Vodafone Spain rumoured to be considering fixed network sale

The rumour mill is churning at maximum speed as Vodafone Spain is reportedly considering a sale of its fixed network for €1.2 billion.

It would appear to be an unusual move. With many national business units shifting towards a convergence business model, divesting its fixed networks assets would take the Spanish unit the other direction.

According to Spanish news site Expansion, the business is currently undergoing a restructure, owing to difficult market conditions, and the sale of the fixed network could certainly add some much-needed cash into operations.

“Currently there is no project that is working on the complete sale of the network proactively, although possibilities are always being analysed and studied to find efficiencies and improve the profitability provided by assets, such as the possible partial sale,” a spokesperson said.

The Spanish market is a tricky one to master currently. After the management team deemed renewing TV rights for the Champions League and La Liga football competitions were deemed unprofitable, Vodafone Spain lost 71,000 TV customers almost immediately, though the mobile business did grow gradually over the course of 2018.

Looking at the most recent financial results, alongside Italy, Spain is proving to be the problem child of Vodafone’s European family. Year-on-year revenues declined by 9.3% for the second quarter of 2019, though tariffs have been overhauled to create a more competitive proposition.

However, alongside the new data tariffs, Vodafone’s rivals launched their own promotions which appear to be much more attractive. Over the three-month period, Vodafone lost two corporate accounts, 158,000 postpaid mobile subscribers, 49,000 fixed broadband customers and 24,000 TV customers.

Although these rumours are far from a sign anything will actually happen, we’ll wait for a potential buyer to make themselves known before investing too much energy, it does seem to be a strange move. Vodafone does of course need cash ASAP, though if it still wants to persist with the convergence strategy in Spain it would have to enter into a leasing agreement with one of the other network owners should the sale go through. It does appear to be somewhat short-sighted.

Telefonica pairs up with Santander for banking 5G usecase

Telefonica Spain has announced a tie-up with Santander to launch a joint-innovation project to test out 5G applications in the banking sector.

The project will focus on three different usecases, 4K video conferencing, low latency cloud storage and virtual reality. The hope is to more readily engage customers and adapt their financial products to meet the new demands of the digital economy.

“The initiative with Santander Spain is the result of the collaboration with our corporate customers to ensure that 5G technology is deployed in a way that fully meets their needs, prioritizing the development of the most demanded capacities,” said Emilio Gayo, CEO of Telefónica Spain. “With initiatives like this we also ensure the early adoption of 5G and the positive impact on the Spanish industrial network.”

“This agreement with Telefónica responds to Santander’s commitment to innovation and to accompanying our customers in the transformation process towards the new generation of 5G communications,” said Rami Aboukhair, CEO of Santander Spain. “The new technology will allow us to have a better connectivity and faster speed of response in transactions and to offer all our customers the best experience and the best possible solutions.”

Starting with the video application, a 4K video conferencing link will be set up between two bank branches to offer ultra-high-resolution image, 4096×2160, and natural motion with zero delay. Secondly, a low latency cloud storage solution will be provided by Telefónica, based on the Hitachi Content Platform Anywhere Edge solution embedded on Telefónica’s edge computing infrastructure.

Finally, the pair will introduce co-working spaces developed in collaboration with Idronia that use Virtual Reality, 360 video and Edge Computing technologies. The aim is to offer an immersive reality service allows customers to remotely visit co-working spaces such as the Santander Work Cafe located at the Santander banking office in the centre of Madrid.

5G is being switched on in numerous locations and now it is the time to focus more heavily on the commercial side of telco. There might be some gain in offering eMBB products to both consumer and enterprise customers, but to see the promised value the telcos will have to explore new areas. European telcos might be behind other regions when it comes to engaging the verticals, but progress is being made.

Spain pitches for connectivity leadership with Vodafone 5G launch

Spain is not often mentioned when discussing the leaders for connectivity in Europe, but it does seem momentum is gathering pace in the country.

The most recent announcement will see Vodafone debut its 5G offering in 15 cities, the first to hit the on-switch in Spain. The Spanish business is also sneaking in just ahead of the Brits in the internal Vodafone race. Quoting speeds up to 1 Gbps, the hope is to be up to 2 Gbps by the end of the year.

And its not only the mobile side which is demonstrating some interesting trends. Looking at the fixed broadband segment, Spain is one of the leading nations when it comes to fibre penetration. According to the latest statistics from the Fibre to the Home Council Europe, 44% of Spanish citizens subscribe to FTTH broadband services, with only Latvia and Lithuania ahead of the country.

One of the issues which Spain will face is the digital divide however. This is a challenge which is unavoidable across the country when you take into consideration its size. At 498,468 km², it is the third largest by geography (fourth if you include Russia) and the seventh largest by population.

This perhaps makes the 44% fibre uptake more impressive, though there will still be those in the countryside who perhaps feel underserved. However, Movistar, one of Telefonica’s brands, has suggested it hopes to have 100% fibre coverage by 2024. This ambition is dependent on the availability of public funds, but should all the pieces fall into place, it will achieve the milestone almost a decade ahead of the UK.

Five years is a long time to wait if you are struggling today, therefore there are various options including WiMAX, satellite and fixed wireless access over 4G products available today. For a country which is scarcely mentioned as the leader in the European connectivity rankings, it does seem to have the right blend when satisfying the insatiable data diets of its citizens.

Looking at the 5G race, Vodafone España is certainly putting itself at the front of the pack with a timeline geared towards June 15. What is also quite impressive is the breadth of the launch. 15 cities on launch date is an impressive haul, and while the coverage might be limited it does give the telco the first step to build outwards and onwards.

Once launched, Vodafone España claims the network could provide latency of less than five milliseconds. For the man-on-the-street, this will mean little, though it will give the technologists the opportunity to explore new services in for real-time applications such as autonomous vehicles, tele-medicine, VR, 8K video and cloud gaming.

This is the most important aspect for any 5G network; it has to have scale. Not only do you have to meet expectations for those who are paying for 5G connectivity, there has to be enough coverage to beta-test and eventually launch new services. The countries which reach this scale the quickest, will give their innovators the best possible start to create the 5G-specific services and applications.

This is not to say they would dominate the market in the way Uber did with the introduction of 4G but having months (or perhaps years) more time to create and hone an offering would certainly be an advantage.

The Spaniards might be guilty of the odd siesta, but they certainly haven’t been sluggish when it comes to getting 5G up and running.

Orange Spain and ZTE complete Europe’s first standalone 5G call

The mobile operator claimed that the voice and data call over end-to-end 5G network in Valencia was the first of its kind in Spain as well as in Europe. All other trials have been done over non-standalone networks.

The Spanish branch of Orange successfully trialled a voice and data call on a “100% 5G” network with standalone architecture, the company announced. The end-to-end solution was provided by ZTE, one of Orange’s suppliers. The test achieved a peak downlink data rate of 876 Mbps on one test terminal, and 3.2 Gbps with 12 test terminals working simultaneously in the same cell.

“It is critical to understand this new and disruptive technology, with which we could close the gap from our 4G networks to offer our customers the best possible 5G network in the world when the time is right,” said Mónica Sala, Director of Networks at Orange (translated from Spanish). “The know-how of ZTE is evident in achieving this milestone and we are very proud of the results.”

The live 5G networks today, in South Korea and the US, for example, are primarily providing enhanced mobile broadband services, which can be achieved with non-standalone mode, i.e. overlaying 5G radio networks on top of 4G core. This was the architecture that Huawei used when demonstrating 5G at MWC on Vodafone’s network. On the other hand, to achieve 5G’s full capabilities, including to provide virtualised networks (e.g. network slicing for a particular client) and to run the extreme low latency applications (e.g. automatic cars) there would need end-to-end 5G networks, i.e. 5G radio and 5G core.

ZTE was also obviously happy with the success of the trial. “It is a great pleasure for us to work hand in hand with Orange for technological innovation and 5G leadership,” Xiao Ming, President of Global Sales at ZTE stressed. Orange is one of ZTE’s two biggest accounts in Europe (the other being the Three group), so holding on and expanding the partnership is critical for the company that has been struggling in the mature markets.

Orange Spain plans to extend 5G trials to other industries including construction, energy, health, automotive, and tourism, to test out the use cases. The company also said that it is going to test 5G in a handful of cities with the support provided by Red.es, the country’s digital transformation programmes, operated under the direction of the Secretary of State for Information Society and Digital Agenda.

Vodafone turns to wifi innovation to bolster broadband business

Vodafone has announced the launch of a new smart home network which it hopes will address a frustration of many consumers around the world; suspect wifi.

The new routers will not only allow for extenders to be placed around the house, potentially eliminating not-spots hidden in various rooms, but cloud-based algorithms will allow for more dynamic and intelligent allocation of connectivity resources.

“We know that the vast majority of people’s broadband issues are actually down to poor Wi-Fi signals in their homes – around a quarter of calls into customer care are about Wi-Fi issues,” said Ahmed Essam, Vodafone Group’s Chief Commercial and Strategy Officer. “Super WiFi is a simple way to address these problems and give our customers the best possible connection in every room of their house, every day of the week.”

As it stands, most broadband routers are pretty dumb devices. Bandwidth is split evenly to the devices which are connected to the router, irrelevant as to what the devices are doing. In this ‘dumb’ world, your TV which might be streaming a HD movie, will be allocated the same amount of bandwidth as a laptop which is only checking emails. Its not a very efficient way to do connectivity.

Cloud-based self-learning algorithms mean the network is constantly improving over time, adjusting automatically to deliver the best possible connection to each type of device, whether it is a mobile, laptop or connected TV. This makes a lot of sense when you consider the difference in checking WhatsApp and watching Stranger Things, while the equation might become a little bit more complicated with the connected revolution gathering momentum.

The introduction of smart speakers and energy meters might just be the beginning. While the idea of a connected fridge has been around for years, with a supporting ecosystem quickly emerging behind the products, there might be a bigger appetite for such futuristic living. With more devices fighting for connectivity attention from the router, this might be a solution. The ‘dumb’ status quo, putting the TV and the fridge on par, is clearly not a good option.

This is certainly a good move forward for Vodafone, and we look forward to the routers coming to the UK in the next couple of months, with the Spaniards getting the attention first and foremost.

Facebook deal with LaLiga has stolen cable networks’ last trump card

Facebook will be the only platform to watch LaLiga live in the next three seasons in the Indian subcontinent.

On Friday 17 August, when the new season LaLiga Santander (Spain’s top tier football league) kicks off, viewers in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka will have to visit LaLiga’s official page or the pages of clubs on Facebook to watch the matches. All 380 matches will be shown on the social network only.

If Twitter starting live broadcasting NFL matches back in 2016 made the headlines for being the first, it would be the absence of social networks in covering high profile sport events that would raise some eyebrows, which hardly happens at all nowadays.

It isn’t even the first time that Facebook tied similar exclusive deals. In July it beat Beln Sports and Fox Sports Asia in a £200 million three-year deal to live stream the English Premier League in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. But that won’t happen until the 2019-20 season. So this new deal with LaLiga, though by no means ground-breaking, when LaLiga claimed the deal “a first-of-a-kind agreement” it is technically correct.

Despite Facebook telling Reuters “it’s not something that is a big threat to broadcast world”, the broadcasters, especially the cable networks will see it nothing but. It looks the trinity of breaking news, high quality entertainment, and live sports, that has traditionally been drawing viewers to the premium cable networks, are crumbling one by one.

Digital channels, in particular social networks, are becoming more and more important in news reporting and dissemination. According to the latest Pew Research findings, 93 percent of Americans get their news from digital channels, with Facebook alone serving nearly half of them.

On-demand streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, with their investment in original content dwarfing the budget of any conventional TV networks, are encouraging more cords being cut. A watershed moment was reached in the UK in July, when the combined subscribers of the three leading on-demand streaming services Netflix, Amazon, and Sky’s Now TV, overtook the total number of cable TV subscribers for the first time, according to Ofcom.

Prime sports have been the last strong asset to hold the ground for the cable operators, which is being eroded by deals like the current one. Amazon will show 20 Premier League matches in the UK from the 2019 season, breaking the duopoly of Sky and BT Sport. What’s more worrying for the Fox Sports and co in the recent Facebook deals is that the cable networks are completely shut out of the markets. They may justly feel worried.

When it comes to the consumers watching LaLiga in the subcontinent, there is good news and there is bad news. The matches will be shown for free and, at least at the beginning, will be free of ads too. Viewers can also choose to use Facebook on different devices.

However, if there is one thing that TV beats internet it is the reliability of signal. With 4G coverage far from nationwide in any of these countries, broadband connection becomes critical. On the latest worldwide broadband speed league table, the highest ranked subcontinent country is Sri Lanka at 81st position, with an average download speed of 5.84 Mbps. The lowest ranked among these eight countries is Afghanistan at 1.15 Mbps. Viewers could be left frustrated with the picture stopping when a striker is just about to pull the trigger.

Orange continues to bang convergence drum

Virgin Media might be struggling to live the convergence dream in the UK, though Orange doesn’t seem to be having any problems as it reports another positive set of results.

Total revenues for the first half came in at €20.2 billion, a year-on-year increase of 0.9%, while operating income grew much more favourable, an increase of 2.8% to €2.35 billion. While this might be the highest profit margin in the industry, Orange has continued to demonstrate it is building for the future investing another €3.36 billion in CAPEX, 16.6% of total revenues delivered over the six month period.

“The 1st half results showed accelerated growth across all the Group’s financial metrics,” said CEO Stéphane Richard. “Revenues grew in all our regions while the strong acceleration in the Group’s adjusted EBITDA, which rose 3.3% during the half, reinforced our strategy of differentiation on the basis of service quality and demonstrated our constant focus on operational efficiency.

“Our investment strategy in fibre and 4G is reflected in the sharp increase in our very high-speed broadband customer base. Orange now has 50 million 4G customers with 13 million in Africa, twice as many as a year ago. In fixed very high-speed broadband, the customer base continued to show particularly strong growth enabling us to reach 5.5 million customers, almost exclusively in fibre.”

Looking at the convergence strategy, the team reported an increase of 9% in convergent offers year-on-year, a total of 10.7 million customers, while the number of SIMs attached to these offers increased to 18 million. Orange often boasts about being the leading convergent player in Europe, and with numbers like these it is hard to argue otherwise.

Spain has continued to be a strong market for the business through this period, and following the conclusion of the spectrum auctions, it is looking to be in a solid position for the 5G race. During the auction, Orange Spain acquired 12 blocks of frequencies, paying €132 million, representing 60 MHz in the priority spectrum band to offer 5G services. Orange is now the only operator in Spain in reach a total of 100 MHz in this spectrum band, which it claims is essential for the development of the new ultra-fast mobile broadband technology.

Telefónica and Ericsson demo simultaneous 5G driving and streaming

Spanish telco group Telefónica got together with Ericsson and others to show how 5G will power the future car.

The novel part of this demo involved using 5G over the 3.5 GHz band to simultaneously control autonomous driving and content consumption. It used a EZ10 autonomous driving electric minibus supplied by EasyMile, containing an Ericsson 5G terminal and an infotainment platform from CarMedia.

On show was high data transfer capacity and ultra-low latency enabling the simultaneous streaming download of high-definition content; the creation of a work environment in the vehicle with virtual office applications and remote driving support based on the real time analysis and processing of the telemetry data sent by the autonomous vehicle.

“5G technology has much to contribute in the field of the connected vehicle,” said Javier Gutiérrez, Director of Strategy and Network Development at Telefónica Spain. “In addition to the download of multimedia content, autonomous vehicles generate up to 4TB of daily information from the information collected by the sensors, meaning that a high bandwidth is necessary for transferring this data in real time to the network’s edge and also an extremely low latency. All in order to jointly process the data received by the vehicles of a certain area and to proceed with decision making, thus increasing the security in vehicular environments.”

“By 2023, 20% of the world’s population will have 5G coverage,” said Jorge Navais, Commercial Director for the Telefonica account at Ericsson. “It will have an enormous impact in terms of user experience and the digital transformation of industries and cities. Ericsson has already signed 39 agreements to start 5G trials and for the development of use cases like the one we present today. With this demonstration, we take a look at the future and how 5G will enable autonomous driving, only one example among many possibilities. It also poises Ericsson and Telefonica at the forefront of Spain’s journey towards 5G.”

This demo was part of a broader Telefónica initiative called the 5G Technological Cities project that aims to bring 5G goodness to Segovia and Talavera de la Reina (this one was in the latter). The official line is that they will become ‘5G living laboratories’, which seems in keeping with some of the stuff happening in Italy too. While this sort of thing provides a nice bit of publicity for all concerned, real world dress rehearsals are probably an important way of working out what we’re going to use new technologies for.

Vodafone’s European fibre push continues with Spanish gigabit first

Vodafone Spain has finally unveiled its shiny new gigabit fibre offering, almost two years after starting work on it.

The announcement comes hot on the heels of the announcement of a €2 billion investment by Vodafone in fibre for Germany. At the end of 2015 Vodafone unveiled a network expansion programme featuring a bunch of European countries, including Spain. The announcement of availability, tariffs, etc indicates it’s work there is done.

The new Spanish services will be available to around 4 million sites on 25 September. Vodafone claims these will be the first to offer 1 Gbps in Spain, although real-life speeds remain to be seen.

As you can see from the tariff table below, Vodafone is putting a significant premium on the 1 gig service, charging €65 per month for the basic fibre (fibra) package, and between €82 and €106 for bundled fixed (fijo) mobile (móvil) and Vodafone TV. You even get a year’s worth of PlayStation plus thrown in!

Vodafone Spain fibre tariffs