Liberty Global offloads Swiss business for $6.3 billion

Liberty Global has continued its great withdraw from the European markets with another sale, this time convincing Sunrise its 1 million Swiss customers are worth $6.3 billion.

Announcing the deal alongside its financial results, it does look to be a good deal for Liberty Global. This is a business which has been going through somewhat of a restructure, attempting to find profit in a challenging industry by refocusing resources, though it now appears the years of aggressive acquisitions and expansion have not paid off.

“The past fourteen months have been transformational for Liberty Global,” said CEO Mike Fries. “After two decades of buying, building and growing world-class cable operations in Europe, we have announced or completed transactions in six of our twelve markets at premium valuations.”

While $6.3 billion certainly pales in comparison to some of the mega-acquisitions we’ve seen in recent years, it might be worth putting a bit of context around this transaction.

UPC Switzerland has passed just over 2.3 million homes across the country, this is more than 50% of Swiss homes, currently commanding a subscriber base of 1.1 million. The video offering currently has a subscriber base of just over 1 million subscribers (645,000 of which are premium) and mobile subscriptions total 146,000.

Whether these figures justify the $6.3 billion which Sunrise is handing over we’ll let you decide, though just as a point of comparison BT bought EE, and its 30 million mobile subscribers, for £12.5 billion in 2014.

For Sunrise, such an acquisition will add buoyancy to already positive momentum. Over the last three months, Sunrise realised 42,300 postpaid net adds, UPC Switzerland was 8,500 by comparison, while Internet and TV subscribers rose by 8.3% and 14.1% year-on-year respectively.

ZTE gets in on smartphone act at MWC19 with ‘flagship’ 5G device

MWC19 Global telecommunications provider ZTE has announced what is claimed to be the first 5G ‘flagship’ smartphone, dubbed the ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G. In cooperation with leading global carriers, such as China Unicom, Elisa and Hutchison Drei Austria, the latest addition to ZTE's premium flagship Axon series is expected to be available in Europe and China in the first half of 2019.

The ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G supports sub 6G and gives the consumers an entirely new user experience, extremely fast video and gaming experiences, having been engineered with the flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Mobile Platform along with the Snapdragon X50 5G modem and an AI Performance Engine. It also features elegant design, faster and more concise in-display fingerprint and stunning audio, while its Axon Vision graphics optimisation capabilities offer consumers incredible photos and videos.

ZTE engineers addressed various technical difficulties inherent to 5G innovations according to the press materials, such as the electromagnetic compatibility, antenna design, power consumption and heat dissipation in the development process of the 5G flagship. For example, ZTE used a model corresponding to total power consumption and surface temperature and successfully improved heat dissipation by applying a liquid cooling technology and composite phase-change thermal materials.

The ZTE 5G flagship smartphone delivers substantial gains in both size and thickness, as compared to a 4G smartphone, by adopting a large number of small components under an extremely accurate and integrated "sandwich" layout.

Huawei has also launched its first-ever foldable smartphone, Huawei Mate X, at an event held on sidelines of MWC 2019, on February 24, also reported to be 5G ready. Huawei leaked the name of its foldable phone Mate X. The company posted an image of a billboard on Twitter from a user, with three images of the phone in various stages of the device being unfolded.

The GSMA, the body which organises the MWC series of events, said earlier this month that 5G is on track to account for 15% of global mobile connections by 2025 - with a key element to this the continued launches in 2019 and greater device compatibility. 5G is set to contribute $2.2 trillion to the global economy over the next 15 years.

Picture credit: ZTE

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Orange Bank is on a roll

Cutting through the noise at Mobile World Congress is a tough job but Orange’s play for the financial industry is certainly a good attempt.

After a successful venture in the French market, Orange Bank CEO Paul De Leusse gave us a brief run-down of future plans for the business. Spain is on the horizon, as is Poland, while the African markets are going to be given some more love.

“The aim of Orange is to build banks in every country we operate as a telco,” said Leusse. “We want a bank which benefits from the telco and brings benefit to the telco.”

It’s a bold ambition for the business, though there certainly is strong progress being made. At the end of 2018, Orange Bank had 248,000 customers, only 40,000 of which were Orange employees, while the synergies between the telco and the bank are very apparent. 150 of the telcos branches now have banking sales people, each of which can open more than 12 accounts a month. Compared to a traditional banking representative opening three or four a month, the numbers are encouraging.

Looking at where the telco benefits the financial business, the facts are somewhat surprising. Using telco data, Leusse claims he can take out the 30% of customers who represent 80% of the credit risk, while the insight on risk is more reliable than the data from the Romanian credit bureau. And of course, the benefits head the other direction as well.

Those customers who have both a banking and telco relationship with Orange are 15% more satisfied, while churn has been decreased. The Polish business has seen a 18% churn reduction, while Orange Money customers in Africa are 40% less likely to. Orange is a massive believer in the convergence business model, but this is taking the idea to another level.

Interestingly enough, fortunes could be greater on the road, with the Spaniards the next to get the banking dream.

Leusse pointed out the in Spain there is no need for the sales staff to be certified by the financial regulator, perhaps suggesting there will be a larger retail footprint. The Spanish market is digitally more advanced than the French, with customers more readily embracing the new normality of the internet.

According to research quoted by Leusse, 77% of Spaniards suggest they would happily do without a banker, while the number is only 51% in France. 66% of Spanish customers would also be open to being advised by Djingo, the telcos digital assistant, while this number is only 50% in France. Launching a bank in Spain could be just as a promising opportunity as France, maybe even bigger.

#MWC19: EE, OnePlus, and Qualcomm call for 5G apps

Three telecoms industry giants have launched an initiative called ‘5G Apps of Tomorrow’ at MWC in a bid to kickstart 5G app development.

Mobile operator EE, smartphone manufacturer OnePlus, and chipset giant Qualcomm believe there's yet to be a ‘killer app’ which takes advantage of 5G’s capabilities.

Speaking on a panel, OnePlus CEO Pete Lau said he's unconvinced there's been enough ambition when it comes to how 5G can improve people's lives.

Lau believes 5G adoption will come in three phases:

5G 1.0 – Faster mobile internet with cloud data increasingly being treated the same as local data.

5G 2.0 – Around five years later, AI-powered devices will become more prevalent.

5G 3.0 – Expected in around 10 years, interconnected devices will be commonplace and your data will be available whenever needed.

“With the well-established infrastructure and diverse smart devices in the market after 10 years, we’ll be embracing the era of 5G 3.0, where everything is smartly interconnected and a truly burdenless experience can be achieved”, Lau said. “The service will be there only when you need it, and be on standby out of your way when not needed.”

The contest will be whittled down to 20 finalists. Winners receive a OnePlus device, a trip over to the company's headquarters, a year's worth of funding, and valuable support from the involved partners.

5G’s increased reliability and speed, combined with minimal latency, opens a wide range of new possibilities.

On the floor of MWC, there were many cool 5G demonstrations – including the ability to pilot a drone in South Korea from Barcelona:

Cool demonstrations are one thing, but real life-changing applications are yet to emerge. EE, OnePlus, and Qualcomm are seeking to change that.

If you want to give it a go, you can read more about the contest and apply here.

(Photo by Hassan OUAJBIR on Unsplash)

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo, and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.

Don’t let satellite get lost in the 5G buzz – Intelsat`

With 5G plastered on every wall, floor and door in the Fira, it can be easy to forget there are other important components in the connectivity mix.

Speaking to Jean-Philippe Gillet, GM of Intelsat’s network business, the message is relatively straight-forward; don’t forget about us, don’t forget about satellites.

“Does satellite play a prominent role in the developed markets? No,” said Gillet. “But it is important in the developing markets. We are trying to show people success in developing markets can be translated into the developed one.”

With all the euphoria surrounding 5G at this years’ event, and more generally across the last couple of years, satellite is often seen as a fall-back option, not necessarily a useful component of the connectivity mix. This is the perception which Gillet and Intelsat is attempting to change.

The idea of tomorrows digital society is one which is defined by 5G and fibre. Few other conversations are given a suitable amount of attention with these two bully boys grabbing the headlines, but satellite needs to be a consideration.

“It’s about creating a hybrid connectivity model which positions the right medium for the right application,” said Gillet.

While Gillet suggests there are eager listeners for anyone who is facing the connectivity conundrum, there are sceptics. There is somewhat of a lazy stereotype that satellite’s function should be limited to the developing markets, but Gillet is working to change this perception.

Alongside the incremental but promising progress in terms of satellite technology, the team has recently launched its next generation of satellites, EPIC. These six assets offer worldwide coverage, and the team have already signed up two prominent Asian telcos as customers, as well as one in the US. The next generation of satellites will be software defined, allowing Intelsat to move around capacity, while the company is now a fully-fledged member of the GSMA.

“We want to be sat at the table to help make connectivity decisions,” said Gillet.

Justifying the inclusion of satellite as a genuine component of the hybrid connectivity mix might be an uphill battle but considering the demands which are being placed on telcos to bridge the digital divide, there is hope.

We’re cashing the IoT cheques now – AT&T

Some telcos are readying themselves for the IoT bonanza, but AT&T is cashing in on the connected dream today.

With 51 million ‘things’ connected to the network today, three million were added during the last period, AT&T’s Executive Director for Mobility Marketing Mobeen Khan boasts IoT is more than a commercial win for the telco, it is driving diversification.

“We have a deliberate strategy to go up the stack,” Khan stated at Mobile World Congress.

While traditionally telcos fortunes have been delivered through the network, Khan pointed to IoT as a means to diversify revenues, a long-sought desire from the industry. At the base level, AT&T can sell customers the hardware, moving up one level it can provide the connectivity, thirdly there are platform offerings, and finally, there are enterprise applications available to manage the business of IoT. AT&T is fulfilling the ambition of being more than a dumb pipe.

This is where it becomes more interesting to be involved in the IoT world. AT&T of course makes money off everything ‘thing’ which is connected to the network, but the massive potential is providing the platforms on the third layer. This is where Khan sees the IoT fortunes being delivered.

“Most companies already have the applications and software to make IoT work at a business level,” said Khan. “We don’t need to sell them these products, but we need to create the platforms which allow the data to be integrated into these applications.”

Take Salesforce as an example. Numerous companies around the world have already purchased licenses for this product, so there is little value in attempting to compete with a market leader which is a perfect foil for the business side of IoT. However, these applications are not designed to handles the vast swell of information generated through IoT. The pain point for many is filtering and actioning the useful information.

If a fridge is designed to work at 34 degrees, no-one needs to know if there are minor fluctuations each minute. If it rises to 34.2 or drops to 33.7 degrees, this is not insight. However, if the temperature spikes to 42 degrees, then you know there is a problem, this is data which can be actioned. This filtering process is the aspect of IoT which is complicated and time-consuming, not of interest to the application developers in the business, allowing AT&T to slide into the stack and provide value to the ecosystem.

Perhaps more importantly is the compounding effect. The simpler AT&T makes it for insight to be derived from data, the lower the barrier for entry for customers. Not only does this improve the potential for platform sales, but it also accelerates the number of ‘things’ connected to the network. There’s cash everywhere.

Some might be billing IoT as a justification for future 5G investments, but AT&T is getting a jump start on the market.

President Trump’s unexpected ally: Finland kick-starts 6G

A few days after Donald Trump tweeted about 6G, when he was roundly ridiculed, Finland’s scientists proved that he had a point by announcing their plan at MWC 2019 to embark on the journey towards 6G.

The researchers in Finland expect 6G to take shape in about 2030. To gain the leadership by that time, the so-called “6Genesis” has been selected as the country’s flagship high-tech project for an eight-year period 2018-2026. The project is hosted by the University of Oulu, ranked a top 3 university globally in radio access engineering.

Professor Ari Pouttu, who leads the project, introduced the vision and key technology streams at the event. 6G will satisfy the expectations not yet met by 5G as well as new expectations fusing AI inspired applications with ubiquitous wireless connectivity, Professor Pouttu said. Specifically, he foresaw four technology trends that are fundamentally different from earlier generations.

“Wireless Connectivity” in 6G means disruptive radio access deployed on 5G core networks, enabling Tbps speed and deliver unmanned process. “Devices & Circuits” means that the current semiconductors will not be able to operate on super high-frequencies. When communication takes place on frequencies above 500GHz or even at terahertz level, new materials will be needed to replace silicon. “Distributed Computing” refers to moving the computing power to the extreme edge. For example, instead of conducting computing from the “brain” of the robot, in 6G environment computing will need to be moved to every limp tip of the robot to enable time critical and trusted apps. “Service & Applications” refers to the disruptive value networks enabled by multidisciplinary research across industry verticals, in contrast to the siloed approach to research and development now.

The Finnish government has already granted 6Genesis €25 million through the Academy of Finland. Five co-founders have signed up, including Nokia, VTT (Finland’s technology research centre), Aalto University, Oulu University of Applied Sciences, and BusinessOulu (local business promotional agency). The total funding of the project so far, including contribution from these partners, other national and EU grants, plus the Academy of Finland grant, amounted to €251 million. Professor Pouttu quipped, while speaking to Telecoms.com, that this amount is for science fiction, not science. He may be on the conservative side with his estimation for science fiction though. “Avengers: Infinity War”, a recent sci-fi blockbuster, cost nearly $400 million (€350 million) to make.

Improving funding is clearly one of the reasons why the project was calling for more companies and institutions to sign up. The fact that the announcement was made during MWC could only mean that global partners are also being sought after. Professor Pouttu could consider pushing a tweet to President Trump directly.

The world’s first 6G Wireless Summit will be held in March in Levi, a ski resort in Finnish Lapland.

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That’s why we’re here. If you need some tips – or want to refresh your memory – about how to get the essentials of cyber security right, this guide is for you. We go through the basic building blocks of a solid cyber security protocol, from risk assessment and endpoint protection to threat detection. Check how you’re doing – and start improving today!

 

Vodafone CEO bemoans Jio effect on India

The Indian consumer might be surging into the digital economy at an unprecedented speed, but the telcos are certainly not reaping the rewards according to Vodafone CEO Nick Read.

Speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Read pointed towards consumers which are consuming more data every single day (12 GB a month on average), as well as unsustainable business models and regulations which favour no-one except the disruptive influence of Jio. It isn’t necessarily a picture which creates an encouraging view of the market.

“We only ask for a level playing field,” said Read, bemoaning regulatory and competition rulings made in the country.

It seems Reid believes there has been an institutional preference towards the newest entrant into the Indian telco regime. This is also a company which is forcing the market to create artificially low tariffs, an unsustainable position for the market to maintain. What impact this has on the long-term prospects of India’s digital dream remain to be seen.

While it is hardly unusual for the CEO of a losing telco to moan about unfair market conditions, there have been some credible points made. Jio did certainly disrupt the market, helping the country move into the digital era, but there was certainly consequence. The aggressively low tariffs saw numerous telcos exit the space, either closing-down operations, merging with a rival or declaring bankruptcy.

Vodafone was one of those victims, currently in the process of merging its operations with long-term rival Idea Cellular. Reid highlighted he has been over to India to review the plans recently, and the team has managed to reduce the integration process from four years to two, but it is still losing money. That said, it is not alone.

The issue which remains here is what happens if this trend of Jio destruction is allowed to continue. How many more telcos will disappear from the landscape (there are only effectively four left, including government owned BSNL) before the government steps in to do something. The current position is not exactly ideal.

As it stands, India currently have four major telcos to provide connectivity services for roughly 1.3 billion people. Europe has roughly 160 telcos for a population of 500 million. Although many would argue there needs to be consolidation in the European space, the shortage of options in India is not exactly ideal. The risk of regionalised monopolies is certainly present.

Of course, the newly merged Vodafone Idea business is not lying down while Jio runs riot throughout India, Reid highlighted a Rights Issue is currently underway with the business hoping to raise $3.5 billion. Not only will this help the businesses merge and update infrastructure, it would be fair to assume some pretty aggressive counter-strikes against Jio.

India is one of the most interesting markets worldwide right now, but there is certainly a risk of the landscape devolving into chaos. Whether the Indian government is sympathetic to Reid’s plight remains to be seen, though current trends should not be allowed to continue.