Switzerland surprised to hear it will be regulating Facebook’s cryptocurrency

In a testimony before the US Senate Facebook indicated its Libra cryptocurrency will run from Switzerland, but it forgot to ask the Swiss if that was OK.

David Marcus, who is heading up Libra on Facebook’s behalf, testified before the US Senate Banking Committee in response to profound alarm from US lawmakers at the prospect of the social media giant developing its own currency. According to CNBC he said the data and privacy regulation of the currency will be overseen by a Swiss agency, as that’s where Libra will be based, but they say that’s the first they’ve heard of it.

In his testimony, which you can watch in full here if that’s your thing, Marcus said the Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC) will keep an eye on the data protection side of things, which must have only offered partial reassurance to US senators worried their citizens were vulnerable to having their data exploited yet again.

Imagine their horror, then, when they read the CNBC report and learned that Facebook and its Libra pals haven’t even made contact with the FDPIC yet. This failing, later confirmed by Facebook itself, it just the latest slip-up in what has been a frankly shambolic launch. You’d think Facebook would have dotted every ‘i’ and crossed every ‘t’ before unveiling a grand plan to revolutionise the global banking system and its failure to even check in with one of the proposed regulators it just embarrassing.

As TechCrunch notes, the data privacy side of all this is arguably the greatest concern as there will apparently be little control over developers that use the platform. Given the negative consequences of a fairly minor misuse of Facebook user data by Cambridge Analytica it’s baffling to see Facebook be so cavalier about this. The likelihood of Libra ever being set free is, on balance, increasingly small.

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.

Iliad flogs a bunch of towers to reduce debt pile

French telecoms conglomerate Iliad is selling most of its tower assets in France and Italy to Cellnex for €2 billion.

Iliad has debts in excess of €4 billion and seems to think paying some of them off might be an idea. Fellow French giant Altice has recently had to do a bunch of debt refinancing but it apparently had to pay a premium to do so. European telcos are increasingly inclined to sell and lease back assets like towers to free up cash for 5G investments and that sort of thing.

In France Iliad will be selling 70% of the company that manages 5,700 cell sites to Spanish infrastructure specialist Cellnex, while in Italy it’s offloading the whole company that takes care of 2,200 sites. Right now the whole process is at the ‘exclusive negotiations’ stage but that seems like a formality.

“This transaction is part of a long term industrial strategy allowing us to accelerate rollout of our 4G and 5G networks and to increase Iliad’s investment leeway,” said Thomas Reynaud, Iliad’s CEO. “This transaction supports the group’s new growth and innovation cycle. It enables more efficient infrastructure roll-outs in the future while meeting the challenges of further increasing territory coverage.”

On top of this Cellnext is acquiring 90% of the company that owns 2,800 sites in Switzerland from Salt.

“[These deals] allow us not only to reinforce our position as the main independent infrastructure operator in France, but also to decisively strengthen our platform in Italy, a key a strategic market, and significantly expand our foothold in Switzerland,” said Cellnex CEO Tobias Martinez.

“Furthermore, Cellnex strengthens its role as a neutral host by having two major anchor tenants within its sites network. The combined effect of these agreements is an increase of our current  portfolio across six European countries by more than 50% –to 45,000 sites in total. The latter allows us to properly assess the very quantum leap nature of these deals.

“A greater density and capillarity of our sites networks means a differential added value that enhances Cellnex’s role as a natural partner for all mobile operators in Europe, meeting their densification needs in the current 4G roll-out while accelerating that of 5G.”

Sunrise plugs FWA in Swiss 5G launch

Swiss telco Sunrise has jumped on the 5G bandwagon with the launch of a Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) offering aiming to bridge the digital divide.

Like the UK, Switzerland is one of the more sluggish European nations when it comes to fibre penetration. According to the latest statistics from the Fibre to the Home Council, Switzerland currently has FTTH penetration rate of 7.8% across the country, potentially creating a digital divide. This offering from Sunrise is using such a chasm to promote its FWA offering.

“In the digital age, residential and business customers alike need fast Internet with speeds of up to 1 Gbps,” said Olaf Swantee, CEO of Sunrise. “But in many places, customers are waiting in vain due to a lack of fiber optic connections.

“With 5G for People we are filling this gap, e.g. in Unterkulm (AG), where the first Sunrise 5G pioneer switched on his Sunrise Internet Box 5G and can now use ‘fibre through the air’, which is ten times faster than fixed networks. 5G for People is closing the digital divide in Switzerland and making Switzerland Europe’s pioneer in digital infrastructures.”

The initial launch will focus on 150 cities, towns and villages across the country, with each location aiming for between 80% and 98% population coverage, the aim will be to provide an alternative to fixed broadband services, some of which will be considered sub-standards by the demanding consumer of today.

Interestingly enough, the claims themselves demonstrate the difference in attitude between advertising authorities in the UK and Switzerland.

Using a statement such as ‘fibre through the air’ and comparing the 5G service to copper fixed networks not fibre, might irk some advertising authorities. Although it is not a direct lie, it is not telling the entire truth of the situation. Some might suggest this is misleading the customer through omission of information. We suspect the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK would have an issue with some of these claims.

Sunrise is on the charge through the Swiss alps, with its latest acquisition of Liberty Global’s assets adding momentum. First to market does not necessarily mean much in the long-run, but it is good ammunition to add to the armoury.

Liberty Global offloads Swiss business for $6.3 billion

Liberty Global has continued its great withdraw from the European markets with another sale, this time convincing Sunrise its 1 million Swiss customers are worth $6.3 billion.

Announcing the deal alongside its financial results, it does look to be a good deal for Liberty Global. This is a business which has been going through somewhat of a restructure, attempting to find profit in a challenging industry by refocusing resources, though it now appears the years of aggressive acquisitions and expansion have not paid off.

“The past fourteen months have been transformational for Liberty Global,” said CEO Mike Fries. “After two decades of buying, building and growing world-class cable operations in Europe, we have announced or completed transactions in six of our twelve markets at premium valuations.”

While $6.3 billion certainly pales in comparison to some of the mega-acquisitions we’ve seen in recent years, it might be worth putting a bit of context around this transaction.

UPC Switzerland has passed just over 2.3 million homes across the country, this is more than 50% of Swiss homes, currently commanding a subscriber base of 1.1 million. The video offering currently has a subscriber base of just over 1 million subscribers (645,000 of which are premium) and mobile subscriptions total 146,000.

Whether these figures justify the $6.3 billion which Sunrise is handing over we’ll let you decide, though just as a point of comparison BT bought EE, and its 30 million mobile subscribers, for £12.5 billion in 2014.

For Sunrise, such an acquisition will add buoyancy to already positive momentum. Over the last three months, Sunrise realised 42,300 postpaid net adds, UPC Switzerland was 8,500 by comparison, while Internet and TV subscribers rose by 8.3% and 14.1% year-on-year respectively.

Is telecom losing Europe’s next generation employees?

Telecoms companies did not feature in the top employers’ lists chosen by the current and potential young employees in a recent multi-country survey.

The Swedish consulting firm Academic Work recently published the results of a survey on current and future young employees in six European countries, which asked the respondents to choose their most “aspired” employer, hence the title of the survey “Young Professional Aspiration Index (YPAI) 2018”. Among the three Nordic countries where it broke down the details of the employers the young people most like to work for, Google came on top in all of them (it tied with Reaktor in Finland, the consulting firm behind the country’s big AI drive). None of the telecom companies, be it telcos or telecom equipment makers, made to the top-10’s.

 YPAI 2018

The survey was done in the four Nordic countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark) plus Germany and Switzerland. Nearly 19,000 young people, a mixture of students (22%), current employed (59%), as well as job seekers (15%) answered the survey. The majority of the respondents came out of Sweden, while just under 1,000 respondents were registered from Finland and Norway. Presumably the sample sizes were not big enough in the other three countries to break down the top-10 company lists.

YPAI 2018 respondents

In addition to asking the respondents to name their preferred employers, the survey also asked them about their most important criteria when choosing a place to work. “Good working environment and nice colleagues” came on top in four out of the six countries (chosen by 60% of the respondents in Sweden, 78% in Denmark, 73% in Germany, and 66% in Switzerland). It tied with “Leadership” in Sweden. In Finland coming on top was “varied and challenging tasks”, chosen by 60% of those who answered the survey, while in Norway 64% of the young people surveyed chose “training / development opportunities” as the most important criterion.

Once upon a time (i.e. around the turn of the century), telecom was THE industry to work in. It has been losing some of its old lustre to the internet giants. If they “aspire” to re-take the top spot of the young people’s mind share, the Ericssons and Nokias and Telenors of the world may want to refer to these criteria when promoting their corporate image, as a starting point.

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.