Nokia taps Telia for new head of strategy

Finnish network vendor Nokia has decided its strategy should be directed by Gabriela Styf Sjöman, formerly of Swedish operator group Telia.

Sjöman (pictured) will replace long-time Chief Strategy Officer Kathrin Buvac, who isn’t leaving Nokia, but will now focus entirely running Nokia’s enterprise division. This move would appear to signify that the enterprise business group, which was only created at the start of this year, requires Buvac’s undivided attention. Whether or not this is because it’s going well or badly remains to be seen.

It seems like a good idea to have operator expertise in a networking vendor strategy team and Sjöman is presumably up to speed on the techie side too, her most recent role at Telia being at the head of its networks division. Nokia is also making much of the fact that she has lived all over the world, having grown up in Mexico and got an MBA from Durham University in the UK.

“We are delighted to welcome Gabriela to Nokia at a pivotal moment in our 5G journey,” said Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri. “She brings a wealth of international knowledge and a deep understanding of our industry, its customers and technologies. Her insight will be critical in refining our strategy for the future. I also want to thank Kathrin, who has continued to lead our strategy organization in addition to her role as President of Nokia Enterprise since January this year.”

“I am excited to join Nokia at such a pivotal time,” said Sjöman. “With its broad portfolio and innovative technology, Nokia is well positioned to help its customers realize the full potential of 5G, and I look forward to being part of further strengthening Nokia in this 5G journey.”

Back in Sweden Nokia rival Ericsson has unveiled its replacement for Rafiah Ibrahim, who decided to call it a day back in March. Fadi Pharaon is being promoted from his current position as VP of networks and managed services in the Europe and Latin America group. He is an Ericsson lifer who seems to have had executive roles for the company in every part of the world.

“With the introduction of 5G we are at an exciting time in the industry,” said Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm. “Our customer relationships are key to build a strong company position in the market for this next phase of industry development. Fadi has the right background, experience and capabilities to lead this work in this Market Area and I am very pleased to see him stepping up to this role.”

“The mobile industry is transforming countries and industries and with 5G becoming a reality, we will see new business opportunities and innovations across our markets,” said Pharaon. “I really look forward to taking on this exciting new role in Market Area Middle East & Africa and work together with both the team in the Market Area as well as the Executive Team. Our abilities to work closely with our customers in our market areas are key to leveraging our technology leadership in 5G.”

We can probably expect every significant announcement from either company to be framed in this ‘now that 5G has arrived’ way. The commercial opportunities presented by 5G are far more diverse and complex than by any previous mobile technology generation, so strategy maybe more important than ever when it comes to capitalising on the 5G opportunity.

Telia toys with facial recognition for ice cream payments

In the ever-lasting search for 5G usecases, Telia has teamed-up with Finnish bank OP to trial facial recognition payment solutions.

While facial recognition technologies are taking a bit of a reputational beating at the moment, there are promising usecases in the pipeline. The issue which is not being discussed here, though certainly warrants more attention in the public domain, is the ethical, responsible and transparent application of the technology.

However, this example, authenticating payments, would appear to be a very logical application of the technology.

Firstly, biometrics are becoming increasingly normalised in payments and financial services authentication through fingerprints or vocal recognition, this is just one step further. Secondly, it is theoretically more secure than current identification and authentication techniques. And finally, banks already have trusted relationships with the consumer, and are yet to be caught up with a privacy scandal.

“Facial payment is a good example of a service that benefits from the capacity increase and lower latency of 5G,” said Janne Koistinen, Head of Telia Finland’s 5G programme. “5G will also take the security of mobile connections to the next level, which is interesting for example for payment and other financial services.”

Using the biometric template uploaded through a camera prior to the purchase with the customers bank, a connected device is used by the merchant to authenticate the individual. The customer then authorises the purchase with a simple click once their face has been recognised.

However, 5G would appear to be key here, largely thanks to the advances in lower latency which can be experienced. Slow service could certainly hinder experience and the commercial benefits promised.

“Besides security, a smooth user experience is important for customers,” said Kristian Luoma, Head of OP Lab. “5G makes the service faster and is therefore the perfect partner for Pivo Face Payment. We believe that the trial with Telia opens a new window to the future.”

Although fingerprints and vocal patterns are theoretically unique to each person, there are environmental factors which might hinder authentication. For example, dirt or grease stop the fingerprint reader from worker, or background noise could impact performance for vocal readers.

Facial recognition is also cheaper. Most smartphones or tablets already have a camera, so no specialist equipment needs to be built into the devices. The camera does not need to be high-end, just functional, therefore the expense is mainly on the software side. It is also a lot more accessible, in that everyone has a face and rarely covers it up when in a store.

For the moment, this trial has been limited to an ice-cream van in Vallila, though it is easy to see the wider applications in numerous different settings.

The challenge which such initiatives might face is the increasingly negative perception of facial recognition. This reputation the technology is working up is largely down to the unethical or secretive application in surveillance. This is a much larger topic which needs to be discussed in the public domain, however this initiative does demonstrate the benefits of facial recognition.

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.

Telenor completes Nordic sweep with DNA acquisition

Norwegian telco Telenor has completed its reach across the Nordics, taking the first steps to acquire Finnish operator DNA.

Telenor has now officially entered into agreements with DNA’s two largest shareholders Finda Telecoms and PHP, who hold stakes of 28.3% and 25.8% respectively. Following approval at the Finda Telecoms and PHP AGMs, and regulatory approval, a mandatory public tender offer will be triggered for the remaining outstanding shares in DNA by Telenor. The current 54% will cost Telenor €1.5 billion.

The transaction is expected to be completed in Q3 2019, with the remaining shares being purchased for the same amount, valuing the entire DNA business at roughly €2.8 billion.

“I am very pleased to announce today’s transaction and our entry into Finland, the fastest growing mobile market in Europe,” said Telenor Group CEO Sigve Brekke.

“DNA is an exciting addition to Telenor Group, and a natural complement to our existing operations in the Nordic region. Not only are we strengthening our footprint in the Nordic region, we are also gaining a solid position across fixed and mobile in the Finnish market and making room for further value creation.”

DNA has been crafting itself a useful position in the Finnish market, with both fixed and mobile offerings. Having been founded in 2000, and restructured through various mergers in 2007, DNA has grown to become Finland’s third largest telco with a mobile market share of 28%. With Finland proving to be one of the fastest growing markets in Europe, this could be a useful acquisition from Telenor.

Having grown its mobile service revenues by at least 9.3% year-on-year for the last three years, Telenor expects to use its own expertise to grow revenues further through a larger product portfolio, though the enterprise market is also a target. On the business side of things, Telenor’s international footprint will certainly help, with operations across the Nordics.

The transaction will also offer Telenor more ammunition as it battles its Nordic competitor Telia,

Although Telenor still does have assets across various Asian markets, Pakistan and Thailand for example, it has been narrowing its focus on the Nordic markets recently. Exiting from India, although this was partly forced due to the success of Reliance Jio, while offloading its Eastern European business units will give the team more resources to dominate the Nordic region, though it will have to deal with Telia.

Should the transaction be approved by all the relevant parties, Telenor will have a presence in all the Nordic markets, pinning it head to head with long-time rival Telia. Aside from the Swedish market where Telia dominates, the pair are largely on level pegging, though the DNA business will add momentum.

Alongside considerable growth over the last three years, Finnish consumers have the biggest data appetites across the bloc. According to data from the OECD, the average Finnish mobile data subscription is a massive 15 GB per month which dwarfs the likes of the UK and France, where the average contract is 2.6 and 3.6 GB per month.

Is telecom losing Europe’s next generation employees?

Telecoms companies did not feature in the top employers’ lists chosen by the current and potential young employees in a recent multi-country survey.

The Swedish consulting firm Academic Work recently published the results of a survey on current and future young employees in six European countries, which asked the respondents to choose their most “aspired” employer, hence the title of the survey “Young Professional Aspiration Index (YPAI) 2018”. Among the three Nordic countries where it broke down the details of the employers the young people most like to work for, Google came on top in all of them (it tied with Reaktor in Finland, the consulting firm behind the country’s big AI drive). None of the telecom companies, be it telcos or telecom equipment makers, made to the top-10’s.

 YPAI 2018

The survey was done in the four Nordic countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark) plus Germany and Switzerland. Nearly 19,000 young people, a mixture of students (22%), current employed (59%), as well as job seekers (15%) answered the survey. The majority of the respondents came out of Sweden, while just under 1,000 respondents were registered from Finland and Norway. Presumably the sample sizes were not big enough in the other three countries to break down the top-10 company lists.

YPAI 2018 respondents

In addition to asking the respondents to name their preferred employers, the survey also asked them about their most important criteria when choosing a place to work. “Good working environment and nice colleagues” came on top in four out of the six countries (chosen by 60% of the respondents in Sweden, 78% in Denmark, 73% in Germany, and 66% in Switzerland). It tied with “Leadership” in Sweden. In Finland coming on top was “varied and challenging tasks”, chosen by 60% of those who answered the survey, while in Norway 64% of the young people surveyed chose “training / development opportunities” as the most important criterion.

Once upon a time (i.e. around the turn of the century), telecom was THE industry to work in. It has been losing some of its old lustre to the internet giants. If they “aspire” to re-take the top spot of the young people’s mind share, the Ericssons and Nokias and Telenors of the world may want to refer to these criteria when promoting their corporate image, as a starting point.

Finland’s AI ambitions demonstrate real intelligence

Training 1% of the population is just one part of Finland’s push for AI. The business world and public sector are also fully leaning in.

Recently a story on Finland’s plan to train 1% of its population in Artificial Intelligence has been making the rounds. Starting as a private initiative jointly promoted by the University of Helsinki and the consulting firm Reaktor, an open, free online course, “Elements of AI” was made available to anyone who would be interested in understanding the basics of AI. The initiative was then embraced by the government and has been integrated into a national AI strategy.

By the end of 2018, half a year after the initiative started, more than 40,000 people had started taking the online training, more than 10,000 of them already completed the course. The 1% target implies a total of 55,000 will receive the training, but the number is set be surpassed very soon following the University’s recent release of the Finnish version of the course (earlier the content was only available in English). The University promises “Other language versions are on the way!”

But this is just a part of the Nordic country’s ambition for the so-called “data economy”. Outi Keski-Äijö, the Head of AI Business program at Business Finland, outlined for Telecoms.com the major steps the agency and other institutions have taken as well as their the near-term plans. Her public sector agency is tasked to both support enterprises inside Finland and promote Finnish business interest outside of the country. Over the past two years, the AI-focused team she leads has been working with start-ups and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), to drive innovation through funding as well as helping bridge them with business implementation.

On the funding side, Business Finland would invest up to €50,000 in promising projects that are focused on solving concrete problems. Finland’s total public-sector funding over a four-year period will be no less than €20 million, including €6 million in the first year. Business Finland is responsible for over half of the total budget.

When it comes to connecting innovations from start-ups and SMEs to implementation, many innovations have found their way to both the emerging sectors like smart transport management, and traditional industries like ship-building. The innovations in AI have also attracted international attention, hence the success of the second part of the agency’s mission. Companies in Asia and North America have already shown interest in taking on board some of the new output.

When asked how Finns see privacy protection vs. progress in AI, Keski-Äijö and her team introduced us to the work done by one of its sister organisations, the Finnish Innovation Fund (Suomen itsenäisyyden juhlarahasto, Sitra). Sitra is an independent fund overseen directly by the Finnish Parliament. One of its key programs now is to develop the principles, framework, and key components of what it calls “Fair Data Economy”, under the brand IHAN (Ihmislähtöinen datatalous-avainaluetta, literally means “people-centric data economy”).

With GDPR in place, theoretically consumers now have control over their data and can demand to know how their data is being stored and used by any companies. In practice however, it is hardly possible for an individual to chase every single service she uses. Also, as Sitra put it, “GDPR does not define the format, governance or method for consent-based personal data sharing.” As a result a consumer’s data is being managed and analysed in silos, and services provided to her are not necessarily optimised.

What IHAN aims to achieve is to provide a stamp of approval. Services certified by IHAN would be trustworthy for consumers to handle their private data. When enough services are certified the data shared between them will be able to deliver personalisation without comprising privacy. Here Finland’s big ambition kicks in. Sitra is looking to use IHAN as a model to drive EU-wide AI and data economy to a more competitive level. With Finland taking over the EU presidency in the second half of 2019, Sitra is set to promote IHAN more vocally beyond the Finnish borders.

There is nothing wrong with the thinking, but Sitra may find the idea not going down as well in other European countries. The anchor point of the IHAN concept is trust. The Finns, rightly or wrongly, put very high level of trust in the public and social institutions. For example, according to a poll done by TNS Gallup for Sitra in 2016, nearly 80% of Finns trust the police, two-thirds trust in the registration and statistical authorities, but only 14% trust the internet companies. The low level of trust in the internet companies may be indicative broadly across many countries, the high level of trust in the authorities may not.

Finns trust in public sector

Finns launch digital version of driving license

The Finnish Government has unveiled plans to roll out a mobile version of driving licenses which will be available through an app.

The proposed the amendment to the Driving Licence Act will see the mobile version introduced onto the driving license application as an option. The electronic application would be a free, optional service to be used in addition to traditional driving licences.

“The mobile driving licence is one practical example of what can be achieved through digitalisation in the transport sector,” said Minister of Transport and Communications Anne Berner. “The mobile driving licence is a new way for drivers to prove their right to drive when required to do so during traffic surveillance.”

While the technophobes and conspiracy theorists will be pointing to everything which could go wrong or the idea of increased government control, we like the it and are quite surprised it has taken this long to table such a suggestion. From our perspective, it perfectly fits into the evolution of everyday life being supported by digital.

Some might fear the power mobile devices are being given over our lives, though the number of cases of fraud have been minimal over the last couple of years. There are people who are protective over identification and how these documents can be used for nefarious activities, though the mobile money revolution has seemingly been adopted without particular incident. There will of course be incidents of theft or fraud, but these have not been wide-spread enough to cause concern. This should provide confidence in the suitable ability of digital for identification.

Whether this leads to other forms of identification moving across to mobile, such as passports, remains to be seen, though we like the idea.

Telia pays the most in Finnish 5G auction

Finland offered up nearly 400 MHz of mid frequency 5G spectrum to its MNOs and Telia bought the most expensive block.

The whole of the 3410-3800 MHz frequency range, split into three blocks of 130 MHz each. After just a few days of bidding Finland’s three MNOs concluded their business as follows:

Frequency band 3410–3540 MHz (A)

Telia Finland

€30,258,000

Frequency band 3540–3670 MHz (B)

Elisa

€26,347,000

Frequency band 3670–3800 MHz (C)

DNA

€21,000,000

The slightly lower frequency stuff apparently has a bit more value than the rest and it’s worth noting that Elisa is the market leader by subscriber number so it looks like Telia has decided to make a strategic move to close the gap in the 5G era. While Finland is admittedly a much smaller country, €77 million seems like a small return for the government when you compare it to the frenzied bidding we’re seeing in Italy.

Telia declares Finland is ready for the 5G promised land

Finland is set to be one of the first nations in Europe to experience the wonders of 5G as Telia targets the beginning of 2019 for commercial launch.

With tests in the Telia 5G Arena in Helsinki completed, the first base stations in the city operational and the first phase of roll-out set to be completed in the Autumn, Telia has confidently proclaimed full-scale commercial operation will be possible in 2019, just as soon as the 3.5 GHz 5G frequency auction has been conducted.

“For two years we have prepared for 5G with demos and trials,” said Jari Collin, CTO at Telia Finland. “We set up the 5G Finland cooperation network to create and pilot 5G services with our partners, and now we can continue exploring the possibilities of 5G in a real live network.”

It is certainly a bold promise to make, though seeing as this launch will be prior to the availability of 5G devices, who is going to know whether those crafty Finns are telling the truth or not. The on switch could well be hooked up to a couple of dozen pink and green light-bulbs spelling out ‘viides sukupolvi’ and nothing else; who would be able to tell?

Perhaps the reason we can joke about the Finns having a network and no flashy devices is because it’s probably a better way to have it than the other way around. Some might mock the idea of boasting of 5G with no consumer devices to make use of it, but upon the launch of said devices, consumers in other nations will own very expensive, glitzy smartphones, connected to an imaginary 5G network.

Progress has been steady in the Telia business. It is now boasting of getting to a point where all 5G network components are available, from 3GPP specification-based radio access to high capacity IP networks, virtualized core and the massive computing capacity offered by its Helsinki data centre.

“We are pleased to begin the deployment of the first 5G base stations in Finland – the Nokia AirScale radio access –  and we will continue working with Telia Company to identify the technologies and services that meet the demands of consumers and industries in the 5G era,” said Jan Lindgren, Head of Telia Customer Team at Nokia, a key partner of the project.

While the 5G posturing has largely been left to telcos in the US, China or Korea, Telia has slipped through the peloton relatively undetected, and could in fact be one of the first worldwide to hit the on-switch. Considering the rather humble progress made by the Telia team, who would have thought we would have been saying that.