When Fixed Wireless Access makes sense

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece William Webb, telecoms industry consultant, explores the scenarios in which Fixed Wireless Access is most useful.

Getting copper, cable or fibre to homes and offices is tough. Typically, it requires digging up roads, paths and gardens, using expensive labour, taking months or years and overcoming multiple bureaucratic hurdles. It gets ever-harder as the better opportunities are addressed first, leaving areas where houses are further apart and the willingness to pay for high-speed broadband less clear.

With a take-up rate of 1/3rd and 10m home spacing, costs of providing fibre can easily be £2,000 per home connected. And with wholesale broadband prices at around £15/month that means a payback of over 11 years – a long time for investments that can easily run into billions. In suburban areas with greater home spacing and lower take-up, payback can extend towards 20 years.

Those difficulties have led many, over the last 30 years, to consider wireless as a way around the need to dig. Fixed wireless access (FWA) has been tried around the world with bespoke technologies, with WiMax, with cellular solutions and now with variants of 5G. To date, none have been particularly successful and wireless provides only a tiny fraction of the home broadband connections.

FWA has failed in the past because the economics were never as good as hoped. Often the range of the base station was less than expected and many homes within range were unable to get an adequate signal due to local blockage resulting in too few homes per base station. Self-installation of the customer premise equipment (CPE) rarely worked, leading to relatively expensive installation costs. And often the existing competition upped their game, providing higher data rates and lower prices such that the wireless solution became unattractive. All of these factors remain true, suggesting serious questions need to be asked about any FWA proposals.

The current US deployments by AT&T and Verizon look likely to fall into many of these traps. Base stations and masts are expensive so the operators try to push the range to the limit. This results in many homes not being able to get a good signal, and weaker signal conditions at some pulling down the overall cell capacity. Getting fibre to the masts is expensive and if that much fibre is being laid why not just extend it to the homes anyway? The amount of spectrum that they have is also limiting. While much greater than at cellular frequencies, it is insufficient to allow for many homes in a cell to have simultaneous Gbit connectivity and have some spectrum spare for wireless backhaul or repeaters. And the competition in the US is intense with most homes already being served by copper, cable and in some cases fibre.

But despite all that history and the pessimism, there may be a role for FWA. It could succeed in areas where:

  • Current broadband speeds are below around 20-40Mbits/s, such that for some homes the broadband speed becomes a limiting factor.
  • Fibre is expensive to deploy, perhaps because homes are farther apart, access rights are limited, or likely take-up rate for the service is low.

FWA has been helped by the availability of 60GHz spectrum. This brings three big advantages over other mmWave or FWA spectrum:

  1. The spectrum is unlicensed so there are no costs of spectrum acquisition, and deployment can start immediately.
  2. There is a lot of spectrum – between 7GHz and 14GHz in many countries. This allows for relatively profligate usage to homes and for wireless backhaul, keeping costs much lower.
  3. There is low-cost equipment, building on the back of chipsets developed for WiGig and on a growing global marketplace generating economies of scale.

But mmWave frequencies bring challenges of low range and the need for line-of-sight connections if Gbit rates are to be delivered. This inevitably means a lot of base stations. So the economics only work if the overall base station cost can be kept low. This requires:

  • Using existing structures for masts – lampposts are ideal as they also have power available.
  • Using wireless backhaul from the lampposts to avoid the need to run fibre down the streets anyway.
  • Using low cost fibre connectivity to a cluster of lampposts ideally by accessing existing ducts, removing the need to dig.
  • Using low-cost base stations (often called “access points” or APs) designed and built more like Wi-Fi routers than cellular base stations.

These conditions all need to be met – otherwise the economics of broadly one base station per eight homes will just not work. Barriers can include limited access to lampposts or excessive rent charging from local authorities. Initial experience suggests that there are many towns, villages and outer suburban areas where FWA can be made to work. Where it does, it not only lowers the through-life cost by 50% or more, it is much faster – deployment can happen in weeks rather than the months or years needed to bury fibre. That is good news for those awaiting broadband, for politicians keen to move up the broadband league, and not least for investors who start to see revenues almost immediately.

In a country like the UK, FWA could easily access 20% of the home broadband market. It will not succeed in urban areas where fibre is already deployed, or where the economics of fibre work. Gbit FWA will not work in rural areas where the range needed is too great (although other, lower speed solutions can be helpful here). But in between there are many homes and businesses who might otherwise have to wait a decade for fibre. It could be deployed by a new dedicated FWA operator or as part of a toolkit of solutions from fibre broadband players. It could be used as a way to provide service to areas before eventual fibre deployment, or as a long-term solution.

There is one other barrier to its success. Many have become fixated on “full fibre”. This is a technology obsession – what is needed is high speed broadband to the home not glass buried under the front driveway. This view has arisen because of the assumption that only fibre can provide the near-infinite bandwidths assumed to be needed in the future. But this is false because (1) there is little evidence of rapid bandwidth demand growth and (2) wireless can also provide extremely high bandwidths using ever-higher frequencies. If wireless can deliver what it needed more quickly and cheaply then why not use it? But for many, fibre has become something of a religion, and it is hard to shake those kind of beliefs.

 

William Webb smallProfessor William Webb is CEO of the Weightless SIG, the standards body developing a new global M2M technology. He is also Director at Webb Search, an independent consultancy, where he acts as a consultant for companies including Tutela. Previously, he was a Director at UK regulator, Ofcom.

Samsung and Xiaomi benefit from Huawei misery

US aggression towards Huawei seems to be paying-off as smartphone shipments in Europe swing away from the Chinese vendor, towards Samsung and Xiaomi.

Although Huawei is still a profitable and growing company, some might fear this growth is too concentrated on the Chinese market thanks to US attempts to damage credibility internationally. According to Canalys estimates, this could be the case, with European smartphone purchases shifting away from the previously surging Huawei brand and towards rivals Samsung and Xiaomi.

“For years, a focus on operating profit has stifled its product strategy,” said Analyst Ben Stanton. “But this year, the shackles are off, and winning back market share is its clear priority. But its success is not solely due to product strategy.

“Samsung has been quick to capitalize on Huawei’s US Entity List problems, working behind the scenes to position itself as a stable alternative in conversations with important retailers and operators.

“A lack of brand loyalty among users of low-end and mid-range Android smartphones, which has blighted Samsung for so long, has become the catalyst for its best performance in years. Europe keeps its reputation as one of the most brand-volatile smartphone markets in the world, rife with danger, but also opportunity.”

As you can see from the table below, the instability of the European market is living up to its reputation.

Brand Q2 2019 Shipments (millions) Q2 2019 market share Annual change
Samsung 18.3 40.6% +20%
Huawei 8.5 18.8% -16%
Apple 6.4 14.1% -17%
Xiaomi 4.3 9.6% +48%
HMD 1.2 2.7% -18%
Others 6.4 7.7% -17%
Total 45.1

Looking at the shift, there is clearly homage being paid to the troubles of the Chinese vendor.

Last month, Huawei unveiled its financial results for the first six months of 2019 with a 23% year-on-year increase. It did appear many of the gains, including in the fast-growing consumer business unit, were in its domestic Chinese market and this research from Canalys backs-up the assumption, at least for smartphones.

Perhaps this also demonstrates the smartphone has become merely a vessel for bigger and better things. With marginal differentiation between flagship devices nowadays, Huawei made gains with products which met consumer expectations but undercut rivals on price. This pricing strategy was paired with an aggressive above-the-line advertising campaign through football sponsorship and traditional advertising to build brand credibility.

However, the White House endorsed propaganda campaign seems to be hitting home. The only difference between now and 2018 is the dents to Huawei’s credibility. It appears European consumers are much more Android-loyal than they are to the smartphone brand.

The beneficiaries of this fall from favour has been Samsung and Xiaomi. Canalys claims three of the top five selling devices in the European market were Samsung, reasserting its dominance, though Xiaomi has continued its impressive rise through the ranks. This might be down to two reasons.

Firstly, Xiaomi’s reputation as a more price-aware brand is clearly catching-on. The Chinese challenger has been making promising gains in some of the developing markets, India is a prime example, though it has managed to position itself as a cheap but reliable alternative for cash-conscious consumers in the European market also. A 48% year-on-year gain is impressive in anyone’s eyes.

Secondly, telcos and distributors might be pushing Xiaomi and alternative Android devices more heavily through advertising campaigns. The more Android fanboys who are turned-off by Huawei, the more prominent Samsung becomes. The more prominent Samsung becomes, the greater its weight during negotiations with channel partners. A market dominant smartphone brand is not good for any of the telcos or the distributors.

The Apple decline is certainly an interesting one also. This is traditionally a quiet quarter for the iLeader, with flagship devices usually launched in September, though a 17% decline is a worrying sign for executives. With the fall in smartphone shipments significantly below the global total decline, either the iCultists are becoming much more price-sensitive, or they are being tempted by Android rivals. Neither is good news.

The global smartphone market is in decline currently, which is perhaps down to two factors more than anything else. Firstly, the current 5G hype might have consumers delaying the purchase of a new device, and secondly, the high-prices of largely uninspiring smartphones might be encouraging longer replacement cycles.

There will of course be numerous other factors to consider, but one thing is clear, some brands are negotiating the baron times much more successfully than others.

Which pans UK broadband leaders for woeful service

Consumer publication Which has slammed the UK broadband scene, pointing towards the unacceptable and consistently poor performance of market share leaders for customer service and performance.

According to its latest broadband satisfaction survey, BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media supply broadband services to almost nine in ten of UK broadband customers, but these are the worst performers when it comes to meeting customer expectations. The satisfaction score has been built on whether customers are satisfied with their current service, and whether they would recommend it to anyone else.

The satisfaction score for TalkTalk and Sky stood at 50%, while BT was only marginally better at 51% and Virgin Media collected 54%. Year after year the heavy-hitters of the broadband segment have shown customer satisfaction is a low priority, with these results just emphasising the point.

At the top of the list, Zen Internet collected the plaudits while Utility Warehouse sat in second place. The challenger brands clearly recognise there is an opportunity to secure customers through customer service and experience, as opposed to competing in the dangerous race to the bottom or over-promising on speeds.

“It’s outrageous that the biggest providers are still letting their customers down with shoddy broadband, especially when we know that longstanding customers are the most likely to be overpaying,” said Natalie Hitchins, Head of Home Products and Services at Which.

“Anyone who is unhappy with their current provider should take back control and switch to a better deal – you could get better service and save hundreds of pounds a year.”

This is perhaps what is most frustrating about the status quo. With the telco industry geared towards aggressive customer acquisition as opposed to building a successful business through retention, profits must come from somewhere. Customers are lured into the traps with the promise of under-cutting current providers on price, but it is the loyal customers who are getting punished with price hikes.

Looking at performance, 27% of TalkTalk customers said they experienced slow speeds, below the telco’s promise, while this number was 22% for Sky customers and 20% for BT. 20% of BT customers also said they experienced network drop-offs, while 17% of Virgin Media customers said they had been left without a connection for hours or days at a time.

While the tendency to favour new over existing customers is unlikely to change at any point in the future, Ofcom is currently working on new rules which will force telcos to be more communicative with their customers when it comes to contract expiration and is also considering pricing practises. Both of these factors could have a big impact on the business with many customers already stating they will switch providers.

The other factor to consider is the emergence of alt-nets around the country. In days gone, customers dissatisfied with a poor performing provider would only have the option of other poor performing telcos, though there is increased competition emerging. The likes of Vodafone, making use of CityFibre’s fibre networks, Hyperoptic and Gigaclear are growing quickly, providing alternatives with satisfied customers.

“Unfortunately, the UK broadband industry is notorious for awful customer service, mid-contract price hikes, and poor value for money,” said Richard Tang, founder of Zen Internet. “Too many providers in this industry put short-term profit ahead of the customer, but at Zen we continually work to ensure that consumer happiness comes first and to reward the loyalty of our existing customers.”

The market leaders are seemingly happy in their current position. Many will state customer service is a critical aspect of their business, but year after year customers are dissatisfied. These numbers suggest no-where near enough is being done to evolve the profit-centric organisations or there is a level of incompetence present when devising new strategies.

Germany outlines its 5G security requirements

Short and to the point, did we expect anything from the German 5G security requirements other than meet our standards and you can operate in our country?

“We regularly adapt the applicable security requirements to the current security situation and the state of the art,” said Jochen Homann, President of Bundesnetzagentur. “The security requirements apply to all network operators and service providers and they are technology-neutral, covering all networks, not just individual standards such as 5G.”

What is worth noting is that while 5G and international security concerns might be the catalyst to these requirements, they will be applied across all networks and communications infrastructure moving forward, as well as all vendors.

The announcement from Bundesnetzagentur, the German regulator, will come as a blow to the aggressive geo-political ambitions of the US. It seems the anti-Huawei propaganda is running low on fuel, and such is the weight of Germany’s influence across Europe, Chinese executives might be letting out a sigh of relief.

Although the new safety requirements are only a concept for the moment, Bundesnetzagentur plans to release a draft of the rules for feedback over the next couple of weeks.

The requirements are quite broad-ranging, though there are enough clauses to ensure Germany is the master of its own fate. For example, critical components can only be used in communications infrastructure should there be certification recognized by the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). Employees who install or manage this equipment will also have to be certified by German authorities.

There does also seem to be a move towards the UK’s approach to monitoring and managing risk. As part of the new requirements, network traffic must be regularly and continuously monitored for abnormalities, while safety-relevant network and system components must undergo regular and continuous safety checks. This is a more forensic approach to network management, which allows for companies like Huawei to operate in the country, but the risk is managed.

Another interesting aspect to be included in the new rules addresses ‘monocultures’. Although this is a term which is usually used in agriculture, Bundesnetzagentur is essentially ensuring there is depth in the supply chain. Redundancy must be built into the networks through using multiple vendors for different segments and aspects of operations.

While this might create more work for telcos, vendors and regulators, we feel this is a more proportionate response to the risk of nefarious external parties. Simply banning one company, or companies from a single country, will not work, such are the complexities of the digital ecosystem. Vulnerabilities are everywhere, and the most pragmatic approach should be to understand 100% secure will never exist. Its all about managing the risk most appropriately, and Germany seem to be taking a very sensible approach.

In the UK, the industry is eagerly awaiting the results of the Government’s supply chain review, which will potentially dictate how telcos interact with the vendor ecosystem. Rumours have emerged suggesting no single-vendor can own more than 50% of a certain area, but we hope the result is somewhat similar to the German approach here. This seems to be the attitude of Vodafone also.

Speaking at a briefing in London, Vodafone UK CTO Scott Petty highlighted the team has been working with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to identify the levels of risk associated with each segment of the network (Radio, Transmission, Core), and building a diverse supply chain to mitigate risk where appropriate.

This approach has led to Chinese companies being excluded from certain areas, though on the radio side where right has been deemed to be very low, Huawei supplies 32% of equipment. This approach allows best-in-breed kit to be considered but considering the sheer volume of cell towers around the UK, even if some equipment is compromised, the impact would be incredibly minor. Resilience has been built in through volume, data encryption and security gateways.

Interestingly enough, Germany is taking another very sensible approach to managing risk; the assumption that everyone is nefarious. All components and equipment will have to be certified, not just those products from countries which are deemed underhanded by paranoid opinion. Every vendor’s supply chain is becoming increasingly complex, suggesting vulnerabilities could appear anywhere. This impartial approach to suspicion will certainly place Germany is a sound position.

A considered approach to security

While certain countries have taken a knee-jerk reaction to security requirements, pinning the blame of an insecure digital ecosystem on one country or a very limited number of countries, Germany is taking a much more considered approach.

Having such a laser-like focus on security, scrutinising single elements of the ecosystem is incredibly dangerous. Cyber-criminals are incredibly intelligent, managing sophisticated networks through the dark web. If the risk of exposure becomes too high through a single route, another will be sought. Taking a blanked approach to security as Germany is doing minimises risk throughout the supply chain.

We suspect the Chinese government is not completely innocent in light of all the accusations, but we also believe they are not alone. Many of the fingers are being pointed in one direction, but Germany is not falling into that trap.

Vodafone claims first live 5G network connection to a smartphone

Ahead of MWC 2019 Vodafone has been conducting live trials of commercial smartphone networks in Barcelona and Madrid.

It reckons it’s the first in the world to do this and is timing this claim to perfection as that will give it something significant to bang on about at the show. The four week trials have been conducted with 5G phones that will be launched at some stage this year, maybe even next week. Vodafone also said it will be launching 5G in a bunch of European cities later this year.

“Vodafone’s networks are increasingly ready for 5G, which will enable us to deliver significant benefits over time for consumers, businesses and society,” reiterated Johan Wibergh, Chief Technology Officer of Vodafone Group. “Our focus now is on optimising the customer experience before we launch 5G in some European cities later this year.”

As if to illustrate how difficult it’s going to be for operators to persuade all but the most rabid early-adopters to pay a premium for 5G, Vodafone chose to illustrate how great this first live 5G connection was by noting it was able to make “a seamless 4K video call” over it. At last, the dark days of unreliable 4K video calls are behind us – take our money, please!

The connection used NSA 5G, which was standardised in 3GPP Release 15. Vodafone is claiming download speeds of 1.5 Gbps and will back up that claim by driving a car around Barcelona and continually shouting “one point five gig” out of it or something, so that should be a bit of fun.

Docomo builds 5G system to stream 8K stereoscopic VR

NTT Docomo has built a 5G-ready system which can stream 8K stereoscopic VR, opening a wide range of possibilities.

While most of us are just getting to grips with 4K, technology is already moving on. 8K is becoming the next big thing (quite literally, in the case of some displays!)

Docomo’s system can stream high-resolution panoramic VR content from any location over 5G.

The solution consists of an 8K 3D camera with 360-degree video recording abilities, a Yamaha-developed spherical 3D microphone with 64 channels of audio recording, several computers, and a 5G base station.

In order to deal with the processing and bandwidth demands, the carrier is using a new 8K video encoder with a 60 FPS output to limit nausea.

Several computers turn the 3D camera’s nine 4K video streams into two 360-degree 8K 3D videos in real-time. Another machine converts a 3D audio mic’s 64 sound channels into 36 channels of 3D audio. This is all then compressed for streaming over 5G.

Here’s how the whole system looks:

0204-00-1-smt

VR is yet to gain much traction. Incoming technologies, such as 5G and VR, appear set to unlock the lofty promises made about it.

Virtual reality has been held back in a couple of key regards. The first is that hardware was expensive and often required a high-end PC.

The next is they were cumbersome and not agile enough for our mobile world. Few people want to be attached by wires to their computer or have to be within the range of a strong WiFi signal.

Devices like the Oculus Quest are solving the first problem, while 5G is solving the latter.

5G promises increased speeds and reliability in addition to low latency. This means it’s opening up new possibilities when it comes to applications like streaming live events.

Last week, around 10 million Fortnite players watched a live in-game concert from the artist Marshmello. It was described as “an exciting glimpse of the future” by The Verge, and quite rightly.

While the Fortnite/Marshmello concert was not in VR, it could one day be. The spectacle was proof of the appetite for such events. Systems like Docomo’s bring us one step closer to making them a reality.

(Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash)

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this? Attend the IoT Tech Expo World Series events with upcoming shows in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.

BT’s bids farewell to Gav on positive note

BT might have reported a slight fall in earnings, but beating market expectations will have helped departing CEO Gavin Patterson repair his reputation a bit.

Gavin Patterson’s reign as chief of BT has been somewhat of a chequered tapestry. A bold and suspect venture into the competitive world of content was interspersed with scandals and bad news, though as he hands the keys over to new CEO Philip Jansen, the company is looking in a slightly better position. Whether the former monopoly can re-capture the fortunes of old remains to be seen, but at least the raw materials are there.

“We have continued to deliver consistently against our strategic objectives in a tough market, resulting in another sound quarter of operational and financial performance,” said Patterson.

Total revenues for the nine months to December 31 stood at £17.5 billion, a 1% decline year-on-year, while profit was up 20% to $2 billion. The final quarter saw profits of $1.88 billion, £60 million above the consensus estimate compiled by BT. Revenues for the final quarter also exceeded expectations at £5.98 million, although this was a year-on-year decline. The situation could be better, but in beating expectations Patterson is signing off on a positive.

“Early signs of Patterson’s restructuring strategy is bearing fruits,” said independent telco and tech analyst Paolo Pescatore. “The incoming CEO will still need to make some tough decisions. First and foremost, whether the current strategy should be tweaked.”

Over the last couple of months BT has had to make some tough and unpleasant calls, the biggest of which was a re-structuring process which would cut 13,000 jobs. While it is never pleasant to talk about redundancies, it is a harsh reality in the telco world which needs to be tackled head on. Many of the telcos are companies which are not built to tackle the demands of the digital economy; with new pastures to be farmed, new skills are needed and that often means new people.

This will come as little comfort to some, but BT appears to be a business which is ready to move back into prominence. It just has to make use of the promising position it has created (or inherited) and translate potential into cash.

When you actually look at the assets which it has at its disposal, you have to wonder how BT managed to get itself into such a precarious position. An MNO which sits in second in the market share rankings, but it regularly named as the best performing network. 5G is also on the horizon and BT is leading the race in the UK to hit the market first. It owns the national broadband infrastructure which fuels many subscriptions around the UK. The content offering, which has admittedly been managed badly, is prominent on the landscape. Wifi is transforming into a key pillar. Not to mention the enterprise business unit, and Global Services which people would rather not talk about.

The ingredients are there, but shareholders will now be hoping Jansen is a better chef than Patterson turned out to be.

“I am handing over the business with good momentum behind its ongoing transformation programme and wish my colleagues all the best for the future,” said Patterson.

The big question is how BT moves forward with this momentum, and the consumer business will be all important.

As the only unit which has registered growth over the first nine months, enterprise took a hit on landline calls while Openreach suffered at the hands of regulatory change, a lot of hope will be pinned onto Consumer CEO Marc Allera and his disciples. With the assets mentioned above, BT certainly does have the potential to offer a considerable convergence play, based on the foundations of connectivity not bells and whistles.

Over the course of 2018, BT’s CTIO Howard Watson was sent on a roadshow to give various conference audiences the same presentation. The message was relatively simple; consumers want the best connectivity experience, and BT is going to deliver it. Content might be an add-on for value, but the core mission for BT will now be enabling all the wonderful promises of the digital economy.

“For the consumer, it’s not about their wifi, or their mobile connection, or their fixed broadband, or even their landline,” Watson said at Broadband World Forum in October. “It’s about connectivity as a whole.”
Stepping away from the shiny distractions, such as Premier League football, which were arguably the cornerstone of Patterson’s demise is critical. Around the world, the most successful telcos are the ones which concentrated on delivering an incredibly positive connectivity experience and then moved onto the bells and whistles. Orange has done this very effectively across Europe, while T-Mobile US is still focusing on the basics despite everyone wondering when it will launch a TV challenger service. This is where Jansen could play an influential role.

Despite being linked with the BT job in years gone, Jansen was not a prominent feature in the prediction articles to replace Patterson. But, he does have experience which might prove very useful.

Prior to BT, Jansen was CEO of Worldpay since 2013 and oversaw a $10.4 billion merger with rival e-commerce platform Vantiv. This was a big and complicated deal, which has arguably allowed Worldpay to flourish since completion. Perhaps this is what BT genuinely needs, as we are seemingly still waiting for the benefits of the EE acquisition to hit home. BT doesn’t want a flashy marketer in charge right now, but someone who will connect the boring dots and make two monster businesses integrate.

Rivals will be casting a cautious eye over at BT following these results. Patterson is leaving on a positive and fresh leadership could provide the impetus to dominate the UK. The raw materials are there for Jansen to prove he can be an empire-builder.

DT takes German Gov to court over 5G auction

Deutsche Telekom has joined its main competitors in court, filing its own lawsuit against the German government over the 5G auction pre-conditions.

According to German newspaper Die Welt (in German), DT has found enough wrong with the pre-conditions set out ahead of the 5G auction that it will be taking the government to court. Some might suggest this is simply a market incumbent throwing a temper tantrum, but Telefonica and Vodafone already beat DT to the punch.

While there have been several points of contention surrounding the auction, which will take place over the next couple of months, the primary concern is focused on new players in the market. You can see what the government is trying to do, there is an emphasis on creating more choice for the consumer as well as correcting the digital divide, but it is going about it in a horrible way.

Looking at the conditions placed on those bidding for the valuable 5G spectrum, minimum data rates of 100 Mbps will have to be available by the end of 2022 in 98% of households in each state as well as along all major transport paths. Each of the telcos must also install 1000 5G base stations and 500 other base stations, and by 2024, the data coverage must be extended to seaports, main waterways and other minor roads.

However, DT’s main issue is focused on the lessened requirements placed on new market entrants; these companies will not have the same conditions placed on their networks, allowing them to focus on the more commercially attractive and denser urban environments. For DT, the economics simply do not add up and it feels it is being punished for having a successful business.

You do have to have a bit of sympathy for DT and other established players. Not only do they have stricter conditions and requirements placed on them, but in having to open up their networks to those who do not have infrastructure, they are being forced to help new players steal their customers. The German government’s intentions might have been good, but this is a shoddy set up.

Over the course of the last couple of months these rules have been criticised widely. Telefonica and Vodafone have already taken the government to court and the GSMA have repeatedly suggested such rules would slow the rollout of 5G across Germany, a country which already struggles with nationwide 4G.

Unless the government takes another look at the rules, it’s hard to see how the network operators will be incentivised to accelerate Germany’s connectivity landscape. Telcos are generally a bit grumpy and miserly with CAPEX but forcing unpopular rules on them will certainly not help matters. Most people agree a successful industry is one where the telcos and regulators collaborate; Germany clearly doesn’t agree with that sentiment.

Google bids adieu to Allo

Google has finally called it a day on Allo, its attempt to compete with WhatsApp, to focus on its Messages product.

The concept of Allo was an interesting one to say the least, but it never took off. Launched back in September 2016, Allo made use of the artificial intelligence capabilities in Google. The platform included a number of features geared around making the app smarter which, if used excessively enough, meant you wouldn’t even have to message someone yourself. The dream was to take the unnecessary you out of the conversation.

And it didn’t work out well for Google.

Investments in the platform were frozen earlier this year, with many of the features being migrated across to the Messages platform. This is a product area which will get more attention at the expense of Allo, Google’s version of 15 minutes of fame.

“Thanks to partnerships with over 40 carriers and device makers, over 175 million of you are now using Messages, our messaging app for Android phones, every month,” Google said on its blog. “In parallel, we built Google Allo, a smart messaging app, to help you get more done in your chats and express yourself more easily.

“Earlier this year we paused investment in Allo and brought some of its most-loved features – like Smart Reply, GIFs and desktop support – into Messages. Given Messages’ continued momentum, we’ve decided to stop supporting Allo to focus on Messages.”

Users can export any contacts and conversations to the Messages platform, but in March 2019, Allo will say goodbye.

As far as we can see Allo failed for one reason. Google tried to steal market share in the messaging space by over-engineering the idea. For a messaging platform to be successful, it doesn’t have to be overly complicated, it just has to work. WhatsApp is not complicated, but it works and has scale. Google tried to be Google, and it didn’t work.

The concept of simplicity winning over an industry should be a very familiar one for Google, as it is what the entire enterprise is built on. The Google search engine might be an impressive feat of engineering behind the scenes, but presented to the user it is a simple, functional and accurate search engine. Google has set its place in the search world with a simple product and no-one else can compete.

We wouldn’t want Google to stop experimenting with weird and wonderful ideas, some great products have emerged while the ludicrous Loon is starting to gather pace, but you have to take the rough with the smooth when you let your imagination run wild. This is one example of Google having better ideas.

The diversification dilemma; making money and meeting expectations, can it be done?

Diversification is an accepted truth in the telco industry nowadays, but are the telcos resourceful and adaptable enough to chase after new revenues while also achieving their connectivity responsibilities?

This was one of the questions facing the panel during the opening session of The Great Telco Debate 2018; should the telcos confine themselves to connectivity or should the aim be to chase new revenues? Of course, the answer to this question is relatively simple, diversifying to build alternative revenues streams is an absolute must, but how this is done and whether the telcos have the capabilities to do so is a bit more of a murky area.

First of all, lets address the overarching question, which has to a degree become redundant nowadays. With customers expecting more in terms of speed and capacity, but not necessarily willing to pay for the upgrades, diversification is a necessity. The equation is not balanced anymore and the connectivity business model is failing. Analyst Chris Lewis pointed out that while the telco industry is worth in excess of $1.6 trillion, it isn’t actually growing.

Those who confine themselves to connectivity revenues will only find their own expenses going north, while ARPU remains relatively stable, or increasing ever so slightly. In the developed markets, subscription growth has more or less hit a glass ceiling, therefore telcos are spending billions on swapping customers between themselves. This is an industry which is heading towards bankruptcy unless new ideas are sought, and, more importantly, put into practise.

However, there is a problem with diversification; the telcos are not doing the basics properly. When you look at broadband and mobile coverage, or average download speeds, the telcos fundamental mission has not been completed. Coupled with a disastrous relationship with the customer, NPS for telcos is lower than with airlines, you have to question whether the telcos have the right foundations to do anything aside from their basic purpose.

The foundations of this journey to profitability and growth are certainly shaky, but the issue is there is no time to fix them, ultimately the telcos are under threat. For all the billions which have been spent on 4G, you could argue the rewards for the telcos have been minimal. 5G will be more expensive, so you have to question whether the telcos could survive another G which went down this avenue.

Diversification was the resounding message to come out of this morning’s debate, but what is critical is doing it in the right way. Veon, Google, Softbank and many participants from the audience pointed towards joint ventures and partnerships, with stories such as BT’s venture into TV as a lesson of the disaster which can occur when you go it alone. But where do you start? Carrier billing is an obvious choice.

As Google’s Mike Blanche pointed out, more of the world is becoming digital meaning more transactions will have to happen in the virtual world. Unfortunately the virtual world is full of horror stories concerning theft and fraud, while consumers are constantly warned about safe-guarding credit card details online. The telcos established billing relationship with the customer is a simple exercise to add value, drive additional revenue and lean on already existing processes.

Having Google present at this event was an interesting twist as well, as it puts a face onto the big, bad OTTs. For years, these companies have been portrayed as the enemy, but the telco of tomorrow should really be leaning on the success of these guys. Why, for instance, would you want to compete with the billions being spent by Netflix on content and marketing, when you can just partner with it? In most cases, the OTTs are virtual companies with limited presence in the physical world, the telcos high-street retail presence and field-engineering workforce can aid the OTTs. The idea of wholesaling business processes and assets takes the telcos into a new world.

This is one of the important takeaways from this morning’s session, diversification is critical but, as the former CEO of Veon Jean Yves Charlier put it, you have to diversify as close to the network as possible. Exploring the exciting new opportunities might sound like a wonderful idea, but you have to question whether the telcos are competent enough to move too far away from the network. Without sounding rude, we suspect there aren’t many.

So this is the diversification dilemma. Telcos need to diversify, but they aren’t good enough at the core business to justify the new journey. Unfortunately, there isn’t an alternative.