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.

The risk reward profile for attending MWC 2020 is deteriorating by the day

Intel is among the latest major exhibitor to pull out of MWC as rapidly diminishing attendance makes the risk of coronavirus infection increasingly hard to justify.

Many of the most recent cancellation announcements have come from US companies or ones with a major US presence. A major reason for this will be how vigorously litigious the Americans are and thus the massive legal risk companies put themselves in if they knowingly put their employees in harm’s way.

“The safety and wellbeing of all our employees and partners is our top priority, and we have withdrawn from this year’s Mobile World Congress out of an abundance of caution,” said the Intel statement. “We are grateful to the GSMA for their understanding and look forward to attending and supporting future Mobile World Congress events.”

US telecoms R&D company Interdigital is another to have thrown the towel in today and our conversations around the industry indicate a lot of other US companies have made the decision not to attend, but haven’t formally announced it yet. On top of that Chinese attendance will be massively diminished, in part due to the impracticality of self-quarantining for two weeks prior to the show, but again many formal announcements are being delayed.

One reason for this could be the game of financial cat and mouse show organiser GSMA will now be having to play with its exhibitors and attendees. We asked the GSMA what the cancellation conditions are but have yet to hear back from them. The MWC site offers the following cancellation terms for attendees, but the exhibitor terms don’t seem to be published.

Whether those gratuitous block capitals have been inserted recently we can’t tell, but it looks like the GSMA is determined not to be out of pocket, and you can see why. A few years ago Light Reading looked into the cash the GSMA make from MWC and came to the conclusion it trousered over $35 million in profit in 2014. Since the show has grown dramatically since then, a figure closer to 50 mil doesn’t seem at all inconceivable.

The GSMA is not for profit, so it’s safe to assume a lot of what it makes from MWC is accounted for by staff costs. Such a huge, unexpected hole in its balance sheet is bound to have profound organisational implications. So not only is the GSMA is a very difficult moral position over the prospect of creating a giant human petri dish in Barcelona, the financial implications of cancelling, after which it would presumably be obliged to refund exhibitors and attendees, are colossal.

If not before it looks like some kind of further decision will be made this Friday, with a couple of major Spanish papers reporting the major operators that actually own the mobile trade association are getting together to make a call. Those papers presumably have sources within the venue and we have to assume there is regular dialogue between the Fira and the GSMA about how much the latter has to pay the former in the case of a delay or outright cancellation.

As ever with things like legal liability and insurance it all comes down to blame. Right now it still seems to be down to the discretion of the individual or company whether or not they’re willing to take the risk of contracting coronavirus in Barcelona, but that could change. The GSMA likes to refer to the World Health Organisation for the latest on the coronavirus situation and if the WHO officially upgrades it to a pandemic, that could shift a lot more of the financial liability over to insurers.

That in turn would probably precipitate the cancellation of MWC 2020 as, even if the GSMA still wanted to go ahead, what little incentive people have to risk attending will have been removed. But even if the WHO never makes that move, the risk/reward profile for exhibitors and attendees is getting worse by the day.

Even if you leave aside concerns about coronavirus, MWC is an operator show and most people attend to get precious face time with operator execs and try to flog them stuff. If those execs aren’t there, then what’s the point in making the effort? Every single cancellation announcement makes further ones more likely because, even if none of their upfront costs are refunded, people will quite reasonably conclude there’s no point in throwing good money after bad.

MWC cancellations snowball as show implements strict coronavirus precautions

At least four more major participants pulled out of MWC 2020 over the weekend, while restrictions on visitors from China have been tightened.

Amazon, Nvidia, Sony and Viavi have now all confirmed they’ve decided the risk of coronavirus infection is too great for them to allow their formal presence to go ahead. Here are their statements.

Amazon: “Due to the outbreak and continued concerns about novel coronavirus, Amazon will withdraw from exhibiting and participating in Mobile World Congress 2020, scheduled for Feb. 24-27 in Barcelona, Spain.”

Nvidia: “We’ve informed GSMA, the organizers of MWC Barcelona, that we won’t be sending our employees to this year’s event. Given public health risks around the coronavirus, ensuring the safety of our colleagues, partners and customers is our highest concern.

“MWC Barcelona is one of the world’s most important technology conferences. We’ve been looking forward to sharing our work in AI, 5G and vRAN with the industry. We regret not attending, but believe this is the right decision. We’re grateful for GSMA’s leadership and continued efforts to ensure the safety of all attendees.”

Sony: “Sony has been closely monitoring the evolving situation following the novel coronavirus outbreak, which was declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization on January 30th, 2020. As we place the utmost importance on the safety and wellbeing of our customers, partners, media and employees, we have taken the difficult decision to withdraw from exhibiting and participating at MWC 2020 in Barcelona, Spain.

“The Sony press conference will now instead take place at the scheduled time of 8:30am (CET) on February 24, 2020 as a video via our official Xperia YouTube channel to share our exciting product news. https://www.youtube.com/user/sonyxperia. Sony would like to thank everyone for their understanding and ongoing support during these challenging times.”

Viavi: “After reviewing all available data, VIAVI has chosen to cancel participation in this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona out of an abundance of caution and concern for our employees, customers and partners.”

There are, of course, rumours of other cancellations, but none confirmed at time of writing. Cnet reports that Samsung is still exhibiting, but is acting to protect just its senior execs, which isn’t a great look if it’s true. We asked Samsung for comment and were told that, while there is no official statement, the company is still attending.

Meanwhile the organisers of MWC 2020, the GSMA, issued another update over the weekend, affirming once more that the event is still going ahead, but announcing a raft of new precautions and restrictions designed to mitigate the risk of coronavirus infection to exhibitors and attendees.

  • All travellers from the Hubei province will not be permitted access to the event (MWC Barcelona, Four Years From Now (4YFN), xside and YoMo)
  • All travellers who have been in China will need to demonstrate proof they have been outside of China 14 days prior to the event (passport stamp, health certificate)
  • Temperature screening will be implemented
  • Attendees will need to self-certify they have not been in contact with anyone infected.

While it’s totally understandable that the GSMA will do everything in its power to make the show as safe as possible, it’s hard to se how some of those measures will be enforceable. What does ‘self-certify’ even mean? Also this advice was issued yesterday, 15 days before the official start of the event. So, essentially, if you haven’t left China for the event already, don’t bother.

The whole event feels like it’s balancing on a knife-edge, with just one more negative development potentially enough to tip the balance towards outright cancellation. We understand many companies are following Ericsson’s lead and conducting formal risk assessments, the results of which are probably already being analysed. The smart money was on Nokia pulling out after the Ericsson decision, but we’ve heard nothing from them yet. The biggest exhibitor, however, is Chinese firm Huawei, and the fate of MWC could lie in their hands.

GSMA holds firm but this weekend could be carnage for MWC

Companies from all corners of the telecoms ecosystem will be having emergency meetings over the next few days to decide whether or not to pull out of the big show of the year.

We don’t have any more confirmed cancellations but the telecoms grapevine tells us that a lot of companies are in the process of doing risk assessments regarding the threat posed by the coronavirus outbreak. While some may choose to provide updates over the weekend, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a flood of announcements on Monday.

The decision by Ericsson to cancel its entire presence at the event will have spurred the rest of the industry into action, which may otherwise have left the decision to the last minute. Even if companies disagree with Ericsson’s assessment of the situation, they will be under pressure to explain why. They will also presumably be having earnest conversations with their insurers and legal departments.

Meanwhile the GSMA has responded to Ericsson’s decision by stressing its commitment to the event. “Ericsson’s cancellation will have some impact on our presence at this time and will potentially have further impact,” said the GSMA press release. “The GSMA continues to monitor and assess the potential impact of the coronavirus on MWC Barcelona 2020 as the health and safety of our exhibitors, attendees and staff are of paramount importance. MWC Barcelona 24-27 February 2020, will proceed as planned.”

Let’s see if they’re still saying that on Monday.

GSMA promises not to rig the eSIM standard in favour of its members

The US Justice Department has concluded a two-year investigation into the GSMA’s handling of the eSIM standard after the latter promised to play nice.

The investigation was started because the Antitrust Division thought the eSIM standard was being developed in such a way as to make it difficult for new entrants to the market to compete with the incumbent operators that comprise the GSMA’s membership. Getting rid of the hard SIM theoretically makes it a lot easier for subscribers to change providers as it would only require an OTA update. The prospect of the resulting increased competition presumably alarmed said operators.

According to the Antitrust Division’s investigation, the GSMA and its mobile network operator members used an unbalanced standard-setting process, with procedures that stacked the deck in their favour, to enact an RSP [Remote SIM Provisioning] Specification that included provisions designed to limit competition among networks,” said the DoJ announcement. “When standard-setting organizations are used in an anticompetitive manner, the division stands ready to evaluate that conduct under the antitrust laws and take whatever action is necessary to restore competition.”

It looks like this process was concluded in the right way, with the GSMA volunteering to change its anticompetitive ways sufficiently to placate the DoJ. “In response to the investigation, the GSMA has drafted new standard-setting procedures that will incorporate more input from non-operator members of the mobile communications industry,” says the announcement.

“The new standard-setting process will have a greater likelihood of creating procompetitive benefits for consumers of mobile devices; it will also curb the ability of mobile network operators to use the GSMA standard as a way to avoid new forms of disruptive competition that the embedded SIMs (eSIMs) technology may unleash.”

“I am pleased that the GSMA is ready to use its standard-setting process to create a more consumer-friendly eSIM standard,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim. “The GSMA’s old procedures resulted in certain eSIMs rules that benefitted only its incumbent mobile network operators at the risk of innovation and American consumers.  The new procedures proposed going forward significantly reduce that risk and should result in new innovative offerings for consumers.”

The GSMA’s responding statement, not attributed to any individual, is curt to the point of petulance. “The Justice Department reviewed millions of documents covering a multi-year and complex process to establish common standards for eSIM technologies,” it said. Its Business Review Letter is conclusive that the agency found no violation of antitrust laws.”

There’s no point pouting about it GSMA, if you can’t learn to play nice then you’ll have your toys taken away. There is a clear conflict of interest when you have a trade association developing standards that need to be made available to industries outside of its own. Of course it’s going to try to favour its members – that’s what it’s there for.

The sensible thing, surely, would be for the GSMA to incubate technologies such as eSIM and RCS but then hand them over to proper, independent standard-setting bodies like the 3GPP as they mature and become commercial realities. We don’t know why it doesn’t but it surely can’t be a matter of money; the GSMA has Mobile World Congress for that.

GSMA boasts of climate change progress

The GSMA has announced 50 telcos around the world have signed-up to an initiative to drive greater transparency through the industry with regard to its contribution to climate change.

Representing more than 66%, 5.2 billion, of the worlds’ mobile connections, the 50 telcos will disclose their climate impacts, energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The initiative will also include the development of an industry-wide plan to achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050 in line with the Paris Agreement.

“Today’s announcement marks the start of a collaborative action by the mobile industry to tackle the climate emergency, demonstrating how the private sector can show leadership and responsibility in addressing one of the gravest challenges facing our planet,” said Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA.

“The mobile industry will form the backbone of the future economy and therefore has a unique opportunity to drive change across multiple sectors and in collaboration with our suppliers, investors and customers.”

Although the lobby group is giving itself a proud pat on the back, what is worth noting is that numerous other industries have already made prominent steps forward to addressing climate change. Airlines, for instance, have included a tick-box during the purchasing procedure which allows consumers to make a charitable donation to offset the carbon emissions attributed to their seat on the plane. It’s a step-forward of course, but the telco industry is not the quickest off the mark.

Using the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) framework, the industry will attempt to aid climate change enthusiasts limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Although the deadline date for the Paris Agreement is 2050, there is likely to be a huge amount of regional variance. The ability for companies to meet the deadline will be impacted by the ability to access renewable energy, current network deployments and the geographical nature of their location.

While it might not sound like much, limiting the increase in average temperatures by 2050 to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels instead of 2°C could have a significant impact. 11 million fewer people might be exposed to extreme heat, 61 million fewer people exposed to drought, and 10 million fewer people exposed to the impacts of sea level rise. The SBTi is also claiming this 0.5°C could also halve the number of vertebrate and plant species facing severe range loss by the end of the century.

This is certainly a positive step-forward, and while we suspect many will only be agreeing to the initiative as a PR push rather than a genuine belief in the perseverance of the environment over profits, does it actually matter? If the end goal is achieved, does anyone really care what the drivers of the players were?