Swisscom, SK Telecom, Elisa and BICS claim world’s first 5G roaming services

The very small number of people who are capable and inclined can now roam between the 5G networks of Swisscom and either SK Telecom or Elisa.

Swisscom has over 6 million mobile subscribers but hasn’t revealed how many of them have upgraded to 5G. Since Swisscom only started to roll out its 5G network in April of this year, it seems safe to assume its 5G subscriber base is struggling to hit six figures. Of those, owners of Samsung Galaxy S10 5G smartphones can now fly from Zurich to Seoul confident of maintaining their newly-won boosted download speeds. The converse is true of SK Telecom’s 5G punters.

“SK Telecom once again proved its leadership in advanced roaming technology with the launch of world’s first 5G roaming service” said Han Myung-jin, Head of the MNO Business Supporting Group of SK Telecom. “We will continuously expand our 5G roaming service to enhance customer experience and benefits.”

“We want to offer our customers the best network – both in Switzerland and abroad,” said Dirk Wierzbitzki, Head of Product and Marketing at Swisscom. “So we are proud to be one of the world’s first providers to offer 5G abroad. We will continue to expand 5G availability abroad with additional partners.”

Swisscom has struck up a similar deal with Finnish operator Elisa, which is also claiming the world first, so it looks like SK Telecom has a fight on its hands. We were amongst the first countries to start building 5G networks in Finland,” said Elisa’s Director of Consumer Handset Subscriptions Jan Virkki. “Now that Swisscom has opened their 5G network, we are more than happy to be able to provide the ultrafast 5G to our consumer and corporate customers travelling to Switzerland.”

Roaming specialist BICS also wants a piece of the action, having got involved in the SK Telecom gig. “Today’s successful implementation of a trans-continental 5G data roaming relation further endorses our position at the forefront of global mobility for people, applications and things,” crowed Mikaël Schachne, CMO and VP Mobility & IoT Business at BICS. We couldn’t find any other corporate chest-beating over this bit of news but there probably was some.

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.

Inward application of tech explains dumb pipe rhetoric

Every telco fears the ‘dump pipe’ label and the push towards commoditisation, but perhaps this trend is being compounded by an inward looking attitude in the application of potentially revolutionary technologies.

This is the conundrum; telcos are missing out on the cash bonanza which is fuelling companies like Facebook and Google, but to keep investors happy, executives are focusing more on improving profitability than replacing lost revenues, such as the voice and SMS cash cows of yesteryear. This might seem like quite a broad sweeping statement, and will not be applicable to every telco, or every department within the telcos, but statement could be proven true at Total Telecom Congress this week.

One panel session caught our attention in particular. Featuring Turk Telecom, Elisa and Swisscom, the topic was the implementation of AI and the ability to capitalize on the potential of the technology. The focus here is on automation, predictive failure detection and improving internal processes such as legal and HR. These are all useful applications of the technology, but will only improve what is already in place.

The final panellist was Google, and this is where the difference could be seen. Google is of course focusing on improving internal processes, but the main focus on artificial intelligence applications is to enhance products and create new services. Spam filters in Gmail is an excellent example, though there are countless others as the Deepmind team spread their influence throughout the organization.

The difference between the two is an inward and outward application of the technology. Telcos are seemingly searching for efficiency, while Google is looking to create more value and products. One will improve profitability of what already exists, the second will capture new revenues and open the business up to new customers. One is safe, the other is adventurous. One will lead a company down a path towards utilitisation, the other will emphasise innovation and expand the business into new markets.

Of course, there are examples of telcos using artificial intelligence to enhance offerings and create new value, but it does appear there is more emphasis on making internal processes more efficient and improving profitability.

This is not to say companies should not look at processes and business models to make a more successful business, but too much of an inward focus will only lead to irrelevance. We’ve mentioned this before, but the telcos seem to be the masters of their own downfall, either through sluggishness or a fear of embracing the unknown, searching for new answers.

The panel session demonstrated the notable difference between the two business segments. The internet players are searching for new value, while telcos seem more interested in protecting themselves. Fortune favours the brave is an old saying, but it is very applicable here.

Elisa claims world’s first commercial 5G launch

Finnish operator Elisa says it has become the first operator in the world to begin commercial use of a 5G network and starts selling 5G subscriptions.

Not only that, the network was kicked off by an international video call – from Finland to Estonia. In Tampere, Anne Berner, Finnish Minister of Transport and Communications called Kadri Simson, Estonian Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure, in Tallinn.

“We aim to make Finland the leading nation as a developer of 5G mobile services,” said Berner. “The Ministry of Communications is ready to allocate the first 5G licences to the 3,400–3,800 megahertz frequency band in autumn, which will make Finland among the first countries in the world to start building 5G networks.”

“Elisa actively enables Finland to continue leadership in mobile data usage by opening commercial 5G network first in the world,” said Elisa’s CEO Veli-Matti Mattila. “With the help of 5G services, consumers as well as corporate and institutional customers will get lots of new value when modern applications can be used more efficiently and it becomes possible to develop new applications. For example, it will be possible in the future for all viewers to watch the same football match as a high-quality live broadcast without delay using any terminal device.”

Elisa was keen to remind everyone it made the first GSM call too and it’s good to see Europe is still capable of leading the way in telecoms. The bigger picture still seems to be that Europe will lag the US and the Far East in 5G, but this sort of thing indicates that if the EU and regulators can get their act together we might be able to close the gap a bit.

Elisa is proud of its efficient SON

Finnish operator Elisa is so happy with its self-organising network tech, developed with Red Hat, that it wants the whole world to know about it.

Elisa is quite big on uncapped data tariffs and as a consequence experiences disproportionately high volumes of traffic over its network. This has led it to make a special effort to make its network more efficient, which is where SON comes in. Developed on Red Hat’s OpenShift Container Platform, Elisa SON claims to double the user data throughput on the existing network.

“Our automated network optimization solution offers operators both operating and capital expenditure savings,” said Elisa CTO Kalle Lehtinen. “For example, in Elisa’s own network in Finland, the software actively monitors and tests the network, making more than two million tests and 2,000 changes on daily basis. Less resource-intensive manual work is required and the existing investments can be fully utilized.”

“With Elisa’s approach offering unlimited data plans to subscribers, its networks carry a high volume of mobile data, meaning it has focused on optimising network performance and getting maximum value out of its existing equipment,” said Santiago Madruga, head of Telco and ICT EMEA at Red Hat. “Thanks to this drive, it has developed innovative SON capabilities. We are proud to collaborate closely with Elisa to deliver SON on Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform.”

This is obviously a PR coup for Red Hat too, especially since, in its briefing documents, Elisa speaks about having tried various off-the-shelf vendor SON solutions but couldn’t find anything that did the job well enough. This is also yet another example of operators growing frustrated with the vendor community and taking more ownership of overcoming their technological challenges themselves, and now Elisa has a product it can sell on to other operators too.