NB-IoT gathers momentum

Trials in Australia and the UK involving Ericsson and Vodafone indicate the NB-IoT is starting to become a reality.

Ericsson and Telstra are claiming the longest connection for the narrowband wireless standard that is set to be the default for IoT. The trial used a Telstra base station to communicate with an NB-IoT temperature sensor 94 km away on Mount Cenn Cruaich in New South Wales, Australia. They say the previous range limit was more like 40 km.

“We’re partnering with Telstra to deliver its customers a world-leading capability in NB-IoT extended range cells and demonstrating the huge opportunity that IoT represents in rural and regional areas for both Australia and globally, particularly for logistics and agriculture,” said Emilio Romeo, Ericsson’s MD for Australia and New Zealand.

“Telstra already had Australia’s largest IoT coverage with Cat M1 across our 4G metro, regional and rural coverage footprint,” said Channa Seneviratne, Telstra’s Executive Director of Network and Infrastructure Engineering. “With this NB-IoT extended range feature, we have now extended our coverage to more than three and a half million square kilometers, delivering our customers the best IoT coverage and capability in the country.”

Meanwhile Vodafone has started trialling NB-IoT in the UK, as reported by Light Reading. Energy company Scottish Power is Vodafone’s first UK NB-IoT customer and is using IoT temperature sensors to detect when some of its remote kit might be overheating. They’re apparently powered by standard AA batteries and each one costs a couple of quid.

Lastly Counterpoint Research has found that global cellular IoT connections grew by 72% in the first half of this year and forecasted NB-IoT will account for around half of all IoT connections in the long term. As you can see from the charts below most of the action seems to be happening in China, but Vodafone is leading the international effort.

Counterpoint IoT 1

Counterpoint IoT 2

“Emerging markets like India, Brazil and in Africa while can offer tremendous scale but will likely be late followers compared to China in this path to connected everything,” said Satyajit Sinha of Counterpoint. “However, the massive growth opportunity remains in terms of cellular-IoT connections in emerging markets which will be possibly catalysed by operators such as Jio in India but more specifically from multi-market players such as Telefónica, MTN or Vodafone with plans to deploy LPWAN networks such as NB-IoT leveraging scale across their coverage markets.”

“Revenue generation from the IoT ecosystem is not siloed to any one specific segment of the value chain, rather it is distributed among all segments,” said Neil Shah of Counterpoint. “On an average for a cellular IoT solution deployment, connectivity represents around 12%, whereas hardware components, modules and devices represent 22%.

“The rest of the bulk of the value in an IoT solution is captured by system integrators, middleware, software platforms, and cloud analytics vendors. Hence, if operators are looking to capture maximum value, the strategies need to provide an end-to-end IoT solutions by bundling IoT devices, secure connectivity, platform, and data management to capitalize on the overall opportunity.”

The big variable with IoT, of course, is revenue. It doesn’t look too tough to scatter billions of sensors all over the place and connect them to the cloud via NB-IoT or whatever, but getting companies to pay for services on the back of them is another matter. It looks like a lot of the commercial precedent will be set in China, so the rest of the world might wait to see how that plays out before committing.

Telstra profits plunge thanks in part to NBN overheads

Australian operator group Telstra saw its annual profits fall by 9% thanks, at least in part, to the costs incurred in the rollout of NBN.

State-run telecoms wholesaler NBN has apparently started charging operators more to use its network, which at least provides them with a handy scapegoat when the numbers go in the wrong direction. To be fair to Telstra revenues were up 3% for the 2018 financial year so clearly overheads took a sharp turn for the worse.

“We have seen strong subscriber growth, particularly in the second half of the year, adding 342,000 retail mobile customers, 88,000 retail fixed broadband customers and 135,000 retail bundles during FY18,” said Telstra CEO Andrew Penn. “Despite this, the challenging trading conditions are expected to continue in FY19, including ongoing pressure on ARPU and further negative impact of the NBN network rollout on our underlying earnings.”

Penn was keen to stress how much of this increased overhead is also down to investment, inevitably playing the 5G card to illustrate his point. “Yesterday we announced we had switched on 5G technology across selected areas of the Gold Coast, making us the first in the country to be 5G ready, and we expect to have more than 200 5G-capable sites live

around the country by the end of 2018.”

Here are some slides from the investor presentation and you can read further analysis of these numbers at Light Reading here.

Telstra 2018 1

Telstra 2018 2

Telstra 2018 3

Telstra 2018 4

Telstra 2018 5

Ericsson, Intel and Telstra do commercial 5G over licensed 3.5 GHz

The trend of networking vendors, modem makers and mobile operators combining to demo commercial 5G continues with Ericsson, Intel and Telstra doing their thing over 3.5 GHz.

Each new demo claims an important incremental step towards doing 5G in real life and this one was no exception. This ménage a trois has already yielded a demo designed to show how great for long-distance gaming 5G will be and more recently the three took part in a bit of multi-vendor lab-based action in Stockholm.

This time they went back to Telstra’s 5G Innovation Centre (pictured) and the most significant bit seems to have been the claimed completion of ‘the first end-to-end 5G non-standalone data call on a commercial mobile network’. It was done on Telstra’s licensed 3.5 GHz spectrum, using Ericsson radio, baseband and packet core and Intel’s 5G mobile trial platform.

“Demonstrating this 5G data call end-to-end using my own personal SIM card on Telstra’s mobile network is the closest any provider has come to making a ’true’ 5G call in the real world-environment, and marks another 5G first for Telstra,” said Telstra’s Group Managing Director for Networks, Mike Wright.

“We’re quickly moving towards 5G commercial reality,” said Fredrik Jejdling, Head of Networks at Ericsson. “Achieving the first commercial data call with our partners Telstra and Intel shows the progress we’ve made from testing the technology in a lab to a 5G commercial network environment. 5G is open for business and Ericsson is helping customers get it done.” Someone from Intel said much the same, but with Intel replacing Ericsson in the quote.

Meanwhile Samsung unveiled some 5G kit for 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz, according to a report from ZDNet. Apparently the Korean tech giant want to grab 20% of the global network kit market, which is quite a jump from its current 3%. Samsung seems to think all the aggro ZTE and Huawei are having to deal with in the US might give it the opportunity it needs.

Another report from Bloomberg, however, begs to differ. An exec from SK Telecom indicated there is no favouritism towards Samsung and Huawei seems to think thinks like price competitiveness are more important than US security concerns. Ericsson and Nokia, while presumably alarmed by Samsung’s ambitions, must be pleased to see Huawei declared at its main competitive target.

Telstra slashes 8k jobs in search for simplified structure and more profit

Australian telco Telstra has announced it will be cutting 8,000 employees and contractors, as well as a reduction in 2-4 layers of management, in an effort to simply the structure of the business and improve profitability.

The headcount reduction forms part of the Telstra2022, a three-year plan building on the strategic investments Telstra announced in 2016. The aim is to create a ‘smaller, knowledge-based’ workforce which is ‘agile enough to deal with rapid change’. As part of the cuts, one in four executive and middle management roles will be removed to flatten the organizations structure.

“We will take a bolder stance and use the disruption in the telecommunications industry to lead the market for the benefit of our customers, employees and shareholders,” said Telstra CEO Andrew Penn.

“The rate and pace of change in our industry is increasingly driven by technological innovation and competition. In this environment traditional companies that do not respond are most at risk. We have worked hard preparing Telstra for this market dynamic while ensuring we did not act precipitously. However, we are now at a tipping point where we must act more boldly if we are to continue to be the nation’s leading telecommunications company.”

The new Telstra2022 is split into four pillars:

  • Simplifying the product portfolio: retiring all of the 1,800 consumer and small business plans and introducing 20 core plans
  • Establish a standalone infrastructure business to drive performance and set up optionality post the nbn rollout
  • Restructuring the workforce, including the 8,000 reduction in headcount
  • Cost reduction programme and portfolio management

Telstra is not necessarily in a bad position, such reductions in headcount and a restructuring of the business model simply demonstrates the changing nature of the telecoms industry. While it is not a nice aspect of the business to discuss, restructuring the workforce is a necessary component of evolving the operating model. Telcos have been stuck in the past for many years, evident in the growth of the more agile internet players who are reaping the benefits of the digital economy, therefore big changes are needed to future-proof the business.

With Telstra just adding to the recent list of telcos announcing cut backs, BT and Vodafone have made headline recently, though DT’s slow and steady erosion of the workforce is another to keep an eye on, perhaps this is news we should start getting accustomed to.

Ericsson, Intel and Telstra deliver 5G low-latency to gamers FTW

As 5G demos move into their practical phase, Ericsson, Intel and Telstra decided to show how 5G will enable gamers to compete over mobile with no performance penalty.

A lot of professional gaming relies on quick movements and reflexes to get one step ahead of your opponent, a characteristic it shares with physical combat sports. So any technological factors that delay a gamer’s actions, even by a fraction of a second, can prove virtually fatal. The latency experienced by mobile networks has, thus far, made them impractical for use by pro gamers and this demo was designed to show that, with 5G, those dark days are behind us.

It returned data transfer latency rates of 5-6 milliseconds, four times lower than current average 4G latency speeds. The demo was conducted in Telstra’s 5G Innovation Centre in Australia’s Gold Coast, using Ericsson and Intel kit over mmWave spectrum, and professional Australian gamers The Chiefs were drafted in to provide extra authenticity

“This gaming demonstration is a real-life example of how 5G might be used in the future,” said Telstra Executive Director Network and Infrastructure Engineering, Channa Seneviratne. “Latency is the time it takes for data to be sent between two points, so it is crucial in the world of gaming when milliseconds can literally mean the difference between winning and losing. eSports demonstrates how that is possible over 5G, a benefit of the new technology that will underpin a host of use cases.”

Ericsson and Intel spokespeople said pretty much the same. While this is a nice demo it’s not clear how much demand there is for competitive gaming over mobile networks. If it’s that important then its presumably not something people will do on their phones on the way to the shops. But as an illustration of a cool new use-case that may capture the imagination of a broader audience then just those of us who obsess about this sort of thing for a living then it has some value.

Telstra adds Narrowband to the IoT playbook

Telstra has announced the introduction of Narrowband technology into its IoT Network, to add to the three million square kilometres of Cat M1 IoT coverage the telco turned on in 2017.

IoT in Australia has seemingly gotten off to a positive start, with Telstra claiming to already connect two million IoT devices, and with this announcement it joins the top-table of telcos who are able to offer both Narrowband and Cat M1 IoT capabilities.

“We already offer our customers Australia’s largest and fastest mobile network and with our IoT Network now we have added the ability to support millions of new devices like sensors, trackers and alarms operating at very low data rates that can sit inside machines and vehicles, reach deep inside buildings and have a battery life of years rather than hours and days,” said Telstra COO, Robyn Denholm.

“These devices will be the centrepiece of the Internet of Things, which involves enabling everyday objects to send and receive data and will transform the way we all live and work in the years ahead.

“We are already leading the emergence of IoT in Australia – we connect more than two million IoT devices today and offer connected lights, cameras and motion sensors on the Telstra Smart Home platform. We expect the new mobile network capabilities we have deployed will drive rapid growth and over the next five years we forecast we will be connecting four times more devices than we do today.”

The announcement forms part of the telcos Networks for the Future programme, and part of the $3 billion capital investment Telstra intends to make to transform its network. This is a positive step towards the IoT dream, as while Cat M1 is certainly a useful technology, it might be deemed too powerful for some IoT use cases.

While Cat M1 supports applications with data in the 100s of kilobits per second, for some use cases this might be deemed excessive. Narrowband IoT is better suited to smaller data transmissions, and opens up the telco to the more basic IoT applications, for example moisture sensor or livestock tracking device. Wouldn’t want those kangeroos wasting capacity now would we?

Microsoft and Facebook lay some serious cable

The laying of the ‘highest-capacity’ transatlantic cable by Microsoft and Facebook has been completed in just over a year.

The two tech giants started work on Marea in May 2016 in partnership with Telefónica cable subsidiary Telxius and have completed the work pretty quickly. Marea goes from Virginia Beach on the east coast of the US to Bilbao in northern Spain. It claims to be the highest capacity trans-Atlantic cable – shifting 160 terabits per second.

“Marea comes at a critical time,” said Brad Smith, President of Microsoft. “Submarine cables in the Atlantic already carry 55 percent more data than trans-Pacific routes and 40 percent more data than between the U.S. and Latin America. There is no question that the demand for data flows across the Atlantic will continue to increase and Marea will provide a critical connection for the United States, Spain, and beyond.”

Someone from Facebook pontificated about bringing people together and someone from Telxius said all this extra bandwidth might come in handy, what with streaming video, etc. The cable is also a fair bit further south than many others, which provides a potential connectivity safeguard in the case of natural disasters or other mishaps.

Unstated but presumably critical to their involvement in the project is the fact that both Microsoft and Facebook have major datacenters in Virginia. This is yet another example of tech companies trying to take more ownership of the connectivity challenge.

Elsewhere Ericsson, Telstra and Ciena have successfully encrypted in-transit data travelling at 100Gbps over multi-vendor networks on a trans-pacific cable between LA and Melbourne (or transatlantic if you believe the amusing typo in the email press release).

“This demonstration shows that customer services with large bandwidth requirements can be secured and data transported across virtually any distance and over an underlying network that uses multiple vendors,” said Darrin Webb, Executive Director of International Operations and Services at Telstra. “This means we can provide service consistency regardless of the cable system used. Customers will also be able to protect their data not only at the application layer, but also at the network layer without any reduction in quality.”

We found a telco at IBC and they’re doing something pretty good

It took us a while but we found one, and it wasn’t what we were expecting. Turns out the Aussies are a little bit more enthusiastic about video than the Europeans.

Representing the shy telcos we have Telstra. And what they are doing is a pretty neat little idea. It sounds very logical as well, so it shouldn’t be too long before such an idea becomes a trend. How would you like a bit of pre-positioning?

It’s a simple idea. Using artificial intelligence, LTE-B networks and a host of applications, Telstra has been running a trial to host content on the edge of its network and also caching content on users devices. Imagine a video where you don’t have any start up time, or there won’t be any streaming breaks in the middle; it’s the dream right? And it might be a reality before too long.

What is key here is personalization, which might be a hurdle for a few in the industry. For this to work properly, you’ll need to genuinely understand the customer. You’ll need to have a recommendation engine which is pretty accurate otherwise it would be deemed a waste, but if you can nail the analytics side of things the rewards could be pretty substantial.

The example which Telstra’s Mukaddim Patham used was Telstra’s own content offering (which removed some of the complications which we will explain later on). Telstra has been growing its content offering over the last couple of years, focusing heavily on sports. Here, AFL, NRL and Netball are the pillars and over the last two years, sport specific video data traffic has grown 130%. Ideas for ensuring improved experience were welcomed.

Using an in-depth recommendation model, the team were able to figure out what content individual users would want, and with a greater emphasis on network analytics, the team was also able to predict when the content should be delivered to avoid congestion on the network. The result was mobile cached content, and Patham reckons he can get a 30-40% efficiency gain on the network as well.

Whether it would be 3X greater average bitrate, or 3X faster start-up time or 5X lower buffering ratio, the results of the test were pretty positive. If you get it right, the experience for the user on a mobile device should not be too dissimilar from traditional TV. A demonstrable drain on the battery was seen, and there could be storage issues, dependent on the users device, but it is a pretty good idea.

And now down to the complications. If you don’t know your user, there is no point. Why deliver content to a user who is never going to play the video. This could be an issue for a number of companies who recommendation engines are not the most accurate. Sticking with analytics, if you don’t have a comprehensive understanding of you network, delivering the content strategically might become problematic as well. Ideas like this will soon figure out who has been investing appropriately in analytics and who hasn’t.

Another complication would be certificates. Telstra was able to run this trial effectively because it owned the rights to the content, but the delivery of certificates when using partner content could be a bit of an issue. But this is still on the test grounds, Patham never said it was perfect.

It is a simple idea, but the best ones often are. Users are demanding highly quality and more readily available content from providers, and while there is little reward for actually getting it right, the consequences of getting it wrong are massive. It is a thankless task, but nonetheless, little ideas like this will make it a bit easier.