Inward application of tech explains dumb pipe rhetoric

Every telco fears the ‘dump pipe’ label and the push towards commoditisation, but perhaps this trend is being compounded by an inward looking attitude in the application of potentially revolutionary technologies.

This is the conundrum; telcos are missing out on the cash bonanza which is fuelling companies like Facebook and Google, but to keep investors happy, executives are focusing more on improving profitability than replacing lost revenues, such as the voice and SMS cash cows of yesteryear. This might seem like quite a broad sweeping statement, and will not be applicable to every telco, or every department within the telcos, but statement could be proven true at Total Telecom Congress this week.

One panel session caught our attention in particular. Featuring Turk Telecom, Elisa and Swisscom, the topic was the implementation of AI and the ability to capitalize on the potential of the technology. The focus here is on automation, predictive failure detection and improving internal processes such as legal and HR. These are all useful applications of the technology, but will only improve what is already in place.

The final panellist was Google, and this is where the difference could be seen. Google is of course focusing on improving internal processes, but the main focus on artificial intelligence applications is to enhance products and create new services. Spam filters in Gmail is an excellent example, though there are countless others as the Deepmind team spread their influence throughout the organization.

The difference between the two is an inward and outward application of the technology. Telcos are seemingly searching for efficiency, while Google is looking to create more value and products. One will improve profitability of what already exists, the second will capture new revenues and open the business up to new customers. One is safe, the other is adventurous. One will lead a company down a path towards utilitisation, the other will emphasise innovation and expand the business into new markets.

Of course, there are examples of telcos using artificial intelligence to enhance offerings and create new value, but it does appear there is more emphasis on making internal processes more efficient and improving profitability.

This is not to say companies should not look at processes and business models to make a more successful business, but too much of an inward focus will only lead to irrelevance. We’ve mentioned this before, but the telcos seem to be the masters of their own downfall, either through sluggishness or a fear of embracing the unknown, searching for new answers.

The panel session demonstrated the notable difference between the two business segments. The internet players are searching for new value, while telcos seem more interested in protecting themselves. Fortune favours the brave is an old saying, but it is very applicable here.

Ericsson and Qualcomm claim first 5G NR mmWave call to a smartphone

The incremental ‘5G first’ claims continue as Ericsson and Qualcomm say they’ve done the first 5G NR ‘call’ over the 39 GHz band to a smartphone-like device.

The test call was done in Ericsson’s labs in Sweden using the non-standalone flavour of 5G. It used Ericsson’s AIR 5331 5G NR radio and the test device (pictured) was running the Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 5G modem. It comes just days after Ericsson announced a pretty similar test with Intel, which presumably made Qualcomm feel slighted and jealous.

“Mobilizing mmWave for the smartphone has been seen by many as an impossible challenge, but this demonstration validates that we are on track to bring groundbreaking 5G mmWave experiences to consumers,” said Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon. “This successful lab call is a testament to our continued innovation and collaboration with Ericsson, and we look forward to further industry-leading milestones with them as we progress to 5G commercialization of networks and mobile devices in early 2019.”

“Today’s data call milestone with Qualcomm Technologies shows the importance of building the 5G ecosystem,” said Ericsson networks boss Fredrik Jejdling. “We’re also making headway on commercial 5G by performing interoperability tests on new mmWave bands, giving our customers wider deployment options and the consumers, faster speeds.”

Elsewhere Ericsson has been quick to promote the fruits of its recent transport announcement involving Juniper. It has won a deal with Swisscom to deliver an ‘end-to-end 5G transport solution, that will feature both Ericsson and Juniper kit. Ericsson will now run the whole of Swisscom’s 4G and 5G networks, including all the latest virtualization cleverness.

“We have selected Ericsson’s transport solution for our 5G network,” said Heinz Herren, CIO and CTO at Swisscom. “Partnering with Juniper Networks, Ericsson has extended its transport coverage and can now take end-to-end transport responsibility all the way from the Radio Access Network to the next generation core. Seamlessly managed and orchestrated, this reduces our complexity and affords a more efficient, high-performing network.”

“Ericsson has stepped up and taken responsibility for transport,” said Arun Bansal, head of Erisson in Europe and Latin America. “This deal is an important proof point for the end-to-end 5G transport solutions that we recently launched. The ease of use of our one-stop shop reduces not only complexity for Swisscom but also their total cost of ownership.”

Here’s a photo of a bloke looking at some servers that Ericsson thought was apposite to the latter story. He clearly has more flexible knees than some of us.

Ericsson server bloke

Telcos urged to stop moaning and get on with 5G because it’s inevitable

At 5G World in London operators were in agreement that the industry needs to stop having panic attacks about the business case for 5G and just get on with it.

The CTOs of both Swisscom and Three UK both expressed frustration at the apparent tendency of many in the industry to wait for a killer business case before going all-in on 5G. Since 5G is inevitable and the eventual ROI seems beyond dispute, why not just get on with it now. ‘Sh*t or get off the pot,’ they seemed to be saying.

Heinz Herren of Swisscom and Bryn Jones of Three were joined in a panel moderated by Gabriel Brown of Heavy Reading by the brilliantly-named Constantine Polychronopoulos, CTO of the Telco NFV Group at VMware and the latter concurred that 5G is a ‘do or die’ situation. It’s not a matter of if, but when, so get on with it already.

One of the main reasons for hesitation, presumably, is the presumed capex spike that it will entail, but all three of the panel were sceptical about that objection too. Herren doesn’t see the sub-millimetre wave upgrade to 5G requiring significant additional capex and Jones compared network upgrading to painting the Forth Bridge in so much as it’s a constant, rolling, substitutional process so the capex is already baked in.

They did concede some areas are going to cost a bit extra, such as massive MIMO antennas, additional need for fibre and the cost of buying, placing and servicing small cells. Herren and Jones both concurred that having as good and active a relationship as possible with vendor partners is vital. You can read more about the capex discussion at Light Reading here.

Ericsson hails Swisscom deal as 5G proof-point

Swiss operator Swisscom has signed a network transformation deal with Ericsson, which the latter claims is the world’s first commercial 5G deal.

More than any of its competitors Ericsson is all-in on 5G. While Huawei and Nokia have quite diverse interests, including major fixed-line businesses, Ericsson is increasingly looking to narrow its focus on mobile broadband and that, of course, means 5G. It is therefore vital that Ericsson make itself synonymous with 5G in the eyes of operators and the wider world.

At a recent event apparently created to achieve just that Arun Bansal, Ericsson’s regional boss in Europe and Latin America, claimed Ericsson Radio System is the only 5G-ready baseband platform currently available. Nokia and Huawei subsequently begged to differ, but regardless of the technological details, Bansal’s claim showed how aggressive Ericsson’s 5G strategy is.

With that in mind it wasn’t surprising to hear that Bansal was doing a bit of a press briefing drive in support of what could easily be dismissed as yet another deal win story, the likes of which the Telecoms.com inbox is usually saturated with.

At the start of the interview we challenged Bansal to convince Telecoms.com readers why anyone outside of Ericsson or Swisscom should care. “Because it’s the world’s first commercial deal for 5G,” he replied. Of course every other press release these days has 5G plastered all over it in the time-honoured telecoms industry tradition of over-exploiting the next big thing, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see that claim contested too, but there it is.

“5G is moving from hype to reality,” insisted Bansal, explaining that Swisscom asked Ericsson to make its network 5G-ready, specifically with industrial use-cases in mind. Primarily this seems to involve Machine Type Communication (MTC), via NB-IoT and critical MTC via LTE Cat-M1. This in turn will require the main technological leap associated with 5G – network slicing – so there’s a fair bit of virtualization work being done to prepare the Swisscom network for all that.

The more immediate boost to the Swisscom network from this deal will be ‘gigabit LTE’ via a cocktail of carrier aggregation and massive MIMO cleverness, starting next year. This is more about capacity and network reliability than trying to give end-users 1 Gbps MBB, but Bansal regerred to it as ‘enhanced LTE’ which seems to imply a distinct stepping stone towards the eMBB promised by 5G.

“We would like to offer the best network to our customers in Switzerland – today and in the future,” said Heinz Herren, CIO and CTO at Swisscom, in the canned comments that came with the press release. “That’s why we invest massively in the latest mobile network technologies such as Gigabit LTE and 5G. Ericsson is a true leader in 5G technology and I am convinced that together, we will achieve our goal to deliver greater innovation and provide customers with the best experiences.”

This 5G bullishness is a welcome sign of life from Ericsson, which is still struggling to demonstrate it has turned the corner following years of redundancies and executive purges. Bansal insisted that the Swisscom deal is a ‘proof-point’ of his claims and, while it’s vital that Ericsson reminds the world what a strong player it remains in mobile broadband, but it would be well advised not to labour the ‘first to 5G’ angle too much or it will start to dilute its significance.