Ericsson, Swisscom and Qualcomm do 5G dynamic spectrum sharing

Dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) is all about the smooth transition from 4G to 5G and is an important part of rolling out a 5G network.

The incremental 5G progress news has dried up to such an extent this year that telecoms journalists have sometimes been forced to go and find things out, which is a massive hassle. So we’re grateful to Ericsson, Swisscom and Qualcomm for taking one more step towards proper, viable 5G with this thing that they just did.

Specifically the three companies say they collaborated to make the first over-the-air, DSS 5G data call in 31 October in Switzerland. It’s not clear why it took them over a week to announce it, however. Maybe they weren’t sure if it had worked. They had managed a 5G call using spectrum sharing in September, but that was just boring old vanilla spectrum sharing. Now it’s dynamic.

“Ericsson Spectrum Sharing (ESS) allows Swisscom to best leverage the existing frequency spectrum and infrastructure for 4G and 5G customers, depending on their needs,“ said Patrick Weibel, head of 5G program, Swisscom. “Spectrum sharing will ensure that Swisscom can provide extensive 5G coverage to its customers as soon as possible.”

says, “With Ericsson Spectrum Sharing, service providers can reuse their Ericsson Radio System investments on bands currently used for LTE to support a fast introduction of 5G,“ Hannes Ekström, head of product line 5G RAN, Ericsson. “This first ESS 5G data call by Swisscom, on commercial platforms, is an important step to enabling cost efficient, nationwide 5G coverage and services.”

“Coverage is the next killer app for 5G, and we congratulate Ericsson and Swisscom on this significant milestone,“ said Dino Flore, vice president, technology, Qualcomm Europe. “Spectrum Sharing will be a key catalyst for nationwide 5G coverage, helping deliver ubiquitous 5G services to consumers.”

The thinking behind dynamic spectrum sharing is that there’s no point is reserving a bunch of 5G spectrum if there’s hardly any demand for it. So initially a site using DSS tech will be beaming out mostly 4G waves, but as people switch to 5G it can move the dial in that direction.

Sunrise claiming 80% (no joke) 5G population coverage already

It might be a small country, and its citizens might be concentrated in the cities, but Switzerland is driving forward with 5G like few other countries around the world.

Switzerland is not the biggest of markets, but it is demonstrating how competition can drive network deployment forward. Alongside market leader Swisscom suggesting it will have 90% population coverage by the end of 2019 for 5G, Sunrise is claiming it has already hit the 80% milestone.

With 262 cities and towns already covered in the 5G blanket, the Swiss consumers are getting treated to a connectivity euphoria few others can claim to match.

“At the start of April, we launched our 5G network for selected customers,” said Olaf Swantee, CEO of Sunrise.

“This makes us the first 5G provider in Switzerland and Europe. Since then, we have successfully extended our lead. The Sunrise 5G network is the biggest in the country and sets a benchmark in terms of coverage quality.

“We do not differentiate between ‘fast’ and ‘wide’, between fast and slow 5G. Private and business customers want good and fast 5G coverage. That’s why we will also be offering 5G coverage in all Sunrise Shops by the end of the year. In addition to this, we will be launching a dedicated solution for companies, allowing them to benefit from 5G as soon as possible to aid their digitization.”

The first phase of this 5G push is upgrading existing cell sites. This is the simplest aspect of the strategy, though with Huawei’s ‘LampSite’ solution the Sunrise team is addressing the indoor coverage dilemma. As the focus on indoor coverage moves forward, the team is quickly turning its attention to driving ROI through enterprise solutions.

So, what is different in Switzerland? How have the telcos driven forward so quickly into the 5G era?

Firstly, you must take into account the size of the country. At 41,284 km2, Switzerland is ranked 132nd worldwide. It is not massive. And with a population of roughly 8.5 million, it is listed at 99th globally.

Secondly, ARPU is notably higher in Switzerland. During the last quarter, ARPU for post-paid customers was £32.01 for Sunrise. This compares to £20.7 at EE in the UK or £15.33 in France with Orange. Not only does this offer more free cash to drive network investments, it provides more security and confidence when judging ROI.

Thirdly, competition is critically important here. With Swisscom being aggressive with its own rollout, Sunrise has to keep pace. And the faster Sunrise moves, it drags Swisscom forward as well. It is competition at its finest, a virtuous cycle.

Finally, the presence of Olaf Swantee should not be underestimated. As Ovum’s Paul Lambert points out, Swantee is aware to the power of 5G, and having led EE’s successful 4G deployment, the drive and experience to move into the next generation is right at the top of the organization.

Sunrise is not particularly in the same league as Swisscom for the moment, though an aggressive push towards 5G could bridge the gap (6.3 million subscribers at Swisscom, versus 2.4 million at Sunrise). This appears to be the strategy employed by Sunrise according to Lambert; scaled 5G coverage offers a differentiator for the telco and an opportunity to capture higher paying customers.

What is worth noting is population coverage is very different to geographical coverage. Switzerland is a highly urbanised country, roughly 73% live in urban environments, easing the demands on network deployment. When you look at the rural landscapes in Switzerland however, the challenges start to mount up very quickly.

This is a common trait in the majority of the markets where 5G has gotten off to a flying start. South Korea is another example of a market moving very quickly towards the 5G era, and once again, it is a highly-urbanised country. The UK is a third which has the advantage of a relatively small land mass, combined with a concentrated population.

Although these are factors which will simplify the network deployment equation, that should not take away from the progress being made across the Swiss telco industry. In the absence of coverage obligations, good old competition and ambition is driving the agenda.

Swisscom, SK Telecom, Elisa and BICS claim world’s first 5G roaming services

The very small number of people who are capable and inclined can now roam between the 5G networks of Swisscom and either SK Telecom or Elisa.

Swisscom has over 6 million mobile subscribers but hasn’t revealed how many of them have upgraded to 5G. Since Swisscom only started to roll out its 5G network in April of this year, it seems safe to assume its 5G subscriber base is struggling to hit six figures. Of those, owners of Samsung Galaxy S10 5G smartphones can now fly from Zurich to Seoul confident of maintaining their newly-won boosted download speeds. The converse is true of SK Telecom’s 5G punters.

“SK Telecom once again proved its leadership in advanced roaming technology with the launch of world’s first 5G roaming service” said Han Myung-jin, Head of the MNO Business Supporting Group of SK Telecom. “We will continuously expand our 5G roaming service to enhance customer experience and benefits.”

“We want to offer our customers the best network – both in Switzerland and abroad,” said Dirk Wierzbitzki, Head of Product and Marketing at Swisscom. “So we are proud to be one of the world’s first providers to offer 5G abroad. We will continue to expand 5G availability abroad with additional partners.”

Swisscom has struck up a similar deal with Finnish operator Elisa, which is also claiming the world first, so it looks like SK Telecom has a fight on its hands. We were amongst the first countries to start building 5G networks in Finland,” said Elisa’s Director of Consumer Handset Subscriptions Jan Virkki. “Now that Swisscom has opened their 5G network, we are more than happy to be able to provide the ultrafast 5G to our consumer and corporate customers travelling to Switzerland.”

Roaming specialist BICS also wants a piece of the action, having got involved in the SK Telecom gig. “Today’s successful implementation of a trans-continental 5G data roaming relation further endorses our position at the forefront of global mobility for people, applications and things,” crowed Mikaël Schachne, CMO and VP Mobility & IoT Business at BICS. We couldn’t find any other corporate chest-beating over this bit of news but there probably was some.

AT&T, KPN, Orange and Swisscom enable LTE-M roaming across their networks

A consortium on European operators has got together with AT&T to activate LTE-M roaming across North America and Europe.

LTE-M is a low power wireless technology that’s not as low-power as NB-IoT and Lora, but is better than nothing and based on existing tech. Thus it’s a handy first step into IoT for applications that don’t have minimal power consumption as a priority, but it’s still not much good unless the LTE-M modules are free to roam globally.

This is a good step in the right direction as now, if you get some kind of IoT package from one of the operators involved, you can now roam to the US, Mexico, France, Holland and Switzerland to your heart’s content. What you will do if your IoT module happens to find itself anywhere else, however, remains a mystery.

“More and more of our enterprise customers require global capabilities as they deploy IoT devices and applications,” said John Wojewoda, AVP, Global Connections Management, AT&T. “These LTE-M roaming agreements help meet that demand and make it easier for businesses around the world to benefit from the power of a globalized IoT.”

“The introduction of LTE-M creates many new possibilities for our partners, customers and prospects,” said Carolien Nijhuis, Director IoT at KPN. “Roaming with LTE-M has been one of the most requested features by our customers in the market. We are very happy we’re now able to fulfill their needs and unlock their international IoT-potential.”

“Enabling access to roaming on LTE-M for our customers is a clear priority for Orange,”” said Didier Lelièvre, Director mobile wholesale & interconnection, Orange. “We’re proud to be among the first operators to deliver such a roaming capability to our IoT customers and more widely to our partners across this market.”

“After offering the first nationwide LTE-M and NB-IoT networks in Switzerland, we are happy to prove our strong position on roaming and be among the first operators that enhance the key technology LTE-M for 2G replacement with international roaming,” said Julian Dömer, Head of IoT at Swisscom.

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.