It’s Red Hat, but not as we know it

Software vendor Red Hat is celebrating the launch of Enterprise Linux 8 and the approval of its acquisition by IBM with a change of wardrobe.

As arguably the best known company to be named after an item of clothing, the hat itself is central to Red Hat’s brand and image, so any decision to muck about with it, therefore, is not to be taken lightly. But when incoming CMO Tim Yeaton chatted to people about the logo he was distressed to hear they found the dude wearing the hat to be sinister and even evil.

Showing some of the qualities that presumably lead to his promotion Yeaton quickly concluded that having an ‘evil’ logo was a potential marketing liability and dedicated the next year and a half to resolving the matter in an appropriately open source way. This exhaustive process apparently came to a simple conclusion: ditch the dude, resulting in the dude-less logo you see above.

The evolution of the Red Hat logo coincides with a couple of other pretty significant milestones for the company. Tech giant IBM was recently advised that the US Department of Justice has concluded its review of the Red Hat acquisition and said it’s got no problem with it and as far as the US is concerned this is an unconditional green light. IBM apparently reckons the whole thing will be wrapped up later this year.

Lastly Red Hat recently announced the first major new version of its Enterprise Linux platform – RHEL 8. As a platform designed with datacenters in mind, RHEL is of increasing relevance to telcos as they move ever more of their stuff into the cloud and the edge. Red Hat is positioning RHEL 8 as the platform for the hybrid cloud era and name-dropped lots of other associated buzzwords like containers and devops. We wouldn’t even know which end of the box to open with this stuff, so hopefully this vid as well as some canned quotes will help you understand what the big deal is.

 

Stefanie Chiras, vice president and general manager, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Red Hat

“Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 embraces the role of Linux as IT’s innovation engine, crystallizing it into an accessible, trusted and more secure platform. Spanning the entirety of the hybrid cloud, the world’s leading enterprise Linux platform provides a catalyst for IT organizations to do more than simply meet today’s challenges; it gives them the foundation and tools to launch their own future, wherever they want it to be.”

Tibor Incze, technical lead, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Datacom Systems

“The capacity for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 to not only run multiple versions of the same application or database on a specific operating system but to also have a clear and efficient way to manage them is a significant benefit to Datacom and our customers. As we continue to execute on our internal DevOps strategy, we’re also pleased to see improved container capabilities in the operating system and extensive automation, all factors that will help us bring differentiated services to our end users.”

John Gossman, distinguished engineer, Microsoft Azure

“We have seen growth in applications being deployed using Red Hat Enterprise Linux on Azure, including Microsoft SQL Server, for cloud-native, hybrid, and cloud migration scenarios. We’re excited to see what customers will create with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 on Azure with continued integrated support from Microsoft and Red Hat, as well as the operating system’s new capabilities to build applications for workloads like AI.”

Arlen Shenkman, executive vice president, Global Business Development and Ecosystems, SAP

“Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 for SAP Solutions offers high availability capabilities, which are important for SAP workloads, and downtime is unacceptable for business critical applications such as S/4HANA. For more than two decades, we’ve worked with Red Hat on maintaining a stable, open foundation for SAP applications, helping our customers make smarter decisions, faster, across the hybrid cloud.”

Apple investors hope short-term pain will lead to long-term gain

16% growth in the steadily growing software and services business seems to be enough to rally investor confidence in the face of declining revenues.

Perhaps this is another lesson Apple can teach the world; how to effectively manage investor expectations. Total revenues are declining faster than the service division is growing, but with a 5.4% jump in share price in overnight trading, Apple investors seem to be buying into the short-term pain, long-term gain message from the technology giant.

For some the earning call might have been a shock to the system, explaining the immediate 1.93% drop in share price before markets closed. Total revenues for the quarter ending March 30 declined to $58 billion, down 5.2% year-on-year, while iPhone revenues dropped to $31 billion, a 17.8% dent in the same shipment figures from 2018. But the services division is the glimmer of hope.

“We had great results in a number of areas across our business,” said CEO Tim Cook during the earnings call. “It was our best quarter ever for Services with revenue reaching $11.5 billion.

“Subscriptions are a powerful driver of our Services business. We reached a new high of over 390 million paid subscriptions at the end of March, an increase of 30 million in the last quarter alone. This was also an incredibly important quarter for our Services moving forward.

“In March, we previewed a game-changing array of new services each of them rooted in principles that are fundamentally Apple. They’re easy to use. They feature unmatched attention to detail. They put a premium on user privacy and security. They’re expertly curated personalized and ready to be shared by everyone in your family.”

Although the Apple DNA is not rooted in the software and services world, this has to be the future. Overarching trends are indicating hardware is becoming increasingly commoditized, refreshment cycles are growing, and consumers are less likely to pay a premium for trusted brands. Apple is a company which defied these trends for a period, though not even the iLeader could deny the inevitable.

This is the critical importance of the software and services division; renewed, recurring and new revenues to replace the increasingly difficult, demanding and diversified hardware world, which is epitomised by the dreary global smartphone market.

Although Apple recently decided against releasing shipment figures during its earnings calls, it is still breaking out the revenues associated with products. The iPhone, the segment which drove growth in recent years, declined by 17.8% year-on-year. Part of this can be pinned on changing consumer behaviour, though you also have to look at the individual markets.

In China, Apple has been struggling. Canalys estimate smartphone shipments in the market have declined 3% year-on-year for Q1, though the locals are turning towards domestic brands. In years gone, Apple was a brand seen as somewhat of a status symbol, though it appears this is a concept which is quickly dissipating as the firm only collected 7.4% of market share over the first three months of 2019, a year-on-year decline of 30%.

Total revenues for China have not declined quite as dramatically, a 21.6% year-on-on-year dip to $10.2 billion, though Apple is not alone. OPPO, Xiaomi and Vivo also saw their year-on-year sales dip, with only Huawei coming out on the up. Here, Huawei managed to grow its shipments by 41%, taking 34% of the Chinese market share for Q1.

Another challenging market for Apple has been India. The story here is more forgiving however, as this is a much more cash-conscious market. Apple will of course want to maintain it position as a premium brand, therefore India, despite all the promise it offers, is not tailor made for its ambitions. Until consumer attitudes shift towards more premium devices, Apple will struggle.

Globally the smartphone market has not been helping either. According to Strategy Analytics, shipments decreased 4% year-on-year for the first quarter, with Apple slipping to third place overall.

Market share Q1 2019 Market share Q1 2018
Samsung 21.7% 22.6%
Huawei 17.9% 11.4%
Apple 13% 15.1%
Xiaomi 8.3% 8.2%
OPPO 7.7% 7%

These figures are not the end of the world, but it is a demonstration of consumer trends. There might still be an appetite for purchasing new devices, though there is seemingly a preference for those brands which might are cheaper. Such is the minimal differentiation between brands these days, why spend a premium when there is little need?

However, there is hope for Apple. Consumers might be getting frustrated over a lack of innovation in the hardware space, leading to longer refreshment cycles and a preference towards cheaper or refurbished devices, but the introduction of 5G might well change this.

With 5G devices being launched consumers will have something different to think about. Although 5G-capable devices are certainly not a necessity, and won’t be for a considerable amount of time, the ability to shout about something genuinely new might reinvigorate consumer appetite for purchasing new, and premium, devices. This could work in Apple’s favour.

That said, with Apple unlikely to release a 5G-capable device until 2020, the next few quarters could also demonstrate similar year-on-year declines. Apple seem to be happy to swallow this decline, sacrificing the ‘first to market’ accolade, but this how Apple traditionally approaches the market; it doesn’t aim to be first, but best.

For the moment, and the long-term health of the company, this does not seem to be the central point however. Apple is seemingly attempting to slightly shift the focus of the business, becoming more reliant on software and services, and it does seem to be working. As you can see from the table below, the ratio is shifting.

Product revenue Services Revenue Ratio
Q2 2019 46,565 11,450 81.3/19.7
Q1 2019 73,435 10,875 88.2/12.8
Q4 2018 52,919 9,981 84.1/15.9
Q3 2018 43,717 9,548 82.1/17.9
Q2 2018 51,947 9,190 85/15
Q1 2018 79,768 8,471 90.4/9.6
Q4 2017 44,078 8,501 85.9/16.1

The results in the table above do look quite confusing, though you have to consider that Q4 is usually the period for Apple’s flagship launch, skewing the figures towards the product segment, while Q1 accounts for Christmas, again tilting the figures. The general trend is looking favourable for the software and services division.

The last couple of months have seen Apple release several new services which will continue to bolster this division also. Whether it’s the content streaming service, news subscriptions, credit cards, iTunes or the App Store, the business is driving more investment and attention to this strange new world of software and recurring revenues. The ratio should continue to balance out, though we strongly suspect it will never get close to parity.

Another factor which you have to consider when it comes to the investors is the monetary gain. Yes, the long-term picture is looking healthier, but the firm has also announced it is increasing the dividend by 5%. This will keep cash-conscious and short-term investors happier, encouraging more to hold onto shares despite the downturn in revenues. The team has also announced a share buy-back scheme, up to $75 billion, which could be viewed as another move to protect share price. Although these could be viewed as short-term measures to cool the market, the overall business is looking healthier.

Apple is recentring the business, with more of a focus on software and services. The firm has defied the global hardware trends for some time, but they do seem to be catching up. What is important however is the management team recognising hardware will not be a suitable floatation device for Apple in the long-run. To continue dominating the technology world, Apple will have to spread its wing further into software, just as it is doing.

And perhaps the most critical factor of this transformation; investors seem to have confidence in the team’s ability to evolve.

Europe unveils its own attempt to address ethical AI

Addressing the ethical implications of artificial intelligence has become very fashionable in recent months, and right on cue, the European Commission has produced seven guidelines for ethical AI.

The guidelines themselves are not much more than a theoretical playbook for companies to build products and services around for the moment. However, any future legislation which is developed to guide the development of AI in the European Union will likely use these guidelines as the foundation blocks. It might not seem critical for the moment, but it could offer some insight into future regulation and legislation.

“The ethical dimension of AI is not a luxury feature or an add-on,” said Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip. “It is only with trust that our society can fully benefit from technologies. Ethical AI is a win-win proposition that can become a competitive advantage for Europe: being a leader of human-centric AI that people can trust.”

“We now have a solid foundation based on EU values and following an extensive and constructive engagement from many stakeholders including businesses, academia and civil society,” said Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel. “We will now put these requirements to practice and at the same time foster an international discussion on human-centric AI.”

The seven guidelines are as follows:

  1. Human agency and oversight: AI systems should enable equitable societies by supporting human agency and fundamental rights, and not decrease, limit or misguide human autonomy.
  2. Robustness and safety: Trustworthy AI requires algorithms to be secure, reliable and robust enough to deal with errors or inconsistencies during all life cycle phases of AI systems.
  3. Privacy and data governance: Citizens should have full control over their own data, while data concerning them will not be used to harm or discriminate against them.
  4. Transparency: The traceability of AI systems should be ensured.
  5. Diversity, non-discrimination and fairness: AI systems should consider the whole range of human abilities, skills and requirements, and ensure accessibility.
  6. Societal and environmental well-being: AI systems should be used to enhance positive social change and enhance sustainability and ecological responsibility.
  7. Accountability: Mechanisms should be put in place to ensure responsibility and accountability for AI systems and their outcomes.

The Commission will now launch a pilot phase with industry and academia to make sure the guidelines are realistic to implement in real-world cases. The results of this pilot will inform any measures taken by the Commission or national governments moving forward.

This is one of the first official documents produced to support the development of AI, though many parties around the world are attempting to weigh in on the debate. It is critically important for governments and regulators to take a stance, such is the profound impact AI will have on society, though private industry is attempting to make itself heard as well.

From private industry’s perspective, the mission statement is relatively simple; ensure any bureaucratic processes don’t interfere too much with the ability to make money. Google was the latest to attempt to create its own advisory board to hype the lobby game, but this was nothing short of a disaster.

Having set up the board with eight ‘independent’ experts, the plan was scrapped almost immediately after employees criticised one of the board members for not falling on the right side of the political divide. This might have been an embarrassing incident, though the advisory board was hardly going to achieve much.

Google suggested the board would meet four times a year to review the firms approach to AI. Considering AI is effectively embedded, or will be, in everything which Google does, a quarterly assessment was hardly going to provide any actionable insight. It would be simply too much to do in a short period of time. This was nothing more than a PR plug by the internet giant, obsessed with appearing to be on the side of the consumer.

AI will have a significant impact on the world and almost everyone’s livelihood. For some, jobs will be enhanced, but there will always be pain. Some will find their jobs redundant, some will find their careers extinguished. Creating ethical guidelines for AI development and deployment will be critical and Europe is leading the charge.

Huawei’s software comes under renewed scrutiny

A leading UK cyber security expert has slammed Huawei’s software engineering as “very, very shoddy”.

The comments comes from the Technical Director of the National Cyber Security Centre Dr Ian Levy in an interview with the BBC. It was part of a documentary that will be broadcast this evening called Can We Trust Huawei? In it Levy says “The security in Huawei is like nothing else – it’s engineering like it’s back in the year 2000 – it’s very, very shoddy. We’ve seen nothing to give us any confidence that the transformation programme is going to do what they say it’s going to do.”

While it might seem like a bit of a bombshell, Levy is mainly reiterating the sentiments of the recent annual audit published by the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre. We asked the NCSC if it had further comment on the matter and it pointed us towards the following official statement it made following the publication of the audit.

“Huawei’s presence in the UK is subject to detailed, formal oversight. This provides us with a unique understanding of the company’s software engineering and cyber security processes. We can and have been managing the security risk and have set out the improvements we expect the company to make.

“We will not compromise on the progress we need to see: sustained evidence of better software engineering and cyber security, verified by HCSEC. This report illustrates above all the need for improved cyber security in the UK telco networks which is being addressed more widely by the Digital Secretary’s review.”

The HCSEC is chaired by the CEO of the NCSC so it’s not surprising to see a fair bit of unanimity in their public statements. Huawei is fairly contrite about its software and knows it’s something that needs sorting out. But since the HCSEC has been flagging it up for a while you have to wonder why Huawei hasn’t done a better job of it so far.

This contrition is somewhat undermined by increasingly petulant public comments from senior Huawei execs, presumably encouraged by the Chinese state. Carrier BG boss Ryan Ding is quoted in the BBC piece questioning the validity of US security concerns when it barely uses Huawei gear, which seems to miss the point somewhat, before disingenuously concluding he’s got better things to than talk about this stuff anyway.

Huawei dies seem to have an ally in the form of ITU Secretary General Houlin Zhao, however, who apparently told reporters he’s not happy with the absence of evidence that Huawei poses a security threat. “I would encourage Huawei to be given equal opportunities to bid for business, and during the operational process, if you find anything wrong, then you can charge them and accuse them,” he said. “But if we don’t have anything then to put them on the blacklist – I think this is not fair.”

So while there probably isn’t anything especially new in this BBC investigation, the fact that it has been given such prominence by the UK’s national broadcaster means Huawei is likely to come under even more pressure to get its software house in order. Since we’re talking about bespoke code, some of which has been kicking about for decades, that represents a substantial undertaking.

Qottab, Quindim or Quesito? Google releases Android Q beta

Every year Google releases a new version of Android, and while it is marginally entertaining to guess what sweetie it will be named after, it also provides a very useful roadmap for the future of mobility.

In controlling roughly 74% of the global mobile Operating System (OS) market share, Android is in a unique position to dictate how the ecosystem develops over the short- and medium-term. This year’s update appears larger and more wide-ranging than previous iterations, perhaps representing the significant changes to the industry in recent months.

“In 2019, mobile innovation is stronger than ever, with new technologies from 5G to edge to edge displays and even foldable screens,” said Dave Burke, VP of Engineering for Android. “Android is right at the centre of this innovation cycle, and thanks to the broad ecosystem of partners across billions of devices, Android’s helping push the boundaries of hardware and software bringing new experiences and capabilities to users.”

Privacy updates, gaming enhancements, features to accommodate for new connectivity requirements and addressing the foldable phone phenomenon, there is plenty for developers to consider this year.

Privacy as a product

New demands are being placed on developers around the world when it comes to privacy, but in truth, they have no-one to blame for the extra work than themselves.

This is not to say all developers have abused the trust of the consumer, but numerous scandals over the last 18 months and the opaque manner in which society was educated on the data-sharing machine has created a backlash. Privacy demands have been heightened through regulation and consumer expectations, meaning these elements are slowly becoming a factor in the purchasing process.

There are numerous privacy and security updates here which suggests Google has appreciated the importance of privacy to the consumer. Privacy could soon become a selling point, and Google is on hand with many of the updates based on its Project Strobe initiative.

Perhaps one of the most important updates here is more granular control of the permissions for individual apps. Users will not only have more control on what data is shared with which apps, but developers can no-longer request for consent for a catch-all data hoovering plan, while Google is also cracking down on un-necessary permissions. The team is updating its User Data Policy for the consumer Gmail API to ensure only apps directly enhancing email functionality have authorisation, while the same is being done for call functionality, call logs and SMS.

Data Privacy Survey

Source: GDMA: Global data privacy: What the consumer really thinks

Aside from the permissions updates noted above, users will also have more control over when apps can get location data. While some developers have abused the trust of users by collecting this data when irrelevant as to whether the app is open or not, users will now have the power to give apps permission to see their location never, only when the app is in use (running), or all the time.

There are other updates to the permissions side including audio collections, access to cameras and other media files. All of these updates represent one thing; privacy is a real issue and (theoretically) the power is being handed back to the consumer.

That said, Ovum’s Chief Analyst Ed Barton notes the critical importance of privacy features today, however, as Google could be considered one of the main contributors to the root problem, you must question how much trust the consumer actually has.

“It is noteworthy that privacy is something one might reasonably assume to have in most situations in modern life except in one’s digital life where the default expectation is that a vast digital platform knows more about you than your life partner and immediate family,” said Barton. “It is these circumstances which enables the concepts of privacy, personal data control and trust to be highlighted and used as marketing bullets.

“Privacy in something like an OS is meaningless unless you can trust the entity which made it so with Android Q the question, as always, is ‘how much do you trust Google’?”

Gaming enters the mainstream

Another major update to Android Q looks to target the increasingly popular segment of mobile gaming.

“Gaming remains one of the most popular genres on the app stores, while smartphones have allowed the industry to connect with the masses,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight.

“This has led to emergence of new games providers and a surge in casual and social gamers, while the arrival of 5G will open further opportunities for cloud based multiplayer games due to faster and more reliable connections and low latency. Mobile devices will be key in this new wave that also promises to bring virtual and physical worlds closer together providing users with immersive experiences.”

Capture

Source: KPMG: The Changing Landscape of Disruptive Technologies report

Here, there are two main updates which we would like to focus on. Firstly, Vulkan and ANGLE (Almost Native Graphics Layer Engine) to improve more immersive experiences. And secondly, improved connectivity APIs.

Starting with the graphics side, Android Q will add experimental support for ANGLE on top of Vulkan on Android devices to allow for high-performance OpenGL compatibility across implementations. The team is also continuing to expand the impact of Vulkan on Android, with the aim to make Vulkan on Android a broadly supported and consistent developer API for graphics.

In short, this means more options and greater depth when it comes to creating immersive experiences.

On the connectivity front, not only has Google refactored the wifi stack to improve privacy and performance, developers can request adaptive wifi in Android Q by enabling high performance and low latency modes. There are of course numerous usecases for low latency throughout the connectivity ecosystem, but from a consumer perspective, real-time gaming and active voice calls are two of the most prominent.

Gaming has slowly been accumulating more support and penetrating the mass market, and some of the features for Android Q will certainly help this blossoming segment.

Foldable phones; fad or forever?

Considering the euphoria which was drummed up in Mobile World Congress this year, it should hardly come as a surprise the latest edition of Android addresses the new demands of the products.

“To help your apps to take advantage of these and other large-screen devices, we’ve made a number of improvements in Android Q, including changes to onResume and onPause to support multi-resume and notify your app when it has focus,” the team said in the blog announcement.

There are of course a number of useful features which come with the increased real-estate, one of which is being able to run more than one app simultaneously without having to flick back and forth, as you can see from the image below.

Google Update

There are of course advantages to the new innovation, but you have to question whether there are enough benefits to outweigh the incredible cost of the devices. The power of smartphone and the astonishing tsunami of cash in the digital economy is only because of scale. With Samsung’s foldable device coming in at $1,980, and Huawei’s at $2,600, these are not devices which are applicable for scale.

Google is preparing itself should the foldable revolution take hold, but mass adoption is needed more than anything else. The price of these devices will have to come down for there to be any chance of these devices cracking the mainstream market, and considering recent trends suggesting the consumer is becoming more cash conscious, they will have to come down a lot.

The price might also impact the development of the subsequent ecosystem. Developers are under time constraints already, and therefore have to prioritise tasks. Without the scale of mainstream adoption, few developers will focus on the new form factor when creating applications and content. With little reward, what’s the point? Price will need to come down to ensure there is appetite for the supporting ecosystem to make any use of this innovation.

We’ve been complaining about a lack of innovation in the devices market for years, so it is a bit cruel to complain when genuine innovation does emerge, but a lot of work needs to be done to give foldable screens as much opportunity for widespread consumer adoption.

BSS – change and adapt, or die

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Tony Gillick, Tony is GVP Solutions Management at Openet, takes a look at the current state of the BSS business.

Recent news from Ericsson that it is spending SEK 6.1billion (approx. £530million) to restructure its BSS business comes as little surprise. Approaches to operator mobile service monetisation and underlying BSS has changed beyond recognition over the past few years. Traditional delivery mechanisms, when operators tied themselves to one major vendor for all its service monetisation needs are over – and the telecoms industry needs to accept it and move on.

The big bang approach to BSS transformation doesn’t work. For Ericsson to base their Revenue Manager solution on an end to end BSS stack that would replace existing legacy BSS was a brave move. The rewards could have been very high, but then again so were the risks.

Monetising new services is already going to be an uphill struggle for operators, adopting the right tools can make life all the more easy for them. These tools will see the overhaul of service delivery models and service architectures, and the brave adoption of new technologies and approaches. For the telecoms industry, such change is daunting and risky but more important than ever before.

A chance at survival

In today’s world, everywhere you turn there’s a vendor or an operator talking about change and the need to evolve. Yet, for many, it’s evident that the definition of digital transformation remains unclear. Operators and vendors must remove themselves from the echo-chamber in which they find themselves. They need to find a new source of truth, one that encourages and promotes innovation and new thinking, but also highlights their failings, and allows them to successfully explore the new trends driving industry change.

Doing this is tough, however. For the legacy operator, adapting to quickly evolving industry and consumer trends can prove daunting and complex, and very much out of their comfort zone. But today’s reality means that consumers are no longer prepared to wait for their operator to act and deliver the service they need. Consumers have little loyalty to their operator brand and will churn if they feel they aren’t getting value for money or the service they want, when they want it. At the same time, industry trends and the availability of cloud-native technologies is allowing new players, who previously had no skin in the telecoms game, to enter the market. In the face of these new entrants, who have a wealth of new applications and services to offer, legacy operators must take action if they are to have a chance of survival.

What does change look like?

Understanding what change really means is probably operators’ and vendors’ biggest challenge. Yet these answers can be easily found in the trends driving industry transformation.

Operators and vendors must change how they think about transformation. It’s not enough to simply adopt new technologies, operators and vendors must truly get behind the concepts such as open source technologies, and the sharing of new ideas and methods to drive innovation. According to a 2018 TM Forum industry survey, cultural obstacles are one of the biggest issues when it comes to encouraging transformation. Operators and vendors need to leave behind their legacy mindset and begin to embrace collaboration and partnerships. Allowing new relationships to flourish based on mutual understanding and benefit will help underpin digital transformation’s success. Operators just cannot afford to be shackled by their supplier, and similarly, vendors must have the trust of their operator customer to take risks and innovate through new technologies and approaches.

It is only through this cultural change and collaborative approach that operators and vendors will truly be able to leverage the capabilities of new technologies and approaches such as AI, microservices and DevOps. These approaches will be key to developing the platform-based tools and services that operators will need to deploy new offers rapidly, and monetize new services such as 5G and IoT.

The road to digital transformation success is a long and winding one, with many uncertainties along the way. Digital transformation cannot be seen as a destination or an end-goal, it’s an ever-evolving ‘thing’ that will continue to be so long as the industry exists. Operators and vendors have their work cut out to make change a reality, but it’s by learning from the failures of others, and embracing new thinking and new tools that the industry will truly change. In doing so, operators will start to reap the rewards of launching new services by seeing subscriber churn decrease and customer engagement increase. Ultimately, it’ll be the difference between them thriving and merely surviving.

 

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 82“Tony Gillick is the GVP Solutions Management for Openet. Previous to this Tony has headed up product management, solutions engineering and systems architecture for Openet. He’s been with Openet for more than 15 years and has managed BSS implementations for some of the leading service providers in the world.”

Virgin Media gives some smarts to wifi

Virgin Media has unveiled a new, ‘intelligent’, router which it claims will bring faster speeds to more areas of the home.

With the telco world becoming increasingly utilitised, and advertising authorities rightly cracking down on the ‘creative’ marketing claims, new ideas will certainly be needed to capture the attention of the increasingly demanding consumers. And in fairness to Virgin Media, this is not a bad attempt.

“Delivering ultrafast broadband to help make Britain faster is what we do best at Virgin Media but making sure this translates into reliable in-home connectivity is just as important,” said Richard Sinclair, Executive Director of Connectivity at Virgin Media

“Intelligent WiFi will allow our customers to make the most of their broadband while also helping to easily overcome any connectivity conundrums around the home. With families using more devices than ever before, it’s vital they can all be online whenever needed. Whether it’s streaming UHD movies on Netflix, playing the latest games online or video conferencing, Intelligent WiFi has your back.”

Starting with the intelligence side of the router, should the software work the way it’s supposed to, this could prove to be a very interesting addition. Firstly, Channel Optimisation allows the router to choose the least congested channel to decrease the likelihood of traffic jams. Secondly, a Band Steering feature allows devices to switch between 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequency to optimise performance. Finally, Airtime Fairness suggests bandwidth will be allocated between devices depending on the demands of that device.

The term ‘intelligence’ is thrown around relatively flimsily nowadays, though should the performance of these features be at the desired level, this could prove to be a very useful product.

 

And while the ‘intelligence’ aspects are more likely to enthuse those consumers who are more geekily orientated, a new app to manage the wifi experience is answers a lot of the simple bugbears and first-world problems of connectivity.

One example is sharing wifi passwords. It might not seem like a revolutionary idea but being able to log into the app and simply send the wifi password to a friend or guest will save customers from the inevitable digging around behind the TV. This is not necessarily a feature which will win customers for Virgin Media, but enough of these little quirky features will improve the customer experience and loyalty.

Another area which the app addresses is ubiquitous connectivity. Being connectivity everywhere and all-the-time is a necessity nowadays, though consumers are becoming increasingly cash conscious. Through the app, Virgin Media customers can now connect to any Virgin Media wifi hotspots, of which there are 3.5 million around the UK.

Most importantly for Virgin Media, this take the brand outside of the customers home, and allows the company to support customers through the entire day. This is Virgin Media adding value into the customer’s lives, going beyond the assumed perimeters of a home broadband provider.

“UK consumers have an insatiable appetite for data across a wide range of devices that will continue to grow over time,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight. “As well faster download speeds, consumers want a better and reliable connection in all parts of their home. This is starting to be a highly sought after service among users.”

BT has been playing in this market for some time, which offers Virgin Media a blueprint for success. Patchy performance and an irritating log-in process perhaps gave the BT wifi play a bad name, though progress has been made across the public wifi space in recent years. Hopefully Virgin Media will have learned these lessons.

With connectivity increasingly heading towards the dreaded limitations of utility, it is becoming increasingly important for telcos to prove they can add value to other aspects of the customers life. This is certainly an interesting play from Virgin Media and should the features work, Virgin Media goes some way in proving it is more than just a utility.

Reports of Google China’s death are greatly exaggerated

Google engineers have found that the search giant has continued with its work on the controversial search engine customised for China.

It looks that our conclusion that Google has “terminated” its China project may have been premature. After the management bowed to pressure from both inside and outside of the company to stop the customised search engine for China, codenamed “Dragonfly”, some engineers have told The Intercept that they have seen new codes being added to the products meant for this project.

Despite that the engineers on Dragonfly have been promised to be reassigned to other tasks, and many of them are, Google engineers said they noticed around 100 engineers are still under the cost centre created for the Dragonfly project. Moreover, about 500 changes were made to the code repositories in December, and over 400 changes between January and February of this year. The codes have been developed for the mobile search apps that would be launched for Android and iOS users in China.

There is the possibility that these may be residuals from the suspended project. One source told The Intercept that the code changes could possibly be attributed to employees who have continued this year to wrap up aspects of the work they were doing to develop the Chinese search platform. But it is also worth noting that the Google leadership never formally rang the dead knell of Dragonfly.

The project, first surfaced last November, has angered quite a few Google employees that they voiced their concern to the management. This was also a focal point of Sundar Pichai’s Congressional testimony in December. At that time, multiple Congress members questioned Pichai on this point, including Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Tom Marino (R-PA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Keith Rothfus (R-PA), according to the transcript. Pichai’s answers were carefully worded, when he repeated stated “right now there are no plans for us to launch a search product in China”. When challenged by Tom Marino, the Congressman from Pennsylvania, on the company’s future plan for China, Pichai dodged the question by saying “I’m happy to consult back and be transparent should we plan something there.”

On learning that Google has not entirely killed off Dragonfly, Anna Bacciarelli of Amnesty International told The Intercept, “it’s not only failing on its human rights responsibilities but ignoring the hundreds of Google employees, more than 70 human rights organizations, and hundreds of thousands of campaign supporters around the world who have all called on the company to respect human rights and drop Dragonfly.”

While Sergei Brin, who was behind Google’s decision to pull out of China in 2010, was ready to stand up to censorship and dictatorship, which he had known too well from his childhood in the former Soviet Union, Pichai has adopted a more mercantile approach towards questionable markets since he took over the helm at Google in 2015. In a more recent case, Google (and Apple) has refused to take down the app Absher from their app stores in Saudi Arabia, with Goolge claiming that the app does not violate its policies. The app allows men to control where women travel and offers alerts if and when they leave the country.

This has clearly irritated the lawmakers. 14 House members wrote to Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai, “Twenty first century innovations should not perpetuate sixteenth century tyranny. Keeping this application in your stores allows your companies and your American employees to be accomplices in the oppression of Saudi Arabian women and migrant workers.”

Samsung looks to capitalise on Huawei’s woes

Samsung is reported to be investing heavily in infrastructure business to fill the market gap left by Huawei’s ban from 5G business in the developed markets.

Sources inside Samsung and other industry executives have told the Reuters that Samsung is pouring resources into its telecom infrastructure business unit, aiming to seize the opportunity created by the ban on Huawei in a number of important western markets. Samsung’s infrastructure business had been insignificant until recently, trailing Huawei, Nokia, Ericsson, Cisco, and ZTE, according to figures from the research firm Dell’Oro Group. But it saw a chance when first ZTE then Huawei found themselves being shut out of the lucrative 5G markets in one country after another in the developed world.

To join the ranks of Ericsson and Nokia, Samsung is said to be moving strong management resources as well as software engineers from the smartphone unit to the infrastructure business and to have started charming Huawei’s current customers. One of the global heavyweights that has been impressed by what Samsung has got to offer is Orange. After visiting Japan, where Samsung was conducting a 5G trial, Mari-Noëlle Jégo-Laveissière, Orange’s CTO, was happy to include Samsung in its shortlist of alternative suppliers, after the telco decided to ban Huawei, its long-term top supplier, from its 5G business in France. An Orange 5G trial with Samsung will be conducted this year.

One difficulty Samsung needs to overcome is the shortage of talents. To start with it needs good engineers. To this end, Samsung’s heir apparent and de facto head Lee Jae-yong, or Jay Y. Lee as he is known in the western world, has sought the support from the Prime Minister when the latter visited Samsung in January. “We need more software engineers and want to work with the government to find that talent,” Lee was quoted by government officials. Samsung’s infrastructure unit has a workforce of about 5,000 people, both Nokia and Ericsson employ more than 100,000 people, and Huawei is said to have employed 200,000 people.

Another type of people Samsung needs to get onboard is those that can build operator relations. This needs a different skill sets from what Samsung has excelled in dealing with distribution channels for its smartphones, and it needs them to be in all the right places in the mature markets, and, better still, to have already worked with the potential operator customers. Due to the nature of business, trusty relationship with telcos often need to be cultivated for years or even decades.

However, Samsung may have just chosen a perfect timing for expansion. Both Ericsson and Nokia are laying off people, either wholesale shutting down of full business units, or selectively downsizing certain teams. Many of these functions have actually had customer interface experience. Huawei’s founder meanwhile has warned that the company may also need to adopt some cost control measures. Though they could not bolster Samsung’s strengths to the same level of its competitors, these could all be good recruitment targets for Samsung to pounce.

Ericsson and Intel partner for 5G cloud platform

Ericsson and Intel have announced a new partnership which is aimed at aligning the Swedes efforts for software-defined infrastructure with Intel’s Rack Scale Design.

The resulting hardware management platform will be designed for telcos targeting 5G, NFV, and distributed cloud. In theory, the pair aims to create a common managed hardware pool for all workloads that dynamically scales. It’s the scalable and affordable dream telcos have been promised for years.

The duo has said the new tie-up will allow telcos to take advantage of multi-vendor hardware options, Ericsson’s end-to-end software solutions, and Intel’s latest architectural solutions.

“We have long history of successful collaboration with Intel. Lars Mårtensson, Head of Cloud & NFV infrastructure for Digital Services at Ericsson. “This new collaboration will focus on software in addition to hardware and we see it to be truly transformative for service providers’ ability to successfully deploy open cloud and NFV infrastructure, from centralized data-centres to the edge. Intel’s and Ericsson’s joint efforts significantly strengthens the competitiveness and roadmap of the Ericsson Software Defined Infrastructure offering.”

“5G will be transformative, accelerating today’s applications and triggering a wave of new usages and edge-based innovation,” said Sandra Rivera, SVP of the Network Platform Group at Intel. “Our infrastructure manageability collaboration with Ericsson will help communications service providers remove deployment barriers, reduce costs, and deliver new 5G and edge services with cloudlike speed on a flexible, programmable and intelligent network.”

As part of the tie up, the Ericsson SDI Manager software and Intel RSD reference software will be converged, though the pair reiterated full backward compatibility would be maintained for existing customers. Any new solutions developed moving forwards will be subsequent Ericsson hardware platforms, as well as Intel’s server products which are sold through third-parties and in other industry segments.