Telefónica pulls its SOCs up with Nokia’s help

Operator group Telefónica is changing its UK Network Operations Center into a Service Operations Center to show how customer-centric it is.

That was the distilled message from a press launch in central London this morning, co-hosted by its vendor for this project – Nokia. Building a SOC will allow O2 UK to make customer-led, as opposed to engineering-led, decisions about its network, we were told by Brandan O’Reilly, the CTO of O2 UK.

Telefónica has apparently already got started on this process in some of its other markets, including Chile and Germany, but this is a first for the UK and also the first time Nokia has been the vendor. So this seems like a big deal for them – hence the press event.

Tim Smith, VP of Nokia Software Europe, explained its SOC platform aggregates and standardises the various network data feeds in order to be able to compare and optimise them. It’s all about being proactive rather than reactive when it comes to network management and AI seems to play a big part, as you might expect.

A lot of the questions from the grizzled telecoms hacks in attendance focused on what specific benefits a SOC offers over a NOC and how they might be measured. While reduced churn is an obvious way to track ‘customer delight’, as Smith put it, Telefonica has its own metric called NCX (Network Customer Experience), which is currently at 79 and O’Reilly hopes will jump by at least a couple of points as a result of this shift. Here are the canned quotes from the press release.

“Telefónica has always aimed to offer the best possible experience to our customers which a reactive network monitoring approach to operations could never guarantee,” said Juan Manuel Caro, director of network and IT operations at Telefónica. “With SOC we have already transformed this in three of our markets reaching the next level in automated customer experience management, granting us flexibility and adaptability that serves as a key differentiator. Nokia’s solutions and services will allow us to achieve this goal in a competitive market like the UK.”

“Telefónica is pioneering the transformation toward customer-centric operations with the deployment of Nokia eSOC,” said Bhaskar Gorti, president of Nokia Software. “Nokia is proud to support Telefónica’s digital transformations and SOC deployments across the globe and with the flexibility to adapt to existing ecosystems in local markets.”

This all seems like quite a lot of effort to go to just to labour the ‘customer-centric’ concept that has become endemic to the point of cliché in the business world. But to be fair to both companies they are at least announcing concrete measures being taken in pursuit of that aim and thus holding themselves publicly accountable for delivering it.

Europe launches new AI initiative to begin catch-up mission

This month has seen the launch of the European Commission’s AI4EU project, an initiative to create an AI-on-demand platform for Europe and challenge for leadership in this blossoming segment.

Having been agreed during December, the AI4EU project already has 79 partners in 21 countries across the bloc, firstly focusing on developing eight industry-driven AI pilots which will demonstrate the value of the AI-on-demand platform as a technological innovation tool. Led by Thales, the group will receive €20 million in funding to begin with.

“The European Commission has published its coordinated plan on artificial intelligence, as well as new guidelines on how to deal with the ethical issues relating to AI,” said Roberto Viola, the Director General of DG Connect at the European Commission, in a recent blog post. “Both put humans firmly at the centre of this key technology that has the potential to revolutionise all our lives.”

Looking at the specific work-groups, the first eight will focus on the European citizen, robotics, industry, healthcare, media, agriculture, IOT and cybersecurity, with the work being built on the idea of ‘human centred AI’. As part of AI4EU, an Ethics Observatory will be established to ensure the respect of human centred AI values.

The power and potential of artificial intelligence has certainly been a talking point over recent months, as dreams become reality and new products emerge. Every region around the world is attempting to plant its flag and dominate the area, with AI4EU as the European effort. While the initiative will aim to encourage industry collaboration, it will also draw out a strategic agenda and also aim to fill technology gaps which might emerge should a fragmented approach to development arise.

While this is certainly a good start, the European Commission certainly has some work to do to make sure the bloc isn’t left behind as Silicon Valley and China charge ahead. That said, it does look like AI will get the rightful attention it deserves over the coming years.

“The EU has been supporting artificial intelligence for many years, and for the next seven-year EU budget period, which is due to start in 2021, AI and the wider digital economy will play an even more central role: a new funding programme, Digital Europe, has been proposed, with €9.2 billion potentially available to support the further development of the EU’s digital single market, including €2.5 billion specifically to support AI,” said Viola.

“For all its ambition, the EU is still lagging behind other parts of the world when it comes to investing in AI. This is why the European Commission has already agreed to increase EU research funding for AI to €1.5 billion between now and 2020.”

75% of the telecoms industry think 2019 will be a great year

Three quarters of the respondents to the latest Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey feel positive or fantastic about the industry’s prospects in the new year.

There is hardly a better way to usher in the new year with a reality check on the industry we are in, and an informed look into the era we are entering. The recently-published Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey report can very well serve such purposes. Thanks to the enthusiastic responses by well over 1,000 telecoms professionals, the majority of whom having more than a decade’s experience in the industry, we are provided with plenty of optimism as well as sober assessment.

A strong contributor to the optimism towards 2019 is the fast rollout of 5G. Not only will the long-awaited 5G networks be switched on in different parts of the world, consumer mobile devices are so close to hitting the market. In addition to eMBB that has been offered on limited scale in the US and South Korea, more ambitious services will be launched to fulfil the 5G’s promises. But at the same time, 62% of the respondents believe the benefits of 5G have not been properly communicated to consumers.

“Only time will tell what a future 5G truly holds, but it’s safe to say there’s a healthy dose of reality within the carrier market. While the promise of 5G and all its intended benefits are still on the horizon, it seems the industry is still identifying which industries can be best served with 5G,” said Sigal Biran-Nagar, Senior Director for Corporate Marketing at ECI. “It’s likely that confidence in the technology, and the willingness for consumers to pay for it, will only grow after its reliability can be assured, and it’s been implemented for a long time, which would also give critical industries and others the confidence they need that it won’t fail.”

All of 5G’s promises are supported by key technology advancements. One of the most frequently discussed areas is virtualisation. The industry continues to show strong belief in virtualisation, with close to 80% of the respondents recognising the significance of NFV for the success of their business. But it does not mean it would be an easy ride for the enthusiasts.

“We are seeing NFV gathering momentum to ‘cross the chasm’. Most respondents think that NFV is important or critical, and their spending in 2019 will be maintained or will increase.” said F5 Networks. “But challenges clearly remain. Only 8% of respondents think NFV is easy to implement. And two thirds thought that the process could be simplified and that automated systems for purchasing could help.”

All the new technologies that make 5G possible also pose new demands for the capability of testing, measuring, and monitoring. More than ever they should already be extensively implemented at the pre-commercial stage due to the new lead use cases, the complexity of its air interface, as well as the central roles played by software and virtualisation.

“5G is on the horizon bringing new opportunities for business growth. CSPs need to tightly control their ecosystem and ensure 5G is done right to deliver on promises for a whole range of new smart applications,” commented EXFO. “Partnering closely with 95%+ of the top CSPs worldwide, EXFO provides next generation test, monitoring and analytics solutions to support operators end-to-end, from lab to live and from the subscriber to the core. EXFO solutions feature real-time network, service and customer insights, process automation, NFV service assurance, prescriptive analytics as well as troubleshooting embedding machine learning and AI.”

Meanwhile, the industry also recognises that 5G is much more than a technology. For the CSPs, it is a significant step on the journey towards digital transformation. Many operators are seeing 5G as a watershed moment to seriously expand beyond the connectivity utility. One third of respondents believe 50% of revenues could be generated by new digital products and services in four years’ time. Opportunities abound.

“The survey provided an industry viewpoint on how much revenue operators will generate from services enabled by digital transformation. This is the foundation for why transformation is needed in the first place,” said Martin Morgan, VP Marketing, Openet. “The survey also provided a health check on how far the industry is advanced in its digital transformation journey and how far it needs to progress to be able to meet their digital services revenue goals. What this means for vendors is that they can set out realistic transformation roadmaps with their customers using the survey results as an industry benchmark.”

One of these growth areas is IoT. 56% of respondents saw IoT as an important driver to expand their service portfolio, while 46% saw it as significant channel to deliver new revenues. Both the short-range IoT, the largest part of the total number of connections, and wide-range including cellular-based IoT, are expected to grow very fast in the coming years, with the latter registering a much faster pace of growth.

“Never before has the digital world impacted the physical world as it does today. IoT drives autonomously driven cars, turns on lights, controls the quality of water, and lets you know who is standing at your front door,” said Ronen Priel, VP Product and Strategy at Allot. “This requires ubiquitous connectivity and security. With 5G mobility, wireless technology, and Fiber to the X (FTTx), connectivity is sorted. But, security is lagging far behind.”

Security is indeed one of the biggest threats to the industry, and that goes beyond IoT. 74% of companies responding to the survey have seen an increase in cyberattacks to their customers over the past year. Businesses are busy shoring up their defence, but they need to recognise that as attacking techniques constantly evolve, so should the defending technologies and business processes.

“We are privileged to contribute to the Telecoms.com 2018 survey report. The survey revealed that end-users and network operators still rely on legacy technology: 63% of network operators use DNS blacklisting for end-user protection. Also, 45% operators are not confident that they are ready to manage IoT security requirements for their customers. It’s crucial to use next-gen technology and start protecting users proactively,” explained Einaras von Gravrock, CEO of CUJO AI.

Now that this report is in front us to provide a panoramic view of the industry today and tomorrow, it will be fascinating to observe how our fellow professionals are turning those promises into reality. You can download your copy of it here. Happy 2019, everyone!

The biggest stories of 2018 all in one place

2018 has been an incredibly business year for all of us, and it might be easy to forget a couple of the shifts, curves, U-turns and dead-ends.

From crossing the 5G finish line, finger pointing from the intelligence community, the biggest data privacy scandal to date and a former giant finally turning its business around, we’ve summarised some of the biggest stories of 2018.

If you feel we’ve missed anything out, let us know in the comments section below.

Sanction, condemnation and extinction (almost)

ZTE. Three letters which rocked the world. A government-owned Chinese telecommunications vendor which can’t help but antagonise the US government.

It might seem like decades ago now but cast your mind back to April. A single signature from the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) almost sent ZTE, a company of 75,000 employees and revenues of $17 billion, to keep the dodo company.

This might have been another move in the prolonged technology trade war between the US and China, but ZTE was not innocent. The firm was caught red-handed trading with Iran, a country which sits very prominently on the US trade sanction list. Trading with Iran is not necessarily the issue, it’s the incorporation of US components and IP in the goods which were sent to the country. ZTE’s business essentially meant the US was indirectly helping a country which was attempting to punish.

The result was a ban, no US components or IP to feature in any ZTE products. A couple of weeks later manufacturing facilities lay motionless and the company faced the prospect of permanent closure, such was its reliance on the US. With a single move, the US brought one of China’s most prominent businesses to its knees.

Although this episode has been smoothed over, and ZTE is of course back in action, the US demonstrated what its economic dirty bombs were capable of. This was just a single chapter in the wider story; the US/China trade war is in full flow.

Tinker, tailor, Dim-sum, Spy

This conflict has been bubbling away for years, but the last few months is where the argument erupted.

Back in 2012, a report was tabled by Congressman Mike Rogers which initially investigated the threat posed by Chinese technology firms in general, and Huawei specifically. The report did not produce any concrete evidence, though it suggested what many people were thinking; China is a threat to Western governments and its government is using internationally successful companies to extend the eyes of its intelligence community.

This report has been used several times over the last 12 months to justify increasingly aggressive moves against China and its technology vendors. During the same period, President Trump also blocked Broadcom’s attempts to acquire Qualcomm on the grounds of national security, tariffs were imposed, ZTE was banned from using US technologies in its supply chain and Huawei’s CFO was arrested in Canada on the grounds of fraud. With each passing month of 2018, the trade war was being cranked up to a new level.

Part of the strategy now seems to be undermining China’s credibility around the world, promoting a campaign of suggestion. There is yet to be any evidence produced confirming the Chinese espionage accusations but that hasn’t stopped several nations snubbing Chinese vendors. The US was of course the first to block Huawei and ZTE from the 5G bonanza, but Australia and Japan followed. New Zealand seems to be heading the same way, while South Korean telcos decided against including the Chinese vendors on preferred supplier lists.

The bigger picture is the US’ efforts to hold onto its dominance in the technology arena. This has proved to be incredibly fruitful for the US economy, though China is threatening the vice-like grip Silicon Valley has on the world. The US has been trying to convince the world not to use Chinese vendors on the grounds of national security, but don’t be fooled by this rhetoric; this is just one component of a greater battle against China.

Breakaway pack cross the 5G finish line

We made it!

Aside from 5G, we’ve been talking about very little over the last few years. There might have been a few side conversations which dominate the headlines for a couple of weeks, but we’ve never been far away from another 5G ‘breakthrough’ or ‘first’. And the last few weeks of 2018 saw a few of the leading telcos cross the 5G finish line.

Verizon was first with a fixed wireless access proposition, AT&T soon followed in the US with a portable 5G hotspot. Telia has been making some promising moves in both Sweden and Estonia, with limited launches aiming to create innovation and research labs, while San Marino was the first state to have complete coverage, albeit San Marino is a very small nation.

These are of course very minor launches, with geographical coverage incredibly limited, but that should not take the shine off the achievement. This is a moment the telco and technology industry has been building towards for years, and it has now been achieved.

Now we can move onto the why. Everyone knows 5G will be incredibly important for relieving the pressure on the telco pipes and the creation of new services, but no-one knows what these new services will be. We can all make educated guesses, but the innovators and blue-sky thinkers will come up with some new ideas which will revolutionise society and the economy.

Only a few people could have conceived Uber as an idea before the 4G economy was in full flow, and we can’t wait to see what smarter-than-us people come up with once they have the right tools and environment.

Zuckerberg proves he’s not a good friend after all

This is the news story which rocked the world. Data privacy violations, international actors influencing US elections, cover ups, fines, special committees, empty chairs, silly questions, knowledge of wrong-doing and this is only what we know so far… the scandal probably goes deeper.

It all started with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and a Russian American researcher called Aleksandr Kogan from the University of Cambridge. Kogan created a quiz on the Facebook platform which exposed a loop-hole in the platform’s policies allowing Kogan to scrape data not only from those who took the quiz, but also connections of that user. The result was a database containing information on 87 million people. This data was used by political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica during elections around the world, creating hyper-targeted adverts.

What followed was a circus. Facebook executives were hauled in-front of political special committees to answer questions. As weeks turned into months, more suspect practices emerged as politicians, journalists and busy-bodies probed deeper into the Facebook business model. Memos and internal emails have emerged suggesting executives knew they were potentially acting irresponsibly and unethically, but it didn’t seem to matter.

As it stands, Facebook is looking like a company which violated the trust of the consumer, has a much wider reaching influence than it would like to admit, and this is only the beginning. The only people who genuinely understand the expanding reach of Facebook are those who work for the company, but the curtain is slowly being pulled back on the data machine. And it is scaring people.

Big Blue back in the black

This might not have been a massive story for everyone in the industry, but with the severe fall from grace and rise back into the realms of relevance, we feel IBM deserves a mention.

Those who feature in the older generations will remember the dominance of IBM. It might seem unusual to say nowadays, but Big Blue was as dominant in the 70s as Microsoft was in the 90s and Google is today. This was a company which led the technology revolution and defined innovation. But it was not to be forever.

IBM missed a trick; personal computing. The idea that every home would have a PC was inconceivable to IBM, who had carved its dominant position through enterprise IT, but it made a bad choice. This tidal wave of cash which democratised computing for the masses went elsewhere, and IBM was left with its legacy business unit.

This was not a bad thing for years, as the cash cow continued to grow, but a lack of ambition in seeking new revenues soon took its toll. Eight years ago, IBM posted a decline in quarterly revenues and the trend continued for 23 consecutive periods. During this period cash was directed into a new division, the ‘strategic imperatives’ unit, which was intended to capitalise on a newly founded segment; intelligent computing.

In January this year, IBM proudly posted its first quarterly growth figures for seven years. Big Blue might not be the towering force it was decades ago, but it is heading in the right direction, with cloud computing and artificial intelligence as the key cogs.

Convergence, convergence, convergence

Convergence is one of those buzzwords which has been on the lips of every telco for a long time, but few have been able to realise the benefits.

There are a few glimmers of promise, Vodafone seem to be making promising moves in the UK broadband market, while Now TV offers an excellent converged proposition. On the other side of the Atlantic, AT&T efforts to move into the content world with the Time Warner acquisition is a puzzling one, while Verizon’s purchase of Yahoo’s content assets have proved to be nothing but a disaster.

Orange is a company which is taking convergence to the next level. We’re not just talking about connectivity either, how about IOT, cyber-security, banking or energy services. This is a company which is living the convergence dream. Tie as many services into the same organisation, making the bill payer so dependent on one company it becomes a nightmare to leave.

It’s the convergence dream as a reality.

Europe’s Great Tax Raid

This is one of the more recent events on the list, and while it might not be massive news now, we feel it justifies inclusion. This developing conversation could prove to be one of the biggest stories of 2019 not only because governments are tackling the nefarious accounting activities of Silicon Valley, but there could also be political consequences if the White House feels it is being victimised.

Tax havens are nothing new, but the extent which Silicon Valley is making use of them is unprecedented. Europe has had enough of the internet giants making a mockery of the bloc, not paying its fair share back to the state, and moves are being made by the individual states to make sure these monstrously profitable companies are held accountable.

The initial idea was a European-wide tax agenda which would be led by the European Commission. It would impose a sales tax on all revenues realised in the individual states. As ideas go, this is a good one. The internet giants will find it much more difficult to hide user’s IP addresses than shifting profits around. Unfortunately, the power of the European Union is also its downfall; for any meaningful changes to be implemented all 28 (soon to be 27) states would have to agree. And they don’t.

Certain states, Ireland, Sweden and Luxembourg, have a lot more to lose than other nations have to gain. These are economies which are built on the idea of buddying up to the internet economy. They might not pay much tax in these countries, but the presence of massive offices ensure society benefits through other means. Taxing Silicon Valley puts these beneficial relationships with the internet players in jeopardy.

But that isn’t good enough for the likes of the UK and France. In the absence of any pan-European regulations, these states are planning to move ahead with their own national tax regimes; France’s 3% sales tax on any revenues achieved in the country will kick into action on January 1, with the UK not far behind.

What makes this story much more interesting will be the influence of the White House. The US government might feel this is an attack on the prosperous US economy. There might be counter measures taken against the European Union. And when we say might, we suspect this is almost a certainty, such is the ego of President Donald Trump.

This is a story which will only grow over the next couple of months, and it could certainly cause friction on both sides of the Atlantic.

Que the moans… GDPR

GDPR. The General Data Protection Regulation. It was a pain for almost everyone involved and simply has to be discussed because of this distress.

Introduced in May, it seemingly came as a surprise. This is of course after companies were given 18 months to prepare for its implementation, but few seemed to appreciate the complexity of becoming, and remaining compliant. As a piece of regulation, it was much needed for the digital era. It heightened protections for the consumer and ensured companies operating in the digital economy acted more responsibly.

Perhaps one of the most important components of the regulation was the stick handed to regulators. With technology companies growing so rapidly over the last couple of years, the fines being handed out by watchdogs were no longer suitable. Instead of defining specific amounts, the new rules allow punishments to be dished out as a percentage of revenues. This allows regulators to hold the internet giants accountable, hitting them with a suitably large stick.

Change is always difficult, but it is necessary to ensure regulations are built for the era. Evolving the current rulebook simply wouldn’t work, such is the staggering advancement of technology in recent years. Despite the headaches which were experienced throughout the process, it was necessary, and we’ll be better off in the long-run.

Next on the regulatory agenda, the ePrivacy Regulation.

Jio piles the misery on competitors

Jio is not a new business anymore, neither did it really come to being in 2018, but this was the period where the telco really justified the hype and competitors felt the pinch.

After hitting the market properly in early 2016, the firm made an impression. But like every challenger brand, the wins were small in context. Collecting 100,000s of customers every month is very impressive, but don’t forget India has a population of 1.3 billion and some very firmly position incumbents.

2017 was another year where the firm rose to prominence, forcing several other telcos out of the market and two of the largest players into a merger to combat the threat. Jio changed the market in 2017; it democratised connectivity in a country which had promised a lot but delivered little.

This year was the sweeping dominance however. It might not be the number one telco in the market share rankings, but it will be before too long. Looking at the most recent subscription figures released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Jio grew its subscription base by 13.02 million, but more importantly, it was the only telco which was in the positive. This has started to make an impact on the financial reports across the industry, Bharti Airtel is particularly under threat, and there might be worse to come.

For a long-time Jio has been hinting it wants to tackle the under-performing fixed broadband market. There have been a couple of acquisitions in recent months, Den Networks and Hathway Cable, which give it an entry point, and numerous other digital services initiatives to diversify the revenue streams.

The new business units are not making much money at the moment, though Jio is in the strongest position to test out the convergence waters in India. Offering a single revenue stream will ensure the financials hit a glass ceiling in the near future, but new products and aggressive infrastructure investment plans promise much more here.

We’re not too sure whether the Indian market is ready for mass market fixed broadband penetration, there are numerous other market factors involved, but many said the initial Jio battle plan would fail as well.

Convergent business models are certainly an interesting trend in the industry, and Jio is looking like it could force the Indian market into line.

Redundancies, redundancies, redundancies

Redundancy is a difficult topic to address, but it is one we cannot ignore. Despite what everyone promises, there will be more redundancies.

Looking at the typical telco business model, this is the were the majority have been seen and will continue to be seen. To survive in the digitally orientated world, telcos need to adapt. Sometimes this means re-training staff to capitalise on the new bounties, but unfortunately this doesn’t always work. Some can’t be retrained, some won’t want to; the only result here will be redundancies.

BT has been cutting jobs, including a 13,000-strong cull announced earlier this year, Deutsche Telekom is trimming its IT services business by 25%, the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint will certainly create overlaps and resulting redundancies, while Optus has been blaming automation for its own cuts.

Alongside the evolving landscape, automation is another area which will result in a headcount reduction. The telcos will tell you AI is only there to supplement human capabilities and allow staff to focus on higher value tasks, but don’t be fooled. There will be value-add gains, but there will also be accountants looking to save money on the spreadsheets. If you can buy software to do a simple job, why would you hire a couple of people to do it? We are the most expensive output for any business.

Unfortunately, we have to be honest with ourselves. For the telco to compete in the digital era, new skills and new business models are needed. This means new people, new approaches to software and new internal processes. Adaptation and evolution is never easy and often cruel to those who are not qualified. This trend has been witnessed in previous industrial revolutions, but the pace of change today means it will be felt more acutely.

Redundancy is not a nice topic, but it is not always avoidable.

A bunch of telecoms predictions for 2019

It’s that time of year again and before we set about the food, booze and pressies with shameless abandon we decided to collate some predictions from the cognoscenti of our industry.

2019 will be the year of rhetoric – William Webb, Telecoms Consultant

A lot of talking, not much doing. Everyone will be talking about their 5G deployments but many will be trials, not many handsets will be available, and there will be many teething problems with initial deployments. With 5G taking up so much attention, the industry will not be looking at alternative business models, hetnet concepts, or pushing for mergers. Current trends will continue – more fibre will be laid, more wifi connectivity provided, data requirements will continue to grow. Oh, and academics will start to talk up 6G….

Fixed Wireless Access put the revenue back in 5GBengt Nordstrom, CEO of Northstream

Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) has evolved into a separate 5G use case, especially by Verizon in the US. Of all the suggested 5G use cases – including eMBB and mIoT – it is FWA that provides the most tangible revenue growth opportunity over the next five years, for both the US and in specific markets in Europe. Furthermore, operators can use their existing physical network assets and competencies for FWA. In 2019, FWA will emerge as a mainstream 5G revenue opportunity beyond the US, and particularly in Europe.

The 5G hype bubble will inevitably burst, revealing its true value – Jennifer Kyriakakis, VP of Marketing at Matrixx Software

As operators battle each other to out-hype their consumer 5G offerings, the breathless mania will surely run into the hard reality of the consumer marketplace. The roll-out of next-generation capabilities will be lengthier than consumers expected, device manufacturers will be slow to adopt the standards, and a whole host of other challenges to 5G enthusiasm will surely arise. While initially painful, this bursting of the hype bubble will provide the impetus necessary for operators to pivot away from today’s heavy focus on speed, coverage and price, and refocus their businesses on monetization opportunities for new and emerging technologies. By embracing innovation as a way to help pay for their substantial network investments in the near term, it will afford Telcos breathing room for the consumer ecosystem to catch-up and fully leverage the new capabilities that 5G will offer in the long run.

Smartphone market to revive in 2nd half with 5G volume – Wei Shi, Telecoms.com Intelligence Manager

The smartphone market has registered the first 4-quarter recession by the end of Q3 this year, and is likely to continue into the first half of the next. The market needs a stimulus for revival, and that should come from 5G. With the first commercial 5G chipset launch by Qualcomm, the enthusiastic smartphone makers, led by Samsung and the Chinese OEMs and, will ride on the wave of excitement to bring a strong line-up of 5G enabled products to the market in the second half of the year. This will provide another impetus for replacement in addition to the normal Galaxy-iPhone driven cycle. However most users who buy 5G phones will not be able to use 5G services overnight.

Telcos scale back efforts in content and media – Paolo Pescatore, Tech, Media and Telecoms Analyst

Cost of premium content rights continues to escalate. In part driven by new bidders such as the online giants. This will force telcos to rethink their current strategies towards investing in content. Some telcos like AT&T and Telefonica will continue to invest heavily. While others like BT will scale back their own ambitions and take a different approach in this landscape such as partnering more closely with providers like Amazon and Apple.

Amazon will acquire DAZN to create a global sports TV challenger – Ed Barton, Analyst at Ovum

Sport is the missing piece of the content puzzle for the tech giants – but not for much longer if Amazon continues to bid for distributors with existing rights deals, such as Fox’s regional sports networks in the US. By acquiring DAZN, Amazon would gain strong sports rights in key global markets including Germany and Japan. DAZN is committed to the sports market but might find the support and growth acceleration offered by Amazon – and its huge existing subscriber base – too alluring to resist.

We will finally get the message on RCS – Mary Clark, CMO of Synchronoss

2019 is actually going to be the year of carrier sponsored RCS – some 12 years or more since the technology was introduced. Between the launch of the operator led solution in Japan and the many other operators we are talking to about this around the world, I think by the end of 2019 we will see multiple launches of interoperable RCS messaging within countries and across countries, allowing for an improved customer experience as well as commerce.

Bringing people and things closer together with applications – Patrick Joggerst, CMO and EVP of Business Development for Ribbon Communications

2019 will be the breakout year for applications that combine people and things, communicating with each other, whether through voice activated commands (“Alexa, call Mum”), or messaging alerts (“A stranger is on your doorstep.”) The lines will blur and tremendous value will be created when companies design applications, connected on secure networks, that make it as easy to develop a relationship with your smart car, smart home, or smart campus as it is to develop a relationship with human beings. The impact will be substantial and meaningful, with applications that leverage sensors to help us age at home more safely, to get to and from work more conveniently, and to generally reduce the “friction” in life that can lead to exhaustion and despair. Look for major changes to the contact center industry, as virtual and human assistants help millions of people navigate this brave, new hyperconnected world, and look for value creation in securing communications throughout.

Rise of SIM-only contracts could be bad news for operators – Kevin Gillan, Europe MD at SquareTrade

Expect to see the slump in smartphone sales continue, and subscribers increasingly turn to SIM-only contracts in 2019. Operators will need to think carefully about alternative revenue sources to combat the unavoidable slump in contract sales. Additional services such as music, TV or device insurance that will retain customers and improve subscriber engagement, while driving new revenue, will be critical.

Operators fully embrace eSIM for devices and the IoT- Bengt Nordstrom, CEO of Northstream

After years of concern about the impact on their businesses, operators are coming to realise the considerable benefits of eSIM technology. These include simpler provisioning, reduced logistic costs and lower barriers for new use cases. Thanks to the rising number of eSIM use cases plus the launch of major handsets equipped with GSMA-based eSIMs, 2019 will be the year that operators in Europe and North America properly embrace eSIM for both handsets and IoT use cases.

The first sixth/seventh play bundle – Paolo Pescatore, Tech, Media and Telecoms Analyst

Most converged telcos already offer a portfolio of multiplay services including fixed line broadband and pay TV. These telcos include the likes of Deutsche Telekom, Comcast, Orange, and Telefonica. Expect these providers to launch the first sixth/seventh play bundle. This will consist of but not limited to other services such as banking, financial services, utility services and other connected services. Orange is likely to lead the race with its march into financial services.

Microsoft is to finish 2019 as the world’s most valuable company – Wei Shi, Telecoms.com Intelligence Manager

Microsoft has been delivering stellar performances in recent quarters, and has weathered the market gloom better than its main competitors. The strategy shift to becoming a platform and to focusing on cloud and gaming will continue to power its resurgence. Meanwhile, its main competitors on the top of the world’s most valuable company table are seeing their share prices being depressed for different reasons. Apple’s overreliance on iPhone makes it vulnerable when the market sniffs weakness in the shipment of its latest products; Amazon’s AWS is growing slower than Microsoft’s Azure; Alphabet is still a one-trick pony: advertising through Google, which continues to throw the company into troubles. As a matter of fact, Microsoft did briefly become the most valuable company in late November. Next time this crossover happens it may last longer.

Now that they’ve got to actually do it everyone gets bored of 5G and starts banging on about 6G – Scott Bicheno, Telecoms.com Editor

So 5G just ended up being about capacity, efficiency and industrial applications. How boring is that? Once the first couple of 5G conversational gambits at MWC fall flat, people will soon realise it’s much more fun to focus on more distant technology, about which they can make all sorts of utopian predictions without fear of being called out. There will be talk of a wireless neural network connecting everyone and everything to a hive mind overseen by benign artificial super intelligence. What they won’t say is that the ultimate aim of 6G will be to erase all traces of individuality in order to create a global AR/VR Borg that will combine Chinese social credit, American cultural puritanism and European imperiousness to free us all from the burdens of disappointment, inconvenience and choice. Happy New Year!

Google has apparently pulled the plug on its censored search engine for China

Google bowed to pressure by terminating its data analysis system that is vital to its planned re-entry into China with a censored search engine.

Dragonfly, the Google project to develop a search engine that would satisfy China’s censorship requirements relies on pre-empting the appearance of search results that the Chinese authorities may find offensive. To do so, Google has used 265.com, a Chinese internet portal based in Beijing it purchased in 2008, two years before it pulled out of China, to gather user behaviour data, mainly search habits. The Google team then compare what the users would see if the same search terms were used on the uncensored Google and eliminate those sites that are blocked by China’s Great Firewall. The data is then fed into the prototype Dragonfly search engine to produce results that would be acceptable to the Chinese censorship system.

According to a new report from the website The Intercept, Google has decided to shut down this data analysis system it has established with Baidu, which the search on 265.com is directed to, to harvest data. Instead the engineering team is using search queries by Chinese speaking users in other markets like the US or south-eastern Asian countries, which would be very different from what the users behind the Great Firewall would be generating and therefore defeating the very purpose of a censored search engine. Though this decision may not have explicitly spelt the death penalty for Dragonfly, it is a very close one.

A couple of factors must have played important parts in the decision-making process. Employee revolt is the first one. When Dragonfly was first exposed, an increasing number of employees have signed an internal petition to stop the project, reminiscing the company’s “Don’t Be Evil” manifesto. The very idea that Google would ponder creating a censored version for China may be a shock to most employees, but not unimaginable considering the different leaderships. Sergey Brin, who was at the helm of Google when the company shut down its China operation in 2010 as a protest, spent his childhood in the former Soviet Union, therefore had first-hand understanding of what censorship is about. Sundar Pichai, on the other hand, lacks similar sense and sensibility, having grown up in India, the largest democracy in the world.

Another source of internal pressure has come from the Privacy and Security teams. It has been reported by different media outlets that Scott Beaumont, Google’s head of China operation and the main architect behind Dragonfly, has deliberately kept the privacy and security teams in the dark as long as possible. For a company of Google’s nature, which lives on users’ trust in its willingness and capabilities to guard the security of their data, protests from these internal teams must have had the management ears. On the other hand, the fact that executives like Beaumont could carry on his secret project as long as it has must be a surprise to outside observers.

The strongest external pressure has come from the Congress. Pichai was grilled by the American law-makers last week when he was challenged by the Congressman David Cicilline (D-R.I). “It’s hard to imagine you could operate in the Chinese market under the current government framework and maintain a commitment to universal values, such as freedom of expression and personal privacy.” Pichai conceded that there was “no plans to launch a search service in China,” though he had declined to provide a positive confirmation to the Congress’ demand that Google should not launch “a tool for surveillance and censorship in China”.

With the latest decision to terminate data harvesting from 265.com, it seems Dragonfly or similar projects are put into a long hibernation.

Europe is losing in the race to secure digital riches – DT CEO

Despite politicians around the world declaring the importance of technology and insisting their nation is one of the world leaders in digital, Deutsche Telekom CEO Tim Hottges does not believe Europe is competing with the US and Asia.

This might seem like somewhat of a bold statement, but it is entirely true. The US, led by the internet players of Silicon Valley, have dominated the consumer technology world, while the China and Japan’s heavyweight industries have conquered the industrialised segments. Europe might have a few shining lights but is largely left to collect the scraps when the bigger boys are done feasting on the bonanza.

“Europe lost the first half of the digitalisation battle,” said Hottges, speaking at Orange’s Show Hello. “The second half of the battle is about data, the cloud and the AI-based services.”

In all fairness to the continent, there has been the odd glimmer of hope. Spotify emerged from Sweden, Google’s Deepmind was spun-out of Oxford University, while Nokia and Ericsson are reconfirming their place in the world. There is occasionally the odd suggestion Europe has the potential to offer something to the global technology conversation.

What has been achieved so far cannot be undone. The US and Asia are dominant in the technology world and Europe will have to accept its place in the pecking order. That said, lessons must be learnt to ensure the next wave of opportunity does not pass the continent by. A new world order is being written as we speak, and it is being written in binary.

If Europe is to generate momentum through the AI-orientated economy, it will have to bolster the workforce, create the right regulatory landscape (a common moan from the DT boss), but also make sure the raw materials are available. If data is cash, Europeans are paupers.

As it stands, less than 4% of the world’s data is stored in the European market, according to Hottges. This is the raw material required to create and train complex, AI-driven algorithms and business models. If European data is constantly being exported to other continents, other companies and economies will feel the benefits. More of an effort needs to be made to ensure the right conditions are in place to succeed.

Conveniently, the data collected through Orange’s and DT’s new smart speaker ecosystem will be retained within the borders of the European Union. There need to be more examples like this, forcing partners to comply with data residency requirements, as opposed to taking the easy route and whisking information off to far away corners of the world.

Another interesting statistic to consider is the number of qualified developers in Europe. Recent research from Atomico claims there are currently 5.7 million developers across the continent, up 200,000 over the last 12 months, compared to 4.4 million in the US. Everyone talks about the skills gap, though it seems Europe is in a better position than the US if you look at the number of professional developers alone.

Europe has lost the first skirmishes of the digital economy, and to be fair, the fight wasn’t even close. However, the cloud-oriented, intelligent world of tomorrow offers plenty more opportunities.

Going under the hood of Qualcomm Snapdragon 855: plenty to like

More details of Qualcomm’s first 5G chipset have been released, bringing all-round improvements, and a 5G chipset for PCs was also announced.

On the first day of its annual Snapdragon Technology Summit, Qualcomm announced its 5G chipset for mobile devices, the Snapdragon 855, but released limited specs. On the following two days more details were disclosed. An SoC for 5G-connected PCs, the Snapdragon 8cx was also unveiled.

In addition to the X50 modem for 5G connectivity (on both mmWave and sub-6GHz frequencies) and X24 modem (to provide LTE connectivity), at the centre of the Snapdragon 855 is ARM’s new flagship Cortex A76 CPU, marketed by Qualcomm as Kryo 485. It contains 8 cores with the single core top performance at 2.84 GHz. Qualcomm claims the 855 is 45% faster than its predecessor 845, though it did not specify what exactly this refers to. More importantly for Qualcomm, the top speed is 9% faster than the Kirin 980 from HiSilicon (a Huawei subsidiary), another 7-nanometre implementation of the ARM Cortex A76.

Also included in the 855 is the new Adreno 640 GPU rendering graphics. Qualcomm has focused 855’s marketing messages on gaming performance, and the GPU is at the core to deliver it. Qualcomm claims the new GPU will enable true HDR gaming, as well as support the HDR10+ and Dolby Vision formats. Together with the display IP, the Adreno 640 GPU will support 120fps gaming as well as smooth 8K 360-degree video playback. Another feature highlighted is the support for Physically Based Rendering in graphics, which will help improve VR and AR experience, including more accurate lighting physics and material interactions, for example more life-like surface texture, or material-on-material audio interaction.

The key new feature on Snapdragon’s Hexagon 690 DSP is that it now includes a dedicated Machine Learning (ML) inferencing engine in the new “tensor accelerator”. The Hexagon 690 also doubles the number of HVX vector pipelines over its predecessors the Hexagon 680 and 685, to include four 1024b vector pipelines. The doubled computing power and the dedicated ML engine combined are expected to improve the Snapdragon 855’s AI capability by a big margin.

The integrated new Spectra 380 image signalling processor (ISP) will both improve the Snapdragon’s capability to deepen acceleration and to save power consumption when processing images. Qualcomm believes the new ISP will only consume a quarter of the power as its predecessor for image object classification, object segmentation, depth sensing (at 60 FPS), augmented reality body tracking, and image stabilisation.

On the OEM collaboration side, in addition to Samsung, on day 2 of the event we also saw Pete Lau, the CEO of Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus come to the stage to endorse the new 5G chipset and vow to be the “first to feature” the Snapdragon 855. Separately, the British mobile operator EE announced that it will range a OnePlus 5G smartphone in the first half of 2019.

On the same day, thousands of miles away, more Chinese smartphone OEMs including Xiaomi, OPPO, Vivo, and ZTE (in addition to OnePlus) also embraced the new Snapdragon chipset at the China Mobile Global Partner Conference in Guangzhou, southern China. China Mobile will also launch a customer premise equipment (CPE), likely a fixed wireless access modem, using the same platform.

Back in Hawaii, on day 3 of the Snapdragon Tech Summit, Qualcomm launched a new chipset for PC: the Snapdragon 8cx (“c” for computer, “x” for eXtreme). This is Qualcomm’s third iteration of chipset for PC, built on ARM v8.1 (a variant of Cortex A76). Similar to the Snapdragon 855, the 8cx also has the X24 integrated cellular modem with for LTE connectivity, and the X50 modem with 5G connectivity can be paired with it. The CPU also has eight cores, with a top speed of 2.75 GHz. The new Adreno 680 GPU is said to process graphics twice as fast as the GPU in the previous generation ARM for Windows chipset (Snapdragon 850) but 60% more efficient in power consumption.

Perhaps the most meaningful change is its memory architecture. The Snapdragon 8cx will have a 128-bit wide interface, enabling it to provide native support for much more software and applications, including Windows 10 Enterprise and Office 365, which clearly is a sales pitch to the corporate IT departments.

Unlike the OEM support garnered by Snapdragon 855, there was no public endorsement by PC makers yet. Lenovo did come to the stage but was only talking about its Yoga 2-in-1 notebooks that have used earlier generations of Snapdragon chipsets for Windows on ARM. On the other hand, Qualcomm does not position Snapdragon 8cx as a replacement for the 850 but rather as a higher end contemporary, with 850 mainly targeted at a niche consumer market.

In general, this year’s Snapdragon Tech Summit has delivered more step change with the new product launches. More concrete industry support was also on show, indicating that, depending on how fast and extensive 5G is to be rolled out, we may start seeing true 5G smartphones in the first half of next year. We may need to wait a bit longer before a reasonable line-up of always-on 5G connected PCs can hit the market.

Telcos are missing the AI trick

We’ve spoken about this before, but our bugbear has been renewed at The Great Telco Debate; telcos have too narrow a view on artificial intelligence (AI).

AI is the buzzword of 2018, and perhaps this is one which is justified. In years gone we’ve seen the likes of digital transformation and virtualization become so over used they becomes tedious to discuss, but the scale, breadth and depth of AI mean each time it is mentioned it is almost an entirely new conversation.

That is, until you talk to a telco about it.

For many telcos, AI seems to directly translate into another phrase; network optimisation. Now there is nothing wrong with trying to create a lean, mean, analytical machine, all the best companies do it, but with such a narrow focus on a single area of the AI bonanza, you have to question what the long-term consequence will be.

A couple of weeks back we had the chance to attend the Telco Data Analytics and AI conference in London where Tractia Research Director Aditya Kaul suggested roughly 60% of all AI R&D investments at the telcos was heading towards network optimisation. This is a significant proportion, and you have to wonder whether tricks are being missed.

That is certainly the case for Google’s Mike Blanche. Network optimisation is clearly an obvious contender for AI research funds, as the network swallows up such a considerable amount of CAPEX and OPEX, but there is low hanging fruit which can have a more immediate (and positive) impact on the business. Skipping over this fruit will necessarily not have a detrimental impact on the business, but why miss out on easy wins which can add value?

Charlie Muirhead of CognitionX also echoed this point, stating there is so much more to AI than just network optimization, while Marisa Viveros of IBM reeled off the work which her team is engaged in. The point is, there is more to AI than network optimisation, but not much if you generally speak to telcos.

Going back to the Telco Data Analytics and AI conference, at the time we asked BT’s Pratik Bose, who was appearing on a panel session, whether he thought the intensive focus on network optimisation is a dangerous game to play. His response was simple; sort out the network and that leaves a lot of free time and cash to explore more interesting AI applications. This is a perfectly reasonable idea, but you have to wonder when that time comes will the telcos be playing catch-up to others who have been more adventurous with their AI research.

Chris Lewis of Lewis Insight made a couple of fair points at The Great Telco Debate. Firstly, concentrating all the AI efforts on one aspect of the value chain will mean new opportunities and applications will be missed. The telcos are searching for diversification and additional revenues streams, and considering the role connectivity is going to play in every aspect of our lives from here forward, the telcos could be a useful partner to various members of the ecosystem. But not if research is being laser focused on a single segment.

But why is this? Telcos are of course less adventurous than the webscale players, though this is partly due to the business model and pressure from investors who have bought into a certain type of business model, but another point (made again by Lewis) is from a leadership perspective. A lot of the CEOs throughout the telco world are business managers. Compare this to the Silicon Valley fliers who have technologists in-charge, and you start to see why AI is playing the role it currently is. If you have an accountant in charge of the business, that person is naturally going to be more risk adverse, leaning towards technologies which create operational efficiencies.

Bouke Hoving, EVP of Networks & IT at KPN, pointed towards the digital transformation journey his business went through recently, and part of the reason it was such a success is the digital-first, engaging and adventurous mission was led by the CEO. The culture of a business is led from the boardroom, and the strategy reflects the nature of its CEO. Perhaps this is why BT went down the audaciously flashy and risky route of sport content and Kevin Bacon (Gavin Patterson was a marketer), and why T-Mobile US has such a colourful approach to telecommunications (John Legere is John Legere).

Of course, it is worth restating there is nothing wrong with making a business more efficient. However, in this case it is a dangerous road to take. Such initiatives will only make a business more profitable, improving what is already there. This should be an objective for the telcos, though a bigger concern should be securing new revenues. The telco industry is massive, but it is not growing. For all the money which is being spent on improving and enhancing connectivity, others in the ecosystem are claiming the vast majority of the newly created value. This is not something which the telcos can allow to continue.

Qualcomm pumps $100mn into AI start-up fund

US mobile chip giant Qualcomm has created a $100 million investment fund to support artificial intelligence (AI) startups in an effort to put mass-market devices, rather than the cloud, at the heart of AI activity.

The Qualcomm Ventures AI Fund will “focus on startups that share the vision of on-device AI becoming more powerful and widespread, with an emphasis on those developing new technology for autonomous cars, robotics and machine learning platforms,” the company announced.

“As a pioneer of on-device AI, we strongly believe intelligence is moving from the cloud to the edge,” said Steve Mollenkopf, the CEO of Qualcomm, in a company statement about the new investment fund, which was unveiled at Qualcomm Ventures’ 5G & AI Summit in San Francisco. “Qualcomm’s AI strategy couples leading 5G connectivity with our R&D, fuelling AI to transform industries, business models and experiences.”

Qualcomm has already picked one lucky recipient of its largesse: Qualcomm Ventures has participated in a Series A funding round for AnyVision, a “face, body, and object recognition start-up”, though there are no details about how many greenbacks the chip giant deposited in AnyVision’s bank account. That $28 million funding round was announced in July this year: It was led by German multinational Bosch, but no other investors were named at the time.

Qualcomm, of course, isn’t the only industry giant backing the AI trend in the communications device world: Chinese behemoth Huawei Technologies has been banging the AI drum for quite some time.

For more on this story, check out the full details at our sister site, Light Reading.