Three UK claims 5G-ready cloud core first ahead of August launch

Even though it won’t be flicking the 5G switch until next month, Three UK has decided to bang on about its new virtualized core once more.

We first heard about this whizzy new core, that has been built in partnership with Nokia, back in February. At the time we assumed that would be the last we’d hear about it until the formal launch of Three UK’s 5G network, but Three seems to think we need just one more teaser first.

So, once more for those at the back, this is all about actually using this virtualization tech we’ve been hearing about for so long to make a secure, scalable, flexible core that is capable of fully delivering the 5G dream. It will be housed in 20 dedicated data centres scattered around the country to deliver edge computing benefits such as lower latency. This is also a good case study for Nokia to show how good it is at this sort of thing.

“Our new core network is part of a series of connected investments, totalling £2 billion, that will provide a significant step change in our customers’ experience,” said Dave Dyson CEO of Three UK. “UK consumers have an insatiable appetite for data as well as an expectation of high reliability.  We are well positioned to deliver both as we prepare for the launch of the UK’s fastest 5G network.”

“This is an exciting time for both Nokia and Three UK, as together we work towards the future of telecommunications networks,” said Bhaskar Gorti, President of Nokia Software. “This project delivers a joint vision that has been forged from the catalyst of Three’s strategy for complete business transformation. The project will deliver a flexible 5G core network, enabling the next generation of mobile services and cementing Three UK as a true leader of 5G in the UK.”

Three was careful to give shout-outs to some of its other partners in this project, which include Affirmed Networks for traffic management, Mavenir for messaging and Exfo, Mycom and BMC for OSS. Not only will this core network be central to Three UK’s strategy for the next decade, it will also provide a good live test of the kinds of technology everyone will be reliant upon before long. No pressure then, see you in August.

Nokia CTO hung out to dry after BBC comments

Although they weren’t exactly the most sensible of comments, it seems expressing a personal opinion is an absolute no-no for any telco executives nowadays.

The interview in question was with Nokia CTO Marcus Weldon and focused on a report from US security firm Finite State. In the report, Finite State suggested 55% of the firmware images supporting 558 of Huawei’s enterprise networking products contained at least one potential backdoor.

The report itself gave a relatively scathing interpretation of Huawei’s security capabilities, effectively questioning the competence of the Chinese vendor.

Weldon’s comments could be interpreted as sloppy or a man on the offensive to capitalise on a wounded foe.

“Some of it seems to be just sloppiness, honestly, that they haven’t patched things, they haven’t upgraded,” said Weldon. “But some of it is real obfuscation, where they make it look like they have the secure version when they don’t.”

To date, Nokia and Ericsson have largely avoided being dragged into the Huawei saga. They have commented on the uncertainty created and the need to come to a conclusion sooner rather than later but have steered clear of any comments directed at their biggest competitor.

Weldon hasn’t here, and it seems the Finnish vendor saw it necessarily to disown its CTO and his thoughts on the industry.

“Nokia notes the comments made by a Nokia executive to the BBC on 27 June 2019 regarding the possible impact of the use of a competitor’s products on the security of UK telecom networks,” a statement reads.

“These comments do not reflect the official position of Nokia. Nokia is focused on the integrity of its own products and services and does not have its own assessment of any potential vulnerabilities associated with its competitors.”

Nokia has managed to avoid getting its hands dirty in this on-going saga and why would it want to. The US is doing a perfectly job of demonising Huawei through various propaganda campaigns without help from anyone else.

That said, we imagine this is little comfort for Weldon who must be feeling quite lonely at the moment.

UPDATE: 28.06.19: 16:15 – Huawei statement:

Nokia’s statement that one executive’s comments on Huawei do not reflect their official position is recognition that ill-informed loose talk does not help our customers or the industry more widely. We win new business by fair competition and on the basis of our technology and customer focus, not by denigrating our competitors. Huawei is the world leader in 5G because our technology is the most advanced, as our market position confirms, we’ve already won 50 5G contracts globally, well ahead of the competition. The best way to improve cyber security and ensure network resilience is for all vendors to agree to independent testing of their equipment and source code – just as we have done in the UK

Nokia trumpets 5G wins in Saudi Arabia and China

Kit vendor Nokia has announced Zain KSA is all-in with Nokia’s 5G portfolio, while China Mobile is using its new massive MIMO gear.

Zain Saudi Arabia seems pretty keen on 5G, having announced its first 5G call back in May. It didn’t say anything about where it was getting its kit from at the time, but now seems to have given Nokia the green light to shout its deal win from the rooftops. Specifically the two companies have signed a three year deal, involving Nokia’s full 5G portfolio, to roll out 5G across Saudi Arabia.

Amr K. El Leithy, head of the Middle East and Africa market at Nokia, said:  “We are committed to transforming the service experience for Zain’s customers and enhancing industrial productivity by enabling extreme broadband services,” said Nokia’s head of MEA Amr K. El Leithy. “This contract, which includes 5G RAN, backhaul, security and services, demonstrates the breadth of our full-portfolio strengths and depth of global expertise in deploying these next-generation projects.”

Meanwhile over in China Nokia has also been given the all-clear by China Mobile to crow about the fact that the massive operator is the first to use its new 320W massive MIMO Adaptive Antenna. Apparently Nokia made this antenna specifically for the Chinese market and its massive bandwidth and coverage requirements, so it must be especially gratifying to see China Mobile snapping it up.

The development of the AirScale MAA with its industry-first 320W output is the direct result of input from the China Mobile team on what they needed to speed the deployment of 5G services to their customers,” said Mark Atkinson, Head of the 5G and Small Cells business at Nokia. “We look forward to continuing to work with CMCC as its 5G plans evolve.”

Nokia likes to bang on about its 43 commercial 5G deals at the end of its press releases these days, but tends not to mention that only 23 of them are with named operators and only five are currently live. Ericsson claims 22 publicly announced 5G contracts, with nine of them live. Huawei recently claimed 50 5G commercial contracts without naming any of the operators, so it looks like a tight race between the three of them.

5G RAN market analysis has Huawei in the lead

Analyst outfit GlobalData has claimed the first competitive landscape assessment  of the 5G RAN vendor market, naming Huawei as the clear leader.

The methodology isn’t detailed, but it seems to consist of giving each of Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung and ZTE marks out of five on the following criteria:

  • Baseband capacity
  • Radio unit portfolio
  • Installation ease
  • Technology evolution

Nobody scores less than three in any category but, as you can see from the table below, Huawei gets top marks across the board. GlobalData then aggregates those to make an aggregate score, with everyone getting four except Huawei on five. This seems a bit generous to Samsung and ZTE, both of whom averaged 3.5/5.

globaldata 5g

“The 5G RAN market is extremely competitive in these early stages,” said Ed Gubbins, Principal Analyst at GlobalData. “Operators’ decisions today will direct the next decade of global telecom investment and ultimately usher in fundamental changes to the way we live and work in the 5G era.”

“The first wave of 5G RAN equipment, called ‘non-standalone 5G’ relies on existing 4G LTE infrastructure for some functions. So in the race to win 5G deals with operators, each vendor has a strong advantage with operators that already use their 4G gear.

“Standalone 5G, which requires a 5G core, will give vendors a better chance to penetrate new operator accounts and grow their global market share. We expect the standalone 5G RAN market to start ramping up in 2020.”

Conspicuously absent from all this analysis are geopolitical considerations. It’s all very well Huawei having the best offering, but if much of the western world won’t allow it to be involved in its 5G markets that doesn’t count for much. It’s also interesting to note that the report suggests Nokia’s radio unit portfolio is much better than Ericsson’s, which in turn is easier to install.

Huawei saga is no good for anyone – Nokia UK CEO

Some might assume the suspicion which is being placed on Huawei might work out well for its competitors, but that is certainly not the case.

In certain markets, there are clear benefits to having Huawei as the political punching bag of the technology world, the US is a prime example. Huawei is banned in the US, but it has never really made a profitable charge in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave and look at Ericsson’s wins with Verizon in the pre-standard 5G world. But it can also be a negative.

“It’s bad for us as well,” said Nokia UK CEO Cormac Whelan. “It throws a cloud over technology, networks rollout and security.”

Whelan’s example to demonstrate this point is an effective one. When Volkswagen got caught red-handed in the emissions scandal, it wasn’t too long before questions were asked about others in the automotive industry. The Huawei security issue is not directly comparable, but Nokia and Ericsson are certainly being caught in the wake of this scandal, especially in the UK.

Who is benefitting from the increased scrutiny and uncertainty which is building in the UK? No-one. Without any end in sight for the on-going Supply Chain Review, telcos do not want to spend money on 5G infrastructure. They don’t want to spend on Huawei in case they have to rip and replace, and they do not want to spend on anyone else as they might be able to buy Huawei. The uncertainty is holding the UK telco industry to ransom.

And of course, you have to wonder what the impact might be on consumer adoption of 5G.

“The impact is starting to trickle down onto the high-street,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight. “This could have a negative impact on the consumer adoption of 5G.”

The more security propaganda which is pumped into the news by the US, the more of a shadow which is cast on 5G. Everyone in the industry is being dragged into the storm of security sceptics; this is what uncertainty and pro-longed umming and erring does. How long will it be before consumers start paying attention? Will this prevent users from upgrading to 5G contracts if all the messaging is drawing attention to security inadequacies?

This is not to say the UK should rush a decision however.

“We don’t want the Government to rush a decision,” said BT Chief Architect Neil McRae at the Connected Britain event in London. “We want them to get it right.”

However, there is going to be a point where it becomes frustrating and causes more damage than good. The longer the review takes, the longer the telcos have to wait before networks can be rolled out and the more controversy which is created around the topic of 5G.

Looking at Ericsson and Nokia, they might well be dragged further into the chaos than they would want to be. During a Science and Technology Committee investigation recently, Nokia’s Steve Sampson and Ericsson’s Mikko Karikyto were asked whether they would be happy to fund a security initiative on par with the Huawei Cybersecurity Evaluation Centre. This is an expense neither would want to make unless forced, but it is a possibility.

This session between the Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia executives and the Committee also demonstrate the point of putting the fear into consumers. During the meeting, Labour MP Graham Stringer compared Huawei to IG Farben, the German firm which manufactured the gas used in Nazi concentration camps. Huawei might well be proven a threat before too long, but this is an exaggerated and unreasonable comparison which achieves nothing more than pompous PR points for the MP in question and further fuels the security myths surrounding 5G.

Huawei might be copping the biggest punches when it comes to security sceptics, but no-one is benefitting in this current state of purgatory.

HMD moves Nokia phone user data storage to Finland

HMD Global, the maker of Nokia-branded smartphones, announced that it is moving the storage of user data to Google Cloud servers located in Finland, to ease concerns about data security.

The phone maker announced the move in the context of its new partnership with CGI, a consulting firm that specialises in data collection and analytics, and Google Cloud, which will provide HMD Global with its machine learning technologies. The new models, Nokia 4.2, Nokia 3.2 and the Nokia 2.2, will be the first ones to have the user data stored in the Google Cloud servers in Hamina, southern Finland. Older models that will be eligible for upgrading to Android Q will move the storage to Finland at the upgrade, expected to take place from late 2019 to early 2020. HMD Global commits to two years’ OS upgrades and three years’ security upgrades to its products.

HMD Global claims the move will support its target to be the first Android OEMs to bring OS updates to its users, and to improve its compliance with European security measures and legislation, including GDPR. “We want to remain open and transparent about how we collect and store device activation data and want to ensure people understand why and how it improves their phone experience,” said Juho Sarvikas, HMD Global’s Chief Product Officer. “This change aims to further reinforce our promise to our fans for a pure, secure and up to date Android, with an emphasis on security and privacy through our data servers in Finland.”

Sarvikas denied to the Finnish news outlet Ilta-Sanomat that the move was a direct response to privacy concerns triggered by the controversy earlier this year when Nokia-branded phones sold in Norway were sending activation data to servers in China. At that time HMD Global told Telecoms.com that user data of phones purchased outside of China is stored in AWS servers in Singapore, which, the company said, “follows very strict privacy laws.” However, according to GDPR, to take user data outside of the EU, the company would have had to obtain explicit consent from its EU-based users.

Sarvikas claimed that the latest decision to move storage to Finland has been a year in the making and is part of the company’s overall cloud service vendor swap from Amazon to Google. “Staying true to our Finnish heritage, we’ve decided to partner with CGI and Google Cloud platform for our growing data storage needs and increasing investment in our European home,” Sarvikas added in the press release.

Francisco Jeronimo, Associate VP at IDC, saw this move a positive action by HMD Global, calling it a good move “to address concerns about data privacy” on Twitter.

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.

SK Telecom talks 6G with Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung

South Korean operator SK Telecom is hoping to take the lead in the development of 5G towards 6G in partnership with most of the big kit vendors.

Specifically SKT has signed those memorandum of understanding things with each of Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung Electronics. The mutual understanding reached between SKT and the vendors is that they promise to cooperate with each other when it comes to research and development of 5G and 6G technologies.

The 5G stuff is as expected: ultra-reliable and low-latency communications, enhanced MIMO, millimetre wave and standalone 5G. Despite banging on about 6G in the press release, SKT didn’t feel confident enough to specifiy the nature of the 6G R&D, just committing to draft technical requirements and new business models for the next generation of mobile tech.

“Through strengthened cooperation with Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung Electronics, SK Telecom will be able to secure the world’s best 5G quality and lead the way towards 6G mobile network communications,” said Park Jin-hyo, Chief Technology Officer and Head of ICT R&D Center of SK Telecom.

Conspicuously absent from this happy band are Huawei and ZTE. South Korea, of course, has long had a complicated relationship with China, but with the current trade tensions between the US and China currently focusing on Huawei as a proxy, many US allies are moving to distance themselves from it and ZTE just to make sure they stay out of trouble. With Huawei making it clear it’s investing heavily in technological autonomy, there is a real possibility of 6G R&D becoming balkanised.