AT&T gets Microsoft and IBM to help with its cloud homework

US telco AT&T has decided it’s time to raise its cloud game and so has entered into strategic partnerships with Microsoft and IBM.

The Microsoft deal focuses on non-network applications and enables AT&T’s broader strategy of migrating most non-network workloads to the public cloud by 2024. The rationale for this is fairly standard: by moving a bunch of stuff to the public cloud AT&T will be able to better focus on its core competences, but let’s see how that plays out.

IBM will be helping AT&T Business Solutions to better provide solutions to businesses. The consulting side will modernize its software and bring it into the IBM cloud, where they will use Red Hat’s platform to manage it all. In return IBM will make AT&T Business its main SDN partner and general networking best mate.

“AT&T and Microsoft are among the most committed companies to fostering technology that serves people,” said John Donovan, CEO of AT&T. “By working together on common efforts around 5G, the cloud, and AI, we will accelerate the speed of innovation and impact for our customers and our communities.”

“AT&T is at the forefront of defining how advances in technology, including 5G and edge computing, will transform every aspect of work and life,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. “The world’s leading companies run on our cloud, and we are delighted that AT&T chose Microsoft to accelerate its innovation. Together, we will apply the power of Azure and Microsoft 365 to transform the way AT&T’s workforce collaborates and to shape the future of media and communications for people everywhere.”

“In AT&T Business, we’re constantly evolving to better serve business customers around the globe by securely connecting them to the digital capabilities they need,” said Thaddeus Arroyo, CEO of AT&T Business. “This includes optimizing our core operations and modernizing our internal business applications to accelerate innovation. Through our collaboration with IBM, we’re adopting open, flexible, cloud technologies, that will ultimately help accelerate our business leadership.”

“Building on IBM’s 20-year relationship with AT&T, today’s agreement is another major step forward in delivering flexibility to AT&T Business so it can provide IBM and its customers with innovative services at a faster pace than ever before,” said Arvind Krishna, SVP, Cloud and Cognitive Software at IBM. “We are proud to collaborate with AT&T Business, provide the scale and performance of our global footprint of cloud data centers, and deliver a common environment on which they can build once and deploy in any one of the appropriate footprints to be faster and more agile.”

Talking of the US cloud scene, the Department of Defense is reportedly looking for someone to provide some kind of Skynet-style ‘war cloud’ in return for chucking them $10 billion of public cash. Formally known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (yes, JEDI), this is designed to secure military and classified information in the event of some kind of catastrophic attach, contribute to cyber warfare efforts and enable the dissemination of military intelligence to the field.

It looks like the gig will be awarded to just one provider, which had led to much jostling for position among the US cloud players. The latest word on the street is that either AWS or Microsoft will get the work, which has prompted considerable moaning from IBM and Oracle and reported concern from President Trump, prompted by politicians apparently repaying their lobbying cash. Here’s a good summary of all that from Subverse.

AT&T gets streaming with HBO Max

Gone are the days when the consumer could get all the content they wanted in one place as AT&T’s WarnerMedia joins the streaming landgrab.

With Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney, HBO and numerous other streaming services on the market before too long, the fragmentation of content is looking like it could be a serious problem for the consumer. Whether splitting the spoils has an overarching negative impact on the segments profits remains to be seen, but customers wallets can only be pushed so far; how many streaming services can each customer be expected to have?

That said, AT&T is in a strong position with this proposition. In HBO, it owns a lot of promising content already, playing into consumer nostalgia, and it does seem to be heading in the right direction in terms of original programming.

“HBO Max will bring together the diverse riches of WarnerMedia to create programming and user experiences not seen before in a streaming platform,” said Robert Greenblatt, Chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-To-Consumer.

“HBO’s world-class programming leads the way, the quality of which will be the guiding principle for our new array of Max Originals, our exciting acquisitions, and the very best of the Warner Bros. libraries, starting with the phenomenon that is ‘Friends’.”

With the service set to debut in Spring 2020, AT&T is promising 10,000 hours of programming from the outset. Full series of ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’, ‘Friends’ and ‘Pretty Little Liars’ will feature in the content library, as well as new dramas such as ‘Batwoman’ and ‘Katy Keene’.

Looking at future Max Original series, the list is quite extensive. ‘Dune: The Sisterhood’ is an adaptation of Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson’s book based in the world created by Frank Herbert’s book Dune. ‘Lovecraft Country’ is a horror series based on a novel by Matt Ruff. ‘The Plot Against America’ will be a reimagined history based on Phillip Roth’s novel.

The ingredients are all in place to ensure AT&T makes a sustained stab at cracking the streaming market which has been dominated by the OTTs to date. There are a couple of questions which remain however.

Firstly, pricing. Can executives price the service competitively while also sustaining investments in content? Secondly, experience. Will the platform meet the high-expectations set by consumers thanks to the high-bar set by Netflix? And finally, culture. Will AT&T allow WarnerMedia to operate as a media business or will it impose the traditional mentality of telcos onto the business?

AT&T has bet big on the content world and it can ill-afford to fluff its lines on its debut. Having signed an $85 billion deal to acquire Time Warner and spent what seems like decades battling various government departments to authorise the transaction, the telco will need to see some ROI sooner rather than later.

The question is whether the momentum in the streaming world can be sustained. Platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime were attractive in the early days because there was consolidation of content onto a single library. With more streaming services becoming available, the fragmentation of content might well become a problem before too long. Consumers will have to make choices on what service to subscribe to, limiting the profits of the individual providers.

The days of subscribing to everything might be a thing of the past before too long; wallets can only be pushed so far.

Diversification into profitable segments is certainly a sensible strategy in the days of meagre connectivity profits, but $85 billion is a lot to spend on a hunch.

Q&A with Rupesh Chokshi – Assistant Vice President, Edge Solutions Product Marketing Management, AT&T Business

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. Rupesh Chokshi is a leader in technology with a strategic focus for growth in global technology and telecommunications. He currently leads the product marketing team within Edge Solutions for AT&T Business which focuses on product management, strategy and business development, and is transforming services and networks using software-defined networking (SDN), network function virtualization (NFV) and SD-WAN technologies.

To help determine the state of virtualization today, Light Reading spoke with Rupesh Chokshi – Assistance Vice President, Edge Solutions Product Marketing Management at AT&T Business – and one of the industry leading experts presenting at this years’ Network Virtualization & SDN Americas event in September.

Light Reading (LR): How has network virtualization evolved in the last three years?

Rupesh Chokshi (RC): AT&T has been in the business of delivering software-centric services for several years, and we’ve seen adoption from businesses looking to update their infrastructures, increase their agility and transform their businesses. Networks are almost unrecognizable from what they used to be – data traffic on our mobile network grew more than 470,000% since 2007, and video traffic increased over 75% in the last year. Given the new network demands, companies need to adapt by changing the way they manage networks.

We took a unique approach with our infrastructure ability by using software-defined network (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) with our own network, meeting our goal of 65% virtualized network by 2018 and setting us up to achieve our goal of 75% virtualization by 2020. At the same time we started using SDN and NFV in our own network, we utilized SDN to deliver AT&T’s first SDN service, AT&T Switched Ethernet Service with Network on Demand (ASEoD). This allowed thousands of customers to provision and manage their network in a fraction of the time it took in the past, and now enables them to scale bandwidth on demand to meet their business’ seasonality.

ASEoD was only the first of a series of solutions we are creating to address shifting network needs. Three years ago, we introduced our first global software-based solution, AT&T FlexWareSM, which uses both SDN and NFV to increase business agility by simplifying the process for dynamically adding and managing network functions.

LR: What technology developments are you most excited about for in the future?

RC: The work we did up to this point to deliver SDN within our network and for our customers set us up for the next generation of wireless technology, 5G. As the first SDN-enabled wireless technology, and the first wireless network born in the cloud, 5G will ultimately enable new use cases that take advantage of network slicing, the ability to support a high number of IoT devices and greater low-latency edge compute capabilities.

In addition, we are collaborating with VMWare SD-WAN by VeloCloud to implement 5G capabilities into our software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN). This will give business new levels of control over their networks and is key for companies looking to use SD-WAN with a high-speed, low-latency 5G network as their primary or secondary WAN connection type.

LR: How can businesses move forward with virtualization today?

RC: Today, businesses need to make sense of data faster and more efficiently than ever before, which is driving businesses to evaluate how they use their network for all applications, and to find ways to maximize their resources. One-way companies can do this and move forward with virtualization is through AT&T’s comprehensive SD-WAN portfolio. AT&T’s SD-WAN technology supports this new way of working by letting companies define policies based on individual business needs using centralized software-based control.

LR: How can businesses determine the business benefits and ROI of virtualization today?

RC: Businesses can determine the business benefits of virtualization through cost savings, application-level visibility and near real-time analytics.

Potential cost savings is one of the key benefits of SD-WAN that is touted by technology suppliers and service providers alike. In our experience, it is during the process of fleshing out the technical details of the solution and how to best integrate it into their network that enterprises begin to fully appreciate where those cost benefits may come from, as well as understanding other benefits or features that may also be important to them. Keep in mind the importance of considering potential cost savings in the context of total cost of ownership, not just looking at the relative cost of the CPE vs. the cost of the network access.

Additionally, SD-WAN technology can provide more application-level visibility and control on a per site basis, and these capabilities go far to help customers assess and experience the benefits of the performance of their network access and transport.

SD-WAN also enables customers to access analytics in near real time or on a historical basis for bandwidth consumption and application visibility. This is instrumental in setting KPIs and measuring ROI and planning for future network growth.

LR: What virtualization strategies should businesses be focusing on?

RC: Businesses need to adopt efficient, high-performing networks to take advantage of the newest technology and bandwidth needs. Automation is a great example of this. As businesses require more bandwidth, we need to provide more elegant solutions in order for them to take full advantage of more ubiquitous, high-speed broadband.

Additionally, while digital transformation is top of mind for businesses of all sizes and in every industry, dynamic SD-WAN is still in a relatively early stage of growth and adoption. And for others, MPLS and IPsec remain important options. Hybrid WAN designs will continue to be popular as customers utilize multiple technologies (MPLS, IPSec, SD-WAN) for optimal results.

LR: How can businesses build these technologies into their long-term business models?

RC: We live in a digital economy, and AT&T provides fundamental platforms for businesses to grow, differentiate and innovate. We work with businesses of all sizes to help transform their long-term business models through technology solutions delivered in the form of a managed service. Customers come to us because of our expertise, breadth and depth of capabilities, global scale and innovation in areas such as software defined networking, network function virtualization, mobility, IoT and SD-WAN.

As businesses grow, they need to think about their overall networking health. And how they can use their networks to meet all their business objectives. Key considerations in bringing that to life include:

  • Holistic solutions that can combine SD-WAN functionality with network services from AT&T or other providers, virtualized CPE, wired and wireless LAN, security, voice over IP and much more;
  • Reduced operational expense and less need for in-house expertise with a managed solution that handles all aspects of the end-to-end solution design and setup;
  • Global deployment options that remove the headaches of onsite installation and support in countries around the world; and
  • Flexible SD-WAN policy management where the customer can choose to set and update application level policies themselves or rely on AT&T experts to manage this for them.

Want to deep dive into real-world issues and virtualization deployment challenges with Rupesh and other industry leaders?

 

Join Light Reading at the annual Network Virtualization& SDN Americas event in Dallas, September 17-19. Register now for this exclusive opportunity to learn from and network with industry experts. Communications service providers get in free!

AT&T + HPE = edgy TLC

AT&T has announced a new partnership with HPE to drive the benefits of edge computing in enterprise services.

The duo has agreed a go-to-market strategy to accelerate business adoption of edge connections and edge computing, seen by some as one of the most interesting areas of the up-coming 5G economy.

“AT&T’s software-defined network, including our 5G network, combined with HPE’s intelligent edge infrastructure can give businesses a flexible tool to better analyze data and process low-latency, high-bandwidth applications,” said Mo Katibeh, CMO of AT&T Business. “Bringing compute power closer to our network helps businesses push the boundaries of what is possible and create innovative new solutions.”

“HPE believes that the enterprise of the future will need to be edge-centric, cloud-enabled and data-driven to turn all of its data into action and value,” said Jim Jackson, CMO of HPE. “Our go-to-market alliance with AT&T, using HPE Edgeline Converged Edge Systems, will help deliver AT&T MEC services at scale to help our customers more quickly convert data into actionable intelligence, enabling unique digital experiences and smarter operations.”

There are of course many benefits to edge computing, though one of the areas AT&T will be hoping to address through this tie-up will be the security concerns which will emerge. This looks like it could be one of the key marketing plugs of the AT&T proposition, as its Multi-access Edge Compute (MEC) Services will hope to drive the benefits of mobility to enterprise customers.

From HPE’s perspective, the team will be contributing on the low-latency side of the 5G euphoria. HPE suggests its Edgeline Converged Edge Systems could help create use cases where applications can reside on premises for lower latency processing.

It might not be as ‘sexy’ as plugging ridiculous download speeds, but the greatest benefits of 5G to the telcos would appear to be diversification as opposed to increased squeeze on the wallets of consumers. With more data being created each day, the edge will become increasingly important to activate products, services and business models in a faster and more operationally efficient manner. Enterprise organizations will largely be unaware of how to reap the greatest benefits, a pleasant niche the telcos could certainly profit from.

AT&T, KPN, Orange and Swisscom enable LTE-M roaming across their networks

A consortium on European operators has got together with AT&T to activate LTE-M roaming across North America and Europe.

LTE-M is a low power wireless technology that’s not as low-power as NB-IoT and Lora, but is better than nothing and based on existing tech. Thus it’s a handy first step into IoT for applications that don’t have minimal power consumption as a priority, but it’s still not much good unless the LTE-M modules are free to roam globally.

This is a good step in the right direction as now, if you get some kind of IoT package from one of the operators involved, you can now roam to the US, Mexico, France, Holland and Switzerland to your heart’s content. What you will do if your IoT module happens to find itself anywhere else, however, remains a mystery.

“More and more of our enterprise customers require global capabilities as they deploy IoT devices and applications,” said John Wojewoda, AVP, Global Connections Management, AT&T. “These LTE-M roaming agreements help meet that demand and make it easier for businesses around the world to benefit from the power of a globalized IoT.”

“The introduction of LTE-M creates many new possibilities for our partners, customers and prospects,” said Carolien Nijhuis, Director IoT at KPN. “Roaming with LTE-M has been one of the most requested features by our customers in the market. We are very happy we’re now able to fulfill their needs and unlock their international IoT-potential.”

“Enabling access to roaming on LTE-M for our customers is a clear priority for Orange,”” said Didier Lelièvre, Director mobile wholesale & interconnection, Orange. “We’re proud to be among the first operators to deliver such a roaming capability to our IoT customers and more widely to our partners across this market.”

“After offering the first nationwide LTE-M and NB-IoT networks in Switzerland, we are happy to prove our strong position on roaming and be among the first operators that enhance the key technology LTE-M for 2G replacement with international roaming,” said Julian Dömer, Head of IoT at Swisscom.

No clear winners in the latest US spectrum auction

Millimetre Wave spectrum has been a polarised topic in the US, and now the results are in from the latest auctions, some interesting tales have emerged.

Two spectrum auctions have taken place so far this year in the US, with both results being announced at the same time. $2.7 billion might be a lot to add into the FCC coffers, but it is considerably short of the monstrous amount of cash which was spent ahead of the 3G and 4G connectivity euphoria. Considering the amount of attention which has been given to mmWave, some might have expected this auction to attract more attention.

Strictly speaking, mmWave spectrum should be considered way above what we are talking about here, though the industry seems to have adopted anything above 26 GHz. Here, the two auctions are dealing with assets in the 24 GHz and 28 GHz spectrum bands.

Telco 24 GHz licences Total spend 28 GHz licences Total spend
AT&T 831 $982,468,996 N/A N/A
T-Mobile 1,346 $803,212,025 865 $39,288,450
Starry 104 $48,462,700 N/A N/A
US Cellular 282 $126,567,813 408 $129,404,200
Windstream 116 $20,439,360 106 $6,170,990
Verizon 9 $15,255,000 1,066 $505,733,170

The list of companies who have actually won spectrum assets through the auction is quite extensive, many are regionalised, rural telcos. We’ve only included the big ones here, and some interesting also-rans.

Although there still has been a considerable amount of cash spent during the auction period, the results do seem to imply mmWave might not be as crucial as previously believed. These assets might well be able to transmit huge amounts of data, but shorter ranges in comparison to the low- and mid-band bands, and the risk of signals being easily blocked, perhaps have telco fearing to dig too deep into the pockets.

Starting with Verizon, the telco now owns 65% of the available assets in the 28-31 GHz band. Through this auction and previous acquisitions of XO and Straight Path, Verizon has worked up quite a holding, though considering how much it has been beating its chest in the mmWave debate, it is perhaps surprising it low-balled the 24 GHz auction. Here, the firm only owns 1% of the total assets available.

From T-Mobile US’ perspective, the firm has shored up its spectrum breadth. Previously, the firm had not owned any licenses in the mmWave bands and has been the most critical of the potential of the assets. Spending the most in total across the two auctions, it seems the team is attempting to cover all bases, adding to the 600 MHz assets it has accumulated and plans to launch 5G on later this year.

AT&T’s focus was exclusively on the 24 GHz auction, where it spent the most cash, building out its portfolio in the higher spectrum bands.

Sprint is perhaps the biggest omission from the list, not winning any licenses across the two auctions, though it has previously aired its own criticisms of the potential of mmWave. The firm has started its 5G rollout, primarily using its 2.5 GHz spectrum for the launch. Whether its anonymity in this auction is evidence of its confidence in the success of the T-Mobile US merger we’ll leave you to decide.

There is of course life beyond the four major providers, and there have been some interesting wins across both the auctions.

FWA start-up Starry is an interesting one, winning 104 licenses in the 24 GHz auction. At the Big 5G Event in Denver this year, Starry COO Alex Moulle-Berteaux suggested the business was able to operate at such low prices while scaling in new regions was down to making best use of unlicensed spectrum assets. Spending $48 million this time around suggests a slightly new approach to delivering connectivity for the start-up.

These licences are now owned by Starry in 51 Partial Economic Areas (PEA), suggesting the business could be on the verge of much more aggressive geographical expansion. Details of where in the US Starry has won are not available just yet, but soon enough there will be much more colour on the plans. The assets might be used to shore-up performance in existing markets, or fuel geographical expansion.

US Cellular is another interesting case from the auctions, spending more than $250 million on 690 licenses. The telco currently has a presence in 23 markets across the US, with more than six million subscribers. It certainly isn’t going to challenge on a nationwide scale, however, with a stronger presence in the mmWave segment it could prove to be a worthy pain in the side to the big four telcos.

Windstream is the final ‘also-ran’ which we want to look at here. Spending just over $25 million on 222 licenses across both of the auctions, the team appear to be targeting the emerging FWA segment in some of the regions which are often overlooked in the US.

The firm launched a fixed-wireless access to business customers several years ago, and more recently has added products for consumers. In states such as Nebraska and Iowa, Windstream has pointed out signals can travel further thanks to “fairly flat topology”, while the mmWave assets will help the firm achieve the higher speeds demanded by enterprise and consumers alike.

What is worth noting is this is not the end of the spectrum auction bonanza. Over the next couple of months, the hype will start building for a combined auction in the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz bands.

That said, at the moment, the mmWave euphoria is appearing to be somewhat of a let-down.

Trump tweets anti-AT&T tirade

Its often said the pen is mightier than the sword, but President Donald Trump seems to think his twitter account is the literary version of a dirty bomb.

In the latest example of the flurry of tiny hands scampering across the keyboard of an unsecured iPhone, the Commander in Chief has taken aim at AT&T, suggesting US citizens should turn elsewhere for their daily fix of connectivity.

Those expecting some sort of scandal might be disappointed. AT&T hasn’t actually done anything wrong aside from owning CNN, a regular target for the President.

What we are unsure of is how much of an impact these sorts of attacks will actually have on the AT&T brand. Of course, there will be millions who simply disregard the majority of messages which float out of the Oval Office, but there are probably as many who would take the President’s word as gospel.

There have been other attacks from Trump using the virtual highways, with Amazon CEO at the centre of one of these examples.

Back in April 2018, Trump set his eyes on the eCommerce giant. The stream of abuse suggested Amazon was being naughty with its tax returns, was holding the US Postal Service to ransom and Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post was purely to acquire a lobbyist and a voice which could undermine the White House. Some points were fair, such as the creating accounting techniques, though the Presidential paranoia suggesting political propaganda perhaps showed a measure of the man’s ego.

In the war of words with Amazon, it was largely hot air. The President was flexing his muscles, without actually doing anything. If he wanted to do any real damage, he could have cancelled the AWS multi-billion-dollar contract with the Pentagon. But he didn’t.

Bearing this in mind, AT& shouldn’t have too much to worry about, though it certainly doesn’t have the same brand credibility as Amazon.

According to The Values Institute, a research and consulting practice solely focused on values based corporate culture, Amazon was the most trusted brand in the US in 2018. AT&T was the best scoring telco on the list, though it ranked down in 32nd. This is down from 14th in 2017. 32nd doesn’t sound too bad if you consider all the companies which operate in the US, though the scope of this survey is quite limited, only taking the biggest names into account.

Interestingly enough, AT&T finished below Taco Bell, which is regularly featured in a variety of toilet memes on the social media platforms.

Amazon has the credibility with US consumers to simply ignore any Twitter abuse from Trump, but telcos certainly do not have the same relationship with consumers, especially when you consider the recent race to the bottom. For some, telcos are utilities. It is a tough reputation to shake, while a constant focus on speed and price won’t help at all.

Looking at the potential impact of the President’s social media temper tantrums, it does seem to be short-term in most circumstances. This is not the first time President’s have named and shamed companies, President Kennedy did it in the 70s, but social media is a new beast. Most of the time with Trump’s rants, share price seems to be hit for a short period, though it recovers soon after. There doesn’t really seem to be any notable follow through from the President’s threats.

In the Amazon case, share price dipped by 11% during the exchange. The threat of intervention was enough to spook some. However, it took roughly two weeks for recovery, and since that point share price did increase almost 40% before a heavy fall last month.

Research from Juma’h Ahmad and Yazan Alnsour of University of Illinois also suggest there is limited impact from the President’s social media fury. In a study which looked at Presidential attention on 58 companies, the duo concluded there was no long-term, material consequence for the business, with any impact in the financial markets limited to three to five days.

Interestingly enough, Trump seems to be having less of an impact on the world as his term progresses. According to data from CrowdTangle (covered here by Axios), Trump’s interaction rate has fallen from 0.55% in the month he was first elected, to 0.16% in the month through to May 25 2019

The growth in Trump followers is still staggeringly large, though it appears he is not getting the same cut through as before. This might be down to a couple of different reasons, perhaps more laissez faire followers or maybe there is just too much noise reducing the effectiveness.

While there is a risk, especially considering the sustained nature of Trump’s hatred towards CNN, we’re not convinced whether an attack on AT&T’s reputation from Trump will have too much impact. However, the President has a track record of swaying the masses.

AT&T starts accepting cryptocurrency to pay bills

AT&T has announced it’s the first US operator to accept cryptocurrency from its customers to pay their bills.

Now forward-thinking AT&T punters can use bitcoin and that sort of thing to reward AT&T for providing all that lovely connectivity if they feel like it. Specifically they can do so via the BitPay platform, which AT&T considers ‘a respected cryptocurrency payment processor’, when they pay online and through the app.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve and expand our services,” said Kevin McDorman, VP of AT&T Communications Finance Business Operations. “We have customers who use cryptocurrency, and we are happy we can offer them a way to pay their bills with the method they prefer.” BitPay doesn’t seem to have made a public statement, but it’s presumably pleased.

This seems to be part of a growing trend, at least among US tech-related companies. Earlier this year mega distributor Avnet said it had embraced BitPay to the corporate bosom. “We’re working with BitPay to facilitate secure blockchain payments for all types of customers so they can focus on developing their products, not how to pay for them. Whether it’s Bitcoin or Bitcoin Cash, we can handle it,” said Sunny Trinh, VP of demand creation at Avnet at the time.

Not everyone thinks this is such a great idea however. TNW notes that connecting one of your bitcoin addressed to your phone number, and thus your personal data, might not be for the best. It also reminds us that a UK locksmith which started accepting bitcoin four years ago has yet to enjoy a single cryptocurrency transaction. So this move seems to be more about future-proofing than responding to any immediate demand from the market.

FCC reveals glacial progress on the resale of location data by operators

US operators have been reselling the location data they accumulate about their subscribers and have been slow to deliver on promises to stop.

This practice was already well-known by the time it was highlighted in an expose at the start of this year. At the time operators were quick to stress that they’re pulling out all the stops to protect their customers’ personal data but Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was apparently skeptical. Frustrated by their deafening silence on the matter she wrote to the four US MNOs at the start of the month to ask them what they were playing at.

Rosenworcel received relatively prompt responses from those operators and decided to publish them alongside a mea culpa that was probably directed more at other FCC Commissioners than herself. “The FCC has been totally silent about press reports that for a few hundred dollars shady middlemen can sell your location within a few hundred meters based on your wireless phone data. That’s unacceptable,” she said.

“I don’t recall consenting to this surveillance when I signed up for wireless service—and I bet neither do you. This is an issue that affects the privacy and security of every American with a wireless phone. It is chilling to think what a black market for this data could mean in the hands of criminals, stalkers, and those who wish to do us harm. I will continue to press this agency to make public what it knows about what happened. But I do not believe consumers should be kept in the dark. That is why I am making these letters available today.”

You can read the contrite and exculpatory responses here, but in case you can’t be bothered here’s a summary. AT&T said it started phasing out this sort of thing in June 2018, while still making location data available in emergencies. Additionally the letter attempted to distance AT&T from the reports in question and said it had stopped sharing and data with location aggregators and LBS providers on 29 March 2019.

Sprint said it current works with just one LBS (location based services) provider but will pack that in by the end of this month. T-Mobile said it had terminated all contracts with LBS types by 9 March 2019 and went on at considerable length to correct what it considers to be flawed reporting on how it used to handle this sort of thing. Verizon said it had terminated all location deals by the end of March 2019.

So that would appear to be that. All the operators have said they don’t deal with location data aggregators anymore and presumably Rosenworcel is a happy Commissioner. But the fact that they’ve only just stopped reselling their customer’s personal data, and even then only after persistent nagging and bad publicity, is a further illustration of how cavalier the tech industry has been with personal data to date.

T-Mobile/Sprint merger approval is still hanging in the balance

The US DoJ’s anti-trust chief has not made up his mind on the T-Mobile/Sprint merger case, saying the deal must meet key criteria.

Speaking on CNBC (see below) Makan Delrahim, Assistant Attorney General for the US Departments of Justice’s Antitrust Division, said he has not made up his mind yet. Although he refused to comment on if his staff resisted the deal, as was reported by the media, Delrahim did allude to more data being requested from the two parties.

Delrahim also dismissed the notion that there is any magical number of competitors to deliver optimal competition in a regulated market like telecom. Any proposed deal needs to deliver efficiency, but the efficiency needs to be both merger specific, that is the efficiency cannot be achieved through other means, and verifiable.

With regard to the effects of the merger on consumers, Delrahim listed two items, price effect and coordinated effect. The first is related to the potential price move up or down after the merger. The second refers to if the merged company has the incentive to continue to compete with the existing competitors on price, in this case AT&T and Verizon. 5G will also factor in the DoJ’s decision making consideration, Delrahim said. But, instead of being positioned as a counteract against China, in this interview Delrahim was treating 5G in the framework of service offer to consumers, and the merger’s impact on it.

When being asked on the timeline, Delrahim said there is no deadline on the DoJ side, except that the deal cannot be completed before a certain date. This timeline can be extended if more deliberation is needed.

On the FCC front, another hurdle that the two carriers need to overcome before they can become one, they continued to play the offensive. Last week representatives from the two companies, including John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile, and Marcelo Claure, Executive Chairman of Sprint, called on the FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and her Legal Advisor. The team presented the updated merger case, including their pledge to deploy home broadband, drive down prices, deliver more benefits to prepaid customers, and create, instead of cutting, jobs.

FCC’s unofficial 180-day consultation period was reopened early this month, after being halted three times, and is now on day 147.

Makan Delrahim’s CNBC interview is here: