Nokia trumpets 5G wins in Saudi Arabia and China

Kit vendor Nokia has announced Zain KSA is all-in with Nokia’s 5G portfolio, while China Mobile is using its new massive MIMO gear.

Zain Saudi Arabia seems pretty keen on 5G, having announced its first 5G call back in May. It didn’t say anything about where it was getting its kit from at the time, but now seems to have given Nokia the green light to shout its deal win from the rooftops. Specifically the two companies have signed a three year deal, involving Nokia’s full 5G portfolio, to roll out 5G across Saudi Arabia.

Amr K. El Leithy, head of the Middle East and Africa market at Nokia, said:  “We are committed to transforming the service experience for Zain’s customers and enhancing industrial productivity by enabling extreme broadband services,” said Nokia’s head of MEA Amr K. El Leithy. “This contract, which includes 5G RAN, backhaul, security and services, demonstrates the breadth of our full-portfolio strengths and depth of global expertise in deploying these next-generation projects.”

Meanwhile over in China Nokia has also been given the all-clear by China Mobile to crow about the fact that the massive operator is the first to use its new 320W massive MIMO Adaptive Antenna. Apparently Nokia made this antenna specifically for the Chinese market and its massive bandwidth and coverage requirements, so it must be especially gratifying to see China Mobile snapping it up.

The development of the AirScale MAA with its industry-first 320W output is the direct result of input from the China Mobile team on what they needed to speed the deployment of 5G services to their customers,” said Mark Atkinson, Head of the 5G and Small Cells business at Nokia. “We look forward to continuing to work with CMCC as its 5G plans evolve.”

Nokia likes to bang on about its 43 commercial 5G deals at the end of its press releases these days, but tends not to mention that only 23 of them are with named operators and only five are currently live. Ericsson claims 22 publicly announced 5G contracts, with nine of them live. Huawei recently claimed 50 5G commercial contracts without naming any of the operators, so it looks like a tight race between the three of them.

China Mobile somehow surprised at FCC snub

There was no squabbling over party-politics here; both the Republicans and the Democrats agree China Mobile should not be allowed a licence to operate telco services in the US.

Making an entry for the least surprising decision ever made, the FCC has announced it will deny China Mobile, the Chinese state-owned telco, a licence to operate in the US. Despite the outcome being glaringly obvious, China Mobile is irritated at the decision, suggesting there is no reason to deny the application.

“CMI (China Mobile International) complies with and adheres to the local laws and regulations in every country it operates. In the spirit of openness and free trade, CMI applied to obtain International 214 License from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), aiming to support telecommunication needs to customers in both countries, enhancing connections between the two markets,” the company said in a statement.

“After 7 years and 8 months of application, FCC now denies CMI’s bid to operate in the U.S. without apparent reasons and basis. It is out of market economy principles and contradicts the trend of economic globalization.”

Made back in 2011, China Mobile filed an application under Section 214 of the Communications Act and section 63.18 of the Commission’s rules to provide international facilities-based and resale services between the US and abroad. It might have taken almost eight years to make a decision, but it is exactly what you would have expected.

“Simply put, granting China Mobile’s application would not be in the public interest,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “China Mobile ultimately is owned and controlled by the Chinese government. That makes it vulnerable to exploitation, influence, and control by that government.”

“As a fierce supporter of promoting competition, permitting foreign ownership, and facilitating open markets, I nonetheless find the situation confronting us to be extremely serious, and the action we take today to block China Mobile from accessing the US telecommunications market to be a necessary step, drastic though it may be,” Commissioner Michael O’Reilly said.

This is a decision which has the full support of the FCC as well, with all Commissioners voting the same direction. Unsurprisingly, all of the Commissioners spoke of national security, the importance of communications networks in today’s society and the lack of trust in China Mobile. Simply put, the FCC doesn’t want a puppet of the Chinese state poking around its telco infrastructure.

The Huawei case is slightly nuanced as the ties back to the Chinese government are largely based on a piece of legislation and founder Ren Zhengfei’s time in the People’s Liberation Army. Here, there is no murkiness or grey areas; China Mobile is owned by the state, directly.

The FCC unanimously concludes China Mobile can’t be trusted

The Federal Communications Commission was never going to let China Mobile set up in the US market and now it’s official.

Last month FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made it clear he was against China Mobile USA’s application to provide telecommunications services between the United States and other countries and that he hoped his fellow commissioners agreed. Often there is dissent among the five commissioners, usually along partisan political lines, but this time nobody dared stick up for China Mobile.

“After an extensive review of the record in this proceeding, the Commission finds that due to several factors related to China Mobile USA’s ownership and control by the Chinese government, grant of the application would raise substantial and serious national security and law enforcement risks that cannot be addressed through a mitigation agreement between China Mobile and the federal government,” said the FCC announcement.

The long and short of it is that the US state doesn’t trust the Chinese state and therefore doesn’t trust anything owned by it. This is pretty similar to the Huawei argument, with the difference that in this case they seem to see even closer ties with the state. At time of writing the commissioners had yet to publish their statements on the matter, but one of them apparently wants the FCC to take another look at China Telecom and China Unicom too.

FCC is likely to deny China Mobile’s licence application

Ajit Pai, Chairman of FCC, has called on his colleagues to vote against granting a licence to China Mobile, citing national security concerns.

In a public statement tilted “FCC Chairman Opposes China Mobile’s Telecom Services Application”, Pai said that he believed, after reviewing the relevant evidence, “China Mobile’s application to provide telecommunications services in our country raises substantial and serious national security and law enforcement risks.  Therefore, I do not believe that approving it would be in the public interest.” He went on to request the Commission team to “join me in voting to reject China Mobile’s application.”

This should not come as any surprise. One piece that stood out among the “input provided by other federal agencies” Pai referred to in his statement already set the tone. It was a brief statement issued by David J. Redl, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, U.S. Department of Commerce. “After significant engagement with China Mobile, concerns about increased risks to U.S. law enforcement and national security interests were unable to be resolved. Therefore, the Executive Branch of the U.S. government, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration pursuant to its statutory responsibility to coordinate the presentation of views of the Executive Branch to the FCC, recommends that the FCC deny China Mobile’s Section 214 license request.” The statement was released through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), a part of the Department of Commerce.

China Mobile Limited, the world’s largest mobile operator by subscriber numbers, is partially listed (27.28%) on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The Chinese government, through the parent company China Mobile Communications Group Co., Ltd., controls the rest of the company. Its US subsidiary, China Mobile USA, registered in Delaware, filed an application in 2011 to offer international telephony service between the US and other countries. But it had remained dormant until it was reviewed by the Trump administration last year.

China Mobile would have to operate as a virtual network anyway as it lacks the infrastructure. That worries the US officials that the operator, ultimately the Chinese government, would be able to exploit the American telecommunication networks for intelligence gathering purposes, therefore compromise the security of the government and the public. “There is a significant risk that the Chinese government would use the grant of authority to China Mobile USA to conduct activities that would seriously jeopardize the national security and law enforcement interests of the United States,” an FCC official told the reporters, quoted by Reuters.

The vote by the FCC Commissioners will take place at the May 2019 Open Commission Meeting to be held on 9 May. The result will likely go Pai’s way if the commissioners vote along party line. Three out of the five commission seats are occupied by Republicans, as is Pai himself.

Huawei powered Chinese operators trial 5G for industry verticals

China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator by subscribers, has just trialled 5G for business vertical use on a standalone (SA) architecture. Huawei and Baidu provided the technologies.

The trial was carried out in Beijing, China, and the use case was a corporate video conference. It used 8K cameras to capture live video, which was then sent to the 5G SA core network through China Mobile’s 5G gNodeBs base stations. The data was then processed (encoded and decoded) by Baidu servers on the same network, then sent to the conference room for the 8K live video broadcast.

The trial was using the technology called “5G Vertical LAN” defined in 3GPP R16, which in essence is an insulated “slice” of the mobile network dedicated to a single business user, i.e. becoming a private cloud for an enterprise. The enterprise cloud can be provided by the mobile operator, or the enterprise can choose to provide its own customized 5G vertical LAN. This cloudified enterprise environment “enables terminals to directly communicate with each other, and allows them to access enterprise clouds” without going through the public cloud, therefore increasing the communication security.

However, to realise such a virtual enterprise setup it needs the 5G network to be in SA mode, because insulating and managing the virtual network is all done with software and hard to implement on non-standalone (NSA) mode. This China Mobile trial was conducted on such an SA architecture.

Huawei did not disclose details of the distance between the two ends, or the latency. The company put up a live video demonstration in the last Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. In that case the distance between the video capturing point and the broadcasting point was about 2km, and the latency was 11ms. But that trial was carried over Vodafone’s hybrid network.

This is not the only network slicing trial Huawei has carried out recently. The day before, the company worked with China Telecom, the world’s largest integrated operator, and China’s State Grid, to carry out a network slicing trial to manage a live power grid. China Telecom has been vocal in promoting 5G for other vertical industries.

The commercial 5G networks launched so far, in the US and in Korea, are all on NSA architecture, which limits the use cases to primarily enhanced mobile broadband access, therefore are mainly consumer focused. When Colin Wilcock, chairman of the European Union-backed 5G Industry Association (5G-IA), dismissed the 5G leadership of North America and Korea as not real 5G but beefed up LTE, though not entirely devoid of sourgraping, he got a point. Speaking at the Smart to Future Cities conference recently, he stressed that “the 5G we (Europe) need has to support the other vertical industries”, though also he conceded it is not going to happen now, but will be deployed in two to five years’ time, reported by Compelo.

Chinese operators said to be cautious about 5G investment

Analysts are predicting an underwhelming start to 5G from its biggest market, with China’s giant operators taking a cautious approach to investment.

The Global Times reports that, between them, China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom will invest around $5 billion on 5G networks this year. This is apparently in line with “their pragmatic and cautious strategies”. Apparently China Telecom is dropping 9 billion yuan on 5G this year and China Unicom around 7 billion, which by the reports own assertions means China Mobile will be the big spender with 18 billion yuan.

“5G investment will last 10 years, considering the investment speed in 4G,” said some bloke called Huang, apparently. “It’s a pre-commercial time for 5G, so it’s a pre-commercial investment model.”

As you can see in the clip embedded below, another analyst echoed this perspective in a recent interview with Bloomberg. All this speculation about Chinese 5G prospects has probably been prompted by the recent announcement of China Telecom and China Mobile’s 2018 numbers. The two slides from their respective earnings presentations offer some further insight into their immediate 5G plans.

China telecom 2019 5G slide

China mobile 2019 5G slide

 

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.

Nokia gets a bunch more cash from Chinese operators

Nokia is so keen for everyone to know how well it’s doing in China that is it makes an announcement every time it wins some business.

Earlier this year we heard all about a ‘framework agreement’ signed with China mobile that was worth around €1 billion. Today Nokia has announced some more ‘frame agreements’, which are presumably the same thing and refer to a kind of pre-contract that amounts to a formal commitment to do a bunch of business in future.

This time we’re talking €2 billion, but split between all three Chinese MNOs – China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. Presumably the China Mobile bit is fresh cash, not just a recycling of the previous bil. The agreements cover delivery for the next year or so of radio, fixed access, IP routing and optical transport equipment, as well as some SDN and NFV goodness. Nokia is excited by all this transitioning and leveraging.

“We are excited to continue our close collaboration with these important customers in China, to drive new levels of network performance as they transition toward 5G,” said Mike Wang, president of Nokia Shanghai Bell. “Leveraging the breadth of our end-to-end network and services capabilities, we will work closely with China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom to deploy technologies that meet their specific business needs.”

It wouldn’t be surprising to see some kind of equivalent announcement by Ericsson before long as the two Nordic kit vendors clearly like to compete over this sort of thing. Not long after its first China Mobile announcement Nokia said it was getting £3.5 billion from T-Mobile US to help out with 5G. Within a few weeks Ericsson had countered with an almost identical announcement of its own.

Here launches interactive Traffic Dashboard

Digital mapping company Here has launched a new product designed to let users plan their urban journeys based on real-time traffic congestion information.

It’s called Traffic Dashboard and it not only reports existing congestion and traffic incidents, but anticipated ones too. It has been launched ahead of ITS World Congress and, to be honest, it looks like a bit of a gimmick to generate some coverage and little more, so job done there then,

“Nobody likes to be in traffic,” informed Helmuth Ritzer, VP of Connected Vehicle Services at Here. “But nobody alone can solve the problems it causes. For this we need more collaboration between the public and the private sectors to offer better services. With the Here Traffic Dashboard we provide insights into the vast amount of traffic information – from real-time to historical traffic data to sophisticated traffic analytics – that we can provide drivers, cities and businesses for more informed decision making.”

Here was once known as Navteq until Nokia bought it for $8 billion back in 2007 because it figured mapping would be quite important for smartphones. It wasn’t wrong but the ubiquity of Android and Google Maps scuppered that bight idea and it ended up flogging its mapping business to a consortium of German car makers for just $3 billion. You can check out the Dashboard below.

Elsewhere in the car tech world Qualcomm has announced the latest product of its relationship with China Mobile. This took the form of some LTE-V2X roadside units that are designed to help with safety, traffic, autonomous driving and that sort of thing. It uses the 5.9 GHz band and is compliant with the appropriate 3GPP standards for vehicle IoT.

“With the prosperity of ITS, connected vehicles demand communication with lower latency, higher reliability and wider bandwidth,” said Chenguang Wei, Deputy GM of China Mobile Research Institute. “We are pleased to see the RSUs that were developed with CMIoT deployed as a part of a pilot project in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, and are looking forward in to continuing to work with CMIoT and Qualcomm Technologies to help drive the maturity of the technology in the industry and in China.”

China Mobile adds 18mn mobile subs in first half – and that’s not a typo

China Mobile has reported its numbers for the first half, with the ridiculous figures just demonstrating how much potential there is for those who can crack the Great Firewall of China.

Total revenues stood at roughly $57 billion for the first six months of the year, a 2.9% year-on-year increase, while service revenues accounted for approximately $52 billion of that total. Amazingly, the company also saw net adds of 18.61 million mobile customers over the period, 27.32 million of which were 4G subscriptions. The total subscription base has now exceeded 900 million, with 4G penetration now standing at 74.7%.

“In the first half of 2018, market competition has intensified and cross-sector convergence has increased pace,” said China Mobile Chairman Shang Bing.

“At the same time, operators were required to take further actions operationally to comply with the state policy of ‘speed upgrade and tariff reduction’. Faced with this complex environment, across the China Mobile business, we closely adhered to the ‘Big Connectivity’ strategy and took considered moves to proactively tackle both market competition and other emerging challenges, launching various initiatives for the personal mobile, household, corporate and emerging businesses.”

“There was further integration of these four important growth engines, and at the same time a step-up in our reforms and enhancements to our management efficiency. Thanks to these collective and coordinated efforts, we have maneuverer along the course of our development and maintained satisfactory growth in our financial performance.”

On the network side of things, the team added an eye-watering 190,000 4G base stations to the landscape over the first six months, while future projects will continue to focus on improving in-door coverage across the country. Not only is the infrastructure investment required for the challenges of tomorrow’s 5G world, China Mobile also noted today’s market is becoming increasingly competitive as a new wave of high-data, low-cost tariffs hit the market.

In response, the team ‘activated tariff elasticity’ to meet customer demands and reduce subscription churn, while also creating a new tariff structure which leans on the increase data usage. Finally, the team improved the depth of its content offerings. With these three pillars in place, total handset data traffic increased by 153% across the six months.

Looking at the home broadband business, this is also heading north. The total number of subscribers now stands at 18.8 million with the team collecting more than 57% of the industry’s net additions across the half. The total number of broadband subscribers in China is now 128 million. While this is an incredible number, estimates put the total number of households in the country at around 450 million. The room for growth is astronomical.

When talking about the footprint and subscriber base China Mobile has, it is almost comical.