KPN launches 5G trials alongside 3.5 GHz moan

KPN has announced the launch of four new 5G trials in the Netherlands, while also giving the government a bit of a nudge to grant access to the 3.5 GHz frequency band.

Although the 3.5 GHz frequency has been marked as a priority for 5G by the European Commission, Dutch regulators have not included the band in any spectrum auctions to date, or the auction scheduled for 2019. This has been a point of frustration for the telcos, who seem to be taking it in turn to urge regulators to rethink plans. While this is seemingly KPN’s turn, VodafoneZiggo made a similar plea towards the end of 2017 which fell on deaf ears.

“Where 4G connects people, 5G will connect the whole society. It is therefore very important that we, together with customers and technology partners, investigate how 5G can optimize business processes and improve the customer experience,” said Jacob Groote, Director of Product Management Business Market at KPN.

Right now the band being used for defence and intelligence at a satellite monitoring station in the north of the Netherlands, and closed broadband networks elsewhere. Regulators have said the issue will be cleared up in time for the 2019 auction, but there has seemingly been little progress to date, much to the frustration of the telcos.

Despite the confusion, KPN has also confirmed it will begin four new 5G trials focusing on Massive MIMO in urban areas with Nokia (Amsterdam), connection of drones for precision agriculture (a farm in Drenthe), virtual reality in industry (Rotterdam Harbour) and self-driving vehicles (motorways near Helmond).

In terms of the applications in agriculture, the team will work with Wageningen University and ZTE, to test out various precision agriculture practises based on drones. The trio will also be using millimetre wave with the aim of generating speeds greater than 1 Gbps. Over in Rotterdam Harbour, network slicing is the focus of the trial. Working with Huawei, the aim is to effectively demonstrate network slicing techniques for business critical applications using virtual reality.

Spar prepares for opening of first cashless store

Retailer Spar International is making the final preparations to open the first cashless supermarket in the Netherlands at the Hogeschool Utrecht university campus tomorrow (Wednesday 4 April).

The initiative, which is known as ‘Skippen’ or ‘Skipping’ in English, will allow students who download the app to breeze in and out the store without queueing for a cash register. Customers who have downloaded the app, around 25,000 of them so far, will scan items into their shopping cart using QR codes before paying at the end with Tikkie, ABN AMRO’s online payment solution.

“Skippen is a shop-driven concept and comes from the desire to make customers even happier,” said Kyra van Elswijk, Smart Clients Manager at Spar. “Because the customer does not have to wait at the counter, the customer actually has a longer lunch break. The power of Skippen is mainly in the customer’s trust, something that has always been an important part of the formula thanks to the self-checkout cash registers.”

Spar University is a sub-brand of the Spar group with retail sites on university campus’. While providing a more tailored shopping experience for students, we can imagine the Pot Noodles supply is endless, this is also the site of trials and initial introductions of new projects. This is the first cashless store, but Spar University also got the ball rolling on the first 100% self-checkout site as well.

Launched in 2013, the 100% self-checkout store featured no cashiers. The cashless element, with customers entirely reliant on the app and digital payments, is the second phase in Spar’s development plan to make shopping simple, smart and fast.

The app itself was developed by Social Brothers, though Countr was brought in for the Point-of-Sale software, and Mood Media focused on the audio-visual customer experience. As mentioned before, ABN AMRO provided the payment solution.

While this is certainly an interesting concept, Spar is also heading into the world of personalisation and big data. By using the app Spar will be able to collect information on each specific user and therefore understand purchasing behaviour. Not only will this help the team make sure the right products are in the shop, but Spar has also said it wants to make personalised offers to shoppers based on previous behaviour. These rewards can be collected through the app.

There might be some in the world who are getting increasingly paranoid about handing over personal information, even more so when the last few weeks are taken into account, but students are much more accepting of new technologies. These are digital natives where the exchange of information for value is a normalized idea, and a demographic which will be much more receptive to free stuff. Not a bad place to tweak the bugs.

Rare European telco consolidation as T-Mobile Netherlands moves to acquire Tele2

T-Mobile Netherlands is bidding €190 million plus a quarter of the combined company to buy rival Tele2.

While this is an interesting piece of potential disruption in the Dutch market, the real intrigue lies in the position this puts European competition authorities in. According to Ovum’s WCIS service KPN is the dominant Dutch operator with a 55% subscriber share. Vodafone is second with 22%, then comes T-Mobile with 17% and Tele2 with 5%.

Combining the latter two would still only achieve parity with Vodafone and be miles short of KPN, so it’s hard to see what possible objections there can be to this deal on competition grounds. But Eurocrats have consistently shown themselves to be almost religiously inclined towards maintaining the number of operator players in a given market at four, so they’re left with a bit of a dilemma over this one.

As you would expect T-Mobile is acutely aware of this regulatory dogma and is wasting no time in telling anyone who will listen how uncompetitive the Dutch market is and thus, by extension, what a great idea this acquisition is.

“I would like to congratulate all our customers and all others who are looking for attractive alternatives,” said Søren Abildgaard, CEO of T-Mobile. “This combination means justice for customers. This duo has been getting away with this game for far too long and there was only one victim, namely the customer! No more. No longer. We will be able to compete against the duopoly much more efficiently and give all Dutch customers a fair choice. We are never going to stop breaking down barriers and will continue to challenge this industry in the years to come.”

Abildgaard seems to have been talking to his colleague in the US – John Legere – who has turned bombastic disruption into an art form over in the US, and he’s not the only one. “We’ve started our journey to disrupt the Dutch market and we will be creating a viable and strong attacker of the duopoly KPN and VodafoneZiggo.” said Thorsten Langheim, Head of the Group Development segment of Deutsche Telekom overseeing T-Mobile NL.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to speed up development of the Dutch telco market and to spur effective competition to the benefit of the Dutch population,” said Allison Kirkby, President and CEO of Tele2 AB. “I see this as a logical next step to become part of a stronger number three player that will benefit our customers, our shareholders and our employees.”

T-Mobile is hoping this deal will close on the second half of next year, but that seems optimistic on two counts. The first is the strong possibility that Europe will just say ‘four good, three bad’ and then stick it’s fingers in its ears. The second is that it will take a year just to start mulling the whole thing over because massive, publicly-funded lunches don’t eat themselves. Let’s see.