FCC officially designates ZTE and Huawei as national security threats

The FCC has officially designated Huawei and ZTE as threats to national security, barring any telecoms operator using federal funds to purchase or maintain equipment from the vendors.

The public notice will come as a hammer blow to some rural connectivity providers who have relied on lower prices from the Chinese vendors. In response to the announcement, the Rural Wireless Association (RWA) has condemned such action, questioning whether the FCC is acting on the interests of the entire industry.

“Given the difficultly in demonstrating where specifically their USF support is being utilized in their networks, this puts rural carriers in a precarious situation while they strive to offer extended payment terms for their customers as requested by FCC Chairman Pai, adjust to the fallout of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, and continue to keep rural Americans connected to broadband and telephone services during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the RWA said in a statement.

The designation means no funds which have been received from the FCC’s upcoming Universal Service Fund can be used with regard to the Chinese vendors. This means purchasing equipment, maintenance, improvements, modification or any support for Huawei and ZTE products or services.

As the RWA points out, it is difficult to explicitly demonstrate what the USF funds are being used for, or perhaps more important, not being used for, therefore it effectively ends the relationship between the rural telecoms operators and the Chinese vendors. These are companies which operate on slim margins in a perfect world, but when cash flow has been reduced due to COVID-19, this is a complication few would want to stomach.

“With today’s Orders, and based on the overwhelming weight of evidence, the Bureau has designated Huawei and ZTE as national security risks to America’s communications networks – and to our 5G future,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“Both companies have close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and China’s military apparatus, and both companies are broadly subject to Chinese law obligating them to cooperate with the country’s intelligence services. The Bureau also took into account the findings and actions of Congress, the Executive Branch, the intelligence community, our allies, and communications service providers in other countries.”

This public notice comes after the revelation of a list of 20 companies the Department of Defense deemed to have material ties to the Chinese Government and operate on US soil. At the time, this looked to be a bureaucratic step to validate further action against Huawei and/or ZTE, and perhaps this should be taken as a confirmation.

Thanks to this move, the rural telecoms operators are being painted into a corner, with purchasing decisions being dictated by Government policy not the company’s own technological or commercial reasons. As these firms have stated before, Huawei and ZTE are favoured due to price and support, though these concerns seem to have been ignored.

Not only is the FCC forcing these companies to prioritise Government-favoured suppliers, but as new funds cannot be used to maintain, improve or modify any equipment from the vendors, they will be forced to ‘rip and replace’ equipment. This is expensive, but also time consuming and distracting. At a time where these firms could be focusing on deploying 5G, attention will have to be turned backwards.

This might be justified by the pursuit of national security, but Law of Unintended Consequences is rearing its head once again. By diverting attention away from 5G, these connectivity providers could become less attractive to the consumer, and in turn, less competitive. The move favour larger telecoms operators and could potentially extinguish local competition in the regions where it exists.

This is the issue when politics has too much influence in a segment. Bureaucrats are not telecoms experts and do not consider all the direct and indirect consequences of their actions. The US is perfectly entitled to fight national security risks, though in this case little concrete evidence has been presented to support claims, but the question is whether the sustainability of competition has been considered?

We suspect competition in the US could take another disastrous turn. Even with federal support to ‘rip and replace’ or purchase equipment from favoured (and more expensive) alternatives, some of these firms will go under or perhaps there will be market consolidation. In either case, competition will be reduced, a headache for US consumers who already have to tolerate some of the highest connectivity tariffs in the developed world.

India set to block Chinese vendors from state networks

The Indian government is reportedly going to block Huawei and ZTE from involvement with BSNL and MTNL, in the latest escalation of bad blood between the two countries.

Indian newspaper The Economic Times seems to have broken the news, having chatted to an anonymous source within the department of telecoms. BSNL and MTNL are state run telcos that still account for a decent chunk of the market. It seems to have been decided that any future kit procured by the two shouldn’t be from Huawei or ZTE and some existing deals may even be cancelled. There is no mention of ripping and replacing Chinese kit already in the networks.

This seems to be less about security, which is how the US frames its ban on Chinese stuff, than it is about direct punishment of China for its continuing belligerence over a bit of its border with India. Both countries have been amassing troops at the Galwan Valley border and recently had a massive scrap with improvised melee weapons, like something out of The Walking Dead, which resulted in 20 Indian deaths. China has kept quiet about its own losses, implying they were considerable.

Border aggro seems to translate immediately to nationwide antipathy in India these days, with an app designed to remove Chinese apps from Indian phones recently doing brisk business before it was removed by Google. The report indicates this is a tit-for-tat move in response to Indian companies being restricted in China, but it’s hard to believe the border tension didn’t play a part too. As another country becomes closed to them, Huawei and ZTE must be wishing their government would wind its neck in a bit.

US eyes $25bn plan to counter China chip surge at the expense of globalisation

It is increasingly becoming an ‘us or them’ situation, with tit-for-tat policies creating a fragmented ecosystem; an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind and no-one wins.

Proposed by Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Mark Warner of Virginia, the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) for America Act would earmark $25 billion to stimulate and supercharge the semiconductor industry in the US. It does appear to be an answer to the Made in China 2025 strategy, both of which are seemingly designed to counter globalisation trends.

“Semiconductors underpin nearly all innovation today and are critical to US communications and defence computing capabilities,” Cornyn said. “This legislation would help stimulate advanced semiconductor manufacturing capabilities domestically, secure the supply chain, and ensure U.S. maintains our lead in design while creating jobs, lowering our reliance on other countries for advanced chip fabrication, and strengthening national security.”

“Unfortunately, our complacency has allowed our competitors – including adversaries – to catch up,” said Warner. “This bill reinvests in this national priority, providing targeted tax incentives for advanced manufacturing in the US, funding basic research in microelectronics, and emphasizing the need for multilateral engagement with our allies in bringing greater transparency and attention to security and integrity threats to the global supply chain.”

As part of the initiative, a $10 billion federal match programme would be created, with incentives offered to companies who build semiconductor fabs with advanced manufacturing capabilities. $2 billion would be directed towards the Electronics Resurgence Initiative, $3 billion would be used to create semiconductor basic research programmes at the National Science Foundation, $2 billion would create a similar programme in the Department of Energy and $5 billion to establish an Advanced Packaging National Manufacturing Institute under the Department of Commerce.

The issue which has been raised in recent years has been the alleged support which has been afforded to Chinese companies by the Government. Through subsidies and low-interest loans, critics has suggested this gives an unfair advantage to Chinese companies in the international markets, while foreign companies attempted to secure fortunes in China are hindered by cumbersome regulations.

Recently, Parallel Wireless CEO Steve Papa attacked Huawei and called on US politicians to champion federal support for the US semiconductor industry. Papa suggested the support from the Chinese Government would tilt the playing field, offering an advantage to Chinese technology companies which would reduce investment capital formation in western markets in turn. This would result in a widening gap between the Chinese semiconductor industry and everyone else, meaning eventually there would be not viable alternative to Chinese companies.

This scenario would be deemed worst case scenario for the US which has justified its vilification of and aggression towards Huawei on the grounds of national security. There is a link, defence systems are reliant on advanced semiconductor components, but some have also questioned whether the ultimate objective is to halt the progress of China’s economy, which Standard Chartered Bank has forecast to overtake the US’ in 2020.

What we have seen over the last 18-24 months is conflict between the US and China as the worlds’ two superpowers trade blows in an increasingly dangerous game of one-upmanship. It seems the industry and the world is heading towards another international conflict where a line in the sand will have to be drawn. There have been numerous direct and indirect statements from the US directing allies towards a binary choice; work with China or work with US. This would be a disaster for the global economy.

Should tensions between the two nations continue to rise, it would surprise few to see the creation of two independent ecosystems. The Western market could be controlled by the US and the Eastern by China. Worst case scenario would be zero overlap, with vendors, customers and governments being forced into a choice.

The idea of a globalised economy is by no-means perfect, but if offers the opportunity for companies to scale operations, while R&D efforts are compounded as innovators can stand on the shoulders of other innovators. The way the world is heading undermines this, it is a path of fragmentation which splits the world in two; the Bill introduced by Cornyn and Warner is another step in this direction.

If the US can cut all ties of reliance to China, it isolates the country. China will most likely retaliate, accelerating the separation of powers.

Some might suggest the Chinese tendency to offer its domestic champions a leg-up is an unfair advantage, but what the US is attempting to do here is exactly the same. State-sponsored industries would acceleration the concentration of wealth in the US, to the detriment of its allies. The US might suggest this is a move to combat the Chinese threat, but if it is simple compounding its own strength while weakening allied economies and societies, is it a sensible route forward?

Another very interesting element to this debate is whether the US is ‘cutting off the nose to spite the face’. Let’s not forget, the US economy has probably benefited more than any other from globalisation trends.

Over the last few decades, US corporations have entrenched themselves with dominant positions in markets all over the world. McDonalds, Coca Cola, Google, Facebook, Ford, Amazon, General Electric, American Express, Microsoft; the list is ridiculously long. A challenge to the progress of globalisation is one which would build a glass ceiling above these companies.

But as with everything in politics, we suspect this has not been considered. The entirety of the focus will be on the splash in the economic pond. The ripples, or the Laws of Unintended Consequences, which have the potential to grow into catastrophic waves, have once again been ignored.

There should of course be some sort of global effort to counter detrimental strategies from the Chinese Government, but this is not the answer. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Is selling passive infrastructure (towers, cables, fibre etc.) a smart move for the telcos?

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Road to successful digital transformation: Platform, Ecosystem, and Continuous Reinvention

There aren’t many telecom operators in the world that have not yet realised the importance of digital transformation. However, too often we have seen piecemeal measures being taken, which almost invariably lead to unsatisfactory results.

To succeed in digital transformation, telecoms industry stakeholders need to collaborate and embrace a holistic approach, building from platform up, reaching out to partners beyond the conventional telecoms domains to develop an ecosystem that can address changing market demands, and continuously delivering the most up to date solutions to enable customer value creation.

It is a valid statement that every telecom operator is different from the next one, because the customers they are serving are different, by geography, by segment, or by demographics, often by all of these factors. On the other hand, there is also strong commonality between operators, because the fundamental requirements to support digital service provision that most of the customers demand are the same. These include data collection, storage, governance, and cross-domain data analysis, frictionless handling and delivery of content and service, accurate billing, payment settlement, and many more.

This makes it a classic scenario where the 80:20 principle should apply. In other words, about 80% of a typical customer’s demand to power their digital services can be satisfied by a strong unified platform. Such a platform should be able to satisfy most use cases, carry out common tasks like network planning, construction, maintenance, optimisation, and operations, and should be equipped with the full AI suite, including AI algorithm engine, one-stop AI development environment, and AI service operation.

The platform should also have the flexibility to enable partners to develop or customise their own use cases. This is where the other 20% of customer requirement should be addressed. Despite the strong commonality between operator demands, no single platform can satisfy all the different requirements, and these are better served by a vibrant ecosystem gravitated towards the platform. Such a “pull” effect can be achieved with the platform’s capability to enable, to certify, to support, to incentivise, and so on.

When it comes to incentives to attract more partners to the ecosystem, different revenue sharing schemes can be implemented. For example, if the customer’s demand can be satisfied by a partner’s standard solution, in other words, if the partner does not need to customise its solutions for the customer, revenues may be split equally between the platform and the partner. In cases where partners need to customise their solutions to meet customer needs, the partners should have a bigger share of the revenues. The platform can also set up an “application marketplace” to host apps developed by partners. In such cases, dominant revenue sharing models used by leading consumer and business application stores, for example Salesforce AppExchange should be applied.

One operational characteristic that has separated internet companies from conventional telecom operators is that internet companies would undergo continuous delivery of new features and functions while telecom operators’ networks and services are more static. This needs to change if telecom operators’ digital transformation is to succeed. Such continuous reinvention is not limited to functions and technologies of the digital platform either, it should also continuously improve the enablement of the ecosystem that the platform orchestrates. Equally important is that such continuous delivery of improvement should not only be frequent but also discreet, without interrupting customers’ business operation.

As we can see, successful interaction between the three key elements, the platform, the ecosystem, and the continuous operation, to create values for customers relies heavily on the strengths of the platform.

Source: Huawei

Huawei’s General Digital Engine (GDE) is such a unified big data platform. It is built with the company’s expertise accumulated and refreshed from over three decades’ experience of serving telecom operators and other customers around the world. Such expertise has been with our engineers but with the GDE platform, it is now digitised and can serve all the customers in a broad range of service scenarios. It is also equipped with Huawei’s artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to help customers cope with and predict market and business demands that go beyond the capability of manual calculation.

Such expertise and capability are continuously being updated, to make the platform more powerful and able to meet more customer needs, therefore simplifying the transformation, shortening the time to market, and optimising lifetime total cost of ownership. Huawei will keep updating the platform, at least twice a year, to enable partners to deliver customisation more easily.

The platform is also the anchor point of a broader ecosystem, working with operator customers to first engage qualified existing partners, then to recruit new partners.

Moreover, the platform, the ecosystem, and the continuous operation mode all live by these values:

  • Agility: always ready to adapt to new market and customer needs and opportunities
  • Openness: open-minded approach to new technologies and new approach to solve problems
  • Equality: treating all partners in the ecosystem equally and fairly

2020 will see a video conferencing profit boom, but it could be short-lived

Zoom might be riding a high for the moment, but unless it starts to add additional value into its products it will soon wither away to the realms of irrelevance.

Yesterday, June 2, Zoom announced its financial results for the three-month period ending April 30. Total revenues increased by 169% year-on-year, while the management team boasted of more than 265,000 customers with more than 10 employees, up 354% year-on-year.

The coronavirus pandemic has certainly been profitable for the video conferencing firm.

“We were humbled by the accelerated adoption of the Zoom platform around the globe in Q1,” said CEO Eric Yuan. “The COVID-19 crisis has driven higher demand for distributed, face-to-face interactions and collaboration using Zoom. Use cases have grown rapidly as people integrated Zoom into their work, learning, and personal lives.”

For some companies, the rapid shift in working behaviour has been a welcome change, and while some of these trends will remain permanent, what remains to be seen is whether the profits will be.

Telecoms.com Poll – Do you think your business will continue the current work from home dynamic once the coronavirus pandemic has passed?
34% Yes, we’ll be given the option to work as we please
25% Yes, but we’ll have to check into the office occasionally
4% No, but others job functions in the company will
6% No, can’t do my job properly unless in the office
6% No, my company is still not convinced by remote working

What has been made quite clear over the last few weeks is that the remote working dynamic will at least partly be embraced. The digital transformation programme companies have been strong-armed through has proven successful, economies have not ground to a halt through COVID-19, and even the most traditional (dated) managers would have to keep some of the new working practices.

Admittedly this is a small poll, but Gartner supports the outcome, suggesting that while 60% of meetings take place in-person today, this could drop to as little as 25% in 2024.

Employees are happier, productivity has been maintained and cost-savings can be realised with a more mobile workforce. What is there not to like?

But the question some suppliers will ask is how much money can be made in the future?

According to Gartner unified communications (UC) research, overall spending on video conferencing software will increase 24.3% in 2020. This is the second-fastest growing category in the UC market, only behind cloud-based telephony. Both of these surges can be easily explained by the coronavirus pandemic.

Worryingly for companies like Zoom, this growth is forecast to taper off in 2021, while are suspicions that cloud expenditure could be rationalised over the mid-term, effectively penalising niche suppliers who do not offer a portfolio of services.

When we spoke to Nick McQuire of CCS Insight, he highlighted that while increased cloud spend might be sustainable post-COVID-19 as mobility trends are embraced, there are likely to be rationalisation projects on the horizon. As many of the decisions made to enable remote working were likely to have been knee-jerk reactions, overlap within organisations could exist or decisions might have been poor ones.

These rationalisation programmes could manifest in numerous different ways. Centralised procurement could mean single suppliers are selected, contracts could be ended as better options are found, or free services could be bundled into existing commercial contracts as value adds.

The final possibility is one which should be feared by all nice software providers who specialise in single areas. Best in breed suppliers could be sacrificed at the altar of financial efficiency. You have to consider what is out there currently.

Zoom is a video conferencing service, with plans to offer a cloud-telephony service in addition, however it offers little else. Other companies will offer the same services, perhaps not as high a quality, but as long as a satisfactory experience is achievable this is a palatable concession for a bundled contract.

Google, for instance, has made its video conferencing services free for all. This is temporary, but it could be made free for corporate customers in the future bundled into a contract which also includes desktop virtualisation, cloud storage, data analytics and numerous other elements. Bundled contracts are generally cheaper for the customer, and Google would most likely be very accommodating.

GoToMeeting is another niche player in the video conferencing world, though it is part of the LogMeIn group which also offers desktop virtualisation and user authentication services. This is not as broad as a supplier like Google, but there is an opportunity to bundle. Another example of a niche service is BlueJeans, however this was recently acquired by Verizon and will certainly be bundled into larger connectivity contracts for enterprise customers.

During the recent earnings call, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said the business would continue to be ‘laser-focused’ on video and phone service, though competition should be welcomed to encourage innovation. Being the best in one area and little else is fine in a perfect scenario, but the world is very rarely in such a state. Decision makers will state that they will search for best in breed, but sometimes concessions have to be made. Budgets do exist after all and the ultimate objective is to make money.

This is the risk that niche providers will face. They could be muscled out of the market as enterprise decision makers elect for more cost-effective bundled service offerings. Such thinking would benefit the tech giants, but with a recession on the horizon it might be a trend we’ll have to get used to.

UK’s National Cyber Security Centre launches another Huawei probe

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has confirmed it is attempting to understand what impact potential US sanction directed towards Huawei would have on UK networks.

With Huawei equipment and components delicately woven throughout the complex tapestry of telecoms in the UK, sanctions from the US which would materially inhibit Huawei operations should be a major concern.

“The security and resilience of our networks is of paramount importance,” a cross-government statement reads. “Following the US announcement of additional sanctions against Huawei, the NCSC is looking carefully at any impact they could have to the UK’s networks.”

There have been reports circulating through the press suggesting UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is once again considering the role of Huawei in the telecoms landscape. These rumours are a separate story, but directly linked; the US wants to reduce the commercial opportunities for Huawei, and this is yet another attempt.

First, the US Government attempted the diplomatic approach, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attempting to prove his debating skills. Secondly, fear was introduced with the US attempted to reignite xenophobic fears of communism. The third strategy was more directly aggressive; work with Huawei or have access to our intelligence data, you can’t have both.

None of these strategies worked, but the latest attempt is an interesting one. If Huawei’s supply chain can be compromised, the UK (and other) Governments might have to turn its back on the Chinese vendor because it does not meet the standards required for resiliency tests.

Should the UK Government be revising its position, it would certainly be a blow to Huawei’s credibility.

“We’ve seen the reports from unnamed sources which simply don’t make sense,” said Victor Zhang of Huawei. “The government decided in January to approve our part in the 5G rollout, because Britain needs the best possible technologies, more choice, innovation and more suppliers, all of which means more secure and more resilient networks.

“As a private company, 100% owned by employees, which has operated in the UK for 20 years, our priority has been to help mobile and broadband companies keep Britain connected, which in this current health crisis has been more vital than ever. This is our proven track-record.”

Looking at the other rumours outside this confirmed investigation into the impact of US sanctions on Huawei, the underlying cause could be directed back tor Conservative backbencher Sir Iain Duncan Smith. Once a prominent voice in the House of Commons, Duncan Smith’s influence has been wilting rapidly, so much so this is one of the first times anyone has paid attention to him for what feels like decades.

In March, Duncan Smith led a small group of Tory revolters in opposition of the Supply Chain Review. Instead of limiting ‘High Risk vendors’ to 35% of any telecoms network, this group wanted them banned completely. These politicians clearly did not understand the complexities of the situation and debates were riddled with inaccuracies, but it appears the pressure has been enough to turn the head of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

What is worth noting is that while the industry has been in firm support of Huawei in recent years, this staunch stance seems to be softening.

Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read recently discussed the Huawei situation during the telco’s earnings call, and while Vodafone had been warning of catastrophic consequences to prevent work with Huawei, the current rhetoric is no-where near as firm. The executive talked of removing certain firms “moderately” and investments into alternatives. It does appear Vodafone is preparing for the worst-case scenario.

While the rumours are nothing more than rumours, with the US undermining Huawei’s ability to operate as desired some uncomfortable questions will be asked. Top of the list is whether the vendor can maintain security and resiliency credentials for its products and components following such a disruption to its supply chain. This could drastically impact its position in the UK telecoms landscape.

Telecoms.com Daily Poll:

Should Huawei be allowed to operate in the UK?

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Nokia lands $1 billion RAN deal with Bharti Airtel

Finnish kit vendor has signed a multi-year deal with Indian operator Bharti Airtel to deploy a bunch of its SRAN gear all over the country.

Nokia Single RAN consists of multipurpose hardware and common software for 2G, 3G, for TD- and FD 4G and 5G technologies, according to the Nokia site. It’s all about reducing complexity, increasing cost efficiency and future-proofing your RAN, apparently. While this isn’t specifically a 5G deal, Nokia apparently reckons it could turn into one fairly easily.

It wasn’t specified in the press release, but we are advised that the value of the deal is close to a billion bucks, which is a nice win for the cash-strapped vendor. Around 300,000 radio units will be deployed across nine of the 22 telecoms circles in India over the next three years, assuming anyone is allowed to leave the house in that time. So it looks like an SRAN unit sets you back around three grand.

“This is an important agreement for the future of connectivity in one of the world’s largest telecoms markets and solidifies our position in India,” said Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri. “We have worked closely with Bharti Airtel for many years and are delighted to extend this long-standing partnership further. This project will enhance their current networks and deliver best-in-class connectivity to Airtel customers but also lay the foundations for 5G services in the future.”

“We are committed to continuously invest in emerging network technologies to provide a best-in-class experience to our customers,” said Gopal Vittal, CEO (India and South Asia) at Bharti Airtel. “This initiative with Nokia is a major step in this direction. We have been working with Nokia for more than a decade now and are delighted to use Nokia’s SRAN products in further improving the capacity and coverage of our network as we prepare for the 5G era.”

This is especially welcome news for Nokia in the light of it completely missing out on any of the 5G RAN action in China. While it’s still a distant third behind Huawei and Ericsson in the 5G deal race, massive wins like this may not only give it some 5G action by stealth, they could also increase the confidence of other operators to give Nokia a go.

Ericsson’s 2020 African growth plans

President of Ericsson Middle East and Africa, Fadi Pharaon, tells Telecoms.com about the group’s strategy for growth on the African continent.

Africa represents a huge growth opportunity for Ericsson — from increased 4G coverage to future 5G rollouts and rising fintech adoption — the company is eager to grow its business and presence on the continent. This according to Fadi Pharaon, President of Ericsson Middle East and Africa, who chatted to Telecoms.com about the group’s strategy for growth on the continent.

  1. What are some of the key African insights to come out of the latest Ericsson Mobility Report?

Africa remains the fastest growing mobile market in the world. According to our Ericsson Mobility Report, by 2025, in Sub-Saharan Africa mobile broadband subscriptions will increase to reach around 70% of mobile subscriptions, with increased 4G coverage and uptake being the main engine. Driving factors behind this shift include a young and growing population and availability of lower priced smart and feature phones.

The continent has emerged as one of the strongest adopters of innovation, with the rapid rise in usage of technology and smartphones. Just look at how mobile money was initiated in Africa and is now surging all over the continent.

Moreover, Africa has come a long way in its digitization journey – from mobile telephony to broadband, and from connecting to digitizing key economic sectors, jobs, education, healthcare, government and society in general.

  1. What do you see as the greatest risk to African economic development, and what role could the telecoms sector play in mitigating this?

The risk is for sure the current slowdown in global trade caused by the COVID-19 restrictions. Add to that the presently depressed oil prices which could affect the GDP of certain oil exporting countries. That said, the continent’s median age is just 21 years. A young and growing African population with savvy digital skills and behavior could offset some of these adverse trends and indicate favorable growth for telecom and ICT services.

The current COVID-19 restrictions have demonstrated the benefits of a digitized economy, facilitating working from home as an example. This could prove to be an opportunity for Africa to accelerate its journey towards raising the role digital and telecom services play in a socio-economical context.

  1. So, knowing both the opportunities and challenges, what is Ericsson’s primary focus in Africa?

Africa represents a world of opportunity for us at Ericsson and we are eager to grow our business and presence in the continent. We see a real potential in African markets when it comes to 4G and fintech adoption. To address that, we focus on supporting our customers in the African markets with relevant and cost-effective 4G solutions and services, all while adapting to Africa’s requirements.

  1. 5G is a hot topic globally. What is the state of 5G roll-out by Ericsson in Africa?

Ericsson is continuously working with our partners to identify and create 5G use cases relevant to the market in question. One of our first major steps towards rolling our 5G in Africa was the announcement in November 2019 that Ericsson had been selected by MTN South Africa as a 5G network modernization vendor. We are still a few years away for any major 5G deployment in Africa, although the application of fixed wireless access, meaning using 5G as a way to offer high speed broadband to homes, could be suitable for those markets.

  1. You’ve previously mentioned that it is important to Ericsson to ‘show value towards customers’. What do you mean by this?

Ericsson focuses on assuring best performing networks, while also offering the best digital services and solutions to our customers. Our aim is to create a unique customer experience evolving from networks adopting automation, artificial intelligence and analytics. One of our focus areas also is reducing time-to-market and flexibility in launching services for our customers towards their subscribers. From an operations perspective, we focus on driving service delivery efficiency through adoption of advanced tools.

  1. Mobile money has historically been very successful in Africa. Does Ericsson have a role to play in this space?

According to a recent study by GSMA, mobile money is central to the mobile industry’s contribution to 15 of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. At Ericsson, we have been incredibly proud to see Ericsson’s mobile money services introduced by our customers to several African communities to address challenges faced by unbanked communities. We believe that easy access to Mobile Money can make a tangible difference in the lives of unbanked communities. We will continue our focused growth of mobile financial services so that our service provider partners reach out to more communities across the continent.

  1. You’ve operated in South Africa, and across the continent, for decades now. What success stories can you share with us?

Our work in South Africa is a great success story example. Ericsson has been a proud partner to one of South Africa’s largest mobile network providers since 1994. However, our South African success story is not just a commercial partnership; we believe we have made a tangible difference to South African society. When former President Nelson Mandela called on the private sector for help in developing education in marginalized communities in the 1990s, Ericsson heeded the call and we have been active ever since.

Our Connect-to-Learn program is positively impacting South African girls in schools today. In Diepsloot, a disadvantaged community outside Johannesburg, Ericsson has built an e-hub that brings together entrepreneurs, innovators and society. Just this year, we introduced robotics in the hub. This is what we mean when we say we’re committed to giving back to society.

  1. What role do you play in the area of managed services in the Africa region?

Many of our customers across the globe choose us to run their networks and IT operations on their behalf and that is what we call “managed services”. In Africa, we see a big potential to expand our managed services business across the continent. With an increasing complexity brought by advanced technology, paired with ever higher expectations by the end-users, our managed services could bring to bear all of our global best practices to the service providers’ networks. Proudly we have a large managed services footprint with key customers in Africa such as MTN, Orange, Moov and Airtel. Our investments in managed services will continue and will pave the way for continuous high-performance services to African service providers.


— Fadi Pharaon, President, Ericsson Middle East and Africa

China Unicom and ZTE Made Spectrum-Sharing Breakthrough Using SuperDSS

Recently, China Unicom and ZTE enabled SuperDSS, the industry’s first Tri-RAT dynamic spectrum sharing solution, in China Unicom Henan Branch live network, which implements fast 5G deployment and legacy 3G service guarantee simultaneously. The test result shows average 35% throughput improvement within same bandwidth comparing with LTE/NR DSS while maintaining legacy 3G voice experience, greatly improving spectrum utilization efficiency.

SuperDSS offers a great solution for those operators who are enthusiastic about rolling out 5G with DSS but are unable to do so with limited spectrum as 2G or 3G legacy services still matter. SuperDSS enables quick 5G roll-out while offering smooth transition of legacy voice service, empowers 2G or 3G, 4G and 5G triple RAT dynamic sharing over the same spectrum with flexible and efficient scheduling capability, in which, 2G or 3G bandwidth can be adjusted according to service requirements, so more bandwidth can be used for LTE and NR sharing and improve LTE and NR user throughput accordingly. Taking 20MHz bandwidth for example, to have 2G/3G service, at least one GSM frequency or UMTS carrier will be reserved, so the LTE/NR DSS can only be performed in 15MHz bandwidth, which is not the optimal way of spectrum utilization. With SuperDSS, 2G or 3G, 4G and 5G can share all of the 20MHz bandwidth dynamically according to service requirement, so as to maximize spectrum utilization.

China Unicom spares no effort in exploring innovation for field network modernization, among which, dynamic spectrum sharing is without doubt the hottest topic. Since 2015, ZTE has been working closely with China Unicom in spectrum sharing involving 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G, from GSM/LTE dynamic spectrum sharing to UMTS/LTE dynamic spectrum sharing, and now SuperDSS with UMTS/LTE/NR dynamic spectrum sharing, helping China Unicom Henan improve user experience based on our deep understanding of the network and user behavior.

ZTE has the industry most comprehensive multi-RAT dynamic spectrum sharing solution Magic Radio Pro, supporting up to seven scenarios inter-RAT sharing (GSM/LTE, UMTS/LTE, GSM/UMTS, LTE/NR, UMTS/LTE/NR, GSM/LTE/NR and etc.) with five radio technologies(GSM, UMTS, LTE, NB-IoT and NR) as ZTE is dedicated in the innovation of spectrum sharing field since 2014. Besides inter-RAT dynamic spectrum sharing among FDD modes, ZTE further explores the spectrum sharing possibilities and capabilities, SuperDSS is the key innovation of ZTE Magic Radio Pro solution in 5G era. In China Unicom Henan, the sites empowered with ZTE Magic Radio Pro solution are more than 10,000 and will further increase in the 5G evolution.

Based on our technology know-how and valuable experiences in commercial deployment of dynamic spectrum sharing, ZTE spectrum sharing solution will continue to help operators explore new possibilities and flexibility in 5G and network migration, bringing the most advanced technologies for even the most subtle yet important requirements. We have every reason to believe that SuperDSS will benefit China Unicom and global operators to address the challenges of 5G evolution and business development sustainability.

Huawei faces fresh threat from US-China spat over COVID-19

While the two presidents have spoken to each other again, the American government is still planning to further restrict Huawei’s access to chip supplies.

President Trump and Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, spoke on the phone for the first time since February after increasing acrimony between the two countries blaming each other for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It took place shortly after an emergency G20 online conference, in which both heads of state participated, and after Johns Hopkins statistics showed the US has registered more COVID-19 patients than China’s official number.

After the talk, Trump, in keeping with his communication tradition, turned to Twitter to share the news and his assessment:

If there is anything surprising in the tweet, in addition to Trump’s unpredictable change of mood and throw-away sentiments, is what is not there. It did not include the term “Chinese virus” which the President has repeatedly used in reference to the coronavirus that caused COVID-19 since a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman publicly promoted the conspiracy theory, on Twitter (which is banned inside China), that it was the American Army personnel that brought the new coronavirus to Wuhan, where the current global pandemic first started.

The official Chinese media, for example the China Daily, unsurprisingly covered the story in a manner as if the phone call had been a lecturing by Xi. In addition to defending China’s actions in the course of the pandemic, and offering to help other nations combat the disease, Xi is reported to have specifically asked the US to “adopt concrete measures to protect the safety and health of Chinese citizens, including students, in the US.” Many of China’s rich and famous have sent their children to the US, as students or otherwise. Xi’s own daughter was at Harvard before he became China’s supreme leader.

There had been signs of rapprochement prior to the call. For example, China’s ambassador to the US refused to endorse the foreign ministry spokesman’s conspiracy theory in an “Axios on HBO” interview a few days before.

Despite the possibility of thaw in the US-China relations at the highest level, actions behind the scene to curb China’s expansion in the US have not stopped. Reuters reported that just before the G20 conference call, officials from the National Security Council and the U.S. Departments of State, Defense, Energy and Commerce had met and agreed to change the Foreign Direct Product Rule in an effort to restrict Huawei’s access to chips made by companies using American technologies and American equipment.

This is aimed at reviving a similar plan tabled in February, which President Trump has presumably refused to sign into law. He told reporters at that time “We’re not going to be sacrificing our companies … by using a fake term of national security. It’s got to be real national security. And I think people were getting carried away with it.”

Huawei’s founder has remained defiant throughout, downplaying both the impact of the American sanctions and that of the hit on market by the pandemic. However, if the new measures pushed by the American government are approved by the President, they can have material impact. Despite that HiSilicon, Huawei’s wholly-owned chip design company, has made impressive progress in recent years, it relies on fab firms like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest microchip manufacturer, to turn the designs into physical chips. There are only a handful companies that can do so, and almost all of them use American technologies.

China’s public stance to shift blame of the COVID-19 pandemic to other countries may even backfire from markets in addition to the US, and Huawei could be caught in it. The same foreign ministry spokesman has also actively disseminated rumours that the virus was originated in Italy, which has been flatly refuted by the Italian scholar it purported to quote. This and his earlier shenanigans against the US have lent support for growing pressure inside the British government on Boris Johnson, the PM in self-isolation after tested positive for COVID-19, to revisit the decision to allow Huawei to participate in building the country’s 5G networks.

It is probably fair to say that Huawei’s opaque relationship with the Chinese state has not helped its image in the western markets, nor has China’s questionable way in both dealing with the pandemic and reporting its number of patients and casualties. The company itself, as well as other Chinese tech companies, has generously donated large quantities of medical equipment and protective gears to Europe.