Some telcos just don’t want to change – Hrvastski Telekom

It is an interesting statement to make at a telecoms conference, but it is one which is pretty evident if you look back through the years.

Telco executives around the world will disagree with the statement made by Goran Car of Hrvastski Telekom, but we are tempted to side with him.

“Not everyone wants to change,” Car said at the 5G Core conference in Madrid during his presentation which assessed the challenges of creating a software-defined telco.

“The question you have to ask is how much you want to change.”

This is quite a broad statement to make, though it is perhaps true on two levels. Firstly, many telcos struggle through virtualisation because they bite off too much at once. And secondly, culturally, change is a very difficult process to manage and ensure the new status-quo remains in place.

The internet companies are dominating the world for a very simple reason; these are organizations which are not afraid to look at the evolving environment and create a new business which is more suited. Let’s not forget, Netflix didn’t start out as a streaming business.

Another factor which you also have to consider is the ability to change. The ones which have adapted and evolved are generally not tied to legacy systems and processes, and usually designed a business which is capable of disrupting itself.

These are elements which hold telcos back when it comes to creating a business which is fir-for-purpose in the digital economy. Very few telcos can afford to operate in a completely greenfield environment, while there are still obligations to serve customers who are still reliant on aging technology, services and products.

That said, we seem to have been talking about the evolution of the telco for years. New business models, a new approach to making money, new ways to engage the consumer and new technology to underpin the organization and networks were supposed to be solutions to facilitate digital transformation.

But how much progress is actually being made?

The cloud companies who have created so much disruption are still the envy of the world, while telcos are still talking about future-proofing the business and networks. Progress is being made, though the divide between the digital haves and have nots is still pretty notable.

Although we are discussing the cultural element of transition, Car has been focusing on the technological as well. Virtualisation is a very difficult task to undertake, and perhaps explains why there are few telcos which can genuinely describe themselves as ‘software-defined’.

One of the biggest challenges which many are likely to face is an understanding of the problem. Car pointed to virtualisation strategies and questioned whether too much is being done at once. What is the business case to cloudifying some aspects of the business? Are extra elements being bolted onto the project for the sake of it? What impact will this have on the success metrics?

Another element to consider is the sought-after benefits. Car described a ‘magic number’ at Hrvastski Telekom which is 40. If a project cannot deliver cost savings of 40% at the very minimum, it is denied. There is no point in virtualising something just so it can have a flashy sticker, it is supposed to serve a business purpose. Being selective in the drive towards being a software-defined telco is just as important as being innovative, creative and aggressive.

Being a bit more strategic with digital transformation strategies is a must, though the sceptic in us perhaps believes there are too many people who want to maintain the status quo.

Rakuten delays network launch to work out the bugs

Japan’s fourth mobile operator has said it will delay its launch, originally set for October 1, in favour of a limited trial for 5,000 users.

The announcement will put a dampener on the spirits of those who are closely watching developments in Japan. With the barriers set so high on entering the mobile connectivity game for new-comers, cash-rich technology companies will be looking for tips and tricks to develop their own game-plans, though this was not supposed to be part of the story.

“In order to ensure the stability and quality of its service for customers and continue to improve the network based on customer feedback and requests, the company will initially open applications to 5,000 subscribers free of charge through the Free Supporter Program,” the firm said in a statement.

The official launch of the service will now be at some point before 31 March 2020, with the Free Support Program set to conclude at that point. Those subscribers who are assisting with the network trial will continue to get free services through to 31 March however.

The trial will focus on Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya City and Kobe City, with KDDI and Okinawa Cellular to provide roaming services outside of these regions. Those on the trial will receive unlimited calls and data services through the period, in exchange for providing regular feedback to the telco.

The launch of Rakuten has caught the attention of many inside and outside of Japan for several reasons. In the country, consumers have had to deal with three providers to date and the introduction of a fourth player will provide additional competition, as well as a potential disruption to create a new status-quo when it comes to pricing. Just look at the impact Reliance Jio had on India to see the potential a new player can inspire.

Outside of Japan, there will of course be vendors rubbing their hands together in anticipation of a genuine greenfield project, though those who have an interest in muscling in on the connectivity game.

Starting with the vendors, this is a potential gold mine. If Rakuten is going to be competitive, it will have to get its network up-and-running very quickly. Aggressive network deployment and expansion to reduce the reliance on roaming requires some serious investment. The more success Rakuten can generate in the early days, the more quickly it will be able to mobilise investment to fuel further expansion.

And now for the disruptors. There will be several companies which will be keeping an eye on developments here, hoping to understand what works and what doesn’t when deploying a new network.

Dish is one company which falls into this category. Should the T-Mobile US and Sprint merger survive the legal challenges it is facing, Dish will become the fourth MNO in the US through acquiring the Boost prepaid brand from Sprint. It will then have to try and build its own network as quickly as possible.

There are of course other companies who have already declared their interest in the mobile connectivity game, 1&1 Drillisch in Germany for example, however internet companies have also been rumoured to be getting involved.

Amazon is the company which immediately comes to mind, a rumour about Amazon mobile is never too far away, however this is applicable to any internet firm which has a lot of money. Owning and managing a network is one way to make money, another opportunity to collect valuable data on consumers and a chance to own the relationship with the consumer end-to-end.

If Rakuten can prove an internet company can deploy an end-to-end fully virtualized, cloud-native network cost-effectively and in a timely manner, as well as attract the right people to manage the network to meet customer expectations, why wouldn’t others believe they can do the same.

Amazon has buckets of cash, as does Google, Facebook, Alibaba, Baidu or Microsoft. If Rakuten can do it, why couldn’t they? Or how about investment companies and venture capitalists who are always looking for a way to make money?

Huawei powered Chinese operators trial 5G for industry verticals

China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator by subscribers, has just trialled 5G for business vertical use on a standalone (SA) architecture. Huawei and Baidu provided the technologies.

The trial was carried out in Beijing, China, and the use case was a corporate video conference. It used 8K cameras to capture live video, which was then sent to the 5G SA core network through China Mobile’s 5G gNodeBs base stations. The data was then processed (encoded and decoded) by Baidu servers on the same network, then sent to the conference room for the 8K live video broadcast.

The trial was using the technology called “5G Vertical LAN” defined in 3GPP R16, which in essence is an insulated “slice” of the mobile network dedicated to a single business user, i.e. becoming a private cloud for an enterprise. The enterprise cloud can be provided by the mobile operator, or the enterprise can choose to provide its own customized 5G vertical LAN. This cloudified enterprise environment “enables terminals to directly communicate with each other, and allows them to access enterprise clouds” without going through the public cloud, therefore increasing the communication security.

However, to realise such a virtual enterprise setup it needs the 5G network to be in SA mode, because insulating and managing the virtual network is all done with software and hard to implement on non-standalone (NSA) mode. This China Mobile trial was conducted on such an SA architecture.

Huawei did not disclose details of the distance between the two ends, or the latency. The company put up a live video demonstration in the last Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. In that case the distance between the video capturing point and the broadcasting point was about 2km, and the latency was 11ms. But that trial was carried over Vodafone’s hybrid network.

This is not the only network slicing trial Huawei has carried out recently. The day before, the company worked with China Telecom, the world’s largest integrated operator, and China’s State Grid, to carry out a network slicing trial to manage a live power grid. China Telecom has been vocal in promoting 5G for other vertical industries.

The commercial 5G networks launched so far, in the US and in Korea, are all on NSA architecture, which limits the use cases to primarily enhanced mobile broadband access, therefore are mainly consumer focused. When Colin Wilcock, chairman of the European Union-backed 5G Industry Association (5G-IA), dismissed the 5G leadership of North America and Korea as not real 5G but beefed up LTE, though not entirely devoid of sourgraping, he got a point. Speaking at the Smart to Future Cities conference recently, he stressed that “the 5G we (Europe) need has to support the other vertical industries”, though also he conceded it is not going to happen now, but will be deployed in two to five years’ time, reported by Compelo.

75% of the telecoms industry think 2019 will be a great year

Three quarters of the respondents to the latest Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey feel positive or fantastic about the industry’s prospects in the new year.

There is hardly a better way to usher in the new year with a reality check on the industry we are in, and an informed look into the era we are entering. The recently-published Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey report can very well serve such purposes. Thanks to the enthusiastic responses by well over 1,000 telecoms professionals, the majority of whom having more than a decade’s experience in the industry, we are provided with plenty of optimism as well as sober assessment.

A strong contributor to the optimism towards 2019 is the fast rollout of 5G. Not only will the long-awaited 5G networks be switched on in different parts of the world, consumer mobile devices are so close to hitting the market. In addition to eMBB that has been offered on limited scale in the US and South Korea, more ambitious services will be launched to fulfil the 5G’s promises. But at the same time, 62% of the respondents believe the benefits of 5G have not been properly communicated to consumers.

“Only time will tell what a future 5G truly holds, but it’s safe to say there’s a healthy dose of reality within the carrier market. While the promise of 5G and all its intended benefits are still on the horizon, it seems the industry is still identifying which industries can be best served with 5G,” said Sigal Biran-Nagar, Senior Director for Corporate Marketing at ECI. “It’s likely that confidence in the technology, and the willingness for consumers to pay for it, will only grow after its reliability can be assured, and it’s been implemented for a long time, which would also give critical industries and others the confidence they need that it won’t fail.”

All of 5G’s promises are supported by key technology advancements. One of the most frequently discussed areas is virtualisation. The industry continues to show strong belief in virtualisation, with close to 80% of the respondents recognising the significance of NFV for the success of their business. But it does not mean it would be an easy ride for the enthusiasts.

“We are seeing NFV gathering momentum to ‘cross the chasm’. Most respondents think that NFV is important or critical, and their spending in 2019 will be maintained or will increase.” said F5 Networks. “But challenges clearly remain. Only 8% of respondents think NFV is easy to implement. And two thirds thought that the process could be simplified and that automated systems for purchasing could help.”

All the new technologies that make 5G possible also pose new demands for the capability of testing, measuring, and monitoring. More than ever they should already be extensively implemented at the pre-commercial stage due to the new lead use cases, the complexity of its air interface, as well as the central roles played by software and virtualisation.

“5G is on the horizon bringing new opportunities for business growth. CSPs need to tightly control their ecosystem and ensure 5G is done right to deliver on promises for a whole range of new smart applications,” commented EXFO. “Partnering closely with 95%+ of the top CSPs worldwide, EXFO provides next generation test, monitoring and analytics solutions to support operators end-to-end, from lab to live and from the subscriber to the core. EXFO solutions feature real-time network, service and customer insights, process automation, NFV service assurance, prescriptive analytics as well as troubleshooting embedding machine learning and AI.”

Meanwhile, the industry also recognises that 5G is much more than a technology. For the CSPs, it is a significant step on the journey towards digital transformation. Many operators are seeing 5G as a watershed moment to seriously expand beyond the connectivity utility. One third of respondents believe 50% of revenues could be generated by new digital products and services in four years’ time. Opportunities abound.

“The survey provided an industry viewpoint on how much revenue operators will generate from services enabled by digital transformation. This is the foundation for why transformation is needed in the first place,” said Martin Morgan, VP Marketing, Openet. “The survey also provided a health check on how far the industry is advanced in its digital transformation journey and how far it needs to progress to be able to meet their digital services revenue goals. What this means for vendors is that they can set out realistic transformation roadmaps with their customers using the survey results as an industry benchmark.”

One of these growth areas is IoT. 56% of respondents saw IoT as an important driver to expand their service portfolio, while 46% saw it as significant channel to deliver new revenues. Both the short-range IoT, the largest part of the total number of connections, and wide-range including cellular-based IoT, are expected to grow very fast in the coming years, with the latter registering a much faster pace of growth.

“Never before has the digital world impacted the physical world as it does today. IoT drives autonomously driven cars, turns on lights, controls the quality of water, and lets you know who is standing at your front door,” said Ronen Priel, VP Product and Strategy at Allot. “This requires ubiquitous connectivity and security. With 5G mobility, wireless technology, and Fiber to the X (FTTx), connectivity is sorted. But, security is lagging far behind.”

Security is indeed one of the biggest threats to the industry, and that goes beyond IoT. 74% of companies responding to the survey have seen an increase in cyberattacks to their customers over the past year. Businesses are busy shoring up their defence, but they need to recognise that as attacking techniques constantly evolve, so should the defending technologies and business processes.

“We are privileged to contribute to the Telecoms.com 2018 survey report. The survey revealed that end-users and network operators still rely on legacy technology: 63% of network operators use DNS blacklisting for end-user protection. Also, 45% operators are not confident that they are ready to manage IoT security requirements for their customers. It’s crucial to use next-gen technology and start protecting users proactively,” explained Einaras von Gravrock, CEO of CUJO AI.

Now that this report is in front us to provide a panoramic view of the industry today and tomorrow, it will be fascinating to observe how our fellow professionals are turning those promises into reality. You can download your copy of it here. Happy 2019, everyone!

ETSI publishes new spec and reports on 5G tech

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute, ETSI, has released new specifications on packet formatting and forwarding, as well as two reports on transport and network slicing respectively.

The new specification, called Flexilink, focusing on packet formats and forwarding mechanisms to allow core and access networks to support the new services proposed for 5G. The objective of the new specification is to achieve efficient deterministic packet forwarding in user plane for next generation protocols (NGP). In the conventional IP networks, built on the Internet Protocols defined in the 1980s, every packet carries all the information needed to route it to its destination. This is undergoing fundamental changes with new technologies like Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS), where most packets are part of a “flow” such as a TCP session or a video stream. As a result, there is increasingly a separation between the processes of deciding the route packets will follow and of forwarding the packets.

“Current IP protocols for core and access networks need to evolve and offer a much better service to mobile traffic than the current TCP/IP-based technology,” said John Grant, chairman of the ETSI Next Generation Protocol Industry Specification Group (ISG). “Our specifications offer solutions that are compatible with both IPv4 and IPv6, providing an upgrade path to the more efficient and responsive system that is needed to support 5G.”

The new specification defines two separate services, a “basic” service suitable for traditional statistically multiplexed packet data, and a “guaranteed” service providing the lowest possible latency for continuous media, such as audio, video, tactile internet, or vehicle position. It is worth noting that Flexilink only specifies user plane packet formats and routing mechanisms. Specifications for the control plane to manage flows have already been defined in an earlier NGP document “Packet Routing Technologies” published in 2017.

The report “Recommendation for New Transport Technologies” analyses the current transport technologies such as TCP and their limitations, whilst also providing high-level guidance on architectural features required in a transport technology to support the new applications proposed for 5G. The report also includes a framework where there is a clear separation between control and data planes. A proof-of-concept implementation was conducted to experiment the recommended technologies, and to demonstrate that each TCP session can obtain bandwidth guaranteed service or minimum latency guaranteed service. The report states:

“With traditional transport technology, for all TCP traffic passes through DIP router, each TCP session can only obtain a fraction of bandwidth. It is related to the total number of TCP sessions and the egress bandwidth (100 M).

“With new transport technology, new TCP session (DIP flows) could obtain its expected bandwidth or the minimum latency. And most [sic.] important thing is that the new service is not impacted by the state that router is congested, and this can prove that new service by new transport technology is guaranteed.”

Importantly, the PoC experiment showed that the current hardware technology is able to support the proposed new transport technology and provide satisfactory scalability and performance.

The report “E2E Network Slicing Reference Framework and Information Model” looks into the design principles behind network slicing. The topic of network slices encompasses the combination of virtualisation, cloud centric, and SDN technologies. But there is gap in normalized resource information flow over a plurality of provider administration planes (or domains). The report aims to “provide a simple manageable and operable network through a common interface while hiding infrastructure complexities. The present document defines how several of those technologies may be used in coordination to offer description and monitoring of services in a network slice.” It describes the high level functions and mechanisms for implementing network slicing, as well as addresses security considerations.

BBWF 2018: Consumers don’t care about tech, just connectivity – BT

Today’s consumer is demanding but disinterested. They don’t care about mobile or broadband or wifi, just top-line connectivity. To meet these demands, BT has pointed to network convergence.

Speaking at Broadband World Forum, Howard Watson, BT’s CTIO, outlined the bigger picture. It’s all about convergence where the dividing lines between wireless and fixed or hardware and software are blurred, with connectivity is viewed as a single concept, bringing together network design, technology convergence and customer insight to create a single software-orientated network for device neutral connectivity.

“For the consumer, it’s not about their wifi, or their mobile connection, or their fixed broadband, or even their landline,” said Watson. “It’s about connectivity as a whole. And I’m pleased to say we’re already making strong progress here.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be a telco conference without mentioning 5G, and this is a critical component of the BT story. Trials have already begun in East London, though over the next couple of days 10 additional nodes will be added to expand the test. Plans are already underway to launch a converged hardware portfolio, introduce IP voice for customers and create a seamless wifi experience. All of this will be built on a single core network.

But what does this mean for the consumer? Simplicity in the simplest of terms.

The overall objective is to create a seamless connectivity experience which underpins the consumer disinterest in anything but being connected. Soon enough, devices will be able to automatically detect and select the best connectivity option, whether it is wifi or cellular for example, essentially meaning consumers will not have to check anything on their devices. Gone will be the days where you have to worry about your device clinging onto weak wifi signal or being disrupted by a network reaching out to your device, according to Watson. Signing in will become a distant memory as the consumer seamlessly shift from wifi to mobile.

This is of course a grand idea, and there is still a considerable amount of work to be done. Public wifi is pretty woeful as a general rule, and mobile connectivity is patchy in some of the busiest and remotest regions in the UK, but in fairness to BT, it does look like a sensible and well thought out plan.

With telcos becoming increasingly utilitised, these organizations need to start adding value to the lives of the consumer. Connectivity is not enough anymore, as it has become a basic expectation not a luxury in today’s digitally-defined society; providing the seamless experience might just be one way BT can prove its value. Fortunately, with its broadband footprint, EE’s mobile network and 5000 public wifi spots throughout the UK, BT is in a strong position to make the converged network dream a reality.