We want to build a network where failure is impossible – Telefonica CTIO

If you consider 5G is not 5G without a 5G core, why have we not been talking about the 5G core more when 5G is being deployed and the 5G economy is just around the corner.

If you hadn’t figured it out, this article might be about completing the 5G puzzle.

In Madrid, telco executives are gathering to talk about a topic which has not grabbed many headlines to date. The evolution, or perhaps revolution, of the core. And whilst it might be a very complicated project, one thing is very clear; the 5G core will not look very similar to the 4G core.

“We are not building infrastructure for the customer,” Telefonica CTIO Enrique Blanco said at the 5G Core conference.

“We are building it for society. How can we build a network which will not fail? 5G Core is a key topic for us.”

There are two interesting elements to this statement from Blanco. Firstly, the network is fundamentally different in its application. And secondly, if connectivity is going to central to society moving forward, failures cannot be tolerated, irrelevant of severity, location or impact.

Starting with the application of the network, while 4G was built for the mass market and appeasement of the increasingly digitally-native consumers, 5G is much more than that. Increased download speeds are an added bonus, but the value of 5G is realised through the creation of new services and engagement with enterprise.

Walter Wang of Huawei illustrated this nuance very well. The 4G network has been built for a single purpose, however the 5G core needs to be built in a way which allows for the creation of customisable connectivity services for enterprise. For example, a customer in the energy sector will be demanding low-latency. In manufacturing, reliability and resilience are key. And for broadcasting, its speed and availability.

The ‘one-size-fits-all’ 4G network cannot deliver on these demands. If 5G is to offer an opportunity to engage enterprise customers, the 5G core needs to be created in a way which allows for the creation of these services. It’s multi-layered, regionalised and distributed and multi-vendor. Which leads us very nicely onto the next area.

The 5G network cannot fail. The same could be said of the 4G network, however the impact is very different. If 4G networks go down, the general public can’t watch cat videos on the bus. If a 5G network fails, enterprise customers are irked and SLAs (service level agreement) come back to haunt the telco. Critical services fail and there is a very real impact to society.

As Blanco highlighted, operating through multiple layers, distributing the core over several regions and engaging with multiple vendors adds resilience. If there is a failure at one point in the network or ecosystem, it is a case of damage limitation not everyone to panic stations.

This is a perfectly reasonable approach to business, though there are certainly some risks to bear in mind.

A multi-vendor environment is all well and good for resilience, reliability, competition and innovation, however as Veon CTO Yogesh points out, the more variables in the ecosystem, the points of failure. Franz Seiser of Deutsche Telekom also echoed this point; the future network is impossible without automation and automation is very difficult.

This is the challenge with the 5G network of tomorrow; if it is multi-vendor, with telcos selecting components which have been deemed best-in-breed, this is not necessarily a guarantee they will complement each other. The ingredients might be perfect, but if the recipe doesn’t work, neither will the network. In some case, it might be worth sacrificing some quality because the components complement each other.

What is worth noting is that all of these discussions are very much in the early days. The 3GPP Release 16, due in the early part of 2020, will pay more specific attention to the 5G core, and at this point we might see work accelerate.

That said, always bear in mind that 5G is not really 5G until the core is 5G. And the nuances of delivering a 5G core are a lot more complicated than 4G.

T-Mobile staff start getting twitchy over Sprint merger

A letter has emerged from T-Mobile Workers United, with the union asking Deutsche Telekom executives to confirm jobs will be safe following the merger between T-Mobile US and Sprint.

According to Reuters, the union, representing around 500 employees from the telco, have seemingly decided to skip out T-Mobile US CEO John Legere and gone straight to group boss Tim Hoettges. The union is seeking assurances jobs will be safe should the merger between the two telcos survive legal challenges which are emerging.

Although there have been several assurances from Legere the merger will be a net creator of jobs, this is under the assumption growth can be achieved through the union. It might sound like a good headline, but reading into the statements, Legere is suggesting job creation will be down to synergies between the firms and a more assertive challenge to AT&T and Verizon.

However, the issue of business rationalisation has not been addressed head on. Whenever two large businesses are brought together through a merger, redundancies are unavoidable. This is a point which has not been addressed by the management teams, with senior managers simply pointing to the potential for growth.

Irrelevant as to whether there will be job creation through an aggressive network rollout or a taking the combined business into new, regional markets, there will be overlap between the two businesses. Not every lawyer, accountant or HR employee will need to be retained as the team will seek cost efficiencies during the integration process. The other thing you have to think about is the retail presence.

It won’t be in every location, but there will of course be hundreds of jobs at risk as the merged business seeks to rationalise its presence on the high street. There are going to be numerous locations where both Sprint and T-Mobile US have a physical store within minutes of each other; a choice will have to be made and job cuts will be evident. Being a net creator of jobs does not mean there will be no redundancies.

These staff are perfectly entitled to feel nervous, as the issue has not been directly addressed and any logical person would say there will be redundancies.

DT inches towards the 5G dream

The German telecommunications industry is doing everything it can to dispel the stereotype of German efficiency, but Deutsche Telekom is making progress in the 5G world.

When it comes to the connectivity rankings, the Germans do not generally feature towards the top. This is evident in both mobile, with 4G coverage, and broadband. However, at IFA the management team has been pitching its progress, and in fairness, DT has beaten the majority of telcos to the 5G punch.

5G is now live in Germany, with six cities welcoming the connectivity euphoria. A total of 129 5G antennae are now transmitting the super-speed connectivity, though plans are to have 20 cities on the coverage map by the end of 2020. DT is not moving as quickly as some European rivals, the UK telcos for example, though it is progress.

Berlin’s Mitte district is the largest coherent 5G coverage area in Germany, at around six square kilometres, with 66 5G base stations. Currently, work is being done to increase the coverage footprint in five cities, with single, clustered locations being targeted. It does appear to be a slowly, surely approach to 5G, but few will argue with progress.

However, you have to measure this progress against European counterparts. In the UK, three of the four MNOs have launched 5G services. EE, the first to launch, has promised 15 cities by the end of 2019, claiming to add 100 5G base stations to its network each month. In France, although 5G has not launched, Orange is suggesting it now has 352 5G pilot sites around the country. In Spain, Vodafone launched its 5G services in June with base stations in 15 cities across the country.

There are of course pros and cons to the breadth versus depth conversation, but it is always worth placing some context into the situation.

The claim has been made at the IFA conference in Berlin, where DT has also been plugging its broadband ambitions.

“For the first time in many years, we have succeeded in surpassing the range of cable companies with a bandwidth of 50 Mbps,” said Michael Hagspihl, Head of Consumers at Telekom Deutschland.

Broadband is another area where the Germans have been sluggish compared to European averages. According to the FTTH Council Europe, Germany has a fibre penetration rate of 2.3%, considerably behind the leaders such as Spain, Latvia or Sweden, all of which have penetration rates north of 40%. However, progress is being made once again.

DT is claiming its fibre network is the largest in Germany, measuring over 500,000 km in length. It has said more than 30 million households can now access broadband speeds between 50 Mbps and 250 Mbps, with 1.1 million able to purchase connectivity which exceeds 1 Gbps. These numbers are of course houses passed rather than actual connections, but it is a better position than previous years.

Whether the slowly, surely approach is going to be a winning strategy when the awards are handed out in a few years remains to be seen, though Germany is starting to sort out its own house.

Orange hints it might be ready to take Romanian fixed assets off DT

Last week, reports emerged Deutsche Telekom had been given the green-light to sell its fixed network stake to Orange in Romania, and the French telco isn’t quashing the rumour.

With a 54% stake in Telekom Romania Communications, DT has a healthy position in the market, though it appears the country is no-longer part of the grand plan. Orange is reportedly in-line to purchase the fixed network stake, the remaining 46% is owned by the Romanian Government, and as you can see from the statement below, it is not denying the rumours.

“The Orange Group’s strategic ambition is to be a leading convergent fixed and mobile operator in Europe, and we are exploring all potential opportunities in Romania to further implement this strategy,” the company stated.

“Our analysis is still at a preliminary stage and no decision has been taken by Orange. In any case, such a decision would be subject to mandatory regulatory approvals.”

The reports in local press claim DT has received approval from the Romanian Government to sell its stake in one of the country’s biggest telcos. For Orange, this does look like it is a sensible move. It is the leading mobile provider in the country, though adding the fixed assets through such an acquisition would certainly make a more complete offering.

The convergence business model is one which is being firmly grasped across the Orange group. There are of course regional twists in terms of execution, though the over-arching strategy is fully-embracing convergence.

What is worth bearing mind is that there is enough nuanced language to add an element of doubt, but it does appear an announcement of some kind might be on the horizon in the not too distant future.

DT gets slap on wrist for net neutrality naughtiness

Deutsche Telekom has found itself on the wrong side of right after its ‘Stream On’ offering was found to break European net neutrality rules.

After the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) imposed restrictions on the telco on the grounds of net neutrality, DT took to the courts to fight the decision. Unfortunately, the lower courts and today in the Higher Administrative Court in Muenster, it was confirmed the telco would no-longer be able to offer the ‘Stream On’ value add feature in its current form.

The issue which the telco is facing boils down to the small print. DT customers have found themselves to have traffic throttled and are unable to make use of the ‘Stream On’ feature outside the German borders, violating European rules on roaming.

‘Stream On’ was first introduced to customers in the US, with the German business following suit after witnessing the success. Offering zero-rating benefits on video streaming, the proposition proved to be as successful in Europe, with two million German customers signed up.

It is of course a strategy which will sound attractive to the data-intensive consumers of today. With entertainment and gaming content from selected partners not bleeding the monthly data allotments, it sounds very interesting, however it seems DT is a victim of its own sluggishness.

One of the issues which BNetzA found was on the data throttling side of the offer. For cheaper data tariffs, download speeds were throttled with the critics arguing this violated one of the key principles of net neutrality, irrelevant as to whether the user consented to the downgraded speeds.

For the tariffs at the bottom end of the scale, download speeds had been throttled to 1.7 Mbps. This might have been sufficient at some point, but at this is not fast enough to deliver a HD quality resolution, the courts decided it was undermining the rules.

Secondly, in limiting the zero-rating offering of ‘Stream On’ to its own borders, DT has also been found to have broken European roaming rules. As the free data stream ended at the border, the courts agreed with regulators that the user was effectively being ‘charged’ for using video and gaming services when in another country. Charging more for services while abroad is a no-no when it comes to the European Union’s rules on roaming.

Although the telco will not be happy with the outcome of this case, it is not the end for the ‘Stream On’ proposition. With two million users signed up, it is clearly at attractive value add for DT, but the telco will have to tweak the small print and update some permissions to ensure it is compliant with current regulations.

DT and Software AG team up to launch IoT FTW

Deutsche Telekom has partnered with fellow Germans Software AG in a bid to boost both company’s IoT offering.

They’re even calling it ‘IoT made in Germany’ as it combines the Teutonic virtues of DT’s enterprise customer unit T-Systems and its Cloud of Things offering, with Software AG’s Cumulocity IoT platform. The resulting combined forces are expected to expand the empires of this business axis to the rest of Europe, the US and who knows where else.

“We’re delighted to be extending the reach and capabilities of our Cloud of Things IoT platform alongside our partner,” said Adel Al-Saleh, CEO of T-Systems and Board Member of Deutsche Telekom. “Software AG’s technology is critical in enabling us to scale an already successful service and introduce new functionality, giving us the confidence to move into new sectors. Our strategic partnership will help us continue to drive innovation and provide the best possible platform and services for clients, both from the enterprise sector and Germany’s world-leading Mittelstand.”

“This is a new way of partnering and co-operating to offer complete IoT solutions for the real-time economy,” said Sanjay Brahmawar, CEO Software AG. “With Deutsche Telekom as our strategic partner, we will offer the most competitive platform. Customers can simplify their IoT and integration needs with self-service analytics and gain insights to accelerate their businesses for the fully connected future. We look forward to scaling this partnership and making it a global success.”

You can see the two of them chatting about their grand plan while sitting on a small sofa, under a tree, by a river, in the video below. As is so often the case with these kinds of corporate partnerships it’s all about scale, synergies, TAM and that sort of thing. It always looks great on PowerPoint but the practicalities of getting two separate organizations to collaborate constructively often lead to disappointing outcomes.

 

DT, Carphone Warehouse and Elisa show their 5G FOMO

The 5G hard launches are coming thick and fast, which is causing fear of missing out for some in the telecoms game.

Today’s big announcement comes from Vodafone UK, on which more from us later. BT has also got involved and now Deutsche Telekom, Carphone Warehouse and Elisa have all rushed out press releases to make sure nobody thinks they’re off the pace.

DT hasn’t hard launched anything yet, but has chosen to detail at considerable length how profound its plans to do so are. Today’s announcement is the start of DT’s 5G network rollout in Germany. Berlin and Bonn will be first, followed by Darmstadt, Hamburg, Leipzig, and Munich and by the end of 2020 DT expects Germany’s 20 largest cities to be 5Ged up.

“We punched our ticket for a 5G future with the spectrum auction,” said Dirk Wössner, MD of Telekom Deutschland. “Our goal now is to get 5G to the streets, to our customers, as quickly as possible. Nearly three-quarters of our antenna locations in Germany are connected with optical fiber – we’re now building on that… At the same time, we need a clear regulatory framework and pragmatism from the authorities – particularly when it comes to questions regarding regional spectrum, local roaming, allocation of the auction proceeds, and the approval procedures – which takes far too long in Germany.”

Despite not having activated 5G anywhere yet DT is generously offering its subscribers to pay for it anyway. You can shell out €900 for a Samsung Galaxy S10 5G as well as a 5G tariff and when DT gets its act together you can be among the first people to get access to its 5G. “Telekom is 5G ready and offers the first 5G devices with suitable rate plans for everyone who wants to be there from the start,” said Michael Hagspihl, MD for Consumers at Telekom Deutschland.

In the UK Carphone Warehouse has joined the 5G pre-order party by announcing the availability of a few 5G smartphones. The ubiquitous Samsung Galaxy S10 5G will cost you £1099 SIM-free and is available today. We’re told the Oppo Reno 5G is also available today but you can’t can’t get it online for some reason. The Xiaomi Mi MIX 3, OnePlus 7 Pro 5G and LG V50 ThinQ will all be available for pre-order tomorrow.

“Retailing the largest range of the newly announced 5G compatible phones means those looking to upgrade to the new offering will have the biggest choice in terms of device and networks to best suit their needs across an impressive range of smartphones, deals and trade-in offers,” said John Coleman, Director of Connectivity at Carphone Warehouse.

Lastly Finnish operator Elisa is proud to announce it was the seller of the first 5G phone bought in any Nordic country. The lucky punter was one Harri Hellström, who strolled into Elisa Kulma in Helsinki unaware of how his life was about to change. Moments later, amid streamers and rapturous applause, Hellström was handed his phone by Elisa CEO Veli-Matti Mattila and held aloft by exuberant Elisa staff.

“I have always been into cutting-edge technology, and I have often been among the first to buy new devices,” said Hellström, once he had composed himself. “I feel wonderful about having the first 5G phone in the Nordic countries. I travel a lot in Finland and abroad, and I often rely on my mobile device for communication on the road. This is why fast connections are essential.” Words so fitting they could almost have been written by Elisa itself.

“Demand for 5G devices and subscriptions will increase as network coverage expands,” said Antti Ihanainen, VP of Elisa’s consumer subscription business. “5G will revolutionise the way we use mobile devices beyond anything we have seen during previous technological evolutions. Fully utilising the benefits of a 5G network requires the use of 5G devices, which means demand will inevitably rise. We are continuously developing innovative 5G services and exploring ways of utilising 5G technology.”

As more operators around the world activate 5G networks and get to bang on about how much better life is for their subscribers as a consequence, the FOMO for those operators that have yet to get involved will increase. If those subscribers start openly wondering what the fuss is all about once they start using 5G, however, being late to the game might not be such a bad thing.

SK Telecom and Deutsche Telekom buddy up for 5G

Collaboration is one of the key works currently floating around the 5G world and it seems SK Telecom and Deutsche Telekom haven’t missed the memo.

At a meeting attended by roughly 100 executives, the two operators announced a partnership with the ambition of seeking the promised revenues in the 5G epoch. As it stands, 5G is nothing new. It’s bigger, badder and faster than 4G, but that is not going to satisfy the financial demands of the telcos who need to invest so heavily in the future-proofed networks. The joint venture company created as a result of this partnership will be first tasked with developing new 5G technologies.

Initial focus will be to develop 5G repeater and a 5G in-building solution, as well as a Multipath UDP solution to manage accesses for a seamless connectivity experience and MPEG Media Transport (MMT) technology for low latency media streaming.

“Through partnerships with companies throughout the world, SK Telecom aims to expand beyond the realm of mobile communications to become a global ICT company,” said Park Jung-ho, CEO of SK Telecom. “And I expect this, in turn, will lead to the revaluation of assets and competitiveness of SK Telecom.”

“DT/SK Telecom partnership continues to be of strategic importance for both DT and SK Telecom.” Said Timotheus Höttges, CEO of DT. “We want to work together to make tangible result and strengthen our partnership also with closer technical cooperation.”

This sort of joint investment should not perhaps come as the biggest of surprises considering the pair signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at the Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2019. There is also the fact Alex Jinsung Choi, DT’s SVP of Research and Technology Innovation, was formerly the CTO at the Korean telco.

As part of the agreement, SK Telecom will also contribute $30 million to DTCP, an investment management group with $1.7 billion assets under management and advisory from Deutsche Telekom. The group is tasked with seeking new investment opportunities in technology, media and telecommunication sectors across Europe, the US and Israel. Moving forward, DTCP will open an office in Seoul to identify new opportunities with SK in Asia.

Looking at the greater opportunities for telcos in the 5G era, this could work out to be a very useful partnership for DT. Offering more products and extracting more revenue from enterprise customers is seem as a key objective, and the Asian telcos have progressed further here. Conversations with the verticals have been in play for longer periods of time and these telcos are closer to creating specific products for specific verticals. DT could certainly learn a thing or two.

Telcos complain about auction as German regulator bags €6.5bn

With 41 blocks available in the 2 GHz and 3.6 GHz bands, this spectrum auction has proved to be a busy one for Germany, but it certainly is a profitable one also.

Lasted 52 days and consisting of hundreds of different bids in what appeared to be a frustrating process, the German regulator will pocket €6.5 billion. It seems Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone were having the biggest feud, sending the total expenditure considerably north of the €3-5 billion expectation.

Sitting at the top of the pile, Deutsche Telekom spent €2.2 billion, while Vodafone contributed €1.9 billion. Telefonica spent €1.4 billion and up-start Drillisch wrote a cheque for €1.1 billion as it searches for a means to break the dominance of the three MNOs.

“Vodafone is committed to bring the full benefits of a digital society to Germany through our gigabit network including 5G,” said Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read. “We believe it is important to have a balance between the price paid for spectrum and our strong desire to create an inclusive society through investment in mobile network coverage.”

And while Read’s comments are as bland as you would expect for a press statement, there have been grumblings elsewhere over price. Deutsche Telekom has said the process has left a ‘bitter taste’.

“The network rollout in Germany has suffered a significant setback. The price could have been much lower,” said Dirk Wössner, Member of the Board of Management of Telekom Deutschland.

“Once again, the spectrum in Germany is much more expensive than in other countries. Network operators now lack the money to expand their networks. With the auction proceeds one could have built approximately 50,000 new mobile sites and close many white spots.”

Deutsche Telekom has secured 4 frequency blocks in the 2 GHz band and 9 frequency packages in the 3.6 GHz band. Vodafone on the other hand has purchased four different blocks in 2 GHz, and one continuous block of 90 MHz in the 3.6 GHz spectrum band. Telefonica collected two paired blocks in the 2 GHz band and seven unpaired blocks in 3.6 GHz.

Although Telefonica feels it can maintain its market share leadership position in mobile following this auction, it also felt the need to vent over a frustrating couple of months.

“We remain convinced that frequency allocation via auction was counterproductive for the expansion of mobile communications in Germany,” said Valentina Daiber, Chief Officer for Legal & Corporate Affairs at Telefónica Deutschland.

“The course of the auction showed that the design as well as the insufficient amount of available frequencies drove up the costs. From the consumer’s point of view and for Germany as a business location, these investment funds would be much better spent on network expansion.”

The telcos will certainly be glad they have a bit of breathing room from the auction process now, though the relationship between the regulator and industry seems to be turning very sour.

US drives solid Deutsche Telekom numbers but German 5G auction is a drag

German operator group Deutsche Telekom has reported solid Q1 revenue growth, driven largely by T-Mobile US.

As you can see from the table below, revenues and EBITDA all grew nicely in Q1 2019. Profits, however, went in the opposite direction, apparently due to one-off things like the cost of trying to get the merger between TMUS and Sprint approved. Speaking of the US the second table shows just how much of the revenue growth is attributable to TMUS.

Q12019

millions of

Q12018

millions of

Change% FY
2018
millions of

Revenue 19,488 17,924 8.7 75,656
Proportion generated internationally in % 69.0 66.6 2.4p 67.8
EBITDA 6,461 5,269 22.6 21,836
Adjusted EBITDA 6,901 5,549 24.4 23,333
Adjusted EBITDA AL 5,940 5,487 8.3 23,074
Net profit 900 992 (9.3) 2,166
Adjusted net profit 1,183 1,190 (0.6) 4,545
Free cash flowa 2,370 1,382 71.5 6,250
Free cash flow ALa 1,557 1,318 18.1 6,051
Cash capexb 3,827 3,139 21.9 12,492
Cash capexb(before spectrum) 3,682 3,076 19.7 12,223
Net debtc 71,876 50,455 42.5 55,425
Number of employeesd 214,609 216,926 (1.1) 215,675

 

Q12019

millions of

Q12018

millions of

Change% FY
2018
millions of

Germany
Total revenue 5,357 5,325 0.6 21,700
EBITDA 1,946 1,915 1.6 8,012
Adjusted EBITDA 2,114 2,082 1.5 8,610
Adjusted EBITDA AL 2,108 2,058 2.4 8,516
Number of employeesa 62,358 64,695 (3.6) 62,621
United States
Total revenue 9,796 8,455 15.9 36,522
US-$ 11,124 10,394 7.0 43,063
EBITDA 3,210 2,360 36.0 9,928
Adjusted EBITDA 3,309 2,332 41.9 10,088
Adjusted EBITDA AL 2,679 2,331 14.9 10,084
US-$ 3,042 2,865 6.2 11,901
Europeb
Total revenue 2,891 2,811 2.8 11,885
EBITDA 1,035 905 14.4 3,757
Adjusted EBITDA 1,059 911 16.2 3,880
Adjusted EBITDA AL 945 898 5.2 3,813
Systems Solutions
Order entry 1,609 1,506 6.8 6,776
Total revenue 1,630 1,665 (2.1) 6,936
Adj. EBIT margin (%) (0.2) (2.3) 2.1p 0.5
EBITDA 79 19 n.a. 163
Adjusted EBITDA 125 57 n.a. 429
Adjusted EBITDA AL 92 60 53.3 442

“We got off to a successful start to the year,” said Tim Höttges, CEO of DT. “Deutsche Telekom has much more to offer than just our sensational success in the United States. We are seeing positive trends throughout the Group.”

Not included in his canned comments, but picked up by Reuters, was Höttges inevitable irritation at the amount of cash DT is having to drop on the interminable German 5G spectrum auction. We’re on round 305 of the bidding, believe it or not, and the total pledged has now reached €5,687,520,000. Expect to hear persistent muttering about how that’s money they can’t spend on infrastructure, etc, before long.