Dimitra Simeonidou, Smart Internet Lab: Creating societal change with 5G

Telecoms caught up with Professor Dimitra Simeonidou ahead of her talk at this year’s 5G Expo Global to find out what she’s been working on, her thoughts on the 5G rollout, and the ways it will impact society.

Simeonidou’s impressive career so far spans both industry and academia. Among her earliest achievements was leading the team at Alcatel Submarine Networks to deliver the first transatlantic optical network. Since then, Simeonidou has co-founded two successful companies – Ilotron and Zeetta Networks – in addition to serving as Bristol University’s professor of high-performance networks.

Simeonidou is now director of the Smart Internet Lab at the University of Bristol, which features around 200 experts in wireless and optical technologies who research areas including the IoT, smart cities, AI, and more.

“We are looking at issues of end-to-end networking, service creation, and delivery,” explains Simeonidou. “For hardware and software core design, we have also worked quite intensively with vertical sectors like smart cities, transport, vehicles economy, and public safety.”

The Smart Internet Lab is spearheading a project called INITIATE which links state-of-the-art facilities at five networking labs across the UK in the universities of Bristol, Lancaster, Edinburgh, and King’s College London, as well as Digital Catapult in London.

INITIATE’s distributed testbed enables the experimentation required for complex future internet projects and combines leading infrastructure with the expertise necessary to help bring about innovations which change the way we communicate and interact with the people and objects around us.

A special exchange, known as 5GEx, physically connects INITIATE testbeds via their aggregation points and enables network experimenters or entrepreneurs to initiate, monitor, and terminate end-to-end network services.

“This [exchange] connects all the testbeds together in a very smart way so, for instance, if somebody wants to do larger-scale experimentation around pollution – or wants to understand the national-scale patterns of transport – we can share resources across different labs, different testbeds across the UK, from something that is local to something that is national.”

“That way, we can measure data and services across different labs and testbeds and look for similarities and differentiation across smart things happening across the country.”

£100 million funding was provided by the UK government and a number of industrial partners to create the Bristol Digital Futures Institute last year.

“The whole idea about this institute is to bring together engineers like myself, computer scientists, social scientists, anthropologists, and economists, to actually co-create and co-design the digital technologies of the future,” explains Simeonidou.

“A big piece of this, which we’ve been doing already, is looking at social-technical aspects across connectivity and 5G in particular … how you can drive technology creation but also the transformation of the whole sector. Thinking of issues, for instance, of responsible innovation, sustainability, business models, and societal consent; issues about trust and privacy; and how we can make the future digital economy more inclusive.”

In general, Simeonidou is impressed with the pace of the 5G rollout so far and says that it’s happening faster than she would have expected. However, she notes that people are really only just buying 5G phones and connecting to networks that are not yet 100 percent ready and its full potential lies ahead.

The recent decision by the UK government to allow the use of Chinese telecoms vendor Huawei’s equipment in national 5G networks, despite pressure from the US for a complete ban, was a monumental one. However, the world’s largest vendor is limited to a minority presence of no more than 35 percent of each access network.

All of the UK’s major operators are already using Huawei’s equipment to some degree and BT said the government’s decision will cost it £500 million. We asked Simeonidou if she believes the decision was the right one and whether it will impact the 5G rollout.

“My opinion is the UK government made the sensible call taking into account security considerations,” says Simeonidou. “Is that going to delay the rollout of mobile networks? Potentially, yes... because you’re taking a significant vendor out of the core of a mobile network.”

Simeonidou doesn’t believe the decision will hold the UK back too much long-term. She believes that industry-revolutionising applications will start in around a couple of years, by which time it’s likely other vendors will have stepped up to fill any infrastructure gaps.

Following such a deep question, we wanted to know what Simeonidou is most excited about. 

“I would like to see schools have their own network delivering their own services to their students,” says Simeonidou. “I would like to see manufacturing do the same, transport companies, ports, airports… getting into the game and completely democratise mobile service.”

Simeonidou will be sharing further insights at 5G Expo Global in London between 17-18th March. On the first day of the event, she is hosting a talk titled “Putting societal needs first with 5G”. On the second day, Simeonidou will join other leading industry figures on a panel called “The new world of connectivity; 5G and the future”.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data ExpoCyber Security & Cloud Expo and 5G Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.

Filling the gap in IoT security to protect the connected home

Just a few years ago, service providers were adapting to consumers’ growing use of mobile devices and introducing solutions to secure not just computers, but smartphones and tablets. Fast forward to today, and consumers are quickly acquiring smart thermostats, light bulbs, TVs, gaming consoles and other connected things. What was once a trend in multi-device security is yielding to a trend in whole-home security.

Find out:

  • Why network-based security is not enough to safeguard your customers
  • Where we recommend for the security to be implemented
  • What we mean by layered approach


Is identity theft the cyber crime consumers fear most?

This new report by F-Secure explores consumer views on identity theft and cyber crime. According to an F-Secure survey, most people think they’ll likely be victims of identity theft or cyber crime. And with good reason. Criminals who get hold of personal data data try anything from hacking our critical accounts to taking over our identities. Or—if the crooks think you’re worth it—they’ll use the data for a targeted attack.

Here are some examples of what we found:

  • 8 in 10 consumers reuse passwords on multiple services, a behaviour that increases the risks of account compromises significantly
  • 56% of consumers worry about loss of personal information as part of a data breach and 71% think that they are likely to fall victim of cyber crime or identity theft
  • Service providers can address these worries and position themselves as the trusted provider

Vodafone Idea starts to lobby for minimum pricing

Vodafone Idea has written a letter to the Indian Government which suggests it is pushing for minimum pricing to ensure a healthy and sustainable telco industry.

As it stands, the competition conundrum in India heading towards a perilous conclusion. With Vodafone threatening to abandon its pursuit of digital riches in the country, a defacto market duopoly is increasingly becoming a realistic outcome. This would be far from a perfect position.

According to The Economic Times, Vodafone Idea has demanded the introduction of a minimum cost for data tariffs in the country. The proposed plan would see prices set at a minimum of 35 Indian Rupees (c.$0.48) which would be more than double the average cost per GB in the country as it stands. Vodafone Idea is also asking for free phone calls to be banned.

While Indian consumers might be disturbed by the prospect of a price hike, especially considering there was already one three months ago, it is perhaps a necessary step to ensure competition is preserved in the country.

The introduction of Reliance Jio in 2016 was seemingly an effort to stimulate progress in a lethargic telco industry, hence the Government assistance which was offered to the firm. But it arguably went too far, taking prices far below want would be deemed sustainable for the competition which have to deal with legacy networks, products and business processes.

Looking at the concept of competition, it is generally accepted that 3-4 telcos are required to ensure the consumer is protected through suitable competition. This unofficial rule has resulted in many acquisitions being denied in Europe, or at least there being major concessions being offered to create a replacement. The same scenario is currently being played out in the US with T-Mobile and Sprint merging, but with Dish emerging as a replace fourth player.

However, India as a country is a different case. With a population of 1.3 billion, many of whom will live in areas where the digital divide is incomprehensible to those in more developed digital markets, perhaps Indian authorities should be doing more to encourage more investment and competition. Three MNOs does not look to be a sustainable position right now, and the prospect of dropping to two would worry many.

Vodafone has threatened to pull out of its joint venture with Idea Cellular due to the $7 billion spectrum licence bill it is facing, though it does seem to be searching for ways to make the situation work. The proposal to introduce a minimum price for data could add more security for the firm which is desperately attempting to avoid bankrupting itself in search of the rainbow’s end.

Business world struggles for a response to possible coronavirus pandemic

As new countries announce their first case every day, many business events are choosing to follow the example of MWC and cancel.

In the tech sector Facebook has pulled the plug on its F8 developer conference, according to multiple reports, citing the threat of COVID-19, as this novel strain of coronavirus is now referred to. The event was due to take place in early May. Facebook has also pulled out of the more imminent Games Developers Conference, joining key games players Sony and Microsoft in that respect. GDC was still going ahead at time of writing but, as we all know, that could change any time.

Global concerns about COVID-19 have ramped considerably in the past few days, making us, and we suspect the rest of the telecoms industry, pleased we haven’t all been together in Barcelona. Stock markets have all tanked because of it, with most of the leading indices down 3-4% overnight, as macroeconomic leaders make increasingly pessimistic noises about the likely economic effects of the epidemic.

The single authority everyone is looking to most for guidance is the World Health Organisation. It has a website dedicated to providing updates on the situation and is providing daily updates, the latest of which you can see in the tweet below. While using increasingly portentous terms to describe the outbreak, the WHO has yet to declare it a pandemic, which it will when enough countries around the world experience sustained infections. Again that could be imminent.

While it’s completely sensible for business people to avoid attending large gatherings at a time like this, the greater economic threat is posed by the sheer uncertainty of the situation. Inevitably some of that is exploited by people with an agenda, with the BBC even finding examples of some nutters saying the whole thing is a byproduct of 5G. That sort of thing is bound to lead to further calls for censorship, but as ever that would be misguided and we have to trust regular people to use their common sense.

On the other hand, many people within the industry are being far more sanguine than the panicky stock markets would suggest. While the Chinese smartphone market is known to be significantly impacted in Q1, that could already be stabilising ahead of a rebound in the second half of this year. We’re also hearing that some industry events are considering postponing for a few months rather than cancelling outright.

The general feeling seems to be that COVID-19 is just something that needs to be endured until it blows over. The number of new cases in China has been falling for a while now, so the origin country may also be a source of best practice for how to contain it, sort of. But if COVID-19 is upgraded to a pandemic, we can expect a lot more cancellations, stock market wobbles and general anxiety in the short term. All eyes will be on the Tokyo Olympics.

Assessing the state of the mobile industry: Capturing the next growth wave

Analysis Smartphones have changed people’s lives in a revolutionary way. The popularity of devices packed with apps for productivity, entertainment and wellbeing has seen mobile networks hit with an avalanche of data. In the last eight years, data volumes have grown 24-fold while the price per megabyte has fallen by well over 95%. Only very rarely in history has a single industry managed to cut prices by so much in such a short time.

So where to from here?

Traditional mobile-industry business models are either dying or already dead. Remember when a minute of talk-time used to cost over 30p? With current business models, getting even modest levels of revenue growth requires high levels of capital investment. Usually in the order of 10% to 15% of total revenue.

The industry has achieved a lot in the last decade. It now has a solid foundation for the future. 4G rollout, simpler business processes, mergers, network sharing and automation have seen costs fall dramatically. Data growth has moderated as smartphone ownership has peaked. There is only so much data that can be funnelled through the medium of a 5-inch screen. We can see the evidence of a new-found confidence in the industry with the rollout of new uncapped data tariffs across Europe. Industry operating margins have improved and the return on capital has returned to sustainable levels:

Time for strategic decisions

The mobile industry is now at a key pivot point, on the cusp of greatness if the right choices are made. Service providers can capture the savings offered by new technology. As low-cost operators they can build profits with high volumes. The cost per GB of data delivered continues to fall with 5G making this strategy feasible.

Alternatively, service providers can be the platform that unleashes the potential of wireless connectivity to radically change industry and society. The demand for 5G from industry is strong, even before the networks have been rolled out. This contrasts with third and fourth generation networks where the infrastructure rollout led customer demand.

5G wireless connectivity enables new products, capabilities, business models and more efficient ways of working. Smart cities offer their citizens a better quality of life. Industry 4.0 will be greener and more efficient. Renewable energy will use smart electricity grids. Connected cars allow us to get the most out of our road network and make it safer. eHealth will broaden access to health services and extend lifespans.

The question is how can service providers engage with these new industries? If they try to own the whole value chain, then customers will go their own way.

The benefits of a partnership model

Engaging with many customers in a diverse set of industries can be difficult. Cultivating a vibrant and healthy ecosystem of partners can help. Partner models blend the niche capabilities of system integrators with the technology expertise of service providers. Companies like GE, Microsoft and Cisco have had great success this way. For example, the Microsoft partner network has over 64,000 members. This has helped its Azure cloud platform to grow by over 70% per year. Annual Azure revenue now exceeds $10 billion.

The network as a platform

If the network is to become a platform for digital businesses, cloud-based thinking is needed. The old approaches to provisioning and service management won’t work in this new world. The network will need open APIs to minimise friction. A vibrant ecosystem needs open interfaces to unleash innovation. This gives partners the ability to create exciting new products and business models quickly and efficiently.

In a cloud-based system, innovators create new smart, connected products. They communicate with the product provider’s choice of IoT platform through open interfaces. Network slices ensure that the required SLAs are delivered per application. The set up and provisioning of new products happens through the API. The IoT platform then interfaces with the product provider’s own systems such as billing, sales, product line management and supply chain management. Relevant external data can be added where needed. For example, if the product controls a heating system, the latest weather data will be needed.

A bright future

Today, mobile operators have a unique opportunity. Technology advances have radically reduced costs. The possibility of exciting new business models is enticing. We are entering the smart, connected world. The era of dumb, disconnected products is ending. Technology has radically disrupted industries like finance, retail, music and entertainment. There will be lots more to come.

The old ways of thinking and management methods are becoming obsolete in a world of new technology. The next generation has been born into the smart, connected world. Telcos need to be brave to gain the trust and support of innovators. With revenue, margins and investment returns improving, and a strong demand for new 5G applications, a bright future awaits the industry.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data ExpoCyber Security & Cloud Expo and 5G Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.

OpenRAN enthusiasm spreads to Turkey

Mavenir has announced Turkcell as its latest customer, with the pair planning to deploy OpenRAN vRAN technologies in the telcos domestic market.

As part of the agreement, Mavenir’s Virtual RAN solution will be deployed on Turkcell Telco Cloud and it will be first workload that will be going live on Turkcell Edge Cloud. Mavenir claims this vRAN architecture and platform can support 4G as well as both the NSA and SA implementations of 5G NR.

“At Turkcell, we have reached more than 60% virtualization in our mobile core network. We already take great advantage of what virtualization has to offer and are willing to extend the benefits of virtualization coupled with OpenRAN for the next step in Turkcell’s Radio Access Network evolution,” said Gediz Sezgin, Turkcell CTO.

“With its broad experience and expertise in RAN technologies and Network Virtualization, Turkcell will make great contribution for innovation on open vRAN towards 5G era. We are excited to take on and lead this journey.”

Turkcell becomes the latest in a string of companies seeking to drive forward with the OpenRAN technologies, though it is not entirely clear how scaled the deployment will be. There are of course interesting promises being made by the OpenRAN community, though few telcos would be prepared to invest comprehensively during these embryonic stages of development.

To understand where OpenRAN might gain the most traction it would probably be best to look at the regions with the lowest ARPU. Turkey is an interesting market, as according to data from Cable.co.uk, the average price of GB on mobile tariffs is as low as $2.25. This is certainly not as low as some other markets, though it starts to get tricky to drive ROI when data tariffs are below global averages.

The promise of OpenRAN is to commoditise the hardware components of the radio access network, which will allow hardware and software to be decoupled. This should, in theory, reduce the cost of radio deployment and remove any vendor lock-in threats which may still persist. This is an attractive idea for companies who need to rebalance the expenditure/profitability equation.

For the moment it is difficult to see what the long-term position of OpenRAN in the vendor mix will actually be. It is not resilient enough a technology just yet for scaled deployments, though some have suggested enthusiasm for trials is a stick to beat traditional vendors down on price.

In the markets where ROI is disastrously difficult to realise, OpenRAN will certainly play a role in the future, as it will probably in rural regions. Though it does remain to be seen how much of a dent OpenRAN will put into the fortunes of the traditional RAN vendors.

Huawei trolls Trump by announcing 5G factory in France

Europe is a key front in the trade war between the US and China, as is Huawei, so President Trump won’t be happy to hear Huawei is building a factory in France.

Huawei has basically strolled into Paris and slapped €200 million on the table to build a brand new plant dedicated to manufacturing 4G and 5G kit. The stated reason for picking France as the site for its new factory is that Huawei wants to be better able to serve its European customers. The clear inference being that Huawei is here to stay.

On top of that the announcement featured a lot of rhetoric about Huawei being a global company and how great for France all this lovely investment will be. “The plant will also have a demo center, showcasing the wireless base station production, software loading, and testing process,” said the announcement. “The center will be open to carriers, governments, and related authorities, demonstrating Huawei’s positive stance on Europe’s call for digital sovereignty.”

This announcement serves several purposes. As well as showing Huawei’s commitment to doing business in Europe and getting in its good books by directly investing, this move also serves to illustrate how little political influence the US has over Europe. Additionally, in the battle for geopolitical hearts and minds, Huawei can contrast this move with the difficult relationship US tech giants have with European authorities. French President Macron can expect a difficult phone call soon.

Vodafone Germany and Lufthansa go private for 5G

Vodafone Germany and Lufthansa have launched what they claim is a private 5G network based on standalone technology in an 8,500 square meter aircraft hangar in Hamburg.

While the deployment of a 5G private network is an interesting development, the fact that Vodafone does not own the spectrum which is being used to power the connectivity adds another twist.

In what could turn out to be somewhat of a disruptive move, the German telecoms regulator has been allocating hyper-localised spectrum licenses in the 3.7-3.8 GHz to enterprise and public sector organisations. For the first time, a company might be able to cut the telco out of the loop to satisfy its connectivity needs.

It could have been viewed as a headache, though Vodafone Germany does seem to be embracing the potentially disastrous scenario.

“The German economy needs 5G. We can do 5G,” said Vodafone Germany CEO Hannes Ametsreiter. “As a 5G partner, we want to help our industry to maintain an international top position in the future. Those who focus on new technologies today will be at the forefront tomorrow.

“We support our partners in bringing 5G into everyday industrial life as early as possible. To the factories. In the business parks. And even in airplane hangars. With individual campus networks that we tailor perfectly to the needs of our partners.”

Realistically, this is could be a niche, but profitable market for the telcos. Private networks could span the breadth of a campus or could be nothing more than a few floors on a building, but the customisation and security benefits would be attractive to some. That said, building and operating a network is an expensive business, this is not something which would be applicable to many customers.

At Lufthansa, the hanger is large enough to house four airplanes and the first usecases have been to make use of virtual and augmented reality visualise 3D design data of the planned cabin equipment on tablets and other end devices in empty aircraft fuselages. This is just the first usecase, though there will certainly be more.

Lufthansa has highlighted it is now able to shift the upload and download requirements of the network, CAD data transfer is incredibly demanding on a network, while all of the data is processed within the hanger itself. These sorts of benefits will appeal to some customers.

Germany is one country where the idea of private networks might catch on, thanks to its engineering and manufacturing heritage, though this is likely to be a niche usecase for telcos elsewhere. The threat which has emerged is cutting the telco out of the loop. Equipment can be purchased directly from the manufacturers, integrators and other consultants can be brought in to build and manage the network, while these enterprise organisations already own the spectrum for the area.

Vodafone Germany is proving it can be adaptable as a partner. It is differentiating itself to offer new services to enterprise customers. This might not be a trend which redefines the connectivity industry, but it is an example of how outside parties could come in and steal revenues promised to the telcos. Vodafone Germany was not necessarily needed in this experiment, but collecting managed services revenues is better than nothing.

Coronavirus outbreak is set to impact global 5G rollouts

The outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus is beginning to impact supply lines and the telecoms industry is no exception.

A look at the Dow Jones Industrial Average today shows the serious impact coronavirus is already having on the stock market in general:


While many will point to other factors making a pullback from such high valuations inevitable, it seems coronavirus may be the catalyst as investors get concerned about the impact of the virus on supply chains, travel, and more.

The tech industry is particularly susceptible to coronavirus due to many parts being made in China, the centre of the outbreak.

Apple’s next iPhone, for example, is expected to face supply problems if the situation in China worsens due to production slowdowns at manufacturer Foxconn. This is in addition to potential travel restrictions limiting the company’s engineers flying to Asia to oversee production.

One of the iPhone’s biggest new features will almost certainly be 5G support. However, coronavirus may well mean that fewer 5G networks are available for it to be used on anyway.

Omdia’s analysts said: “With the epidemic arriving at the dawn of 5G’s mainstream deployment phase, the coronavirus has the potential to disrupt the progress of the next-generation wireless standard, as the crisis slows or threatens to slow the production of key smartphone components, including displays and semiconductors.”

“We believe that China will take a significant position in the 5G era in both supply and demand of devices and network-wise,” Omdia analyst Jusy Hong said in an email interview with MarketWatch.

Chip manufacturers like Samsung have already announced they are cutting production. While it’s faced increasing scrutiny outside of China, Huawei is still the world’s largest telecoms vendor. Even industry events where products are announced and partnerships formed, like MWC, are being cancelled to help limit the spread of the virus.

While China is one of the most important countries for the global economy, we’re somewhat fortunate that coronavirus is yet to become a full-on pandemic with only relatively isolated cases outside of China. If it spreads much further, the fallout is going to be a lot worse.

But for some amusement in these dark times, here’s a post from an anti-5G conspiracy group: “I’ve heard it’s not a serious ‘Virus,’ it’s about as bad as a flu or cold. So really this is a perfect plan to cover up EMF/5G related illnesses.”

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data ExpoCyber Security & Cloud Expo and 5G Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.