Nokia raises its OSS game

In the build up to MWC 2020 Nokia has got one of its announcements in early, in the form of the ‘cloud-native’ Network Operations Master software.

Turns out 5G is pretty complicated and at times there’s so much going on that you can’t possibly expect flawed, obsolete humans to stay on top of it. That’s why you need greater automation, we’re told, and that has to start with the network operations software, or OSS in old money. Nokia prides itself on its software, so the launch of a new OSS suite is presumably a fairly big deal for them.

“With 5G forcing traditional functions, like revenue management and customer care, to the cloud and helping drive software deeper into the network, communication service providers need a modern approach to performing network operations that is automated, more efficient and scalable,” said Ron Haberman, CTO at Nokia Software. “The Nokia Network Operations Master delivers these capabilities and allows our customers to perform lifecycle operations with ease, efficiency, and confidence.”

Network slicing will make automation and a much higher level of cloudy flexibility critical features of any network software. NOM also covers AI, machine learning, etc and is designed to just take care of all the plumbing, allowing network operations centres to focus on the stuff only people can manage, if such a thing still exists.

“5G networks will require significantly more operations automation than past networks in order to achieve promised levels of efficiency and new service support,” Nokia got Dana Cooperson, Research Director at Analysys Mason, to say. “Nokia’s Network Operations Master is a cloud-native network management system that is underpinned by machine learning and automated actions and provides the types of tools mobile network operations teams need now for 5G.”

Here are a couple of vids that may tell you more.

Wearables and services are paying off for Apple

The iPhone is still the biggest contributor to the monstrous profits Apple claws in each quarter, but efforts in wearables and services are balancing out the company.

While Apple is not a company which is going to go bust at any point in the foreseeable future, the dependence on the performance of the iPhone was leaning onto the unhealthy side. With more consumers leaning towards second-hand, refurbished devices, or extending the life of products due to the eye-watering price of new iPhones, there was a threat to profitability.

For the most recent quarter, there are no worries about the profitability of Apple, however. Total revenues for the three-month period, including Christmas sales, stood at $91.8 billion, a 9% increase from the same period in 2019. Net income set a new record of $22.2 billion, while international sales accounted for 61%.

That said, efforts over the last few years to supercharge alternative revenue streams and diversify the profit channels have certainly been paying off. The iPhone is still king at Apple, but it is evolving into a different company.

Quarter Product Revenue Software and Services Revenue Ratio
Q1 2020 79,104 12,715 86.2/13.8
Q1 2019 73,435 10,875 88.2/12.8
Q1 2018 79,768 8,471 90.4/9.6

For the purpose of continuity, we have only selected Q1 for the above comparison. This is a quarter which contains the Christmas period and therefore revenues are almost incomparable to the rest of the year.

As you can see, there is a clear trend of Apple become less reliant on hardware for revenues and profits, with the Software and Services becoming more than a bolt-on bonus for investors. $12.715 billion is an amount most companies would be happy to call group revenues for the year.

Interestingly enough, even in the ‘product’ segment, the team is becoming less reliant on the iPhone to drive revenues and profits.

Quarter iPhone Mac iPad Wearables and Home
Q1 2020 55,957 (60.9%) 7,160 (7.8%) 5,977 (6.5%) 10,010 (10.9%)
Q1 2019 51,982 (61.6%) 7,416 (8.8%) 6,729 (8%) 7,308 (8.7%)
Q1 2018 61,576 (70%) 6,895 (7.9%) 5,862 (6.6%) 5,489 (6.2%)

In short, diversification of revenues is an excellent way forward for the Apple business and demonstrative of the power of the Apple brand.

Apple is a brand which certain consumer identify with, and such is the innovation and creativity of the Apple marketing department, loyalty has been almost cult-like. Cross-selling alternative products when the consumer is so heavily invested in the brand and ecosystem is a much simpler task, this will be one of the reasons Apple’s services division is becoming so successful, but it also explains the growing wearables segment.

Wearables is a family of technologies which has struggled through the years. The first smart watch, in its current form, was released in 2011, though the segment has never really gained the traction to make it an attractive business. Apple has been persisting with its own portfolio of smart watches for years, but it does now appear to have turned a corner.

“Apple Watch had a great start to fiscal 2020, setting an all-time revenue record during the quarter,” CEO Cook said during the earnings call. “It continues to have a profound impact on our customers’ lives and it continues to further its reach as over 75% of the customers purchasing Apple Watch during the quarter were new to Apple Watch.”

Apple is no-longer simply satisfying product refreshment cycles but attracting new customers into the smart watch bonanza. The more smart watch customers there are, the more normalised the product becomes, which then compounds the success, especially with more digital natives entering their 20s and collecting bigger salaries.

Apple is a company which is defined by iPhone. This will not change, such is the success of the product and the importance of the smartphone in today’s society, but diversifying the business was always viewed as critical to expanding the profitability of the firm. Apple is doing a remarkable job of capturing new revenues.

Open-minded RAN key to 5G success

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Steve Papa, CEO of Parallel Wireless, makes the case in support of the OpenRAN initiative.

Years of consolidation have left the telecoms industry with three Radio Access Network (RAN) technology giants: Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia. But, these players risk becoming obsolete as the telecoms industry starts demanding networks that are open and flexible.

The RAN is a significant expense for mobile operators, in what is already a capital-intensive industry. Legacy RAN networks, built using the technology of the major vendors, is typically hardware centric and designed in silos for each generation (e.g. 2G, 3G, 4G) of connectivity. The technology is ‘closed’ by its nature, which means that it is incompatible with other vendors. Subsequently, networks have been very difficult to adapt and upgrade, with the hardware giants dictating the timings and cost of any maintenance and installation.

As we move towards the introduction of 5G, the industry is now beginning to realise that the economics of building the RAN need to change. 2019 saw significant moves towards OpenRAN, a new model of building radio networks, based on a software-centric and open infrastructure. The benefits of OpenRAN were illustrated by Vodafone’s announcement that it would be opening its entire RAN in Europe to OpenRAN vendors during TIP Summit in November. Both the O-RAN Alliance and the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) are leading the industry towards OpenRAN, with the O-RAN alliance driving industry standards, and TIP driving deployments.

Understanding the value of OpenRAN

The OpenRAN approach is achieved by separating hardware and software in the network. This helps networks support open interfaces and common development standards, to deliver multi-vendor, interoperable networks. This gives operators the flexibility to cost-effectively deploy and upgrade their networks, reduce complexity, and deliver coverage at a much lower cost. OpenRAN also makes it easier for network to support dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) technology, which allows LTE and 5G New Radio technology transmission at the same time. DSS is key to the early adoption of 5G smartphones, which will rely on both 5G and LTE transmission.

Analysts’ projections from ReTHINK show that the costs of building 5G Macro-cell networks will fall by 50% if deployments incorporate open architectures. This saving equates to hundreds of millions of dollars in the overall total cost of ownership, and will help mobile operators extend investments and become more profitable.

In developed markets, 5G roll-out is in full swing and operators are spending considerable amounts building out their next generation networks and marketing them to the public. However, current connectivity standards cannot be neglected, and operators need a new, software-based approach that will allow them to deploy and run 5G technology efficiently alongside their 3G an 4G networks. This is why OpenRAN is so appealing to operators such as Vodafone, as it enables to manage all connectivity standards using a software interface.

Meanwhile, operators in developing markets are currently focussed on scaling 2G, 3G and 4G to rural and urban areas that don’t have internet. But developing markets have a low average revenue per user, so operators in these markets won’t survive with the approach of building and managing siloed networks for each network generation, as CAPEX and OPEX will skyrocket.

Internet para Todos (IpT), a wholesale operator owned by Telefonica, Facebook, and Latin American banks IDB Invest and CAF Bank is also driving momentum. It recently opened talks to bring a second operator on board, after connecting more than 650 sites and covering 800,000 people (450,000 actual customers) with a 4G rollout in rural Peru. Meanwhile, MTN, the South Africa based operator, recently announced that it is deploying OpenRAN technology in 5,000 sites as it looks to unify its 2G, 3G and 4G networks, to save costs for itself and its customers.

The OpenRAN initiative takes off

In 2020, the momentum behind OpenRAN will continue to grow as other operators realise how they can reduce costs, drive more competition between technology vendors, and stimulate higher levels of innovation in the industry.

OpenRAN clearly has the support from major players in the industry, however, it is vital that operators consider the most effective technology partner to enable the OpenRAN vision. OpenRAN must address all generations of mobile connectivity standards together – 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. If MNOs decide to only introduce OpenRAN for 4G and 5G, they will still be faced with managing separate legacy and new networks, which contradicts the aims of the initiative.

Being able to support all generations of mobile connectivity under the same OpenRAN software umbrella is crucial to providing reliable connectivity for all and allowing the transformative benefits of 5G to be realised. The industry is hungry for change, and open-minded operators are the ones which will succeed. That might mean the traditional ‘big 3’, don’t stay the big 3 for long!

 

Steve has worked in the technology industry for over 20 years and is the founder and CEO of Parallel Wireless. Previously, as founder and CEO of Endeca, he built the business ultimately leading to Oracle acquiring the company. He was part of the team creating Akamai that developed global Internet content distribution – now carrying peaks of 15 terabits/s of web traffic on any given day – and led the team at Inktomi that reimagined the network cache to create carrier class caching. Steve also previously worked with AT&T Teradata. He has a BS from Princeton University and MBA from Harvard Business School.

Huawei promises to launch P40 with Google service replacement, reports say

Huawei has told the media that P40, the company’s next flagship smartphone will be launched with its own mobile service suite but will be built on Android 10 instead of its own HarmonyOS.

Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei Technologies Consumer Business Group, told a group of journalists from the French media that the company’s next flagship smartphone, the P40 (and likely P40 Pro), will be launched at the end of March 2020 at a special event in Paris. The exact date is yet to be announced. Yu promised the media representatives, who were on a press tour to the company’s headquarters in Shenzhen, that the phone will be in a design never seen before (“jamais vu”), with improved photography quality, better performance, and boosted automation.

Yu also confirmed that the phone will be built on Android 10 with Huawei’s customised user interface, EMUI. This is consistent with the company’s earlier announcement that its own operating system, HarmonyOS, will not be powering smartphones or tablets in 2020. Instead it will be used on other connected devices, including smart TVs and wearables.

Meanwhile, the Indian newspaper The Economic Times quoted Charles Peng, the CEO of the Huawei and Honor brands in India in Huawei’s Consumer Business Group, as saying that P40 will come equipped with Huawei Mobile Services (HMS), in place of Google Mobile Services (GMS). Both brands from Huawei as well as Oppo, another Chinese smartphone maker, were reported to have approached app developers to make the top apps in India available for HMS as well as for Oppo’s own Color OS.

“We have our own HMS and are trying to build a mobile ecosystem. Most of the key apps such as navigation, payments, gaming and messaging will be ready soon.” Peng told The Economic Times. Frandroid, a French media outlet, noted that HMS should be ready at the same time as the launch of P40.

The Economic Times reported that Huawei offers developers up to $17,000 for making their apps available for HMS, supported by Huawei’s $1 billion global fund the company announced earlier this year. Oppo’s coffer “to develop a “new intelligent service ecosystem” is reported to amount to $143 million.

It is worth highlighting that having the most popular third-party apps in a certain market (India, China, for example) available for HMS is different from bypassing GMS. The core Google services and APIs, including Chrome browser, YouTube and YouTube Music, Play Store, Google Drive, Duo, Gmail, Maps, as well as Movies and TV, are optimised to work with the Android operating system. Most importantly, there is Google’s fundamental “search” capability that powers everything else.

Developing its own operating system as well as an overall mobile ecosystem has long been on Huawei’s card. As Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s founder, told media earlier, the work, as well as in-house chipset development capability, started long before Huawei ran afoul of the US government. However, the company has learned it the hard way that such tasks are more difficult than building a nice phone. Richard Yu had to renegade on his own promises more than once. Shortly after Huawei was put on the Identify List Yu said that the company’s own operating system would be able to power its new smartphones by the end of this year or the beginning of next. That has now been officially denied when HarmonyOS’s positioning was clarified. Yu also said, prior to the launch of P30 in September that there would be a workaround solution to load GMS on the new smartphone. That did not happen either.

Consumers may also find Huawei’s narrative less than convincing. As IDC’s Navkender Singh put it to The Economic Times, “There will be a breakdown of the conversation that Huawei or Honor devices will have OS and app store issue. It is going to be very tough for Huawei/Honor to sell the phone based on their own suite.”

Huawei remains defiant in face of Android threat

In a recent interview Huawei Founder Ren Zhengfei brushed off the effect of a ban on working with Google on his company’s smartphone fortunes.

Chatting to CNN Ren said he didn’t think it would be a problem to overtake Samsung as the world’s number one smartphone vendor, even without access to Google services, it would just take a bit longer. He didn’t seem to say how much longer, however. The plan is still to get as many apps as possible to create versions of themselves that will work on Huawei’s own mobile platform thus getting rid of the need to work with Google.

Apparently some US companies, including Microsoft, have already received licenses to do business with Huawei, but not Google yet. So it’s reasonable and right for Huawei to continue to seek smartphone OS autonomy, but Ren’s bluster is unconvincing. He even had the nerve to imply that when Huawei’s OS is up and running it would go back to Google even if it could, but it’s hard to imagine anyone willingly choosing Huawei’s equivalent over the original.

Elsewhere a similar tune was coming from Huawei smartphone sub-brand Honor. According to Livemint one of its senior execs moaned about not being able to use Android, which isn’t strictly true as it’s the Google services that will be with-held, and talked tough about Huawei’s alternative platform. While we’ve got no problem with Huawei continuing to fight its corner, surely it doesn’t really believe anyone would buy a phone that runs its adaptation of Android when the real deal is available.

New law compels installation of Russian software on all smartphones sold there

The Russian parliament has passed a law compelling all smartphones and other connected devices to have Russian software installed.

The news comes courtesy of the Beeb, which notes that the unspecified software doesn’t have to replace operating systems like Android, but does have to be available as an alternative in the highly unlikely circumstance that a user should want to switch. From the middle of next year it will be illegal to sell smart connected devices without Russian software preinstalled.

“When we buy complex electronic devices, they already have individual applications, mostly Western ones, pre-installed on them,” said Oleg Nikolayev, one of the people behind the new law. “Naturally, when a person sees them, they might think that there are no domestic alternatives available. And if, alongside pre-installed applications, we will also offer the Russian ones to users, then they will have a right to choose.”

Yeah, Oleg, but they already had the right to choose, didn’t they? Now device makers no longer have the right to choose what software to preinstall on their products. The stated aim behind the law is to give a boost to domestic software makers, but that’s not going to convince many people. There are many ways for the state to assist local champions, but force is a very undesirable option.

Unless they also compel gadget owners to actually use the software, which would escalate the initiative towards outright oppression, nobody’s going to use it unless it’s better than the alternatives. And if it is then there shouldn’t be the need for any kind of coercion because people will want to install it anyway. It’s called the free market.

Any time the state opts to interfere with what are normally private matters people will naturally speculate about ulterior motives. In this case it’s easy to believe that the Russian software the state is so keen on installing on connected devices may have more sinister uses, such as spying. At the very least we would expect platform and device makers to examine any state compelled software very closely and, hopefully, refuse to install it if they smell a rat.

Future proofing networks with open source technology

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Tom Canning, VP of IoT at Canonical makes the case for open source software as the future of telecoms networks.

We live in a time of immediacy and excess. No more so than with our relationships with the phones in our pockets. Unlimited data packages, media streaming, and calls over the air waves wherever you happen to be. As a result, mobile operators face unprecedented levels of pressure to deliver more data, faster connectivity, better coverage, and more functionality every month.

To put even greater weight on the shoulders of telecoms providers, a new phenomenon is taking centre stage – that of business intelligence. End users are now less likely to be the ones consuming information, but the individual products or machines that make up the Internet of Things (IoT).

IDC predicts that by 2025, 60 per cent of the world’s data will be generated by enterprises and not consumers – double that of 2017. In other words, the infrastructure behind smart devices. Autonomous cars, smart cities, sensor networks, and connected industrial equipment all require extensive bandwidth to function. Operators need to rethink how the connected network is architected. They must support the faster transfer of data, greater density, and dramatically reduced latency. And they must add this functionality and flexibility whilst simultaneously driving down the costs of deploying, sustaining, and managing network infrastructure.

A new way of thinking

For decades, the telecoms industry was dominated by proprietary businesses and operating models. As market pressures evolved, however, providers were forced to find new, innovative solutions. It has resulted in telcos embracing open-source principles in recent years – an approach that transformed the computer industry from transactions to supercomputing, smartwatches and wearables, and then to a wireless network infrastructure supporting each one. The lesson has come just in time, with the dawn of  5G promising faster speeds and more reliable connections for internet-enabled devices across a diverse set of locations.

The success of 5G rests on software-defined networking (SDN), whose main concept is to decouple the infrastructure of wireless networks from expensive, closed hardware and shift it to an intelligent software layer running on top of commodity hardware. 5G and open source, therefore, have become an attractive combination for telecoms, with major operators worldwide pioneering new technologies and use cases.

Open source software in particular is key to 5G and the IoT developments, because the software can power the automation of mission-critical functions required to support the high speeds and low latency of 5G, as well as the huge number of endpoints in IoT. In short, it is the democratisation of wireless network infrastructure that will allow telcos to stay relevant in the world of 5G and connected devices.

Spotlighting the innovators

Several initiatives are already in motion, which seek to break the propriety stranglehold of telcos players and deliver SDN to the wireless network. They include both major operators and wireless infrastructure vendors, while disruptive challengers and startups are making an impact, too.

The operator community, as well as businesses, are actively engaged in collaborative alliances to help drive the uptake of open source. These include, but are not limited to, the O-RAN Alliance, which includes members such as AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Intel, Verizon, and SK Telecom, and the Open vRAN initiative, which is backed by Cisco. The MyriadRF open source initiative, meanwhile, was founded by Lime Microsystems in 2012, with the purpose of democratising wireless innovation. It has grown to include a vast array of contributors, from hobbyists and wireless enthusiasts to professional engineers and large equipment manufacturers.

Vodafone is one such partner. The company had a goal of extending coverage and adding additional services to its 4G corporate network. Working with Lime Microsystems’ CrowdCell – a network-in-a-box solution that runs on top of commodity hardware – Vodafone was able to deliver to IT managers a new SDR-based, high capacity network ideally suited to IoT applications. IoT is the area in which you need regular intelligence within the network, to gather data and predict outcomes in real-time. An SDR network is perfectly optimised for this.

Looking to the future

As 5G begins to roll out across the enterprise, the need for more affordable, capable and agile networks is imperative. SDN holds the key, with its increased intelligence directly on top of commodity hardware. The future of mobile connectivity, therefore, is software-defined. As an approach, it also promotes third-party app development and greater community involvement, which allows operators to add value and differentiate from the competition beyond the traditional measures of coverage and subscription costs.

Open source is the answer to future proofing network infrastructure, with its collaborative and diverse heritage the perfect partner for innovations across 5G and IoT. An open, software-defined model will help operators meet the growing need for faster, more flexible, and more secure systems. It’s a case of adapt and survive.

 

Tom Canning is VP of IoT at Canonical Group, the developer of the open source OS Ubuntu. Prior to joining Canonical in 2017, Canning held a number of senior positions in the UK and the US., including at HP, Cisco and, most recently, Spigit. He is based in London and holds an electrical engineering degree from the University of Ottawa.

Google pushes further into hardware world with Fitbit purchase

Google has announced it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire wearables brand Fitbit as it further explores its options in the hardware segments.

While wearable fitness devices are certainly a long-slog away from Google’s core competencies, it has already shown it is able to gain traction in the hardware segments with the success of its smart speaker. With the Pixel smartphones, smart speakers, Chromebook, the Nest Thermostats and now Fitbit, Google is certainly spreading its wings.

“Three and a half years ago, I joined Google to create compelling consumer devices and services for people around the world,” said Rick Osterloh, SVP of Devices & Services.

“Our hardware business is still relatively young, but we’ve built a strong foundation of capabilities and products, including Pixel smartphones and Pixelbooks, Nest family of devices for the home, and more.

“Google also remains committed to Wear OS and our ecosystem partners, and we plan to work closely with Fitbit to combine the best of our respective smartwatch and fitness tracker platforms. Looking ahead, we’re inspired by the opportunity to team with Fitbit to help more people with wearables.”

Although this has been a rumour which has been circulating for a while, it certainly looks like a sensible move for the internet giant. This is another example of Google doing what Google does; throws money at an idea which it likes.

The core Google business model is a relatively simple one. Its services are some of the best available, however to continue growth it needs to ensure these services are being pushed into new ecosystems. For example, it started as a desktop application, before buying Android and dominating the mobile space, then when the voice user interface started to gather steam, it brought out a range of smart speakers. Each of these moves takes the core Google services into a new domain, and Fitbit is no different.

The wearables segment has constantly promised the world but delivered only a fraction, though there does seem to be gathering momentum. Smart watches and other wearable devices are becoming more popular, and it does offer Google another opportunity to interact with the consumer in a different environment.

Google currently has a voice assistant which allows for the voice user interface, Fitbit devices will soon enough be powered by Google’s Wear OS, while it has been doing some promising work in gesture control also. These elements would all link back to Google’s other services, such as the Mapping product or search engine. Fitbit looks like an attractive investment because it offers Google another opportunity to make money in another domain.

Despite being an incredibly sound brand, Fitbit has been suffering in recent years. It found fame and success in delivering a niche wearable device for fitness enthusiasts, though as the wearables segment slowly evolved, it did not. Other more complex devices evolved to offer fitness elements, stealing some of the shine from the Fitbit. Its own attempts to create smart watches have been hit and miss.

Fitbit does need to evolve its product beyond the niche fitness devices which it produces today, but to develop something which is competitive in a market with the likes of Apple, it will take cash. Fortunately, this is something Google can contribute with abundance. However, Google will have to make sure it lets Fitbit be Fitbit.

Google will have to make sure it leaves the Fitbit team on its own to hire the right people and design the right products. Google’s heritage is in software after all and wearables need to marry substance and style. We suspect a horde of software engineers might not be the best suited to get too involved.

Should Google leave the Fitbit team to create an excellent product, just like it left Nest on its own, and marry the devices to its wider service ecosystem, this could be a very crafty acquisition.

Amdocs launches ‘future ready’ RevenueONE billing system

Telecoms software vendor Amdocs has unveiled its bid to bring billing into the 5G and cloud era, in the form of RevenueONE.

The Amdocs marketing team saw fit to describe it as ‘game-changing’ in the headline of the press release. What game that is, whether it needs changing and whether or not this launch does so, we’ll leave to others to establish. The top line is that this is a billing system designed to help operators exploit all the new revenue opportunities we’re constantly being told have been generated by 5G and the move to the cloud.

To flesh out the press release we spoke to Ron Porter, Product Marketing Manager at Amdocs. He explained that 5G, IoT, connected environments, etc create all sorts of new billing opportunities for operators, but legacy billing systems aren’t geared to exploit them. A lot of this comes down to the kind of speed and flexibility that comes with having virtualized functions in the cloud, especially the edge. He concluded that the ultimate aim was to offer a billing system that is ‘future ready’.

“Amdocs RevenueONE brings together proven scalability and cloud-native architecture to accelerate the launch of new 5G services, while supporting existing products and offers, said Anthony Goonetilleke, Amdocs President of Media, Network and Technology. “At its core, the RevenueONE blueprint was built to scale, and was proven to support 200 million subscribers on a single platform.  This robust architecture allows CSPs to handle the velocity of new service launches, and the variety of new business models, that will come with 5G, while cutting time to market from days to minutes.

“Our goal was to continue to significantly reduce our hardware footprint while scaling to support the influx of new connected devices and services. Utilizing edge-based architecture to reduce network traffic, we believe RevenueONE will grow with our customers as consumers embrace new business models and services.”

The BSS/billion/digital transformation space is pretty competitive at the moment, with various vendors queueing up to giver operators the tools to capitalize on their 5G investments. If products like RevenueONE enable even half of what they promise the onus, as ever, is on operators to adapt the way they do business. 5G is still at an early stage, but the winners of it will surely be those operators that use it as a platform for genuine innovation.