AT&T gets Microsoft and IBM to help with its cloud homework

US telco AT&T has decided it’s time to raise its cloud game and so has entered into strategic partnerships with Microsoft and IBM.

The Microsoft deal focuses on non-network applications and enables AT&T’s broader strategy of migrating most non-network workloads to the public cloud by 2024. The rationale for this is fairly standard: by moving a bunch of stuff to the public cloud AT&T will be able to better focus on its core competences, but let’s see how that plays out.

IBM will be helping AT&T Business Solutions to better provide solutions to businesses. The consulting side will modernize its software and bring it into the IBM cloud, where they will use Red Hat’s platform to manage it all. In return IBM will make AT&T Business its main SDN partner and general networking best mate.

“AT&T and Microsoft are among the most committed companies to fostering technology that serves people,” said John Donovan, CEO of AT&T. “By working together on common efforts around 5G, the cloud, and AI, we will accelerate the speed of innovation and impact for our customers and our communities.”

“AT&T is at the forefront of defining how advances in technology, including 5G and edge computing, will transform every aspect of work and life,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. “The world’s leading companies run on our cloud, and we are delighted that AT&T chose Microsoft to accelerate its innovation. Together, we will apply the power of Azure and Microsoft 365 to transform the way AT&T’s workforce collaborates and to shape the future of media and communications for people everywhere.”

“In AT&T Business, we’re constantly evolving to better serve business customers around the globe by securely connecting them to the digital capabilities they need,” said Thaddeus Arroyo, CEO of AT&T Business. “This includes optimizing our core operations and modernizing our internal business applications to accelerate innovation. Through our collaboration with IBM, we’re adopting open, flexible, cloud technologies, that will ultimately help accelerate our business leadership.”

“Building on IBM’s 20-year relationship with AT&T, today’s agreement is another major step forward in delivering flexibility to AT&T Business so it can provide IBM and its customers with innovative services at a faster pace than ever before,” said Arvind Krishna, SVP, Cloud and Cognitive Software at IBM. “We are proud to collaborate with AT&T Business, provide the scale and performance of our global footprint of cloud data centers, and deliver a common environment on which they can build once and deploy in any one of the appropriate footprints to be faster and more agile.”

Talking of the US cloud scene, the Department of Defense is reportedly looking for someone to provide some kind of Skynet-style ‘war cloud’ in return for chucking them $10 billion of public cash. Formally known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (yes, JEDI), this is designed to secure military and classified information in the event of some kind of catastrophic attach, contribute to cyber warfare efforts and enable the dissemination of military intelligence to the field.

It looks like the gig will be awarded to just one provider, which had led to much jostling for position among the US cloud players. The latest word on the street is that either AWS or Microsoft will get the work, which has prompted considerable moaning from IBM and Oracle and reported concern from President Trump, prompted by politicians apparently repaying their lobbying cash. Here’s a good summary of all that from Subverse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Trump tweet paints an uncomfortable picture for Google

Twitter is the battlefield and an iPhone his weapon; the hawkish President Trump has seemingly declared war on the hipsters and IT geeks of Google.

Once again, with little evidence, Trump has declared war on a technology company. This time however, the Commander in Chief has directed his venom towards a domestic enemy of the Oval Office. Thanks to the seemingly unfounded accusations of tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel, the President now has the idea Google is under the influence of the Chinese Government.

Speaking at a conference, Thiel used his keynote speech to launch an attack at the internet giant. Theil posed three questions to the audience; firstly, how many foreign intelligence agencies have infiltrated Google’s AI work. Secondly, whether Google’s management team believes it has been infiltrated by China. And finally, why it was working with the Chinese Government and not the US Government.

To be clear, aside from Thiel’s accusations, there is little evidence of such grand conspiracy theories.

That said, the burden of truth is not a consideration which is greatly appreciated by the current administration. Throughout the entire Huawei saga, no evidence of collusion with the Chinese Government has been presented to the general public, and it seems it hasn’t been presented to allied Governments either. Numerous nations have refused the call to ban Huawei without suitable evidence, and the resistance continues today.

Bearing this in mind, the Googlers should have something to worry about. Trump has demonstrated he can make life awkward for those who get his wrong side.

For the moment, there are no details of what an investigation would entail or whether the threat of treason is genuine. Another trend which we have witnessed over the last 29 months is the huffing and puffing nature of the President. This might be nothing more than a bicep flex against a company deemed to be a domestic enemy.

Trump has had a difficult relationship with Google over the last few years, with the President and many of his supporters suggesting conservative voices are being supressed on the digital highway. Perhaps we should not be surprised Trump has targeted another mainstay of Silicon Valley.

One has to question how many fronts the Trump war campaign can fight simultaneously; the enemies of the White House are starting to add up.

T-Mobile US combines phones and tacos for some reason

Ever the disruptor, TMUS CEO John Legere has identified a combination so obvious that everyone else missed it: fusing mobile phones with tacos.

We’ve all been there, right? That listless, empty feeling while forlornly prodding our smartphone screen, just knowing there has to be more to it. But only now, thanks to T-Mobile US, do we realise that all we needed to do was nestle it in a warm, crispy taco shell and then slop spicy beef, salsa and guacamole all over it. Go on, give it a try, you’ll never look back.

Not really, but TMUS has genuinely teamed up with Tex Mex fast food chain Taco Bell to create some kind of hybrid store that will ‘…give the people even more of what they want: smartphones with a side of tacos.’ This is a bricks-and-mortar extension of come kind of promotional partnership the two organisations had previously.

“When we launched free tacos every week on T-Mobile Tuesdays, TacoBell.com had its highest online order day ever and T-Mobile Tuesdays was number one in the App Store,” said Legere. “Since then, Un-carrier customers have snagged more than 14 million free tacos from the app. People love tacos. And they love their phones. T-MoBell is the ultimate fusion of those two loves, and we can’t wait to show everyone what we’ve cooked up.”

They chose not to give whoever runs Taco Bell a canned quote in the press release, but it would presumably have followed similar lines. We would imagine Sprint is being lined up to run the delivery service while other rivals, having been caught flat footed by this bold move, must be scrambling to catch up. Expect to see Verizon 5G Guys and AT&FC before long.

 

Huawei reshuffles its global deck

Chinese vendor Huawei is reportedly doubling down on Italy while scaling back what little presence it has in the US even further.

Thomas Miao, Huawei’s Italian boss, announced the company will invest over a billion bucks a year for the next three years in Italy, according to a Reuters report. No such pledge can be made without a few strings attached, however, and Miao apparently called on the Italian state to ensure a level playing field for Huawei in the country, though its ‘golden power’ that allows it to poke its nose into the telecoms sector if it feels like it.

We’re told Italy recently augmented this power in apparent response to security concerns over the involvement of Huawei and ZTE in the country’s 5G network and Miao wants to make sure those powers will be used with equal vigour towards Ericsson and Nokia too. There were no overt conditions attached to the investment, but it seems clear that it might suddenly disappear if the Italian political environment deteriorates for Huawei.

Meanwhile the WSJ reports that Huawei plans extensive layoffs in the U.S. Specifically this refers to some Huawei research labs called Futurewei, that employ around 850 people. The source is the usual people who reckon they know a thing or two, but it’s totally believable considering how hostile the political climate in the US is towards Huawei. Well-known hedge fund manager Kyle Bass seemed to welcome the news on Twitter.

Having said that Reuters, once more, reports that the US government is set to start some limited trade between US companies and Huawei within weeks. This development comes in the face of considerable domestic opposition to President Trump’s minor concessions and serves to further illustrate what a good move it will probably be for Huawei to clear off from that country entirely.

Facebook investors brush off leaked $5 billion fine

It has been widely reported that Facebook will receive a record fine for privacy violations, but investors seems strangely pleased about it.

All the usual-suspect business papers seem to have received the leak late last week that the US Federal Trade Commission voted narrowly to fine Facebook $5 billion for data privacy violations related to the Cambridge Analytica thing. The FTC, like the FCC, has five commissioners, three of which are affiliated to the Republican party and two the Democrats. As ever they voted on partisan lines, with the Democrats once more opposing the move.

The FTC has yet to make an official announcement, so we don’t know the stated reasons for the Democrat objections. But since that party seems to have decided it would have won the last general election if it wasn’t for those meddling targeted political ads, it’s safe to assume they think the fine is too lenient.

Just because the Democrats have a vested interest, that doesn’t mean they’re wrong, however. Of course Democrat politicians have criticised the decision, but many more independent commentators have noted that the fine amounts to less than a quarter’s profit for the social media giant. Nilay Patel, Editor in Chief of influential tech site The Verge, seems to speak for many in this tweet.

That Facebook’s share price actually went up after such a big fine initially seems remarkable, but all it really indicates is that Facebook had done a good job of communicating the risk to its investors, so a five bil hit was already priced in. The perfectly legitimate point, however, is that as a punishment one month’s revenue is unlikely to serve as much of a deterrent from future transgressions.

Patel seems very hostile to Facebook, stating in his opinion piece on the matter “Facebook has done nothing but behave badly from inception.” A lot of this bad behaviour consists of exploiting user data, but what is really under attack seems to be Facebook’s core business model and, to some extent, the whole-ad-funded model on which sites like The Verge rely.

Debates need to be had about the way the Internet operates and monetizes itself, but identifying Facebook as a uniquely bad actor when it comes to exploiting user data seems disingenuous. Laws and regulations are struggling to catch up with the business models of internet giants and there are many other questions to be asked about how they operate.

The fact that Facebook’s share price has now largely recovered from the Cambridge Analytica scandal of a year or so ago, as illustrated by the Google Finance screenshot below, indicates that investors consider these issues to be just another business risk, to be weighed up against obscene profits. While we have always considered the scandal to be overblown, it also seems clear that, as a meaningful punishment, even a $5 billion fine is totally inadequate in this case.

Facebook share price July 19

Ericsson, T-Mobile and Qualcomm claim 600 MHz 5G first

A trio of telecoms trailblazers has claimed the world’s first low-band 5G data session on a commercial 5G modem.

T-Mobile US, Ericsson and Qualcomm were the operator, networking vendor and modem vendors involved, with T-Mobile chosen because the 600 MHz band forms a big part of its 5G plans. The demo was conducted at T-Mobile’s lab in Bellevue, Washington, using Ericsson’s Radio System and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 modem.

“This modem will power devices that tap into the 600 MHz low-band spectrum we’ll use to blanket the country with 5G.” said TMUS CTO Neville Ray. “And we’re not stopping there. If regulators approve our merger with Sprint, we’ll have the crucial mid-band spectrum and resources needed to supercharge our network and deliver broad AND deep, transformational 5G across the U.S.”

“Today’s data call marks a significant milestone in 5G’s ongoing rollout across the United States, paving the way for the launch of commercial networks and devices on low-band FDD spectrum,” said Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm President. “This call demonstrates the ability to dramatically increase 5G’s global footprint and we look forward to continuing our work with industry leaders like Ericsson and T-Mobile to unlock the full potential of 5G for consumers and new industries around the world.”

“Ericsson and Qualcomm Technologies have successfully tested and commercialized 5G globally across different spectrum bands, and together with T-Mobile we have now reached another major milestone as we are enabling 5G on low bands,” said Fredrik Jejdling, Head of Networks at Ericsson. “This shows that our industry is now ready for building wider 5G coverage that will enhance end user experience.”

That’s about it really, but it’s a Friday in the middle of Summer so news is thin on the ground, alright? As you can see from the canned quotes, ‘firsts’ like these largely exist to give the parties involved a bit of publicity and make them look ahead of the game. Someone had to do 5G over 600 MHz first, we guess, so well done chaps.

Trump puts social media on notice after summit

US President Trump has made it clear that he considers social media censorship to be a major concern that may require fresh legislation and regulation.

As we previously reported, this unprecedented convention of social media influencers at the White House that took place yesterday was already causing controversy before it had even taken place. Many commentators were concerned by the apparent fact that most of the people invited were conspicuous Trump supporters.

Judging by the tweet Trump has pinned to the top of his Twitter account, the premise for the social media summit was Trump’s concern about independent voices being censored by the major social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. “Each of you is fulfilling a vital role in our nation,” said Trump. “You’re challenging the media gatekeepers and the corporate censors to bring the facts straight to the American people.

“Together you reach more people than any television broadcast network by far. Free Speech is a bedrock of American life. Our constitutional rights must be fiercely protected and today I’m directing my administration to explore regulatory and legislative solutions to protect free speech and the free speech rights of all Americans. We hope to see transparency, more accountability and more freedom.”

The specifics of what was discussed are thin on the ground right now, but this is a clear shot across the bows of social media companies. Trump clearly believes there is a degree of political censorship on social media and not to his benefit. At the same time he seems to value social media as a counterbalance to the mainstream media, most of which he has been at war with for years. We have seen no public response from any of the social media giants and they would be wise to do so with care. It seems inevitable that there will be increased regulatory oversight of their censorship policies and even new laws on the matter. Bizarrely a Twitter global outage coincided precisely with the the White House gathering and Trump also took the trouble to fire a warning shot to Facebook about its Libra cryptocurrency plans, which you can see below.

Much of the mainstream media seems to have reacted with hostility to the event, putting ‘social media summit’ in scare quotes and characterising the attendees as ‘right wing’. To be fair any media that Trump has dismissed as ‘fake news’ (most of it) did have fairly good reason to feel provoked if you look at the Trump Twitter thread below, send immediately in advance of the summit. Underneath we’ll leave you with the full video of Trump’s speech at the event to make your own mind up about the relevance and utility of the event.

 

US refarms 2.5 GHz band from education to 5G

The US telecoms regulator has decided to redirect the 2.5 GHz band away from its current educational use to create more 5G spectrum.

The Federal Communications Commission is positioning this as a move to modernize the outdated regulatory framework for the 2.5 GHz band, which is apparently the single largest band of contiguous spectrum below 3 GHz. The band had been set aside for educational TV use and the FCC move removes any restrictions on who can use it and how. It had previously been made available for free but now the government gets to cash in on yet another auction.

At long last, we remove the burdensome restrictions on this band, allowing incumbents greater flexibility in their use of the spectrum, and introduce a spectrum auction that will ensure that this public resource is finally devoted to its highest-valued use,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “These groundbreaking reforms will result in more efficient and effective use of these airwaves and represent the latest step in advancing U.S. leadership in 5G.”

According to Pai, most educational users of this spectrum ended up leasing it out for commercial use anyway, which he seems to consider justification enough alone to take it off them. His full statement makes several oblique references to dissent among the FCC commissioners. The motion was opposed by two Commissioners and Pai infers that their obstruction could result in the US falling behind in the 5G race.

One of those dissenters was Jessica Rosenworcel, who often disagrees with Pai. Here’s her tweet on the matter.

“This order turns its back on the schools and educational institutions that have made the 2.5 GHz band their home since 1962,” said Rosenworcel in her statement.  “Today the FCC takes the innovative effort to infuse this band with learning opportunities—an initiative that dates back to the Kennedy Administration—and reverts to uninspired and stale commercial spectrum policy.

“This is a shame. Instead of using these airwaves in creative ways, we take the 2.5 GHz band, cut education from its mission and collapse this spectrum into an overlay auction system that structurally advantages a single nationwide carrier.” She then went on at considerable length about how important education is.

Commissioner Starks was the other dissenter and wrote an essay on the importance of the education sector having access to this spectrum that it made Rosenworcel’s efforts look like a memo. With boring inevitability the two dissenters are both affiliated to the republican party and the three in favour are all republicans, which makes you wonder whether there is any principle involved at all.

As Light Reading informs us, this spectrum is likely to be used largely for rural coverage and especially for fixed wireless access. The US is a big country and there are still plenty of coverage gaps to fill. The education sector is apparently bemoaning the decision but if it has been largely reselling the spectrum maybe it’s the revenue that it will miss the most.

US/Huawei saga enters the realm of ‘who knows what going on?’

The US Commerce Department has held a press conference to announce some companies can now trade with Huawei, but no-one knows who, how, what or where.

Speaking at the annual department conference in Washington, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has said US companies can now start trading with Huawei, assuming they have had a license approved by his department, which is unlikely to happen, while little guidance has been offered to the criteria on how decisions will be made.

The only clue which we have so far is a reference to ‘national security’. Huawei and its affiliates remain on the ‘Entity List’, though US firms are allowed to do business if it doesn’t compromise national security. What that actually means is anyone’s guess.

The move from the US Commerce Department follows comments from President Donald Trump at the G20 Summit in Japan. In order to get trade talks back on track, Chinese President Xi Jinping insisted the aggression towards Huawei be ended. This seems to be somewhat of a compromise with a nod to the likely domestic opposition the White House will face.

Immediately after Trump signalled his intentions to let Huawei off the hook, two of the President’s biggest opponents, from opposite sides of the aisle, voiced their disapproval. Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who has Presidential ambitions, and Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer, who consistently undermines the President, both suggested they were going to be hurdles in the pursuit of Huawei relief.

For the moment, the language is still very negative. US suppliers can apply to work with Huawei, but applications will be looked at with refusal at the front of mind. There will have to be proof such business would not compromise security, though it is highly likely the vast majority will be turned down.

“To implement the president’s G20 summit directive two weeks ago, Commerce will issue licenses where there is no threat to US national security,” said Ross during the conference.

“Within those confines, we will try to make sure that we don’t just transfer revenue from the US to foreign firms.”

This seems to be an attempt to keep all parties involved happy. In China, it might look like the White House is trying to relieve pressure on Huawei, while in Congress, Trump seems to be attempting to give the impression he is protecting national security. However, it does paint an incredibly confusing picture.

Ross’ statements seem to ignore the fact that supply chains are now globalised, and it is almost impossible to do business without working beyond domestic shores. Few firms will have any concrete understanding to where they stand either.

For those who have lobbied against the ban, its difficult to see whether this is a win or not. Yes, it is somewhat of a concession, but it might not mean anything ultimately. If the US Commerce Department is going to be stubborn, few suppliers might receive the golden ticket to do business with Huawei. Only time will tell whether this is anything more than ego stroking from Ross.