Q&A with Chong Siew Loong, CTO at StarHub

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece the 5G Asia team interviewed Chong Siew Loong, CTO at StarHub who oversees the Network Division, ahead of the show to gain a sneak peek for what we can expect at their upcoming conference.

1. In a recent article, you mentioned that 5G cannot be servicing only smartphone devices. Can you expand on this further and tell us more about StarHub’s 5G vision?

The new world of 5G is beyond just smartphones and infrastructure. StarHub’s 5G vision is to deliver smart applications and services so as to serve customers better and in more personalised ways than ever before. To do this, a vibrant ecosystem is essential. We are nurturing a 5G ecosystem of technology and business partners with the objective of co-developing new mobility services and enterprise applications infused with data analytics and artificial intelligence. 5G, with its high-speed, low-latency and network slicing capabilities, provides an opportunity for StarHub to redefine its role in this enhanced value chain.

2. Which industries do you expect to drive 5G adoption in Singapore? What new 5G enterprise services should we expect StarHub to bring to the market and why?

StarHub aspires to be a forerunner in 5G to serve our customers’ needs better than anyone else. As a telco, we have a front seat view of the positive impact mobile evolution is having on people, businesses and the society. From 2G to 4G, speeds and service reliability soared, and so did the pace of innovation. We strongly believe that 5G will play a critical role in the fourth industrial revolution. We are therefore engaging in trials and proof-of-concepts with enterprise customers to discover digital innovation and automation never thought to be possible. At the outset, we expect 5G to appeal to sectors that require ultra-reliable low-latency communications, massive Internet of Things and network slicing capabilities for time- and mission-critical activities.

3. Can you tell us more about how StarHub is gearing up for 5G?

5G is critical to Singapore’s Smart Nation development, and StarHub is ready to be one of the leading companies to support the government, businesses and consumers in this innovation drive. We have dedicated people and resources to our 5G Centre of Excellence, which is a business unit tasked with developing a partner ecosystem and co-creating innovative 5G services for the unique Singaporean market. A portion of StarHub’s network is 5G-ready today. To facilitate ongoing trials and industry engagement, we are broadcasting ‘live’ 5G signals from our headquarters and will expand 5G coverage into more areas. We will also upgrade our cellular-on-wheels vehicle with 5G, to allow us to showcase the benefits of 5G island-wide.

4. What have the main (market, technology, business, regulatory or other) challenges in achieving 5G rollout been? What needs to be done to unlock 5G innovation in Singapore?

Singapore’s measured approach to 5G is encouraging as it gives time and space for ongoing industry discussions and localised use case research and development. For 5G to succeed, the entire ecosystem, from technology to talent and regulation, needs to develop. Given the nascency of 5G, we believe onerous regulatory obligations on 5G services should not be implemented too soon, to allow for adequate research and development. In addition, concerns about public health and safety would need to be addressed in order to facilitate smooth rollout.

5. You will be joining the Keynote Panel on Defining the 5G killer app in Asia at 5G Asia (10-12 September, Singapore). Could you give us a sneak peek of what the audience should expect to hear from you? What are you looking forward to at the show?

10 years ago, we could not have imagined where we are today with Mobile. 10 years from now in a 5G world, we will again look back and marvel at the ingenuity of the human mind. 5G may seem shapeless at this moment, but I believe our collective imagination and creativity will see the birth of many innovative use cases. 5G offers promise and challenge, and the StarHub team has been hard at work distilling what would work well for customers on this side of the globe. I look forward to sharing our Singapore-centric experience and lessons to spark new ideas and conversations. Forums such as 5G Asia are excellent opportunities for knowledge sharing, and I hope to also glean insights from other international trailblazers in the 5G ecosystem. In the lead up to 5G commercialisation, our priority is to develop innovative and sustainable business models and explore exciting new ways of meeting our customers’ needs.

Chong Siew Loong 2019 (with tie)
It’s your chance to hear from Chong Siew Loong directly at 5G Asia 2019 which is taking place on 10-12 September at the Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre in Singapore.

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Q&A with Elisabetta Romano, CTO at TIM

Elisabetta Romano is Chief Technology and Innovation Officer for TIM and is responsible for ensuring TIM’s technological innovation, the evolution of the networks, and for the Information Technology required to support TIM’s digitization process at Group level. The 5G World team interviewed Elisabetta ahead of the show to gain a sneak peek for what we can expect at our upcoming conference.

TIM invested 2.39 billion euros on 5G spectrum in late 2018 for expansion of mobile network. Why has TIM invested heavily on spectrum? What monetisation opportunities does TIM expect from 5G?

Spectrum is one of the key assets for telco operators.  Through such investment, TIM has secured both the best coverage – with the 700 MHz bandwidth – and the highest speeds through higher bandwidths such as the 3.6 GHz and the 28 GHz, necessary to provide specific services. Business and consumer use cases are increasing every day: constantly growing mobile traffic, increasing demand of dedicated networks for industry automation, and we are seeing the first requirements for guided vehicles both in private spaces or in smart cities.

‘TIM has done a lot of tests on SMART cities, industry 4.0, entertainment, public safety etc sectors’

What new (5G) enterprise services should we expect TIM to bring to market, and why?

Since the beginning of the trials, we have had more than 70 partners in Turin, San Marino, Bari and Matera, including private big and small enterprises, P.A., universities and research centres. I believe that the industrial sector will have the greatest demand first. IoT services, particularly security and video surveillance, will also benefit from the upcoming development of 5G.

What do you expect the consumer pick up of 5G products and services will be? What services should TIM consumers expect?

Of course, ultra-broadband Internet access will be one of the key services.  As we know, video is one of the main traffic drivers, video services like our TIMVISION are growing, also sports events are growing in terms of consumption via the Internet, particularly when on the move.  This said, the availability of new devices and particularly of 5G smartphones is crucial for the consumer segment.

What are the main (market, technology, business, regulatory or other) challenges in achieving 5G rollout and what needs to be done to further unlock innovation in the telecoms industry (globally, in Europe or Italy)?

5G is a ground-breaking technology, which will need several factors being coordinated in order to have a quick deployment. The regulatory framework in Italy is challenging, for example, because of very low EMC limits in comparison to other European countries. Also, the financial commitment is demanding, first to acquire the spectrum, then to roll out the technology, which means that the operators will need to find innovative approaches to infrastructure development.  Then there are the new devices that need to be tested.  Last but not least, 5G demands a new approach in developing the network function and core network: cloud-native microservice based architecture with strong API exposure to enable a rich ecosystem of developers and business partners, is by itself a challenging effort.

You will be delivering a Keynote speech at the 5G World (11-13 June 2019, Excel, London). Could you give us a sneak peek of what our audience should expect to hear from you and what are you looking forward to at the Forum?

I don’t want to reveal too much. I can tell you I will describe our trial experience and how we are working to make 5G real a business development platform, with a new cloud-native architecture that leverages AI and extensive API for both internal to the company and external, open ecosystem development.

It’s your chance to hear from Elisabetta Romano directly at 5G World 2019 which is taking place on 11-13 June, at the ExCeL in London. Register now as a free visitor to join us at the largest 5G show featuring 30+ hours of free content delivered by CxO telco executives like Elisabetta

Huawei powered Chinese operators trial 5G for industry verticals

China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator by subscribers, has just trialled 5G for business vertical use on a standalone (SA) architecture. Huawei and Baidu provided the technologies.

The trial was carried out in Beijing, China, and the use case was a corporate video conference. It used 8K cameras to capture live video, which was then sent to the 5G SA core network through China Mobile’s 5G gNodeBs base stations. The data was then processed (encoded and decoded) by Baidu servers on the same network, then sent to the conference room for the 8K live video broadcast.

The trial was using the technology called “5G Vertical LAN” defined in 3GPP R16, which in essence is an insulated “slice” of the mobile network dedicated to a single business user, i.e. becoming a private cloud for an enterprise. The enterprise cloud can be provided by the mobile operator, or the enterprise can choose to provide its own customized 5G vertical LAN. This cloudified enterprise environment “enables terminals to directly communicate with each other, and allows them to access enterprise clouds” without going through the public cloud, therefore increasing the communication security.

However, to realise such a virtual enterprise setup it needs the 5G network to be in SA mode, because insulating and managing the virtual network is all done with software and hard to implement on non-standalone (NSA) mode. This China Mobile trial was conducted on such an SA architecture.

Huawei did not disclose details of the distance between the two ends, or the latency. The company put up a live video demonstration in the last Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. In that case the distance between the video capturing point and the broadcasting point was about 2km, and the latency was 11ms. But that trial was carried over Vodafone’s hybrid network.

This is not the only network slicing trial Huawei has carried out recently. The day before, the company worked with China Telecom, the world’s largest integrated operator, and China’s State Grid, to carry out a network slicing trial to manage a live power grid. China Telecom has been vocal in promoting 5G for other vertical industries.

The commercial 5G networks launched so far, in the US and in Korea, are all on NSA architecture, which limits the use cases to primarily enhanced mobile broadband access, therefore are mainly consumer focused. When Colin Wilcock, chairman of the European Union-backed 5G Industry Association (5G-IA), dismissed the 5G leadership of North America and Korea as not real 5G but beefed up LTE, though not entirely devoid of sourgraping, he got a point. Speaking at the Smart to Future Cities conference recently, he stressed that “the 5G we (Europe) need has to support the other vertical industries”, though also he conceded it is not going to happen now, but will be deployed in two to five years’ time, reported by Compelo.

Spectrum Assignment Policies

Telecoms.com periodically publishes expert third-party insights on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece, the 5G World team invited Analyst Gerardo Mantilla to share his knowledge and experience on spectrum management around the challenges and new market opportunities for 5G.

Since the telecommunications opening in America, which began around the year 2000, the spectrum allocation policy has been evolving. In many Telecommunications Laws several methods were established. The spectrum allocation processes were based on Spectrum Auction and Beauty Contest. These last by compliance or assessment of parameters. In the beginning, the method used for the assignment by the majority of the regulators were Spectrum Auction. Where the clear intention was to obtain as many resources as possible from those interested in exploiting mobile services.

In some countries, these processes reached large sums of money in the market and announced as a great achievement by governments and regulators. But truth is, this did not necessarily translate into the establishment of the necessary networks for the provision of mobile services. There were even cases in some countries, where after the assignment the operators did not invest in telecommunications networks or provide services. They simply used that spectrum, as an investment they hoped to resell later for a profit.

Subsequently, the regulators reacted to this situation, using spectrum allocation models based on the parameter evaluation method, trying to exchange the spectrum for compliance with coverage obligations. With the intention of improving infrastructure and service access by users.

An example of these cases was Venezuela- where regulators used a mixed method of fixed base price and coverage obligations. In this case, the operators paid for the 3G spectrum bands, in the 1900 MHz bands, an amount of $120 Million and had the fulfilment of coverage obligations, derived from spectrum allocation.

However, this resulted in mobile networks with ample coverage, that is, the operators tried to obtain country cover with as few base stations as possible, but covering large amounts of land. As a result, the operators complied with their coverage obligations, but on the other hand, the number of base stations was extended throughout the territory but their concentration in the high traffic areas was very fair to offer a quality service.

Subsequently, with data services such as those used in 3G and 4G technology, operators realized that they needed to increase the number of base stations per covered area and thus offer better connection speeds. In some countries, operators increased the base stations number per covered area. In others, they managed to obtain a greater amount of spectrum to compensate for a low number base stations on interest area.

In some cases, the decision to compensate for the use of more spectrum with a lower base stations number was taken because of restrictions found in some markets for the establishment of base stations, in addition to the time required for their construction. In 2005  discussions began on the possible damage to health due to excess exposure to radio-electric emissions.

This resulted in operators having great difficulty installing their base stations in populated areas, especially on the residential building’s terraces. Therefore, the need to compensate for this difficulty with the allocation of additional spectrum for these networks became more evident.

But some regulators did not understand this situation and imposed policies of spectrum allocation caps, called Spectrum Caps. With which, it established a maximum spectrum amount that an operator can have in the market. Also with the intention of distributing the spectrum in an equitable manner and ensuring real market competition, in addition to allowing the entry of new players on the mobile market.

However, the spectrum is a limited resource and the mobile market has raised a lot of interest beyond traditional mobile operators, so more space was introduced in the market for new competitors, who could use the established networks operators and compete in equal conditions. From there arise, Mobile Virtual Network Operators, in many countries such as Mexico, Chile, Colombia and others.

However, these policies, although have brought benefits to customers and mobile operators, have saturated the telecommunications market. In addition to this, the regulatory policy and the mobile market that has been investment-intensive have limited the profit margins of mobile operators. In some cases, their EBITDA in percentage terms has fallen by more or less 10% or 20% in recent years.

5G challenges

The fall in the profit margins of the investors on the mobile market has brought as a consequence that the mobile operator’s investment capacity on establishment new telecommunications networks such as 5G, has been limited. It is enough to analyze their numbers and the discourse in different discussion forums such as the latter, held at the beginning of December 2018, Argentina, by the GSMA. Where many mobile operators, expressed little interest in moving forward with the deployment of 5G, at least until expecting a return on investment of 4G networks.

However, some countries such as Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Colombia, its regulators have expressed interest in leading the 5G deployments. But for this, the spectrum policy allocation must take a turn that takes into consideration all these elements that have been mentioned previously.

For all this, we consider that the way in which the radio-electric spectrum is valued must change. As well as, the allocation processes and real objective of these allocations have evolved, and understanding that the market needs is a real boost so that investors can have clear incentives to carry out the 5G network deployments.

In this sense, our vision on spectrum prices is that it should deprive the investment incentive instead of obtaining a higher price for the spectrum. Therefore, our methodology is based on a projection of users, market share, income, CAPEX and OPEX, with which obtain an estimate the spectrum price.

This estimate considers the real spectrum price, made up of three clear elements: the initial payment derived from spectrum auction or its allocation, the investment in coverage obligations and the additional taxes derived from spectrum exploitation.

Understanding, the spectrum granting is an incentive to obtain greater revenues from the Treasury and National Regulatory Authority. However, the ultimate goal of each assignment is to improve access to services by telecommunications users. In addition, the increase in investments by operators. This has a greater advantage in the economy of developing countries than that obtained by the payment of spectrum allocations.

This is why we believe that establishing the spectrum valuation based on the investments of the operators, bring greater benefits to the countries economies, since it has a positive impact on direct and indirect jobs, better services coverage that directly impact the economic development of the areas that are not economically attractive for operators.

In another point of view, if changes or fiscal incentives are established for operators due to investments increase, the benefit of investments is directly transferred to the country’s real economy. What brings greater benefits compared to increase in regulator and country budget. These are benefits that end up being more direct, creating jobs and improving coverage that directly impacts the population economy. Without having to wait for the government to distribute the economic benefit obtained from the spectrum auctions.

As mentioned above, our methodology assesses the spectrum based on the investments made by the operator through the years of licenses duration. An example of this is that the spectrum assessment methodology that we propose allows obtaining an investment commitment from the operator. Holding this investment to the spectrum allocation, which favours the investments increase in exchange for a financial benefit or spectrum price reduction.

For example, suppose that the operator commits to making investments in the order of $ 50 Million, in the first 5 years of 5G network deployment. But if it is established that the regulator follows up on this investment commitment, in order to guarantee compliance, tax benefits may be fixed in the next year, such as a 1% discount on the tax payment, in exchange for an increase of 10% the initial investment. Even if the operator does not comply with the investment commitments, an increase in the tax payment of a similar or slightly higher percentage may also be established, in order for the operator to value maintaining its investment commitment.

Obviously, this is an innovative change in regulatory policy and, intrinsically, it must be evaluated whether the current regulation allows it or not, in each country where it is desired to implement. But it is a new way of guiding regulatory policy in general terms, to really guarantee the key factor of any regulation of services, which is to encourage investment levels.

Of course, we understand that, like any change, this will have favourable and unfavourable opinions from different parties involved in the country’s economic policy, particularly where this new regulatory model is evaluated. However, we are sure that the economic benefit in the country will be much greater, than if only a base price is established to obtain the spectrum, but it is not promoted beyond what the operator plans to invest.

For most countries, the increase of investments is key for the economic development, but understanding also, that the economic benefit of operators is limited to the amount of population that each country possesses, its average income per person and the GDP of the country in question. In addition, telecommunications has an important specific weight in the GDP of the countries.

If necessary, to increase these investments without promoting telecommunications services high prices, it is crucial to establish better policies to encourage investment. In such a way, that this investment incentive is not entirely transferred in an increase in prices to customers, which translates into a lower possibility for the population to access telecommunications services.

This strengthens our vision, that the spectrum prices, rather than a collection element, is an element that encourages investment, offers a balance of accessible prices to the population and an attractive return on investment that increases the interest of investors in terms of telecommunications. The balance of these elements is fundamental, understanding that these three elements that have been mentioned must be balanced in an attractive way.

We have discussed this with regulators and operators. We have sent our regulatory vision in this regard to regulators and operators in Latin America, such as Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Brazil and Chile. For what we would like to highlight the case of Colombia. Where is currently discussing a modification to ICT Law? Where the ICT Minister, Sylvia Constant in a recent statement has acknowledged and quote textually “the spectrum should be used as a tool to close gaps and not as a collection instrument”.

In another order of ideas, it is not coincidental that the business model of 5G is only mobile telephony and smartphones. That market is saturated, with penetrations close to 100% and with a recent deployment of 4G. The true 5G market is the Internet of Things, IoT, specifically connected cars, smart cities, smart health services and the connected industry or IoT. That should be the focus of the regulators and operators for which it is necessary to have a broad vision.

5G new markets

However, in order to exploit these new markets by telecommunications operators, there must be a clear vision of the issue on the part of telecommunications regulators and other governments.

For there to be an increase in investments by mobile operators, there must be an increase in the market, which is only possible for a greater number of customers in the mobile services, which is not possible, since, in most of the countries, mobile telephony penetration is between 90% and 120%. Obviously, in the markets with greater penetration, there are customers with two or more lines from different operators.

On the other hand, there are new customers or markets that use mobile telephony services. This is where the true potential of this 5G technology is, which opens a new market, not explored, with new connection needs and willing to set payment for the services provided.

The difficulty is that operators must offer innovative solutions and become what they have always wanted but not achieved, go beyond the barrier of an actor that only deploys the network on which high-value services are lent by other actors such as Google, Facebook, Apple and others.

With 5G, operators have this possibility, but for this, they must leave the box, think and face 5G deployment, in a different and risky way. This vision is critical, and the present moment is crucial. However, this makes it necessary to work together between regulators and operators.

It is necessary to leave the natural conflicts between these actors to face joint work. As in the Chile case, where aspects such as Spectrum Caps are still discussed, an inefficient and restrictive investment policy. In this sense, regulators must provide all the possible elements to create the regulatory and market environment for operators to take advantage of these conditions, in a differential and innovative way.

An example of this is the themes of connected cars. If there is no joint work between the automotive industry, mobile operators, telecommunications regulators and automotive associations, you can miss the opportunity of what really lies at the centre of 5G advantages.

If 5G implemented, in a country that wants to lead its deployment, but has not specified that there is a similar launch of connected cars, the 5G deployment will not provide the necessary benefits to operators to maintain the technological deployment.

On the other hand, the spectrum selection to assign is fundamental because if only the allocation of the 3.5 GHz band is made, the deployment will not be fast enough due to the number of base stations that must be established. For that, the use of the 600 MHz band is key, because this band will allow offering greater coverage, although at speeds lower than 3.5 GHz.

This situation leads us to conclude that the successful 5G deployment involves a joint spectrum allocation in different frequency bands. That is, it is not enough just to assign the 600 MHz bands or assign the 3.5 GHz band. Or in the worst case, the 600 MHz band should not be assigned to some operators and the 3.5 GHz band should be assigned to different ones. Because this will not allow you to take advantage of 5G technology.

This is why this 5G issue, is more complex than have seen that is being discussed in different forums in the industry, the statements of those responsible for regulators and opinion articles, which can be accessed in the specialized media communication.

Conclusions

In short, having the elements that have been presented in this document is a start to address the 5G deployment properly. With a broad vision and defined objectives, with the intention of using the infrastructure deployment and operators investment in achieving a positive impact on the countries economy and life quality from people.

 

5G is here, are you ready? Visit 5G World on June 11-13, 2019 in London, which will bring together the 5G ecosystem to define the next steps toward 5G rollout and monetization.

4G roaming traffic doubled globally last year – BICS

Regulatory changes and increased competition continue to drive massive growth in LTE roaming around the world, according to new data from BICS.

The precise increase is 95%, with a major catalyst still being the European Union’s regulation that banned European operators from charging a premium for roaming within the bloc. While we’re not seeing the ridiculous increase in European roaming that took place in 2017, the first full year after roaming was abolished, growth is still pretty steep.

“European subscribers have enjoyed being able to ‘Roam Like at Home’ and now seek high quality, affordable roaming services, wherever they travel,” said Mikaël Schachne, VP of Mobility Solutions at BICS. “This is forcing operators in other regions outside of the EU to match the European offering by coming together to offer more cost-effective packages to subscribers, while optimising traffic flow at the back-end.”

We had a chat with Schachne to get some further insight into this trend. He reckons that changes in the regulatory environment have forced operators to rethink their approach to roaming. This more competitive environment has been self-reinforcing and it looks like operators worldwide are now inclined to offer much more attractive roaming packages than they did a few years ago.

Another major reason for them to curtail their roaming profiteering is the growth in dual-SIM as a smartphone feature. This makes it much easier for people to buy a local SIM when they’re travelling and this circumvent roaming entirely. On top of that public wifi is improving all the time so the simple fact is that if roaming is too expensive, most people just won’t use it.

BICS is forecasting global 4G roaming growth of around half the rate of 2018 this year, which is hardly surprising considering how extreme it was previously. Another major driver is expected to be IoT over cellular networks, for which global roaming is a key feature, with billions of embedded SIMs expected to hit the market in the near future.

Loon bolsters connectivity credentials with advisory board signings

Alphabet’s latest X graduate Loon has added industry heavyweights to its advisory board as the business searches for commercial credibility in the world of connectivity.

As the ludicrous dream starts to become a reality, Loon has added three industry veterans to its ranks. Former McCaw Communications CEO Craig McCaw, Evernote CEO Ian Small and Verizon EVP Global Media & New Business Marni Walden will all be added to the roster, bringing with them years of experience and, perhaps more importantly, connections in the telco space.

“As Loon transitions to a commercial business and looks to partner with MNOs worldwide, we’re adding some serious expertise to our ranks with a new Advisory Board that brings together top wireless innovators with decades of experience in the industry,” Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth wrote in a blog post.

For those who have missed out on this blue-sky thinking idea, Loon is Alphabet’s latest attempt to branch into the connectivity segment. Previous efforts might have been a flop, just have a look at the success brought through Google Fiber, but this is something slightly different; its attempting to create a new segment rather than steal business from established players.

By floating these massive balloons 18-23km above the earth for periods of up to 100 days, the Loon team claims each balloon can create a connectivity cone with coverage to a ground area 80km in diameter. The balloons are fitted with a broad-coverage LTE base station and a high-speed directional link used to connect between balloons and back down to the internet infrastructure on the ground.

In an industry which has constantly struggled to bridge the digital divide due to the expense of deploying infrastructure, this is a genuinely innovative approach to providing connectivity. It helps lessen the financial pressures of delivering the internet, adding to the connectivity mix.

Back in November at AfricaCom, Westgarth gave some insight into the business on the main conference stage. At the time he announced the beginning of a commercial relationship with Telkom Kenya, as well as outlining the wider ambitions of the business. This is an idea which has big commercial potential, most of which will be in the developing markets. These are after all areas where ARPU is low and deployment is staggered. It would appear to be the perfect mix for Loon’s proposal to bring the internet to the masses.

These appointments however perhaps suggest Loon is not a firm satisfied with the developing markets alone. These are three US executives who have considerable experience in the domestic market. Of course, there will be connections in the international space with telcos in the developing nations, but perhaps Loon has spotted an opportunity in the US. These executives would certainly help pave the way for conversations across the homeland.

Of course, this is just a theory and the PR team have been, just as you would expect, pretty evasive when asked the question. However, the digital divide is certainly a challenge in the US. For those who are lucky enough to live in the cities, they’ll have no concept of connectivity challenges, but the vast expanses and challenging terrain of the US open up numerous, huge not-spots, despite what the telcos actually tell you.

Loon has been touted as an innovation for the developing markets but seeing as the US telcos are clueless as how to solve the domestic digital divide, why not. These executives will certainly know the right people in the right places.

AT&T rebrands LTE-A as 5Ge

AT&T customers might have noticed a new symbol appearing in the top corner of their devices and for those who aren’t paying attention, they might be duped into thinking the telco is offering 5G connectivity.

AT&T has now switched on its ‘5G Evolution’ service meaning a ‘5Ge’ symbol will appear in the corner of Samsung Galaxy S8 Active, LG V30, and LG V40 devices. For everyone else in the world, ‘5G Evolution’ is 4G LTE-Advanced, though AT&T feels the need to intentionally try to mislead customers, fooling them into believing they are receiving 5G data services.

Why AT&T feels it is appropriate to deceive its customers so blatantly is beyond us.

AT&T might well be one of the first to offer 5G services through a portable hotspot device, albeit in a very limited area, but compatible smartphones are still months away. There will of course be various different leaks and promotions over the next couple of weeks leading up to MWC, but the first devices able to make use of the 5G euphoria will not be available until Spring at the very earliest.

With this in mind, AT&T is simply taking advantage of customers who do not know any better.

While this might seem like an underhanded and putrid act from the telco, it’s all about the marketing war which is about to kick off in the US. Verizon can claim to have broken its 5G duck first with the launch of a fixed-wireless access solution, but AT&T has the bragging rights for the first 5G mobile device. This ‘5G Evolution’ deception from AT&T is just another move in the battle for the consumer’s attention.

What is worth noting is that the portion of AT&T’s network offering ‘5Ge’ or LTE-A to call it by its proper name, has received a speed boost. The telco claims speeds of 400 Mbps could be achieved with the connection, though who knows whether this is actually true. AT&T isn’t making itself out to be the most honest brand around here, and perhaps we should start questions the legitimacy of any claim the telco makes.

The long and short of it is AT&T is intentionally, directly and disgustingly misleading its customers, a move that could well blow back in its face.

Ericsson facing £100 million damages bill for network outage – report

With smartphones around the world being reduced to doorstops thanks to Ericsson’s software issues, the vendor is potentially facing a damages bill in excess of £100 million.

The full extent of the impact is a bit hazy for the moment, though it is rumoured to be much more than is officially known. What we do know is the O2 network was down for almost all of Thursday, Softbank’s customers were plunged back to the paper days and there are ‘several’ other customers who were impacted by the issue.

Ericsson has confirmed there were others, though it is remaining tight-lipped on who these operators actually are. That said, as you can see from the crowdsourced data below from wireless coverage mapping company Opensignal, it would probably be a fair assumption to add Vietnam’s Mobifone to the list.

Opensignal Graph

Looking at the bill, The Telegraph has reported Ericsson will be facing a global bill of £100 million to compensate customers for the oversight. Ericsson is yet to respond to a request for comment, though having admitted being the root cause of the data dessert there will certainly be conversations concerning compensation.

IWe understand O2 CEO Mark Evans is currently in discussion with the Ericsson management team regarding the whole issue, and the topic of damages will be included on the agenda. Ericsson UK and Ireland CEO Marielle Lindgren is certainly involved in these meetings, though we have not been able to confirm whether these specific discussions have been escalated all the way up to Group CEO Börje Ekholm.

In fairness to O2, it has not palmed off responsibility completely. Last week, it confirmed it would be reimbursing customers as a result of the outage. Pay Monthly, SMB business and mobile broadband customers will be credited with two additional days of monthly airtime subscription charges by the end of January. Pay-As-You-Go customers will be given a 10% credit on a top-up in the New Year, while PAYG Go mobile broadband customers will receive a 10% discount on a Bolt On purchase.

While some might suggest O2 is not completely blameless and should have had processes and systems in place to compensate for such instances, as the root cause of the disruption does lie elsewhere it does have some bargaining power in the talks. The rumoured £100 million bill would not all be credited towards O2, though as it seemed to be impacted the worst, it may well be seeking a large cheque to compensate for lost revenues associated with reimbursing customers.

Ericsson has narrowed the root cause of the issue down to two specific software versions of the SGSN–MME (Serving GPRS Support Node – Mobility Management Entity). These nodes in the core of O2’s network caused the calamity, as the license for the software expired.

For Ericsson, there might well be no choice. Some are suggesting up to 20 operators were impacted by the expired software license and considering the importance of relationships ahead of the up-coming 5G bonanza, the vendor will need to do everything in its power to ensure favourable terms. It seems buying its way out of this mess might be the only sensible route to take.

Google’s Loon is actually starting to look like a genuine business

The idea of using balloons floating 20km above the earth to provide connectivity quite frankly sounds bat-sh*t, but Google’s Loon is actually starting to look like a feasible business.

Google is a company which certainly attracts criticism, but you cannot argue with the creativity which is nurtured. The company has a knack of taking an idea which no-one has much commercial faith in and running with it.

Take Google Maps as an excellent example. For years it was nothing more than a helpful tool for users, but now it is turning into a commercial success. And Loon might just be the next moonshot to make waves. Speaking at AfricaCom, Alastair Westgarth, CEO of Loon, gave some insight into progress being made at the business, but also some of the challenges faced when attempting to use balloons to deliver the internet to some of the worlds digital baron lands.

Loon started life as ‘Project Loon’, one of the freewheeling ideas to come out of the mysterious X labs at Google. The idea was initially conceived in 2012 as a means to connect the five billion people around the world who are still without the internet, and named so purely because of the audacity of the concept. Last year, with the team gathering pace, the ‘Project’ part of the name was dropped and the company spun out into its own separate company. Justification for the confidence came soon after, with the team signing its first commercial customer in Telecom Kenya.

“Something which we’re really excited to announce today is that we have all our necessary regulatory approval in Kenya for our operations,” said Westgarth.

“It took a long time, it took partnership with government, partnerships with regulators as well as the MNO you’re working with. As we went on that journey we’ve been working with Liquid Telecom, Nokia, working with Telecom Kenya to install ground stations to connect the balloons, and that process is almost complete. Also we’ve been making sure we have the interconnection between where the Telecom Kenya ground infrastructure is and where our ground infrastructure is, so when someone finally connects to a balloon the signal goes all the way through from our balloon to Telecom Kenya.”

What Westgarth pointed out is this is not a substitute for traditional infrastructure, but an opportunity to enhance coverage. With each balloon capable of delivering a 5000 square km cone of LTE connectivity, this is an opportunity for those countries who deal with hostile environments to deliver the internet and bridge the digital divide in areas where traditional infrastructure is a no go. Westgarth pointed out around 50-60% of the world’s land mass is yet to receive the connectivity euphoria.

With the technology and concept validated, the challenge now is to make Loon a viable business.

“As much as we want to do good things in the world, we also want to be a profitable business,” said Westgarth.

The technology has more than proved its value after launches in Peru following an earthquake which decimated Telefonica’s network, as well as Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. These were ventures which justified the six years of struggles attempting to keep a balloon the size of a tennis court in the air for more than a month, while also keeping it juiced up and automating the steering.

This was a challenge which took ages according to Westgarth, as engineers had to learn how to read wind forecasts, before applying that to the balloons logistics, and then automating the process. It turns out getting a balloon to stay in the same place is a tricky task, as is getting it up in the air in the first place. The engineers had to design a completely custom launch system which, again, has been automated. Then you have to figure out how to monitor the health of the asset, as well as bring it down safely, in the right place and collect all the equipment.

The issue now is on the commercial side. The team are talking to various operators around the world, with particular enthusiasm from Africa and South America, though business is being massaged as the team search for the right balance between CAPEX and OPEX investments from the operators. Right now the balloons operate on an as-a-Service model, though you have to remember this is still early days, a business which is very much taking the first steps of its journey.

The focus will continue to be on Telecom Kenya for the moment, it is important to nail the first project or the business will never be a success, though Westgarth hopes to have more customers in 2019. Africa is seemingly the best opportunity for Loon, though having done most of the testing in South America, there is interest from the operators, while certain Asian markets fit the bill as well.

The balloons are now up there, and staying up, the boring commercial side has to be figured out now. However, this is just another example of how Google’s bold and adventurous attitude can reap rewards; it’s not an accident Google is one of the most influential companies on earth. And now even 20km above it…

LTE data scores big at this year’s World Cup

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece John Wick, SVP and GM of Connectivity and Mobility Services at Syniverse shares some of his company’s recent research into LTE roaming.

LTE is growing globally, and growing fast, and one area in particular that it’s been taking off in is roaming. To better understand this growth, Syniverse has been examining this through a series of studies based on the LTE roaming patterns of our global IPX network. We most recently focused on LTE roaming at one of the world’s largest events this year – the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament – and the findings revealed some important implications for the development of LTE globally in the next few years.

North America leads regions

LTE won a convincing victory over non-LTE at the World Cup, according to our data. The analysis of roaming data shows that 67 percent of data usage was LTE from travelers to Russia over the four weeks of the tournament, compared to the global average of 54 percent of all traffic for LTE roaming usage between major world regions.

Specifically, the analysis found that the largest volume of global LTE usage coming into Russia during the World Cup came from North America (42 percent). The next most popular LTE roaming location was Asia  (19 percent), followed by Europe (18 percent), Latin America (11 percent), and the Middle East and Africa (9 percent). This is surprising given that no teams from North America played at the World Cup, but it points to the strong LTE roaming agreements between countries.

LTE gaining in other areas

The 67 percent LTE data usage we found points to a huge growth trend over the last few years. In developing markets, more and more operators are launching new LTE services, while operators in developed markets are continuing to build out and enhance their networks. In fact, the GSMA forecasts that by 2020 there will be over 3.5 billion LTE connections and approximately three-quarters of the world’s population will be covered by LTE networks.

This growth is reflected in another huge sports event we analyzed this year, the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea, in February. According to our findings, of the data usage generated by visitors to the Games, an enormous 92 percent was LTE, versus just 8 percent non-LTE. Not surprisingly, Asia received the largest amount (72 percent) of LTE traffic during the Games. Next was North America (23 percent), followed far behind by Europe (3 percent).

IPX a barrier to LTE growth

In addition to these LTE roaming highlights, we uncovered a milestone, as well as a significant challenge, in LTE growth in a global study we completed early this year. The study focused on roaming traffic between six regions – North America; Latin America; Europe; Asia Pacific; the Middle East and Africa; and India – and the findings revealed that in the last year LTE traffic surpassed non-LTE traffic and now represents the majority of global roaming traffic, having risen to 54 percent in 2017 from 46 percent in 2016.

At the same time, the findings highlight the need for the mobile industry to more urgently prepare for technologies like 5G, based on the eight years that it took from the time that LTE was commercially launched for it to surpass the previous generation of technology. A challenge then is fully enabling LTE roaming on a global scale. But outside the Americas, where most of LTE roaming is concentrated, we found the tipping point with global LTE roaming hasn’t fully occurred yet. Specifically, the Americas represent 79 percent of total volume, while LTE roaming volumes for other regions include Europe at 11 percent, Asia Pacific at 7 percent, and the Middle East and Africa at 3 percent.

In fact, this study revealed that a barrier in providing a consistent LTE service footprint was found to lie in the inter-regional connectivity that an IPX network can enable. This technology in particular has emerged as a versatile network backbone that can provide a single-connection capability to link to multiple networks and greatly expand inter-regional connectivity. For this reason, it offers a crucial asset in expanding LTE roaming coverage, and mobile operators need to have a full-scale strategy for integrating IPX in order to accelerate the growth and maturity of their LTE networks.

Looking ahead

The World Cup and other global events present some of the largest and most complex world stages on which to demonstrate the promise of mobile. How operators manage LTE roaming for these events will have profound implications for their success in meeting the rising demand for high-speed, high-capacity usage by today’s traveling mobile users. With 67 percent of data usage at the World Cup consisting of LTE traffic, and with LTE traffic reaching 54 percent to represent the majority of global roaming traffic, it’s imperative that operators are prepared to meet the new demands of the dynamic LTE-powered future now taking shape.

 

Syniverse John Wick Sep2018John Wick is Senior Vice President and General Manager for Mobile Transaction Services, and is responsible for the management and growth of Syniverse’s next-generation networks, messaging, and policy and charging lines of business. He also leads the product and software development across these lines of business.