Cisco’s OpenRoaming wifi tech to become open standard

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) intends to take over ownership and management of OpenRoaming as a global wireless industry standard.

Right now it’s a technology owned by Cisco and offered to its customers, presumably for a price, but it looks like Cisco has decided it can’t be bothered with the hassle anymore. OpenRoaming is designed to provide a network of wifi hotspots that present a single identity for the purpose of access. In other words, if it becomes ubiquitous then the days of having to muck around with awkward passwords and clunky login pages would be over.

The stated aim of the WBA is to enable collaboration between service providers, technology companies and organizations to make the global wifi experience as seamless as possible, so this seems like a perfect fit. The aim will be to get as many wifi ecosystem stakeholders to buy into this technology in order to improve the global experience.

“OpenRoaming now becomes an open standard, creating a world where wifi users will be able to move seamlessly from one wifi network to another without re-registering or signing in,” said WBA CEO, Tiago Rodrigues. “As a global wireless industry standard, WBA OpenRoaming will improve wifi services and availability, making life easier for users, and more efficient for the global mobile and wifi ecosystem.

“OpenRoaming is now open for business and I call on anyone with a wifi network, private or public, coffee shop or sports stadia or any other type of venue, to join our open ecosystem in order for the service they offer to their users to be automatic, secure, and interoperable, making their networks available to a wider audience.”

“There is considerable pull from the industry and our customers, both enterprise and service provider, to automate secure onboarding across multiple verticals,” said Matt MacPherson, Wireless CTO at Cisco. “We knew OpenRoaming would be a game-changing wireless technology, but the support from across the industry has even surpassed our expectations. OpenRoaming is vital to unlocking the potential of wireless communications. Cisco has been proud to lead the OpenRoaming efforts, but we believe strongly that the WBA is the right organization to steward, with neutrality and confidence, such an important industry initiative.”

Improved wifi user experience is long overdue. It doesn’t feel like it has evolved for decades and it’s an ongoing scandal that even telecoms events often fail to provide public wifi that can cope with more than a couple of people on it. We don’t know whether OpenRoaming is the answer, and even if it is it won’t solve the clunky interface problem by itself, but it does seem like a step in the right direction.

Cisco and Microsoft partner on cloud IoT stuff

US tech giants Cisco and Microsoft are combining their cloud IoT offerings, with a focus on the industrial sector.

The move was announced in a Microsoft blog, which somehow resisted the urge to use the term ‘end-to-end’ a lot. The thinking is that Microsoft’s Azure IoT platform is great at the datacenter end of things and Cisco is pretty hot at the edge. Industries increasingly want a bit of both from their IoT so this partnership has been created to provide that.

Using software-based intelligence pre-loaded onto Cisco IoT network devices, telemetry data pipelines from industry-standard protocols like OPC-Unified Architecture (OPC-UA) and Modbus can be easily established using a friendly UI directly into Azure IoT Hub,” explains the blog,

“Additional telemetry processing is also supported by Cisco through local scripts developed in Microsoft Visual Studio, where filtered data can also be uploaded directly into Azure IoT Hub. This collaboration provides customers with a fully integrated solution that will give access to powerful design tools, global connectivity, advance analytics, and cognitive services for analyzing IoT data.”

“This partnership between Cisco and Azure IoT will significantly simplify customer deployments,” said Vikas Butaney, Cisco IoT VP of Product Management. “Customers can now securely connect their assets, and simply ingest and send IoT data to the cloud. Our IoT Gateways will now be pre-integrated to take advantage of the latest in cloud technology from Azure.”

Microsoft might want to keep a close eye on this partnership as Cisco’s recent track record on such things isn’t great. A few years ago a partnership with Ericsson was announced to much fanfare, but after producing approximately nothing it has been allowed to wither on the vine and is presumably still a source of private embarrassment to both. Having said that, expect to see a lot more IoT partnerships as the clamour for end-to-end solutions intensifies.

Chinese vendors continue to gain share in the global telecoms equipment market

Preliminary numbers from research firm Dell’Oro reveal that, while the kit market grew in 2019, it was driven almost entirely by Chinese vendors.

Dell’Oro’s total telecoms market numbers include the following product types: broadband access, microwave & optical transport, mobile core & radio access network, SP router & CE switch. Its preliminary numbers have the overall market growing by 2% in 2019, which marks its second consecutive year of growth.

The relative revenue shares over the past six years are shown in the table below. The rounded percentages are as follows, with 2018 share in brackets. Huawei 28% (28%); Nokia 16% (17%);  Ericsson 14% (14%); ZTE 10% (8%); and Cisco 7% (8%). So in the past year ZTE’s rebound has been the big story, with Nokia and Cisco losing out. Over the longer term, however, you can see how much share Huawei has taken from Nokia and Ericsson.

The two largest equipment markets in the year were Mobile RAN and Optical Transport, together accounting for about 55% of the overall telecom equipment market. They were also the growth drivers, apparently. 5G RAN seemed to be an especially pleasant surprise, as previously anticipated by Dell’Oro and confirmed by the firm’s recent Q4 2019 RAN numbers.

“While the overall RAN results in the quarter were in line with expectations, 5G wireless RAN activity surprised on the upside, underpinning projections that the rollout of 5G wireless networks is accelerating,” said Stefan Pongratz, VP at Dell’Oro. “This migration from LTE to 5G NR continued to accelerate at a torrid pace throughout 2019. We remain optimistic these trends will extend into 2020, propelling the overall RAN market to advance for a third consecutive year.”

So a crude interpretation of those numbers is that Huawei and ZTE are out-competing Nokia and Ericsson in the RAN market, which is slightly counterintuitive given the restrictions the US has put them under. One possible answer to that riddle could be that the Chinese government obliged its operators to favour domestic suppliers in response.

UK stumbles to 13th in Digital Readiness rankings as Singapore leads

Cisco has unveiled its Global Digital Readiness Index to rank the efforts of 141 countries around the world in pursuit of the digital economy.

Of the ten largest economies globally, only the US cracks Cisco’s top-ten for digital readiness as Singapore shows everyone else how it’s done. While the realities of dominating the future digital economy are very different from such surveys, the report does give an opportunity to benchmark and figure out who should be learning from who.

“Technology has the potential to be the single greatest catalyst for economic and social progress,” said Tae Yoo, SVP of Corporate Affairs at Cisco.

“In every corner of the world, digital technology is helping us become more connected to each other and the organizations upon which we rely. It opens markets, creates jobs, and better connects citizens and customers.”

This statement demonstrates why so many governments around the world are prioritising digital investments and attempting to aid the telecommunications industry financially. Digital infrastructure helps public services improve, enhances society, fosters innovations and generates economic prosperity.

But it is a race. There is only so much money to go around and it will likely be captured by those who progress to the digital, connected world of tomorrow the fastest. This is demonstrable by the success of the 4G era.

The US has been an economic superpower for a considerable period of time, but this was compounded by capturing a meaty slice of the profits from the 4G era. By launching and scaling 4G networks rapidly, new companies and services were given an incubation environment to thrive.

The likes of Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, TripAdvisor, Tinder, Match, Expedia and Snapchat, all thrived because the connectivity landscape allowed them to. A company generally needs to establish itself domestically before it can tackle the global markets, and this is what digital preparedness offers; the potential to secure newly created wealth for your national economy.

In the Global Digital Readiness Index, Cisco is attempting to create a league table so we can predict the winners and losers of tomorrow digital economy.

Singapore leads the way, which is perhaps no surprise, with Luxembourg, the US, Denmark and Switzerland leading the top five nations. With the exception of the US, the majority of those in the top ten are smaller nations, with more concentrated populations, which helps on the infrastructure deployment side, but there are other factors to consider.

Cisco has judged 141 nations based on seven criteria; basic needs, business and government investment, ease of doing business, human capital, start-up environment, technology adoption, and technology Infrastructure.

Unfortunately for those of us in the UK, 13th place globally will have to do for the moment.

Ranking Country Score (out of 25)
1 Singapore 20.26
2 Luxembourg 19.54
3 USA 19.03
4 Denmark 18.98
5 Switzerland 18.86
6 Netherlands 18.66
7 Sweden 18.42
8 South Korea 18.22
9 Iceland 18.16
10 Norway 17.98
11 Finland 17.95
12 Australia 17.89
13 UK 17.86
14 Germany 17.85
15 New Zealand 17.75

Cisco names rival in trade secret lawsuit

Cisco has updated an existing lawsuit to include its rival, Poly, as well as Poly Executives, in the trade secret dispute.

Although Poly employees were named in the original lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, it was believed the three ex-Cisco employees acted individually. Cisco has suggested new evidence has emerged which drags Poly directly into the saga.

“I cannot emphasize enough that we did not want to bring this litigation,” said Mark Chandler, Chief Legal Officer for Cisco. “We worked hard to have the issues addressed directly by Poly.

“Poly is a competitor in the collaboration space, and we are focused on innovating in the market, not litigating in the courts. This litigation is not about Poly products. It’s about Poly’s refusal to address a serious cultural issue, characterized by repeated efforts to receive and use Cisco trade secrets and confidential information in their business.”

Cisco now believes its rival Poly was proactively aiding the three named defendants, while Executive Vice President, Thomas Puorro, who is also a former Cisco employee, is alleged to have been critical in encouraging the movement of trade secrets from Cisco to Poly. The original lawsuit stated the three individuals acted alone, though Cisco now suggests Poly actively pursued individuals to gain access to Cisco’s trade secrets.

The case focuses around the activities of three individuals, and, in particular, Dr Wilson Chung. Chung worked at Cisco for more than a decade, rising to become a Principal Engineer at the business. Over the first few months of 2019, Chung handed in his notice at Cisco, downloaded more than 3,000 sensitive documents, which eventually emerged when Chung begun his role at Poly in February 2019.

Although the focus of the lawsuit will continue to remain on the three individuals and their actions, dragging Poly into the lawsuit is an important point. Corporations generally don’t like to sue each other, so this would have been a very considered move by Cisco.

Cisco revamps networking platform with new silicon and software

US networking giant Cisco has unveiled a major refresh of its core technology, including a first-ever unified silicon architecture, a new OS and a new platform.

Cisco is positioning this big reveal as its ‘internet for the future’ strategy, which seems like a more hyperbolic way of describing a major product refresh. At the core of it is Cisco Silicon One, a new microarchitecture that is designed to be flexible enough to use anywhere in the network. It makes its debut in the Cisco 8000 router series networking platform that also features a new operating system called IOS XR7.

“Innovation requires focused investment, the right team and a culture that values imagination,” said Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco. “We are dedicated to transforming the industry to build a new internet for the 5G era. Our latest solutions in silicon, optics and software represent the continued innovation we’re driving that helps our customers stay ahead of the curve and create new, ground-breaking experiences for their customers and end users for decades to come.”

“Cisco’s technology strategy is not about the next-generation of a single product area,” said David Goeckeler, GM of the Networking and Security Business at Cisco. “We have spent the past several years investing in whole categories of independent technologies that we believe will converge in the future — and ultimately will allow us to solve the hardest problems on the verge of eroding the advancement of digital innovation. This strategy is delivering the most ambitious development project the company has ever achieved.”

Cisco has some heavyweight partners in this endeavour, with Google Cloud and Facebook’s TIP initiative speaking up in support. The broader narrative is that this is all about supporting 5G and all the good stuff we’re promised it will bring, which implies a renewed focus on the operator market. You can read in-depth analysis of the move on Light Reading here.

The barren years are forecast to end as 5G profits close in

Research from Gartner suggest the 5G spending boom is almost within the grasp of the beaten and battered vendors, with 5G infrastructure spend set to increase by 89% over the next 12 months.

The last three to four years have been a frustrating time for most of the network infrastructure vendors. Those selfish telcos halted the lavish spending on 4G infrastructure, choosing to try and muscle some ROI to keep investors happy, while 5G has seemingly been hovering on the horizon for an age and a day.

“5G wireless network infrastructure revenue will nearly double between 2019 and 2020,” said Gartner’s Sylvain Fabre. “For 5G deployments in 2019, CSPs are using non-stand-alone technology. This enables them to introduce 5G services that run more quickly, as 5G New Radio (NR) equipment can be rolled out alongside existing 4G core network infrastructure.”

Gartner is forecasting 5G spend from the CSPs will increase to $2.2 billion over the course of 2019, up from $612 million last year. In 2020, this number will jump 89% to $4.1 billion and then up-to $6.8 billion in 2021. There will of course be a significant spend on maintaining and improving 4G networks, though the vendors will want to gain returns on 5G R&D sooner rather than later.

The next two years are expected to be an increasingly aggressive scrap between the network vendors to secure valuable 5G contracts. With early launches of 5G networks in the UK, US, South Korea, Italy and Switzerland (amongst others) taking place this year, there will be a horde of fast followers over the next 12-18 months, before everyone else starts to catch-up.

These deployments will of course be focused on the larger cities to start with, though it won’t be long before some telcos start scaling. However, what is worth noting is the nationwide deployment of 5G will not be as fast as previous ‘Gs’.

“To maintain average performance standards as 5G is built out, CSPs will need to undertake targeted strategic improvements to their 4G legacy layer, by upgrading 4G infrastructure around 5G areas of coverage,” said Fabre. “A less robust 4G legacy layer adjoining 5G cells could lead to real or perceived performance issues as users move from 5G to 4G/LTE Advanced Pro.”

Although 4G spend will also increase to prepare the underlying networks for 5G, few of the vendors will complain as long as the dollars start flowing into their banks accounts not out of them. It does appear the barren years might be coming to a close.

And for the network vendors, the moment of 5G euphoria will bring with it a sense of relief, as you can see from the financial figures below.

2015 2016 2017 2018
Huawei Revenue 55.736 73.594 85.171 105.191
Net income 5.208 5.228 6.695 8.656
Ericsson Revenue 25.56 23.04 21.26 21.82
Net income 1.42 0.2 (0.65) (3.35)
Nokia Revenue 29.537 26.583 25.697 25.049
Net income 3.205 2.411 0.017 (0.065)
Cisco Revenue 12.8 12.6 12.7 12.8
Net income 2.3 2.8 2.4 3.8
ZTE Revenue 14.136 14.284 15.353 12.066
Net income 0. 527 (0.198) 759 (0.98)
Juniper Revenue 4.857 4.990 5.027 4.647
Net income 0.633 0.601 0.306 0.566

Figures in US Dollars (Billions), taken from Annual Reports

It is also worth noting that some of the numbers in this table are slightly misleading. For example, during the period above Huawei’s smartphone business surged, while Nokia’s numbers also include fixed line revenues. We’re not exactly comparing apples with apples; however, you can see there is a general slow-down across the vendor community.

Aside from a few exceptions, many of the figures above are not the end of the world. Executives will point to over-arching trends and suggest that while there is no growth, maintenance of revenues (or managing a slight decrease) is an acceptable performance. However, this cannot go on forever.

The likes of Rajeev Suri at Nokia or Chuck Robbins at Cisco have been keeping themselves employed by pointing towards the 5G bonanza. The telcos are sweating 4G assets for ROI while making preparations for the world of 5G; profits are on the horizon for many of these firms, they just need to hang-on a little bit longer.

You do get the impression some investors are starting to get a bit frustrated with the continued quest through the barren connectivity desert, though if Gartner is to be believed, there is an Oasis forming on the horizon. Let’s hope

Cisco hits expectations once again, but disappoints on forecast

Cisco has released financials for the final three-month period of 2018, beating market expectations for the 21st consecutive quarter.

He might not be the most flamboyant of CEOs, but like Satya Nadella over at Microsoft, Chuck Robbins is letting the business do the talking. Since his appointment in 2015, the vendor has gone from strength-to-strength, with these results adding another feather to the cap.

Looking at the financials, total revenue for the three months reached $13.4 billion a 5% year-on-year increase, while net income was down 42% to $2.2 billion. Although the latter figure might shock some, CFO Kelly Kramer has suggested this is only a blip on the radar, with the hole attributable to US Treasury Regulations issued during the quarter relating to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

In terms of the numbers across the year, total revenues stood at $51.7 billion, up 7%, while net income was $13.8 billion, an increase of 9% compared to the previous year.

However, it is not all glimmering news.

“Let me reiterate our guidance for the first quarter of fiscal ’20,” Kramer said during the earnings call. “We expect revenue growth in the range of 0% to 2% year over year.”

Considering the ambitious plans set-forward by the business over the last few years, this would not seem to be the most generous of forecasts. The dampened forecast might well disappoint a few investors. What is worth noting, it that despite having strong and stable foundations, Cisco is not immune to global trends.

Looking at the telco customers, Asia is demonstrating weakening demand for Cisco. The China telco business is weakening, while demand in India has dropped off as aggressive network roll-outs in 2018 are not being replicated today.

In terms of working with enterprise customers, the team had two major software deals in 2018 which are “tough to compare against”, according to Robbins, while the Chinese and UK markets are demonstrating weakened positions thanks to events which are outside of the control of the team. No prizes for guessing what those events might be.

What is worth noting is that while it is easy to point the finger of blame towards China in the current political climate, take    this explanation from Robbins and Kramer with a pinch of salt. Cisco’s revenues in China might have declined by 25% this year, though the market only accounts for less than 3% of total revenues.

Cisco is no different from any other vendor in the telco space right now. It might be performing healthily, though it is reliant on telcos getting their act together and pushing network investments forward. The 5G bonanza to boost profitability in the telco ecosystem is yet to appear, though there are hints it might be just around the corner (as always…).

“I would say don’t anticipate that being a huge profit driver off of the 5G transition that’s going to come when they build more robust broader 5G infrastructure where they’ll deliver enterprise services and that’s going to come after they do the consumer side,” Robbins said.

“So, it’s a bit unclear when that will take place. I’d say we’re not modelling and don’t anticipate any significant improvement in this business in the very near term.”

This is where the 5G hype can be slightly misleading. There are of course telcos who are surging ahead, but these are only a fraction of the networks around the world. It is promising, but the market leaders or fast followers are not going to flood vendors bank accounts with profits.

There are numerous markets who are still in the testing phases of 5G, with the telcos aiming to figure out the commercial business model to make the vast investments in future-proofed markets work. When we start getting to the steep rises of the bell curve, this is where the profits will start rolling in.

That seems to be the message from the Cisco management team today; we’re in a healthy position, but don’t expect this quarter to blow anyone’s mind away. The 5G euphoria is on the horizon, but investors will have to wait just a little bit longer.

Huawei CEO tries to deflect cybersecurity spotlight onto Ericsson and Cisco

It was just a matter of time before Huawei played the whataboutism card and Founder/CEO Ren Zhengfei couldn’t resist in a recent interview.

Chatting to CNN in Shenzhen Ren said the following when referring to the US ban on Huawei gear: “They have to have evidence. Everybody in the world is talking about cyber security and they are singling out Huawei. What about Ericsson, what about Cisco, don’t they have cybersecurity issues? Why has Huawei been singled out? There’s no Huawei equipment in the US networks but has that made the US networks totally safe? If not how can they tell other countries that your networks will be safe without Huawei?”

When Huawei announced its lawsuit against the US government we figured it would have a pop at Cisco sooner or later, but Ren decided to involve Ericsson for good measure (but not Nokia). He has a bit of a point, we suppose, but there are a couple of flaws in this fallacious approach. Firstly, if he thinks any other vendors might be a security risk then he is subject to the same burden of proof he is applying to the US. Secondly, even if they are dodgy that doesn’t mean Huawei isn’t.

The main theme of this resumption of the Ren roadshow was to augment the points Huawei made when in its lawsuit. Ren stressed he would rather shut the company down than let the Chinese state muck about with it and said US tactics will result in scaring away investment in the country. He also tried playing the martyr card, insisting that what doesn’t kill Huawei will make it stronger and even suggesting this aggro represents a timely wake-upcall for complacent Huawei employees.

Ren’s media tour coincides with parallel attempts to win hearts and minds among US allies, but it looks like those are being trumped by a more direct approach from the US. A recent report from Bloomberg reveals German spooks think Huawei is just too dodgy to be allowed into the country’s 5G networks.

Apparently the German intelligence officials remain unconvinced by Ren’s vows never to collaborate with the Chinese state and are also worried about upsetting the US. “It’s above all a matter of trustworthiness and of the impact on our relationship with our allies,” a Foreign Ministry official told some parliamentary committee.

On top of that the EU has recently been publicly expressing concerns about Chinese 5G kit in general so, for the time being at least, momentum seems to have swung back in US favour. Ren’s attempt to metastasise the aggro to other networking vendors must be causing some alarm, not least because it raises the prospect of them being caught in the orbit of the law suit. If we’re on a Huawei to hell, we’re taking you with us, seems to be the message.

 

Cisco calls for US GDPR rollout

In a move which might make the networking giant quite unpopular on the US side of the pond, Cisco’s Chief Legal and Compliance Officer Mark Chandler has called for a US version of GDPR.

Having been implemented during May 2018, Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is starting to make waves in the technology world. The first complaints were filed as the ink was drying on May 25, though with the first rulings started to be announced eight months later, the implications and dangers are starting to become clear. Unless Silicon Valley wins the opening legal skirmishes, precedent will be set and disruption to the data sharing economy will be very apparent.

Considering the massive potential for disruption in the digital ecosystem, Chandler will not be making any friends in Silicon Valley by pushing the case for more focused protections on data protection and privacy. Commenting to the Financial Times, Chandler stated he believes the new regulations have worked out well and after some tweaking, the same rules should be applied in the US as well.

Of course, a legal executive from a networking company stirring the pot is unlikely to turn heads right now, the rules would not necessarily have any monumental impact on the networking infrastructure giant, but there might be a few upset individuals in Silicon Valley. For years, the internet players have effectively been able to do what they want, but GDPR sought to end this reign of freedom.

Although GDPR is an incredibly complex set of rules with more nuances than a teenage philosophers diary, the overall aim is pretty simple. Firstly, the user has more control over his/her personal data, and secondly, internet companies have to demonstrate a need to collect and process data, while also improving securities around these processes. And of course, there are the fines as well.

This is perhaps one of the biggest concerns of the internet giants as they can now be held accountable. Prior to GDPR, fines were feeble. For any normal company, they would be horrid, but considering the size and profitability of the likes of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, any punishments dished out would take a matter of minutes or hours to pay off. GDPR allows regulators to assign fines which are relative to the size of the organization, therefore companies can now be held accountable.

While GDPR does seem to be forcing many companies to act more responsibly, the saving grace for Silicon Valley is that it is limited to Europe. The lobbyists will be fighting hard to make sure such rules do not find sympathetic ears in Washington DC, though governments do seem to be welcoming.

In India, the government is considering new rules which would tighten up protections around personal information, while the Japanese government has signed a new treaty with the European Union which extends GDPR protections of European citizens to Japan. These are two examples, though as more complaints are filed and more Judge’s opinions released to the public, interest in these rules will almost certainly increase.

What you always have to consider when you read such comments is that Cisco is a B2B firm. The privacy rules are geared towards empowering the consumer and therefore would have minimal impact here. In public, many of the internet giants are calling for a revamp of privacy rules, its just good PR form, but they will be privately terrified of a GDPR replicant.

What is also worth bearing in mind is that the US is not as sensitive to privacy issues as Europeans are. Of course, legislators will have an eye on privacy and it will be a worry, but Europe is much more aware and condemning of the slippery practises of Silicon Valley. For years, the Californian lawyers have revelled in technology outpacing regulation, identifying grey areas and loop holes galore. However, the European regulators are attempting to make life difficult.