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.

Cuba enters mobile internet age with 3G few can afford

Cuba’s telecom operator will offer 3G data service to prepaid users, but with high-tariffs one question remains; can any of the locals actually afford it?

The previously isolated communist state has undergone gradual reform since the more pragmatic Miguel Diaz-Canel took over at the helm, and one of the goals is to catch up the rest of the world on internet adoption and to develop an information society. As an important step towards this direction, Cuba’s the state-owned telecom operator ETECSA (Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A.) announced (in Spanish) that the company will start offering 3G data services to its prepaid customers from 6 December, one year after it started offering internet connections to residential locations. Before that, most Cubans could only go online from internet cafes.

The monthly packages (in Spanish) start at 600 MB data which will cost 7CUC ($7), going up to 1 GB (10CUC), 2.5 GB (20CUC), and 4GB which will cost 30CUC. Another 300 MB will be granted for free on top of all packages for visiting local website (domain .cu). Otherwise, 1CUC can get 50 MB For email use only (on ETECSA’s email service Nauta). The service is on 900 MHz only, meaning handsets will have to be compatible to that specific frequency. Users applying to use the service can activate directly over-the-air with the operator.

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There is no recent data on Cuban income from sources like the World Bank. Earlier data showed the average monthly salary was about $27 to $32, though independent survey and research have indicated that many locals do make extra income through different channels. Even with the additional income, the data packages are way too high for most users. Research in other emerging markets has shown that the adoption of broadband will take off when the cost of the package reaches below 5% of monthly disposable income.

The operator could be pricing its packages to limit the number of users, as its networks are not capable of coping with high traffic volume yet. As the national monopoly, ETECSA has installed 1,078 2G base station, and 789 3G base stations, according to its published data. In its announcement the operator also warns users that in the first days of the service there may be down time, and asks consumers to inform the operator through official channels.

According to research by Ovum, mobile penetration in Cuba went just over 44% by the end of Q2 this year. The country’s internet population (“permanent internet accounts”) has reached 1.9 million.

Mobile data could get even costlier after T-Mobile and Sprint merger

Report by Rewheel showed Americans already have the most expensive mobile data among all four-operator markets. A move to reduce the number of them could make it worse.

According to the 2H2018 release of its mobile data price monitoring report, the Finland-based research firm Rewheel focused on the US market, which is likely to see the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint closing in the first half of 2019. The report showed that among the 41 countries it analysed (OECD34 + EU28, with seven EU countries not being OECD members), the median gigabyte price of a smartphone deal (nominal price + VAT) in the US is among the highest. Rewheel told Telecoms.com that Greece and Cyprus topped the table, followed by Korea and Canada. The median gigabyte price of a mobile broadband deal in the US is the most expensive among all.

Rewheel mobile data prices

The research compared two groups of markets, those with effectively four mobile operators and those with three. The mobile data price in the four-MNO markets is shown to be about half as expensive as the three-MNO markets, but the US is an outlier. The median US mobile data price per gigabyte is four times higher than the EU four-MNO markets, and sixteen times higher than the big EU markets with four MNOs.

To look at it from another angle, a 30€ monthly deal comes with unlimited data plans (and at least 1000-minute talk time) on smartphones in 13 markets (Korea, Mexico, and 11 EU countries) but can only buy 6GB in the US. Similarly, a 30€ monthly wireless broadband deal can buy unlimited data in 11 EU markets but can only get 40GB in the US.

The effect of the “magic four” driving price down is most telling in Italy: after Iliad launched its mobile service, the price per gigabyte fell by 70% in half a year. On the other hand, the research showed data price stopped falling in the Dutch market after the announced merger of T-Mobile and Tele2, and the price drop has visibly slowed down in Austria after it became a three-MNO market.

The researcher therefore argued that the Americans are already paying more than other four-MNO market users, it could get even worse if the US market became a three-horse race. However we can see in the data that North America is generally more expensive, with Canada, a four-MNO market, is as expensive as the US. Admittedly though, Freedom Mobile is still weak.

An additional angle to examine data price is to look at what is offered to contract users vs. prepaid users, which is excluded from the Rewheel research. The discrepancy is probably most obvious in Africa. According to the analysis published by the research firm Ovum, South Africa’s mobile data is among the highest in the world. This is largely down to the high prices PAYG users face when buying smaller data packages. Rob Shuter, the CEO of MTN, corroborated with his comments at the recent AfricaCom that, despite the average price per gigabyte for postpaid users in Africa is comparable to that of the US (around $3), data prices for prepaid users are prohibitive. The large majority of mobile users in Africa and other emerging markets are on prepaid services.

Operators stress the need to collaborate over 5G

At Huawei’s MBBF 2018 event some of its operator partners talked up the need for greater collaboration, including among themselves, to make a success of 5G.

Howard Watson, CTIO of BT, said “we truly need interoperability,” when detailing all the many moving parts that need to work with each other in order to make all this 5G hype a reality. He identified the TIP initiative as an example of operators collaborating towards a common goal and was careful to stress that he thinks vendors can still raise their game in that area too.

Being given a keynote at MBBF is also a great opportunity for a spot of self-promotion and Watson didn’t hold back. We were reminded of the recent announcement of EE’s 2019 5G rollout plans and even its most recent 5G trial in London. He also took the opportunity to talk up BT’s group strategy, using the diagram you can find here, which BT is bafflingly keen on, to illustrate his point.

Once Watson got all this corporate chest-beating out of his system he did flag up one interesting feature of BT’s broader strategy: the tight integration of wifi into the overall connectivity picture for BTEE customers. BT is extending the IMS network it currently uses for wifi calling in order to facilitate this and will be doing some clever stuff to solve the pain currently experienced when trying to dynamically switch between wifi and cellular. Creating all this simplicity is very complicated, he concluded.

We also heard from Alex Choi, Head of T-Labs at Deutsche Telekom. He couldn’t resist a bit of light self-congratulation in flagging up its 5G efforts in Berlin (in partnership with Huawei). He too stressed the need for ‘an ecosystem approach’ to 5G and highlighted HD video streaming as a key use-case for consumers.

Throttling video streaming is not criminal but Xfinity has botched the move

Comcasts’s Xfinity Mobile is going to limit video streamed over cellular to 480p resolution and cap hotspot speeds at 600 kbps unless customers pay more.

In a letter sent to current customers, which inevitably got posted online for all to see (on Reddit), Xfinity Mobile announced two changes to its service: it will limit the resolution of video streaming over cellular networks to 480p (so-called “DVD quality”), and it will cap the speed of hotspots powered by mobile device to 600kps. Although it may help customers’ data plans last longer, ultimately this is a measure to control cost. Comcast does not have its own mobile network and is reselling Verizon Wireless’s data.

Limiting the resolution of mobile video streaming is nothing new. YouTube will fall back to SD (240p or 360p) when the network quality degrades, prioritising continuous play over picture quality. For a long time, Netflix had by default capped the resolution of streaming over cellular at 600p before it gave users the choice to go for higher resolution.

Neither is limiting tethering using mobile hotspots. When T-Mobile launched its Uncarrier programme “One”, mobile tethering speed was limited at 128kps. Even with the expensive “One Plus” the hotspot speed was only lifted to 512kps.

However Xfinity could have handled the issues better to avoid the backlash on its reputation. Xfinity should realise that the increasing popularity of video streaming is the main driver for data consumption. Therefore when designing the products it should either raise the data plan cap of its “Unlimited” data plan, currently at 20GB, or go for real “unlimited” but bill different customers based on the speeds offered, like the common practice in Finland, where per capita mobile data consumption is the highest in the world.

More importantly, Xfinity should have given its existing customers the grace period till their current contracts ran out if it wanted to avoid antagonizing them. Exerting new limitations and charging additional fee for services that are in the original contract is even potentially a breach of contract on the service providers’ side.

Shuffle Sites: Lighting and Connecting the Smart City

This article is brought to you in partnership with Huawei

 

The MBB Sector Is Set for a New Wave of Explosive Growth

As the number of mobile broadband (MBB) users explodes with an ever-increasing demand for diverse services, data traffic is experiencing sharp growth like never before. Network quality is a key differentiator for data-savvy customers. Towns and cities across the world need a highly performing network and broadband infrastructure to implement their smart initiatives that will bring huge benefits for their citizens.

Telecom operators need to improve the coverage and the capacity of their mobile networks. As site acquisition becomes increasingly difficult, the focus is turning to new ways to roll out services, improve the user experience and develop 5G networks while meeting strict government requirements on integration and appearance.

Shuffle Site – a joint innovation

Partners of cities worldwide, Huawei and Schréder, having been working together for the past year to deliver Shuffle Site – a multi-functional street lighting platform that incorporates Huawei’s built-in small cell to provide wider broadband coverage and boost capacity while meeting government regulations.

Technological cooperation turns street lights into base stations

With street lights widely available throughout towns and cities, they are ideally placed to quickly deliver extensive coverage, support large amounts of data traffic, and improve the user experience.
Huawei’s outdoor integrated small cells as well as their antennas and transmission devices have been perfectly integrated into the Shuffle to meet the requirements of the local municipalities and carriers regarding the appearance of small cells. The small cell has also been designed to accommodate 5G networks in the future.
The Shuffle Site represents much more than a high-value data traffic hub. It can also integrate public address systems, surveillance cameras, WiFi modules and sensors to enable cities to provide multiple services in one aesthetic column, reducing their carbon footprint. It is simply, the ideal platform for cities to implement smart city initiatives.

In addition, by collaborating with telecom operators, cities could give themselves an enormous economic advantage. The first cities to have 5G, which is 100 times faster than 4G, will undoubtedly, attract technology companies who want to develop new products and services.

Success across industries

By adopting the Shuffle Site, telecom operators will save time and money in new site deployment, reducing CAPEX and OPEX by over 40%. The acquisition period will be cut from six months to one. Pilot installations have proven that the download rate for subscribers increased by three times.

The Shuffle Site can be installed in densely populated areas, including pedestrian areas, squares, railway stations, metro stations, residential areas, urban roads, and tourist attractions.

In addition to providing a solution to the recurrent problem of site acquisition this joint innovation contributes to enhancing the city landscape. It provides the perfect infrastructure to ensure a successful collaboration for many stakeholders.

Let’s not obsess about FTTH – Broadband World Forum 2017

The first full day of Broadband World Forum 2017 saw both operator and vendor keynote speakers explore strategies for achieving ubiquitous gigabit connectivity.

On the operator side Franz Seiser, VP of Core Network and Services at Deutsche Telekom (pictured) set the tone by urging the industry discard its legacy systems and habit in order to embrace the possibilities offered by 5G. “We can only enable the new if we throw away the old,” he said, adding that the current focus on enhanced mobile broadband is still too narrow.

Seiser also touched upon what was probably the central theme of all the morning’s talks: that it’s most unrealistic and blinkered to focus solely on FTTH as the answer to our future bandwidth needs. He noted that it would cost €80 billion to build fibre to every home in Germany, so that’s not going to happen anytime soon. To satisfy short and mid-term demand we need to be investing in technologies like G.fast and fixed wireless access.

This was echoed by the CIO of BT Group Howard Watson, when asked about G.fast, who agreed that the technology will do just fine for now, as BT has been insisting at this event for years. He spent most of his talk bigging up the work of his company and its subsidiaries EE and Openreach, as well as delivering a montage of recent BT press releases, but he also confirmed DT’s assertion that on the 5G side it’s all about eMBB for now.

The vendors were all keen to stress the multi-technology approach for satisfying bandwidth demand. Both Huawei and Nokia echoed a major theme of yesterday’s keynotes that wifi is an often-overlooked piece of the puzzle. Both companies now offer managed wifi solutions to their customers and seem to think that can be a differentiator.

Federico Guillén Nokia’s president of Fixed Networks, was especially keen to stress the need to embrace a number of technologies and strategies in order to solve tomorrow’s connectivity challenges. “The strategy of deploying fiber to the most economical point in the network is still valid, but the combination of fixed fiber, wireless and other access technologies is now even more crucial to the operator’s business case,” he said.

“Fixed networks are going to be essential for the growth of 5G, for example, as they will complement wireless for mobile transport. We will also see a combination of fibre and fixed wireless access to deliver ultra-broadband to the home using technologies such as WiGig.”

Guillén also insisted that virtualization has finally reached the mature end of the hype cycle and has become a reality, but we’re not sure all operators would share his bullish stance. He did, however, concede that virtualizing everything is not, by itself, the answer to our connectivity challenges, once more stressing the need for a hybrid approach.

The morning session concluded with a talk from Ronan Kelly, EMEA and APAC CTO of Adtran, who chose to reflect on the underlying trend of symmetry being introduced to previously asymmetrical industries, such as video entertainment being disrupted by user-generated content or the taxi industry turned on its head by Uber.

Telecoms are having to invest in capacity without getting any return because it’s all being used by OTTs that cut them out of the commercial loop – the old ‘dumb pipe’ dilemma. Kelly reckons greater flexibility of product offering – such as the ability to buy ad hoc increased bandwidth when needed – is going to be a key part of tackling that issue for CSPs.

On the whole this was a balanced, mature set of keynotes that avoided some of the buzzword hype of previous years and focused instead on looking facts in the face. Gone too is FTTH dogma, replaced by an acceptance that if alternative ‘last mile’ technologies like G.fast, DOCSIS 3.1 and FWA get people close to 1 Gbps fixed-line connectivity, then that will do for now.

Global Mobile Broadband Forum: An Overview

By Anne Morris, Contributing Editor. This blog was sponsored by Huawei.

Mobile AI, the evolution of mobile broadband architectures and the latest insights into 5G will all feature prominently at this year’s Global Mobile Broadband Forum in London.

The mobile broadband world is moving inevitably towards 5G, but how will the industry transition from 4G LTE to the promised world of 5G?

That’s a key topic to be explored in London in November when the great and good of the mobile industry gather to discuss latest progress in the development of the next generation of mobile technology, as we move closer to the point when 5G standards will be ratified.

The two-day Global Mobile Broadband Forum (Global MBB Forum) 2017 provides an opportunity for the industry to explore developments in the 5G standard to date, as well as gain an overview of the huge advancements that have been made with 4G. It’s now recognised that 4G will continue to play a significant role both in the standardisation process for 5G as well as in the types of services that will be available in the future.

The title of this year’s event, which takes place on November 15 and 16, is “Mobile Reshapes the World” — and few would regard this as mere hyperbole given the huge changes that mobile technology has already brought to our lives. The purpose of the event is not only to provide a snapshot of progress to date, but also to make some important decisions regarding future steps. Indeed, some of the most influential decision makers from the ranks of operators, vendors and other participants in the mobile ecosystem will be attending. Importantly, representatives from vertical industries — which are expected to provide key use cases for 5G technology — will also add a further dimension to discussions on how to achieve sustainable growth.

What can you expect to see? As things stand, the event expects to attract more than 900 attendees with many holding C-level positions within their companies. The impressive line-up of keynote speakers includes: Ken Hu, rotating CEO, Huawei; Rajendra Rao, CEO, Ford Smart Mobility; Johan Wibergh, CTO, Vodafone Group; Enrique Blanco, GCTIO, Telefonica Group; and Hiroshi Nakamura, CTO, NTT DoCoMo. There will also be live demos and an innovation expo to show some real-world examples of what is already being trialled in labs as well as on live networks.

On Day 1, the focus will be placed firmly on the development of the future 5G ecosystem and the types of services that this extremely advanced mobile technology will be able to support. As well as perspectives from mobile operators on what 5G will mean for their businesses, there will also be discussions on how vehicles are set to become the “next mobile”, as well as the impact that mobile is having on how video services are distributed and consumed. Day 2 will look at the innovations that have been made with LTE-Advanced technology, also dubbed 4.5G.

A key topic during the event will be Mobile Network AI (artificial intelligence). The Huawei team will show how a combination of mobile broadband and AI capabilities can improve efficiency, performance and business, and will unveil the world’s first Mobile AI prototype during the Forum.

In addition, a number of roundtable events will delve deeper into aspects such as how the mobile industry can work with vertical industries in the 5G era in order to devise new business and use cases. That will also involve improving network capabilities to enable these use cases as the industry moves towards 5G network rollout and delivery.

Running in parallel with the Global MBB Forum will be a series of summits and roundtables held under the banner of Wireless Industry and Technology Talks, or WIT Talks. These discussions will focus on key aspects relating to the realisation of 5G, such as the thorny issue of spectrum and the physical construction of the networks themselves. The latter issue will also incorporate discussions on core network transformation, the co-existence of 2G/3G/4G and 5G, and how to ensure sustainable investments and network evolution. In addition, no network discussion would be complete without an examination of how 5G will affect back-office systems; the OSS roundtable will enable leading operators to share their experiences and discuss what they intend to do next.

Of course, the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual and augmented reality, and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication — underlining the importance of the car industry as a blueprint for other sectors with regard to its collaboration with the mobile industry — will also feature heavily in the talks. Last but not least, security challenges and the prevention of cyber-attacks remain a pressing concern for the sector, which is still seeking ways of how to cope with new and more sophisticated threats in future.

Overall, the aim of the conference is to ensure that all participants in the ecosystem better understand what future actions are now required to make 5G both a reality and a business success.

The Global MBB Forum 2017 will take place at the ExCel centre in London on November 15 and 16. To register for the event, please click here.