UK and Germany are a bit rubbish at mobile – Opensignal

A new study from mobile analytics company Opensignal notes the UK and Germany are falling behind in terms of mobile performance.

It took a look at the two operator groups that have networks in both countries and found they all deliver relatively low mobile broadband speeds in those two countries. As you can see in the charts below, Telefónica does a fair bit worse in the UK and Germany than in Spain, but maybe that’s to be expected since it’s a Spanish company. However the trend continues with Vodafone, for which the UK and Germany are two of its worst performers.

opensignal telefonica

opensignal vodafone

“So what’s the reason for these relatively poor mobile broadband speeds in Germany and the U.K.?” said Opensignal Analyst Peter Boyland. “It certainly isn’t market maturity or competition, as both countries have had mobile networks for decades and levels of competition, numbers of operators, etc. are comparable with their neighbours.

“Topographically, both countries have challenges in terms of size and population density, but no more than, say, Italy or Spain. It would be easy to blame poor performance on underinvestment in network infrastructure, but the reality is a combination of many factors including regulation, availability of spectrum, and mergers and acquisitions among network operators.

“The fact remains that Germany and the U.K. are punching well under their weight in terms of mobile network speeds. Both countries are on the verge of 5G launches, but it is likely to be some years before the benefits of these new networks are felt by most mobile users. And there is growing discontent among the business community in Germany, with claims that poor broadband speeds are hindering economic growth. Germany and the U.K. may not be able to wait for the 5G opportunity, as their operators urgently need to make improvements in their mobile network experience today.”

Something’s certainly going on when two major operator groups can only manage around half the performance in the UK and Germany as they can in their leading markets. As Boyland said this situation will be the product of a number of factors, but our gut-feel is that regulation and spectrum availability are probably the most significant of them.

Vodafone Italy set to cut 1,130 jobs

Vodafone has decided its Italian arm needs a new cunning plan and, as is so often the case, it’s likely to involve a bunch of redundancies.

Right now we’re dependent on a press release written in Italian and the best efforts of Google Translate, so bear with us. Vodafone Italia seems to be announcing a new industrial strategy, that special kind that requires immediate consultation with trades unions. Since unions only tend to get involved when there are mass lay-offs, that can only mean one thing.

In stark contrast with its previous apparent optimism about the Italian market, Vodafone now sees extraordinary competitive pressure in in that country, which has led to a drastic drop in prices and hence a sharp contraction of the whole telecoms sector. As a result Vodafone’s bottom line in Italy is heading in the wrong direction and something’s got to give.

While a lot may have been lost in Google translation, the remedial measures seems to follow the standard clichés of streamlining, agile operating models and a focus on margin to enable continued investment. All this means cutting overheads, which is traditionally done through redundancies. The announcement speaks of 1,130 efficiencies.

In hindsight the writing has been on the wall for a little while. Vodafone was one of the big spenders in the recent Italian 5G spectrum auction and subsequently announced it was going to do a nice lot of infrastructure sharing with fellow big spender TIM. With new entrant Iliad contributing to the aforementioned competitive pressure we would be surprised if this is the last bit of streamlining news to come from the Italian telecoms market.

Vodafone pips EE for 5G bragging rights

Vodafone has added 12 new locations to the 5G rollcall, with the connectivity euphoria set to grow across 2019.

Reading between the lines, it seems the launch will happen during mid-summer months, as CTO Scott Petty highlighted there are numerous factors to consider including the availability of handsets, 5G equipment and spectrum assets. That said, Vodafone is now boasting the highest number of 5G locations across the UK, with the additional 12 beating the benchmark of 16 set by EE.

“Our multi-billion-pound network investment and leading position in setting global standards will ensure our customers have the very latest 5G releases and technology,” said Petty. “5G will also usher in a new era where everyone and everything is better connected, whether you are running a hotel in Portsmouth or broadcasting live at MediaCity in Salford.”

Among the originally announced seven locations, Salford is already live, while test sites in Bristol, Cardiff and Liverpool have now been switched on. the equipment has now been installed in Birmingham, Glasgow and London also. Birkenhead, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Guildford, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington and Wolverhampton are the new locations to be added to the list, while the Newbury HQ will also be going live over 2019.

Of course, for every step forward made, there will always be those ready to complain.

“As 5G starts to be rolled out, it is important that the drive for full nationwide coverage availability is maintained,” said Ernest Doku of uSwitch.com. “5G does not address the current challenges which consumers face who are struggling with service – it largely means bringing faster speeds to those that can enjoy 4G today.

“Providers should be mindful of the potential to increase the country’s digital divide, if there is only a focus on places where mobile internet coverage is already strong.”

Some might question what people are going to do with the lightening fast mobile speeds, seeing as there are few mass market applications to justify the upgrade, though Vodafone has pointed to a newly-opened Incubation Hub in Manchester. Here, the team is working with roughly 40 companies to develop new usecases to validate the experience.

With EE and Vodafone fighting for first place, O2 set to launch its own 5G connectivity over the course of 2019 and Three to follow at some point before the close of play, the 5G race is heating up. Two big questions remain now;

  1. How are the telcos going to sell 5G to the consumer?
  2. And, how much is it actually going to cost?

Security discussion needs to be bigger than Huawei – Vodafone UK CTO

Huawei is an obvious risk when you are assessing the vendor landscape, but to ensure supply chain resilience and integrity, focusing too narrowly on one company poses a bigger risk, according to Vodafone.

It might be easy to point the finger at China, but according to Vodafone UK CTO Scott Petty, this is a dangerous position to take. Despite a lack of evidence to suggest backdoors are being built into Huawei products, the world is determined to find one, but in reality, there isn’t a single company in the vendor ecosystem which can justifiably state they are 100% secure. This is the world we are living in; risk is everywhere.

“The discussion about Huawei is all managing the risk appropriately,” Petty said at a briefing in Central London.

Risk is a big topic at Vodafone UK right now, and this is clear when you look at how the vendor ecosystem is being managed.

On the radio side of the network, of the 18,000 base stations Vodafone has around the country, Huawei equipment accounts for 32% of them, Nokia 12% and Ericsson taking the remainder. Interestingly enough, Nokia equipment is being phased out in favour of Ericsson. For transmission, this is split between Juniper, Cisco and Ciena, while Cisco is responsible for the core. With this blend of vendors, and appropriate security gateways between each layer of the network, Petty feels Vodafone is managing the risk very appropriately.

And while some might suggest having this much exposure to Huawei might be a negative, Petty argues radio is such low risk it shouldn’t dictate play. You have to take into consideration the risk/benefit equation.

When assessing risk, Vodafone (working with the National Cyber Security Centre) considers two possible scenarios. Firstly, what is the risk of a nefarious actor leaching data from the network, and secondly, taking down the network. On the radio side of things, the exposure is very low.

Firstly, Vodafone has 18,000 base stations throughout the UK. Should one of these base stations be compromised, only the traffic going through that base station would be at risk. This will be a fraction of the total, devices will be handed off to other base stations as people move around, while the clear majority of internet traffic is encrypted nowadays. The likelihood of a nefarious actor trying to bleed valuable insight in this manner is low.

Secondly, even if one of these base stations is taken down by the external wrong-doer, this is only one of 18,000 base stations. To have a material impact on Vodafone’s network, hundreds or even thousands would have to be impacted simultaneously. This is not inconceivable, but highly unlikely. As Petty mentioned, its all about evaluating and minimizing risk.

This is where the discussion becomes incredibly complicated. Huawei is one of the leading names (if not the leader) in the radio segment, ignoring such a vendor is a difficult decision to make as a technologist; you always want to use best in class.

For transmission, another area Huawei would be considered a leading name, the risk has been identified as medium. You would still need a lot of compute power to crack the encryption software, but Vodafone have decided to steer clear of Chinese vendors here.

Finally, onto the core, the most important part of the network. Petty pointed to O2’s issues last year, where a suspect Ericsson node effectively killed the entire network for a day, to demonstrate the importance of this component. Cisco is the vendor here, but this leads us onto the dangers of a such a narrow focus on security.

When looking for signs of a telco vendor assisting a government for intelligence activities, there is arguably only one piece of concrete evidence to support such claims. Edward Snowden produced this evidence, proving Cisco was aiding the NSA for its own spying agenda. This is the reason we suspect the US is so convinced China is spying on the rest of the world; the US government is doing the same thing and therefore knows it is technologically possible.

We are of course not accusing Cisco of aiding the US government in this manner at this moment, but such is the sophistication and technological capabilities of those on the dark web, no company should consider themselves 100% secure. They have their own supply chains which could be vulnerable at some point. The complexities of this ecosystem mean nothing is 100% secure, therefore it comes down to risk assessment, and also the mitigation of risk through layers of security, gateways and encryption.

For Petty, the establishment of Huawei’s European cyber-security centre is a step in the right direction, though he would want the European Union to play an active role in its operations and for the net to be cast wider, considering all vendors. As mentioned before, too much of a narrow focus on one area heightens the risk in others.

However, the talk of a Huawei ban would be a disaster for everyone involved.

“We don’t think a complete Huawei ban would be a proportionate response,” said Helen Lamprell, Vodafone UK’s General Counsel & External Affairs Director.

If risk is appropriately managed and mitigated, business can continue as usual. Policy decision makers have to realise there is no such thing as 100% secure. A broad-sweeping ban on Huawei would be disastrous not only for Vodafone UK, but everyone in the connected economy.

Firstly, you have to think of the cost of removing all Huawei equipment. This would cost hundreds of millions and take a considerable amount of time. This would delay the introduction of 5G and fundamentally undermine the business case for ROI. It could set 5G back years in the UK, not only for Vodafone but the whole industry.

The supply chain review is currently working its way through the red maze of UK government, and while the certainty needs to arrive sooner rather than later, getting the review right is better than speed.

The message from Vodafone this morning was relatively clear and simple; the Huawei risk can be managed, but an outright ban would be disastrous.

UK set to impose 50 percent cap on Huawei kit – report

As the UK government’s review into what to do about the perceived security risk posed by Huawei reaches its conclusion, some kind of ban seems likely.

The Telegraph reports, citing those handy ‘telecoms industry sources’, ‘officials are preparing to recommend a 50pc cap on the proportion of equipment that can come from the Chinese giant when the review is completed in spring.’ They presumably mean ‘the Spring’, which could mean any time from now until the end of May.

How this cap, if it is imposed, would be implemented and enforced remains unclear. The report suggests it would apply equally to the core and the RAN, which seems like an escalation on previous assumptions that the UK was only worried about the core. Such a scheme would prove burdensome to UK MNOs and the prospect of a retrospective cap, which would be much more so, doesn’t seem to be off the table, although the Telegraph headline refers only to 5G.

Last month it was reported that some UK intelligence experts reckoned any risk from Huawei could be managed. However that was soon contradicted by the view of a defence and security think tank, which warned against naivety on this matter. Then at MWC 2019 Vodafone CEO Nick Read warned that banning Huawei could make the kit vendor market disastrously uncompetitive.

The Telegraph piece indicates that this arbitrary 50 percent cap is apparently being considered to ensure no MNO goes all-in on Huawei for their kit, but they would be mad to do so anyway. As we saw with ZTE the US can critically damage a Chinese kit vendor anytime it wants and it would be incredibly negligent of any MNO to allow themselves to be over-exposed to such a risk.

There is already good diversity of supply in the UK between the three big kit vendors, with some other suppliers thrown in too. No MNO currently has the majority of its kit supplied by Huawei and they presumably have no plans to, so this looks like the usual government attempt to look like its doing something without adding anything of consequence. Still, better that than it suddenly getting funny ideas about significant market intervention.

IBM Vodafone partnership wins its first clients

IBM and Vodafone announced during Mobile World Congress 2019 that their $550 million cloud and AI partnership has signed its first heavy-weight clients.

SEAT, a Spanish sub-brand of the Volkswagen group, and KONE, a world leading lift and escalator supplier from Finland, have become the first customers of the open cloud and AI technologies offered by the IBM and Vodafone Business partnership.

SEAT is going to use the cloud, AI, and 5G technologies to facilitate its transformation into a “mobility services provider”. KONE’s main interest is in the IoT domain. With the new technologies it aims to move its customer service from reactive to proactive then predictive mode as well as to improve the efficiency of the monitoring and fix operations.

The partnership between IBM and Vodafone Business was announced last month. Although billed as a “joint venture”, Michael Valocchi, IBM’s General Manager of the new venture, clarified to Telecoms.com that it is not a formal joint venture or a separate organization but an 8-year strategic commercial partnership and $550M managed services agreement. IBM and Vodafone Business are going to put in equal amount of investment.

“IBM’s partnerships with global telco companies like Vodafone will help speed up the deployment of 5G and provide easier access to new technologies such as AI, blockchain, edge computing and IoT,” said Valocchi in a statement. “This is because the promise of 5G doesn’t just depend on fiber, spectrum and gadgets, but on advanced levels of integration, automation, optimization and security across the ever more complex IT systems that companies are building in a bid to transform.”

“By providing the open cloud, connectivity and portable AI technologies that companies need to manage data, workloads and processes across the breadth of their IT systems, Vodafone and IBM are helping to drive innovation and transform user experiences across multiple industries – from retail to agriculture,” added Greg Hyttenrauch, Co-leader of the new venture for Vodafone Business.

The partnership will become operational in Q2 this year. IBM told Telecoms.com that by that time Vodafone Business customers will immediately have access to IBM’s entire hybrid cloud portfolio to optimise and enhance their current solutions. These solutions and services are not dependent on 5G. In the future, clients will benefit from new solutions and services that the new venture will develop, combining IBM’s multi-cloud, AI, analytics and blockchain with IoT, 5G, and edge computing from Vodafone.

Considering that Vodafone is going to start with a non-standalone approach to 5G, the use cases for verticals that demand extreme low latency are hard to realise in the near future. The engineers at IBM’s stand also conceded that although Watson can be deployed and trained to support many scenarios, the implementation of mission critical cases will have to wait till end-to-end 5G network is in place.

Vodafone CEO bemoans Jio effect on India

The Indian consumer might be surging into the digital economy at an unprecedented speed, but the telcos are certainly not reaping the rewards according to Vodafone CEO Nick Read.

Speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Read pointed towards consumers which are consuming more data every single day (12 GB a month on average), as well as unsustainable business models and regulations which favour no-one except the disruptive influence of Jio. It isn’t necessarily a picture which creates an encouraging view of the market.

“We only ask for a level playing field,” said Read, bemoaning regulatory and competition rulings made in the country.

It seems Reid believes there has been an institutional preference towards the newest entrant into the Indian telco regime. This is also a company which is forcing the market to create artificially low tariffs, an unsustainable position for the market to maintain. What impact this has on the long-term prospects of India’s digital dream remain to be seen.

While it is hardly unusual for the CEO of a losing telco to moan about unfair market conditions, there have been some credible points made. Jio did certainly disrupt the market, helping the country move into the digital era, but there was certainly consequence. The aggressively low tariffs saw numerous telcos exit the space, either closing-down operations, merging with a rival or declaring bankruptcy.

Vodafone was one of those victims, currently in the process of merging its operations with long-term rival Idea Cellular. Reid highlighted he has been over to India to review the plans recently, and the team has managed to reduce the integration process from four years to two, but it is still losing money. That said, it is not alone.

The issue which remains here is what happens if this trend of Jio destruction is allowed to continue. How many more telcos will disappear from the landscape (there are only effectively four left, including government owned BSNL) before the government steps in to do something. The current position is not exactly ideal.

As it stands, India currently have four major telcos to provide connectivity services for roughly 1.3 billion people. Europe has roughly 160 telcos for a population of 500 million. Although many would argue there needs to be consolidation in the European space, the shortage of options in India is not exactly ideal. The risk of regionalised monopolies is certainly present.

Of course, the newly merged Vodafone Idea business is not lying down while Jio runs riot throughout India, Reid highlighted a Rights Issue is currently underway with the business hoping to raise $3.5 billion. Not only will this help the businesses merge and update infrastructure, it would be fair to assume some pretty aggressive counter-strikes against Jio.

India is one of the most interesting markets worldwide right now, but there is certainly a risk of the landscape devolving into chaos. Whether the Indian government is sympathetic to Reid’s plight remains to be seen, though current trends should not be allowed to continue.

Competition is a problem, removing Huawei could be disastrous – Vodafone CEO

With all eyes in directed towards Mobile World Congress this week, Vodafone CEO Nick Read took the opportunity to vent his frustrations.

Competition is unhealthy, accusations are factually suspect, protectionism is too aggressive, the trust with customers has been broken, collaboration is almost non-existent. From Read’s perspective, there are plenty of reasons the 5G era will be just of much of a struggle for the telcos as the 4G one.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a telco press conference if there wasn’t a reference to Huawei.

“I would like a new contract for the industry, I want to go out and build trust with consumers and businesses,” said Read. “This will require us to engage government and build the vision of a digital society together.”

Read has reiterated his point from the last quarterly earnings call, there needs to be more of a fact-based conversation around the Huawei saga. There is too much rhetoric, too much emotion, and perhaps, too much political influence.

Huawei is the punching bag right now, but any ban or heavy-handed response to US calls for aggressive action would be a consequence for everyone.

As Read points out, Huawei is a significant player in almost everyone’s supply chain, controlling roughly 28% of mobile infrastructure, while Nokia and Ericsson also have market share in the 20s. Removing one of these players from the market will further compound a problem which plagues the industry today; the supply chain is too concentrated around a small number of vendors.

There simply isn’t enough diversity to consider removing a key cog to European operations.

Of course, you have to consider the status quo. The US is happy to ban Huawei as it has never been a significant contributor to its infrastructure. Should the same ban be enforced in Europe, negotiations would be de-railed, and operations disrupted. Read suggests this would set 5G plans back by two years across the bloc.

The issue here is of confidence to invest. Why would telcos enter into deep negotiations when future conditions have not been set in stone. This is already evident in Vodafone’s decision to pause work on the core with Huawei; delaying these important initiatives could push Europe further behind global 5G leaders. Telcos need confidence, certainty and answers. The longer reviews go on, the more precarious the situation becomes.

This is one of the many challenges the industry is facing. There is an ‘us versus them’ mentality when it comes to telcos. Read is referencing the relationship with regulators and government, suggesting a lack of collaboration which is negatively impacting the ability to operate, but it is also evident in the relationship with the consumer and competitors. Collaboration is a key word here.

One example of collaboration is in the UK where the National Cybersecurity Centre effectively monitors Huawei equipment. This model could be rolled out across Europe, though Read’s stressed the point that there would have to be a harmonised approach. Fragmentation is the enemy here, and it would stifle progress. If there is a European level of monitoring, or even if it is taken down to nation states, it doesn’t actually matter as long as it is consistent.

The Huawei ban is set to become one of the talking points of this years’ MWC, that is not necessarily an idea anyone will be surprised about, but what we are not sure about is the disruption. Will it slow 5G development? Has the uncertainty already slowed 5G development? Will the anti-China rhetoric, dilly-dallying and confusion kill Europe’s ambitions in the global digital economy?