itself forward as an engine for growth and job creation.

“Merry Christmas, here’s your pink slip,” one worker is quoted. “It’s affecting all states from Florida to California.”

And while there might be a promise of increased profits at AT&T, this is hardly going to be an consolation for those who work in the telcos traditional TV business. Cord cutters are gathering steam meaning this is unlikely to be the last we hear of job cuts.

Following the news the tax legislation had been passed, AT&T was of course on its high-horse. Plans were to invest an additional $1 billion in the United States in 2018 and pay a special $1,000 bonus to more than 200,000 AT&T US employees. The team even quoted statistics that for every $1 billion invested in the US, 7000 jobs are created.

“Congress, working closely with the President, took a monumental step to bring taxes paid by U.S. businesses in line with the rest of the industrialized world,” said Randall Stephenson, AT&T CEO. “This tax reform will drive economic growth and create good-paying jobs. In fact, we will increase our U.S. investment and pay a special bonus to our U.S. employees.”

These numbers will offer little comfort to those who have been let go.

That said, Stephenson certainly has something to be buoyant about. The new tax rules creates a single 21% corporate rate, effective in 2018, certainly a lot lower than what AT&T has paid in the past. Perhaps the extra bonus Stephenson will get will help him forgot the 700.

The first 5G spec is officially complete

The organisation which governs cellular standards, the 3GPP, has officially signed off the first 5G specification.

Here on Telecoms we’ve covered many pre-5G trials, but it now won’t be long before we can start reporting on the real deal.

Cristiano Amon, Executive Vice President at Qualcomm Technologies, said:

“We are excited to be part of this significant milestone, and to once again be at the forefront making the 5G vision a reality in 2019.

We look forward to continue working with our mobile industry peers to bring 5G NR commercial networks and devices in 2019 in smartphone and other form factors, for both sub-6Ghz and mmWave frequency bands, and to continue developing 5G technologies to connect new industries and enable new services and user experiences in the years to come."

The announcement was made following a meeting of industry leaders in Lisbon. Now these companies, and others, can ensure they are developing and rolling out solutions which meet the specification.

Here’s a list of the companies who jointly announced this exciting milestone:

  • AT&T

  • BT

  • China Mobile

  • China Telecom

  • China Unicom

  • Deutsche Telekom

  • Ericsson

  • Fujitsu

  • Huawei

  • Intel

  • KT Corporation

  • LG Electronics

  • LG Uplus

  • MediaTek Inc

  • NEC Corporation

  • Nokia

  • NTT DOCOMO

  • Orange

  • Qualcomm Technologies, Inc

  • Samsung Electronics

  • SK Telecom

  • Sony Mobile Communications Inc

  • Sprint

  • TIM

  • Telefonica

  • Telia Company

  • T-Mobile USA

  • Verizon

  • Vodafone

  • ZTE

Back in February, industry leaders jointly announced their support of accelerating the standardisation of 5G NR. This announcement today is a result of their efforts.

This standard completion is an essential milestone towards enabling the cost-effective and full-scale development of 5G NR, which will greatly enhance the capabilities of 3GPP systems.

Erik Ekudden, CTO at Ericsson, comments:

“GPP has done a tremendous job to complete the first 5G specifications according to industry demand and expectations. As a prime contributor to 5G standardization, Ericsson has worked with industry partners in the evolution of mobile technology to a global network platform for consumers and enterprises.

Our research team has worked on 5G since 2010 including early 5G testbed efforts created together with these industry partners. The open contribution-driven specification work and the rapid completion of the first 5G standards for global deployment demonstrates the strength of the 5G eco-system."

3GPP plans to continue to develop Release 15, including the addition of support for standalone 5G NR operation. The 5G NR lower layer specifications have been designed so that they can support standalone and non-standalone 5G NR operation in a unified way, to ensure that 3GPP benefits the global industry with a large-scale single 5G NR ecosystem.

Bruno Jacobfeuerborn, CTO Deutsche Telekom, says:

“We view both the Non-Standalone and Standalone modes of New Radio as equally important for the completeness of the 5G standard specification. This timely finalization of NSA is one important step on that journey and in the development of the 5G ecosystem.

It is crucial that the industry now redoubles its focus on the Standalone mode to achieve progress towards a full 5G system, so we can bring key 5G innovations such as network slicing to our customers."

We look forward to reporting on further developments in 2018 and beyond!

What are your thoughts on today’s 5G spec announcement? Let us know in the comments.

Huawei and Baidu team up on AI

Huawei and Baidu have announced a wide ranging partnership to develop artificial intelligence (AI) platforms and technology, to internet services and content ecosystems.

The tagline itself might sound a bit ominous, ‘AI that knows you better’, but it is where the industry is heading. More comprehensive artificial intelligence applications which reveal information about you which you didn’t even realise you had given away. Another concern might be held in Silicon Valley; two of the worlds’ most successful latecomers to the technology tsunami teaming up to steal AI fortunes from California.

“The future is all about smart devices that will actively serve us, not just respond to what we tell them to do,” said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group. “With a strong background in R&D, Huawei will work with Baidu to accelerate innovation in the industry, develop the next generation of smartphones, and provide global consumers with AI that knows you better.”

“It should come as no surprise that Baidu and Huawei are working together, because we have many similarities – technology is embedded in our DNA and we have developed our own technologies in order to grow,” said Robin Li, Baidu CEO.

“The Internet era is evolving into the era of AI. Baidu has been dedicated to the field of AI for a long time. Huawei has a large user base. Together, Baidu and Huawei can do many things which we were not able to do in the past. The Chinese saying ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’ is a good way to describe our cooperation – today we planted the seeds, and I believe soon they will grow into many flowers.”

The plan is to build an open ecosystem using Huawei’s HiAI platform and Baidu Brain, a compendium of the company’s AI assets and services. The open ecosystem will make use of Huawei’s Neural Network Processing Unit (NPU) and Baidu’s PaddlePaddle deep learning framework to democratize the power of AI for developers and accelerate the introduction of new offerings.

First up will be work on voice and image recognition for smart devices, as well as building an augmented reality (AR) ecosystem, to help move along another area which has the potential for major disruption. Such work might be able to help both brands make stronger strides into the international markets.

One area for Huawei which might be a focal point is cracking the US market with its smartphones. Huawei has made solid progress in the developing markets, but reports in recent weeks have seen some positive moves in the US. That said, the Apple and Samsung dominance will be difficult to crack, therefore the team will have to create a solid USP to make waves. AI, AR and VR might be that differentiation the brand needs.

Aside from consumer applications, the promise of productivity gains has seen businesses flock to the likes of Google, IBM and Amazon to cash in on the craze. Huawei has proved it can turn a segment on its head, Ericsson and Nokia will testify to this, so the techies-club in Silicon Valley should be a bit worried about China stealing the AI thunder.

Facebook advertising platform accused of discrimination

Over the last couple of months ProPublica has been causing quite a few issues for Facebook, but the latest one has actually caused the social media giant to post a defensive reaction.

The most recent complaint is focused on how Facebook uses its advertising platform to show recruitment ads to specific age groups. An investigation from ProPublica has claimed companies are using advertising platforms such as Facebook, Amazon and Google, to target individuals within specific age brackets, which it has claimed is a blatant unlawful act.

Naturally, Facebook has defended its position.

“Today ProPublica has raised new concerns about companies, including our own marketing team, using Facebook to show recruitment ads to specific age groups,” said Rob Goldman, VP of Ads. “We have carefully reviewed their concerns — and this time we disagree.

One of the arguments here is that this is not a new practise and precedent has been set in other areas of media. Let’s say a company runs an advert for a position in the London Evening Standard, which has a circulation specific to London, this company could be deemed as discriminating against every potential candidate who doesn’t live in London.

Another example might be jobs which are advertised in titles which are more appealing to either men or women. Should the companies who place adverts in these titles be held accountable for sexual discrimination?

“We take abuse of our systems incredibly seriously,” said Goldman. “We proactively look for bad ads, and investigate concerns when they are raised. We know we have more work to do — as previous investigations by ProPublica have shown. And we’re investing heavily in more people and better technology so that we constantly improve over time.

“But in this case we disagree with ProPublica. Used responsibly, age-based targeting for employment purposes is an accepted industry practice and for good reason: it helps employers recruit and people of all ages find work.”

In this case, logic should surely dictate. Companies have a limited budget to advertise positions, and therefore have to be clever in the way they work. Should male grooming brands be punished for advertising to men? No, as while there might be female customers, the majority will be male. Statistically, graduate jobs will most likely appeal to recent graduates. This is the way advertising works. In theory, it has been practising discrimination from the beginning.

The law is a funny thing though. Discrimination is a hot topic now and regulators are looking to make examples to demonstrate their position of power and tackle the problem in its earliest days. It’s not out of the question that politicians would want to make an example of Facebook, but we hope regulators chase those who are actively discriminating individuals, as opposed to those who are trying to get the most bang for their advertising buck.

Those who decline offering a position or an interview for someone who is older, should be held accountable. But that does not seem to be the case here, it is a logical use of limited advertising funds.