Motorola resurrects the Razr as a foldy smartphone

It was inevitable really, wasn’t it? Motorola is hoping the Razr feature phone brand can be transplanted into the smartphone era.

The Razr was probably the last time Motorola achieved mass market success in the handset market, but that was 15 years ago. Things have moved on a bit since then but if the brand, design and form factor worked before, it can work again, right? That seems to be what Moto is counting on by launching a smartphone based on the original concept.

The defining industrial design tweak is that this one is the first to bring foldy screen technology to the clamshell form factor. The result is essentially a regular modern smartphone that can fold in half. This distinguishes the new Razr from earlier efforts from Samsung and Huawei, because they’re more of an attempt to go in the other direction  and turn a phone into a tablet by unfolding it.

Moto doesn’t seem to have published a press release so you’re spared the generic-yet-hyperbolic canned quote about how this is the best thing since sliced bread. The site created to let you find out more does speak of ‘a design that shatters the status quo’, so that’s something. And there’s both a vid and a GIF, which you can see below.

Verizon seems to have the initial exclusive on the new Razr, and will start flogging it for $1,500 in the new year. A lot of that cost is down to the foldy screen, of course, but punters might have expected a better chip than the Snapdragon 710 for their grand-and-a-half. Maybe the form factor prohibits more powerful chips due to heat considerations and there is a generous 128GB of storage as consolation.

The original Razr sold well mainly because it looked cool and, at a time when handset design has stagnated, that may be all this one needs to take off too. The price will obviously scare most people off though, and having got used to carrying six inch devices around it remains to be seen how much of a USP being able to fold this one in half will be. Still, fair play to Moto for giving it a go.

 

Vodafone drops OpenRAN bombshell

At the TIP Summit in Amsterdam Vodafone announced it was thinking of shifting all of its European mobile sites to OpenRAN technology

The thinking has got so far that is set to issue a 5G tender, which would involve up to 100,000 sites, for the work, according to Light Reading. The announcement was made live on stage by Yago Tenorio, Vodafone’s head of network strategy, on the opening morning of the latest TIP (Telecoms Infra Project) Summit.

“It is a really significant opportunity for OpenRAN to scale,” said Tenorio. “We are willing to swap out sites if we have to. The ambition is to have modern, up-to-date, lower-cost kit in every site. We are not announcing the results today because this just kicked off but stay tuned because it may be a significant acceleration of the open RAN ecosystem.”

The main point of OpenRAN is to loosen the stranglehold the big kit vendors have over the RAN market with their proprietary technology by commoditising it. Vodafone’s move coincides with the commencement of its European 5G roll-out and at a time when it remains unclear which vendors will be allowed to participate in which countries.

It looks like TIP itself is quite heavily involved in pushing OpenRAN, having issued a request for information to the equipment industry on how to build a 5G network based on it, that will run on other commoditized tech such as x86 servers and use open interfaces. Apparently none of the big three kit vendors responded to the request, but plenty of other companies did, with Samsung especially putting itself in a strong position, so it looks like this could really shake things up.

Spectrum shortage is killing African digital ambitions

Telcos complaining about government regulation and policies is not unique to the African continent, though they never seem to get along here.

Through the years there have always been complaints from the telcos at AfricaCom. Whether it is import tax making devices unaffordable or policies which don’t attract international investment, the bureaucrats constantly seem to be on the backfoot. This year’s event saw a global pain-point hit the keynote conference agenda; spectrum availability.

This is of course a gripe of almost every telco around the world; there isn’t enough spectrum available to deliver the digital economy which politicians have promised voters. However, when you breakdown the numbers, there are some valid concerns. Looking at the South African landscape demonstrates the point.

  Telco holding
Spectrum band Vodacom MTN Cell C Telkom Rain
900 MHz 22 MHz 22 MHz 22 MHz
1800 MHz 24 MHz 24 MHz 24 MHz 24 MHz 34 MHz
2100 MHz 30 MHz 30 MHz 30 MHz 30 MHz
2300 MHz 68 MHz
2600 MHz 15 MHz
3500 MHz 28 MHz 142 MHz
Total 76 MHz 76 MHz 76 MHz 150 MHz 191 MHz

Speaking during the keynote sessions, MTN CEO Rob Shuter highlighted the South African Government is demanding more from the telcos, without offering more of this valuable asset to deliver. The MTN business has been working with the same spectrum allocation for decades, a situation which cannot continue. More spectrum is needed.

This is one example, though the story is pretty consistent across the continent. The issue is apparent when you compare it to the UK.

  Telco holding
Spectrum band EE Vodafone Three O2
800 MHz 10 MHz 20 MHz 10 MHz 20 MHz
900 MHz 34.8 MHz 34.8 MHz
1500 MHz 20 MHz 20 MHz
1800 MHz 90 MHz 11.6 MHz 30 MHz 11.6 MHz
1900 MHz 10 MHz   5.4 MHz 5 MHz
2100 MHz 40 MHz 29.6 MHz 29.2 MHz 20 MHz
2300 MHz 40 MHz
2600 MHz 70 MHz 45 MHz 55 MHz
3500 MHz 40 MHz 50 MHz 60 MHz 40 MHz
3700 MHz 80 MHz
Total 260 MHz 211 MHz 289.6 MHz 171.4 MHz

Not only is there more spectrum available, it is broadly spread across a range of spectrum bands to address different usecases and challenges. Soon enough another spectrum auction will take place in the 700 MHz and 3600-3800 MHz spectrum bands.

This is of course a very simplistic way to look at the landscape. South Africa is a very unique country, and spectrum is allocated with conditions, such as minority ownership of the telco. There is an on-going conflict between the major telcos and the government regarding the obligations placed on spectrum allocation, but the end result is still the same; a scarcity of an incredibly valuable resource.

There is perhaps a glimmer of hope however. In recent weeks, the government published an ‘Information Memorandum’ outlining plans for additional spectrum to bolster 4G connectivity and pave way for 5G in the future, though attendees at AfricaCom are not exactly enthralled by the situation. For some, this is just more talk in place of action. Confidence in the governments ability to sort out this mess in a timely manner is not particularly high.

This sceptical view is perhaps supported by the 800 MHz spectrum band. Currently being used by broadcasters, there have been promises to clean the airwaves for use in the mobile world, though little of this promise has translated into assistance for the telcos. The frustration continues.

South Africa seems to have an ‘us versus them’ situation currently. Governments and telcos are rarely best of friends elsewhere, but there is a collaborative environment to ensure an effective connectivity landscape. The Shared Rural Network proposal in the UK is an excellent example of bringing together various different parties with compromises being made to achieve a common goal. This collaborative environment does not seem to exist in South Africa.

If South Africa, and African nations in general, are to compete with other regions in the digital economy, or drive digital inclusion across society, the spectrum conundrum needs to be addressed. But looking at the bigger picture, telcos and governments need to reduce the friction and create a more collaborative environment. These are not parties who are ever likely to be the best of friends, but they should at least be able to tolerate each other in the pursuit of a common objective.

Huawei gives extra bonuses to staff that helped counter US sanctions

Embattled Chinese kit telecoms giant Huawei has decided to chuck a bunch of cash at its employees to thank them for hanging in there.

A bunch of different media have all claimed some kind of scoop over an internal email sent by Huawei HR to the entire company. The long and short of it seems to be that Huawei has decided to dish out two billion yuan in one-off bonuses to those staff considered to have done the most to counter the evil machinations of the US and its entity list. On top of that nearly every Huawei employee got double pay in October. Any employees that didn’t get either must be pretty unimpressed.

We haven’t been able to get anything official from Huawei, but have been assured that the reporting is legit. It looks like the R&D and supply chain teams directly involved in trying to find alternatives to the goods and services the US ban is preventing Huawei from accessing are getting most of the bonus pool, which will probably amount to around 100,000 yuan (£11,000) per employee.

Much of the reporting features anonymous insiders stressing how incredibly generous this is of Huawei, so the company is clearly milking its generosity for PR points. That doesn’t mean it’s not a smart move on its own merits, however. Not only will it help steady the nerves of its employees, it also sends out a message that money isn’t a problem in spite of the US doing its worst. Shame there are no bonuses being offered for excellence in telecoms reporting.

Attracting investment to Africa is not the issue, keeping the value is

Europe has been rubbing the White House up the wrong way with the diabolical intention of reforming regulation, and now it appears Africa might be heading the same direction.

Digital regulation and policy are turning into sticky topics nowadays. With the likes of Amazon, Google and Facebook generating almost thinkable profits, while playing hide-and-seek with the taxman, numerous nations are hitting back. New regulatory regimes are being created, much to the irritation of the US, to ensure value is retained in the country it is created and this trend is making its way across to Africa.

“We need to dictate the rules to the technology giants if they want to apply their technology,” said Nanjira Sambuli, Senior Policy Manager at The Web Foundation, at AfricaCom.

Founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, The Web Foundation has tasked itself with creating a more evenly distributed digital economy, ensuring the benefits and value of the internet are fairly shared across the world. In turn, Sambuli leads the Web Foundation’s policy advocacy to promote digital equality in access to and use of the web.

Herein lies the issue which is challenging regulators and policy makers in Africa currently; attracting foreign investment dollars to African start-ups and incubators is not necessarily an issue, but retaining the value created certainly is.

Although Africa might not be the most attractive of regions to some multi-national corporations, there is certainly plenty of opportunity. With only a third of the continent connected to the internet, there are some 800 million individuals who are sitting outside the digital society. And with 60% of the population under the age of 24, there are profits to be made once the digital revolution generates more momentum.

During the opening keynote sessions at AfricaCom, MTN Rob Shuter highlighted the next three years could see a surge in the adoption internet adoption across the continent, and in turn, profits will be generated as these new users get sucked into the same digital rabbit holes.

But like Europe, Sambuli highlighted the African governments and regulators are keen to see the value, both societal and financial, retained in the economies which create it. Silicon Valley might dictate the speed of the revolution, but it seems it will not wield the financial freedoms of yesteryear.

That is worth noting, is this is not just a Non-profit organisation posturing for attention. Sitting alongside Sambuli on the panel was Stella Tembisa Ndabeni-Abrahams, the Communications Minister for South Africa. Echoing the statement, Ndabeni-Abrahams suggested new policies were on the horizon to ensure South Africa’s entry role in the global digital economy is on South Africa’s terms.

For the moment, this is nothing more than rhetoric. Bureaucrats around the world have found it is incredibly difficult to hold Big Tech accountable, and the Silicon Valley lawyers are as slippery as ever. This is a bold statement though. Ndabeni-Abrahams and Sambuli both highlighted investments to create immediate value will no-longer appease rule makers. The free-wheeling residents of Silicon Valley might have more regulatory headaches to account for.

Handsets are now the biggest hurdle to adoption in Africa – MTN CEO

Connecting the African continent is always going to be a complicated job, but the availability of handsets is now the biggest challenge according to MTN CEO Rob Schuter.

When most people visit the continent of Africa, they are likely drawn to touristic countries such as Morocco, South Africa or Tunisia, and while some scenes might jar, the picture is misleading. These countries might not be as advanced as those in Europe or North America, but they are not a fair representation of the wider continent either, as Schuter highlighted at AfricaCom 2019.

MTN has roughly 220 million subscribers across the region, though only 87 million are mobile broadband customers. Like traditional banking, only a third of the African continent is connected to the internet. Deployment of connectivity infrastructure might be motoring along, but adoption of these services is not.

There is of course a myriad of reasons for this, but according to Shuter, the affordability of handsets is at the top of the list.

Average monthly earnings in Africa are as little as $100 a month. ARPU is $4, which is perhaps on the steep side, though most entry level smart-feature phones cost $40. This is where it becomes difficult for an individual to take the step into the digital economy; how many individuals can justify 40% of their monthly income to purchase a device?

That said, the situation is not as dire as it used to be. MTN has launched the Smart S device, a hybrid device with the appearance of a feature phone but with some internet services capabilities, Vodacom has launched a number of different alternatives such as the Vibe 4G or the Smart Kicka 3, while Nokia and Alcatel have debuted their own devices as well. But despite the efforts to decrease price, more work needs to be done.

During one of the keynote panel sessions, Shuter’s point was echoed by Schalk Visser, CTO of Cell C, a challenger MNO in South Africa. Visser said there as still a remarkable number of unconnected individuals in the connected areas. Infrastructure has been deployed, addressing one of the key barriers to digital inclusion, though it is clear only a fraction of the problems are being addressed.

But while this is a significant challenge, it should also be noted the African connectivity conundrum is a tapestry of complication.

CHASE is a useful acronym to bear in mind here. Coverage, Handsets, Affordability, Service bundles and Education. The mobile ecosystem cannot exist with infrastructure to provide the coverage, handsets to act as the interface, affordable tariffs, and ecosystem of services and individuals who are educated in the ways and means of the internet economy.

Digital inclusion is of course a significant challenge for anyone based on the African continent, but affordable and reliable handsets are now the top challenge.

Vodafone extends broadband reach with new Openreach agreement

Vodafone has broadened its fibre footprint to Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool after signing a new wholesale agreement with Openreach.

The Vodafone business might be primarily known as a mobile business to most, though it has been making strides into the broadband world after signing an agreement with CityFibre last year. What this wholesale agreement with Openreach looks like is an effort by Vodafone to expand its fibre footprint in areas where its primary partner, CityFibre, does not have a presence.

With this wholesale agreement in place, Vodafone will soon be able to offer fibre broadband services in 15 locations throughout the UK.

“Vodafone is committed to a full fibre future and to creating the infrastructure Britain needs to compete and win in the digital era,” said Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery.

“This initiative with Openreach builds on our existing commitments with CityFibre and underlines our belief in the power of digital technology to connect people for a better future and unlock economic growth for the UK.”

As part of the agreement, Vodafone’s Gigafast Broadband service will be available to customers in Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool on the Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network from 2021. The first phase of the Openreach rollout is currently underway and the team plans to be able to reach as many as 500,000 customers on this network by mid-2021.

For Vodafone, this is a wholesale agreement which makes sense. The partnership with CityFibre looks to be one where the terms and conditions are very favourable to both parties, however Vodafone will want to be a service provider which can offer broadband to everyone. The CityFibre deployment strategy means secondary partners will have to be sought.

As part of the CityFibre agreement, Vodafone has made a minimum volume-based commitment for 10 years which increases over the period to 20% of the initial one million premises. In return, Vodafone has a period of exclusivity for consumer fibre-to-the-home services from CityFibre for 12 months, though the time-period is nuanced depending on location and the phase of network construction.

The CityFibre deployment strategy is also a point to consider here. CityFibre is targeting small and medium sized cities, as well as larger towns. These are areas which are generally not being targeted by the likes of Openreach or Virgin Media for fibre deployment. The idea is to create a scaled challenger, and targeting areas where rivals aren’t is a perfectly reasonable strategy.

In short, Vodafone will use CityFibre infrastructure as default, and Openreach in locations where it is not available.

For Vodafone, this partnership demonstrates something which many will see as a plus; ambition. The team is seemingly attempting to expand the fibre service offering to more regions across the country, which should add greater confidence in its pursuit of making a meaningful impact on the segment.

FTC forcing through rethink on data throttling

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has come to a settlement with AT&T over a 2014 lawsuit on data throttling in unlimited tariffs.

While few consumers will have knowledge of data throttling clauses in ‘unlimited’ tariffs, the practise is widespread. It is of course a nuance rather than being directly misleading, though this settlement might well create precedent to shift the approach to data throttling in the US.

“AT&T promised unlimited data – without qualification – and failed to deliver on that promise,” said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “While it seems obvious, it bears repeating that Internet providers must tell people about any restrictions on the speed or amount of data promised.”

The complaint was initially filed in 2014 suggesting AT&T was misleading millions of customers with the practise of data throttling. Although there might be an argument for throttling extremely heavy users on a basis of reasonable use, it does appear AT&T went too far. The FTC suggested AT&T was throttling speeds to such a degree some common applications become difficult or nearly impossible to use.

In the case quoted by the FTC, AT&T sold ‘unlimited’ plans to 3.5 million customers but then throttled speeds once 2 GB of data was consumed in the billing period. At the time, this would have been considered a hefty allowance, though many would have surpassed this quota.

The $60 million sum paid by AT&T to settle this complaint will partly be used to refund customers who signed up for the services in 2014. Those who are still AT&T customers will have the refund automatically applied to their account.

As telcos are now exposed to the threat of a FTC fine, there might well have to be a rethink as to how data throttling is applied to data tariffs.

Firstly, this settlement will not mean the end of data throttling, however the telcos will have to consider whether the current cut-off point would be deemed appropriate. It is perfectly reasonable to restrict the consumption of data in very extreme cases, though the FTC will have to agree to these quotas being reasonable.

Secondly, the telcos will have to make more of an effort to educate the customer on the purpose of data throttling as well as increase awareness as to when it will be introduced. As it stands, most of these unattractive elements of contracts are usually buried in the terms and conditions though this will have to change.

This is of course not the only example of a US telco finding themselves in hot water because of data throttling. During California wild-fires last year, Verizon throttled the data services of a fire department

Ultimately, many consumers will not be impacted, however with data consumption rapidly increasing through more data-intensive applications and a broader array of connected devices, more will be in the future. The US telcos will have to ensure the data throttling practices are evolving with the progress of connectivity, as well as being more transparent when customers sign-up to contracts.

SK Telecom wins big at the 2019 Global Telecoms Awards

In the year that 5G finally made its commercial debut, Korean operator SK Telecom’s fast start helped it win three awards at the 2019 Glotels.

As well as being voted the best operator of 2019, SK Telecom also won awards for 5G implementation and BSS/OSS transformation. Not content with its three wins, SK Telecom was also highly commended in the consumer IoT and fixed network categories, bringing its awards total on the night to five. Other notable performers were Huawei, with two wins and a highly commended, and ZTE with one win and two highly commended.

“I feel confident in saying that this was the strongest set of entries to the awards we’ve had yet,” said Telecoms.com Editor Scott Bicheno (pictured above with Chang-min Park of SK Telecom), who hosted the awards alongside comedian Miles Jupp and was also one of the judges. “Our judges had a really tough job choosing between so many great products, services and projects this year and for that I thank them. The fact that so many entries were highly commended shows how close the scoring was. My congratulations to the winners and thanks everyone who contributed to our best awards yet.”

Here’s the full list of winners:

5G Implementation Excellence  

Winner – SK Telecom: World’s First 5G Commercialization

 

Advancing Artificial Intelligence               

Winner – Telefónica: Aura

Highly Commended – Nokia: AI as a Service for CMCC Hainan

 

Automation Initiative of the Year             

Winner – Huawei: AUTIN

 

Best 5G Innovation         

Winner – Vodafone Germany: Automotive Factory of the Future

Highly Commended – China Mobile, China Southern Power and Huawei: Smart Grid 5G Slice Operation and Monetization

 

Best Digital Transformation Project        

Winner – Infosys and Vodafone UK: Digital Platform

Highly Commended – Singtel: Unboxed

 

Best Operator    

Winner – SK Telecom

Highly Commended – Reliance Jio Infocomm

 

BSS/OSS Transformation Excellence        

Winner – SK Telecom: OSS Evolution for E2E integration and 5G Business

 

Connecting the Unconnected     

Winner – Ufinet: Rural connectivity case studies

 

Consumer IoT Initiative of the Year         

Winner – O2 and Accenture: Making UK homes smarter energy users

Highly Commended – SK Telecom: V2X Service Enabler (VSE)

 

Digital Transformation Innovation          

Winner – BT: The Digital Business Marketplace

Highly Commended – Netcracker: Digital Transformation Solution

 

Fixed Network Evolution             

Winner – Turkcell: Customer Oriented Failure Prioritization and Complaint Management

Highly Commended – SK Telecom: Giga Premium 10G Residential Broadband Internet Service

 

Ground-breaking Virtualization Initiative            

Winner – AT&T: Edge Solutions

 

Industrial IoT Initiative of the Year          

Winner – Dialog Axiata: Affordable and Purpose-built IoT Solutions for Industries in Emerging Markets

Highly Commended – ZTE:  ZTE NMVP Solution

 

Innovating in the Cloud 

Winner – MYCOM OSI: The Assurance Cloud

 

Managed Services Innovation of the Year            

Winner – Ericsson and Telenor: Common Delivery Center for innovative Managed Services model

Highly Commended – Saudi Telecom Company: STC Fixed Network Customer Operations Service transformation

 

Mobile Device Innovation           

Winner – Reliance Jio Infocomm: JioPhone

 

Mobile Money Mastery 

Winner – AsiaHawala and Comviva: AsiaHawala powered by mobiquity Money

 

Most Innovative Cloud Service  

Winner – Tata Communications Transformation Services: Cloud Networking and Security as a Service

Highly Commended – Red Hat: Red Hat open hybrid cloud technologies

 

Project Delivery Perfection         

Winner – ZTE: ZTE for China Mobile ‘He-Fetion’ Project

Highly Commended – X by Orange: X by Orange with Red Hat

 

Security Solution of the Year      

Winner – Mobileum Signalling Firewall

Highly Commended – CUJO AI: AI-powered cybersecurity technology

 

Telecoms Transformation            

Winner – Huawei: NFV-SDN based telco cloud technology initiative

Highly Commended – ZTE: 5G Slicing Wholesale Solution for New B2B2C Business Model