We’ve hit the go button on 5G, now what?

If the years of sleepless nights and hype are actually going to mean anything, 5G has to deliver more than 4G possibly could, and right now it isn’t.

This might sound like an incredibly negative comment, but it is a realistic assessment of where the industry actually is today. Hitting the on button was simply the first phase, it delivers an enhanced 4G connectivity environment. The big question is what comes next.

“Is 5G a premium product?” Ovum’s Dario Talmesio asked at 5G World today. “Of course, it is a premium product. This is a step change to what we can experience on today’s products in 4G.

“At the moment, the monetization of 5G is similar to that of 4G. This is the most simplistic monetization model. But we won’t be able to do anything new until ‘real 5G’ emerges.”

This is where the big challenge for the industry is about to emerge. The first usecases are simplistic ones, building on the ‘bigger, badder, faster’ mentality of the telecommunications industry. It makes the ‘pipe’ bigger, allowing more data to flow through it, and faster, enabling faster download speeds.

An example of this enhanced connectivity model is over at Verizon. Speaking at the same event, Ronan Dunne, President of Verizon Wireless, pointed towards the increasingly worrying strain being placed on the network. 5G allows Verizon to meet these demands, reduce the strain on the network and increase profitability through technology efficiencies.

Another gain is on the convergence side of telecoms. In areas where Verizon does not have a fixed network, Dunne pointed towards the FWA alternative which 5G enables. Three UK is another company which is exploiting this product and there are numerous other telcos who are eyeing up FWA as a proposition to build bigger product portfolios.

Customers might be willing to pay for this incremental upgrade, but it doesn’t fix the bigger issue in the telco space; adding extra value, and therefore seeking new revenues.

This is not a new idea. One of the basic ambitions of 5G is to evolve the telco from a communications service provider to a digital service provider. But how are the telcos getting on in searching for pastures new?

As you can see from the slide below, it hasn’t been the most ambitious start.

INSERT PIC OF DARIO PRESENTATION

Although you can see there are ambitions to take advantage of newly emerging segments, these are areas which the telcos already operate in. Entertainment, media and smart cities will certainly add some weight to the telco cause, but they will have to venture further afield.

SK Telecom is one company which is pushing the boundaries of the acceptable norm, though this should not really come as a surprise considering the leadership position South Korea has crafted.

During his own presentation, Takki Yu confirmed SK Telecom is challenging itself to seek out new ideas and business cases.

“5G era has begun, let’s do anything which we can imagine,” said Yu. “That is the key message from SK Telecom.”

An interesting point made by Yu was about the mentality of SK Telecom. The team is aiming to bring anything which would be considered offline today into the mobile mix. It does sound very ‘blue-sky thinking’, but it is important to think about new ideas. Many telcos will claim they are doing this, though there is little evidence to support the PR plugs.

Looking at the POCs which SK Telecom is exploring, there is quite a bit of breadth. In partnership with the Sinclair Group, SKT is working towards 5G-based broadcasting services, it is investigating the potential of a 5G-hospital with Yonsei Severance, with WeWork it is working towards a 5G-smart office, with the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Center the team is exploring the next generation of smart factories and it has set-up a smart city in the Incheon Free Economic Zone.

As Ovum’s Dario Talmesio pointed out, the issue many telcos are facing is a lack of industry-specific knowledge. Creating these solutions for the verticals, and integrating them appropriately, cannot be done if the telcos remain as a silo. This is what the Asian telcos have been doing very well over the last few years; partnering with industry verticals. Unfortunately for the European telcos, they are playing catch-up here.

Right now, the world might be wowed by the incredible speeds which are being delivered through 5G networks, but the truth of the matter is that this will not last forever. The wow-factor will fade, and soon enough customers will realise it isn’t actually that innovative. Soon enough, the 3GPP will unveil Release 16 and ‘real’ 5G will emerge. This is where the telcos will have to be very attentive or risk being relegated to the role of connectivity partner.

No clear winners in the latest US spectrum auction

Millimetre Wave spectrum has been a polarised topic in the US, and now the results are in from the latest auctions, some interesting tales have emerged.

Two spectrum auctions have taken place so far this year in the US, with both results being announced at the same time. $2.7 billion might be a lot to add into the FCC coffers, but it is considerably short of the monstrous amount of cash which was spent ahead of the 3G and 4G connectivity euphoria. Considering the amount of attention which has been given to mmWave, some might have expected this auction to attract more attention.

Strictly speaking, mmWave spectrum should be considered way above what we are talking about here, though the industry seems to have adopted anything above 26 GHz. Here, the two auctions are dealing with assets in the 24 GHz and 28 GHz spectrum bands.

Telco 24 GHz licences Total spend 28 GHz licences Total spend
AT&T 831 $982,468,996 N/A N/A
T-Mobile 1,346 $803,212,025 865 $39,288,450
Starry 104 $48,462,700 N/A N/A
US Cellular 282 $126,567,813 408 $129,404,200
Windstream 116 $20,439,360 106 $6,170,990
Verizon 9 $15,255,000 1,066 $505,733,170

The list of companies who have actually won spectrum assets through the auction is quite extensive, many are regionalised, rural telcos. We’ve only included the big ones here, and some interesting also-rans.

Although there still has been a considerable amount of cash spent during the auction period, the results do seem to imply mmWave might not be as crucial as previously believed. These assets might well be able to transmit huge amounts of data, but shorter ranges in comparison to the low- and mid-band bands, and the risk of signals being easily blocked, perhaps have telco fearing to dig too deep into the pockets.

Starting with Verizon, the telco now owns 65% of the available assets in the 28-31 GHz band. Through this auction and previous acquisitions of XO and Straight Path, Verizon has worked up quite a holding, though considering how much it has been beating its chest in the mmWave debate, it is perhaps surprising it low-balled the 24 GHz auction. Here, the firm only owns 1% of the total assets available.

From T-Mobile US’ perspective, the firm has shored up its spectrum breadth. Previously, the firm had not owned any licenses in the mmWave bands and has been the most critical of the potential of the assets. Spending the most in total across the two auctions, it seems the team is attempting to cover all bases, adding to the 600 MHz assets it has accumulated and plans to launch 5G on later this year.

AT&T’s focus was exclusively on the 24 GHz auction, where it spent the most cash, building out its portfolio in the higher spectrum bands.

Sprint is perhaps the biggest omission from the list, not winning any licenses across the two auctions, though it has previously aired its own criticisms of the potential of mmWave. The firm has started its 5G rollout, primarily using its 2.5 GHz spectrum for the launch. Whether its anonymity in this auction is evidence of its confidence in the success of the T-Mobile US merger we’ll leave you to decide.

There is of course life beyond the four major providers, and there have been some interesting wins across both the auctions.

FWA start-up Starry is an interesting one, winning 104 licenses in the 24 GHz auction. At the Big 5G Event in Denver this year, Starry COO Alex Moulle-Berteaux suggested the business was able to operate at such low prices while scaling in new regions was down to making best use of unlicensed spectrum assets. Spending $48 million this time around suggests a slightly new approach to delivering connectivity for the start-up.

These licences are now owned by Starry in 51 Partial Economic Areas (PEA), suggesting the business could be on the verge of much more aggressive geographical expansion. Details of where in the US Starry has won are not available just yet, but soon enough there will be much more colour on the plans. The assets might be used to shore-up performance in existing markets, or fuel geographical expansion.

US Cellular is another interesting case from the auctions, spending more than $250 million on 690 licenses. The telco currently has a presence in 23 markets across the US, with more than six million subscribers. It certainly isn’t going to challenge on a nationwide scale, however, with a stronger presence in the mmWave segment it could prove to be a worthy pain in the side to the big four telcos.

Windstream is the final ‘also-ran’ which we want to look at here. Spending just over $25 million on 222 licenses across both of the auctions, the team appear to be targeting the emerging FWA segment in some of the regions which are often overlooked in the US.

The firm launched a fixed-wireless access to business customers several years ago, and more recently has added products for consumers. In states such as Nebraska and Iowa, Windstream has pointed out signals can travel further thanks to “fairly flat topology”, while the mmWave assets will help the firm achieve the higher speeds demanded by enterprise and consumers alike.

What is worth noting is this is not the end of the spectrum auction bonanza. Over the next couple of months, the hype will start building for a combined auction in the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz bands.

That said, at the moment, the mmWave euphoria is appearing to be somewhat of a let-down.

FCC reveals glacial progress on the resale of location data by operators

US operators have been reselling the location data they accumulate about their subscribers and have been slow to deliver on promises to stop.

This practice was already well-known by the time it was highlighted in an expose at the start of this year. At the time operators were quick to stress that they’re pulling out all the stops to protect their customers’ personal data but Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was apparently skeptical. Frustrated by their deafening silence on the matter she wrote to the four US MNOs at the start of the month to ask them what they were playing at.

Rosenworcel received relatively prompt responses from those operators and decided to publish them alongside a mea culpa that was probably directed more at other FCC Commissioners than herself. “The FCC has been totally silent about press reports that for a few hundred dollars shady middlemen can sell your location within a few hundred meters based on your wireless phone data. That’s unacceptable,” she said.

“I don’t recall consenting to this surveillance when I signed up for wireless service—and I bet neither do you. This is an issue that affects the privacy and security of every American with a wireless phone. It is chilling to think what a black market for this data could mean in the hands of criminals, stalkers, and those who wish to do us harm. I will continue to press this agency to make public what it knows about what happened. But I do not believe consumers should be kept in the dark. That is why I am making these letters available today.”

You can read the contrite and exculpatory responses here, but in case you can’t be bothered here’s a summary. AT&T said it started phasing out this sort of thing in June 2018, while still making location data available in emergencies. Additionally the letter attempted to distance AT&T from the reports in question and said it had stopped sharing and data with location aggregators and LBS providers on 29 March 2019.

Sprint said it current works with just one LBS (location based services) provider but will pack that in by the end of this month. T-Mobile said it had terminated all contracts with LBS types by 9 March 2019 and went on at considerable length to correct what it considers to be flawed reporting on how it used to handle this sort of thing. Verizon said it had terminated all location deals by the end of March 2019.

So that would appear to be that. All the operators have said they don’t deal with location data aggregators anymore and presumably Rosenworcel is a happy Commissioner. But the fact that they’ve only just stopped reselling their customer’s personal data, and even then only after persistent nagging and bad publicity, is a further illustration of how cavalier the tech industry has been with personal data to date.

Focusing on 5G speed is missing the point – Verizon

5G has been promising a lot, such is the industry’s inability to keep a handle on hype, but the winners and losers of tomorrow’s connected world might well be those who are able to think a bit differently.

The focus of the morning keynote sessions at Light Reading’s Big 5G Event has had much more of a commercial focus than perhaps we are used to. The challenges of deploying a 5G network at scale and pace are intimidating, but the business model to ensure this isn’t a colossal waste of money are equally as daunting. This might be the difference between the haves and have nots of tomorrow.

“If we are at this conference next year and all 5G is for consumers is faster internet, we will have missed the boat,” said Nicki Palmer, SVP of Technology and Product Development at Verizon.

This point was echoed by Craig Sparks, Chief Innovation Officer at C Spire and Igor Glubochansky, AVP of Mobility Product Management at AT&T. It’s a simple idea, but one we suspect many will ignore; the traditional and relentless focus on speeds, the bigger, faster meaner mentality, will march telcos down the dreary road of utilitisation.

Here we have three telcos who have seemingly cottoned onto the idea. 5G is about more than speed, but we suspect there will be numerous others who do not attempt to disrupt themselves and create new value for the ecosystem.

In her keynote presentation, Palmer presented a mentality which should be the foundation of any telco making the move into the 5G world. 5G should be built on fulfilling the gaps where 4G falls short. This might be on speed in some cases, though data throughput should not be ignored, and neither should the promise of low latency or increased reliability.

“In 2010, no one predicted how the capabilities [of 4G networks] would enable whole new business models, the same thing is going to happen again [with 5G networks],” said Palmer.

Although premium add-ons for data tariffs are one way to make money, enterprise services and products open the door to entirely new revenues, and potentially a new path forward, avoiding the dreaded tag of commoditisation. Whether its healthcare, retail, manufacturing or broadcasting, industry specific applications could mean significant ROI for the telcos. However, it is critical the ‘bigger, meaner, faster’ business model which is so heavily reliant on faster internet is forgotten.

In five years’ time, the connectivity ecosystem is likely to be very different. We can imagine a split in the industry however. On one side, you have the telcos who double down on speed angle, using 5G to entice consumers onto steroid-induced tariffs. This might look attractive in the short-term, but these telcos will be led towards utilitisation.

The telcos who are taking the trickier path, exploring the unknown realms of 5G, will add value and become much more attractive companies. Hopefully there won’t be too many who fall into the short-termist trap but we suspect there will be quite a few.

Verizon continues quest to correct content car crash

The Verizon mission to conquer the content world has been anything but a smooth ride to date, and now it is reportedly searching for a buyer for Tumblr.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Verizon executives are on the search to offload the platform. The Verizon Media Group has been under considerable pressure in recent months, as the promise of value through content and diversification has eluded the telco.

Looking at the most recent earnings call, Verizon Media Group revenue was $1.8 billion, down 7.2% year-on-year for the quarter. Declines in desktop advertising were primarily blamed, with the dip continuing to more than offset growth in mobile and native advertising. Considering the effort the telco had to exert to acquire Yahoo, not to mention the headaches it had to endure, some might have hoped there would be more immediate value.

The last couple of months have seen Verizon attempt to make money from the mockery, with a particular focus on job cuts. In January, it was announced 7% of the media unit’s workforce, some 800 roles, would be sacrificed to the gods of profits, and now it seems Tumblr is being marshalled to the alter.

What is worth noting is this is a platform which has promise.

After being acquired by Yahoo during 2013 for $1.1 billion, Verizon inherited Tumblr through the much mangled $4.8 billion acquisition of Yahoo in 2017. Although some might struggle to understand what Tumblr does, the all-encompassing blogging platform currently has 465.4 million blogs and 172 billion posts.

Tumblr is a tricky one to understand what it actually does, but instead of trying to pigeon hole it into a definition perhaps the better approach would be to let it just be itself. Tumblr defines itself as a blank canvas, allowing users to post text, photos, GIFs, videos, live videos and audio, or pretty much anything the user wants to.

Perhaps this is why Verizon has struggled with the brand and presumably failing to realise the potential. Telcos generally cultivate traditional and relatively closed-minded cultures. With Tumblr just being itself, rather than fitting into a tidy tick-box exercise, Verizon may be struggling to communicate the value to customers or even devise an out-of-the-box business model to monetize it effectively.

This assessment is perhaps supported by where the media business has seen success. Financial news for example, or the delivery of sports content. These are not exactly complex business models to understand, more difficult to deliver however, as they are more functional. These are the areas CFO Matt Ellis was boasting about during the earnings call.

While there has not been any official commitment or denial to the rumours from Verizon so far, there does seem to be some appetite from the industry. According to Buzzfeed, Pornhub VP Corey Price is ‘extremely interested’ in potentially acquiring Tumblr, promising to re-discover the NSFW edge, one of the factors which drove the popularity of Tumblr during the early days.

The future of Tumblr might be a bit hazy for the moment, but one thing is clear. Verizon is mapping out a very effective usecase on how not to diversify into the content world.

T-Mobile/Sprint merger approval is still hanging in the balance

The US DoJ’s anti-trust chief has not made up his mind on the T-Mobile/Sprint merger case, saying the deal must meet key criteria.

Speaking on CNBC (see below) Makan Delrahim, Assistant Attorney General for the US Departments of Justice’s Antitrust Division, said he has not made up his mind yet. Although he refused to comment on if his staff resisted the deal, as was reported by the media, Delrahim did allude to more data being requested from the two parties.

Delrahim also dismissed the notion that there is any magical number of competitors to deliver optimal competition in a regulated market like telecom. Any proposed deal needs to deliver efficiency, but the efficiency needs to be both merger specific, that is the efficiency cannot be achieved through other means, and verifiable.

With regard to the effects of the merger on consumers, Delrahim listed two items, price effect and coordinated effect. The first is related to the potential price move up or down after the merger. The second refers to if the merged company has the incentive to continue to compete with the existing competitors on price, in this case AT&T and Verizon. 5G will also factor in the DoJ’s decision making consideration, Delrahim said. But, instead of being positioned as a counteract against China, in this interview Delrahim was treating 5G in the framework of service offer to consumers, and the merger’s impact on it.

When being asked on the timeline, Delrahim said there is no deadline on the DoJ side, except that the deal cannot be completed before a certain date. This timeline can be extended if more deliberation is needed.

On the FCC front, another hurdle that the two carriers need to overcome before they can become one, they continued to play the offensive. Last week representatives from the two companies, including John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile, and Marcelo Claure, Executive Chairman of Sprint, called on the FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and her Legal Advisor. The team presented the updated merger case, including their pledge to deploy home broadband, drive down prices, deliver more benefits to prepaid customers, and create, instead of cutting, jobs.

FCC’s unofficial 180-day consultation period was reopened early this month, after being halted three times, and is now on day 147.

Makan Delrahim’s CNBC interview is here:

 

 

Verizon expands 5G supported by Samsung 5G phone

US operator Verizon will switch on 5G in 20 more cities and has opened pre-orders of Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G smartphone.

Verizon announced that it will switch on 5G Ultra Wideband service within this year in: Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Des Moines, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Little Rock, Memphis, Phoenix, Providence, San Diego, Salt Lake City and Washington DC. That will take the total number of cities to offer 5G Ultra Wideband to at least 22 by the end of the year, with the networks in Chicago and Minneapolis already live since March. Verizon stands by its plan to deploy 5G network in about 30 cities across the country during the year, so a few more cities may still join the club later.

Meanwhile, all Verizon users can start pre-ordering the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, though only those in the 22 cities and on Verizon’s Above and Beyond Unlimited plans will be able to enjoy 5G service. The S10 5G will be exclusive to Verizon for a limited period, and will arrive at Verizon stores on 16 May.

“The Galaxy S10 5G on Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network will give our customers access to incredible speeds and the latest and greatest streaming, augmented-reality, gaming, and consumer and business applications that bring us into a future powered by 5G,” said Ronan Dunne, EVP of Verizon and president of Verizon’s consumer group. “With the rollout of 5G in more than 30 markets by the end of 2019 and the upcoming launch of Samsung’s first 5G Galaxy smartphone, we are pulling further ahead of the competition in 5G.”

When Verizon first launched 5G at the end of last year in four cities, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Indianapolis, and Houston, the service was limited to fixed wireless access, due to the lack of smartphones in the market. Consumers in Chicago and Minneapolis, the first two cities to go live on 5G Ultra Wideband in March were supported by the 5G Moto Mod attached to the LTE Moto Z3.

In addition to just fast internet, which Verizon promised to reach “typical” download speeds of 450 Mbps when the Chicago and Minneapolis service was switched on, Verizon’s group-level partnership with YouTube TV will also give the new 5G users plenty of content to fill the bandwidth with, similar to what SK Telecom does with its own 5G service.

AT&T will stick with 5GE after settling with Sprint

US operator Sprint has settled the case it brought against AT&T for unfair competition with the 5GE marketing gimmick with apparently little to show for it.

The legal trade publication Law360 reported that Sprint and AT&T have reached a settlement of the case Sprint brought to a federal court in New York in February. A short statement was mailed to the media, “The parties have amicably resolved this matter,” it said. A source told Law360 that AT&T will continue to use “5G Evolution” or 5GE in its marketing and ads materials. No details on the terms of settlement have been disclosed.

In the court case, Sprint complained that AT&T was conducting false advertising, therefore misleading consumers, and in turn, directly harming Sprint’s business interest. In addition to the law suit, Sprint also took out a full-page ad in the New York Times in March to warn consumers “Don’t be fooled. 5G Evolution isn’t new or true 5G. It is fake 5G.”

The other big US operators were not holding back from attacking AT&T’s antics either. Verizon’s CTO wrote an open letter calling on the industry “to commit to labeling something 5G only if new device hardware is connecting to the network using new radio technology to deliver new capabilities,” as well as promised that Verizon “won’t take an old phone and just change the software to turn the 4 in the status bar into a 5.” T-Mobile, on the other hand, in keeping with its CEO’s maverick spirit, uploaded a video showing someone taping over the LTE indicator on the phone with a sticker labelled “9G”.

Even the OEMs would not let go the chance to mock AT&T’s shenanigans. Xiaomi, when launching its 5G smartphone before MWC in Barcelona, pointedly highlighted the 5G network by Orange it used for the demo was real 5G, “not fake 5G”.

A few days before the announcement of settlement AT&T defended itself at the court that consumers were not fooled into believing the 5GE is actually 5G. On the other hand, for the purists like the EU-backed 5G Infrastructure Association or Qualcomm, none of the 5G networks launched so far in Korea and the US can be called “real 5G”.