Huawei security headache spreads into BT accounts

BT has confirmed it will be stripping Huawei equipment from its core 4G network, while it will also face a ban from any DWDM optical transport network and mobile edge compute rollout.

With the UK spending so much time and money creating a department in GCHQ to specifically monitor the business, making sure there are no nefarious activities, it might have thought it was safe on the isle. This assumption can no longer be held.

Reports initially emerged in the FT, though these have now been confirmed by BT spokespeople, that Huawei will be banned from any sensitive work. A point which should be made is BT has chosen not to work with Huawei for a considerable number of years, though with the EE acquisition it inherited Chinese equipment.

“In 2016, following the acquisition of EE, we began a process to remove Huawei equipment from the core of our 3G and 4G mobile networks, as part of network architecture principles in place since 2006,” BT said in a statement to our sister site Light Reading.

“We’re applying these same principles to our current RFP [request for proposal] for 5G core infrastructure. As a result, Huawei have not been included in vendor selection for our 5G core. Huawei remains an important equipment provider outside the core network, and a valued innovation partner.”

For Huawei, this is just another chapter in a miserable story which has been going on for months.

With the US imposing its own ban against Huawei and ZTE for any meaningful projects, the Trump administration has been applying pressure to allied governments around the world to follow suit. Australia was the first to buckle, perhaps sacrificing a handy trading relationship with China in pursuit of a closer tie to the US, though New Zealand followed suit. South Korea is another to ignore the Huawei riches, though in this case the Chinese firm was omitted from the telcos preferred supplier lists as opposed to an outright ban.

What impact this has on Huawei’s fortunes remains to be seen, though signs are starting to look ominous for the vendor which dominated the world of 4G.

Qualcomm pumps Snapdragon 855 in Hawaii

The chipset company Qualcomm just unveiled the newest Snapdragon SoC product to power 5G mobile devices.

On the first day of its annual “Snapdragon Tech Summit” in Hawaii, Qualcomm introduced its first commercial 5G chipset, branded as Snapdragon 855. The system is compatible with Qualcomm’s X50 modem with antennae supporting 5G on both sub-6GHz and mmWave frequency bands. On a 7-nm silicon will also be its 4th-generation multi-core on-device AI engine (said to deliver 3X faster AI performance than its predecessor the Snapdragon 845), Computer Vision Image Signal Processor (CV-ISP) for new photo and video features (“true 4K HDR video capture, cinema-grade photography capabilities”), and 3D Sonic Sensor. The sonic sensor can be used for under-display fingerprint reading using ultrasonic waves (instead of the current optical under-display sensors using light), which, Qualcomm claims, is safer and more accurate.

Qualcomm expects the first smartphones using the new chipset to hit the market in the first half of next year. “The Snapdragon 855 will define the premium tier in 2019,” said Alex Katouzian, SVP and GM of Mobile for Qualcomm, who unveiled the new chipset. Earlier Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm’s President, said he expected to see a lot of phone announcements at CES in January and a lot of actual phone launches at MWC in February.

“Today marks a massive and exciting step forward underscoring how Qualcomm Technologies and ecosystem leaders are driving 5G commercialization, a journey that went from R&D, accelerated standardization and trials, the launch of innovative products and technologies, to the imminent launch of 5G networks and smartphones across the globe starting in early 2019,” said Amon at yesterday’s event. “Together we are demonstrating our role in transforming the mobile industry and enriching consumer experiences with 5G mobile devices on live 5G networks at this year’s Qualcomm Snapdragon Technology Summit.”

Executives from mobile operators including AT&T, EE, Telstra, and Verizon were present at the event, so were representatives from Ericsson, Samsung, Motorola, NETGEAR, and Inseego. The 5G smartphone from Samsung to be launched by both Verizon and AT&T is likely to be the first of its kind to be built on Snapdragon 855.

“At Samsung, we have a vision of a connected world powered by 5G that will benefit consumers, communities, industries and governments,” said Justin Denison, SVP for mobile product strategy and marketing at Samsung Electronics America. “5G will fuel collaboration, connectivity and productivity worldwide, and we’re excited to be at the forefront working alongside partners like Qualcomm Technologies to make the transformation to 5G a reality.”

The event will last three days till Thursday, and Qualcomm promised more announcements and more details will be released.

Huawei ramps up the 5G chest beating

Huawei’s 2018 Mobile Broadband Forum has been all about bigging up 5G and the host hasn’t been shy about banging its own drum.

Director of the carrier business group Ryan Ding used his keynote to announce that Huawei has already signed 22 commercial contracts for 5G. “Every new generation of network comes with new challenges, and this applies to 5G commercial deployment, too,” said Ding. “We take complexity and deliver simplicity. That means we will provide innovative solutions to address challenges in 5G commercialization. Our close collaboration with carriers will help them find the easy way to 5G.”

It looks like the rest of Ding’s keynote was more of the same sort of thing so we’ll spare you the details. His boss Ken Hu had previously announced at the event that Huawei has already shipped 10,000 5G base stations. “From all angles, 5G is ready,” he said. “It’s ready to use, it’s affordable, and most importantly, demand is real. Of course, there are still some barriers to 5G deployment.”

To be fair to Huawei it does seem to have a fair bit to crow about on the 5G front. In a panel at the same event, attended by Light Reading, BT’s Chief Architect Neil McRae declared that Huawei is the only true 5G supplier right now. To some extent those remarks seem designed to motivate Huawei’s competitors to raise their game, but it does serve as a reminder that, in spite of its geopolitical challenges, Huawei is still the team to beat in telecoms.

EE does a 5G broadcast

In the latest installment of its snowballing 5G marketing drive, UK MNO EE claimed to have conducted a live 5G broadcast between Wembley Stadium and the Excel Exhibition Centre.

The two locations were chosen because EE has a 5G test network at Wembley and it was hanging out with Huawei at its MBBF event in the Excel. Specifically EE, together with BT Sport, ‘demonstrated the first live broadcast with remote production over 5G’ according to the announcement. It looks like MBBF attendees were the recipients of this broadcast.

“5G will next season enable BT Sport to deploy the most advanced remote production of any broadcaster,” said Jamie Hindhaugh, COO of BT Sport. “It will allow us to cover more live matches from more leagues and competitions, and to bring fans highlights action closer to the final whistle than has ever been done before in the UK.” Marc Allera, head of BT’s consumer group, said much the same.

The test network uses EE’s 3.4GHz spectrum from its 5G antenna in the stadium, connected to a 10Gbps backhaul link. How much of the 14 miles between the two sites was covered by actual wireless 5G is unclear, but EE is likely to have its claim to the first live 5G broadcast accepted unquestioningly by most of the media so job done there.

Operators stress the need to collaborate over 5G

At Huawei’s MBBF 2018 event some of its operator partners talked up the need for greater collaboration, including among themselves, to make a success of 5G.

Howard Watson, CTIO of BT, said “we truly need interoperability,” when detailing all the many moving parts that need to work with each other in order to make all this 5G hype a reality. He identified the TIP initiative as an example of operators collaborating towards a common goal and was careful to stress that he thinks vendors can still raise their game in that area too.

Being given a keynote at MBBF is also a great opportunity for a spot of self-promotion and Watson didn’t hold back. We were reminded of the recent announcement of EE’s 2019 5G rollout plans and even its most recent 5G trial in London. He also took the opportunity to talk up BT’s group strategy, using the diagram you can find here, which BT is bafflingly keen on, to illustrate his point.

Once Watson got all this corporate chest-beating out of his system he did flag up one interesting feature of BT’s broader strategy: the tight integration of wifi into the overall connectivity picture for BTEE customers. BT is extending the IMS network it currently uses for wifi calling in order to facilitate this and will be doing some clever stuff to solve the pain currently experienced when trying to dynamically switch between wifi and cellular. Creating all this simplicity is very complicated, he concluded.

We also heard from Alex Choi, Head of T-Labs at Deutsche Telekom. He couldn’t resist a bit of light self-congratulation in flagging up its 5G efforts in Berlin (in partnership with Huawei). He too stressed the need for ‘an ecosystem approach’ to 5G and highlighted HD video streaming as a key use-case for consumers.

BT increases profit on declining revenues by getting rid of 2,000 people

Operator group BT saw its revenues decline in the six months to the end of September but still managed a 30% increase in net profit.

Profit is revenue minus overheads and reducing the latter is a time-honoured way for companies to keep themselves in the black. Among BT’s five strategic highlights for the fiscal half-year, which included finding a new CEO and demonstrating its 5G capability, was the ‘removal’ of around 2,000 roles over that time. The other two were a small NPS gain and some vague Openreach achievement.

“We continued to generate positive momentum in the second quarter resulting in encouraging results for the half year,” said Chief Exec Gaving Patterson, possibly for the last time. “We are successfully delivering against the core pillars of our strategy with improved customer experience metrics, accelerating ultrafast deployment and positive progress towards transforming our operating model.

“In consumer, we continue to see strong sales of our converged product, BT Plus, and have seen good mobile sales following new handset launches. Last month EE demonstrated 5G capability from a live site in Canary Wharf. We have maintained momentum in our enterprise businesses despite legacy product declines.”

BT had some fun with its slide deck this quarter, a highlight being the below attempt to illustrate its group strategy via the kind of rectangle-stacking larks usually associated with software architecture diagrams. It presumably took a while to do but apart from being an efficient way to display a number of generic corporate aspirations it’s not obvious what BT is trying to say.

BT Q3 2018 slide 1

There were also distinct slides summarising the performance of each business group. As you can see below revenue growth was hard to find, and it’s interesting to note which other metrics were cherry-picked to show the division in the best light. In terms of revenue BT remains very much a work in progress but making a decent profit is certainly a step in the right direction. You can read further analysis on this here.

BT Q3 2018 slide 2

BT Q3 2018 slide 3

BT Q3 2018 slide 4

BT Q3 2018 slide 5

BT Q3 2018 slide 6

 

Ofcom officially releases BT from its Openreach undertakings

Measures BT undertook in 2005 to placate Ofcom over its wholesale operations are officially no longer relevant, so it doesn’t need to bother.

This seems to be a bit of a formality, since the legal separation of Openreach from BT is supposed to mean BT has no direct influence over the fixed line wholesaler. But at the very least it marks a milestone in BT’s relationship with Ofcom and gives Philip Jansen one less thing to worry about when he takes over next year.

The previous milestone was the official transfer of 31,000 staff from BT Group to Openreach at the start of this month. “This is an important day for Openreach as we’re fulfilling the commitments to Ofcom under the Digital Communications Review,” said Openreach Chairman Mike McTighe at the time. “Openreach now has its own Board, greater strategic and operational independence, a separate brand and an independent workforce – and we’re ambitious for the future.”

The long and short of it seems to be that Openreach now has a separate and distinct relationship with Ofcom and will be assessed solely on its own merits, with no BT baggage. This is probably good news for everyone and is ultimately what all this ‘legal separation’ business is supposed to be about. It should also protect Openreach from accusations of favouring BT. You can read the full statement here.

A possible manifestation of this new, unfettered Openreach may have been the announcement last week that it is dropping the price of full fibre broadband infrastructure to new homes by 75%. Openreach got a nice lot of kudos from public figures for doing its bit to improve fibre coverage, so job done there.

AI plays critical role in network security, according to BT boffin

Artificial intelligence (AI) is going to play a critical role in network security in the coming years and is already helping BT defend its infrastructure.

Ben Azvine, the Global Head of Security Research & Innovation at BT, has been at the heart of cutting-edge network security developments at BT for several years and has helped develop a cybersecurity strategy that combines AI-enabled visualization of cybersecurity threats with highly-trained network security personnel. He shared some of his thoughts on the matter with attendees at this week’s Broadband World Forum event.

“We are taking AI and making it help humans to be better… We are more about the Iron Man version of AI than the Terminator version,” he said, sparking ludicrous cinematic pitch ideas in the minds of some of his audience (I mean, Alien vs Predator sort of worked, right?).

Azvine pointed out that with the number of connected devices growing rapidly, old ways of securing assets were no longer relevant: Now, companies (including network operators) need to think about having a cybersecurity strategy comprising three steps – prevention, detection/prediction and response. The response needs to be much quicker than in the past (hours, not days) while the detection/prediction is tough to do without sophisticated analytics and AI algorithms.

What BT is doing is a great example of analytics and AI in action in the communications networking sector, rather than AI as a marketing hype machine — see ‘Why BT’s Security Chief Is Attacking His Own Network’ for more details.

But security is just one of seven key telecom AI use cases, as identified in a recent report, Artificial Intelligence for Telecommunications Applications, from research house Tractica (a sister company to Telecoms.com).

That report identified the seven main use cases as:

1) Network operations monitoring and management

2) Predictive maintenance

3) Fraud mitigation

4) Cybersecurity

5) Customer service and marketing virtual digital assistants (or ‘bots’)

6) Intelligent CRM systems

7) Customer Experience Management.

“The low hanging fruit seems to be chat bots to augment call center workers,” said Heavy Reading Senior Analyst James Crawshaw, who will be one of the expert moderators digging deeper into the use of AI tools by telcos during Light Reading’s upcoming ‘Software-Defined Operations & the Autonomous Network’ event.

“The more challenging stuff is making use of machine learning in network management. That’s still a science project for most operators — Verizon’s Matt Tegerdine was pretty frank about that in his recent interview with Light Reading. (See Verizon: Vendor AI Not Ready for Prime Time).

That analysis from the Verizon executive shows it’s still early days for the application of machine learning in production communications networks. And, as Crawshaw noted, AI is not a magic wand and can’t be applied to anything and everything. “It can be applied to the same things you would apply other branches of mathematics to, such as statistics. But it’s only worth using if it brings some advantage over simpler techniques. You need to have clean data and a clear question you are seeking to answer — you can’t just invoke machine learning to magically making everything good,” adds the analyst, bringing a Harry Potter element to the proceedings.

So what should network operators be ding to take advantage of AI capabilities? BT appears to have set a good example by hiring experts, investing in R&D, applying AI tools in a very focused way (on its cybersecurity processes) and combining the resulting processes with human intelligence and know-how.   “You don’t need to recruit an army of data scientists to take advantage of machine learning,” said Crawshaw. “Nor should you remain totally reliant on third parties. Develop a core team of experts and then get business analysts to leverage their expertise into the wider organisation.”

The rumours were true – Philip Jansen will be the next BT boss

A week after the news was widely leaked, BT has confirmed that its next Chief Exec will be current Worldpay boss Philip Jansen.

Various factors made the move seem plausible, including the fact that Jansen had already resigned from Worldpay and the conspicuous lack of any other viable candidates revealing themselves in the months since the search to replace Gavin Patterson commenced.

Jansen has plenty of top-table pedigree, having been the main man at Worldpay for five years, during which he took the company public and then oversaw its merger with Vantiv at the start of this year. Both moves presumably didn’t do his bank balance any harm, which does call into question his motivation for taking on such a tricky job, but these CEO types just can’t help themselves, can they?

“I’m honoured to be appointed as the next Chief Executive of BT Group,” said Jansen. “BT is a special company with a wonderful history and a very exciting future. It has built a leading position across fixed and mobile networks, creating an opportunity to deliver increasing benefits for our customers, the UK economy and our shareholders.

“In a competitive market we will need to be absolutely focused on our customers’ needs and pursue the right technology investments to help grow the business. I’m excited to get to know all the people at BT and work together to take the business forward.”

“The Board is delighted to have appointed Philip as our new Chief Executive,” said BT Chairman Jan du Plessis. “He is a proven leader with outstanding experience in managing large complex businesses. Philip’s strong leadership has inspired his teams, successfully transformed businesses across multiple industries and created significant value for shareholders. His most recent success at Worldpay, a technology-led business, means he is well suited to build on the solid foundations that are in place at BT. I look forward to working with him to position BT at the heart of the UK’s digital economy.”

Jansen will join BT at the start of next year and will spend a month shadowing Patterson to make sure he knows the ropes before the latter retreats to the life of leisure it’s tempting to assume he’s already made a head-start on. The starting salary for BT CEO is £1.1 million plus a portfolio of benefits breathtaking in its opulence, including nearly $1 million in BT shares to compensate him for whatever Worldpay options he’s no longer able to cash in.

Worldpay is an electronic payments company so Jansen will have some adjusting to do at BT, but he was MD of Telewest a while back so all the telecomsy stuff will presumably come flooding back before long. Just bang on about 5G and fibre mate – it’s easy. The Openreach problem seems to be largely resolved but there will still be plenty of Ofcom fun to be had and it will be interesting to see how his style contrasts with Patterson’s.