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.

SK Telecom boast of wifi as fast as 5G

Over at SK Telecom’s Bundang Centre, the team’s efforts in the glamourous world of wifi has seemingly paid off as the Korean telco boasts of speeds of 4.8 Gbps.

First and foremost, this is a lab test, so any chances of these speeds being widely available in the near future are very slim, though it is certainly a positive step forward. Should the claims prove to be true, it would be nearly four times faster than the existing gigabit wifi service which is on newer smartphones.

“By introducing the technology for the next generation Wi-Fi that can deliver as fast as 5G technology, we at SK Telecom have successfully laid foundation to offer better mobile services,” said Park Jin-hyo, Head of Network Technology R&D Center at SK Telecom.

“We are thrilled to work on the preparation on commercializing the technology and continue to innovate our capabilities to provide differentiated services to our customers.”

The technology has built on the IEEE 802.11ax standard, using four antennas to transmit data and 160 MHz bandwidth, operating in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz spectrums. Given 802.11ax chipsets have already been released, SK expects the next generation wifi service to be commercially available for smartphones next year. Smartphones equipped with the chipset theoretically deliver a speed of up to 1.2 Gbps in 80 MHz with two antennas. Quite a bit below the 4.8 Gbps achieved in the lab, but cat videos will take on a whole new existence.

According to a recent survey from Akamai, South Korea has the fastest average broadband speeds in the world (by quite a distance as well!), and SK Telecom are just spoiling the Koreans with this latest step forward. The plans are to deploy access points in next year particularly in high traffic density areas, where users with the new chipset-based smartphones will benefit from bufferless cat videos.

And while the reality might never reach 4.8 Gbps, as you can see below there has been quite an improvement in this chic area of the technology world.

Progression of wifi

SK Telecom extends its AI management system to mobile network

Korean operator SK Telecom has announced it has applied its TANGO AI-driven network management system to its entire network.

Initially TANGO (T Advanced Next Generation Operational Supporting System) had only been used on the fixed network since last December, but that presumably went well so it has now been rolled out to the mobile one too. It’s all about using AI, predictive analytics, etc, to automate and thus improve network management and optimization.

“The AI-assisted network operation technology based on big data analytics will be essential in the 5G era,” said Park Jin-hyo Head of the Network Technology R&D Center at SK Telecom. “SK Telecom will continue to improve the functionality of TANGO aiming at providing the best-performing network for customers to enjoy.”

TANGO seems to be a big deal for SK Telecom and it has even sold it to Bharti Airtel in India to help with its network. It also seems to be one of an increasing number cases in which operators have taken technological matters into their own hands. Traditionally they may have waited for the vendor community to serve up these kinds of solutions.

Autonomous car industry takes on a life of its own

How did SK Telecoms autonomous car get on with Korea’s busiest road, is Tesla hungry enough to design its own chips and how is Blackberry still a thing? All good questions raised this morning.

Starting with SK Telecom, the team announced it has successfully tested its self-driving vehicle in public, and we’re not talking about some Asda car park where it only has to worry about teenagers learning to parallel park.

The vehicle demonstration took place on the Gyeongbu Expressway, the most heavily travelled road in Korea, from Seoul Service Area to Suwon-Shingal Interchange (26km) at speeds up to up to 80kmph. Teaming up with Seoul National University team, Nvidia and LG Electronics, the test is one of the biggest milestones since receiving a license from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in July.

“Following today’s successful test-driving of our autonomous vehicle on an expressway, we will continue to test our self-driving cars on downtown roads, national highways and motorways,” said Park Jin-hyo, Head of Network R&D Center of SK Telecom. “Furthermore, we will connect self-driving vehicles to our 5G trial networks to advance technologies that can significantly enhance driving safety via IoT and real-time communication with the control tower.”

Over in the world of Tesla, the team is pushing boundaries once again, this time venturing into the previously unknown world of AI chips.

Very few people will argue over the innovation which has come out of Elon Musk’s business, but taking a dip into the world of microprocessors is something which might have caught a few people by surprise. According to sources at CNBC, Musk and his minions are working with AMD to create its own chipset for autonomous driving.

Musk has previously promised customers he will deliver on the promise of self-driving cars by 2019, and creating his own AI chipset to manage the autonomous driving tasks would certainly make that promise a bit more of a reality.

Tesla has not commented on the developments to date, but it has been noted the company is attempted to reduce reliance on other technology companies for future tech. Perhaps it was burnt by the Mobileye snub last year and just isn’t ready to open itself up to love quite yet. It has been working with Nvidia since the split, but maybe Musk just isn’t feeling this relationship is as fulfilling as with Mobileye. Perhaps he quite likes the idea of a spinsters life.

Heading up the team is Jim Keller a well-respected microprocessor engineer, known for previous roles at AMD and Apple. Keller is reportedly leading a 50-strong team in the venture, including several former colleagues after a raid of AMD employees in recent months.

Musk 2019

Finally, over to Blackberry. The Canadians have announced a partnership Delphi to provide the operating system for its autonomous driving system. This perhaps brings about one question; how is Blackberry still a thing.

The QNX operating system is certainly a well-respected name in the driving arena, but is there any need to maintain the Blackberry brand; is it actually adding any value? Most people associate the brand with a dated and clunky phone, more at home clipped onto the belt of an office supplies salesman than in-charge of an autonomous vehicle. Is this an association which anyone wants?

The partnership itself will see the pair work on software performance and safety in their operating system. Delphi’s autonomous driving system, Centralized Sensing Localization and Planning (CSLP), is set to launch in 2019, though the QNX safety OS will facilitate Delphi’s proprietary Ottomatika software algorithms and middleware, with the aim to enhance performance and safety.

“BlackBerry QNX will provide a robust software infrastructure for CSLP and help advance Delphi’s autonomous driving system,” said Glen De Vos, Delphi CTO.  “Safety in high performance computing systems is paramount to a production ready autonomous driving solution.”

“There is no safety without security,” said John Wall, GM of BlackBerry QNX. “With cyberattacks and threats to connected vehicles on the rise, it is imperative that auto manufacturers are provided with software that is safety certified, reliable and secure. This is an area in which BlackBerry QNX excels, and we look forward to the new opportunities this expansion with Delphi will bring.”

It is an area which certainly needs to be addressed, but one which has been glossed over to date. Perhaps this is because it is not a pleasant topic, but how do you ensure autonomous vehicles cannot be weaponised by nefarious individuals sitting on a laptop miles away. QNX claims to bring the capabilities to guard the system against malfunctions, malware, and cyber-attacks by implementing a multi-level, policy-driven security model.

If Blackberry can prove QNX is an OS which can safeguard the autonomous vehicle from external hacks, might this be a way for Blackberry to muscle its way back into the supply chain? It certainly is becoming a forgotten brand, but tackling a question no-one else wants to address would be a good way to recapture relevance.

 

Bharti looks to Korea for inspiration

Bharti Airtel might be involved in a drawn-out mobile slugfest with Jio, but a partnership with SK Telecom could offer a bit of breathing room for the under-pressure operator.

The partnership will work across several areas including developing bespoke software to improve Airtel’s network experience, using digital technology including machine learning, big data and building customized tools to improve network planning based on every customer’s device experience. Leaning on the experience of the facilitator of one of the worlds most advanced digital economies is not a bad idea.

“This partnership will bring a dramatically improved experience to Airtel customers in India by leveraging the expertise of a company that has built one of the best mobile broadband networks in the world,” Said Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman of Bharti Airtel.

“Strong partnerships have been a hallmark of Airtel’s growth journey and we are proud to have always looked ahead to bring the latest technology to India. With SK Telecom’s clear and undisputed leadership in technology, this is one partnership that will decisively change the game in India and put the country at par with the most advanced broadband nations in the world.”

Perhaps Bharti investors do not have the same poker face as Jio billionaire owner Mukesh Ambani, but this would appear to be a play for quality over quantity; Jio can continue to offer more, but our mobile broadband experience will be better, Bharti seems to be saying. It’s an interesting choice to make, and one which has split the masses for decades. Some will want more (or cheaper in this case), but some will want a better experience.

The two companies will also collaborate on an on-going basis to evolve standards for 5G, Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), Software-defined Networking (SDN) and Internet of Things (IoT), while also working together to build an ecosystem to deliver the technologies in India.

“SK Telecom will work closely with Bharti to achieve new network innovations so as to deliver a greater value to Bharti’s customers,” said Park Jung-ho, CEO of SK Telecom.

Bigger or better, the age-old question.

SK Telekom and Nokia get latency down a bit more

SK Telekom and Nokia have claimed to have reduced latency between the handset and base station to 2 milliseconds (ms) over its LTE network.

After a successful demonstration, the pair has declared a round-trip latency of 2ms was achieved, though specifics on how far the signal had to travel have been left out. While the general public might not be wowed by the progress made, it is another incremental step towards 5G, which the International Telecommunication Union has previously stated needs to be under ultra-low latency of 1ms.

“Low latency technology is essential in realizing 5G services such as autonomous driving, artificial intelligence and virtual reality services,” said Park Jin-hyo, Head of Network Technology R&D Center of SK Telecom.

“We will continue to improve our low latency technologies to achieve 5G evolution, while applying the latest technologies to our LTE networks to further enhance customer experience.”

Latency between handsets and a base station in the existing LTE environment is around 25ms, so it is certainly a step forward, but it is not low enough to seamlessly provide services that require real-time transmission of data such as autonomous driving and telemedicine. And while such small gains might not make sense to some people, SK has helped out with a good example of why ultra-low latency is so important.

With a latency of 25ms, upon sending a stop signal to a self-driving vehicle running at 150 kilometres per hour, the vehicle travels about one meter further before it actually begins to decelerate. However, with the 2ms latency technology, the vehicle moves only 8 centimetres before it begins to slow down. Using this example, you can see the importance, and also the benefit to safety over human performance.

Right now, latency of 2ms can support remote learning or enterprise mobility, but the glamourous stuff such as autonomous driving, or AR and VR services, will have to wait for the moment.