France pushes forward with trials of much-hyped mmWave airwaves

Much has been spoken about the promise of mmWave spectrum bands, and France has announced 11 trials to separate the wheat from the chaff in 26 GHz.

Launched by Agnès Pannier-Runacher, France’s Secretary of State to the Minister for the Economy and Finance, and Sébastien Soriano, Chair of the Electronic Communications and Postal Regulatory Authority (Arcep), the trials will sweep the country, covering a handy number of different usecases, while also bringing in an attractive number of different technology companies.

It’s a comprehensive approach few other countries could match-up to. Interestingly enough, several of the projects are being led by enterprise companies, or organizations that do not specialise in telecommunications. To some, it might not sound like the most sensible approach, though it will ensure business demands are priority number one; the problem with telcos is that they specialise in telecommunications and very little else.

The first project will be led by Universcience, at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, and will focus on public engagement. The La Cité des sciences et de l’industrie 5G trial platform will showcase use cases to the public, through open events, as well as temporary and permanent exhibitions.

Although many in the general public would claim to have heard of 5G, few will actually understand what it is. Education programmes are critical not only to ensure the public is made aware of progress, but also to encourage the next generation into the STEM subjects. For any nation to capitalise on the opportunities presented by the 5G era, the skills gaps will have to be closed.

The second, at the Vélodrome National, will bring together Nokia, Qualcomm, Airbus and France Television to understand how 5G can aid sports media. Low latency and increased bandwidth will be key topics here, as will the integration of artificial intelligence for operational efficiency and augmented reality to improve consumer experience.

The third trial will pair Bordeaux Métropole, the local authority, with Bouygues Telecom and will aim to capitalise on public lighting networks to deploy new infrastructures.

The Port of Le Havre will lead the fourth trial alongside the Le Havre Seine Métropole urban community, Siemens, EDF and Nokia. This initiative will explore 5G applications in a port and industry-related environments, with use-cases such as operating smart grids and recharging electric vehicles.

At the Nokia Paris-Saclay campus, trials will be conducted in a real-world environment, both indoors and outdoors, thanks to Nokia 5G antennae installed at different heights on the rooftops, and in work areas. This project also includes a start-up incubator programme.

The Paris La Défense planning development agency and its partners have submitted another interesting usecase. With 5G CAPEX budget strained already, the Government department will test the feasibility and viability of owning infrastructure and selling turnkey access to operators. This might erode coverage advantages which some telcos might seek, though in assuming ownership (and the cost) of network deployment, the 5G journey might well be a bit smoother in France.

The seventh trial will pair Bouygues Telecom with France’s national rail company, SNCF, at the Lyon Part-Dieu train station. Tests will focus on consumer applications, such as VR and AR, as well as how transportation companies can make best use of data and connectivity to enhance operations. The eighth trial will also be led by Bouygues Telecom, focusing on industrial IOT in the city of Saint-Priest.

Orange will oversee two trials at part of the wider scheme, with the first taking place in Rennes railway station with SNCF and Nokia. Once again, part of this trial will focus on consumer applications, making waiting a ‘more pleasant experience’, with the rest focusing on industrial applications such as remote maintenance using augmented reality.

The second Orange trial will focus on various 5G use cases in heavily trafficked areas, such as enhanced multimedia experiences for people on the move and cloud gaming. This trial is supposed to be generic, and another opportunity for start-ups to pitch and validate their ideas in a live lab.

“The 26GHz spectrum band will allow us to explore new services based on 5G,” said Mari-Noëlle Jégo-Laveissière, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer of Orange. “We are aiming to set-up experimental platforms that will stimulate collaboration on these new use-cases across all economic sectors.”

With the spectrum licenses live from October 7, the trials are now officially up-and-running. Each of the projects must have a live network operational by January 2021 at the latest and have to make it available to third parties to perform their own 5G trials.

This is perhaps one of the most interesting schemes worldwide not only because of the breadth and depth of the usecases being discussed, but the variety of companies which are being brought into the fray. Although the telco industry does constantly discuss the broadening of the ecosystem, realistically the power resides with a small number of very influential vendors.

This is a complaint which does seem to be attracting more headlines at the moment. If you look at the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) being championed by Facebook, the aim is to commoditise the hardware components in the network, while decoupling them from software. Ultimately, the project is driving towards a more open and accessible ecosystem.

France’s initiative here could have the same impact. By designating enterprise companies and local municipalities as leaders in the projects, instead of the same old telcos and vendors, new ideas and new models have the potential to flourish. This looks like a very positive step forward for the French digital economy.

Russia jumps on the mmWave train

While most of Europe is resisting the temptation of mmWave frequencies, Russia has joined the US in charging forward with the high-speed, low-coverage airwaves.

Joining forces with the Department of Information Technology of Moscow, the four Russian MNOs will test out the airwaves at a pilot site in the city centre. From the Kremlin to the Garden Ring, the aim seems to be to prove the commercial viability of the 28 GHz spectrum band.

“5G development agreements were signed with the four largest mobile network operators in Russia,” said Head of the Department of Information Technologies Eduard Lysenko. “They suggest implementation of the pilot projects aimed at the development of the new digital technologies and communication services in Moscow, that aim to open-up fundamentally new opportunities.

“A higher data transfer rate along with broader bandwidth will encourage the development of the Internet of things, autonomous transport, remote medicine and many other cutting-edge technologies that will make the lives of citizens even more comfortable.”

While mmWave has become a hot-topic over in the US, for a number of differentiating reasons, Europe is yet to genuinely be drawn into the field. Italy might have conducted an auction for certain licences in the mmWave bands, while Three in the UK has amassed a small collection of assets, generally it is an unproven stomping ground.

The conundrum which many telcos will have to consider is the necessary sacrifice when making use of mmWave assets.

What is undeniable is these airwaves will ensure faster download speeds and lower-latency connectivity. However, coverage is a significant sacrifice when discussing mmWave. The higher the frequency, the shorter the range.

This is perhaps one of the reasons why some telcos have chosen to prioritise mid-range frequencies. It is a nice blend of increased speeds and acceptable range, but also allows the MNOs to make use of existing network infrastructure. This is the very challenge which some analysts have pointed to in the US with the current 5G connectivity; you have to be stood in very precise spots to ensure you can make use of the 5G euphoria.

For 5G connectivity to be a consistent, reliable and realistic experience with mmWave, telcos will have to undertake extensive network densification strategies. This will not only present a significant cost, but in certain countries, gaining planning permission or acquiring new sites for mobile infrastructure becomes a bigger issue.

In some markets, the US for example, regulations have been drawn-up to remove barriers when deploying new network infrastructure. Some other markets, are still waiting for regulatory reform to enable these densification plans are accessible and affordable.

That said, it does not appear the Department of Information Technology of Moscow or the telcos are worried about local governments or planning permission restricting the progress of mmWave in Russia.

Vodafone pips EE for 5G bragging rights

Vodafone has added 12 new locations to the 5G rollcall, with the connectivity euphoria set to grow across 2019.

Reading between the lines, it seems the launch will happen during mid-summer months, as CTO Scott Petty highlighted there are numerous factors to consider including the availability of handsets, 5G equipment and spectrum assets. That said, Vodafone is now boasting the highest number of 5G locations across the UK, with the additional 12 beating the benchmark of 16 set by EE.

“Our multi-billion-pound network investment and leading position in setting global standards will ensure our customers have the very latest 5G releases and technology,” said Petty. “5G will also usher in a new era where everyone and everything is better connected, whether you are running a hotel in Portsmouth or broadcasting live at MediaCity in Salford.”

Among the originally announced seven locations, Salford is already live, while test sites in Bristol, Cardiff and Liverpool have now been switched on. the equipment has now been installed in Birmingham, Glasgow and London also. Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton are the new locations to be added to the list, while the Newbury HQ will also be going live over 2019.

Of course, for every step forward made, there will always be those ready to complain.

“As 5G starts to be rolled out, it is important that the drive for full nationwide coverage availability is maintained,” said Ernest Doku of uSwitch.com. “5G does not address the current challenges which consumers face who are struggling with service – it largely means bringing faster speeds to those that can enjoy 4G today.

“Providers should be mindful of the potential to increase the country’s digital divide, if there is only a focus on places where mobile internet coverage is already strong.”

Some might question what people are going to do with the lightening fast mobile speeds, seeing as there are few mass market applications to justify the upgrade, though Vodafone has pointed to a newly-opened Incubation Hub in Manchester. Here, the team is working with roughly 40 companies to develop new usecases to validate the experience.

With EE and Vodafone fighting for first place, O2 set to launch its own 5G connectivity over the course of 2019 and Three to follow at some point before the close of play, the 5G race is heating up. Two big questions remain now;

  1. How are the telcos going to sell 5G to the consumer?
  2. And, how much is it actually going to cost?

Vodafone makes flying 5G plug

Vodafone has announced the launch of a 5G trial in Manchester Airport, the first of several travel-related 5G initiatives to run over the coming months.

Vodafone 5G masts are now in place at the airport, one pillar of the 5G rollout across the city. Passengers at Manchester’s Terminal One were given a free Entertainment Pass on streaming service Now TV, with the telco promising download speeds which are 4X faster than what could be achieved on 4G.

“We all love to catch up on our favourite TV shows, play games or finish off some work when travelling,” said Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK. “5G, with its fast speeds and quick response times, will make that quick and easy, even in busy locations. We are proud to be the first provider to bring 5G to an airport and will be adding more major travel hotspots to our 5G network throughout the year.”

“We are delighted to support Vodafone’s 5G trial at Manchester Airport,” said Brad Miller, COO at Manchester Airport. “As we progress with the design and delivery of our £1bn transformation programme, we are constantly exploring how new innovations and technology can be applied to improve the airport experience.”

While the earliest handsets will not be available for a few months, Vodafone has installed a ‘Gigacube’ in the airport, effectively a hotspot, to allow passengers to connect and experience the 5G euphoria. Trials to date have made use of Massive MIMO technology to create a fixed wireless access experience for devices connected to the hotspot.

Although the 5G buzz has been accelerating elsewhere around the world at a much faster pace, the UK telcos are beginning to catch on. This trial will be one of several transport related usecases around the UK for Vodafone, Snow Hill railway station in Birmingham is another, EE has seemingly been targeting the East London hipsters, while Three recently plugged its own fashion-orientated trial.

The UK was always going to be one of the fast followers when it came to 5G, though this is not necessarily a bad position to be in. The US and South Korea might be streaming ahead, though what should be noted is the limited expanse of these initiatives. Another important factor to take into account is the assault on enterprise organizations.

As it stands, there are few usecases built for the consumer 5G ambitions, aside from downloading movies in a fraction of the time. Telcos will struggle to justify the expense of 5G with the consumer alone, but whoever most effectively engages enterprise will reap the promised rewards. For Vodafone, this means IOT, most notably the connected cow which has been paraded about tradeshows over the last couple of months.

We’ve been waiting for years, but the 5G craze is finally starting to hit the UK shores.

What’s the point of Virgin Media’s latest broadband speed claim?

Virgin Media has claimed it can now deliver 8 Gbps broadband, but you have to ask whether there is any point aside from satisfying executive’s egos as the ‘faster than you’ mentality undermines the industry.

To be clear, Virgin Media is not the only telco that destabilises customer confidence and makes claims which are often twisted and contorted by their spin doctors, resulting in the miseducation trends of recent years, but they are the ones doing it today.

In Cambridgeshire, one of the UK’s technology hubs, Virgin Media is trialling what it describes as the ‘UK’s fastest home broadband’ service, with speeds exceeding 8 Gbps. This might sound fantastic and serves as an excellent means to distract onlookers from shortcomings elsewhere in the Virgin Media business, but why?

Why do customers need an 8 Gbps broadband connection? What services and applications could possibly be satisfied by such lightening speeds? In the future there might well be demand for such services, but right now there are arguably other things Virgin Media should be concentrating on.

This is the current issue with the telco industry on the whole, and why the telcos will struggle over the next couple of years; the obsession with ‘bigger, meaner, faster’ is unhealthy and is limiting the ambitions of the telcos themselves.

All of this comes back to the relationship with the customer. Every telco is obsessed with being the fastest around, as it is commonly believed this is what the customer wants, and therefore all messaging is geared around this ambition. Advertisements are flooded with imagery and claims which are unrealistic and more often than not, un-needed.

Instead of focusing on a single test which claims PR plaudits for hitting 8 Gbps in a very specific area of the UK, why not concentrate on delivering a more satisfactory service across the board? You correspondent used to be a Virgin Media customer and can assure you promised speeds were never met. The telco industry’s obsession with wowing the world with headline figures is compounding the misery of mistrust.

If Virgin Media wants to succeed in the broadband world and be more than a quirky challenger with a famous brand ambassador, it should aim to create a wonderful experience for all customers, not chase shallow headlines. This is of course a wonderful example of what is possible in the world of tomorrow, but customers are getting screwed today.

Customers don’t care what the maximum speed of a service is, as long as it is more than what is required for a good experience. If a household requires 50 Mbps to make everything work, does it really matter whether the top speed is 55 Mbps or 5 Gbps. All this obsession does is lure the majority of customers into a false promise of performance and create problems for the future.

Looking at the bigger picture, the telcos with a mobile offering are going to have to move away from this obsession with speed before too long. As it stands, customers who have a stable 4G connection can pretty much do anything they want. There are very few (if any) consumer applications which exceed the capabilities of 4G. And if there are, we suspect there are other factors involved.

This leads us onto one of the biggest questions telcos will face at Mobile World Congress in a couple of weeks’ time; how will they sell 5G to the consumer?

There are of course plenty of reasons to be excited by 5G, but as a consumer why would I be bothered? The applications which will require 100 Mbps or more are not widely available on smartphones, while few connect laptops to the internet outside of wifi. We strongly suspect telcos will market 5G on the grounds of ‘faster is better’, but most will look at the premium and likely decide they have fast enough.

Virgin Media’s 8 Gbps broadband trial is perfectly representative of the industry we work in today. While there is always a need for progress, there are more cogs spinning in the machine than just the speed one.

The unhealthy obsession with ‘bigger, meaner, faster’ is falsely reinforcing the belief that telcos are going a good job, both across the mobile and broadband segments. At some point, someone is going to have to sit down and realise there is more to the world of telecommunications than speed.

Nokia and KDDI demonstrate 4G can be used for connected car

Autonomous vehicles and the connected car have been one of the front-runners for 5G investments, but in demonstrating 4G can be used as low-latency connectivity for vehicles, has Nokia undermined its 5G mission?

This is part of the issue for the telcos when it comes to investments for 5G; the messaging is very messy. It will be an expensive mission to upgrade the world to the fifth generation of mobile networks, therefore sound business cases for ROI are needed, with autonomous vehicles and the connected car near the top of the list. But if this usecase can be delivered over 4G, does this undermine the desperation for the superfast, low latency networks?

5G will of course be better, but we don’t live in a perfect world and sometimes sacrifices have to be made. This isn’t exactly a press release which encourages the telcos to go all in on the new networks.

The pair now claim to have successfully demonstrated the use of LTE in Japan to deliver cost-efficient, low-latency connectivity for vehicles, using the evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service standard in two connected car applications, and demonstrating the potential of cellular technology to enable fully automated driving in the future.

The Nokia evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast service (eMBMS) hotspot solution, allows data to be sent once to many users simultaneously, which in this trial, allowed real-time information to be shared with multiple vehicles to cost-effectively enable awareness and road safety. In this example, Vehicle-to-network-to-vehicle (V2N2V) and Network Real-Time Kinematic (network RTK), were the applications demonstrated.

“We are pleased to work with Nokia to demonstrate our leadership in the delivery of mobile networks for IoT and connected car communications,” said Munefumi Tsurusawa, GM for Connected Vehicle Technology Department, Technical Planning Division at KDDI Corporation. “This is an important trial showing how the automotive industry can leverage cellular technology to enhance safety of connect vehicles on the roads.”

“Nokia has a comprehensive solution package for V2X based on its MEC platform and eMBMS hotspot solution aiming to cost-effectively accelerate the adoption of vehicle-to-everything communication,” said Uwe Puetzschler, Head of Car2X at Nokia. “While manual intervention was used in the proof-of-concept trials, a clear evolution path to 5G will enable operators such as KDDI to support the widespread adoption of automated vehicles.”

It is no secret 4G and 5G networks will live alongside each other in harmony for at least the first few years of deployment, however you have to wonder whether Nokia has shot itself in the foot here. Huawei took the 4G world by storm, with Ericsson and Nokia both waiting on the 5G revolution to recoup lost fortunes, it is certainly a brave move to send out press releases which potentially undermine one of the leading 5G usecases.

AT&T slams DoJ antitrust claim in Time Warner battle

The trial hasn’t even begun yet and the lawyers are already at each other throats as AT&T files a pre-trial briefing attacking the basis of the Department of Justice case.

There had been rumours over the last couple of weeks that the telco would use President Trump’s perceived bias against the $85 billion Time Warner acquisition as a defence against the DoJ, but after a quick ‘Control+F’ none of ‘Trump’, ‘President’ or ‘White House’ appear in the document, aside from a footnote referring to Reed Hastings’ President title at Netflix. Instead, the telco has taken the more sensible route of attacking the credibility of foundations at the base of the DoJ objections.

The filing reads:

“There is no fact-based evidence that this merger will harm competition. Nothing will be withheld from competitors; consumer prices will not go up. To the contrary, the government now concedes it would not be profitable for the new company to withhold its television networks from pay-TV distributors and that the new company’s prices to its own television customers will go down. As a result, the government’s suit to block this merger is not only baseless in fact, but it is affirmatively contrary to consumer welfare, making it difficult for the government even to allege a viable antitrust claim, much less prove one.”

The focus of this attack is of course at the central pillar of the case against the acquisition; AT&T would not play nice with the rest of the industry. The theory is that AT&T is acquiring some pretty notable titles through the deal, some of which are sold to distributors, some of whom would be considered AT&T competitors. Withholding this content would be considered poor form, though government experts have since rubbished this claim.

The idea of collaborative competition is one which has been gaining some traction in recent months, and if the telcos are going to make any money out of buying organizations like Time Warner they are going to have to do business with competitors. This point was raised by the government economic expert, and emphasised by the AT&T lawyers. The argument no longer stands firm as the government case has been undermined by one of its own.

“Now, what remains of the government’s case, ‘like a Persian cat with its fur shaved, is alarmingly pale and thin’,” the filing reads slightly obnoxiously.

What is slightly more believable is that instead of withholding content from competitors it would use the position to hold competitors to ransom, demanding more than what would be considered fair price. Of course, AT&T has pointed to the fact that Time Warner would not be able to tolerate such business practises and the acquisition is more about cost-synergies. We find it tough to believe AT&T would not use any acquired asset to its advantage, but only time will tell as to whether this is a good enough reason to block the deal.

Perhaps the most interesting claim from AT&T however is that should the government block the deal it would be worse for the consumer; the Department of Justice is the one which is encouraging an anticompetitive environment.

If the argument is that streamlining the industry is would decrease the choice for the consumer, and therefore decrease competition, this transaction would of course be bad. However, AT&T argues that by streamlining the industry and creating a new entertainment beast, competitors would be forced to come up with new initiatives (perhaps lower pricing or additional bundles), therefore it would be in the consumers interest. Just when we were thinking AT&T were doing this to make more money, it turns out they are just trying to make things better for the consumer, who knew.

Such posturing and claims are hardly unusual in the build up to a trial, but whether it has any impact remains to be seen. You would hope the Department of Justice can come up with a better argument than it has at the moment, as it seem to be in a very strong position as it stands.

Vodafone and Huawei nuance ‘world first’ claim once again

The term ‘world first’ has been stretched pretty thin over the last couple of days and patience is bound to be pushed when we arrive at Mobile World Congress, but Vodafone and Huawei have teamed up to have a crack.

In the test, a dual connectivity, starting on 4G and finishing on 5G, live data call was completed using a test device, which the pair claim is the first demonstration of all end-to-end 5G elements. A 5G NR end-to-end test network was built to undertake the trial and used 3.7GHz spectrum. When you combine all these factors, the sweet spot of never been done before is found. And there you have it, nuance discovered and ‘world first’ claim justified.

“This is a significant milestone for Vodafone towards the introduction of 5G,” said Santiago Tenorio, Vodafone’s Group Head of Networks Strategy and Architecture. “The credit for this must go to the engineers in Huawei and Vodafone who have worked tirelessly since December. This successful test will enable us to move forward with further trials of 5G across Europe during 2018.”

“Huawei is fully committed to the further development of this end-to-end 5G network technology,” said Yang Chaobin, President of Huawei’s 5G product line. “This test result shows the maturity of 5G based on the 3GPP standard. We are ready to continue our collaboration with Vodafone and enter commercial trials.”

The call will be demonstrated throughout Mobile World Congress on the Vodafone stand with engineers wearing different coloured t-shirts each time so a new world first can be claimed every call.

Huawei claims first North American live FWA trial with Telus

Barred from the US, Chinese networking giant Huawei pointedly went north of the border to show everyone how it thinks fixed wireless access should be done.

Huawei is trying to coin the term ‘Wireless to the Home’ to describe its FWA, although its chosen abbreviation of WTTx seems deliberately designed to keep its options open. Either way FWA is generally expected to be one of the first commercial manifestations of 5G and Huawei isn’t about to let Ericsson and Nokia have things all their own way just because they’re allowed into the US and it isn’t.

This was ‘an end-to-end user trial for WTTx 5G service using a specially-designed 5G CPE (Customer Premise Equipment) unit,’ according to the release. It was conducted in partnership with Telus in Vancouver, specifically in a part of Vancouver that has been designated a ‘5G living lab’, which seems to consist of Telus employees.

“This trial represents continued progress toward the launch of 5G, as we start to replicate both the in-home experience and network footprint we will see when 5G becomes commercially available in the near future,” said Ibrahim Gedeon, CTO at Telus. “Wireless 5G services will generate tremendous benefits for consumers, operators, governments and more through the use of advanced IoT devices, big data applications, smart city systems and other technologies of the future.”

“Millimetre Wave technology will be an important tool in ensuring widespread deployment of 5G technology in Canada,” said Dr. Wen Tong, Huawei Fellow, and CTO of Huawei Wireless. “Huawei’s 5G solutions and terminals will enable 5G coverage over a neighbourhood or small community cost effectively, while providing more convenient and high-speed home broadband Internet access services. This friendly user trial will drive the global 3GPP unified 5G standard and build a solid foundation for the 5G early commercialization.”

This effort apparently builds on some trials the two companies did in the middle of last year. It used the 28 GHz spectrum band, and a massive 800 MHz of it, as well as groovy new technologies such as Massive MIMO, F-OFDM, and Polar Code. Huawei is clearly unhappy at its treatment by the US and it wouldn’t be surprising to see it up its investment in Canada to make a point.