Vodafone UK enters the 5G FWA fracas

Vodafone UK has debuted its 5G Gigacube to further expand its connectivity portfolio, perhaps gaining more of a foothold in the broadband market.

Although Vodafone is primarily associated with the mobile segment in the UK, it has been making positive moves in the broadband market over the last twelve months. Having signed a partnership with CityFibre last year to deliver fibre broadband services, the 5G Gigacube offers another twist to the portfolio.

Vodafone claims the 5G Gigacube can offers speeds of up-to 1 Gbps, the dreaded conditional statement which been suggested to mislead customers, while 64 devices can be connected simultaneously, and the range can be as great as 90 metres. There are still a lot of unknowns and nuanced language in these statements, but it does seem to be priced competitively as you can see below:

Data allowance 100 GB 200 GB Unlimited
12-month contract £25 (£83 upfront) £33.33 (£42 upfront) £41.67 (£42 upfront)
30-day contract £25 (£271 upfront) £33.33 (£271 upfront) £41.67 (£271 upfront)

Interestingly enough, there have also been some clues into the way in which it will be marketed.

Due to the offering being mobile by nature, there aren’t geographical limitations, in theory. If you are a small business without a fixed office, the plug and play feature allows you to effectively carry connectivity wherever you are. This could be applied to a variety of situations, such a pop-up restaurants or bars, and could potentially open-up new markets for broadband products.

It also tackles another interesting challenge in the consumer broadband market. When a customer moves home, there is no guarantee that customer will be retained; it depends on offers which are available wherever that customers actually moves to. With a plug and play, mobile driven, broadband solution, contracts can be retained irrelevant as to where the customer lives.

Although we have been teased with the launch of the 5G Gigacube over the last couple of weeks, its debut today completes the puzzle when it comes to convergence.

Convergence is one of the most consistent buzzwords over the last couple of years, but that is for a very good reason. Not only are convergent customers more likely to be retained year-on-year, it increases the profitability of subscriptions. Most telcos would rather have one million customers taking two services than two million taking one, and this product offers Vodafone another opportunity to make the most of the buzz.

Announced earlier this month, as the telco switched on its 5G networks, Vodafone will offer a convergence connectivity product, combining a home wifi solution with mobile for £50 a month. And to sweeten the deal, customers will also receive an Amazon Alexa speaker for free.

Vodafone has largely been viewed as an ‘also-ran’ over the last decade, O2 and EE have built a considerable leadership position, though the former-market leader has been rebuilding over the last few years.

The turnaround in the business does seem to coincide with the introduction of Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery. During his tenure, the team has built a converged network, Redstream, addressed customer service with the introduction of chatbots, the retirement of legacy IT systems, reinvigorating the brand and creating a business which is contextually relevant. Although this is not mission complete, you can see the progress which has been made.

Vodafone feels like a new business at the moment and it couldn’t have happened at a better time. The world is about to enter into a new era of connectivity with 5G and FWA challenging traditional home broadband. Vodafone is positioning itself very well.

Industry says Government should focus on outcomes not specific tech

Being forward looking is an excellent quality to have in a national government, but when objectives are focused on technology not the desired outcome, it is a risky approach.

In this instance, it seems the UK Government can do nothing right. For years, the focus of the fixed industry was G.Fast not fibre, believing that the connectivity half-way house was a sensible strategy. There might have been adequate arguments made at the time, but with hindsight they do seem underwhelming.

Now the position is to drive towards a full-fibre, connected nation, with targets to connect every household with the future-proofed lines by 2033. However, some are now questioning whether this is an over-correction.

The issue seems to be that the UK Government is focused on technology, not delivering the desired outcome.

“We will cover the overwhelming majority of the UK with fibre, but there are also other technology developments which will contribute to a connected Britain,” said Clive Selley, CEO at Openreach. “These include FWA [Fixed Wireless Access] and low-orbit satellites, and we have mentioned balloons, we should be open-minded.”

Fibre should be the objective but doesn’t mean you have to deliver it to everyone and everywhere tomorrow. As Selly pointed out during his time on stage at the Connected Britain event, connecting the first 80% of premises to fibre is not an issue. It is expensive, it is time consuming, but its not complicated. The next 10% is going to be much more difficult, and the final 10% is where they haven’t worked it out yet.

Another interesting point is whether customers actually need fibre connectivity right now. In the desire to go end-to-end, you have to wonder whether fibre is needed for the last-mile. Long-term, of course it will be necessary, but it is about addressing the desire not the technology.

“In my opinion, government has been focusing too much on full-fibre,” said Three CEO Dave Dyson. “I would like the government to take a step back and understand what people actually need. Full-fibre is an answer, but it is not the only answer.”

Again, we would like to emphasise fibre should be the long-term aim. But, you have to ask what the actual objective of the UK Government is. In this case, it is to deliver faster connectivity to citizens across the entire country, irrelevant to the local environment.

Understanding fibre is the long-term objective, but the mid-term objective is accessibility to faster and more reliable connectivity is an outcome-focused strategy. This is where fixed-wireless access can play a role, as can low-orbit satellites and even balloons. The last mile can be delivered through a variety of options, as long as the foundation of the network is fibre, giving the option to extend in future years.

Unfortunately, it seems the UK is in a difficult position of its own making. In not embracing fibre earlier, it is behind the trends. A commitment to full-fibre might have been the right call 6-7 years ago, but the situation has changed. The current strategy does not necessarily present the UK with the best route towards the full-fibre nation; the plan should be evolved to consider context.

Here is pragmatic example, how many people actually need speeds north of 150 Mbps right now? Not many. Fibre is the best option for the long-term, but focusing on developing the foundations, delivering the experience which customers need and expect, while also creating a more sustainable approach to ROI should be the mid-term objective.

As Dyson pointed out, FWA offers the team a more readily available opportunity to drive revenue on a per-user basis. It allows them to react to customer demand as opposed to forecasts. However, for the proposition to work as promised fibre needs to be rolled at least to the cabinets everywhere.

This is a divisive topic. Some believe the telcos should bite the bullet and simply pay to get fibre everywhere. Holding them accountable is perfectly reasonable, but you have to also take into account the telcos have to make money as well.

When you consider context, financial demands and future-proofing the network, the equation is a very difficult one to balance. Fibre should be the long-term objective, but right now the demands are for faster broadband while also addressing the appetites of those in the rural communities. The other options to satisfy the connectivity demands of today should not be ignored, which is perhaps what is being done with the Government’s hardcore focus on full-fibre.

Strategies should be outcome focused not technology defined. This is perhaps the problem the UK is facing today.

We’ve hit the go button on 5G, now what?

If the years of sleepless nights and hype are actually going to mean anything, 5G has to deliver more than 4G possibly could, and right now it isn’t.

This might sound like an incredibly negative comment, but it is a realistic assessment of where the industry actually is today. Hitting the on button was simply the first phase, it delivers an enhanced 4G connectivity environment. The big question is what comes next.

“Is 5G a premium product?” Ovum’s Dario Talmesio asked at 5G World today. “Of course, it is a premium product. This is a step change to what we can experience on today’s products in 4G.

“At the moment, the monetization of 5G is similar to that of 4G. This is the most simplistic monetization model. But we won’t be able to do anything new until ‘real 5G’ emerges.”

This is where the big challenge for the industry is about to emerge. The first usecases are simplistic ones, building on the ‘bigger, badder, faster’ mentality of the telecommunications industry. It makes the ‘pipe’ bigger, allowing more data to flow through it, and faster, enabling faster download speeds.

An example of this enhanced connectivity model is over at Verizon. Speaking at the same event, Ronan Dunne, President of Verizon Wireless, pointed towards the increasingly worrying strain being placed on the network. 5G allows Verizon to meet these demands, reduce the strain on the network and increase profitability through technology efficiencies.

Another gain is on the convergence side of telecoms. In areas where Verizon does not have a fixed network, Dunne pointed towards the FWA alternative which 5G enables. Three UK is another company which is exploiting this product and there are numerous other telcos who are eyeing up FWA as a proposition to build bigger product portfolios.

Customers might be willing to pay for this incremental upgrade, but it doesn’t fix the bigger issue in the telco space; adding extra value, and therefore seeking new revenues.

This is not a new idea. One of the basic ambitions of 5G is to evolve the telco from a communications service provider to a digital service provider. But how are the telcos getting on in searching for pastures new?

As you can see from the slide below, it hasn’t been the most ambitious start.

INSERT PIC OF DARIO PRESENTATION

Although you can see there are ambitions to take advantage of newly emerging segments, these are areas which the telcos already operate in. Entertainment, media and smart cities will certainly add some weight to the telco cause, but they will have to venture further afield.

SK Telecom is one company which is pushing the boundaries of the acceptable norm, though this should not really come as a surprise considering the leadership position South Korea has crafted.

During his own presentation, Takki Yu confirmed SK Telecom is challenging itself to seek out new ideas and business cases.

“5G era has begun, let’s do anything which we can imagine,” said Yu. “That is the key message from SK Telecom.”

An interesting point made by Yu was about the mentality of SK Telecom. The team is aiming to bring anything which would be considered offline today into the mobile mix. It does sound very ‘blue-sky thinking’, but it is important to think about new ideas. Many telcos will claim they are doing this, though there is little evidence to support the PR plugs.

Looking at the POCs which SK Telecom is exploring, there is quite a bit of breadth. In partnership with the Sinclair Group, SKT is working towards 5G-based broadcasting services, it is investigating the potential of a 5G-hospital with Yonsei Severance, with WeWork it is working towards a 5G-smart office, with the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Center the team is exploring the next generation of smart factories and it has set-up a smart city in the Incheon Free Economic Zone.

As Ovum’s Dario Talmesio pointed out, the issue many telcos are facing is a lack of industry-specific knowledge. Creating these solutions for the verticals, and integrating them appropriately, cannot be done if the telcos remain as a silo. This is what the Asian telcos have been doing very well over the last few years; partnering with industry verticals. Unfortunately for the European telcos, they are playing catch-up here.

Right now, the world might be wowed by the incredible speeds which are being delivered through 5G networks, but the truth of the matter is that this will not last forever. The wow-factor will fade, and soon enough customers will realise it isn’t actually that innovative. Soon enough, the 3GPP will unveil Release 16 and ‘real’ 5G will emerge. This is where the telcos will have to be very attentive or risk being relegated to the role of connectivity partner.

Three enters the 5G fracas with FWA offering

Three is promising to launch a 5G home broadband service in London in August, before rolling out the connectivity euphoria for both mobile and broadband in 25 cities by the end of 2019.

With EE and Vodafone already moving through the gears in the 5G race, it was never going to be long before Three made its debut. Initial plans had seen Three as a little big sluggish in the home-straight, though it appears the business is ramping up pretty quickly.

“It’s clear that consumers and businesses want more and more data,” said Three CEO Dave Dyson. “We have the UK’s best network for data and we have led the market on customer usage on both 3G and 4G technologies. We have worked hard over a long period of time to be able to offer the best end to end 5G experience. 5G is a game changer for Three, and of course I am excited that we will be the only operator in the UK who can offer true 5G.”

For the moment, the Three focus is going to be exclusively on fixed wireless access. This should not come as too much of a surprise, Three has been plugging the FWA business case over the last couple of months and it does offer the team new products to shout about. Three is somewhat of a specialist in the disruption game and have been eyeing up the fixed market since its acquisition of UK Broadband in 2017. Most might associate 5G with mobile, but it does present Three with a very interesting opportunity.

“It is the home broadband offering that really catches the eye,” said David Warner of uSwitch. “Until now, much of the discussion of 5G’s arrival has centred on how it will improve mobile connectivity and speeds, but its potential to upend the broadband market, and so quickly, is now being explored by Three.

“Those in areas or buildings without full fibre installed may now be able to choose the convenient option of plugging a 5G router straight into the wall and being online on ultrafast speeds in seconds. By the time full fibre does reach many people – with 2033 still the government’s target for full coverage – they may very well be perfectly happy with 5G mobile broadband connections.

That said, it won’t be long before Three enters the mobile fray. Network tests are currently being undertaken in the likes of London, Cardiff, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, all of which will figure into the 25-strong list of cities to get the 5G euphoria before the end of the year. There are a couple of questions which remain however.

Firstly, you have to wonder what devices will be sold through Three tariffs once the mobile products are rolled out to the masses. As it stands, Three has two devices listed on its website. One is the HTC 5G Mobile Smart Hub, and the second, the Huawei Mate X.

While there is a risk associated with the Huawei device, Three has said it will continue to sell the Mate X though consumers will be confronted with warning signs to ensure an informed purchasing decision is made. Both EE and Vodafone have stopped taking pre-orders for the Huawei device, and will not until the OS situation has been cleared up. There are of course other devices on the market, but it does seem the details are yet to be finalised. Three has said these offers will be unveiled closer to the mobile 5G launch date.

Secondly, how will Three approach the pricing conundrum.

Three’s traditional strategy in the UK is to undercut rivals. The team has traditionally targeted those consumers who are heavy data users, and it would be a sensible bet to assume this successful plan will continue into the 5G era, but who knows.

The challenge which consumers are facing at the moment is price. There will be thousands who upgrade as soon as possible, but normal people will look at the price of 5G connectivity (for a decent data bundle) and struggle to justify the additional expense. EE and Vodafone have unveiled their tariffs, and we suspect they are north of where the market will settle.

The question is how much of a challenge to this duo will it present? The conditions are perfectly suited for Three to roll out lower tariffs and disrupt on price once again, but only time will tell as to whether it can justify such a plan considering the expense of deploying 5G networks in the first place.

FCC Chairman convinced by T-Mobile/Sprint concessions

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has publicly stated he believes the concessions made by T-Mobile US and Sprint are enough to ensure the merger would be in the public interest.

Over the course of the weekend, rumours emerged over concessions the pair would have to make to get the support of the FCC, though rarely are sources so spot on. The merged business will now have to commit to a nationwide 5G deployment within three years, sell Sprint’s prepaid brand and promise not to raise prices during the rollout years, if it wants the greenlight of the FCC.

What is worth noting is this is not a greenlight just yet. Pai has said yes, though he will need a majority vote from the Commissioners. Commissioner Brendan Carr has already pledged his support, and we suspect Michael O’Reilly will in the immediate future also. The Democrats might want to throw a spanner in the works, but this would be largely irrelevant with O’Reilly’s support.

“In light of the significant commitments made by T-Mobile and Sprint as well as the facts in the record to date, I believe that this transaction is in the public interest and intend to recommend to my colleagues that the FCC approve it,” Pai said in a statement.

“This is a unique opportunity to speed up the deployment of 5G throughout the United States and bring much faster mobile broadband to rural Americans. We should seize this opportunity.”

As you can imagine, T-Mobile US CEO John Legere certainly has something to say on the matter.

“Let me be clear,” Legere stated in a blog entry. “These aren’t just words, they’re verifiable, enforceable and specific commitments that bring to life how the New T-Mobile will deliver a world-leading nationwide 5G network – truly 5G for all, create more competition in broadband, and continue to give customers more choices, better value and better service.”

The first commitment made by T-Mobile US and Sprint is a nationwide 5G network. Considering Legere has been claiming his team would be the first to rollout a genuine 5G network for some time, it comes as little surprise the FCC will want to hold him accountable.

Over a three-year period, presumably starting when the greenlight is shown, the new 5G network will cover 97% of the population. 75% of the population will be covered with mid-band spectrum, while the full 97% will have low-band. This is a very traditional approach to rolling out a network, as it meets the demands of capacity and efficiency, though there is a sacrifice on speed.

Perhaps more importantly for the FCC, the plan also covers objectives to bridge the digital divide. 85% of the rural population will be connected during this period, increasing to 90% after six years. This is not to say all the farmers fields will be blanketed in 5G, though it does help provide an alternative for the complicated fixed broadband equation in the rural communities.

Moving onto the divestment, selling Sprint’s Boost prepaid brand seems to be enough to satisfy the competition cravings of Pai. What is worth noting is this will not be a complete break-away from the business as it will have to run on the T-Mobile US network. Unfortunately, MVNOs in the US are not as free to operate as those in Europe, as switching the supporting network would mean have to change out all the SIM cards.

This becomes complicated as you do not necessarily know who your customers are in a prepaid business model. The situation certainly encourages more competition, it will after all not be part of the T-Mobile US/Sprint family anymore, but it is far from a perfect scenario.

Finally, Legere has promised tariffs will not become more expensive during the deployment period, another worry for the FCC should the duo want to meet the ambitious objectives to compete with AT&T and Verizon. However, it does appear Legere is promising 5G tariffs will not include a premium either.

And now onto the other side of the aisle. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has tweeted her opinions on the concessions and it appears she is not convinced.

“We’ve seen this kind of consolidation in airlines and with drug companies. It hasn’t worked out well for consumers. But now the @FCC wants to bless the same kind of consolidation for wireless carriers. I have serious doubts.”

Rosenworcel has also suggested the decision should be put out for public consultation. We suspect Pai will want to avoid this scenario, as it would be incredibly time-demanding; the Chairman will want the merger distraction off his desk as soon as possible.

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks is yet to make a comment, but DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT go on his Twitter page if you haven’t watched the latest Game of Thrones episode.

We understand the Democrat and Republican Commissioners are going to be at each other’s throats over pretty much every decision, however trolling any innocent individual with a GoT spoiler is a low blow.

Starks and your correspondent are going to have some issues.

When FWA starts to make sense

Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) attracts a huge range of opinions, but at Light Reading’s Big 5G Event, Starry put forward an interesting case.

Starry Internet is a fixed wireless broadband Internet service provider, founded in January 2016, operating across a small number of US cities. What makes Starry different from many of the other cable providers is an exclusive focus on FWA.

As a technology, FWA has certainly split opinion. Some see it as a 5G usecase which could justify the vast expenditure on the future-proofed networks, while others believe it is a distraction from what should be the ultimate goal; rolling out full-fibre broadband to all premises.

While we can see there are some niche usecases for FWA, we do not believe it is a viable alternative for fibre-based broadband solutions, the Starry proposition makes a valid case which will be attractive for some broadband challengers.

“People are dying for choice,” Starry COO Alex Moulle-Berteaux said during his keynote session.

Over the first 18 months of Starry’s existence, the firm managed to set up a FWA network which covers two thirds of Boston premises. Although Moulle-Berteaux hasn’t unveiled subscription numbers, the progress has been solid enough to fuel expansion into other US cities.

What is remarkably impressive is Starry managed to deploy this significant FWA network in Boston for less than $5 million.

Moulle-Berteaux also claims the firm has experienced a 20% uptake when connecting a multi-dwelling residence in the first 60-90 days. Promising 200 Mbps, down and up, the team are targeting the cord cutters, offering internet connectivity exclusively, potentially reduce monthly out-goings.

This is why the FWA case is attractive to some. Low cost of entry, Moulle-Berteaux highlighted the use of unlicensed spectrum is helping here, the ability to deliver high speeds and speak to a generation of customers who are increasingly becoming sick of the traditional relationship with connectivity and content providers.

That said, while this is an attractive proposition, we can’t see around the idea that FWA is incredibly short-termist.

Yes, the speeds delivered now are promising and there are certainly prospects to increase further, there will be limitations. Mobile connectivity is always going to be second-best when measured against fibre-based broadband, because physics.

Fibre is the fastest and most reliable connection. It works by emitting and receiving a light signal through the cables that represents binary code. FWA can deliver speeds faster than copper-based broadband, but it’s airborne and a little more prone to external factors. FWA is an alternative, but telcos can get distracted by short-term gains leading to long-term pain. Just look at the BT decision to prioritise G.Fast over fibre. It’s a similar business decision.

However, the US is a market where there might be a valuable role for FWA propositions. As Moulle-Berteaux highlighted, customers like choice and due to the lack of competition in the broadband market, are becoming frustrated with their current providers. This frustration will explain why Starry has been successful in hoovering up subscriptions.

We’re still not convinced by the FWA promise. Fibre is a long-term solution which all providers should be striving towards and there is a risk FWA will become a distraction. However, there are cases where the value is incredibly high. In the US, where many customers are becoming frustrated with a lack of competition, we might have a validated usecase.

Sunrise plugs FWA in Swiss 5G launch

Swiss telco Sunrise has jumped on the 5G bandwagon with the launch of a Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) offering aiming to bridge the digital divide.

Like the UK, Switzerland is one of the more sluggish European nations when it comes to fibre penetration. According to the latest statistics from the Fibre to the Home Council, Switzerland currently has FTTH penetration rate of 7.8% across the country, potentially creating a digital divide. This offering from Sunrise is using such a chasm to promote its FWA offering.

“In the digital age, residential and business customers alike need fast Internet with speeds of up to 1 Gbps,” said Olaf Swantee, CEO of Sunrise. “But in many places, customers are waiting in vain due to a lack of fiber optic connections.

“With 5G for People we are filling this gap, e.g. in Unterkulm (AG), where the first Sunrise 5G pioneer switched on his Sunrise Internet Box 5G and can now use ‘fibre through the air’, which is ten times faster than fixed networks. 5G for People is closing the digital divide in Switzerland and making Switzerland Europe’s pioneer in digital infrastructures.”

The initial launch will focus on 150 cities, towns and villages across the country, with each location aiming for between 80% and 98% population coverage, the aim will be to provide an alternative to fixed broadband services, some of which will be considered sub-standards by the demanding consumer of today.

Interestingly enough, the claims themselves demonstrate the difference in attitude between advertising authorities in the UK and Switzerland.

Using a statement such as ‘fibre through the air’ and comparing the 5G service to copper fixed networks not fibre, might irk some advertising authorities. Although it is not a direct lie, it is not telling the entire truth of the situation. Some might suggest this is misleading the customer through omission of information. We suspect the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK would have an issue with some of these claims.

Sunrise is on the charge through the Swiss alps, with its latest acquisition of Liberty Global’s assets adding momentum. First to market does not necessarily mean much in the long-run, but it is good ammunition to add to the armoury.

FWA can be the fuel for fibre ambitions – Huawei CTO

Fixed wireless access (FWA) should not be considered an alternative for fibre connectivity in the home, but that does not mean it should be ignored as a usecase to justify expenditure.

“5G is not about speed but about making money,” said Paul Scanlan, CTO for the Huawei Carrier Business Group.

Those who are basing business models around the idea that 5G will deliver faster connectivity are heading down a perilous road. There will be an opportunity to make money from faster connections, but a 5G-orientated telco thinks about the economics of connectivity differently, according to Scanlan. One example is the FWA buzz.

In some circles, FWA is being touted as an alternative to fibre broadband. For Scanlan, this is short-sighted, but it can create a more attractive position to ease the transition from legacy networks through to the future proof infrastructure.

Two concepts of fibre connectivity are completely unavoidable; firstly, its expensive to deploy a fibre network, and secondly, its very time-consuming. The materials are in high-demand pushing up the price, digs are laborious and planning permission laws can create a complicated red-tape maze. These are some of the reasons mobile connectivity vastly outstrips fibre deployments, which generally only grow 5% a year.

In certain geographies, the FWA usecase is an incredibly valuable one. Not only is it quicker to deploy, offering fibre-like speeds sooner rather than later, it is cheaper. Telcos can start delivering fibre-like broadband services immediately, increasing customer satisfaction, while these revenues can offset the heavy financial demands of deploying fibre. It’s a slightly different mindset, but FWA could aid the inevitable.

This is where the ‘bigger, faster, meaner’ mentality of the telcos could create a risk. It is simply not sustainable. Connectivity is becoming increasingly expensive, and consumers are paying less. This is not an attractive equation, but new services can eliminate the chasm.

Latency and transmission are two areas which are not attracting as much attention but could be the difference between the digital service provider of tomorrow and a utilitised telco for connectivity. With 5G, Huawei is promising latency can be reduced by 30-50X, while throughput can be increased by 16X; these numbers can create a more attractive business model.

On the latency front, there are some telcos across Asia who are attempting to monetize latency, creating added value services for gamers. For $1 a month, gamers can turn-on ‘low latency mode’ which can be the difference between winning and losing for certain titles. At $1 a month, it isn’t going to turn the tides, but enough of these value-adds fights back against the pressure of utilitisation trends.

Another interesting usecase is in the smart factory, using latency to remove intelligence off the robots. Scanlan highlighted very few people would buy a $1 million robot, but demand would be much higher for the same device priced at $1,000. The difference between the two could be removing the intelligent component from the robot and hosting them in the cloud. But for this to be a reality, latency would have to be significantly reduced. This is another monetization opportunity for the telcos.

Looking at transmission, Scanlan points to consumer traffic growth. If growth continues its current trajectory, at least 25% year-on-year, 4G will hit a glass ceiling within three years. 4G would have to increase network densification by 160% to meet the demands, though 5G could be the answer. Yes, there will need to be more small cell sites to address the coverage requirements, but each of these sites will have dramatically increased capabilities to deal with the traffic consumption.

Huawei claims CAPEX expenditure would have to increase by 5X for 4G to meet the demands if traffic increased by 50%, though it would only be 1.8X for 5G infrastructure. This creates a much more palatable equation for a scenario which is inevitable.

“What is the real reason for big 5G, it is significantly more efficient,” said Scanlan.

5G is faster, there is no avoiding this fact, but building a business around such a narrow focus is incredibly dangerous. The days of the ‘bigger, meaner, faster’ mentality is quickly dying in the telco world.

T-Mobile uses FWA and digital divide as latest Sprint merger justification

T-Mobile US has announced the launch of an LTE Fixed Wireless Access service, which could address the connectivity needs of 50 million people, assuming the Sprint merger is approved of course.

It hasn’t been billed as an Uncarrier move from T-Mobile, however it has the potential to be quite disruptive. The team has pointed to statistics which suggest 61% of rural customers either have no or only one home broadband services available to them, offering a significant opportunity for CEO John Legere and his magenta army, if they can prove the concept works effectively.

In the first instance, T-Mobile plans to invite 50,000 customers to participate in the live trial, though should the bureaucrats approve the Sprint merger, the team would be able to open this up to 9.5 million customers by 2024. And thanks to 5G, T-Mobile is promising speeds “in excess” of 100 Mbps to 90% of the forecasted FWA footprint, also by 2024.

“Two weeks ago, I laid out our plans for home broadband with the New T-Mobile,” said Legere. “Now, we’re already hard at work building toward that future. We’re walking the walk and laying the foundation for a world where we can take the fight to Big Cable on behalf of consumers and offer real choice, competition and savings to Americans nationwide.”

Although FWA is not a long-term, realistic alternative to fibre, at least not on the current airwaves, T-Mobile could certainly craft a useful position here. Pricing the service at $50 per month, the team suggests customers could save $360 per year, assuming the average monthly cost of home broadband is $80.

For T-Mobile this is perfect timing to plug the benefits of the Sprint merger and gain the interest of influential politicians. With the 2020 Presidential Election machine beginning to crank into first gear, potential candidates and the President himself will be looking for soundbites to rollout to the Middle America rallies. The FWA service ticks two boxes here.

Firstly, with so many rural consumers (and potential voters) either unable to purchase a home broadband service, or only having a single option, T-Mobile is providing an answer. In most cases, the reason home broadband is not available is due to an inability for the telco to prove ROI or the geographical landscape makes it incredibly difficult. FWA addresses these problems.

Secondly, $360 is a lot of money. T-Mobile has a track record of undercutting rivals while delivering a service which is at least on par. This might well be an offering which will attract the interest of many.

Should any politician be involved in forcing the T-Mobile and Sprint merger through, it would be an excellent anecdote for the ambitious politicians to take to potential voters. Not only are they delivering Middle America the internet, they are doing it cheaper than what is available to everyone else around the country.

T-Mobile is promising the merged company will use a low-cost structure to aggressively capture market share by undercutting rivals. This strategy is not only a chance for Legere to further irritate AT&T and Verizon, but it is a massive plug for the merger. In an FCC document, T-Mobile suggests by “monetizing available spectrum and leveraging off of other deployed network assets, the in-home service will be profitable on its own”. The underlying message is quite clear; look what we can do once you greenlight the merger.

Interestingly enough, T-Mobile seems to be fighting the competition concerns in the wireless market, with the opportunity to enhance competition in the wireline market. Soon enough, the merger judges will have to decide what is more important; maintaining the four MNO balance or creating more competition in the home broadband arena.

“These pro-competitive and pro-consumer in-home broadband benefits are clearly merger-specific, verifiable, and compelling considerations to inform the Commission’s overall review of the merger’s effects on competition and the public interest,” the statement to the FCC reads.

Another point which will gain the attention of the pro-consumer politicians and bureaucrats is the promise of free hardware. T-Mobile is promising the LTE router will be provided and installed at no-cost to the consumer, and as soon as 5G is available in the area, the upgraded 5G router will be provided free of charge.

The merger is still hanging in the balance, but the promise of increased competition in the broadband world, especially with the prospect of a race to the bottom, might turn some heads. The pros and cons of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger are starting to become very interesting

KT and Nokia will join hands to launch first ‘true’ 5G this month

Korea’s mobile operator KT is going to launch nationwide 5G service this month and will collaborate with Nokia to provide services and tools for the business and the public sectors.

Hwang Chang-Gyu, KT’s Chairman and CEO, recently announced that KT’s nationwide 5G network will be switched in March to cover 24 major cities, key transport routes such as expressways, subways, high-speed railways, large universities, and neighbourhood shopping areas. This will be an upgrade from the synchronised launch of 5G services with limited scale on 1 December 2018 by all the three national mobile operators.

“In March, KT will be the first in the world to introduce ‘True’ 5G mobile services,” said Hwang. “In the 5G era, neckband cameras, AR glasses and all kinds of devices will be connected to 5G, contributing to a better life for mankind.” That this was a personal historic moment should not to be lost. Exactly four years ago at MWC 2015, Hwang predicted a commercial 5G network by 2019. “Today, I would like to announce that the promise I made four years ago has finally been fulfilled,” Hwang added in his MWC speech.

The current 5G service that KT, SKT, and LG Plus are offering is fixed-wireless access targeted at business users. During the recent MWC, KT demonstrated plenty of 5G gimmicks for the consumer market, from a 5G connected robot butler bringing a bottle of water to the doorstep to a 5G and AI powered robot barista fixing cocktails.

KT is clearly banking big hope on 5G. Its Economic and Management Research Institute predicted that the socioeconomic value created by 5G will contribute to 1.5% of the country’s GDP by 2025. To realise such potential and to achieve serious monetisation of 5G, KT is looking towards the enterprise market and the public sector. The company announced that it plans to focus on five key areas with its 5G offers: smart cities, smart factories, connected cars, 5G media, and the 5G cloud. It says it is collaborating with various businesses as well as the Korean government to develop 5G services for both Business to Business (B2B) industries and Business to Government (B2G) sectors.

This is an echo to what Marcus Weldon, Nokia’s CTO and the President of Bell Labs, called for during his own speech at MWC. Weldon suggested the telecom industry should focus more on serving other verticals instead of on consumer markets, to deliver the true value of 5G. He did concede that it would need three to five years before telcos can see meaningful revenues from enterprise 5G. But when they do, Weldon predicted the business will soon equal that being made in the consumer 5G segment.

It just happened that KT and Nokia are going to collaborate closely in 5G. During MWC the two companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate on various 5G technologies. “We are excited to partner with Nokia to conduct these path-breaking trials,” said Jeon Hong-Beom, KT’s CTO. “This collaboration will ensure that we are able to leverage Nokia’s proven solutions and best-in-class professional services to provide a superior and differentiated experience to our subscribers.”

“With Korea, one of the lead countries in the early deployment of 5G, we are delighted to be working with KT to help them build a future-ready network,” added Bhaskar Gorti, President of Nokia Software. “Nokia’s end-to-end portfolio will empower KT to improve its customer experience and network efficiency.”

The key areas of the collaboration will include Service Orchestration and Assurance for the 5G era, with the aim of delivering end-to-end automation and new revenue opportunities for KT’s enterprise customers. This will be supported by the enabling technologies like NFC and network slicing. The joint work will start in Seoul later this year.