SK Telecom and Deutsche Telekom buddy up for 5G

Collaboration is one of the key works currently floating around the 5G world and it seems SK Telecom and Deutsche Telekom haven’t missed the memo.

At a meeting attended by roughly 100 executives, the two operators announced a partnership with the ambition of seeking the promised revenues in the 5G epoch. As it stands, 5G is nothing new. It’s bigger, badder and faster than 4G, but that is not going to satisfy the financial demands of the telcos who need to invest so heavily in the future-proofed networks. The joint venture company created as a result of this partnership will be first tasked with developing new 5G technologies.

Initial focus will be to develop 5G repeater and a 5G in-building solution, as well as a Multipath UDP solution to manage accesses for a seamless connectivity experience and MPEG Media Transport (MMT) technology for low latency media streaming.

“Through partnerships with companies throughout the world, SK Telecom aims to expand beyond the realm of mobile communications to become a global ICT company,” said Park Jung-ho, CEO of SK Telecom. “And I expect this, in turn, will lead to the revaluation of assets and competitiveness of SK Telecom.”

“DT/SK Telecom partnership continues to be of strategic importance for both DT and SK Telecom.” Said Timotheus Höttges, CEO of DT. “We want to work together to make tangible result and strengthen our partnership also with closer technical cooperation.”

This sort of joint investment should not perhaps come as the biggest of surprises considering the pair signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at the Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2019. There is also the fact Alex Jinsung Choi, DT’s SVP of Research and Technology Innovation, was formerly the CTO at the Korean telco.

As part of the agreement, SK Telecom will also contribute $30 million to DTCP, an investment management group with $1.7 billion assets under management and advisory from Deutsche Telekom. The group is tasked with seeking new investment opportunities in technology, media and telecommunication sectors across Europe, the US and Israel. Moving forward, DTCP will open an office in Seoul to identify new opportunities with SK in Asia.

Looking at the greater opportunities for telcos in the 5G era, this could work out to be a very useful partnership for DT. Offering more products and extracting more revenue from enterprise customers is seem as a key objective, and the Asian telcos have progressed further here. Conversations with the verticals have been in play for longer periods of time and these telcos are closer to creating specific products for specific verticals. DT could certainly learn a thing or two.

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.

We’ve hit the go button on 5G, now what?

If the years of sleepless nights and hype are actually going to mean anything, 5G has to deliver more than 4G possibly could, and right now it isn’t.

This might sound like an incredibly negative comment, but it is a realistic assessment of where the industry actually is today. Hitting the on button was simply the first phase, it delivers an enhanced 4G connectivity environment. The big question is what comes next.

“Is 5G a premium product?” Ovum’s Dario Talmesio asked at 5G World today. “Of course, it is a premium product. This is a step change to what we can experience on today’s products in 4G.

“At the moment, the monetization of 5G is similar to that of 4G. This is the most simplistic monetization model. But we won’t be able to do anything new until ‘real 5G’ emerges.”

This is where the big challenge for the industry is about to emerge. The first usecases are simplistic ones, building on the ‘bigger, badder, faster’ mentality of the telecommunications industry. It makes the ‘pipe’ bigger, allowing more data to flow through it, and faster, enabling faster download speeds.

An example of this enhanced connectivity model is over at Verizon. Speaking at the same event, Ronan Dunne, President of Verizon Wireless, pointed towards the increasingly worrying strain being placed on the network. 5G allows Verizon to meet these demands, reduce the strain on the network and increase profitability through technology efficiencies.

Another gain is on the convergence side of telecoms. In areas where Verizon does not have a fixed network, Dunne pointed towards the FWA alternative which 5G enables. Three UK is another company which is exploiting this product and there are numerous other telcos who are eyeing up FWA as a proposition to build bigger product portfolios.

Customers might be willing to pay for this incremental upgrade, but it doesn’t fix the bigger issue in the telco space; adding extra value, and therefore seeking new revenues.

This is not a new idea. One of the basic ambitions of 5G is to evolve the telco from a communications service provider to a digital service provider. But how are the telcos getting on in searching for pastures new?

As you can see from the slide below, it hasn’t been the most ambitious start.

INSERT PIC OF DARIO PRESENTATION

Although you can see there are ambitions to take advantage of newly emerging segments, these are areas which the telcos already operate in. Entertainment, media and smart cities will certainly add some weight to the telco cause, but they will have to venture further afield.

SK Telecom is one company which is pushing the boundaries of the acceptable norm, though this should not really come as a surprise considering the leadership position South Korea has crafted.

During his own presentation, Takki Yu confirmed SK Telecom is challenging itself to seek out new ideas and business cases.

“5G era has begun, let’s do anything which we can imagine,” said Yu. “That is the key message from SK Telecom.”

An interesting point made by Yu was about the mentality of SK Telecom. The team is aiming to bring anything which would be considered offline today into the mobile mix. It does sound very ‘blue-sky thinking’, but it is important to think about new ideas. Many telcos will claim they are doing this, though there is little evidence to support the PR plugs.

Looking at the POCs which SK Telecom is exploring, there is quite a bit of breadth. In partnership with the Sinclair Group, SKT is working towards 5G-based broadcasting services, it is investigating the potential of a 5G-hospital with Yonsei Severance, with WeWork it is working towards a 5G-smart office, with the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Center the team is exploring the next generation of smart factories and it has set-up a smart city in the Incheon Free Economic Zone.

As Ovum’s Dario Talmesio pointed out, the issue many telcos are facing is a lack of industry-specific knowledge. Creating these solutions for the verticals, and integrating them appropriately, cannot be done if the telcos remain as a silo. This is what the Asian telcos have been doing very well over the last few years; partnering with industry verticals. Unfortunately for the European telcos, they are playing catch-up here.

Right now, the world might be wowed by the incredible speeds which are being delivered through 5G networks, but the truth of the matter is that this will not last forever. The wow-factor will fade, and soon enough customers will realise it isn’t actually that innovative. Soon enough, the 3GPP will unveil Release 16 and ‘real’ 5G will emerge. This is where the telcos will have to be very attentive or risk being relegated to the role of connectivity partner.

SK Telecom is bolstering 5G launch with rich content

South Korea’s largest mobile operator will switch on 5G service for consumers on Friday and has plenty of goodies for consumers to fill the bandwidth with.

After publishing its 5G service packages for consumers, SK Telecom (SKT) announced that it is beefing up content, from streamed games to HD and VR videos, that the 5G users can choose from. In a press release the company claimed it has secured around 8,000 different content titles.

A special section for 5G called “SKT 5GX” is set up in SKT’s OTT video service that would include VR video (concert, city and museum tours), 5G MAX (IMAX-like experience), and UHD content (dramas, entertainment shows and music videos in 4K and above). There on offer will also be VR and AR games as well as exclusive streaming games. Additionally, a social VR will enable “multiple users to watch baseball games together in a virtual reality environment.”

“The AR, VR and cloud games unveiled today only mark the beginning of the age of Hyper-Innovation brought by 5G,” said Park Jung-ho, the Chief Executive Officer of SK Telecom. “SK Telecom will continue to introduce 5G-based innovative services to lead all areas of New ICT.”

In order to promote the early adoption of 5G, SKT will zero-rate data for consuming the content from ‘SKT 5GX’ section of the OTT mobile video service, as well as provide up to 5GB of free data for users of its mobile games and VR games. The promotion will run till the end of June.

SKT said that it has rolled out 34,000 5G base stations covering 85 metropolises across the country as well as some hotspots like shopping centres, metro lines in the greater Seoul region, etc., and is planning to expand the coverage to all the metro lines in the country, as well as the national parks and festival sites. The company has excluded Huawei from its 5G business and has been working with Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung.

SK Telecom looks to the edge to monetize 5G

SK Telecom has announced the launch of its ‘5G Mobile Edge Computing Open Platform’ in an effort to marry two of the industry’s hottest topics.

While 5G has dominated industry discussions for years, this years Mobile World Congress saw edge computing steal at least some of the limelight. This may well be evidence of a more pragmatic approach to connectivity ROI, with telcos removing some of the buzz surrounding 5G and creating a more realistic story about how to commercialise the connectivity bonanza; 5G is only one step forward, but the edge is another.

“By opening up the ‘5G Mobile Edge Computing Platform’, SK Telecom will secure the basis for expanding the MEC-related ecosystem and accelerating the release of 5G services,” said Park Jin-hyo, CTO of SK Telecom. “SK Telecom will join hands with diverse companies throughout the globe to boost the adoption of MEC-based services.”

As part of the initiative, SK Telecom will offer enterprise customers the opportunity to improve customers Quality of Experience (QoE) by connecting their service server or data-centre to SK Telecom’s MEC platform. SK Telecom will also provide open Application Programming Interfaces to enable customers to easily develop MEC-based 5G services.

By enabling the edge, ideas such as the smart factory become more of a reality. SK Telecom claims that latency can be reduced by up to 60% by using the edge.

Although the traditional means of generating revenue in the telco space has been through very simplistic and consumer orientated marketing strategies, this cannot be the case for 5G. Such is the expense of deploying a network which meets the connectivity expectations of tomorrow, leaning on traditional business models will likely not work. To realise the promise of 5G, initiatives such as this one, which encourages more creative projects with enterprise customers, are an excellent step forward.

This was perhaps one of the most satisfying outcomes from Mobile World Congress this year, as while some might have viewed the switching on of 5G networks as somewhat of an anti-climax, for us it was a very palatable outcome.

The focus on the edge, and the dampening of 5G hype, set the stage for progress. Yes, the industry has spent a lot of the futureproof networks, and yes, investors are craving the promised profits, but conversations felt much more realistic, pointing towards the work which still needs to be done. Afterall, 5G should be viewed as a catalyst to secure new revenues, not as the silver bullet.

Is South Korea the next country to snub Huawei?

SK Telecom is apparently not using Huawei at all for its 5G roll out and this could be indicative of a broader shift in sentiment in the country.

The story comes courtesy of ZDNet, which seems to have received an announcement from SK Telecom that it’s going with Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung as ‘preferred bidders’ for 5G work. This is consistent with announcements from US operators, which are effectively barred from working with Huawei, and begs the question of whether geopolitical considerations were a factor in SK Telecom’s decision.

The stated reason for its decision is generic and offers no insight into why Huawei was excluded. SK Telecom apparently ‘took a long, multifaceted review before the selection and chose the three companies due to their leading technology, the fostering of the ecosystem, and financial reasons.’ So it’s possible, if unlikely, that Huawei was simply too expensive.

The report also notes that the South Korean government has said it has no plans to ban Huawei and that operator LG Uplus has gone on the record to say what a fan of Huawei gear it is, but it still seems a bit odd that Koreas biggest operator should spontaneously choose to snub the world’s biggest kit vendor.

The suspicion is that US allies, of which South Korea is most definitely one, are receiving pressure through diplomatic back channels to give Huawei a wide berth. The Australian government recently decided to publicly announce its distrust of Huawei but there are other ways of appeasing the US. If KT and/or LG Uplus suddenly take against Huawei too, we will have to wonder whether the decision was made entirely for business reasons.

Korean operators make pact to avoid undermining each other on 5G

SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus have all agreed to launch 5G services at the same time to avoid the potentially blood-thirsty race in pursuit of the ‘first’ accolade.

According to The Korea Herald, the three telcos came to the agreement in a meeting with Yoo Young-min, the Minister in charge of the Ministry of Science and ICT, with the targeted launch date set as March 2019. While it is certainly a nice gesture, whether the telcos are able to stick to such a commitment remains to be seen.

“It is important for mobile carriers to avoid heated competition for the title of world‘s ‘first’ 5G service provider in order for Korea to become a nation that can commercialize the 5G service for the first time in the world,” said Yoo.

Although this situation should be viewed as the exception not the rule, this is a familiar sounding message. The development and standardization of 5G was painstakingly thorough partly with the ambition of all operators crossing the line together, preventing a fragmentation of the technology, and in turn, interoperability. Should the operators stick to their promise of March 2019 launch, the paranoia over competition could be removed, rushed decisions can be eradicated and deployment should be effective. Racing to the finish line can lead to mistakes, but a collaborative approach like this should put Korea in a very good position overall.

Last month the much anticipated Korean auction for 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz bands for 5G services was completed. For the 3.5 GHz band, SK Telecom spent roughly $1.1 billion for 100 MHz of spectrum, with KT paying a bit less, $870 million, for the same. LG Uplus bagged 80 MHz for $728 million. Honours were even for the 28 GHz band, with each collecting 800 MHz. The trio will be free to start using the bands from December, hopefully leaving enough time to thoroughly test enough use cases ahead of the March deadline.

Whether the loving trio can keep on good terms for another eight months remains to be seen, but the friendly route might just work out in everyone’s favour in the long run.

Airship launched by AT&T and SK Telecom

AT&T and SK Telecom have jointly announced the launch of a new open infrastructure project called Airship, intended to simplify the process of deploying cloud infrastructure.

Airship uses the OpenStack-Helm project as a foundation, building a collection of open source tools to allow operators, IT service providers or enterprise organizations to more easily deploy and manage OpenStack, focusing more specifically on container technologies like Kubernetes and Helm. The mission statement is a simple one; make it easier to more predictably build and manage cloud infrastructure.

“Airship gives cloud operators a capability to manage sites at every stage from creation through all the updates, including baremetal installation, OpenStack creation, configuration changes and OpenStack upgrades,” SK Telecom said in a statement. “It does all this through a unified, declarative, fully containerized, and cloud-native platform.”

The initial focus of this project is the implementation of a declarative platform to introduce OpenStack on Kubernetes (OOK) and the lifecycle management of the resulting cloud, with the scale, speed, resiliency, flexibility, and operational predictability demanded of network clouds. The idea of a declarative platform is every aspect of the cloud is defined in standardized documents, where the user manages the documents themselves, submits them and lets the platform takes care of the rest.

The Airship initiative will initially consist of eight sub-projects:

  • Armada – An orchestrator for deploying and upgrading a collection of Helm charts
  • Berth – A mechanism for managing VMs on top of Kubernetes via Helm
  • Deckhand – A configuration management service with features to support managing large cluster configurations
  • Diving Bell – A lightweight solution for bare metal configuration management
  • Drydock – A declarative host provisioning system built initially to leverage MaaS for baremetal host deployment
  • Pegleg – A tool to organize configuration of multiple Airship deployments
  • Promenade – A deployment system for resilient, self-hosted Kubernetes
  • Shipyard – A cluster lifecycle orchestrator for Airship

“Airship is going to allow AT&T and other operators to deliver cloud infrastructure predictably that is 100% declarative, where Day Zero is managed the same as future updates via a single unified workflow, and where absolutely everything is a container from the bare metal up,” said Ryan van Wyk, Assistant VP of Cloud Platform Development at AT&T Labs.

While the emergence of another open source project is nothing too revolutionary, AT&T has stated it will act as the foundation of its network cloud that will power the 5G core supporting the 2018 launch of 5G service in 12 cities. Airship will also be used by Akraino Edge Stack, another project which intends to create an open source software stack supporting high-availability cloud services optimized for edge computing systems and applications. Two early use-cases certainly add an element of credibility.

Korean operators set to switch to usage-based billing – report

In a sign of the disruption set to be unleashed by the 5G era is has been reported that Korea’s main operators are all expected to switch to usage-based tariffs next year.

This is the view of Hana Financial Investment and was reported by the Yonhap news agency. The rationale stated in the report is that usage-based billing will offer higher ARPU and thus cover the cost of investing in 5G, but that seems like a pretty tenuous theory. Yes, some people will pay a premium to be able to constantly stream HD video over 5G but a lot more may end up paying very little because they’re on wifi most of the time.

“There is a high possibility that mobile carriers may change their current high definition content into UHD or virtual reality, which will inevitably lead to an increase in traffic and jack up their sales sharply,” Kim Hong-sik, an analyst at Hana Financial Investment, was quoted as saying in the report.

Usage-based billing is expected to become more commonplace, but the assumption that it will be a cash cow seems hasty. Assuming telcos every get their digital transformation act together, they should be able to get into deals with OTT players like Netflix and app developers to introduce dynamic billing models that allow premiums to be paid for certain scenarios.

Lest we forget, usage-based (or metered) billing was common back in the 3G era, but if failed because it dissuaded people from using data at all. Then they jumped to unlimited and everyone got carried away in the opposite direction, before the industry settled on the monthly allowance model that prevails today.

Unless metered billing is introduced in a much more sophisticated way this time there’s no reason to assume it will fare any better. Another billing revolution expected to accompany 5G is a return to unlimited, which would presumably appeal to heavy users, so it will be interesting to see how they manage this. The fact that all three of them seem to be planning to make the move unison is also noteworthy.

SK Telecom says its 5G rollout is moving quicker than expected

The incremental crawl towards 5G is going slightly faster in South Korea, if SK Telecoms latest boasts are to be believed.

Its trial 5G network in Bundang was augmented with a relay repeater operating in both the 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz bands. The main point of this sort of thing is to overcome the propagation issues faced when using higher frequency spectrum – i.e. it doesn’t penetrate walls very well. The obvious solution to this is to install boosters anywhere the main 5G signal is struggling to reach.

One interesting nugget within this news is a partnership with SK Telesys to develop an in-building relay repeater, which can deliver 5G radio signals in 3.5 GHz using the existing mobile communications infrastructure installed inside buildings.

In another demo SK Telecom collaborated with Samsung to do a 360-degree VR video call via a tablet device. The big deal here is that the call was even maintained while moving around a high-rise urban environment, thus demonstrating the ability to keep a high bandwidth connection going in spite of real-world challenges, thanks to bits of 5G cleverness such as beamforming.

“The success of 5G wireless communications in the real-world environment will give us momentum to accelerate our effort to roll out 5G service earlier than expected,” said Park Jin-hyo, Head of Network Technology R&D Center at SK Telecom. “We, at SK Telecom will continue to develop our capabilities to rollout 5G networks in order to offer differentiated services to our customers.”

All this talk of thongs happening ‘earlier than expected’ has limited resonance without stating what those expectations were. Nonetheless the steady stream of claimed 5G firsts from South Korea contribute to the sense that it’s the current front-runner in the race to 5G. Now make some money out of it SK Telecom – then we’ll be impressed.