Liberty Global recycles Lutz Schüler from Unitymedia to Virgin Media

With Liberty Global selling a bunch of its German stuff to Vodafone it has decided to recycle an exec it would otherwise lose.

Lutz Schüler has been CEO of German cableco (and part of the above deal) Unitymedia since 2011. He has apparently done a decent job because Liberty Global has decided to resurrect the role of COO at Virgin Media in the UK to accommodate him rather than see him fall into the clutches of Vodafone. The same sentiment doesn’t seem to apply to Winni Rapp, who will replace Schüler having been CFO at Unitymedia.

“Since our initial acquisitions in 2009 and 2010, Unitymedia has grown revenue 60% and operating cash flow 80%, and has led the market in broadband innovation,” said Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global. “With the pending sale of our German business to Vodafone, Virgin Media takes on greater importance within our platform in Europe and we want the strongest team possible driving this business. I couldn’t be happier to keep Lutz in the Liberty family.”

“I’m excited to have Lutz join the Virgin Media team,” said Tom Mockridge, CEO of VM and his new boss. “His track record in Germany as an operator speaks for itself and he will provide a new level of marketing energy and leadership that will benefit Virgin Media customers and employees.”

“I’m thrilled to join the Virgin Media team and work alongside Tom,” said Schüler. “As I embrace this new challenge, I know that Unitymedia will be in strong, capable hands under Winni’s leadership.”

“Taking the reins at Unitymedia at this critical time is a great honour.,” said Rapp. “If you want to see the future of the TV and broadband business you need to look no further than Unitymedia. I will continue our proud tradition of innovation and our customers will be well served when Unitymedia and Vodafone join forces.”

Everyone seems pretty pumped about this little reshuffle don’t they? The COO role was previously filled, with Dana Strong having been promoted into it in March 2017. But that just seemed to served to enhance her professional profile enough to catch the eye of Comcast, to whom she defected less than a year later. Liberty Global will be hoping history doesn’t repeat itself with Schüler.

IPO fails to Xiaomi the money

The initial public offering of Chinese gadget giant Xiaomi seems to has raised considerably less cash than it hoped.

Bloomberg reports that Xiaomi priced the IPO on the Hong Kong exchange at the lower end of its expected range, resulting in a mere $4.7 billion being raised and pricing the company at around $54 billion, far less than had been hoped at the start of the year.

Bloomberg spoke to James Yan of Counterpoint Research, who offered the following analysis: “Xiaomi’s exceedingly thin margins from hardware significantly drags down its valuation for potential investors. I expect it to invest more in the smartphone unit, especially on international expansion. It also needs cash to beef up its ecosystem in markets like India. All those fronts are extremely capital-intensive.”

Another apparent hit on investor enthusiasm was Xiaomi’s decision not to do whatever the equivalent of an IPO is in China for whatever reason. This in turn meant it was going to raise less money and thus be able to reinvest less, hence reducing its investor appeal.

Xiaomi has done a great job of reclaiming market share it lost a year or so ago (see below), but the mere fact it had to do so is a reminder of how volatile the smartphone market is. Combine that with the company’s apparent Apple-style reliance on a captive installed base to flog other stuff to and the great job companies like OnePlus are doing of competing with it directly and you can see why the investment case is far from clear cut.

Is the £330 you save with a OnePlus 6 vs other Android flagships too good to be true?

I’m thinking of getting a new smartphone so I asked for review samples of the Samsung Galaxy S9, Google Pixel 2 and OnePlus 6 to help me choose.

My current phone is the Samsung Galaxy S7, which I bought two years ago as part of a 24-month contract. That means I’m now eligible for a ‘free’ upgrade so long as I stay on the same contract. Alternatively the S7 still works just fine so I could just downgrade to a SIM-only tariff and save myself some money for a few months.

The obvious upgrade would be to move to the S9 so that’s the first one I had a look at. The most obvious difference from the S7 is that the ‘edge’ screen – i.e. one that wraps around the longer sides of the device – is now standard issue, while it was a premium upgrade two years ago.

You can see the difference in the photo below, which shows the S9 in the middle, my S7 on the right and the Pixel 2 XL on the left (the 1+6 hadn’t turned up before the S9 was reclaimed). You can also see that, while the overall size of the S9 is pretty much the same, they have shrunk the black bands at the top and bottom to reclaim some screen real estate.

Pixel Galaxy S x2

And that’s well worth doing because the super AMOLED screen is one of the real strengths of this phone, it seems to have higher resolution and richer colours than the others, which makes looking at it a downright pleasure.

The other big change is that the whole chassis is made of a ceramic-like glass, which feels really premium and classy but also a tad fragile and pointless since I’d be whacking a case onto it as soon as I got it out of the box anyway. On that note the Spigen case I’ve had on my S7 as contemptuously shrugged off many drops over the past couple of years.

Other positives include a distinct upgrade in general performance over my phone, surprisingly good built-in speakers (The day is my enemy by The Prodigy and Hardwired by Metallica were my chosen test tracks, on the assumption that if they could handle them they could handle anything, see below), a top camera and a face unlock feature that worked very smoothly.

 

The major negatives all concerned the software Samsung has put on the phone as part of its endless quest to be more than just a Google vassal in the smartphone space. The big one is Bigby, Samsung’s take on the AI-driven personal assistant, but there’s the usual range of Samsung app it hopes we’ll use instead of Google or third party ones.

There’s nothing conspicuously wrong with any of these, it’s just that I find myself drawn towards the alternatives, often Google ones I’ve grown accustomed to. I have to admit I haven’t warmed to smart assistants in general and still feel a bit weird talking to a device without another human being involved in the exchange, but there was nothing about Bixby that made me want to revise that position.

Moving onto the Pixel, it should be noted straight away that Google sent me the XL version, so it has a bigger screen, battery etc and is more equivalent to the S9 plus, but other than size the features are largely the same. It has a metal back and sides that feel more robust than the glass S9 and you unlock it through a fingerprint reader on the back, which is handy because your index finger naturally heads that way when you hold it.

The screen seems every bit a sharp as that of the S9 but the colours seem slightly less vivid. The speakers are just as good and, quite frankly, it was hard to tell things like the camera, performance, etc apart – they are excellent on both. I preferred the stripped-down Android interface and the syncing with various Google services is spookily complete – it even sends me relevant sports news without me even requesting it.

It was hard to find fault with the Pixel 2 XL but equally difficult to find areas in which it was conspicuously superior to the S9, which is a general problem for dilettante smartphone reviewers like me, and which brings us on to the last device in this inexpert round-up.

The 1+6, as you can see in the photo below (on the right, taken next to the Pixel when it finally turned up) it looks pretty identical to the Pixel 2 XL, the only thing worth noting in this context being the fact that this is the only size the 1+6 comes in – around a 6-inch screen. It seems to have reclaimed even more screen from the black areas and features the ‘notch’ around the top speaker and camera associated with the iPhone X.

Pixel 2 and OnePlus 6

Again the components all seem up to scratch – chip, screen, etc, and it has not one but two cameras on the back. The speakers seemed to distort a bit with Prodigy and Metallica at top volume and you get the impression many of the components, while excellent, might be one level below those of the S9 and Pixel 2 XL. OnePlus does have its own UI skin, but it seemed pretty inoffensive and it also has a fingerprint reader on the back.

The chassis is glass, like the S9, but this is rendered even more irrelevant by the fact that, in a nice touch, the 1+6 comes with a case and a screen protector thrown in. Once more it’s hard to find either a killer feature or deal-breaker with this device – it just seems solid all round, albeit with a pleasantly subtle take on haptic feedback. This has been the case with smartphones for years once the form factor matured; how do you improve on a black touchscreen rectangle with all the latest specs?

But the 1+6 does have one massive differentiator: the price. The whole OnePlus proposition from the start has been to offer a flagship device at a mass market price. The 1+6 costs £469 for the version with 64GB storage. The 64GB S9 costs £739, with the larger Plus coming in at £799 and the 64GB Pixel 2 XL will set you back £799 too.

So the big question isn’t whether or not the S9 Plus or the Pixel 2 XL are better than the 1+6, but whether they’re £330 better. The answer, surely, has to be no. There’s just no way a slightly better set of components are worth pretty much the same as a new low-end Apple iPhone. If I’m paying my own money and EE doesn’t sufficiently incentivise me to sign up for another two-year contract, then the 1+6 seems like a no-brainer.

MWC Shanghai: Co-creation and collaboration becoming the new buzz of 5G

Buzzwords are nothing new to the telecoms and tech space, but 2018 is starting to see the rise of a few more; co-creation and collaboration

In most cases, vendors and telcos use tech-orientated buzzwords to dazzle, amaze and confuse customers, but this is a new type of euphoria. Its softer, less tangible and more acute. Co-creation and collaboration are necessary aspects of developing the digital economy, but purely by the flexible nature of the concepts, the buzz-bending, hype-escalating PR ‘gurus’ of the industry are going to have some fun here.

The definition and application of the two words are relatively simple on the surface. 5G can potentially take telcos beyond the realms of connectivity utility, providing an opportunity to become more of a consultative service provider. Instead of selling SIMs, telcos will be able to evolve offerings to be more than connectivity for enterprise customers. This means solutions which can proactively improve the efficiency of business operations.

Think of intelligent factories, smart cities or autonomous vehicles. In these examples, connectivity can be used to enhance the business, instead of just making it work. But before this dream of new revenues can be realised, the business needs to be transformed and new solutions need to be imagined.

This is where co-creation and collaboration comes into play. Telcos cannot simply knock on the door of a customer with a 5G offering and say ‘here you go, have come capacity, bandwidth and latency’, a solution specific to the industry, or the individual business, has to be created. It is a different type of business model.

One company which is taking this approach is NTT Docomo. Speaking during MWC Shanghai, CEO of Docomo Beijing Labs, Lan Chen told us the team now has more than 1400 industry partners, with plans to continue to grow. Chen said each of the partners were working with the Docomo research team to create products specific to industry, whether it would be AI-driven taxi solutions which predict demand or virtual assistants which are contextually aware. These partners range from technologists in enterprise organizations, to the internet giants like Baidu, as well as academic researchers. The point is they have experience in building services and products specific to the verticals.

Docomo is defining this research as co-creation, and there are already examples of services in the real world. Chen said there are several taxi companies working in Japan and China to hone the predictive demand service, and while it is not perfect, progress is certainly being made.

Elsewhere on the agenda, Intel had the chance to beat its chest and declare how collaborative it is. Robert Topple, GM of the 5G Advanced Technologies group, pointed to the work the team is doing with operators around the world to discover the future benefits of 5G.

“Important thing about 5g is the need to focus on scale not speed,” said Topple. “When you architect, it’s important that you build the foundation for bigger ideas in the future.

“Need to be software defined, virtualised wherever they are, but also built for the use cases of tomorrow. 5g is not about today.”

Looking at the R&D work, in Sydney the team is working with Telstra and Ericsson to use 5G to support eSports. This is something which is very unique; gamers can become content creators inside the game as opposed to linear content platforms of the past. This impacts the way in which you build 5G for gaming. In Japan there is work with Docomo applying mobility concepts into vehicles. The need here is to make sure an effective handoff between base stations and radio heads occurs, while also maintaining the experience. With autonomous vehicle the environment will change from a cockpit to passenger experience, which Topple highlighted changes the way which we need to think about connectivity and engagement.

Other projects included drones in China for maintenance of the Great Wall of China, an initiative with AT&T in the US for create wireless networks to support 4K video content and smart mining projects in Estonia with Telia. Each of these examples build the case for collaboration.

A final example is a conversation with Jane Rygaard, Head of 5G Marketing at Nokia. Rygaard pointed to the development of 5G networks and Bristol is Open as a great of example of where collaboration can work brilliantly. In Bristol, the initiative has evolved into a mish-mash of university academics, the local authorities and private industry all collaborating with the aim of making 5G accessible and successful for the digital economy. It accounts for different perspectives, ultimately making connectivity more useful.

Bristol is fast becoming one of the most technologically advanced cities in Europe, but it pales in comparison to some of the Asia metro areas. Bristol has a population of roughly 450k, which allows for some interesting PoCs, but China has 120 cities with a population of more than one million people. The scale, should collaboration be done effectively, offers great opportunity to apply variables on PoCs and collect mountains of data to hone models and services.

Collaboration and co-creation might seem like a simple idea, but the foundations of the telco business need to be sturdy and thorough. Such practices need a new structure and external contributions to be a success, something which is starting to catch on in Europe now. That said, the Asian telcos are miles ahead.

Walking around the exhibition floor, the industrial use cases were clear. Almost every stand had elements of enterprise emblazoned on the temporary walls and stacked high in the marketing literature. Asia has been thinking about this evolution for some time, adapting business models, moulding the ecosystem and liaising with external partners to create a more fluid and innovative environment. Industrial applications, the solutions and the communication strategies to engage customers are much more mature.

Collaboration and co-creation might seem like fluffy buzzwords which can fuel the lofty ambitions of creative PR powerhouses, but there is substance to the claim. Those who genuinely embrace the fundamental changes to business which collaboration demands will find themselves in an attractive position to reap the rewards of the enterprise connectivity game. Those who simply use the buzz to empower the marketing department will soon be found out.

Elisa claims world’s first commercial 5G launch

Finnish operator Elisa says it has become the first operator in the world to begin commercial use of a 5G network and starts selling 5G subscriptions.

Not only that, the network was kicked off by an international video call – from Finland to Estonia. In Tampere, Anne Berner, Finnish Minister of Transport and Communications called Kadri Simson, Estonian Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure, in Tallinn.

“We aim to make Finland the leading nation as a developer of 5G mobile services,” said Berner. “The Ministry of Communications is ready to allocate the first 5G licences to the 3,400–3,800 megahertz frequency band in autumn, which will make Finland among the first countries in the world to start building 5G networks.”

“Elisa actively enables Finland to continue leadership in mobile data usage by opening commercial 5G network first in the world,” said Elisa’s CEO Veli-Matti Mattila. “With the help of 5G services, consumers as well as corporate and institutional customers will get lots of new value when modern applications can be used more efficiently and it becomes possible to develop new applications. For example, it will be possible in the future for all viewers to watch the same football match as a high-quality live broadcast without delay using any terminal device.”

Elisa was keen to remind everyone it made the first GSM call too and it’s good to see Europe is still capable of leading the way in telecoms. The bigger picture still seems to be that Europe will lag the US and the Far East in 5G, but this sort of thing indicates that if the EU and regulators can get their act together we might be able to close the gap a bit.

MWC Shanghai: Why are Europe lagging the 5G race? Lack of commitment

The US is going hard and heavy for the consumer side, while Asia readied itself for the wireless assault on enterprise. Europe dithered, without committing, and is now playing catch-up.

It is a comment which we have made several times across the last couple of months, but European operators are lagging behind counterparts in the US and Asia. You might not have picked up on this point if you listen to politicians, but it is true. It is of course impossible to pin this down to a single reason, but a lack of commitment is certainly one of them.

Of course, the European market is awash with telcos. Comparing the largest telco in each country to counterparts in US or some Asian markets is an eye opener. We might think O2’s subscription numbers as the leader in the UK is promising at 30 million (according to Ovum’s WCIS), but compared to Verizon at 160 million or China Mobile’s 1.125 billion subscriptions, perspective is seen. This is of course a factor, as are legacy networks, market penetration, political position and the complicated regulatory framework across the 28 nations in the EU, but a lack of commitment is the one which we are going to focus on here.

Speaking to Nokia’s Head of 5G Marketing Jane Rygaard at MWC Shanghai, there is a sense of progress, but pointing to dilly-dallying in years gone, Rygaard identified one of the reasons for the lag.

“Even in the last couple of months since Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, there has been progress, but Europe is still behind,” said Rygaard.

As Rygaard pointed out, winning in the 5G world isn’t as simple as hitting a switch. Business models have to be adapted and a new mentality has to be taken on by the business. Selling SIM cards is not the same as selling connectivity solutions to enterprise organizations. There is no ‘one size fits all’ model as there is in the consumer world; each vertical, or even organization has to be taken on its individual challenges.

Solutions have to be customised to the landscape and business objectives, while different metrics have to be taken into account also. Think about the smart factory environment; presenting a latency solution to a customer won’t necessarily tick all the boxes, precision of the machines has to be taken into account as well. While this might not be completely under the control of the telcos, it is certainly something which has to be factored into the solution.

This is where Europe has been lacking. The telcos have been speaking with great interest about serving each of the industrial verticals, but work adapting the business models to suit these industries has only begun recently. Just looking around the exhibition floor at MWC Shanghai, you can see the Asian telcos have been working on this aspect of the business for some time. It is comprehensive, consultative and thorough. It is almost ready for 5G, but something which takes time. Europe should look to emulate the position some of the Asian telcos have constructed, but evolution doesn’t happen overnight.

The US is slightly different. The 5G proposition there is much more consumer orientated. It’s bigger, badder and faster, a race to gain bragging rights to claim the ‘5G first’ title. It’s not necessarily a bad way to go about business, China Telecom might disagree, but a firm commitment gave impetus and fuel to the 5G ambition.

Europe sat somewhere in the middle. The consumer benefits were attractive, video is after all a never ending trend, while enterprise offered a bounty of untouched IoT and connectivity riches. Indecision and caution seem to be suitable adjectives, but one thing is certain, the non-committal, risk-adverse tendencies of the European telcos are certainly contributing factors to the cumbersome jog to the 5G finish line.

IoT platform initiatives start to ramp

Ericsson, Qualcomm and Microsoft have all announced initiatives designed to move the whole internet of things thing along a bit.

At MWC Shanghai Ericsson and China Mobile (pictured) signed a cooperation agreement for the latter to use the former’s Device Connection Platform to augment its IoT efforts.

“Ericsson is a global leader in IoT with solid cooperation with operators’ associations GMA and Bridge (Association), providing connecting services for nearly 30 operators in over 100 countries and markets, and accumulating rich technical experience and industry resources in the field of IoT,” said Qiao Hui, GM of the China Mobile IoT Company.

“By launching DCP, we will be able to solve unified connection management and roaming across borders for our international customers, while at the same time share business opportunities in the global IoT market, which will further drive the expansion of IoT business overseas for China Mobile, and improve our market competitiveness in this field.”

Qualcomm, meanwhile, is claiming the world’s first commercial IoT development platform supporting field upgrade to LTE IoT. This also seems to involve China Mobile, which seems to be having a busy time of it at MWC Shanghai, a company called Gizwits, which specialises in IoT development platforms, and manufacturer Quectel.

“The expansion of the IoT depends on the ecosystem’s ability to deliver vast amounts of solutions featuring edge intelligence and flexible connectivity that stays current through the device life,” said Serge Willenegger, GM, 4G/5G and Industrial IoT at Qualcomm. “We are grateful of the opportunity to work with Gizwits, China Mobile Shandong Branch and Quectel.”

“The IoT enabling infrastructure is rapidly evolving,” said Jack Huang, CEO of Gizwits. “A challenge during this growing process for developers and manufacturers is the concern that the products they deliver today may not work well in tomorrow’s environment.

“For example, telecommunication operators throughout the world are phasing out 2G networks, leaving manufacturers with the tough choices of either sticking with the 2G modem technology that has worked well but may not be supported in the near future, or switching to LTE technologies, such as NB-IoT or eMTC, with limited network coverage in many regions.”

“The path of the IoT ecosystem toward 5G goes through LTE IoT, including the NB-IoT mode,” said Yong Chen, GM of enterprise business, China Mobile Shandong Branch. “Qualcomm Technologies and Gizwits are collaborating to help our customers get ready for the future as we deploy the latest cellular technologies across our network infrastructure.”

Lastly Microsoft has announced the general availability of Azure IoT Edge, its cloud platform for IoT devices. “Today, we are excited to announce Azure IoT Edge is now generally available (GA) globally – enabling our growing list of enterprise customers to bring their edge solutions to production,” blogged Microsoft’s Sam George.

“We are also introducing new robust capabilities on Azure IoT Edge to easily develop and deploy intelligence to the edge. These robust updates position Azure IoT Edge as a true end-to-end solution for enterprise-grade edge deployments.”

As 5G inches closer to reality, the industry seems to be getting real about IoT too. All three of these announcements seem to be concrete steps towards providing substantial IoT services to the market and China is looking like a major driver of that activity.

An evolution in integration – the smart home is on the rise

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Thomas Rockmann, VP Connected Home at Deutsche Telekom, argues that the smart home may finally be set to deliver on its many promises.

For many years, the smart home promised more than it delivered. Today those promises are being delivered on in so many ways, and consumer interest has risen accordingly. A recent research report from Parks Associates found that 17 percent of US broadband households own an Internet-connected entertainment device and a smart home device, with an additional 13 percent of consumers owning both a connected health device and a smart home device. A massive 48 percent of US consumers plan to buy at least one connected home device during 2018, representing a tidal wave of adoption – a 66 percent rise year-on-year.

That enormous increase has had a wide range of impacts – it has driven sales, of course, it has expanded investment, and it has also triggered extremely rapid market evolution. This evolution is creating an incredibly broad range of devices, but also refining product and market focus at an astonishing rate. The results are clearly visible in the market today, both in the shape of new and dynamic products and services, but also in the gradual phasing out of legacy technology – such as smart home hubs.

Already, buyers of some smart speakers (such as the Amazon Echo Plus) get a Zigbee smart home hub already baked in, and this integration of hubs into other devices continues apace, placing the original, single use smart home hub squarely on the endangered list. Deutsche Telekom recognised this trend some time ago, and began actively rolling out software upgrades way back in 2017 to consumer routers across Germany, so that the popular Speedport Smart router can control Deutsche Telekom’s end-customer offer Magenta SmartHome devices.

A particularly dynamic area is AI-powered smart speakers – a new report from YouGov found that one in ten Britons now own a smart speaker, up from just one in twenty in Q3 2017, and over a third (34 percent) say they interact with other smart devices using their speaker. One of many applications here are home alarm systems, which are increasingly being integrated with voice-enabled AI products. A recent analyst report found that the share of voice-operated alarm systems is expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7% from 2017 through 2022.

Indeed, the newest home hub from Centrica-owned Hive (the Hive Hub 360), has an inverse take on the integration trend, building in an 360-degree audio detector, enabling it to be used as an intrusion detection alarm system straight out of the box.

AI continues to be the dominant technology trend of the moment, and is clearly in the driving seat in integration terms. At CES 2018, Samsung announced that the next generation of smart TV’s will ship with integrated voice AI, thanks to Samsung’s digital assistant, Bixby, which will control SmartThings-compatible devices, such as Ring doorbells and Philips Hue lighting. When you consider that Samsung sold 47.9 million TVs in 2016 alone, this has the potential to bring voice-controlled AI into the homes of millions over the next few years. The current crop of AI-powered smart speakers with integrated screens certainly indicates a direction of travel here.

At Deutsche Telekom, we have also been following the trend closely and recently announced plans to speed up the transition to voice-enabled AI during 2018, with the launch of an own-brand assistant and AI-enabled consumer speaker product to control smart home devices and services such as EntertainTV.

A key underlying trend behind the product launches is that consumers continue to refuse to engage with complex sales pitches, reams of spec figures and wild claims. Any developing market has its fair share of these elements, but the real successes in the smart home market have been those products or services that offer a simple, low barrier point of entry to the market. This credo has become increasingly important as the space evolves and becomes more complex, and the increasing levels of integration in the market will be subject to the same requirements. Integration for the sake of it will not prove successful, and neither will proprietary ‘walled gardens’ be well received in the long term.

Open standards are essential in the smart home market. They enable enterprises to collaborate and work towards a more dynamic and powerful ecosystem, but also mean that the end consumer can readily recognize products that fit together, removing the guesswork or need for them to conduct intensive technical research. The result is a richer ecosystem from a business perspective, but also a more trusted and recognizable one, thanks to open standards.

It is an exciting time in the smart home market. The almost organic evolution that is taking place as we speak will bring many fascinating new products to market, and some of these will prove very successful. Integration, open standards, and innovative thinking will hold the key – let us embrace the future collaboratively!

Thomas Rockmann_medium sized

Medical AI platform claims to be able to match actual doctors for health advice

UK Medical tech company Babylon Health has demonstrated an AI platform that seems to diagnose as accurately as real, live human doctors.

At an event in London the company fired a bunch of questions at its AI (which doesn’t have a name yet – how about Quincy?), derived from publicly available Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) sources including bits of the exam GPs take to become qualified. The AI got a pass mark of 81% while the average for humans is 72%. You can read the full research paper here.

“The World Health Organisation estimates that there is a shortage of over 5 million doctors globally, leaving more than half the world’s population without access to even the most basic healthcare services,” said Dr Ali Parsa, Babylon’s Founder and CEO (pictured). Even in the richest nations, primary care is becoming increasingly unaffordable and inconvenient, often with waiting times that make it not readily accessible.

“Babylon’s latest artificial intelligence capabilities show that it is possible for anyone, irrespective of their geography, wealth or circumstances, to have free access to health advice that is on-par with top-rated practicing clinicians.

“Tonight’s results clearly illustrate how AI-augmented health services can reduce the burden on healthcare systems around the world. Our mission is to put accessible and affordable health services into the hands of every person on Earth. These landmark results take humanity a significant step closer to achieving a world where no-one is denied safe and accurate health advice.”

Inevitably real GPs aren’t exactly comfortable with this sign of their impending obsolescence. The RGCP immediately retorted with a press release headed “Apps and algorithms may ‘support but will never replace’ GPs, says RCGP”. Here’s what its Vice Chair, Professor Martin Marshall, had to say on the matter.

“The potential of technology to support doctors to deliver the best possible patient care is fantastic, but at the end of the day, computers are computers, and GPs are highly-trained medical professionals: the two can’t be compared and the former may support but will never replace the latter.

“No app or algorithm will be able to do what a GP does. Every day we deliver care to more than a million people across the UK, taking into account the physical, psychological and social factors that may be impacting on a patient’s health; we consider the different heath conditions a patient is living with, and medications they might be taking, when formulating a treatment plan. Much of what GPs do is based on a trusting relationship between a patient and a doctor, and research has shown GPs have a ‘gut feeling’ when they just know something is wrong with a patient.

“An app might be able to pass an automated clinical knowledge test but the answer to a clinical scenario isn’t always cut and dried, there are many factors to take into account, a great deal of risk to manage, and the emotional impact a diagnosis might have on a patient to consider. This is why the College’s MRCGP assessment, which all GPs must now pass in order to practise independently in the UK, has three elements and is designed to test not just clinical knowledge, but also the ability to make evidence-based decisions, and to deliver person-centred care through effective communication with patients and colleagues.

“It is also the case that the exam-preparation materials, used by Babylon in this research, will have been compiled for revision purposes and are not necessarily representative of the full-range of questions and standard used in the actual MRCGP exam, so to say that Babylon’s algorithm has performed better than the average MRCGP candidate is dubious.

“Babylon’s GP at Hand service uses technology in a way that some patients like. But some don’t, and the way it is being used risks undermining and damaging traditional general practice services. The College has publicly criticised GP at Hand for ‘cherry-picking’ patients, leaving traditional GP services to deal with the most complex patients, without sufficient resources to do so. We stand by this: we do not endorse Babylon, or its GP at Hand service, being used in the way that it is, in the NHS.

“Technology has the potential to transform the NHS, but it must be implemented in an equitable way, that doesn’t benefit some patients, and not others, and is not to the detriment of the general practice service as a whole.”

In essence Marshall is speaking on behalf of anyone potentially affected by the march of the AI chatbots and the increasing obsolescence of human beings. There are so many questions around this stuff beyond merely their technical accuracy, including soft skills, the unique nuances of human interaction and culpability for mistakes. But if this sort of thing provides medical assistance where it was previously unavailable it’s hard to overlook.

MWC Shanghai: Mobile video can be the elusive justification for 5G – Viacom

While the US and Asia stream ahead in the race for 5G, European telcos are unsurprisingly sceptical over investments; could video be use case which operators are searching for to justify investments in the technology?

It seems strange to be talking about hardcore justification in Asia. While US operators are moving forward aggressively in 5G due to competition, the mood in Asia seems to be somewhat more optimistic. There appears to be a sense of ‘build it and they will come’ for 5G, investing in the potential of the technology, not the immediate gains. That said, few would complain about a silver bullet to solve all the uneasy questions surrounding investments.

This is what David Lynne, CEO of Viacom International Media Networks, is preaching. For those who are nervous about the prospect of reaping the rewards of the connected economy, video could be the validation needed.

“For this to work, mobile has to establish itself as a platform for TV,” said Lynne during his MWC Shanghai keynote session. “This can be a selling point for 5G.

“Many are sceptical about the use case of 5G, but it will allow mobile to compete with traditional platforms for pay TV content. Increased reliability and reduces latency to make the experience the same. Video will surely play a critical part of selling the 5G benefits to customers.”

For years the price of data has been tumbling making the telco business a tricky one to thrive in. Parallel to the decreasing price per GB, consumers are becoming more demanding, expectant of bigger bundles or even unlimited tariffs. With connectivity ARPU decreasing, and network demand increasing, the economics are not favourable. One of the theories of 5G is price stabilisation; with decreased latency, alongside increased speeds and capacity, operators might just be able to halt the trend of shrinking ARPU, and perhaps even increase it.

This is where some of the telcos are sceptical; it all seems too good to be true, but Lynne is convinced a thorough mobile video platform could offer genuine competition to the traditional means of consuming content on smart TVs and even PCs or laptops.

“I’d like to focus on one number; 78,” said Lynne. “This is the number which Cisco predicts will be the percentage of video internet traffic by 2021.”

As it stands, the majority of this content is in short-form, or VOD services such as YouTube. Though Viacom is currently working with a number of telcos who are Viacom’s content into packages to increase engagement and potentially revenues.

“It is an emerging business model though,” said Lynne. “Mobile providers know about experience and delivering, but not much about keeping the customer entertained. Some are bundling live video into billing. At its most effective, these can drive NPS (Net Promoter Score) and revenues.”

Examples of this include Telefonica’s Movistar in Latin America, where it offers both linear and on-demand content as a premium service, or AT&T which is bundling Paramount content into unlimited data packages. Some are even using the MTV and Comedy Central brands to engage younger audiences with customer content platforms. These are all examples of taking video to the next step on mobile. It isn’t just about short-lived experiences, but a genuine long-form video proposition.

Video is a trend which no-longer needs to be justified to the industry; it is growing faster and faster every single year. While this is certainly a strain on the network, there is an opportunity for the telcos to create relevance beyond being a connectivity utility in the digital era. A genuine and comprehensive video platform can be a challenger to traditional video platforms, justifying the 5G expense.

Mobile doesn’t just have to be for cat videos.