Jio surges forward with subs and profits

Reliance Jio has unveiled its latest quarterly figures and, surprise surprise, subs are once again on the up as well as profits.

Monthly ARPU might have be on the decline, down to $1.77, a trend which is not showing signs of slowing, but scale seems to be the answer for Jio. The firm now has a subscriber base of 331 million, adding 24.5 million over the last three months and 116 million during the last year.

“Growth in Jio mobility services has continued to surpass all expectations,” said Mukesh Ambani, MD of Reliance Industries, Jio’s parent company.

“In less than two years of commercial operations, Jio network carried almost 11 Exabytes of data traffic during the recently concluded fiscal quarter. Jio management is focused on giving unmatched digital experience at most affordable price to every citizen of the country, and accordingly expanding the network capacity and coverage to keep pace with demand.”

The progress which has been made by the firm over the course of the last two years is remarkable and perhaps demonstrates how under-developed the Indian market actually was. Although India has been seen as a growth economy, part of the now old-fashioned BRICs group, it wasn’t until Jio shook up the market the digital revolution took hold.

Average consumption of data is now up to 11.4 GB a month, with Jio suggesting customers used 10 exabytes over its network during the quarter. The Indian consumer certainly has an appetite for data and they don’t seem to be satisfied whatsoever.

Looking at the financials, these are also very promising. Early criticism of Jio was that it was negatively impacting competition in the market as there was little profit being made by the firm. This is generally seen as a negative, as running loss leaders to kill off competition very rarely works for the greater good in the long-term, though the numbers speak for themselves.

Quarterly revenues increased 44% year-on-year, while the firm collected profits of $119 million, a 45% year-on-year boost. These numbers are attractive for the moment, but profitability currently looks to be reliant on scale and subscriber growth. Sooner or later, this growth will slow, and the team will have to look at the worrying rate at which ARPU is declining.

Period Q1 2019 Q3 2018 Q1 2018
ARPU (Indian Rupee) 122 130 154

Brits to get the internet on the Tube

Transport for London (TfL) has announced consumers will have another way to avoid eye contact on the London Underground from next year.

Starting on the Jubilee line from March 2020, 4G data services will be introduced to the cramp and sweaty tunnels which move millions of Londoners around the city each day. For those who dread the prospect of talking to somebody else during the morning commute, this will be another way to avoid any contact with humans.

“The London Underground network is an incredibly challenging environment in which to deliver technological improvements, but we are now well on the path to delivering mobile connectivity within our stations and tunnels,” said Shashi Verma, TfL’s CTO.

“We have begun the complex work to allow our customers to be able to get phone reception within our tunnels from March 2020, with more stations and lines coming online during the coming years.”

This is of course an immensely complicated job when you consider the environment and the fact most of the underground infrastructure was designed in the years before the internet was even a concept. That said, TfL has now laid hundreds of miles of cables to enable the connectivity and is currently in discussions with the telcos to deliver connectivity underground.

“I’m delighted that we will be introducing mobile connectivity to the London Underground from next March,” said London Mayor Sadiq Khan. “This is a really important step for the millions of people who use the Tube each year.

“Introducing 4G and, in the future, 5G will help Londoners and visitors keep in touch and get the latest travel information while on the go. London is the best place to live, visit and work – and projects like this will help make it even better.”

TfL is currently trialling 2G, 3G and 4G mobile services along a section of tunnels between Westminster and Canning Town, with the next stage of procurement for the concessionaire beginning shortly. TfL plans to award the connectivity contract by next summer.

Vodafone gets the green light from Europe for Liberty Global acquisition

The European Commission has given the all-clear for Vodafone’s €18.4 billion acquisition of Liberty Global’s cable operations in Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic and Romania.

There are of course conditions which Vodafone will have to adhere to, but the telco is now claiming to be Europe’s largest converged operator, with 116.3 million mobile customers, 24.2 million broadband customers and 22.1 million TV customers across 13 European countries.

“With the European Commission’s approval of this transaction, Vodafone transforms into Europe’s largest fully-converged communications operator, accelerating innovation through our gigabit networks and bringing greater benefits to millions of customers in Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania,” said Vodafone Group CEO Nick Reid.

“This is a significant step toward enabling truly digital societies for our customers.”

Of course, Vodafone has not got it all its own way. One of the concessions relates to the German market where Vodafone has agreed to open up the cable network to Telefonica Deutschland, allowing the rival to deliver TV and broadband services. Telefonica Deutschland has been discussing ways in which it can enter into new service segments, though this concession will certainly be welcomed by the bean-counters.

On the broadcasting side, Vodafone has also agreed it will not restrict broadcasters from distributing their content also via OTT services. This concession has been designed to counter fears that the newly merged entity would inhibit the growth of OTT services across the various geographies.

Following the approval, Vodafone expects the transaction to be completed by 31 July, though not everyone will be happy with the deal.

Yesterday, credit rating agency S&P entered Vodafone onto its CreditWatch list in a negative capacity, suggesting the firm has been too adventurous on its recent spending spree. This acquisition is deemed as a significant outlay, though the firm is also exposed to several spectrum auctions in key markets, as well as operating in some areas where trading conditions are less than perfect. S&P has said it will downgrade Vodafone to BBB on approval of the deal.

Elsewhere, other analysts have been pointing to negative performance in the stock markets since the introduction of Reid as CEO and the announcement of the Liberty Global transaction. Since these two news snippets hit the headlines, Vodafone’s share price has declined by more than 30%. Vodafone might be more competitive in some European markets now, but it seems some are worried by the financial commitments.

S&P prepares to downgrade Vodafone after spending spree

Standard & Poor’s has suggested it will downgrade Vodafone from its current ‘BBB+’ credit rating should the European Commission approve its acquisition of Liberty Global assets.

Vodafone has struck an agreement to buy Liberty Global’s operations in Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania for €18.4 billion, including debt, though S&P believe this acquisition could put it in a slightly precarious position. With S&P suggesting approval for the transaction could be granted during the next three months, the firm has placed Vodafone on its Creditwatch list.

This acquisition is not the only factor S&P has taken into account, but it seems it will be straw heavy-enough to break the camels back. Aside from this purchase, the financial services firm has also pointed towards spectrum auctions and operational challenges in Spain, weaknesses in South Africa and the re-pricing saga in Italy as contributing factors. India has not been mentioned by the firm, but the on-going difficulties here should also be noted.

In short, S&P believes the firm might be getting a little bit too carefree with its spending.

The Creditwatch function of S&P effectively informs investors of the firm’s closer inspection of a business which is under-going some sort of change. Inclusion on the list can either be positive or negative, indicating whether the credit rating has the potential to go up or down, and in this case S&P feel Vodafone is heading in the wrong direction.

This is all very complicated, and unless you have an avid follower of spreadsheets, there is a blur of numbers and multiples to get your head around. However, this is not good news for Vodafone and will create a negative perception around the business when engaging investors.

Currently, Vodafone’s credit rating is ‘BBB+’, which isn’t necessarily the worst position to be in. A ‘BBB’ rating, any one of the three measurements included, suggests a company ‘has adequate capacity to meet its financial commitments’, though adverse market conditions could impact its ability to meet financial demands. Cutting through the noise, Vodafone has too much debt and poor performance could put it in financial strife; its spending too much money according to S&P.

Looking at the state-of-play for Vodafone, it could be better. There are of course markets where the trends are heading in the right direction, see the UK, but quite a few where it is facing challenges. These trends combined with financial outlay is not painting the prettiest pictures.

The acquisition of some Liberty Global European assets is a big commitment, while the business has also had to fork out €1.9 billion during the German spectrum auction. The Spanish and Italian auctions were also expensive for the telco, while there is another on the horizon in the UK. This is not the time exposure to spectrum auctions has been highlighted at Vodafone, RBC Capital Markets put out its own negative outlook in January.

That said, spending is not an issue if everything is going well. However, macroeconomic weakness in South Africa is decreasing consumer spending on mobile contracts. Considering this is largely a pre-paid market, this should be seen as a worrying trend. Iliad is continuing to cause chaos with aggressive pricing strategies in Italy and Spain is another operational difficulty after losing the rights for domestic football, hitting TV subs hard. As mentioned before, India has not been mentioned by S&P, but it appears the worst damage is in the past following the merger with Idea Cellular.

Vodafone has of course made effects to limit the negative impact. Dividends have been cut and cost-efficiency strategies have been set into motion, while integration costs of the Liberty Global acquisition should be offset by operational synergies. This is not to say Vodafone is going under at any point in the future, but it is a consideration creditors will have to take into account.

This is not the worst news Vodafone could have expected to hear, S&P has said it does not expect to downgrade the credit rating of the firm further, but it is far from good news. It is a slight dent to confidence in the business.

We need #4GForAll before we turn to 5G

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Mark Bridgeman, Deputy President of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), argues that we need to finish 4G before we get carried away with 5G.

A quick browse of this website and one is immediately struck at how important 5G is. It is clear, even to an ‘outsider’, that this has the potential to revolutionise both the mobile industry and the user experience – and consumers are beginning to feel this excitement as they start to access 5G services themselves.

Indeed, some of you may even be using the burgeoning network to read this in one of the limited number of cities where it has launched. While you enjoy browsing the internet on the go in lightning speed, please spare a thought for those living in rural communities who are barely able to receive a signal, yet alone 4G.

There are more of us than you might think. Despite living on the cusp of the 5G era, according to official statistics only 67% of the “geographic UK” is currently able to receive 4G from all the mobile operators. Coupled with poor fixed speeds – Ofcom states some 619,000 homes and offices still don’t get “decent” broadband – this means we’re left with a stark urban/rural digital divide.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has long-rallied against this divide and, most recently, this has taken the form of its #4GForAll campaign. The campaign has brought politicians, rural stakeholders and those who live in the countryside together to argue for a better mobile deal.

In the modern age connectivity is crucial. Of course, on one level it’s about streaming and social media – why shouldn’t those who live in the countryside be able to watch Netflix?  –  but on another it is fundamental to rural businesses of all shapes and sizes. For example, holiday lettings that don’t offer adequate connectivity won’t be able to compete for urban customers used to being continuously online. Farms cannot invest in next generation technology without a robust connection to the cloud. Businesses are unable to fulfil basic administrative tasks which are increasingly digital only – for example, accessing online banking or sending in VAT returns to HMRC. Meanwhile, proposals to help the NHS deliver its services more effectively and to more people through video consultation, will remain an aspiration rather than a reality.

These were some of the messages I took to Parliament recently when I was called upon as a witness to the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee on rural connectivity. There I was questioned by MPs on the difficulties for rural businesses, the issues users in the countryside face, and why the current plans by mobile operators to bridge the divide are, to put it simply, inadequate. I also highlighted my own frustrations at a lack of connectivity affecting my own tourism business in Northumberland.

This appearance, and our ongoing work promoting the campaign, is building political support for our cause. Just last week more than 50 MPs and Lords joined the CLA at our Celebration of Rural Business event. Many voiced the concerns of their rural constituents living with poor mobile reception and shared their support for our campaign across social media.

The mobile industry has long argued that it should not be footing the bill for expanding coverage in areas where it is not economical to install masts. Meanwhile, Ofcom has attempted to rally the industry behind common goals and taken a practical approach to improving coverage. Firstly, by suggesting that upcoming spectrum auctions could offer price reductions for industry improvements in 4G coverage. Secondly, by suggesting a range of options for improving coverage, including allowing rural users to share networks if their own was not available, also known as ‘rural roaming’.

To my mind, these are perfectly sensible ideas and with additional reporting and transparency and by ensuring targets are legally binding, could become a workable and cost-effective solution towards increasing geographic coverage. Indeed, these could easily be worked up to become formal and legally binding coverage obligations, which would be the industry’s first since previous obligations expired in 2017.

However, in the last few weeks, the industry have responded to these ideas with proposals of their own, the first time that the four British networks have worked collectively to come up with a firm proposal. They argue that they can increase coverage through the creation of a joint company to build new masts and the sharing of equipment on existing pylons.

The CLA, along with other countryside groups and consumer group Which?, responded by writing to Jeremy Wright MP, Minister for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DDCMS), outlining the four key tests that are needed: 1) legal obligations for improved coverage; 2) for this to be delivered as soon as possible; 3) robust monitoring arrangements by Ofcom; and 4) a requirement for operators to publish a roll-out plan, as is the case with broadband today.

To my mind we are nearly there. For perhaps the first time, we have rural users and businesses, the mobile industry and the regulator all proactively seeking practical solutions to increasing rural coverage. We have the industry working together to work up cross-industry proposals and responses. On behalf of our members and rural users, we have argued for additional robustness on proposals put forward to date. We have repeatedly done this because we know that the countryside cannot afford any additional delay; we have been waiting for far too long already.

 

CLAlondonmarkBridgeman01cMark Bridgeman is Deputy President of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) which represents rural landowners and businesses in England and Wales. It has been campaigning for better rural mobile connectivity through its #4GForAll campaign.

The US or cash? Huawei asks Poland to choose sides

Huawei has put its financially favourable foot forward, suggesting Poland will only get a cash boost if the vendor is allowed to participate in the 5G bonanza.

The role of Huawei in European networks has been under scrutiny for a considerable amount of time, and while it does appear it will be safe in numerous markets, Poland is one which is still hanging in the balance.

According to Reuters, Huawei is prepared to invest roughly $793 million in the country as long as it is allowed to sell equipment to the Polish telcos. While this might be enough to force some politicians into switching on the green-light, Poland is an area where Huawei has found itself in a bit of bother recently.

Back in January, a Chinese employee of Huawei and a Polish national working for Orange were both arrested on spying allegations by Polish security services. Evidence was not produced at the time, though concrete evidence has not been needed to ban Huawei in the US, or in countries such as Australia.

In terms of the US, Poland has had a strong relationship with the country for some time. Polish–US relations were officially established in 1919 and the country has remained one of the most stable allies of the US since. This filters down to the general public also, with Poland one of the most consistently pro-American nations in Europe and the world.

You also have to factor in more direct threats from the US. In February, the combative Secretary of State Mike Pompeo effectively suggested Eastern European nations would have to choose between working with the US or Huawei.

Looking at the Polish economy, a fractured relationship with the US would be difficult. Poland is the 24th largest export economy in the world, with the vast majority of exports heading to nations in Europe. However, the US is the largest single market outside of Europe for Poland, accounting for 2.7% according to Observatory of Economic Complexity, a MIT project.

With the US leaning so heavily on European allies to ban Huawei, seemingly as a means of putting pressure on the Chinese Government, Poland might turn out to be an interesting battle ground. Of course, you have to consider the cash incentive from Huawei.

Poland is effectively the Eastern European home ground of Huawei. The firm employs roughly 900 people in the country and will have a positive impact with its Polish supply chain. With further investments planned in the country, the direct impact of £793 million will keep the Polish Government happy, but there will be considerable knock-ons in other parts of the economy.

Another consideration for Poland will be market competition. Polish telcos will need a suitable amount of competition to ensure investments in network infrastructure is as low as possible. When you consider ARPU on mobile users, the demands become much more evident.

Orange’s Polish business currently has 9.7 million subscribers, each generating roughly £5.67 a month in revenue. For Play, Poland’s largest MNO, just over 12 million subscribers generate £6.71 a month for data services. For Polish telcos to generate ROI, competition between the network infrastructure vendors is clearly needed; banning Huawei might have some difficult implications to stomach.

Huawei knows this of course and is playing an excellent move. Poland will have to make a decision before too long; persist with its relationship with the US or effectively help Huawei gain traction in Eastern Europe.

US is winning the 5G speed race

Although there is a lot more to 5G than ‘bigger, faster, meaner’ download speeds, the US has bragging rights currently when it comes to the fastest download speeds.

According to the latest analysis from Opensignal, 5G is boosting maximum downloads in all eight markets where the connectivity euphoria has been launched, aside from Australia that is. It’s a very crude measure of success, but it is something which the telcos will want to shout about.

As you can see from the graphic below, there is certainly an increase in speed, though this is hardly a good measure when you consider very few consumers even touch the maximum speeds promised.

Opensignal graphic

Leading the pack is the US with maximum downloads speeds of 1815 Mbps, and by somewhat of a clear margin, though both Switzerland and South Korea have entered into the holy land of gigabit speeds. Perhaps the strangest statistic to make note of is the decrease in maximum speeds in Australia.

The lead which the US has established should come as little surprise when you consider the spectrum being utilised. Telcos in the US are already able to use mmWave spectrum for 5G, whereas European counterparts are utilising the mid-band spectrum, which sacrifices some speed to improve geographical coverage.

Looking at the UK, which currently sits bottom of the rankings, there is perhaps something for Three to shout about. Opensignal suggests speeds here might be impacted by the fact EE only has 40 MHz of relevant spectrum. Three has been shouting about its 100 MHz of contiguous spectrum in the 5G bands, claiming it is best positioned to deliver the 5G experience, and this analysis perhaps supports this claim.

And to address some of the speed differences between Opensignal and the figures which are being quoted by the telcos, this analysis is being done in the real world. Consumers are asked to download the Opensignal app, allowing the team to assess speeds in the real-world, with a range of different devices (manufacturer and condition) and a variety of applications.

But you also have to take into account these speeds are not realistic whatsoever; its nothing but a PR plug for the ‘creatives’ in the marketing department to make use of. Let’s take Australia as an example.

According to this analysis, Australian telcos can achieve a maximum download speed of 950 Mbps for 4G. However, as you can see from the graphic below, reality is far from the maximum achieved in perfect test conditions.

Opensignal 4G graphic

Although we are comparing apples and pears here, the theory is the same. Real-world experience is entirely different from the maximum speeds which the telcos boast about; this has been true for the 4G world and it would be perfectly reasonable to assume the same for the 5G era.

Fundamentally, this means very little for the moment. Coverage is incredibly limited while reality will be very different when more users hit the network. You also have to take into account European operators do not have access to the high-band spectrum which will deliver the monstrous speeds promised.

That said, the variety of speeds perhaps give an indication of the success of deployment strategies. It is certainly early days in the 5G era, but the US has claimed the first accolade when it comes to the dated ‘bigger, faster, meaner’ mentality which has governed the telcos for years.

Ren’s back to tell us how Huawei is starting to ditch the US

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei appears to be little more than a celebrity spokesperson nowadays, but a recent interview suggests the vendor is just fine with its US shunning.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Ren has once again been called into action to address the tensions between China and the US, as a result of which, Huawei has become a prime target for anyone hoping to inflict damage on the worlds’ second largest economy. The message from Ren is relatively simple; we’re doing OK and we’ll move away from US suppliers.

Such comments will certainly set off alarm bells in the offices of some US semiconductor firms, but it should hardly come as a surprise. The ‘Made in China 2025’ strategy might be unpopular with the US and Europe, but it is by no-means a secret.

‘Made in China 2025’ is an initiative set into action by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during 2015. Through this initiative, the Chinese Government wants to evolve the perception of the country, ditching the ‘world’s factory’ tagline and moving up the value chain towards higher value products and services. The Government will be contributing $300 billion to the project to enable China to compete with the US.

This plan has been heavily criticised by the US for a number of reasons, but ultimately it all boils down to one; this is a genuine threat to the technological domination of the US on the global scene.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons not to like the idea. Some have suggested it violates the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules on self-sufficiency. Others have said trade secrets have been stolen from foreign companies or unfairly obtained through forced joint-ventures. For ‘Made in China 2025’, companies have to move up the value chain, targeting growth industries such as AI or medicine, and these smarts have to come from somewhere.

However, you always have to bear in mind the end-result irrelevant of path taken to get there. If ‘Made in China 2025’ succeeds, the US will no-longer be the dominant force in the technology world, and other economies could be shattered if China replaces imported goods with domestic.

In the latest interview, Ren is suggesting that even if there is a reprieve from President Donald Trump following the G20 summit last weekend, Huawei will continue to move its supply chain out of the US. Perhaps this is the catalyst which was needed to kick the ‘Made in China 2025’ concept up another gear.

“The US is helping us in a great way by giving us these difficulties,” said Ren. “Under external pressure, we have become more united than ever.

“If we aren’t allowed to use US components, we are very confident in our ability to use components made in China and other countries.”

Although there has been a concession from Trump with regard to the ban facing Huawei, some might view this pardon with scepticism. The President’s opinion seems to change more often than the tides so why would any organization pins its hopes and aspirations on the door of the Oval Office. Instead of a power demonstration, the US seems to have pushed the Chinese further towards autonomy.

While it is far from confirmed, we strongly suspect the huffing and puffing from the White House was little more than a demonstration of power. Huawei’s entry onto the Entity List might have been an aggressive move to gain the upper-hand in trade talks with the Chinese; look what we did to ZTE last year, the US appears to be saying, so play nice or we’ll do the same to Huawei.

But it doesn’t seem to have worked; Huawei is still alive and still OK, if you listen to Ren.

How OK Huawei actually is remains to be seen. Ren has been wheeled out to put a positive spin on the situation, but the picture is rather gloomy. Smartphone shipments are set to decline by 40-60% over the remainder of the year, Google hasn’t said it is once again on friendly terms with Huawei despite Trump’s amnesty, and some have questioned whether China is capable of filling the semiconductor hole created through the China/US vacuum.

Huawei has done a lot to add diversity to its supply chain in recent years, while also moving numerous operations to its own fabless semiconductor company HiSilicon, but can it satisfy its appetite for more specialised components? Huawei works with a number of US firms who have niche operations, Qorvo supplies radio-frequency systems and solutions for Huawei for example, and when it comes to specialised components, the US rules the world.

For certain segments of the semiconductor industry, field programmable gate arrays as another example, and China has not been able to replicate the US success just yet. Despite what Ren says about moving Huawei’s supply chain out of the US, it will still be reliant for some incredibly important cogs.

One way of viewing this situation is that there is a short-term demonstration of power. Without the likes of Xilinx, Qualcomm, Qorvo, NeoPhotonics and numerous other semiconductor businesses, Huawei cannot produce the products it is promising customers. Not yet at least.

But long-term, perhaps this approach is simply forcing ‘Made in China 2025’ to accelerate and eroding the control the US has globally over some very high-value, highly profitable segments. Prior to the trade war, US companies were inside the tent. Admittedly conditions were not perfect, but they were inside not outside.

Perhaps this is the watershed moment; companies are going to be forced out as companies like Huawei increasingly look for domestic suppliers, and once they find them (by luck, convenience or necessity) there is no coming back.

Samsung dropped in the deep-end for Aussie smartphone lies

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has opened up legal proceedings against Samsung suggesting it made false, misleading and deceptive claims over water resistance.

The claim from Samsung is a relatively simple one; S10 devices are IP68 water resistance, meaning the devices are good for up to 1.5 metres for a period of 30 minutes. Advertising for the S10 also depict a number of different scenarios from swimming pools to the beach, suggesting the device performs effectively in different environments.

The ACCC believes Samsung did not test or know of testing to substantiate these claims, and therefore mislead Australian consumers through more than 300 advertisements.

“The ACCC alleges Samsung’s advertisements falsely and misleadingly represented Galaxy phones would be suitable for use in, or for exposure to, all types of water, including in ocean water and swimming pools, and would not be affected by such exposure to water for the life of the phone, when this was not the case,” said ACCC Chair Rod Sims.

“Samsung itself has acknowledged that water resistance is an important factor influencing Australian consumer decisions when they choose what mobile phone to purchase.

“Samsung’s advertisements, we believe, denied consumers an informed choice and gave Samsung an unfair competitive advantage. Samsung showed the Galaxy phones used in situations they shouldn’t be to attract customers.”

Samsung Pool

Interestingly enough, Samsung seems to have dug itself into a whole with this one. Despite suggesting to the consumer on billboards, social media and TV advertising, a statement on its website confirms the images are misleading:

not advised for beach or pool use.

Interestingly enough, phones which had been advertised as water resistant were sold at a higher price. This is all well and good is you fancy taking your phone into the bath but don’t plan on living any form of Australian stereotype; no beaches and no pools for Samsung users.

Unfortunately for those who believe the advertising and don’t have the eagle eyes to spot small print on websites, Samsung also denied warranty claims for phones which were damaged when used in water.

Despite the fact Samsung has clearly misled consumers about the performance of S10 devices in non-fresh water, the firm is standing by its marketing and plans to fight the case. This is a slightly tricky area however, as there is some flexibility build into advertising rules. No-one expects to get a burger which matches the images on McDonald’s adverts, but this exaggeration is accepted.

Samsung might be able to squeeze out of this situation and consumers might continue to be lied to. That said, people should be able to put their phone down for a couple of minutes if they fancy a dip.

Samsung surfboard

Orange gears up for the Tour de France but no mention of 5G

This weekend will see the Tour de France begin in Belgium and while it might be a chance for some to enjoy a tipple in the sun, for Orange it is a monstrous task. But it does seem to have forgotten to plug 5G.

Delivering a connectivity solution for this spectacle is somewhat of a difficult task. The race covers 3,460km over 21 stages, starting in Brussels, winding through 219 municipalities in France before ending in Paris. Four stages will be held in the Pyrenees and another four in the Alps, while numerous see the race snake through rural France. These are not necessarily the easiest environments to provide connectivity in.

The other factor you have to take into account is this is not necessarily a ‘build once’ concept for network infrastructure; the tour route changes every year, making permanent infrastructure redundant in numerous areas. That said, it does provide the commercial drive to bridge the digital divide in some rural environments.

In some places, it makes just as much commercial sense to rollout permanent infrastructure to the small towns as it does to make it temporary in the more secluded areas. This year, 11 locations will benefit from a permanent fibre installation, while 37 municipalities visited by the Tour and 182 municipalities located within 10km of race will also benefit from 4G upgrades.

This is not to say Orange should wait for the Tour de France to pass through a village to address the digital divide, but it is a nice by-product for some communities.

One massive omission from any of the materials is 5G. With 5G buzzing in almost every corner of the connectivity world, it would be a fair assumption it would be here as well. In other sponsorship properties Orange owns, Roland Garros for example, 5G has been the focal point of communications, but it has been missed out here.

Admittedly, this is a different and more complicated environment to deliver the super-fast ‘G’, but it does seem to an oversight; there are various different usecases which could be plugged by the telco here. This is not to say Orange should wait for the Tour de France to pass through a village to address the digital divide, but it is a nice by-product for some communities.

In 2017, we had a behind-the-scenes tour of the event, with Orange offering some insight into the efforts made to deliver connectivity. And its not as easy as it sounds. Alongside the Orange technical team which has to move with every stage of the tour, the telco has to provide connectivity for roughly 120 trucks housing various broadcasters, shifting 20km of fibre and 65km of power cables each day.

The figures quoted above were accurate two years ago, now you have to take into account consumers are more digitally defined, using a broader range of apps and digesting more data on a daily basis. Here’s a bit of a taste of the complications Orange faces this year:

  • 7,000 hours broadcast by 190 countries worldwide
  • 10 to 12 million spectators on the roadside
  • 8 million unique visitors to the website
  • 32 km of cables deployed at the finish line during the event
  • 350 temporary phone lines
  • 32 mobile 3G/4G mobile relays to strengthen mobile network coverage
  • 250 km of specifically deployed optical cables

In the ‘village’ at each stage of the Tour, Orange has said it will deploy eight separate wifi networks, with an equivalent rate of 200 Mbps and able to handle more than 10,000 simultaneous connections. This is the easy part, the village doesn’t move all day, but providing continuous connectivity while the race is progressing is a different challenge.

This is a marketing opportunity for Orange, it gets to show how wonderful it is at solving complicated problems, but there is certainly an upside for some in the rural communities who could see a connectivity boost. Assuming the race passes through your quaint village of course.