BT pleads for open access to street furniture

BT is attempting to rally the industry in an attempt to convince local authorities to ditch the current exclusive concessions model in UK cities in favour of an ‘Open Access Model’.

As it stands, many local authorities operate a concessions model which grant a single player exclusive access to council-owned street furniture, such as lamp posts, to place mobile network equipment. This might seem attractive to the councils from a revenue perspective, but BT is arguing this will be to the detriment of the digital economy in the long-run.

“While the concessions model made sense in the early 2010’s when it first came into common use, the market and regulatory landscape have changed, and it’s become clear that exclusivity agreements act as a barrier to further 4G and 5G investments,” said Paul Ceely, Director of Network Strategy for BT.

“Government initiatives such as the DCMS Barrier Busting taskforce are showing the way, but we believe that industry needs to act. We are leading the way by handing back exclusivity in nine key areas.”

BT currently operates nine exclusive concessions (Glasgow, Cardiff, Brighton, Plymouth, Carlisle, Newcastle/Gateshead, Nottingham, Gloucester and Leicester) and is proposing to end these contracts should the result be an open access environment. The new model would grant all mobile operators and infrastructure companies access to street furniture, paying the local authorities a flat, consistent rate.

Although it is not a new gripe, the bureaucratic and regulatory environment across the UK has once again been blamed for connectivity problems. Almost all the operators have had a moan at the red-tape wrapped regulatory landscape at one point or another, but an open access model would appear to be a sensible step forward to encourage improved mobile coverage and experience.

However, what should be worth noting is there are authorities who have made progress in this area without prompts from industry.

“One of the reasons why the West Midlands was chosen as the location for the UK’s first region-wide 5G test bed was our commitment as a region to do what it takes to work with operators to get the 5G networks we need built in the fastest, fairest and most cost effective way,” said Henry Kippin, Director of Public Service Reform at the West Midlands Combined Authority.

“The timing and spirit of this Open Access initiative is ideal as we will make faster progress through operators and public services working together to a shared agenda so that 5G can fulfil its full potential in driving economic growth that can benefit all our diverse communities.”

While some small-minded public servants might point to the lost revenue when ending the exclusive concessions, you have to look at the long-term benefits. The West Midlands is now home to numerous 5G test beds, R&D facilities and is home to hubs of excellence for emerging technologies.

Whether the local authorities pay attention to logic is an entirely different matter, but any suggestions to decrease the red-tape complications of UK bureaucracy should be welcomed by all.

A post-Brexit Ofcom worries us – Vodafone

With the anti-China rhetoric dominating the headlines in recent months, Brexit chatter has become unfashionable. But with the deadline fast approaching, what will Ofcom look like in the future?

Speaking at a breakfast briefing in London, Vodafone UK Chief Counsel and External Affairs Director Helen Lamprell let loose on the UK regulator. Cell tower height, rural roaming, potential reintroduction of international roaming charges, dark fibre and auction dilemmas, there seemed to be a lot of venting going on.

“The UK remains a challenging environment [regulatory], one of the most challenging in the world,” said Lamprell. “But we are seeing positive change.”

The issue which Vodafone is keeping an eye-on is Brexit. According to Lamprell, Ofcom is one of the most conservative regulators throughout the bloc, though when it is freed from the tethers of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), there is a risk it could become even more so.

There isn’t necessarily one massive bugbear from the telco, but several little aggravations which all combine to a much larger nuisance. Let’s have a look at mast height to start with.

Everyone wants signal, but no-one wants towers

As it stands, UK cell towers are limited to 25 metres in height. This obviously doesn’t take into account those masts which are placed on the top of buildings, just the actual structure itself. In most cases, this doesn’t have a massive material impact on operations, such is the population density of the UK, but when you look at countryside locations it becomes a much larger discussion.

Part of the up-coming 5G spectrum auctions will place coverage obligations on telcos. This is a reasonable request by the government, as telcos have shown they will not bridge the digital divide on their own, though as it stands 99% of the UK population is currently covered. Geographical coverage is no-where near this figure, though as there is little commercial gain from providing coverage to these remote locations, reaching the 90% objective is difficult.

One way which this could be done is by providing exemptions to the 25-metre limit in certain situations, such as the countryside, as CTO Scott Petty pointed out, for every 10-metres you go up the coverage ring is doubled.

All four of the major UK MNOs (EE, O2, Vodafone and Three) are meeting with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) this afternoon, and this will be a point on the agenda. Should these exemptions be granted, it opens the door for shared infrastructure also, as the main cost of these structures is civil engineering and construction, not the equipment on the tower. Both of these developments combined would aid the telcos in reaching the geographical coverage objectives.

This brings us onto another interesting point raised by Lamprell, rural roaming.

My restless, roaming spirit would not allow me to remain at home very long

“Rural roaming takes away our incentive to invest,” Lamprell said. “It’s a really, really dumb idea.”

Three are one of the companies pushing for rural roaming, but as the Vodafone team points out, it is the only MNO which hasn’t built out its rural infrastructure. However, should rural roaming be introduced it would cause a stalemate for investment.

As Petty points out, why would any MNO invest in its own infrastructure when it could force its way onto a competitor’s? All the telcos would be sitting on the starting line, waiting for another to twitch first, such is the pressure on the CAPEX spreadsheet column when investing in future-proofed infrastructure.

Moving onto the international roaming question, Vodafone is staying pretty agile right now. As it stands, the status quo will be maintained, though the team will react to the commercial realities of a post-Brexit landscape. Currently, as a member of the European Union, Vodafone is protected from surcharges when it comes to termination charges, though those protections will end with Brexit.

Vodafone has quite a significant European footprint, in most cases there is little to worry about, but for those territories which fall outside the Vodafone stomp, negotiations will have to take place.

There are several countries, Estonia is an example, which has higher termination rates than the UK. If the reality of a post-Brexit world is Vodafone is swallowing up too many charges from international calls/SMS/data, roaming charges might have to re-introduced in certain markets. This is all very theoretical currently however Ofcom will prevent Vodafone from replicating these charges from the European nations. Vodafone is sitting and waiting for the realities of Brexit right now, though it will not be a broad-brush approach.

“Our position today is to maintain the position we are in, but we will have to evaluate the situation at the time,” said Lamprell.

Ignore Luke, the Dark Side is great

Dark fibre. It used to be a popular conversation, but everyone seems to have forgotten about it recently.

Not Lamprell.

The focus of Ofcom over the last 12 months or so has been on opening-up ducts and poles, and while this certainly is progress, it only addresses part of the problem. Dark fibre is an aspect of the regulatory landscape which could add significant benefits to the industry but has seemingly become unfashionable.

Dark fibre, fibre cabling which is not currently being utilised by Openreach, could answer the backhaul demands of the increasingly congested networks quickly and efficiently. Mainly as it is already there. There is no need to dig up roads, apply for planning permission or procure new materials, it could be as simple as flicking a switch.

Openreach resistance and Ofcom’s aggressive focus on ducts and poles is perhaps missing a trick.

Going, going, maybe not yet

The UK is currently in somewhat of an unusual and unprecedented situation. It is one of the nations leading the world into the 5G. This is not to say it is in a podium position, but compared to the 4G era, the UK is sitting pretty.

Part of the reason for this has been early auctions to divvy up spectrum assets, however, moving forward there are some irregularities which is causing some head-scratching.

Later this year, Ofcom will kick-start another auction which will see 120 Mhz of spectrum in the 3.6-3.8 GHz bands, as well as 80 MHz in the 700 MHz band go up for sale. For both Lamprell and Petty, this auction doesn’t make sense. These are two bands which will be used for different purposes (coverage and speed) so why auction them off together.

If Vodafone had known this was going to happen back in April 2018, during the first spectrum auction, it might have altered its strategy.

“We could end up with a very fragmented spectrum situation,” said Petty.

From the team’s perspective, it seems Ofcom has only just woken up to the coverage demands of the UK government, and is using this auction as a blunt tool to meet the objectives. From an engineering perspective it doesn’t seem to make much sense to Vodafone.

“We are not happy with the rules,” said Lamprell. “But it’s rare for us all [MNOs] to be happy.”

Looking good but looking suspect

The UK is currently in a good position ahead of the 5G bonanza from an engineering perspective. With test hubs being set up around the country and telcos who are acting proactively, the UK looks like an attractive environment to invest in for R&D. It is by no-means leading the global 5G race, but it is in a healthy position.

However, political and regulatory uncertainty are a threat to this perception. The activities and culture of both DCMS and Ofcom over the next couple of months will has a significant impact on the 5G fortunes of the UK, as well as the ability to attract new talent, companies and investment.

Germany outlines its 5G security requirements

Short and to the point, did we expect anything from the German 5G security requirements other than meet our standards and you can operate in our country?

“We regularly adapt the applicable security requirements to the current security situation and the state of the art,” said Jochen Homann, President of Bundesnetzagentur. “The security requirements apply to all network operators and service providers and they are technology-neutral, covering all networks, not just individual standards such as 5G.”

What is worth noting is that while 5G and international security concerns might be the catalyst to these requirements, they will be applied across all networks and communications infrastructure moving forward, as well as all vendors.

The announcement from Bundesnetzagentur, the German regulator, will come as a blow to the aggressive geo-political ambitions of the US. It seems the anti-Huawei propaganda is running low on fuel, and such is the weight of Germany’s influence across Europe, Chinese executives might be letting out a sigh of relief.

Although the new safety requirements are only a concept for the moment, Bundesnetzagentur plans to release a draft of the rules for feedback over the next couple of weeks.

The requirements are quite broad-ranging, though there are enough clauses to ensure Germany is the master of its own fate. For example, critical components can only be used in communications infrastructure should there be certification recognized by the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). Employees who install or manage this equipment will also have to be certified by German authorities.

There does also seem to be a move towards the UK’s approach to monitoring and managing risk. As part of the new requirements, network traffic must be regularly and continuously monitored for abnormalities, while safety-relevant network and system components must undergo regular and continuous safety checks. This is a more forensic approach to network management, which allows for companies like Huawei to operate in the country, but the risk is managed.

Another interesting aspect to be included in the new rules addresses ‘monocultures’. Although this is a term which is usually used in agriculture, Bundesnetzagentur is essentially ensuring there is depth in the supply chain. Redundancy must be built into the networks through using multiple vendors for different segments and aspects of operations.

While this might create more work for telcos, vendors and regulators, we feel this is a more proportionate response to the risk of nefarious external parties. Simply banning one company, or companies from a single country, will not work, such are the complexities of the digital ecosystem. Vulnerabilities are everywhere, and the most pragmatic approach should be to understand 100% secure will never exist. Its all about managing the risk most appropriately, and Germany seem to be taking a very sensible approach.

In the UK, the industry is eagerly awaiting the results of the Government’s supply chain review, which will potentially dictate how telcos interact with the vendor ecosystem. Rumours have emerged suggesting no single-vendor can own more than 50% of a certain area, but we hope the result is somewhat similar to the German approach here. This seems to be the attitude of Vodafone also.

Speaking at a briefing in London, Vodafone UK CTO Scott Petty highlighted the team has been working with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to identify the levels of risk associated with each segment of the network (Radio, Transmission, Core), and building a diverse supply chain to mitigate risk where appropriate.

This approach has led to Chinese companies being excluded from certain areas, though on the radio side where right has been deemed to be very low, Huawei supplies 32% of equipment. This approach allows best-in-breed kit to be considered but considering the sheer volume of cell towers around the UK, even if some equipment is compromised, the impact would be incredibly minor. Resilience has been built in through volume, data encryption and security gateways.

Interestingly enough, Germany is taking another very sensible approach to managing risk; the assumption that everyone is nefarious. All components and equipment will have to be certified, not just those products from countries which are deemed underhanded by paranoid opinion. Every vendor’s supply chain is becoming increasingly complex, suggesting vulnerabilities could appear anywhere. This impartial approach to suspicion will certainly place Germany is a sound position.

A considered approach to security

While certain countries have taken a knee-jerk reaction to security requirements, pinning the blame of an insecure digital ecosystem on one country or a very limited number of countries, Germany is taking a much more considered approach.

Having such a laser-like focus on security, scrutinising single elements of the ecosystem is incredibly dangerous. Cyber-criminals are incredibly intelligent, managing sophisticated networks through the dark web. If the risk of exposure becomes too high through a single route, another will be sought. Taking a blanked approach to security as Germany is doing minimises risk throughout the supply chain.

We suspect the Chinese government is not completely innocent in light of all the accusations, but we also believe they are not alone. Many of the fingers are being pointed in one direction, but Germany is not falling into that trap.

Ciena bags 20.5% growth perhaps thanks to Huawei dilemma

Optical networking company Ciena posted positive results for the first quarter of 2019, with total revenues of $778.5 million beating analyst expectations.

There have been whispers in corners of various conferences that a Huawei ban could benefit some, and it may well be having a positive impact for Ciena. While there are numerous other companies which would compete with Huawei in the optical equipment segment, with Ciena one of the few ‘pure-play’ companies it might have a more notable impact on the financials.

That said, irrelevant of where the favourable fortune has come from investors will be happy. $778.5 million represents a 20.5% year-on-year increase for the first quarter, while nearly all geographical markets have shown healthy growth.

“We began fiscal 2019 with a very strong first quarter performance, including outstanding top and bottom line growth as well as continued market share gains,” said Gary Smith, CEO of Ciena. “We believe that the combination of our leading innovation and positive industry dynamics will enable us to further extend our leadership position.”

Net income for the quarter stood at $33.6 million, though this is incomparable to the same period of 2018 which registered a loss of $473.4 million thanks to President Donald Trump’s US tax reform.

Looking at the regions, in the US, a market which now accounts for 62% of the company’s total revenues, the earnings grew just over 20% to $485.5 million, while 20% growth was also registered in the APAC region. The big success story however was in Europe, where the team grew the business by 32% to $129.2 million. This is still only 16.6% of the total haul for Ciena, but more geographical diversification will certainly be welcomed.

For Ciena, Europe could be a very interesting market over the next couple of months. With Huawei coming under increasing scrutiny globally, telcos will look to further diversify supply chains to add more resilience and protect themselves from potential government bans. While the anti-China rhetoric being spouted out by the White House is losing momentum, the European Union is reportedly looking some sort of ban, even if this puts the Brussels bureaucrats at odds with some member states.

For such vast investments, telcos will be looking for certainty and consistency from government policies. When looking at Huawei as a potential vendor, telcos will naturally be nervous, even if they don’t want to admit it.

With Huawei’s ban set to have little impact on the US market, it is not a major supplier to the market historically, the Europe could be a hidden goldmine for Ciena.

Interestingly enough, this scenario also seems to be paying off dividend in the APAC markets as well. Smith notes the success in the APAC region has come from Australia, Japan and Korea, three markets where Huawei has either been explicitly banned or is receiving a rather frosty welcome.

FCC and Oval Office locking horns over 5G

The FCC originally looked like a diligent foot-soldier for the President, but with the nationalised 5G infrastructure argument seemingly emerging again, heads are set to butt.

Reports have been emerging in various corners that the White House is revisiting plans to develop a nationalised 5G network, a plan originally raised in January 2018 to keep the US at the front of the technology arms race. The plan was shot-down back then, and the FCC has already raised set the tone of resistance through social media over the last week or so.

Following the President’s twitter rant last month, which saw the Commander-in-Chief bemoan progress being made by the telcos, FCC chiefs set their position out quite firmly.

In the case of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a retweeted message from 2018 reiterates a point which was made when the plans were first suggested; hands-off from the government is the best stance. This seems to be one of the only positions the Democrat and Republican representatives on the board of the FCC seem to agree on; the telcos should build the US 5G network, not the government.

Although the White House has not released any official statement confirming its favour of a nationalised 5G infrastructure, the defensive position entrenched by Pai and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel suggest there have been conversations which neither like. These tweets could be viewed as in-direct opposition, with the pair attempting to get ahead of the game.

According to Politico, this isn’t the only conflict which is emerging either. The Trump 2020 re-election campaign team have been pushing the benefits of a government-owned, wholesale infrastructure, while the current Trump political administration are keen to avoid the topic. While the disagreement is hearsay and reports for the moment, it would not surprise us if the Trump campaign led with such a promise.

This sort of political manoeuvre fits perfectly into the Trump playbook from his first election campaign. It hits pain-points for US citizens in the politically less-attractive states, the very people Trump was able to mobilise in 2016. However, attacking the digital divide in rural communities is not a new trick, Hilary Clinton used this tactic in 2016 also, but a nationalised 5G infrastructure will appeal to those who feel ignored by corporates. Trump has shown he can communicate effectively to those who believe they are under-represented by mainstream politics, and this angle could prove to be an effective tool.

The idea which seems to have been raised here is to create a wholesale network in partnership with a private third-party. The government would fund the deployment of the network, while the third-party would manage the operations and wholesale business, creating a system which would operate like the electricity market, with parties ‘purchasing connectivity’ on a rolling basis.

Theoretically, this position sounds wonderful. The arguments for nationalisation are often very compelling, and it could be justified as an effective way to spend tax-payers money. However, nationalised businesses and infrastructure have been shown to be ineffective time and time again. The government is not equipped to manage such projects in the long-run and not savvy enough to compete against private entities when they emerge. It might sound very appealing to voters who are stuck in the chasm of the digital divide, but it will not help the US in the global technology arms race.

As Brenden Carr, a Republican FCC Commissioner, notes above, private industry is the best way to secure a leadership position in 5G. This is a lesson which has been learned numerous times over the years in the US; when you leave private industry alone, simply creating a legislative and regulatory framework to encourage growth, much can be gained. In the technology world, this is perfectly evident with the success of Silicon Valley.

The dominance of the US on the technology stage is being widely challenged, though it seems the ego of the Trump party is getting in the way of logic. First to market does not necessarily mean the best, but this seems to be the angle which the President’s team is taking.

The big question is what impact this will have on the future for the Republican party. Should these rumours of a nationalised network evolve into reality, a split may well appear in the rank and file. The Republican FCC representatives are clearly not happy about this position, and neither are the science and technology advisors in the White House. However, you can’t argue that such a campaign promise would be very attractive to those who currently reside on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Here is what the Trump 2020 electoral campaign team will have to assess; is the long-term detriment of communications infrastructure a fair trade-off for the lure of ‘Middle America’ votes in the 2020 election? We suspect they won’t be looking much further beyond 2024.

Dell’Oro crowns Huawei No.1 despite security concerns

Huawei might have been under some intense scrutiny over the last twelve months, but that hasn’t stopped it maintaining its number one position in telecom equipment market.

Releasing its Worldwide Telecom Equipment Market 2018 report, Dell’Oro has estimated Huawei accounts for 29% of the market, keeping itself on top of the pile. Ericsson, Nokia, ZTE, Cisco, Ciena and Samsung complete the top seven which accounts for 80% of the total. Encouragingly for all involved, the market grew by 1% year-on-year over 2018.

While the market was always expected to increase with the up-coming 5G euphoria, some investors might be a bit worried about the level of growth. These vendors have been consistently promising shareholders the arrival of 5G will compensate for the baron years, with the market declining year-on-year since 2015. 1% might growth in the market might not be the envisioned bonanza, but it is almost certain to accelerate over 2019.

Looking at the growth, Broadband Access, Optical Transport, Microwave, and Mobile RAN claimed the plaudits, while the remaining segments, Carrier IP Telephony, Wireless Packet Core, SP Router and Carrier Ethernet Switch, all declined across the period. The worldwide Mobile RAN market received particular praise.

This is a segment which proved more successful than some would have predicted. 4G networks have been given more attention across the period as demands for better experience have been growing from both a regulatory and consumer perspective, though the emergence of 5G NR continued to accelerate throughout the year. Interestingly enough, the period of rapid growth coincided with the intense scrutiny placed on Huawei, though this seems to have had little impact.

Through 2018 Huawei’s revenue share of the market continued to grow, taking it up to 29%, though Ericsson and Nokia were seemingly able to stem the flow of customers towards the door, halting year-on-year decreases across 2018. In the RAN market share rankings, Huawei is controlling the top spot, while Ericsson sits second and Nokia in third place. ZTE dropped 2% market share, though this is perhaps a sign of the business shut-down in the second quarter.

With the US government finding fewer and fewer sympathetic ears for its anti-China rhetoric in recent months, Huawei’s success has continued. Recently, Ryan Ding, CEO of Huawei’s carrier unit, claimed the firm had shipped 40,000 5G base stations to customers around the world. With many telcos considering these products as a ‘dumb’ component of the network, business may well continue as normal, unless of course any governments step in to implement national bans.

After years of trudging through stringent CAPEX, the light on the horizon does seem to be getting brighter. 1% growth is not going to compensate for the declines over the last couple of years, but it is a good indicator of the potential profits of tomorrow. Revenue growth in the embryonic days of 5G is certainly something to be pleased about.

Are you ready to look at 6G?

We can hear the groans already, but we’re going to do it anyway. Let’s have a look at what 6G could possibly contribute to the connected economy.

Such is our desire for progress, we haven’t even launched 5G but the best and brightest around are already considering what 6G will bring to the world. It does kind of make sense though, to avoid the dreaded staggering of download speeds and the horrific appearance of buffering symbols, the industry has to look far beyond the horizon.

If you consider the uphill struggle it has been to get 5G to this point, and we haven’t even launched glorious ‘G’ properly, how long will it take before we get to 6G? Or perhaps a better question is how long before we actually need it?

“5G will not be able to handle the number of ‘things’ which are connected to the network in a couple of years’ time,” said Scott Petty, CTO of Vodafone UK. “We need to start thinking about 6G now and we have people who are participating in the standards groups already.”

This is perhaps the issue which we are facing in the future; the sheer volume of ‘things’ which will be connected to the internet. As Petty points out, 5G is about being bigger, badder and leaner. Download speeds will be faster, reliability will be better, and latency will be almost none existent, but the weight of ‘things’ will almost certainly have an impact. Today’s networks haven’t been built with this in mind.

Trying to find consensus on the growth of IOT is somewhat of a difficult task, such is the variety of predictions. Everyone predicts the same thing, the number of devices will grow in an extra-ordinary fashion, but the figures vary by billions.

Using Ericsson’s latest mobility report, the team is estimating cellular IoT connections will reach 4.1 billion in 2024, of which 2.7 billion will be in North East Asia. This is a huge number and growth will only accelerate year-on-year. But here is thing, we’re basing these judgments on what we know today; the number of IOT devices will be more dependent on new products, services and business models which will appear when the right people have the 5G tools to play around with. Who knows what the growth could actually be?

IOT Growth

Another aspect to consider is the emergence of new devices. As it stands, current IOT devices deliver such a minor slice of the total cellular traffic around the world its not much of a consideration, however with new usecases and products for areas such as traffic safety, automated vehicles, drones and industrial automation, the status quo will change. As IOT becomes more commonplace and complicated, data demands might well increase, adding to network strain.

Petty suggests this will be the massive gamechanger for the communications industry over the next few years and will define the case for 6G. But, who knows what the killer usecase will be for 5G, or what needs will actually push the case for the next evolution of networks. That said, more efficient use of the spectrum is almost certainly going to be one of the parameters. According to Petty, this will help with the tsunami of things but there is a lot of new science which will have to be considered.

Then again, 6G might not be measured under the same requirements as today…

Sooner or later the industry will have to stop selling itself under the ‘bigger, badder, faster’ mantra, as speeds will become irrelevant. If you have a strong and stable 4G connection today, there isn’t much you can’t do. Few applications or videos that are available to the consumer require 5G to function properly, something which telco marketers will have to adapt to in the coming years as they try to convince customers to upgrade to 5G contracts.

4G and arguably todays vision of 5G has always been about making the pipe bigger and faster, because those were the demands of the telcos trying to meet the demands of the consumer. 6G might be measured under different KPIs, for example, energy efficiency.

According to Alan Carlton, Managing Director of InterDigital’s European business, the drive towards more speed and more data is mainly self-imposed. The next ‘G’ can be defined as what the industry wants it to be. The telcos would have to think of other ways to sell connectivity services to the consumer, but they will have to do that sooner or later.

The great thing about 5G is that we are barely scratching the surface of what is capable. “We’re not even at 5.0G yet,” said Carlton. “And this is part of the confusion.”

What 5G is nowadays is essentially LTE-A Pro. We’re talking about 256-QAM and Massive MIMO but that is not really a different conversation. With Release 16 on the horizon and future standards groups working on topics such virtualisation, MMwave and total cost of ownership, future phases of 5G will promise so much more.

The next step for Carlton is not necessarily making everything faster, or more reliable or lower latency, but the next ‘G’ could be all about ditching the wires. Fibre is an inflexible commodity, and while it might be fantastic, why do we need it? Why shouldn’t the next vision of connectivity be one where we don’t have any wires at all?

Carlton’s approach to the future of connectivity is somewhat different to the norm. This is an industry which is fascinated by the pipes themselves and delivering services faster, but these working groups and standards bodies are driving change for the benefit of the industry. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about making something faster, so you can charge more, just a change to the status quo which benefits the industry.

Coming back to the energy efficiency idea, this is certainly something which has been suggested elsewhere. IEEE has been running a series of conferences in California addressing this very issue, as delivering 1000X more data is naturally going to consume more energy to start with. It probably won’t be 1000X more expensive, but it is incredibly difficult to predict what future energy consumption needs will be. Small cells do not consume as much energy as traditional sites, but there will need to be a lot more of them to meet demand. There are a lot of different elements to consider here (for example environment or spectrum frequency), but again, this is a bit of an unknown.

Perhaps this is an area where governments will start to wade in? Especially in the European and North American markets which are more sensitive to environmental impacts (excluding the seemingly blind Trump).

Echoing Petty’s point from earlier, we don’t necessarily know the specifics of how the telco industry is going to be stressed and strained in six- or seven-years’ time. These changes will form the catalyst for change, evolving from 5G to 6G, and it might well be a desire for more energy efficient solutions or it might well be a world free of wires.

Moving across the North Sea, 6G has already captured the attention of those in the Nordics.

Back in April 2018, the Academy of Finland announced the launch of ‘6Genesis’, an eight-year research programme to drive the industry towards 6G. Here, the study groups will start to explore technologies and services which are impossible to deliver in today’s world, and much of this will revolve around artificial intelligence.

Just across the border in Sweden, these new technologies are capturing the attention of Ericsson. According to Magnus Frodigh, Head of Ericsson Research, areas like Quantum computing, artificial intelligence and edge computing are all making huge leaps forward, something which will only be increased with improved connectivity. These are the areas which will define the next generation, and what can be achieved in the long-run.

“One of the new things to think about is the combination of unlimited connectivity as a resource, combined with low latency, more powerful computing,” said Frodigh. “No-one really knows how this is going to play out, but this might help define the next generation of mobile.”

Of course, predicting 6G might be pretty simple. In a couple of years’ time, perhaps we will all be walking around with augmented reality glasses on while holographic pods replace our TVs. If such usecases exist, perhaps the old ‘bigger, badder, faster’ mantra of the telco industry will be called upon once again. One group which is counting on this is EU-funded Terranova, which is currently working on solutions to allow network connection in the terahertz range, providing speeds of up to 400 Gbps.

Another area to consider is the idea of edge computing and the pervasiveness of artificial intelligence. According to Carlton (InterDigital), AI will be every in the future with intelligence embedded in almost every device. This is the vision of the intelligent economy, but for AI to work as promised, latency will have to be so much lower than we can even consider delivering today. This is another demand of future connectivity, but without it the intelligent economy will be nothing more than a shade of what has been promised.

And of course, the more intelligence you put on or in devices, the greater the strain on the components. Eventually more processing power will be moved off the devices and into the cloud, building the case for distributed computing and self-learning algorithms hosted on the edge. It is another aspect which will have to be considered, and arguably 5G could satisfy some of these demands, but who knows how quickly and broadly this field will accelerate.

Artificial intelligence and the intelligent economy have the potential to become a catalyst for change, forcing us to completely rethink how networks are designed, built and upgraded. We don’t know for sure yet, but most would assume the AI demands of the next couple of years will strain the network in the same way video has stressed 4G.

Who knows what 6G has in store for us, but here’s to hoping 5G isn’t an over-hyped dud.

Vodafone puts the brakes on core Huawei spend

There aren’t many things that could rival Huawei’s headaches derived from government bans, but a snub from another one of the worlds’ largest telco groups might be up there.

With 275 million customers around the world, plus another 250-odd million through joint-ventures, this is one of the biggest telcos in the world. With networks spreading across Europe, Africa and Asia, the buying power and influence of Vodafone is considerable. This could a massive blow to the prospects of Huawei, both financially and in terms of credibility.

Speaking on the earnings call last week, CEO Nick Read stated the following:

“Specifically on Huawei, what I was really trying to make clear is, I think we need to move to more a fact-based conversation, I think at the moment is a simplistic political level and there is a big distinction between radio and core. We are predominately using Huawei in radio. We are continuing to use them in radio for 5G. However, in the core, we have put them on pause. They are not significant in the scale of our operations in the core and therefore it’s not a big financial implication.”

This is where Huawei finds itself in a difficult position. In numerous markets it is still fully free to compete for on-going 4G and up-coming 5G contracts, though these telcos will question the risk. Does the benefit of working with Huawei outweigh the risk? Why spend money on kit when you might have to strip it out in the near future?

As it stands, Vodafone does not have a huge level of exposure in terms of Huawei in the core, this is the case for most European telcos, though should the ban extend to radio or transmission this might become a significant issue. A full-scale ban is certainly not out of the question, very little is when you consider how aggressive and antagonistic the current political climate is, and this could send ripples throughout the ecosystem.

Vodafone confirmed to us Huawei equipment is in the core in some minor markets and Spain, and this is where the pause is relevant. Huawei will continue to supply Vodafone with equipment in other areas. In this sense, the fallout should be contained. Just to put things in perspective, Vodafone’s position is similar to that many telcos around Europe are taking.

However, as Read notes, should a ban extend to other areas of the network it could proves to be a sticky situation for everyone involved.

“Clearly, if there was a complete ban at the radio level then it would be a huge issue for us, but it would be a huge issue for the whole European telco sector,” said Read. “And what, Huawei have probably, what 35% market share through the whole of Europe, so I think that is a totally different consideration, but we now need to make a lot more fact-based conversation.”

The point which Read is making is a logical and incredibly important one. Too many people are getting swept up in the political rhetoric and not looking at the facts which are on the table. The negativity surrounding Huawei is starting to snowball, but little (if any) hard evidence has been put on the table. People are forgetting about the facts, instead contributing to the momentum.

What businesses like Vodafone need is certainty. The political see-sawing with Huawei is not providing much confidence for the telco to appropriately invest in networks. If this has a negative impact on the performance of the networks in the future, the politicians will be the first to point the finger of accusation at the infrastructure owners. The perfect storm of disaster and disorganisation is started to develop.

Orange goes submarine with Google cable partnership

Orange has been announced as the latest partner to join Google on its monstrous mission to bulk out its connectivity infrastructure maze.

The telco will act as the French ‘landing partner’ for Google’s Dunant transatlantic submarine cable, which is set to come into operation in 2020. As part of the partnership, Orange will provide backhaul services to Paris, while also benefiting from fibre-pairs with a capacity of more than 30 Tbps per pair.

“I am extremely proud to announce this collaboration with Google to build a new, cutting-edge cable between the USA and France,” said Stéphane Richard, CEO of Orange. “The role of submarine cables is often overlooked, despite their central role at the heart of our digital world. I am proud that Orange continues to be a global leader in investing, deploying, maintaining and managing such key infrastructure. Google is a major partner for Orange and this project reflects the spirit of our relationship.”

Announced back in July, Dunant (named after Nobel Peace Prize winner Henri Dunant) is Google’s first private investment across the Atlantic and supplements one of the busiest routes on the internet. The cable will be 6,600km long, connecting the west coast of France to North Virginia in the US. The cable is set to be the first to connect the two countries in 15 years.

While many organizations are investing in infrastructure through consortiums, Orange has invested in more than 40 submarine cables, few have taken Google’s approach in being the sole investor. It might be a more expensive approach, though Google will have more control over capacity and the route of the cable, perhaps giving it a bit of an edge over competitors. The weight of such investments have been putting some dents in the spreadsheets, the CAPEX column doubled during the latest quarterly earnings call, though it does put Google in a solid position.

From Orange’s perspective, the partnership will strengthen the telcos position to support the development of new uses for its consumer and enterprise customers in Europe and America. It will also be in a stronger position to provide services to wholesale market such as content-providers and third-party operators.