EE fleshes out its 2019 5G launch plans

Having apparently exhausted the PR potential of 5G trials EE has moved on to talking up its plans for actual launches.

Sometime in 2019 EE will launch 5G in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester. Sometime after that, but still in 2019, it will launch in ten more UK cities, which you can see in the map below.

In order to fully exploit the power of 5G EE is initially focusing on what it considers to be the busiest parts of those first six cities: Hyde Park in London, Manchester Arena, Belfast City Airport, the Welsh Assembly, Edinburgh Waverly train station and Birmingham’s Bullring.

Further explanation of the reasons for choosing its launch locations revolves around the specific EE cell sites that have to deal with the most traffic. One site in Waterloo station alone, we’re told, carries more than 100 terabytes of data per day. Presumably much of this is beleaguered commuters trying to find out when their train will turn up or sharing their plight on social media.

The first 1,500 sites that EE is upgrading to 5G in 2019 carry 25% of all data across the whole network, but only cover 15% of the UK population, apparently. The fact that EE made a point of sharing this factoid may be indicative of it anticipating misguided criticism of it focusing on densely populated areas as opposed to fields, hills, lakes, etc.

“Adding 5G to the UK’s number one 4G network will increase reliability, increase speeds, and keep our customers connected where they need it most,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s consumer division. “This is another milestone for the UK and for our network journey – we’ll keep evolving as we move to one, smart network for our customers. We have an ambition to connect our customers to 4G, 5G or wifi 100% of the time.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan didn’t get where he is today without exploiting publicity opportunities like this. “I want London to be the world’s leading smart city and 5G expansion is at the heart of this ambition – it is good news for Londoners, innovation, and business,” he said. “At City Hall we are working hard right across the capital to ensure we have the network infrastructure needed through our new Connected London programme. EE’s ambitious investment in 5G sites demonstrates that our city is a great place to invest in innovative and future-facing digital connectivity.”

While EE hasn’t offered specific dates for its 5G rollout it is at least making some effort to put some meat on the bones of its 5G hype. Three made an even vaguer pronouncement last week, but the other two MNOs have been strangely reticent. They’ll presumably get there eventually and we look forward to lots more of this sort of thing in the coming months, complete with images of people using their phones in a 5G-ish way and sexy shots of telecoms gear on rooftops.

EE 5G launch map

Intel brings forward launch of 5G modem in bid to silence doubters

Apple’s decision to go all-in on Intel modems comes with a lot of pressure, so Intel is desperate to convince us it’s up to the task.

A week ago reports appeared to confirm that Apple’s first 5G phones will come in 2020 and will exclusively use Intel modems. Telecoms.com was among the commentators asking whether or not this would turn out to be a rash decision by Apple, with rival Qualcomm expected to be ahead in the 5G modem race.

Intel seems to have taken this scepticism as a personal challenge and has consequently announced it will now be launching it more than half a year sooner than previously thought. The Intel XM 8160 5G modem will now be released into the wild in the second half of 2019, although there’s nothing in the announcement to indicate it will power an iPhone that soon, with the September 2020 models still the likely recipients.

In fact Intel says the earliest you will see it in devices is in the first half of 2020, which does beg the question of whether this ‘bringing forward’ of the launch is purely cosmetic. Could Intel have merely tweaked the definition of ‘launch’ to allow for some kind of meaningless soft-launch six months earlier. Maybe Qualcomm will retaliate with a similar move.

“Intel’s new XMM 8160 5G modem provides the ideal solution to support large volumes for scaling across multiple device categories to coincide with broad 5G deployments” said Cormac Conroy, GM of Intel’s Communication and Devices Group. “We are seeing great demand for the advanced feature set of the XMM 8160, such that we made a strategic decision to pull in the launch of this modem by half a year to deliver a leading 5G solution.”

The fact that the XMM 8160 is ‘multimode’, supporting 5G NR in SA and NSA modes across multiple frequencies, as well as legacy wireless standards is something Intel is keen to flag up. So much so it did a special diagram.

The Intel XMM 8160 5G modem will offer very clear improvements in power, size and scalability in a package that will be smaller than a U.S. penny. It will be released in the second half of 2019, and it will support the new standard for 5G New Radio (NR) standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) modes as well as 4G, 3G and 2G legacy radios in a single chipset. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

A more streamlined VC approach could hinder the US in the 5G race

With US venture capitalists increasing their total investments, but reducing the number of start-ups being funded, you have to wonder whether the US is priming itself properly for the 5G bonanza of tomorrow.

According to data from Pitchbook, the total amount invested by VCs in US firms is set to exceed $100 million across a 12 months period for the first time, but the number of completed deals is actually decreasing. So far across 2018, VCs have invested $84.3 billion, already exceeding the total from 2017, though the number of deals has dropped to 6,583 compared to 9,259 last year. These numbers are correct to September 30, still leaving time in 2018, but you have to wonder what impact this will have on the innovators of tomorrow.

Looking at the data, the number of deals which are valued at $50 million or more is significantly on the increase, while the bottom three categories (which you can see in the table below) are decreasing. This is not necessarily a bad sign, innovation can come from larger companies and more established SMEs, though some of the brightest ideas over the last two decades have come from companies which didn’t exist in the 20th century.

VC Deals 1

Think of the likes of Facebook, Uber, AirBnB, Shopify, Android and Netflix, these are all organizations which have risen through the ranks in recent years and are defining their respective segments. All were powered by the democratization of the internet, in particular mobile internet, and the emergence of a new form of economics. They are companies which succeeded because they thought and operating differently from the status quo, leaving many traditional businesses playing catch-up today.

In short, the start-ups are an excellent source of innovation and, in many cases, a completely under-utilised resource for national economies. However, with the upcoming 5G bonanza promising fortunes for those who seize the opportunity, is a more streamlined focus from the VCs creating the right, nurturing environment?

5G is going to create a completely different playing field, though we’re not entirely sure how at the moment. Those who think they can accurately predict where future fortunes will come from are nothing but blowing hot air. They might well be right, but this is likely more to be luck than judgment. For example, back in 2005 who would have thought a relatively unknown networking website designed for university students would become one of the most powerful companies on the planet, influencing elections, stimulating fake news and completely revolutionising how companies communicate with their customers?

The point is there is a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude with 5G. If you create the right technology environments, underpin them with supportive regulations, open doors to new markets and fuel them with seeding funds, the next great idea will emerge. We don’t know what it is just yet, but that was the exciting thing about 4G and will be the exciting thing about 5G.

Another consequence of a lack of available funding for the smaller players is the risk of acquisition. Without the fuel to grow their own ideas, some entrepreneurs might be tempted to sell their business and product to an established company. This in turn would direct innovation into the acquirers main focus area. Perhaps this will leave potential usecases and the dark corners of what is possible unexplored?

The issue here is whether VCs are putting enough cash into the early stage start-ups to nurture this innovation and create the blockbuster idea of tomorrow. Fuelling companies which are already out there is not a bad idea, but it is likely going to get you a better version of what exists today. This is a perfectly acceptable approach to business and will reap rewards, but are these trends going to create a landscape in the US which will dominate the 5G world of tomorrow? We are sceptical.

VC Deals 2

O2 bags Midlands driverless gig

O2 has announced a partnership with Wireless Infrastructure Group (WIG) to deliver connectivity for driverless vehicle test bed trials in the West Midlands.

With the UK government foolishly promising driverless cars will be on the roads by 2021, this is one of a number of trials located in the Midlands to make the wayward ambition a reality. As part of the agreement, O2 claims it will deliver Europe’s largest fibre connected small cell network along a 50-mile route that runs through Birmingham and Coventry.

“Following our successful deployment of the UK’s first centralised radio network (C-RAN) in Aberdeen, in partnership with WIG, we will be using this same cutting-edge technology across what we expect to be Europe’s largest fibre connected small cell network,” said Brendan O’Reilly, CTO at O2. “Mobile powers our modern world and 5G has even more potential to move Britain forward which is why we’re excited to be working together with WIG to continue to build this technology into the fabric of our cities and communities.”

“We are delighted to be working with O2 and WIG to test autonomous vehicles on roads here in the West Midlands,” said Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands. “As the heart of the UK’s future mobility research and development, and the UK’s first region-wide 5G testbed, the West Midlands is well-positioned to create thousands of new jobs in the industries of the future.”

With the UK desperate to prove it is at the forefront of the technology world, the UK government has promised driverless cars will be commercially available by 2021, a laughable ambition when you think of the work, both from a technological and administrative perspective, which will have to be done ahead of this point. The Midlands is certainly a beneficiary here, as the region has been attempted to create a regionalised technology hub around electric and driverless vehicles.

We’re sceptical driverless cars will be anywhere near a reality in the near future, though at least it is another usecase for 5G ROI.

The iStore is a perfect example of how we can make money – Vodafone

Many around the world will use Apple as a benchmark of how to successfully engage the digitally native consumer, though it’s the development of the iStore ecosystem which can be used as a model for the telcos.

Speaking at Light Reading’s Software Defined Operations and the Autonomous Network event in London, Atul Purohit from Vodafone Group pointed towards the slow-burning and long-term investments made in creating the app store as the way to make money in the digital economy. This is ultimately one question which will frustrate a lot of telcos, how will the vast expenses on 5G be recaptured over the next decade?

With 5G, MEC and IoT trends starting to make more concrete impacts on the real world, Purohit suggested a platform model should be built these technologies, with the telcos forming the centre of the ecosystem. This is not the blockbuster cash generator, a silver bullet to recoup lost billions, which some investors might want, but it is a sensible, sustainable business model. In fact, you can already see the benefits today.

Apple’s iStore and Google’s Play Store are excellent examples of careful development of an ecosystem and the rewards which can be realised when a segment matures, but the smart home is another. Most would have presumed the telco would be an excellent focal point for the smart home ecosystem, primarily because the router is already an accepted fixture in the living room, though the likes of Amazon and Google has imposed the smart speaker in its place.

This is an example of inaction than anything else, as the proactive internet giants wrestled the focus of the smart home away from the router and the cumbersome telcos, and onto the speaker. Services and products are being built around the smart speaker, and the financial rewards will be claimed by Amazon and Google. With personalised experienced and IoT trends of tomorrow, the telco still has an opportunity to stake its claim to be the focal point of these ecosystems.

This is a business model which will mature over time, requiring long-term investment and patience above all else, though it is a model proven successful time after time.

Three UK talks up its 5G investment plans

The UK’s fourth MNO, Three, has given a public update on its investment priorities and plans for 5G.

The headline figure is £2 billion, which is what Three says it is committed to spend on 5G stuff. Apparently Three customers are more data-hungry than average, so it’s even more important that it drops enough cash to ensure its infrastructure can keep up. The intended message seems to be that Three is for real in the 5G era and the other UK MNOs had better watch their backs.

“We have always led on mobile data and 5G is another game-changer,” said Three CEO Dave Dyson. “Also described as wireless fibre, 5G delivers a huge increase in capacity together with ultra-low latency.  It opens up new possibilities in home broadband and industrial applications, as well as being able to support the rapid growth in mobile data usage.

“This is a major investment into the UK’s digital infrastructure. UK consumers have an insatiable appetite for data and 5G unlocks significant capability to meet that demand. We have been planning our approach to 5G for many years and we are well positioned to lead on this next generation of technology.  These investments are the latest in a series of important building blocks to deliver the best end to end data experience for our customers.”

Dyson also had some stuff to say on the matter of Huawei potentially getting a hard time from UK public bodies which you can read more about here. So where is all this wedge going to end up? Details are thin on the ground right now and it looks like the headline figure includes some investment already made. Three did offer the following highlights of its 5G investments so far.

  • Acquired the UK’s leading 5G spectrum portfolio
  • Signed an agreement for the rollout of new cell site technology to prepare major urban areas for the rollout of 5G devices, as well as enhance the 4G experience
  • Built a super high-capacity dark fibre network, which connects 20 new, energy efficient and highly secure data centres
  • Deployed a world-first – a 5G-ready, fully integrated cloud native core network in the new data centres, which at launch will have an initial capacity of 1.2TB/s, a three-fold increase from today’s capacity, and can scale further, cost effectively and quickly.
  • Rolled out carrier aggregation technology on 2,500 sites in busiest areas, improving speeds for customers

GSMA reckons spectrum might come in handy for 5G

In a new ‘industry position’ mobile trade association the GSMA warns that clever new 5G tech won’t be much good without the spectrum to carry it.

The executive summary is the standard stuff about a new generation of wireless tech opening up a bunch of new opportunities, but this is just the setup. We won’t be able to do any of this cool stuff, you see, unless governments and regulators do a better job of giving operators the swathes of spectrum they will need to deliver on the promise of 5G.

“Operators urgently need more spectrum to deliver the endless array of services that 5G will enable – our 5G future depends heavily on the decisions governments are making in the next year as we head into WRC-19,” said Brett Tarnutzer, Head of Spectrum at the GSMA.

“Without strong government support to allocate sufficient spectrum to next generation mobile services, it will be impossible to achieve the global scale that will make 5G affordable and accessible for everyone. There is a real opportunity for innovation from 5G, but this hinges on governments focusing on making enough spectrum available, not maximising auction revenues for short term gains.”

WRC-19 refers to the World Radiocommunications Conference 2019. It will be the first one for four years and it’s the event at which the world has a think about things like allocating radio spectrum according to current needs. So it’s a rare opportunity for organisations such as the GSMA to try and get their members some more of that precious resource.

“Governments and regulators have a major role to play in ensuring that consumers get the best outcome from 5G,” said Tarnutzer. “Once spectrum is allocated to mobile at WRC, licensing that spectrum at a national level, as history has shown, can take up to 10 years. Therefore, it is essential that governments take the right action now.”

The fact that the GSMA still feel the need to spell out the importance of radio spectrum to governments and regulators is faintly depressing, considering what a redundant point that should be. But this sort of thing is where such organisations earn their keep, by packaging the bleedin obvious into things like industry positions, which presumably increases the chances of bureaucratic types taking it seriously.

Here’s the GSMA’s list of demands:

  1. 5G needs wider frequency bands to support higher speeds and larger amounts of traffic. Regulators that make available 80-100 MHz of spectrum per operator in prime 5G mid-bands (e.g. 3.5 GHz) and around 1 GHz per operator in vital millimeter wave bands (i.e. above 24 GHz), will best support the very fastest 5G services.
  2. 5G needs spectrum within three key frequency ranges to deliver widespread coverage and support all use cases:
  • Sub-1GHz spectrum to extend high-speed 5G mobile broadband coverage across urban, suburban and rural areas and to help support Internet of Things (IoT) services
  • Spectrum from 1-6 GHz to offer a good mix of coverage and capacity for 5G services
  • Spectrum above 6 GHz for 5G services such as ultra-high-speed mobile broadband
  1. It is essential that governments support the 26 GHz, 40 GHz (37-43.5 GHz) and 66-71 GHz bands for mobile at WRC-19. A sufficient amount of harmonised 5G spectrum in these bands is critical to enabling the fastest 5G speeds, low-cost devices and international roaming and to minimising cross-border interference.
  2. Governments and regulators should avoid inflating 5G spectrum prices (e.g. setting high auction reserve prices) as they risk limiting network investment and driving up the cost of services.
  3. Regulators should avoid setting aside spectrum for verticals in key mobile spectrum bands; sharing approaches, such as leasing, are better options where vertical industries require access to spectrum.

DCMS and NCSC warn UK telco review might impact 5G supply chain

Reports of a letter circulating through the offices of UK telcos have emerged, though DCMS has played down the anti-China rhetoric which has been pinned to the communication.

“The Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review set out our long term plans to provide world class digital connectivity through full fibre connectivity and 5G mobile coverage,” DCSC stated. “As part of this, we are conducting a review of the supply chain underpinning those ambitions to ensure a healthy, diverse and secure supply base, now and into the future.”

The letter itself, which will not be officially released to the industry, has been signed by Matthew Gould, Head of Digital Policy at the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and Ciaran Martin, Chief Executive of the National Cyber Security Centre, and reportedly suggests telcos should evaluate the resilience and security of their supply chains ahead of the much hyped 5G euphoria.

Although reports have emerged in the FT this morning, with the anti-China rhetoric featuring heavily throughout, DCMS has distanced itself from a targeted and calculated review. The review, and letter, is not targeted at a specific country, or firms which call that country home, but ensuring the UK has the right overall framework in place to ensure secure and resilience telecoms networks. The review will consider the economics of 5G, as well as aiming to create the desired resilience and security standards.

What is worth noting is that this letter is not new. The review and communications with telcos has been discussed in the House of Commons, while the letter itself was sent to executives weeks ago and originally unearthed by Politico. The anti-China rhetoric, which is outwardly present in other nations, seems to be more interpretation from the industry in this case.

That said, it is not completely misguided to assume the review does have a couple of nations in mind. NCSC has previously warned operators against using ZTE equipment in their networks as this might impact the long-term security of the UK, and with the rest of the world pointing a suspecting finger at Huawei, it would not be out of the question for the UK to jump on the band wagon.

While President Trump has been aggressively leading the anti-China sentiment across the US, Australia followed suit by banning the firm from participating in the Aussie 5G bonanza and South Korean telcos coincidentally left Huawei out from their preferred suppliers.

The conundrum the UK faces is focused around future trade and relationships with the rest of the world. With Brexit on the horizon, and looking increasingly unfavourable for the UK, bonds will need to be strengthened with other nations. Unfortunately this leaves the UK in a difficult position, with historic partner US on one side of the argument and the Chinese, a country various UK governments have attempted to get closer to, on the other.

While DCMS and the UK on the whole seemingly wants to justifiably maintain a neutral position in such reviews, we don’t doubt there will be a few cogs in the machine who are harbouring suspicions of the Chinese, which are starting to become commonplace.

This might not be a Chinese witch hunt, though it is certainly reasonable to assume that a level of biased suspicion will be present in some minds. What impact this has on the UK’s relationship with China and its kit vendors remains to be seen.