Ericsson’s loss is a US operator’s gain once more as T-Mobile hires Ewaldsson

T-Mobile US wasted little time in snapping up former Ericsson lifer Ulf Ewaldsson after he came on the market, to head up its 5G efforts.

Ewaldsson’s most recent significant position at Ericsson was to head up its struggling Digital Services division. This time last year he became another casualty of Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm’s apparent desire to refresh the executive team by getting rid of some dead wood. He does it gently, however, by moving them to the position of advisor to the CEO for a few months before finally casting them adrift.

Following the well trodden path taken by his former boss Hans Vestberg, Ewaldsson presumably needed little persuasion to escape the Swedish winter and move state-side, although he might not find Washington state to be much of an upgrade weather-wise. He will be reporting into TMUS CTO Neville Ray.

“We are thrilled to share the great news that Ulf is joining our team of amazing leaders at T-Mobile who continue to show the other guys what it takes to win in wireless,” said Ray. “Just look at what we’ve done with 4G wireless! We’ve been the fastest for 19 straight quarters – nearly 5 straight years… and we’re just getting started.

“Adding Ulf’s passion and track record for driving innovation to the Un-carrier mix is going to take us to the next level. Ulf has achieved so many firsts and truly supported the evolution of technology for telecommunications across the globe. Bringing him on board is a total win for T-Mobile and we couldn’t wait to share it! He is going to be the perfect addition to our consumer-first Un-carrier team to drive our 5G evolution strategy!”

Have you noticed how similar to Trump’s tweets the canned quotes from TMUS are? Anyway Ewaldsson, does have good tech pedigree, having been Ericsson’s group CTO for five years before being handed the Digital Services poisoned chalice, so he should be a good person to be running the 5G side of things.

The reselling of personal data goes from strength to strength

In spite of the many moral panics of 2018, the abuse of personal data shows no sign of abating at the start of 2019.

You might assume the somewhat overblown Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which everyone got all outraged that some political campaigns used data obtained from Facebook to target their messages, would have resulted in a far more reticent approach to the commercialisation of personal data. A couple of recent stories, however, indicate the opposite is true.

Motherboard did an investigation that concluded ‘T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T are selling access to their customers’ location data, and that data is ending up in the hands of bounty hunters and others not authorized to possess it, letting them track most phones in the country.’

The investigation essentially concludes that the act of selling on personal data is intrinsically open to abuse. As soon as you hand this data to a third party you lose all control over how it is used. Quite a lot like the Cambridge Analytica case, in fact. Here’s a flow chart from the article, showing the journey resold data can take.

Motherboard data chart

Upon reading the piece a US Senator called Ron Wyden called out TMUS CEO John Legere, accusing him of not following through on a previous vow to stop selling on data in this way. Here’s Legere’s response.

Elsewhere the FT took a look at the kind of data aggregators that typically buy data from those who collect it in order to analyse it, repackage it, and sell it on as some kind of market insight. Referring to it as the ‘data broking industry, the report looks into how they operate and reveals that regulators, in Europe at least, are finally getting around to taking a closer look at how they operate.

It must be especially frustrating to proponents of GDPR that is seems to have negligible effect on what must sure have been one of the main industries is was designed to regulate. One source in the report refers to the likes of Oracle, Salesforce and Nielsen as ‘privacy deathstars’, that can sell on hundreds of datapoints tracking individuals’ every move.

Combined with growing evidence that financial services giants are behind much of the policing of online behaviour that was such a feature of 2018, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the internet is increasingly being used for the wholesale exploitation of individuals. Regulators seem ill-equipped to catch up with these privacy deathstars and it’s easy to imagine the state looking benignly at an industry that facilitates the tracking and manipulation of the public.

AT&T’s 5G false start backfires

The attempt by US operator AT&T to rebrand LTE-A as 5Ge has quite rightly left it open to ridicule.

It was never in any doubt that a US operator would jump the gun regarding 5G this year, it was just a matter of who. The geniuses in AT&T’s marketing department decided it should be them and, while the rest of us were opening Christmas presents and falling asleep in front of Bond films, they were plotting how to claim 5G victory without actually serving up any 5G.

Inspired, perhaps, by the best wireless technology currently available on the AT&T network, their hours of brainstorming yielded the word ‘evolution’. If you stick a little ‘e’ after 5G, they apparently reasoned, then you’re basically saying it’s nearly 5G. Closer to 5G, in fact, than 4G, so putting 5G on phones is totally justified. Essentially AT&T is saying it has the most evolved AT&T.

Not only has the entirety of the telecoms and tech press been merciless in calling bullshit on this risible move, but AT&T’s main competitors have wasted little time in taking the piss. Verizon CTO Kyle Malady was moved to publish an opportunistic piece entitled ‘When we say “5G,” we mean 5G’.

“We’re calling on the broad wireless industry to commit to labelling something 5G only if new device hardware is connecting to the network using new radio technology to deliver new capabilities,” he said. “Verizon is making this commitment today: We won’t take an old phone and just change the software to turn the 4 in the status bar into a 5. We will not call our 4G network a 5G network if customers don’t experience a performance or capability upgrade that only 5G can deliver.”

As you might expect, T-Mobile US was much less restrained in its response. CEO John Legere collated some of the media dismissals of the move and shared them on Twitter. His marketing department warmed to the theme and posted a video of someone putting ‘9G’ sticker over the top of the network notification display in the top right of an iPhone, to ridicule the cosmetic nature of this AT&T initiative.

The sad thing is that this probably won’t harm AT&T. Yes it looks ridiculous now, but if there’s no such thing as bad publicity then AT&T seems to be getting a fair bit of it. That could change, however, if this move becomes a ‘quirky’ at the end of mainstream news bulletins, and AT&T becomes synonymous with marketing incompetence and duplicity, then that old axiom will be put to the test.

Ericsson lands $3.5 billion T-Mobile US 5G contract

Kit vendor Ericsson has announced a major deal win in the form of a $3.5 billion contract to bring TMUS into the 5G era.

Not much detail has been offered up, but it involves Ericsson hardware such as ERS and plenty of involvement from the Digital Services silo, including dynamic orchestration, BSS and Ericsson Cloud Core. The chances are a spot of managed services may well be chucked in for good measure.

“We have recently decided to increase our investments in the US to be closer to our leading customers and better support them with their accelerated 5G deployments; thereby bringing 5G to life for consumers and enterprises across the country,” said Niklas Heuveldop, Head of Ericsson North America. “This agreement marks a major milestone for both companies. We are excited about our partnership with T-Mobile, supporting them to strengthen, expand and speed up the deployment of their nationwide 5G network.”

“While the other guys just make promises, we’re putting our money where our mouth is,” blurted TMUS CTO Neville Ray in the approved corporate style. “With this new Ericsson agreement we’re laying the groundwork for 5G – and with Sprint we can supercharge the 5G revolution.”

That’s the long and short of it, but Ericsson couldn’t resist another plug of its main USP, stressing that T-Mobile’s installed base of ERS radios will be able to run 5G NR technology with just a software upgrade. There is likely to be a bit of a PR arms race over big 5G deal wins among the kit vendors, but we won’t be seeing any of that action from Huawei in the US. Or Australia.

T-Mobile US claims first nationwide NB-IoT plan

Disruptive US operator T-Mobile US reckons it’s turning the domestic IoT market on its head by significantly undercutting its competitors.

This is, of course, what TMUS does – undercut the competition then shove some kind of populist, Robin Hood narrative down everyone’s throat. In this case the company has gone all in on NB-IoT technology and has used it to launch an IoT plan that costs $6 per year, which it says is a tenth of the price of Verizon’s Cat-M-based plans.

“The number of connected devices already outnumbers the worldwide population, and it’s only getting bigger,” said Mike Sievert, COO of T-Mobile. “So, of course, T-Mobile is taking advantage of the latest IoT tech to make it simpler – and massively more affordable – for businesses and cities to connect things. Launching Narrowband IoT is a giant step toward 5G IoT, and naturally, T-Mobile is leading the way!”

Not quite the bombastic level of his boss, but a decent effort. The release goes on to explain how much better NB-IoT is than anything else, not least because it provides a pathway to 5G. TMUS says NB-IoT is also intrinsically more cost-effective than Cat-M.

“Because it can operate in guard bands – the network equivalent of driving down the shoulders on the highway — NB-IoT carries data with greater efficiency and performance and doesn’t compete with other data traffic for network resources,” says the press release.

This headline offering is actually a time-limited price promotion, so the comparative claims need to be taken with a pinch of salt. $6 per year is per device and caps the data at 12 MB before, presumably, further charges kick in. Also, having said how rubbish Cat-M is compared to NB-IoT, TMUS is nonetheless going to launch some Cat-M stuff too. Go figure.

Ericsson augments 5G platform with FDD and Massive MIMO support

Kit vendor Ericsson has revealed the first major additions to the ‘5G platform’ it launched earlier this year, featuring its first FDD radio to support Massive MIMO.

The AIR 3246 is being positioned as a piece of 5G future-proofing thanks to its support of both LTE and technologies expected to form part of 5G NR. Support for FDD is, of course, a key part of this as much of the world’s mobile networking uses that technology. The first lot of products launched with 5G branding was all TDD.

“We now expand the 5G platform that we introduced last February,” said Fredrik Jejdling, Head of Business Area Networks at Ericsson. “The new radio will enable operators to enhance 4G capacity for their subscribers today and be ready for 5G tomorrow, using the same hardware. We also complement the products with a set of network services, simplifying the journey to 5G for our customers.”

“Just as carrier aggregation has been key to adding needed capacity to mobile broadband networks, Massive MIMO has the potential to be the primary capacity enabler in the next upgrade phase, providing a smooth transition towards 5G,” said Stefan Pongratz of telecoms research firm Dell’Oro Group. “With an expected 2021 installed base of 10M LTE macro radios in high traffic and metro areas, service providers are expected to capitalize on the improved spectral efficiency made possible with Massive MIMO.”

Apparently T-Mobile US has included FDD Massive MIMO in the 5G trials it keeps banging on about, using ‘mid-band’ FDD spectrum. It’s not clear precisely what frequencies that refers to but presumably not 600 MHz. TMUS CTO Neville Ray also provided a quote but we’ll spare you the usual chest beating and over-use of exclamation marks. AIR will be commercially available in Q2 2018.