GSMA cosies up to O-RAN Alliance

The GSMA, the telco industry lobby group, has announced a new partnership with the O-RAN Alliance to accelerate the adoption of Open Radio Access Network (RAN) technologies.

Although the benefits of OpenRAN technologies are still widely disputed by opposing corners of the industry, there is clear momentum gathering. With telcos desperate to make the commercial realities of network deployment more attractive, it should come as little surprise new ideas are being embraced.

“As the demand for data and vastly expanded mobile communications grow in the 5G era, a global, cross-border approach is needed to rethink the RAN,” said Andre Fuetsch, Chairman of the O-RAN Alliance, and CTO of AT&T.

“The GSMA collaboration with the O-RAN ALLIANCE is exactly the sort of global effort that’s needed for everyone, operators and vendors alike, to succeed in this new generation.”

The promise of OpenRAN technologies is simple. Firstly, more competition will be introduced to the market to encourage diversity and resilience. Secondly, once hardware and software have been disaggregated, deployment costs will be decreased, and innovation can be increased as best-in-breed technologies can be selected for each segment. Finally, vendor lock-in will become a thing of the past.

The Telecom Infra Project (TIP) has recently released a report which demonstrates the drive of the mobile network operators (MNOs). 53% are now prioritising total cost of ownership (TCO) reductions as profits erode and capital expenditure expenses increase.

What is worth noting is that the MNOs are taking a realistic view on the development of this segment. 66% believe Open RAN technologies will be critical to the survival of numerous MNOs as ARPU falls, but it will be several years before a comprehensive, resilient and competitive ecosystem emerges. A third of tier-1 and half of tier-2 telcos believe they will have commercially launched OpenRAN by 2023, but this does not mean the death of traditional network infrastructure within a generation.

While all these promises sound very interesting, optimism is not shared by all in the industry.

“Not all openness is good and not all closed-ness is good,” Nokia CTO Marcus Weldon said this week.

The likes of Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei will give messages of support to OpenRAN in public, but there will always be an undertone of doubt, as is in Weldon’s message above. The OpenRAN movement fundamentally destroys their business model so it is not difficult to understand why they have resisted and not been as helpful as they could have been to date. Slowing down this movement provides a bit more time for profits without disruption to operations after all.

The OpenRAN ecosystem is not ready yet, despite what some might insist, though progress is being made. And while this partnership might seem like little more than a ribbon cutting ceremony it is also very important. Like Vodafone or Telefonica embracing OpenRAN trials, a partnership with the GSMA provides credibility for the technologies, encouragement for less adventurous and innovative telcos.


Telecoms.com Poll:

When will OpenRAN be ready to be embraced by the industry without reservation?

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MWC Shanghai 2020 has been cancelled

The GSMA has surprised nobody by announcing the cancellation of the Chinese version of its Mobile World Congress trade show.

MWC Shanghai 2020 was scheduled for 30 June, so you can see why the GSMA decided to give it a bit more time, after the decision was made to cancel MWC Barcelona back in February. It’s fair to say the coronavirus situation has not improved since then and the Chinese government is ‘suggesting’ that large gatherings should still be avoided in the country, so that’s that.

“In light of current government guidance, the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel restrictions and other circumstances, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Shanghai 2020,” said the statement. “The GSMA has been in regular contact with stakeholders, and sought the advice of health officials and other authorities, as health and safety remain our top priority.

“The GSMA will work with government and health authorities to find a suitable date and venue to hold regional conferences in China in the latter half of 2020. We will confirm the feasibility of this in the coming months. We look forward to continuing to engage in the region throughout the year and in the build-up to MWC Shanghai 2021.”

There is no mention of what the arrangements will be regarding refunds for exhibitors and attendees, but any deviation from the settlement eventually offered after the cancellation of the Barcelona event would presumably be badly received. While the GSMA is opting for outright cancellation, many other events are still hoping to be able to reschedule for later in the year, once restrictions begin to be lifted.

GSMA sensibly softens its stance on MWC 2020 refunds

When the GSMA was forced to cancel Mobile World Congress coz of coronavirus it indicated that no refunds would be given, but a month later it has seen sense.

Attendee tickets will be 100% refunded and exhibitor have a couple of options. Those who spent up to £5,000 can get a full refund and those who spent more than that, which is presumably the vast majority, can get half of their cash back, but with a maximum of £150,000. That won’t be much consolation to the likes of Ericsson, who will have spent millions, but that’s academic since nobody who bailed out before the show was cancelled qualifies for a cash refund anyway.

Which brings us on to option two, which all exhibitors qualify for regardless of spend and cancellation status. It involves a cumulative fees credit of 125 per cent of 2020 paid fees over three years as follows:

  • MWC2021: 65 per cent fees credit
  • MWC2022: 35 per cent fees credit
  • MWC2023: 25 per cent fees credit

On top of that the rates for MWC 2021 will be the same as those for 2019.

“The GSMA values the loyalty and support our members and partners in the mobile ecosystem worldwide,” said John Hoffman, CEO of GSMA Ltd. “We are grateful to have the full support from our operator Board of Directors and already have formal exhibition support for MWC Barcelona 2021 from NTT DOCOMO, Orange, Telefonica and Vodafone. More than ever, our sincere thoughts remain with those affected around the world in these trying times.”

We chatted to a few exhibitors and, on the whole, they seem pretty happy with the package the GSMA has come up with. The 125% refund over three years seems like a no-brainer for any company that is committed to exhibiting anyway, but our conversations indicate that many will prefer to take the cash now in order to try to rescue their 2020 marketing plans, or maybe just to help with cashflow as the business world grinds to a halt.

“The GSMA’s decision to do this is fantastic, more than fair, and really underscores the leadership they show in our industry,” said Patrick Van de Wille, Chief Communications officer at regular MWC exhibitor Interdigital. “Mobile World Congress is the absolute highlight of our marketing year, not just because it drives so much visibility but also because the timing and importance of it gives our research teams a clear set of goalposts. A decision like the one they announced today means that, for us, MWC will continue to provide that focal point for the foreseeable future.”

The GSMA was in a tight spot over this. If it dug its heels in and strictly enforced its Ts and Cs it would have alienated a lot of exhibitors and, given how the coronavirus pandemic has exploded, faced a potential PR disaster as many of its partners struggle for survival. On the other hand, giving full refunds to everyone was presumably to great a burden for even the GSMA’s generous reserves to handle.

It probably could have got away with a 100% discount over two years, so the extra 25% was a good touch. The decision to punish companies that were more decisive than the GSMA itself over the health of their employees leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth and sets up potential disputes over what, precisely, constitutes a cancellation. But on the whole this seems like a good compromise and ensures the future health of MWC without asking exhibitors to pay too much of the cost.

Four operators take the lead on GSMA edge initiative

Last week, the GSMA announced an initiative to standardise the edge, with Telefónica, KT, China Unicom and Telstra the first to step up to lead the way.

In signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the four telcos the aim will be to test Edge Computing functionality and interconnection capability, as well as verifying the ease and simplicity of a MEC platform for application developers to leverage.

“Together with these Tier 1 operators, we are making available to the industry the means to build and deliver a global telco-based Edge Cloud service, providing the necessary mechanisms that complement current MEC standards to enable the federation of operator’s edge computing platforms,” said Juan Carlos García, SVP Technology and Ecosystem at Telefónica.

“With this, telcos will be able to deliver a universal Edge Computing service that will facilitate application developers and Enterprises the deployment of their services globally through a simple and single interface.”

The aim of the GSMA initiative is to standardise platforms for edge computing, ultimately driving towards interoperability in the telco community. Although standards might not be the most exciting part of the industry, they are critical to ensure smooth progress and also realising the telco rank in the pecking order.

The collaboration will take place over four phases:

  • Phase One: development of basic Edge Computing capabilities such as interconnection of MEC platforms, smart edge discovery and smart resource allocation
  • Phase Two: enabling mobility features
  • Phase Three: service availability to roamers, to enable the use of edge when customers moves from their home network and visit a different network
  • Phase Four: federation capabilities

Ultimately the aim is to create global consistency, a telco platform without the need to develop custom integrations for each and every market. Such interoperability and consistency is critical to ensure the effective development of a sustainable edge ecosystem. It also provides confidence to customers to deploy applications in any data centre, with policies designed for privacy, security and enhanced performance.

“Through our partnership with Telefonica, Telstra and China Unicom, all from different regions across the world, we set out to explore the most effective way to build a globally federated edge platform and tap into the full potential of telco-based Edge Computing,” said Jongsik Lee, SVP & Head of Infra R&D at KT.

“Leveraging MEC standards and key technologies, we aim to provide a reference model the industry can build on and developers and enterprises can take advantage of.”

GSMA takes standardisation to the edge

The GSMA has announced a new working group to develop an Edge Compute architectural framework and reference platform.

With China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, EE, KDDI, Orange, Singtel, SK Telecom, Telefonica and TIM joining forces, the aim will be to develop an interoperable platform to make edge compute capabilities widely and easily available. The edge has long been championed as a means to drive additional revenues and differentiation, though if the telco industry is not sharp enough it will lose the initiative to the internet giants.

“Operators are very well placed to provide capabilities such as low latency through their network assets,” said Alex Sinclair, CTO at GSMA. “It is essential for enterprises to be able to reach all of their customers from the edge of any network. Based on the GSMA Operator Platform Specification, Telco Edge Cloud will provide enterprise developers and aggregators with a consistent way to reach connected customers.”

One of the issues which has been facing progress in this emerging segment is interoperability. Fragmentation is the enemy of the telco world and the GSMA is hoping these specifications will address these challenges.

“Edge Cloud is a promising opportunity to enable the development of services that need low latency connection and to meet various service demands from enterprise customers,” said Yoshiaki Uchida, Executive Director, Technology Sector at KDDI. “The innovation of telecommunication services will be accelerated by the enhancement of service quality and the customer experience in real-time applications such as cloud XR and cloud gaming.”

Edge cloud and computing is an opportunity to deliver new services based on the low-latency advantage which the 5G era can offer. While this is a clear opportunity to add additional value and work with more enterprise customers for mission critical services, the profits are being threatened by the internet giants.

The likes of AWS, Microsoft and Google have been beefing up their cloud services team with new hires and the creation of new services to make good on this promise also. This is a promising new segment for the connectivity world, a chance to offer genuinely new services, though the telcos will have to duke it out with the internet giants.

GSMA tells MWC 2020 exhibitors it won’t be providing refunds

Out of pocket MWC exhibitors are being directed to a clause in their terms and conditions that absolves the GSMA of liability.

Two MWC 2020 exhibitors from opposite sides of the world independently contacted Telecoms.com to inform us that they have been received a communication from the GSMA, which runs the event, regarding the financial consequences of its cancellation. They were both directed to clause 21.10 of the Standard Terms and Conditions for Exhibition, Advertising, and Sponsorship, which reads as follows.

The Organizer shall not be liable to the Company for any losses, costs, damages or expenses (whether incurred under contract, tort or otherwise) suffered or incurred as a direct or indirect result of an event beyond the control of the Organizer, including without limitation, any act of God, disease or epidemic, strike, lock-out, industrial disturbance, failure of suppliers, act of public enemy, war, labor dispute, terrorist act, blockade, riot, civil commotion, public demonstration or governmental or local authority restraint nor shall the Organizer be liable to refund any fees.

The GSMA communication stressed that no refunds will be given, since this is a ‘force majeure’ situation, i.e. circumstances beyond the GSMA’s control. It goes on to say, however, that the GSMA is working on ‘a proposal’ designed to make the best of a bad situation and maintain good relations between the GSMA and its MWC commercial partners. We invited the GSMA to provide a statement on this matter but it declined.

Rather alarmingly, the communication also refers to the situation created by the cancellation of MWC 2020 due to the coronavirus threat as ‘uninsurable’. Surely a lot of insurance exists precisely to cover ‘acts of God’ such as this. If the GSMA’s insurers are telling it that they’re not liable for any of the cost of the cancellation then that seems like a pretty rubbish policy.

Once more the GSMA was keen to stress that it’s a not-for-profit organisation and that it finds itself in a precarious financial position as a result of the cancellation. This communication seems to be designed to position the decision not to refund as something that is out of the GSMA’s hands and builds on the Bloomberg interview as a call for industry solidarity in these trying times.

There is plenty of reason to feel sympathy towards the situation the GSMA finds itself in. Of course it didn’t want to cancel the show and, having been forced to do so by circumstances outside its control, it now faces an existential crisis. It’s also in the interest of exhibitors that value MWC to do their bit to ensure the event returns next year.

Where the GSMA find it most difficult to inspire its exhibitors to take one for the team, however, is in the matter of what it costs to attend MWC. Every year we speak to exhibitors at the event who moan about how they feel exploited and, while the GSMA may be a not-for-profit, nobody doubts MWC Barcelona itself makes a massive profit.

The telecoms industry does need to show solidarity at a time like this, but it works both ways. It would be counter-productive in the long term for exhibitors not to accept their fair share of the cost of such an exceptional piece of collective bad luck. But at the same time the GSMA should ask itself if maximising the profit it makes on MWC is the best way to help the industry is was created to support.

The financial fallout from cancelling MWC could get messy

A lot of money was lost the moment the GSMA made the decision to cancel MWC 2020 and the process of trying to recoup some of it seems to have already started.

The GSMA itself hasn’t issued any formal announcements since last Wednesday, but it has found time to give an interview to Bloomberg. In it Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, said “We’re looking for solidarity and everybody bearing their own costs,” before insisting the GSMA doesn’t have much cash and what little it has it reinvests in the industry. Which industry, precisely, isn’t specified.

This may come as a surprise to Mobile World Congress exhibitors, who pay millions for their precious bits of square footage in the Fira each year, not to mention the additional costs around building their stands, catering, VIP access, etc. We don’t know how much profit the GSMA makes from MWC each year, but it must be in the tens of millions.

We still haven’t heard back from the GSMA following our enquiry about cancellation conditions, but the standard terms and conditions say “Termination less than 120 days prior to the Event Date, one hundred percent (100%) of the total cost of the Space, Advertising and/or Sponsorship cancelled.” However they also say “The Organizer may terminate this Agreement for any other reason than as stated in clause 16.3 at any time before the Event Date upon written notice to the Company provided that it refunds all fees paid by the Company to the Organizer.”

Clause 16.3 just covers failings on the part of the exhibiting company, so doesn’t apply in this case. The two stipulations above would seem to say that the GSMA is not contractually obliged to refund any money to exhibitors that pulled out before the whole event was cancelled, but is obliged to give it all back to those who had yet to pull out after that announcement.

It’s presumably this latter constituency, which still seems to account for the majority of all exhibitors, that Granryd was appealing to with his call for solidarity. How much solidarity those exhibitors feel was shown to them by the GSMA during their negotiations over the cost of attending, however, will be a matter for them to consider.

The Bloomberg interview went on to describe lengthy debates with Spanish officials who were not happy about the prospect of losing the revenue boost that comes with thousands of telecoms types coming to town for the week. The GSMA public position, however, is that money never entered its collective mind during the negotiations.

So what were they negotiating about then? Until the last minute the Spanish authorities were leaking to the press that they saw no reason to cancel. This was presumably part of the negotiation process, designed to place the decision, and thus liability, for cancelling totally in the GSMA’s hands. The final position of the Spanish authorities on the matter remains unclear, but the negotiations were apparently so important that they invited Bloomberg to take a photo of them.

The very accommodating Bloomberg piece seems to constitute initial public positioning by the GSMA ahead of the negotiations with exhibitors that may well have already started. Our understanding is that many of the companies that pulled out before the official cancellation did so without the expectation of getting anything back. But that was then.

Will they still be so sanguine if they hear their competitors have got a bunch of cash back, just for hanging in there even as the cancellation of the show seemed increasingly inevitable?  The financial implications of the cancelling of MWC 2020 could start to snowball rapidly If the Fira demands full payment and exhibitors start asking for their money back. The GSMA’s annual report doesn’t offer much information about the financial side of things, but its major members must be feeling nervous about who will end up paying the bill for this year’s MWC.

Mobile World Congress 2020 has officially been cancelled

The major telecoms trade show of the year has seen officially called off due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.

It had seemed like just a matter of time since mobile networking vendor Ericsson decided not to take the risk last week. When its competitor Nokia, along with a bunch of major European operators, decided to follow suit earlier today, that really was game over.

“With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” said John Hoffman, CEO of GSMA Limited, in a published statement.

“The Host City Parties respect and understand this decision. The GSMA and the Host City Parties will continue to be working in unison and supporting each other for MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions. Our sympathies at this time are with those affected in China, and all around the world.”

All that talk of Host City Parties is probably in reference to the core issue that had presumably caused the GSMA to delay the inevitable – liability. Many reports indicated the GSMA was desperately lobbying the Spanish government to declare a health emergency, which in turn would absolve it of blame when it came to cancelling the event. This will have made the difference between the GSMA having to swallow nearly all of the cost and lost revenue from cancellation, and being able to claim a large proportion of it back from its insurers.

MWC week is going to feel very strange for everyone in the telecoms industry since the show has run uninterrupted for 30 years. At lot of people are going to be at a loose end and it wouldn’t be surprising to see bands of besuited telecoms execs roaming the streets of London in a forlorn attempt to get some return, however small, on their MWC investments. Never mind, there’s always next year.