Exeter and Leeds win National Infrastructure Commission prize

With the technology world dreaming of autonomous vehicles, everyone has to remember perfecting the technology is only part of the battle. The roads have to be updated as well.

This is a concept the National Infrastructure Commission has understood, and looked to address. The national Roads for the Future competition looks to address these very problems with a £50,000 prize fund to fuel new ideas. It might not be an astronomical figure, but the lessons learned will certainly be useful.

And the winners are… City Science based in Exeter and the Leeds City Council.

“The vehicles of tomorrow will be very different to those we see around us today. We need to make sure our roads are ready for this revolution,” said Chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission Sir John Armitt. “With such a strong shortlist narrowing down the entries was no easy task, but the ideas put forward by City Science and Leeds set them apart. I’ve been really pleased by the enthusiasm for our competition, and I hope it leads to ever-greater interest not just in the technology in the vehicles, but also in the roads they will travel on.”

In Exeter, City Science will examine how sections of roads in urban areas could initially be dedicated to driverless vehicles, as a key step in kick-starting their take-up and integrating them safely into the existing transport network. Over in Leeds, the council will investigate how the data generated from digitally connected cars could be used to improve traffic light sequencing, allowing highway authorities to better manage traffic on their roads and reduce tailbacks.

“Over the past three months, this project has given us the opportunity to explore the enormous potential of CAVs and set out a tangible vision to deliver their benefits on the UK’s roads.,” said Laurence Oakes-Ash, CEO of City Science. “It is essential that we get the rollout of CAVs right, using them in ways that can integrate with mass transit, promote healthy cities and create successful communities.”

“While digitally connected and autonomous vehicles are still a long way down the road, they have the potential to offer massive benefits in major cities like Leeds,” said Leeds City Council executive member for regeneration, transport and planning, Councillor Richard Lewis. “We look forward to continuing our work with all our partners and stakeholders to turn this innovation into reality.”

The other short-listed entries were how CAVs can be best deployed to beat congestion and improve the air quality (entry from Immense), Arup’s entry assessed the future management of the side of the road through the introduction of flexible kerb space, while Aecom’s idea was to investigate how technology can enable traffic lights to ‘talk’ to vehicles.

Back in January, the National Infrastructure Commission, alongside Highways England and Innovate UK, launched the Roads for the Future competition received 81 entries with ideas for how the UK’s road network could be adapted to maximise the potential benefits these new vehicles could bring. These ideas could have investigated any aspect of the segment such as new travel opportunities, freeing up time focused on driving, and helping to improve safety.

The competition itself followed the release the first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment, a report recommendations for how the identified infrastructure needs to be altered or adapted for autonomous vehicles. Some of these recommendations included that the Government devise a National Broadband Plan by Spring 2019, to deliver full fibre connections across the whole of the country, including those in rural areas.

Technology is obviously critical for the development and adoption of autonomous vehicles, as is the 4G/5G infrastructure, but it is nice to see the roads are being considered as well.

US operators will meet White House officials to discuss 5G

Representatives from the four major operators in the US are set to meet White House officials to discuss 5G and its potential.

T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint have all confirmed their attendance. Verizon is understood to be attending but declined to comment.

None of the operators revealed who they will send to represent their companies, but high-level executives are expected.

The full agenda is unknown but Trump’s administration will be seeking to gain a better understanding of 5G’s benefits and its economic potential.

5G is expected to a game-changer for many industries. Beyond improved speeds and reliability for consumers, it will help to enable things such as smart cities, driverless cars, VR experiences, and even remote surgeries.

Considering these increased use cases, governments are concerned about security if networks were to be compromised. The potential implications and safeguards to prevent hacking will also likely be on the agenda for the White House meeting.

The US and Australian governments, in particular, have often made headlines in recent months for their anti-China stance when it comes to telecoms equipment. They believe equipment from popular manufacturers like Huawei and ZTE could pose a national security threat.

Back in March, US President Trump signed an executive order – citing national security concerns – blocking a merger between Qualcomm and Broadcom. It followed information from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a government panel that reviews mergers that could result in a foreign company controlling an American business.

"There is credible evidence that leads me to believe that Broadcom … might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States," Trump wrote in the executive order.

Broadcom said in a statement it ‘strongly disagrees’ the proposed acquisition raises any national security concerns. The $117 billion acquisition was billed to be the largest-ever in tech and would have created a giant able to supply many key components in gadgets.

The operators may raise their concerns with the Trump administration over its ongoing trade war with China.

During the FCC’s open meeting on Wednesday, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the tariffs could put "a 25 percent duty on antennas, switches, and routers – the essential network facilities needed for 5G deployment.”

Rosenworcel goes on to say: “There is no doubt it will diminish our ability to lead the world in the deployment of 5G."

Telecoms understands Rosenworcel is the only FCC commissioner who is not invited to the White House meeting.

 Hear about 5G’s role in the Internet of Things at IoT Tech Expo in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.

NZ and Canada decline to jump on the Huawei banned wagon

Despite the current fashion for banning Huawei among US allies, New Zealand and Canada have both indicated they may not play ball.

The Chinese kit vendor has been a pariah in the US for years, but more recently Australia decided to join in the fun and there have been rumours of other countries with close ties to the US following suit. But a couple of reports this week point towards a lack of unanimity on the part of ‘the west’ over this matter.

Reseller News spoke to Kiwi MP Andrew Little, who indicated his government is not convinced Huawei poses a security threat. “New Zealand develops its own, independent security policy based on inputs from a range of sources,” said Little. “As you’d expect with any change in technology of such significance as 5G, officials are considering whether the existing framework will remain fit-for-purpose in the new environment.”

While this appears to leave open the possibility that NZ might yet sanction Huawei, US neighbour Canada seems to be taking a more absolute stance. Earlier this week the Globe and Mail published a story with the following headline: ‘No need to ban Huawei in light of Canada’s robust cybersecurity safeguards, top official says’.

This is the verdict of Scott Jones, the head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, who reckons Canada is perfectly capable of working out for itself whether any technology presents security concerns.

“We have a very advanced relationship with our telecommunications providers, something that is different from most other countries to be honest from what I have seen,” Jones is reported as saying. “We have a program that is very deep in terms of working on increasing that broader resilience piece especially as we are looking at the next-generation telecommunications networks.”

Huawei is understandably keen to see these decisions reported as widely as the Australian one. It seems reasonable to assume that if enough US allies ban it from 5G infrastructure then it will become increasingly difficult for the rest not to follow suit. Europe has kept quiet on the matter and so long as countries like NZ and Canada decline to play ball Huawei might feel it’s on top of the damage limitation

Three and O2 put positive spin on sh*t connectivity

Three and O2 have signed a deal with SSE Enterprise which will enable the pair to access its fibre ring, part of which is located in the Thames Water waste water network, to improve connectivity backhaul capabilities.

With 5G on the horizon, and demands for improved 4G experience, partnerships like this will be key to not only improve backhaul but also enable further 4G and 5G deployment by connecting cell sites and masts. Robust aggregation of fronthaul and backhaul access is necessary in order to provide greater resiliency, increase capacity and reduce latency. In other words, fibre is king if you want to meet the demands of the data-craving consumers.

Just to put things in perspective, UK data usage is set to grow thirteen-fold between 2017 and 2025 according to data from Ofcom, with the first 5G offerings set to hit the market during 2019. To meet this demand, 5G is key, enhanced 4G experience is key and backhaul is key. Fibre rules the roost.

“Networks will fundamentally underpin the UK’s digital economy and will be essential to 5G services,” said Colin Sempill, MD of SSE Enterprise Telecoms. “With this high capacity core in the London sewers, Three UK and O2 are tapping into our unique, diverse connectivity and putting their networks in a strong position to trial 5G offerings, while enhancing existing services for their customers.”

“New and innovative models are essential to improving the customer experience of mobile networks by increasing the availability of dark fibre for mobile backhaul and driving competition in the market,” said Dave Dyson, CEO of Three. “Our partnership with SSE Enterprise Telecoms and O2 is one of the first examples of using existing infrastructure to improve connectivity in an urban area.”

“This kind of agreement is essential to allow for continued investment and improvement of services for our customers,” said Brendan O’Reilly, CTO at O2. “This partnership is a great example of SSE Enterprise Telecoms, Three UK and O2 coming together in a collaborative and innovative way to address the growing challenge and pressure of obtaining access to fibre for mobile backhaul in the UK.”

SSE has been running some interesting projects to improve the speed and reduce the cost in terms of laying fibre over the last couple of months. In this example, SSE is licensed to lay fibre optic cables throughout Thames Water’s waste water network which it claims can reduce network deployment costs by 60% and speed up deployment by up to ten times. As the sewers can be as deep as 10 metres, laying the fibre in this way can decrease accidental fibre breaks as the traditional means see the cables laid only 12 inches below the surface. The waste water network is also geographically very wide-spread, it is a creative solution to the challenge of laying fibre more efficiently, even if it is a bit of a smelly one.

The agreement with Three and O2 will see approximately 100 points of connectivity exit from this central London sewer network via two BT Exchanges. By partnering with SSE Enterprise Telecoms, Three and O2 can operate their own Central London Area (CLA) network, while also accessing spare fibre ducts for future initiatives in London.

The last couple of months have seen SSE ink numerous deals with the telcos, including a separate partnership with Three where it has begun facilitating fibre optic connections for the telcos 20 core data centres. Last October, SSE also won a competitive tender from advanced fibre broadband specialists Grain to deliver network connectivity to Countesswells, a new £800 million development in Aberdeen.

Super-complaint targets claimed telco customer exploitation

The UK Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has launched a super-complaint with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) asking the regulator to outline plans on how it will protect the consumer from loyalty penalties.

The super-complaint does not target the telcos specifically, though the industry has been given its fair share of attention. Research released by the CAB last week suggests the loyalty is being penalised across five ‘essential’ markets (mobile, broadband, home insurance, mortgages and savings), with service providers over-charging customers to bring in an extra £4.1 billion a year.

“It beggars belief that companies in regulated markets can get away with routinely punishing their customers simply for being loyal,” said Citizens Advice CEO Gillian Guy. “As a result of this super-complaint, the CMA should come up with concrete measures to end this systematic scam.

“Regulators and Government have recognised the loyalty penalty as a problem for a long time – yet the lack of any meaningful progress makes this super-complaint inevitable. The Government’s price cap in the energy market will protect some loyal customers. However, there’s still a long way to go in other sectors. The loyalty penalty is clearly unfair – 89% of people think it is wrong. The CMA needs to act now to stop people being exploited.”

While the claim from the CAB is a damning one, it is supported by additional research. Research commissioned by Broadband Genie has found many over 55s could be paying too much for their broadband service, but lack the knowledge or confidence to choose a new package. 51% of respondents said they had been with the same provider for more than five years, 41% had never changed supplier, though price rises would have certainly been applied during this period. The Broadband Genie research reinforces the claim consumers are being penalised for loyalty.

A super-complaint is a complaint made by a government-approved watchdog organisation on behalf of consumers, which is fast-tracked to a higher authority such as the CMA. Since being introduced as part of the Enterprise Act 2002, the CAB has exercised the right four times, including the complaint against payment protection insurance (PPI) in 2005 which helped to generate at least £32.2 billion in refunds and compensation for customers.

This complaint not only follows up research from the CMA, which claims four million people in the UK are still paying back phone subsidies after the device has been paid off, but also an Ofcom consultation which is investigating the pricing strategies of the telcos for the very same issue. As you would imagine, the telco industry is not particularly pleased with the busybody consumer protections group escalating the issue to the lofty offices of the CMA.

“With a consultation ongoing, we feel that Citizen Advice is jumping the gun in relation to the broadband market and we are concerned that the narrative of a ‘loyalty penalty’ conflates customer loyalty with ill-informed or unengaged customers,” the Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA) responded. “Loyalty to a provider does not necessarily mean that a customer is not content with their service, especially as in the broadband sector there are a range of non-price issues that the customer may value, including performance, service quality, and reliability.”

This is hardly a surprising statement from ISPA, as while the telco industry will not want to found out for ripping off consumers, it will certainly not want to give up the ‘free money’ generated through the lazy behaviour of consumers. Unfortunately this is not only an issue for the telcos as the complaint could also impact brand credibility and trust as well as bank accounts. Time and time again the telcos have been shown to employ dated business practises, not presenting themselves as customer centric organizations. Telcos are generally pretty bad at managing their brand or presenting themselves as forward-looking, consumer orientated businesses, and this noise surrounding the super-complaint will not help.

Aside from the money and the brand credibility, long-term consequences of the super-complaint could also be quite damaging. According to Stuart Murray, telecoms specialist and a partner at UK law firm TLT, government intervention on pricing could have a knock-on effect for investment.

“The CAB’s super-complaint goes to the heart of how a market-led economy works and any interventions that have the effect of regulating prices in competitive markets like telecoms may result in significant and unintended consequences,” said Murray. “If the CMA took steps to regulate pricing in the telecoms industry, this could have a negative impact on investment, reduce innovation and give consumers less choice, as well as dis-incentivising consumer engagement as people come to rely more on regulatory intervention.

“In a market-led economy, people who actively engage in markets benefit from discounts paid for by higher charges paid by those who are less engaged. The government and private sector have launched several campaigns in recent years to raise awareness of the benefits of engaging in these markets and encouraging consumers to exercise their rights to switch providers if another company is offering a better deal. This is a positive step – as long as measures are also taken to protect the truly vulnerable, who find it difficult or are simply unable to engage.”

This is certainly an area telcos should be keeping a keen eye on, as the long-arm of the government has been searching for ways to gain more authority in the industry. Should the super-complaint lead the CMA towards more stringent pricing regulations it will inhibit new ideas and innovation at a time when the telcos need it the most. Unfortunately, this does seem to be another step made down the path of utilitisation.

Synchronoss allowed off the Nasdaq naughty step

The Nasdaq stock exchange has had a look at Synchronoss’ belated accounts and decided everything is now sufficiently in order for it to be re-listed.

Regular readers of Telecoms.com will be familiar with the accounting soap opera that has plagued cloud services vendor Synchronoss for the past couple of years, resulting in it being kicked  off the Nasdaq earlier this year. Accounts were finally filed in July and it will presumably be of immense relief to everyone connected to the company that the man from Del Nasdaq, he say yes.

“This is a major milestone for Synchronoss,” said Synchronoss CEO Glenn Lurie. “Meeting our SEC financial reporting obligations and Nasdaq listing requirements has been a top priority since I joined the company last November, and the lifting of the Nasdaq suspension achieves that objective.”

“We are now exclusively focused on executing on our strategic priorities and laying the foundation for improved growth and profitability in 2019 and beyond. We are in the right place at the right time to prosper as the telecommunications, media and technology industry turns to digital innovation.”

That’s the ultimate point. Lurie can reasonably claim none of the responsibility for the mess created by the previous administration (although he presumably did his due diligence before joining) and now that it’s all sorted he just wants to get on with the day job. That’s fair enough and it would presumably help if hacks didn’t keep digging up the past, but what can you do? You can start trading SNCR on the Nasdaq again from next week.

Security could make telcos more than a utility in the smart home

With the smart home becoming more of a reality, new research from Open-Xchange suggests the largely ignored security market could be a money-spinner for the telco industry.

As it stands, no-one has really taken ownership or responsibility of the security side of the digital economy. More of our lives are being moved online, more of our time spent on a larger variety of devices, though there hasn’t really been a drive to make this virtual world secure.

“The market for connected devices is ballooning as we all scramble to fill our homes with the latest gadgets, all aimed at making our lives simpler,” said Rafael Laguna, CEO of Open-Xchange. “Yet, the convenience of connected home technology should not let us neglect our family’s online privacy and protection.”

According to the research from Open-Xchange, the average household contains five smart home devices, though only 15% of UK parents use cyber-software or apps to control access and protect the IoT connected devices. 28% of UK parents have no plans to strengthen security measures for their connected devices, though 85% of them would leave a service provider in the event of a data breach. 17% do not use any protection at all, and 67% use anti-virus and anti-spam software to protect only their desktop devices from malware, adware and phishing tactics. The smart home is potentially an open-goal for a lot of nefarious individuals.

While it would be an uphill struggle, there is an opportunity to make money. Of course, many consumers, your correspondent included, takes security for granted though the blame would lie with the telco in the event something went wrong. There is of course an education process to undertake, consumers are responsible for security inside the home not necessarily the telco, though such products could offer the telcos an opportunity to generate additional revenues on top of connectivity.

This is not necessarily a new idea, Orange is running a smart home security business in France, though little of these ideas are currently being used in the UK.

“With more than 70% of IoT devices vulnerable to attack, there is a massive opportunity for internet providers to update their offering, raise brand awareness and unlock new revenue streams by offering a truly secure online experience for all,” said Neil Cook, Chief Security Architect at Open-Xchange.

As it stands, the internet players are shifting the focus on the smart home away from the router and towards products like speakers which will house the virtual assistants. In moving the focal point, control of the ecosystem is also shifting, potentially relegating telcos to the role of connectivity utility. For the telcos to avoid the dreaded downfall to utilitisation, value must be added to the ecosystem and security is one way which it can be done.

For many consumers, the connectivity provider would also be a logical place to source security solutions, and the telcos do have a credible relationship. Most consumers would already trust their connectivity provider, while few telcos have been the victim of a costly, both financial and reputational, data breach. Logic, credibility and accessibility, the router, all combine to put telcos in an excellent position to offer security products.

Sooner or later investors will start asking executives why everyone else is making money from the digital economy while the telcos are simply collecting the connectivity crumbs. This is certainly one way which that awkward conversation could be avoided.