Ericsson gets some 5G work from MTN South Africa

Swedish kit vendor Ericsson is helping out MTN South Africa with its 5G RAN, transport and core.

MTN expects to start rolling out its commercial 5G network sometime next year and has revealed that Ericsson will be one of the vendors heavily involved in the process. There’s no talk of exclusivity, however, so we can assume at least one other is mucking in, while complicating the picture further is MTN’s recent warm words about the OpenRAN project.

“South Africa is undergoing a huge digital transformation, which will open up new business opportunities and boost the nation’s economy,” said Giovanni Chiarelli, CTIO of MTN South Africa. “To enable and speed up this process, MTN, with Ericsson as our partner, is rapidly upgrading our network to deliver the quality, capacity, and overall network performance that our enterprise and customers demand. Launching 5G will accomplish this transformation and, with fixed wireless access, will ensure high quality, increased capacity, and greater reliability for our customers.”

“With this deal MTN South Africa will be one of the true 5G pioneers in Africa,” said Nicolas Blixell, VP of Ericsson Middle East and Africa. “We will work closely with them, just as we have done with other generations of technology, to bring the benefits of 5G to them and their customers. Citizens, enterprises, industry and society in general in South Africa are set to benefit enormously from 5G and we are here to help MTN South Africa make that happen.”

Ericsson now claims 76 commercial 5G agreements or contracts with unique operators, of which 30 are publicly announced and 23 are live. Here’s Ericsson’s latest 5G deal win map which, for some reason, doesn’t feature this one. Bit of an internal communications breakdown there it seems.

Networks need to be built for IoT not smartphones – Sprint

If telcos are going to back the IoT trend to realise the promised fortunes of the digital economy, are they building networks to fulfil this ambition?

This was the question raised by Ivo Rook, SVP of the IoT business at Sprint, at Total Telecom Congress. If telcos are still designing networks with the smartphone in mind, then the pot of gold at the end of the IoT rainbow may well be raided by rivals.

“If we think the world is going to change and networks are going to be at the centre of that, we should be thinking about how we are building networks but also why we are building networks,” said Rook.

“If the smartphone is the usecase of the mobile network today, then what is the usecase of tomorrow?”

The team at Sprint has taken a slightly different approach to many telcos and the result is the construction of a fully-virtualised network, which runs on bare metal servers, designed exclusively for IoT, which is known as ‘Curiosity’.

While it might sound like a simple idea, the best ones often are.

Rook highlighted traffic is separated at the radio, before being driven towards separate and dedicated network cores. One network is designed for the behaviour of smartphones, while the second is designed for IoT devices and applications. These are two different segments, which create different challenges, therefore it is only logical to create two different networks.

And when you look at the numbers, it does raise the question as to why more telcos aren’t taking this approach.

The smartphone segment is one which is likely to remain profitable in the long-run, though growth is only estimated at 2%. You can of course build a business case around this, but the levels of CAPEX required are eye-watering. It will be more expensive to build a dedicated IoT network to run alongside, but the financial projects are much more attractive.

According to EY, the number of IoT connections worldwide is forecast to hit 25 billion by 2025, creating a market which could be worth in the region of $1.1 trillion. However, one of the drivers of this segment is the progress of computational power, the rise of cloud computing and the decreasing price of connectivity. These are three segments which are accelerating their progress, suggesting the top-line estimates on revenues could be conservative.

As there is only so much growth left in the smartphone world, and the consumer’s data appetite is aggressively increasing, profits are looking less and less attractive. These are the trends which are driving telcos to diversify, however if the same approach is applied to the networks for different usecases, is the potential going to be realised? Its all about creating the right tools for different jobs.

The question which telcos need to ask themselves is where do they foresee the greatest profits in the future. If it remains in the smartphone world, then fair enough, design networks the same way. However, for enterprise applications and IoT, as Rook highlights, perhaps there should be a shift in mentality for prioritising network demands and design.

Fingers pointed towards 3G work for Three network outage

While the full-extent of the network outage has not been unveiled just yet, some are suggesting maintenance on the firms 3G network is the root cause.

Three has confirmed it was a change to the network which was being made overnight on Wednesday [October 16] which caused the outage, but it is being elusive with the specifics. Either it doesn’t know, which we doubt, or it doesn’t want to say.

There does appear to be customers who are struggling to connect to voice, SMS and data services, though the majority of the issues seem to have been settled. Networks appear to be up-and-running, and now the work begins to understand the cause of the outage. Perhaps more importantly, the team will also want to figure out how to ensure this incident does not occur again.

“Following the technical difficulties with our services yesterday, the majority of our customers can now make calls, send texts and use data,” Three said in a statement.

“Our engineers have worked overnight and are continuing to iron out a few remaining issues from a technical perspective. While voice and text have returned to normal, unfortunately a small number of customers may continue to experience intermittent issues with data.

“To help with the process we advise our customers to turn their phones off and on or turn airplane mode on and off, which will in most cases resolve the issue by resetting your phone’s connection to the network.”

Although the ‘turn it off and turn it on again’ request will infuriate a few, it is usually the best way to get things fixed. Three is suggesting the problems are in the past and it will be hoping its reputation has not taken too much of a hit.

Unfortunately for the team, there was a bit of a misguided attempt at humour during the saga. In one tweet, Three suggests O2 had unplugged its 3G network when plugging in its own 5G infrastructure, though a few commentators noted that it might have been a bit funnier if there weren’t customers continuing through the data-less struggle.

Looking at the root cause of the issue, there is still some ambiguity. Some have suggested it might have been teething problems for the new cloud core, being supplied by Nokia, though Three has denied this. Other reports have emerged suggesting maintenance and repairs on 3G infrastructure could be the reason.

The 3G work is an interesting angle, as while Three is attempting to switch-off 3G in pursuit of re-farming valuable spectrum for 4G and 5G, this is still a work in progress.

Interestingly enough, while the process of switching-off 3G networks is one which is gaining popularity, spectrum is a valuable resource after all, it might have a negative impact on the 2G networks which are still running.

Although it might seem unusual to discuss 2G in today’s world, a report from Tech UK suggests the need for 2G services is likely to continue into the 2030s. The services are still being made use of by the elderly, rural users and M2M applications, this will not change in the immediate future. If telcos are switching off 3G, the demand of these areas cannot be offset meaning 2G networks will have to be maintained for the foreseeable future.

“We sometimes focus on technology without fully understanding the impact on services people rely on,” said Tony Lavender, chair of the Spectrum Policy Forum Steering Board.

“Among other things, 2G enables smart metering and the mobile phones used by many vulnerable people in society. We need to think through the alternatives for these services before switching them off.”

While hiccups are rare in the connectivity world, they are certainly not unheard of. Last year, inadequacies from Ericsson resulted in an expired software license crashing O2’s network in the UK and Softbank’s in Japan. At the time of writing, Verizon is also entering the domain of damage control after users faced the connectivity baron land in the North-east and the Mid-west.

What is unclear is what the financial impact of the outage will be. As has been shown with the O2 network outage last year, consumers do not immediately flood towards the exit when services crash for an extended period of time. Three’s network does not crash regularly, therefore customers will likely tolerate this incident, but it might end up costing the firm a few million in compensation.

Norway says yes to Huawei

The Norwegian Government has said it will not ban Huawei from providing network infrastructure equipment or services to fuel the drive towards 5G.

According to Reuters, Cabinet Minister Nikolai Astrup, the man who leads digital efforts across the government, has confirmed Huawei is free to operate in the country. While it is not the largest market for telco vendors, it is another positive sign that not everyone around the world will side with the US.

“We have a good dialogue with the companies on security, and then it is up to the companies themselves to choose suppliers,” said Astrup. “We haven’t got any bans against any suppliers in Norway.”

For Huawei executives, there will be a sigh of relief. Norway was one of the countries which was considering a ban on the grounds of national security, though this now appears to be a process designated to the past. It also demonstrates decisive action from a government; others around the world should take note.

Although Norwegian telcos fall into the fast-follower category for 5G deployment, they now have the advantage of certainty. Other countries, where services are already launched, do not have this confidence as decisions are still currently being made. The UK is a prime example of this.

The Supply Chain Review, on which Huawei’s hopes are pinned, is still under consideration. EE, Vodafone and Three might have already launched 5G services, though they are currently sitting in a state of purgatory. Without absolute confirmation of Huawei’s role in the UK’s digital infrastructure future, aggressive deployment plans are tricky. This is most apparent for Three and Vodafone, where Huawei is pencilled in to play a very significant role.

This dilemma is not present in Norway anymore. Telenor, Norway’s largest telco, plans to launch commercial 5G services in 2020 and can drive towards full-scale network deployment without any limitations on vendor selection from the government. We do not expect any single vendor will be a single-supplier, though it does have increased choice of suppliers compared to other nations.

Elsewhere in the Norwegian telco space, Telia and Ice will also be prepping themselves following the country’s first 5G spectrum auction in June. At the end of the auction, Telenor and Telia each walked away with two 10 MHz blocks 700 MHz spectrum, while Ice collected two 10 MHz blocks in 700 MHz and two 15 MHz lots in the 2100 MHz band. Further auctions are planning over the next few years, with the valuable 3.4-3.8 MHz and 26 GHz bands up for bid next year.

Looking at the relationships which are currently in place, Telenor and Telia have a partnership with Huawei, while Ice has elected to side with Scandinavian neighbour Nokia. Most recently, Telenor has been working with Huawei to trial 5G in the 26 GHz spectrum band, while Telia’s Swedish parent company signed a 5G MOU with Huawei in 2016. Both of the companies have Huawei equipment present in the 4G networks.

Ice is the smallest telco in Norway, it doesn’t have nation-wide coverage just yet, and has elected to work with Nokia. Nokia appears to be providing an end-to-end solution for the challenger telco, which is claiming to have already deployed 1000 5G-ready base stations in its network. Ice is an interesting telco to keep an eye-on, as while it is driving towards 5G connectivity, it still has a significant amount to invest to gain nation-wide coverage for its 4G network, which currently stands at 75% geographical coverage. This might not sound too bad, though when you consider the environmental challenges Norway’s landscape presents, it will be very difficult to improve this footprint quickly.

Another interesting element to consider here will be the impact this has on the relationship between the US and Norway. The US is continuing to pressure partners to place a ban on Huawei, and despite making progress in Poland, more countries are choosing to ignore the demands of the White House.

Looking at the Norwegian export statistics, you can see why the US does not have the same influence as it does with other states. Norway is the 36th largest export economy in the world and the 22nd most complex economy according to the Economic Complexity Index (ECI). Exports stood at $106 billion at the end of 2017, with crude petroleum and petroleum gas topping the list.

In terms of destinations, Europe accounted for 80% of all exports from the country, the UK led the way with 20%, while the US accounted for 4.7%. This is still a substantial number, though the US cannot force its will on the politicians in the same way.

Although the continued conflict between the US and China, in which Huawei is somewhat of a proxy for collateral damage, is causing discomfort for the vendor, it could be a lot worse. Worse case scenarios were drawn-up when the tension got to breaking point, though with numerous governments choosing to ignore the severity claims from the US, Huawei remains in a healthy(ish) position.

We want to build a network where failure is impossible – Telefonica CTIO

If you consider 5G is not 5G without a 5G core, why have we not been talking about the 5G core more when 5G is being deployed and the 5G economy is just around the corner.

If you hadn’t figured it out, this article might be about completing the 5G puzzle.

In Madrid, telco executives are gathering to talk about a topic which has not grabbed many headlines to date. The evolution, or perhaps revolution, of the core. And whilst it might be a very complicated project, one thing is very clear; the 5G core will not look very similar to the 4G core.

“We are not building infrastructure for the customer,” Telefonica CTIO Enrique Blanco said at the 5G Core conference.

“We are building it for society. How can we build a network which will not fail? 5G Core is a key topic for us.”

There are two interesting elements to this statement from Blanco. Firstly, the network is fundamentally different in its application. And secondly, if connectivity is going to central to society moving forward, failures cannot be tolerated, irrelevant of severity, location or impact.

Starting with the application of the network, while 4G was built for the mass market and appeasement of the increasingly digitally-native consumers, 5G is much more than that. Increased download speeds are an added bonus, but the value of 5G is realised through the creation of new services and engagement with enterprise.

Walter Wang of Huawei illustrated this nuance very well. The 4G network has been built for a single purpose, however the 5G core needs to be built in a way which allows for the creation of customisable connectivity services for enterprise. For example, a customer in the energy sector will be demanding low-latency. In manufacturing, reliability and resilience are key. And for broadcasting, its speed and availability.

The ‘one-size-fits-all’ 4G network cannot deliver on these demands. If 5G is to offer an opportunity to engage enterprise customers, the 5G core needs to be created in a way which allows for the creation of these services. It’s multi-layered, regionalised and distributed and multi-vendor. Which leads us very nicely onto the next area.

The 5G network cannot fail. The same could be said of the 4G network, however the impact is very different. If 4G networks go down, the general public can’t watch cat videos on the bus. If a 5G network fails, enterprise customers are irked and SLAs (service level agreement) come back to haunt the telco. Critical services fail and there is a very real impact to society.

As Blanco highlighted, operating through multiple layers, distributing the core over several regions and engaging with multiple vendors adds resilience. If there is a failure at one point in the network or ecosystem, it is a case of damage limitation not everyone to panic stations.

This is a perfectly reasonable approach to business, though there are certainly some risks to bear in mind.

A multi-vendor environment is all well and good for resilience, reliability, competition and innovation, however as Veon CTO Yogesh points out, the more variables in the ecosystem, the points of failure. Franz Seiser of Deutsche Telekom also echoed this point; the future network is impossible without automation and automation is very difficult.

This is the challenge with the 5G network of tomorrow; if it is multi-vendor, with telcos selecting components which have been deemed best-in-breed, this is not necessarily a guarantee they will complement each other. The ingredients might be perfect, but if the recipe doesn’t work, neither will the network. In some case, it might be worth sacrificing some quality because the components complement each other.

What is worth noting is that all of these discussions are very much in the early days. The 3GPP Release 16, due in the early part of 2020, will pay more specific attention to the 5G core, and at this point we might see work accelerate.

That said, always bear in mind that 5G is not really 5G until the core is 5G. And the nuances of delivering a 5G core are a lot more complicated than 4G.

Three gives forgotten child 4G some much-needed attention

With 5G networks being switched on left, right and centre, let’s not forget 4G experience is still going to be the major concern of the vast majority of users for a long-time to come.

In its pursuit of a more established ranking in the UK mobile league, Three has announced a number of initiatives to improve the 4G experience for its customers. 5G might dominate the headlines, but 4G is going to dictate the fortunes of the telcos for some time.

“5G is a game changer for Three’s current and future customers. It will bring faster speeds, a better experience and masses of capacity which will benefit our 4G customers as well,” said Three CEO Dave Dyson. “While we are investing heavily in 5G, 4G is still very important for our mobile and home broadband services.

“These upgrades will ensure that our data hungry customers are getting the best possible 4G experience as 5G rolls out.”

The two initiatives announced here will continue to build the 4G experience for customers. Firstly, the introduction of new spectrum and site upgrades. Secondly, the re-farming of 3G spectrum to further bolster the armoury in the fight for 4G supremacy.

6,000 mobile sites, which account for 80% of the traffic which flows across the Three network, will get an upgrade. These upgrades, which will run alongside the 5G deployment initiatives, will include new antennas and new spectrum. Three is claiming the introduction of 1400 MHz spectrum should increase download speeds by 150%, assuming of course you have the right device.

Although the range of compatible devices is quite large, a simpler way to describe it would be any device which has been released in the last 12-18 months. For those who have older devices, Three suggests the download speed gain could be as much as 50%. It’s not necessarily a mind-blowing number in comparison to others which are floating around the mobile domain, but it would certainly make a notable impact on experience.

The second initiative involves the 3G spectrum. All of the telcos are undertaking the process of re-farming 3G spectrum for higher purposes, but Three does seem to be leading the way. As part of the announcement today, Three is suggesting 12,500 sites will see speed improvements of up to 40% as 3G spectrum is handed over to 4G.

Looking at the bigger picture, none of the telcos can forget about 4G. 5G might be much more attractive to the consumer (the bigger, meaner, faster mentality is very strong), but for years to come the 4G networks will continue to define user experience.

Firstly, you have to look at the adoption of 5G tariffs. This will of course depend on the user purchasing an expensive 5G-compatible device, but then also signing-up to a 5G contract. It will take time for this migration to occur, and we suspect it will be years before economies of scale bring down the price of the devices, opening the euphoria up to the mass market.

Secondly, you have to consider how long it will be until the telcos are demonstrate ubiquity for their 5G networks. Not only does this mean upgrading all mobile sites across the country, but it also means network densification initiatives to compensate for shorter spectrum range and mobile radio propagation. The work to ensure the 5G world is everywhere, all the time, is only just beginning.

Both of these factors mean 4G will be just as, or more important than 5G over the next few years. 5G might generate headlines, but 4G will continue to drive revenues.

Nokia gets 5G gig from new-look Vodafone New Zealand

Just days after Vodafone flogged its New Zealand business, Nokia has been unveiled as its 5G network partner.

Even though it has been sold, the company still has permission to keep the Vodafone brand and even has favourable roaming rates on other global Vodafone networks. So to all intents and purposes it’s the same setup, just with the returns ending up in someone else’s pockets.

The decision to go with Nokia for the 5G network was presumably months in the making and represents the continuation of a longstanding partnership, so the involvement of the new ownership was presumably minimal.

“We are excited to be joining forces with Vodafone New Zealand, our partner of over 20 years, to bring 5G to New Zealand,” said Tommi Uitto, Nokia’s President of Mobile Networks. “With this agreement, we will enable Vodafone New Zealand to deliver 5G services to their customers and create an even more connected society.”

“We are excited to be working with Nokia to deliver a commercial 5G network for Vodafone and New Zealand, building on our proud heritage of being first to deliver to Kiwis, the best mobile technology available at the time, including 2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G,” said Tony Baird, Technology Director, Vodafone New Zealand.

Vodafone New Zealand will launch 5G in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown later this year, which will be the first 5G network in the country. It looks like it’s buying the full monty of 5G stuff from Nokia, including RAN, core and design services, so this will serve as a decent shop window for Nokia.

Nokia UK CEO: Where are the bodies to build the networks coming from?

Cormac Whelan, Nokia’s UK CEO raised an interesting point in a recent conversation with Telecoms.com. Where are the employees to implement ambitious rollout plans?

As it currently stands, the UK is rapidly upgrading its nationwide broadband network. Virgin Media is expanding its fibre footprint by more than 100,000 premises a quarter, while Openreach is doing the same number each month. CityFibre has got approval to expand its fibre footprint to 70 cities across the UK, and various different alt-nets are scaling as well. Toob is growing in Southampton, Gigaclear is growing in the South-West and HyperOptic is scaling in London.

Arguably, the UK has one of the fastest growing fibre initiatives across Europe. Yes, it missed the memo which was sent to everyone else years ago, but it is finally arriving to the fibre feast. There are calls to increase the pace further, see BoJo’s ridiculous comments, but you have to wonder how much quicker the industry can actually go.

“Where are the bodies going to come from?” Whelan asked during a conversation at the Connected Britain conference in London. It’s a simple question, but one few have actually asked.

Last year, Openreach recruited 3,000 staff to help with its fibre plans, and it plans to add another 3,000 across 2019. Virgin Media’s Project Lightning is continuing to progress, and it is recruiting. If the alt-nets want to continue to scale, they will also need more bodies. But, finding these individuals is not simply a case of slapping a hard-hat on Joe Bloggs. These are specialised careers with a lot of training, soon enough the candidates are going to start drying up.

One of the big issues facing the industry, as Whelan points out, is the attractiveness of working elsewhere. The UK is a cosmopolitan society, but that is changing. With Brexit on the horizon, the UK is becoming less appealing to EU workers. There are more EU citizens arriving on UK shores than leaving, but immigration is at its lowest levels since 2013.

The big question which will need to be asked is whether it is more prosperous for workers who have the skills attractive to telcos to work in the UK or in the country of their birth? This is not suggesting that all field engineers are of EU dissent, but due to education trends over the last couple of decades there are less UK citizens suited to these professions than in previous generations.

The millennials were a generation ushered towards university. The percentage of UK citizens who are now in their 20s, 30s and early 40s have a higher proportion of degrees than previous generations. It is becoming less attractive to go to university nowadays, such is the horrendous price of tuition fees, but that does not fix the problem. Attracting workers from the EU was one way to fill the gaps in these fields of expertise.

As Whelan pointed out, Poland has an on-going broadband initiative running nationwide, while so do Hungary and Germany. Soon enough, the Czech Republic will be kicking off their own projects and so will numerous other EU nations. The UK is not the only place in Europe running large scale broadband schemes, but with Brexit on the horizon it is becoming increasingly unattractive as a place of work for EU citizens. Just as the UK telco industry needs to hire more field engineers, the availability of candidates might just start drying up.

Addressing BoJo’s preposterous claims 100% FTTH could be delivered by 2025, Robert Kenny, co-founder of Communications Chambers, suggested Brexit would be his downfall. Fortunately, the point Kenny is making also supports the argument being made here.

“Brexit has resulted in a large number of continental European engineers and construction workers returning home from the UK, meaning that telcos are having a nightmare recruiting the staff necessary even for the current pace of deployment,” Kenny wrote on LinkedIn. “Quite how they would radically accelerate is not clear.”

Some might suggest technology can take over and plug the gaps. Yes, the likes of Openreach and Virgin Media are getting better and faster at rolling out fibre networks. However, Whelan believes the technological gains will only help these companies maintain the current rate, to increase the pace of deployment there is only one solution; hire more people.

The UK is making progress. After years of ignoring the benefits of a fibre diet, the penny seems to have dropped. However, as with everything in life, some people will never be happy. It doesn’t matter is the UK is adding 3-4 million fibre premises to the network a year, more is always better. But more might not be possible before too long.

How is 5G getting on?

With the FCC announcing the results of its latest spectrum auction, we’re having a look at how the networks and supporting ecosystems are developing around the world.

Of course, it is critically important to deploy 5G networks, this is the most expensive and time-consuming aspect of the connectivity euphoria, but all the other cogs have to click into place as well. Without the devices and applications on the market to make use of the speed, you have to actually wonder what the point is.

But to start with, how many countries have actually hit the on-switch?

DISCLAIMER: We appreciate we haven’t covered every possible country, telco, product, offer and service, but that would be a monstrous task. If you consider this more of a summary of progress, you might not be disappointed.

US and South Korea take the lead, but not by much

It will have surprised very few that the US and South Korea were first to market, this was a prediction made years ago, though there were quite a few countries are following quickly.

Who made it first is a bit of a contentious discussion. The three major MNOs in Korea hit the on-switch first, though Verizon claims as the connectivity euphoria was only available for celebrity influencers, it should be considered the first. Starting on April 11, Verizon launched 5G in Chicago and Minneapolis. Since then more cities have been added to the mix.

What is worth noting is that this is mobile 5G. Technically both Verizon and AT&T launched home services in 2018, though as there were no mobile devices available it was nothing more than a misleading marketing plug. AT&T is now present in various cities throughout the US, while Sprint has launched in a handful of regions, making use of its 2.5 GHz spectrum, at the end of May. Completing the big four in the US, T-Mobile US will start to launch towards the end of 2019.

Sticking with North and Central America, the Canadian telcos have plans to launch 5G services in 2020, as does America Movil in Mexico. The rest of Central America will stagger in over the next couple of years, dealing with 4G connectivity challenges first.

In Asia, we have already discussed South Korea, but it is worth noting it is hoovering up subscriptions. Contrary to Verizon’s claim, the telcos insist it was a full-service switch-on, while the Ministry of Science and ICT said 260,000 5G subscriptions were added in the first month.

South Korea is also steaming along with network densification plans, claiming to have deployed 54,202 5G base stations by the beginning of May. This is where other nations might face more of a challenge, considering how concentrated the South Korean population is in Seoul and the size of the country.

China is a country which fits into this challenging mould. Despite being one of the technology leaders in the 5G world, it is not one of the fastest to market. China Unicom launched some test projects this year, with plans to launch in 2020, while China Mobile is planning to have 10,000 5G base stations by the same date. The big question is how quickly China can roll out hardware across such a vast geographical area.

Elsewhere in Asia, Japan’s telcos are also targeting a 2020 launch date, as is Viettel in Vietnam and StarHub in Singapore. The Indian Department of Telecommunications has 2020 plans across the industry, while Reliance Jio is being predictably aggressive, also suggesting it will launch its own device.

In Europe, it has been suggested the telcos will be slower off the mark than others around the world, though there are some bright spots defying the trends.

EE has already switched on its network in the UK, while Vodafone will follow next month. O2 plans to launch towards the end of 2019, as will Three. One of the issues facing the UK in the immediate future is the price of tariffs, which are notably higher than 4G. Once all four MNOs are up and running this might calm down, but for the moment, 5G is just for the wealthy.

Switzerland is a country which is seemingly leading the European charge however. Having launched 5G in April, Swisscom plans to have 90% of the population covered by the end of the year. Sunrise has also launched, while a third MNO Salt will be in hot pursuit before too long.

In Finland, Elisa Oyj first turned on its 5G network in 2018, and has been scaling the deployment to various different cities across the first couple of months as devices have become available. Telia has also launched in a handful of cities, while DNA plans to launch not only a mobile service, but also a FWA offering in Vantaa.

Orange in France and Telecom Italia in Italy are two other telcos which plan to launch across 2019, though the majority seem to be targeting 2020 for any 5G buzz.

The Middle-East is another region which is at the front of the 5G pack, and perhaps it should come as little surprise considering the wealth of the citizens and also the smaller size of the nations involved.

Ooredoo in Qatar is another telco which is claiming to be the first worldwide to deliver commercial 5G services, while it has also launched in Kuwait alongside Zain. UAE 5G became available via Etisalat UAE on May 30, while du is planning on launching in the immediate future. Bahrain will also see launches in 2019, according to the government, while it looks like it will be 2020 for Saudi Arabia, though many of the messages from here are confusing.

As you would expect, many of the 5G rollout plans in South America are somewhat being the curve, though there are some exceptions. Entel in Chile is targeting 2020, as is Telefonica in Columbia, while Brazil is also confident.

Africa is similar to South America, with some of the wealthier nations pushing ahead while the majority are still tackling the massive digital divide.

In South Africa, Vodacom and Rain are planning to launch 5G this year, while MTN hasn’t announced any timelines. Telecom Egypt and Nokia have reportedly come to an agreement to launch in 2019, although specifics are light on the ground, and Safaricom also have 5G plans this year. The Nigerian government has set 2020 as a target.

How long will we have networks without the devices?

Of course, the networks are largely redundant without the devices to make use of the connectivity euphoria.

Starting with the biggest device manufacturers, Samsung has already released its first 5G-compatible device onto the market. The Samsung S10 5G is available through most MNOs who are heading towards the finish line, while some other device manufacturers have signed exclusive agreements.

The second biggest smartphone manufacturer is somewhat of a different story however. With Huawei facing problems with its operating system, Google has paused the partnership thanks to the ban put on working with Chinese companies by the White House, many telcos are wary of selling the devices. In the UK, for example, both EE and Vodafone have removed the Huawei Mate X from their websites, refusing to accept pre-orders until the issues have been clarified.

Apple is one brand which is sitting out the first wave of 5G smartphones, though this is hardly a surprise. This seems to be the strategy from Apple in many different areas; you don’t necessarily have to be the first but be the best. By the time Apple comes to launching its own device, the initial bugs and bumps will have been identified (and hopefully corrected) to deliver the experience which consumers have come to expect.

Looking at the best of the rest, Motorola might have been one of the first to market, but it has fallen out of the headlines since. The issue was the 5G component of the device was a module which could be clipped onto a standard smartphone. Why would anyone consider such a device when there are better alternatives?

The OnePlus 7 Pro has launched exclusively with EE in the UK and Elisa in Finland, while the LG V50 ThinQ looks like a very useful device targeting multi-taskers and gamers. The Oppo Reno 5G and Xiaomi MI MIX 3 are also available.

There are also various connectivity plug-in hubs, smart home appliances and FWA devices which are either currently on the market, or soon to be, available for consumers. The issue which many will face over the remainder of 2019 and early 2020 is a tsunami of devices which will be compatible with 5G. All of these devices will be fighting to attention, so be prepared for 5G to be plastered across every billboard, radio message, TV ad and double decker bus.

What to do on the impossibly fast phone

This is the issue which many will face over the coming months; you have the device, you have the 5G contract, but what’s the point?

In some cases, it does make sense to have a contract without the applications. In central London, for example, when 4G networks are congested, 5G will address a challenge. However, many will be hoping for more.

There are some interesting ideas floating around. Most will focus on faster download speed, though this is largely redundant. If you can get speeds of 100 Mbps, 80% of it will largely be data headroom as there are few applications currently on the market (and applicable to the everyday user) which would require the full-potential of 5G.

In South Korea, telcos are offering customers add-ons to reduce latency. It would be considered a premium, and a very niche service to offer, but for gaming enthusiasts this might be appealing for an extra couple of quid each month. Real-time gaming, VR, immersive content, these are applications which are most relevant today, but it won’t be long before others emerge.

The killer 4G application did not appear straight away either. It took time for the developers to play around with ideas, test out the potentially good ones and scale the few which were realistic. Right now, 5G might look like a solution without a problem, but it won’t be too long before we are all demanding the speeds which seem so unnecessary today.

Are telcos asking for too much cash?

This is the big question; how much do you charge for 5G?

On the one hand, it has cost the telcos a lot of money to roll out the networks. The bean counters will want a return on investment sharpish, encouraging marketing teams to push premium tariffs. However, when you look at the efficiency gains of 5G, it makes the delivery of connectivity much cheaper for the telcos, setting lower tariffs to encourage more people to upgrade might be a better long-term solution for pressures on the spreadsheets.

It does look like the telcos are opting for the more expensive option in the first instance however.

EE and Vodafone have announced their tariffs in the UK, and should you want to get a satisfactory amount of data for the month, you’ll have to send north of £70 a month. This would not be deemed as acceptable to most.

In the US, Verizon is offering customers the chance to upgrade for an extra $10 a month on more premium 4G contracts, while AT&T is charging $70 a month. T-Mobile US, the company most likely to disrupt the pricing strategies of this pair, has not made any announcements to date.

In South Korea, the tariffs are a little bit friendlier, with the option to get data allowances of up to 250 GB being a lot more expensive. Overall, there is little consistency, with different regions taking different approaches to both pricing and data allowances.

With only a handful of operators offering 5G connectivity, there is always a risk of pricing themselves out of the market. As more launch, the price will come down and, in a few markets, there will be disruptors running loss leader packages. To get a better handle on pricing, we will have to wait a while.

BT looks to Juniper to trim the network bloat

BT has opted for Juniper Networks to deliver its Network Cloud infrastructure initiative, paving the way for BT’s Network Cloud roll-out.

The platform itself is designed to offer BT a number of different upgrades to its current position, including improvements to converged fixed and mobile services rollout to consumers and businesses, faster time-to-market for network services and improved voice and video deliverability and scalability.

The initiative will hope to roll BT’s networks including 5G, Wi-Fi and fixed-line into one virtualised service, a common framework which can be shared across all BT offices nationally and globally. Moving into the single framework will also help BT deliver cost efficiency saving, a key component of recent strategies to make the telco into a leaner machine.

Aside from the EE component of the business, BT has been one of the more sluggish players in the telco space, with the spreadsheets bearing the brunt. If BT is to make the most of up-coming connectivity evolutions, IOT and 5G for example, the business needs to be in a fitter position. This initiative is one of the strands of this plan.

“This move to a single cloud-driven network infrastructure will enable BT to offer a wider range of services, faster and more efficiently to customers in the UK and around the world,” said Neil McRae, Chief Architect at BT. “Being able to integrate seamlessly with other partners and solutions and aligning with our roadmap to an automated and programmable network is also important.”

“By leveraging the ‘beach-front property’ it has in central offices around the globe, BT can optimize the business value that 5G’s bandwidth and connectivity brings,” said Bikash Koley, CTO at Juniper Networks. “The move to an integrated telco cloud platform brings always-on reliability, along with enhanced automation capabilities, to help improve business continuity and increase time-to-market while doing so in a cost-effective manner.”

For Juniper, the bean-counters will be happy with the win, with numerous services being undertaken across different aspects of the network. Contrail Networking will be used for dynamic end-to-end networking policy and control for telco cloud workloads, AppFormix will run the cloud operations management suite, while the QFX Series also features.