The biggest stories of 2018 all in one place

2018 has been an incredibly business year for all of us, and it might be easy to forget a couple of the shifts, curves, U-turns and dead-ends.

From crossing the 5G finish line, finger pointing from the intelligence community, the biggest data privacy scandal to date and a former giant finally turning its business around, we’ve summarised some of the biggest stories of 2018.

If you feel we’ve missed anything out, let us know in the comments section below.

Sanction, condemnation and extinction (almost)

ZTE. Three letters which rocked the world. A government-owned Chinese telecommunications vendor which can’t help but antagonise the US government.

It might seem like decades ago now but cast your mind back to April. A single signature from the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) almost sent ZTE, a company of 75,000 employees and revenues of $17 billion, to keep the dodo company.

This might have been another move in the prolonged technology trade war between the US and China, but ZTE was not innocent. The firm was caught red-handed trading with Iran, a country which sits very prominently on the US trade sanction list. Trading with Iran is not necessarily the issue, it’s the incorporation of US components and IP in the goods which were sent to the country. ZTE’s business essentially meant the US was indirectly helping a country which was attempting to punish.

The result was a ban, no US components or IP to feature in any ZTE products. A couple of weeks later manufacturing facilities lay motionless and the company faced the prospect of permanent closure, such was its reliance on the US. With a single move, the US brought one of China’s most prominent businesses to its knees.

Although this episode has been smoothed over, and ZTE is of course back in action, the US demonstrated what its economic dirty bombs were capable of. This was just a single chapter in the wider story; the US/China trade war is in full flow.

Tinker, tailor, Dim-sum, Spy

This conflict has been bubbling away for years, but the last few months is where the argument erupted.

Back in 2012, a report was tabled by Congressman Mike Rogers which initially investigated the threat posed by Chinese technology firms in general, and Huawei specifically. The report did not produce any concrete evidence, though it suggested what many people were thinking; China is a threat to Western governments and its government is using internationally successful companies to extend the eyes of its intelligence community.

This report has been used several times over the last 12 months to justify increasingly aggressive moves against China and its technology vendors. During the same period, President Trump also blocked Broadcom’s attempts to acquire Qualcomm on the grounds of national security, tariffs were imposed, ZTE was banned from using US technologies in its supply chain and Huawei’s CFO was arrested in Canada on the grounds of fraud. With each passing month of 2018, the trade war was being cranked up to a new level.

Part of the strategy now seems to be undermining China’s credibility around the world, promoting a campaign of suggestion. There is yet to be any evidence produced confirming the Chinese espionage accusations but that hasn’t stopped several nations snubbing Chinese vendors. The US was of course the first to block Huawei and ZTE from the 5G bonanza, but Australia and Japan followed. New Zealand seems to be heading the same way, while South Korean telcos decided against including the Chinese vendors on preferred supplier lists.

The bigger picture is the US’ efforts to hold onto its dominance in the technology arena. This has proved to be incredibly fruitful for the US economy, though China is threatening the vice-like grip Silicon Valley has on the world. The US has been trying to convince the world not to use Chinese vendors on the grounds of national security, but don’t be fooled by this rhetoric; this is just one component of a greater battle against China.

Breakaway pack cross the 5G finish line

We made it!

Aside from 5G, we’ve been talking about very little over the last few years. There might have been a few side conversations which dominate the headlines for a couple of weeks, but we’ve never been far away from another 5G ‘breakthrough’ or ‘first’. And the last few weeks of 2018 saw a few of the leading telcos cross the 5G finish line.

Verizon was first with a fixed wireless access proposition, AT&T soon followed in the US with a portable 5G hotspot. Telia has been making some promising moves in both Sweden and Estonia, with limited launches aiming to create innovation and research labs, while San Marino was the first state to have complete coverage, albeit San Marino is a very small nation.

These are of course very minor launches, with geographical coverage incredibly limited, but that should not take the shine off the achievement. This is a moment the telco and technology industry has been building towards for years, and it has now been achieved.

Now we can move onto the why. Everyone knows 5G will be incredibly important for relieving the pressure on the telco pipes and the creation of new services, but no-one knows what these new services will be. We can all make educated guesses, but the innovators and blue-sky thinkers will come up with some new ideas which will revolutionise society and the economy.

Only a few people could have conceived Uber as an idea before the 4G economy was in full flow, and we can’t wait to see what smarter-than-us people come up with once they have the right tools and environment.

Zuckerberg proves he’s not a good friend after all

This is the news story which rocked the world. Data privacy violations, international actors influencing US elections, cover ups, fines, special committees, empty chairs, silly questions, knowledge of wrong-doing and this is only what we know so far… the scandal probably goes deeper.

It all started with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and a Russian American researcher called Aleksandr Kogan from the University of Cambridge. Kogan created a quiz on the Facebook platform which exposed a loop-hole in the platform’s policies allowing Kogan to scrape data not only from those who took the quiz, but also connections of that user. The result was a database containing information on 87 million people. This data was used by political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica during elections around the world, creating hyper-targeted adverts.

What followed was a circus. Facebook executives were hauled in-front of political special committees to answer questions. As weeks turned into months, more suspect practices emerged as politicians, journalists and busy-bodies probed deeper into the Facebook business model. Memos and internal emails have emerged suggesting executives knew they were potentially acting irresponsibly and unethically, but it didn’t seem to matter.

As it stands, Facebook is looking like a company which violated the trust of the consumer, has a much wider reaching influence than it would like to admit, and this is only the beginning. The only people who genuinely understand the expanding reach of Facebook are those who work for the company, but the curtain is slowly being pulled back on the data machine. And it is scaring people.

Big Blue back in the black

This might not have been a massive story for everyone in the industry, but with the severe fall from grace and rise back into the realms of relevance, we feel IBM deserves a mention.

Those who feature in the older generations will remember the dominance of IBM. It might seem unusual to say nowadays, but Big Blue was as dominant in the 70s as Microsoft was in the 90s and Google is today. This was a company which led the technology revolution and defined innovation. But it was not to be forever.

IBM missed a trick; personal computing. The idea that every home would have a PC was inconceivable to IBM, who had carved its dominant position through enterprise IT, but it made a bad choice. This tidal wave of cash which democratised computing for the masses went elsewhere, and IBM was left with its legacy business unit.

This was not a bad thing for years, as the cash cow continued to grow, but a lack of ambition in seeking new revenues soon took its toll. Eight years ago, IBM posted a decline in quarterly revenues and the trend continued for 23 consecutive periods. During this period cash was directed into a new division, the ‘strategic imperatives’ unit, which was intended to capitalise on a newly founded segment; intelligent computing.

In January this year, IBM proudly posted its first quarterly growth figures for seven years. Big Blue might not be the towering force it was decades ago, but it is heading in the right direction, with cloud computing and artificial intelligence as the key cogs.

Convergence, convergence, convergence

Convergence is one of those buzzwords which has been on the lips of every telco for a long time, but few have been able to realise the benefits.

There are a few glimmers of promise, Vodafone seem to be making promising moves in the UK broadband market, while Now TV offers an excellent converged proposition. On the other side of the Atlantic, AT&T efforts to move into the content world with the Time Warner acquisition is a puzzling one, while Verizon’s purchase of Yahoo’s content assets have proved to be nothing but a disaster.

Orange is a company which is taking convergence to the next level. We’re not just talking about connectivity either, how about IOT, cyber-security, banking or energy services. This is a company which is living the convergence dream. Tie as many services into the same organisation, making the bill payer so dependent on one company it becomes a nightmare to leave.

It’s the convergence dream as a reality.

Europe’s Great Tax Raid

This is one of the more recent events on the list, and while it might not be massive news now, we feel it justifies inclusion. This developing conversation could prove to be one of the biggest stories of 2019 not only because governments are tackling the nefarious accounting activities of Silicon Valley, but there could also be political consequences if the White House feels it is being victimised.

Tax havens are nothing new, but the extent which Silicon Valley is making use of them is unprecedented. Europe has had enough of the internet giants making a mockery of the bloc, not paying its fair share back to the state, and moves are being made by the individual states to make sure these monstrously profitable companies are held accountable.

The initial idea was a European-wide tax agenda which would be led by the European Commission. It would impose a sales tax on all revenues realised in the individual states. As ideas go, this is a good one. The internet giants will find it much more difficult to hide user’s IP addresses than shifting profits around. Unfortunately, the power of the European Union is also its downfall; for any meaningful changes to be implemented all 28 (soon to be 27) states would have to agree. And they don’t.

Certain states, Ireland, Sweden and Luxembourg, have a lot more to lose than other nations have to gain. These are economies which are built on the idea of buddying up to the internet economy. They might not pay much tax in these countries, but the presence of massive offices ensure society benefits through other means. Taxing Silicon Valley puts these beneficial relationships with the internet players in jeopardy.

But that isn’t good enough for the likes of the UK and France. In the absence of any pan-European regulations, these states are planning to move ahead with their own national tax regimes; France’s 3% sales tax on any revenues achieved in the country will kick into action on January 1, with the UK not far behind.

What makes this story much more interesting will be the influence of the White House. The US government might feel this is an attack on the prosperous US economy. There might be counter measures taken against the European Union. And when we say might, we suspect this is almost a certainty, such is the ego of President Donald Trump.

This is a story which will only grow over the next couple of months, and it could certainly cause friction on both sides of the Atlantic.

Que the moans… GDPR

GDPR. The General Data Protection Regulation. It was a pain for almost everyone involved and simply has to be discussed because of this distress.

Introduced in May, it seemingly came as a surprise. This is of course after companies were given 18 months to prepare for its implementation, but few seemed to appreciate the complexity of becoming, and remaining compliant. As a piece of regulation, it was much needed for the digital era. It heightened protections for the consumer and ensured companies operating in the digital economy acted more responsibly.

Perhaps one of the most important components of the regulation was the stick handed to regulators. With technology companies growing so rapidly over the last couple of years, the fines being handed out by watchdogs were no longer suitable. Instead of defining specific amounts, the new rules allow punishments to be dished out as a percentage of revenues. This allows regulators to hold the internet giants accountable, hitting them with a suitably large stick.

Change is always difficult, but it is necessary to ensure regulations are built for the era. Evolving the current rulebook simply wouldn’t work, such is the staggering advancement of technology in recent years. Despite the headaches which were experienced throughout the process, it was necessary, and we’ll be better off in the long-run.

Next on the regulatory agenda, the ePrivacy Regulation.

Jio piles the misery on competitors

Jio is not a new business anymore, neither did it really come to being in 2018, but this was the period where the telco really justified the hype and competitors felt the pinch.

After hitting the market properly in early 2016, the firm made an impression. But like every challenger brand, the wins were small in context. Collecting 100,000s of customers every month is very impressive, but don’t forget India has a population of 1.3 billion and some very firmly position incumbents.

2017 was another year where the firm rose to prominence, forcing several other telcos out of the market and two of the largest players into a merger to combat the threat. Jio changed the market in 2017; it democratised connectivity in a country which had promised a lot but delivered little.

This year was the sweeping dominance however. It might not be the number one telco in the market share rankings, but it will be before too long. Looking at the most recent subscription figures released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Jio grew its subscription base by 13.02 million, but more importantly, it was the only telco which was in the positive. This has started to make an impact on the financial reports across the industry, Bharti Airtel is particularly under threat, and there might be worse to come.

For a long-time Jio has been hinting it wants to tackle the under-performing fixed broadband market. There have been a couple of acquisitions in recent months, Den Networks and Hathway Cable, which give it an entry point, and numerous other digital services initiatives to diversify the revenue streams.

The new business units are not making much money at the moment, though Jio is in the strongest position to test out the convergence waters in India. Offering a single revenue stream will ensure the financials hit a glass ceiling in the near future, but new products and aggressive infrastructure investment plans promise much more here.

We’re not too sure whether the Indian market is ready for mass market fixed broadband penetration, there are numerous other market factors involved, but many said the initial Jio battle plan would fail as well.

Convergent business models are certainly an interesting trend in the industry, and Jio is looking like it could force the Indian market into line.

Redundancies, redundancies, redundancies

Redundancy is a difficult topic to address, but it is one we cannot ignore. Despite what everyone promises, there will be more redundancies.

Looking at the typical telco business model, this is the were the majority have been seen and will continue to be seen. To survive in the digitally orientated world, telcos need to adapt. Sometimes this means re-training staff to capitalise on the new bounties, but unfortunately this doesn’t always work. Some can’t be retrained, some won’t want to; the only result here will be redundancies.

BT has been cutting jobs, including a 13,000-strong cull announced earlier this year, Deutsche Telekom is trimming its IT services business by 25%, the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint will certainly create overlaps and resulting redundancies, while Optus has been blaming automation for its own cuts.

Alongside the evolving landscape, automation is another area which will result in a headcount reduction. The telcos will tell you AI is only there to supplement human capabilities and allow staff to focus on higher value tasks, but don’t be fooled. There will be value-add gains, but there will also be accountants looking to save money on the spreadsheets. If you can buy software to do a simple job, why would you hire a couple of people to do it? We are the most expensive output for any business.

Unfortunately, we have to be honest with ourselves. For the telco to compete in the digital era, new skills and new business models are needed. This means new people, new approaches to software and new internal processes. Adaptation and evolution is never easy and often cruel to those who are not qualified. This trend has been witnessed in previous industrial revolutions, but the pace of change today means it will be felt more acutely.

Redundancy is not a nice topic, but it is not always avoidable.

US starts whispering to Germany about China ban

The anti-China road-trip has finally made it to Europe as representatives of the US government have met with German counterparts to argue the case to ban Chinese vendors from the 5G deployment.

The Trump administration has quickly been working away around the world to spread anti-China propaganda, and it has been successful. Australia was the first domino to fall, but New Zealand has seemingly followed, as has Japan. South Korea will evade China’s grasp for other reasons, and it looks like Taiwan’s public sector is off limits as well. Now the parade has entered Europe and Germany.

According to Bloomberg, a US delegation has been meeting with officials from the Foreign Ministry to discuss a ban. These talks will of course be very hushed, but whether any concrete evidence is going to be presented remains to be seen. Earlier this week, Germany stepped forward and said it would need to see evidence before any actions would be taken against China.

“For such serious decisions like a ban, you need proof,” said Arne Schoenbohm, President of Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI).

This is the big question. Has the Trump administration masterminded a campaign of hate in the interest of national security, or does it believe crippling the prospects of Huawei and ZTE will protect the US position of dominance as the 5G dawn breaks. We are slightly pessimistic about the intentions of the Oval Office and believe the national security element is a thinly veiled disguise to push China’s tech leaderships challenge off-course.

What is worth noting is this meeting has taken almost immediately after Deutsche Telekom’s decision to re-examine its use of Huawei equipment in its network. DT has gone big on Huawei in previous years, therefore any ban against Chinese companies could have potentially impacted the speed of 5G rollout across Germany, perhaps explaining why the government is slightly resistant to joining the anti-China gang. That said, with DT potentially shunning Huawei in pursuit of White House favour (the Sprint/T-Mobile merger is reaching a critical point), the pressure might be lifted from the government.

This is also a government which might be swayed to the anti-China gang under the right conditions. The government has been discussing new legislation which would impact the role of Chinese service providers in the country, while reports of someone tapping Chancellor Angela Merkel in by-gone years are still fresh. Espionage is a sensitive subject.

While we will not defend the Chinese government, and we strongly suspect there are some nefarious activities going on behind the Great Firewall to extend the government’s eyes internationally, no proof has been tabled. The countries which are condemning China are acting without proof and assuming guilt without trial, betraying one of the base foundations of a democratic society; innocent until proven guilty.

In fact, ‘innocent until proven guilty’ it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11. Admittedly this is directed towards criminal law, however the same principles apply. If there is evidence, this needs to be presented to the world. If there is no evidence, some needs to be found. We suspect the US government does not have the evidence yet, but it is out there somewhere.

Banning countries and presuming guilt on suspicions and paranoia is a dangerous path to walk, and you have to question whether we are any better than the freedom-crushing Chinese government. Supposed Democratic nations are betraying their own values in pursuit of punishing the ‘enemy’; two wrongs do not make a right.

Japan is the latest country to prohibit Chinese vendors in 5G networks

Huawei and ZTE have been dealt another blow ahead of the 5G bonanza as Japan’s four operators join the government in snubbing Chinese communications equipment.

According to Nikkei Asia Review, the Japan’s telcos have followed the lead of the government by omitting Chinese technology from any future network plans. With Japan set to be one of the leading lights in the 5G era, this is one of the most significant dents in the Huawei and ZTE egos to date.

Softbank, NTT Docomo and KDDI have all said they will not use Chinese equipment in their 5G networks, while Rakuten (which will become the fourth operator upon launch next year) has also joined the snub.

Yesterday (Monday 10), the Japanese government officially confirmed rumours that it would effectively be banning any public-sector body or organization from purchasing personal computers, servers and telecommunications equipment from Chinese companies. While the guidelines have not named any company specifically, it does add to the growing momentum building against Huawei and ZTE around the world. The official line from the government is the precautions have been put in place to prevent the leak of sensitive information.

As is the case most of the time, the telcos generally follow the lead of the national government. This is not necessarily because they agree with the party line, but more to ensure there are no compliance issues in the future when bidding for government work. If the government has banned Chinese components in their own networks for security reasons, it might not look favourable on potential vendors who have the kit in theirs.

For Huawei, this could be seen as a massive loss. Over the last 12-18 months, the firm has been buddying up to Softbank, Japan’s main telco, through a number of 5G trials and joint research projects. The stage had been set for a major customer win, following from a profitable relationship in the 4G era, though this seems to be the end of the Japanese road.

Looking at the international market for Huawei and ZTE, prospects are starting to look thinner every week. The US was the first to ban the pair, though this is not necessarily new, but with Australia and New Zealand joining the US momentum gathered. South Korean telcos all omitted both Huawei and ZTE from preferred supplier lists, while the UK is also turning as well. Last week, EE said it was stripping all Huawei kit out of its network, and none of the four MNOs will be using any Chinese kit in the core network for 5G.

An analogy we have used before is a line of dominos. ‘Western’ governments all tend to follow suit when it comes to regulation and legislation, so it would not be a surprise to see the trends gather momentum. Last week also saw European Commissioner for Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip publicly denounce China on the whole, suggesting the bloc might be jumping on the very same banned-wagon. This of course might be nothing more than posturing, but the signs are ominous.

Going under the hood of Qualcomm Snapdragon 855: plenty to like

More details of Qualcomm’s first 5G chipset have been released, bringing all-round improvements, and a 5G chipset for PCs was also announced.

On the first day of its annual Snapdragon Technology Summit, Qualcomm announced its 5G chipset for mobile devices, the Snapdragon 855, but released limited specs. On the following two days more details were disclosed. An SoC for 5G-connected PCs, the Snapdragon 8cx was also unveiled.

In addition to the X50 modem for 5G connectivity (on both mmWave and sub-6GHz frequencies) and X24 modem (to provide LTE connectivity), at the centre of the Snapdragon 855 is ARM’s new flagship Cortex A76 CPU, marketed by Qualcomm as Kryo 485. It contains 8 cores with the single core top performance at 2.84 GHz. Qualcomm claims the 855 is 45% faster than its predecessor 845, though it did not specify what exactly this refers to. More importantly for Qualcomm, the top speed is 9% faster than the Kirin 980 from HiSilicon (a Huawei subsidiary), another 7-nanometre implementation of the ARM Cortex A76.

Also included in the 855 is the new Adreno 640 GPU rendering graphics. Qualcomm has focused 855’s marketing messages on gaming performance, and the GPU is at the core to deliver it. Qualcomm claims the new GPU will enable true HDR gaming, as well as support the HDR10+ and Dolby Vision formats. Together with the display IP, the Adreno 640 GPU will support 120fps gaming as well as smooth 8K 360-degree video playback. Another feature highlighted is the support for Physically Based Rendering in graphics, which will help improve VR and AR experience, including more accurate lighting physics and material interactions, for example more life-like surface texture, or material-on-material audio interaction.

The key new feature on Snapdragon’s Hexagon 690 DSP is that it now includes a dedicated Machine Learning (ML) inferencing engine in the new “tensor accelerator”. The Hexagon 690 also doubles the number of HVX vector pipelines over its predecessors the Hexagon 680 and 685, to include four 1024b vector pipelines. The doubled computing power and the dedicated ML engine combined are expected to improve the Snapdragon 855’s AI capability by a big margin.

The integrated new Spectra 380 image signalling processor (ISP) will both improve the Snapdragon’s capability to deepen acceleration and to save power consumption when processing images. Qualcomm believes the new ISP will only consume a quarter of the power as its predecessor for image object classification, object segmentation, depth sensing (at 60 FPS), augmented reality body tracking, and image stabilisation.

On the OEM collaboration side, in addition to Samsung, on day 2 of the event we also saw Pete Lau, the CEO of Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus come to the stage to endorse the new 5G chipset and vow to be the “first to feature” the Snapdragon 855. Separately, the British mobile operator EE announced that it will range a OnePlus 5G smartphone in the first half of 2019.

On the same day, thousands of miles away, more Chinese smartphone OEMs including Xiaomi, OPPO, Vivo, and ZTE (in addition to OnePlus) also embraced the new Snapdragon chipset at the China Mobile Global Partner Conference in Guangzhou, southern China. China Mobile will also launch a customer premise equipment (CPE), likely a fixed wireless access modem, using the same platform.

Back in Hawaii, on day 3 of the Snapdragon Tech Summit, Qualcomm launched a new chipset for PC: the Snapdragon 8cx (“c” for computer, “x” for eXtreme). This is Qualcomm’s third iteration of chipset for PC, built on ARM v8.1 (a variant of Cortex A76). Similar to the Snapdragon 855, the 8cx also has the X24 integrated cellular modem with for LTE connectivity, and the X50 modem with 5G connectivity can be paired with it. The CPU also has eight cores, with a top speed of 2.75 GHz. The new Adreno 680 GPU is said to process graphics twice as fast as the GPU in the previous generation ARM for Windows chipset (Snapdragon 850) but 60% more efficient in power consumption.

Perhaps the most meaningful change is its memory architecture. The Snapdragon 8cx will have a 128-bit wide interface, enabling it to provide native support for much more software and applications, including Windows 10 Enterprise and Office 365, which clearly is a sales pitch to the corporate IT departments.

Unlike the OEM support garnered by Snapdragon 855, there was no public endorsement by PC makers yet. Lenovo did come to the stage but was only talking about its Yoga 2-in-1 notebooks that have used earlier generations of Snapdragon chipsets for Windows on ARM. On the other hand, Qualcomm does not position Snapdragon 8cx as a replacement for the 850 but rather as a higher end contemporary, with 850 mainly targeted at a niche consumer market.

In general, this year’s Snapdragon Tech Summit has delivered more step change with the new product launches. More concrete industry support was also on show, indicating that, depending on how fast and extensive 5G is to be rolled out, we may start seeing true 5G smartphones in the first half of next year. We may need to wait a bit longer before a reasonable line-up of always-on 5G connected PCs can hit the market.

Nokia has a great week by simply not screwing anything up

Christmas has come early for Finnish kit vendor Nokia, with its competitors bestowing it with presents of breath-taking generosity.

Huawei was the first to smash through the secret Santa threshold, at least indirectly, when BT confirmed that Huawei would not be considered to contribute to its 5G core infrastructure and that it’s also being removed from legacy cores. This marked the first time a UK operator had directly addressed the matter of Huawei and 5G kit and would appear to be part of the move against Huawei by the US and its allies.

But that was just a stocking filler compared to what the US had under the tree. In a gesture of unprecedented aggression and hostility the US persuaded Canada to arrest Huawei’s CFO and daughter of its founder, Meng Wanzhou, and wants to extradite her to the US in order to face as yet unspecified charges.

This move is unrelated to all the stuff around 5G security and concerns suspected violations of US sanctions against certain countries. This is what drove ZTE so close to extinction earlier this year and would appear to be as much a front in the trade and political war between the US and China as it is any specific point of order. It also marks a significant escalation since no ZTE execs were subjected to this kind of legal rough treatment, and to add insult to injury it looks like some ZTE documents are being used in evidence against Huawei.

Huawei’s misfortunes alone must have had Nokia execs reaching for the breakfast bucks fizz, but when it emerged that Ericsson was responsible for major outages at some of its MNO core network partners they presumably ordered a whole new shipment of champers. The fact that Huawei is desperate to divert attention onto the Ericsson thing too must have resulted in port and brandy being added to the celebratory mix. Nokia’s resulting hangover may have been slightly exacerbated by the apparently effective damage limitation done by Ericsson, but on balance it can reflect on a pretty catastrophic week for the competition.

Nokia has sent out a few press releases this week but whatever incremental achievements they claim pale into insignificance compared to the misfortunes of Huawei and Ericsson. In the run up to Christmas Nokia would be well advised to focus all its resources on simply not screwing anything up and letting its competitive environment take care of itself.

USA declares war on Huawei, with a bit of help from ZTE

The arrest of Huawei’s CFO was the culmination of years of investigation by the American government and judiciary, with an apparent helping hand from ZTE.

When Ms. Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s CFO, was arrested in Vancouver, facing extradition to the US, we remembered a file seized and published by the US Department of Commerce when it was investigating then punishing Huawei’s domestic competitor ZTE early in the year, which detailed some of the ways ZTE had gone about the activities that got it into trouble.

The internal document (in Chinese) from ZTE, dated 25 August 2011 includes detailed proposals on how to circumvent American embargos against Iran, Sudan, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, as well as partial sanctions against Ethiopia and Myanmar. It was approved by ZTE’s C-level executives by the beginning of September. The document was used as an incriminating evidence against ZTE, which, in addition to the fines, also resulted in the wholesale change of management in ZTE.

Part II, Section 5 of the document refers to a company codenamed F7 which was also active in similar business dealings with risky countries. F7 used an IT company with good credibility as the front party to sign contracts with their customers in countries facing US sanctions. ZTE also gathered competitive intelligence on the compliance officers and lawyers hired by F7 in head offices as well as in branches offices to handle export embargo circumvention, including the salary offers. The document then proposed ZTE should use this as a blueprint.

The identity of F7 is not hard to establish. IHuawei was the only other large-scale telecom equipment exporter from China, F7 had been barred by Congress from winning meaningful deals in the US, it had hired a Chinese-American lawyer from TI, and it had a joint-venture with Symantec. If this evidence is still too circumstantial, the document also listed specifically that F7 had run into difficulty in its attempted acquisition of 3Leaf, an American server technology company, in 2010. It was widely covered at the time by media outlets including the Reuters that Huawei decided to pull out of the proposed acquisition of and to divest its assets in 3Leaf.

This ZTE document must have been just one piece on the jigsaw of evidence against Huawei put together by the American law-enforcement, but it no doubt would be an important piece. It suggests that Huawei has been flouting US rules for quite some time, and Ms. Meng, as the CFO (as well as the daughter of the founder of Huawei) may have been presumaed to have had some role to play in the whole ploy.

According to sources inside ZTE, “F7” is ZTE’s internal tongue-in-cheek reference to Huawei. Phonetically F7 reads a slight corruption of the word for “husband and wife” in Chinese. It derives from the urban legend that many Huawei employees, having little time to date outside, would end up marrying their colleagues, so the company was full of couples.

ZTE may be in trouble with the US yet again

Reports indicate ZTE is suspected of being naughty, yet again, with respect to US government conditions for being able to operate there.

Reuters had got hold of a letter from a couple of US senators, asking their government to look into whether or not ZTE worked with individuals on its persona non grata list. This sort of thing usually refers to countries the US disapproves of an in this case it’s Venezuela, which is in the middle of a communist, authoritarian misadventure of North Korean proportions.

In common with all such projects Venezuela has prioritised spying on and victimising its own citizens in a bid to protect the ruling elite from the perfectly reasonable opposition their sociopathic activities receive. The gripe, apparently, is that US components helped Venezuela’s government to flout democratic processes or human rights. Shocking.

The specific project involves ZTE helping the Venezuelan state build a database that would track its citizens though a national ID card scheme, rather creepily called ‘the fatherland card’. The senators reckon some of the datacenters ZTE helped create used Dell gear, and the document Reuters saw would appear to confirm that.

The Senators are likely to get a sympathetic hearing from the US government, which has had it in for Chinese telecoms companies for years. ZTE only just rescued itself from apparent doom earlier this year by handing over loads of money and promising to be squeaky clean from now on. The consequences of ZTE being found guilty of a fourth strike don’t bear thinking about.

What is Zun: A Typical Component of Openstack to Provide Container Management Service

OpenStack is a mainstream open source cloud management platform, aiming at providing rich cloud platform services supporting easy implementation, large-scale scale-in/out and unified standard. Hundreds of global famous enterprises are operating businesses based on OpenStack to reduce costs and act faster. Zun is the component of Openstack to provide container management service, established in June, 2016.

What is Zun?

As the component providing container management service, Zun allows users to rapidly start and operate the management container without the participancy of management server or cluster. It is integrated with Neutron, Cinder, Keystone and other core OpenStack services to achieve the rapid popularization of container. By this way, all the original network, storage and identification verification tools of OpenStack are applied to the container system, so that containers can meet the security and compliance requirements.

The Zun plans to support multiple kinds of container technologies such as Docker, Rkt, and clear container. Now, the support for Docker technology has been completed.

Why Zun?

Currently, OpenStack has the following mainstream solutions supporting container technologies:

  1. Nova Docker driver

This solution operates container as VMs. Nova Docker driver is added to carry out operations similar with that of regular VM to start, stop or create a Docker container. Due to the differences between Docker and VM, such operation mode will disable many functions of container, such as container correlation and port mapping.

  1. Magnum

Magnum is an OpenStack service providing the container cluster deployment function. Magnum deploys VMs and physical machines through Heat, to form a cluster, and then invokes the COE interface to complete the deployment of container. At the beginning of Magnum establishment, the project takes “Container as a Service”(CaaS) as the goal. During the later development, most of functions of Magnum focus on the cluster deployment of container.

  1. Zun

Zun manages container as a kind of OpenStack resource, and integrates other services of OpenStack, to provide users with a unified and simplified API. Users can create and manage containers through the API, and do not need to consider the differences among different container technologies.

Zun has been integrated with multiple OpenStack services. Keystone, Neutron and Kuryr-libnetwork are necessary services for running Zun. They provide Zun with authentication, network, connection between neutron and docker networks. For OpenStack users, it is easy to learn to use the Zun container.

The advantage of integrating OpenStack services is that users can extend the functions of container with the help of OpenStack’s existing functions. For example, by default, the Zun container can use the IP address assigned by Neutron and can use the authentication service provided by Keystone. Using Zun together with Neutron, users can create a container in the isolated network environment where the Nova instance is located. The VM’s Neutron function (security group, QoS) is also available for Zun containers. In the actual business, there are often scenes that need to save data for a long time. A common method is to use external services to provide a persistent volume for the container. Zun solves this problem by integrating with OpenStack Cinder.

When creating a container, the user can choose to mount the Cinder volume to the container. A Cinder volume can be an existing or newly created volume in a tenant. Each volume will be bound to the container file system path, and the data stored under that path will be persisted.

For orchestration, unlike other container platforms that offer built-in orchestration, Zun uses an external orchestration system for this purpose, such as Heat and Kubernetes. With external coordination tools, end users can define their containerized applications by using the DSL provided by the tool.

With Heat, users can also define resources consisting of container resources and OpenStack resources, such as Neutron load balancer, floating IP, Nova instance, and more.

Zun and Kubernetes are complementary. In fact, the Zun community is actively promoting the integration with Kubenetes. At present, the work of integrating Zun with COE is mainly concentrated on Kubenetes which will make containers easier to deploy, manage, and scale. However, using Kubernetes on OpenStack still requires the user to manually deploy underlying infrastructure, such as a virtual server cluster. The user is responsible for initial capacity planning, such as determining the size of the VM cluster and the maintenance of the running VM cluster. The emergence of Serverless container technologies or solutions, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) Fargate, Azure Container Instance (ACI), and OpenStack Zun, provides a viable alternative to running containers on the cloud. The Serverless approach allows users to run containers on demand without having to create or manage their own clusters in advance. Zun will use Kubernetes as the orchestration layer, and Kubernetes will use OpenStack Zun to provide the “Serverless” container.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Zun has introduced the concepts of Container and Capsule. Container is responsible for integrating Docker or other container engine technologies. The concept of Capsule is a bit like Kubernetes Pod, which represents a group of containers. Capsule is used to group multiple containers that need to work closely with each other to achieve service goals.

Zun is not prepared to implement many of the advanced features provided by COE (such as container keep-alive, load balancing), but focuses on providing basic container operations (CRUD) and maintaining tight integration with OpenStack.

Compare with Nova Docker driver:

Zun aims to solve the problem of the Nova Docker driver solution. It implements the deployment scheduling framework of Docker independently of Nova, and integrates with Glance, Neutron, Cinder and other components, but does not implement the deployment scheduling of Container Orchestration Engines (COE). Nova-docker accesses containers through the Nova API, and Zun is not restricted by the Nova API.

Compared with Magnum:

The difference between Zun and Magnum is that Zun focuses on providing APIs for managing containers, while Magnum provides an API for the deployment and management of COE.

Basic architecture of Zun

The following Zun architecture diagram well illustrates the relationship between Zun and OpenStack components.

 ZUN

 Note:

Zun API: Handling REST requests and checking input parameters

Zun Compute: Resource scheduling and container management

Keystone: OpenStack’s certification component

Neutron: Providing networks for containers

Glance: Storing docker images (if glance is not used, DockerHub can be used)

Kuryr: The plugin connecting the container network and Neutron

In summary, Zun provides an OpenStack + container solution that not only effectively combines multiple OpenStack services with container technology,  improving the capability of OpenStack managing containers, but also simplifies the use of containers and extends functions of container. At the same time, the functions of Zun community are being developed and complemented, and it is worth looking forward to.

 As one of the Gold members of the OpenStack Foundation and one of the major code contributors, ZTE is committed to promoting the evolution and development of OpenStack. For the Zun community, ZTE ranks No.1 in the number of completed bp, the number of bug fixed, and the number of submitted codes, and No.2 in the number of code reviews. In addition, ZTE is the PTL of Rocky and Stein, and has made outstanding contributions to the development of each Zun project. ZTE will continue to increase its investment in open source communities and actively seek opportunities for commercial launch in the future.

ZTE 4MIX Distributed Cloud Solution Builds 5G-Ready Cloud Infrastructure

Cloudified reconstruction of telecommunications networks is already the consensus of global operators. Virtualization technology brings many advantages such as cost reduction, flexible scale-in/out. However, with the advent of 5G, new challenges and problems are constantly emerging.

5G has three major application scenarios: enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), focusing on 4K/8K HD video, VR/AR and other high-bandwidth services, requiring a transmission rate 10 times faster than 4G; High Reliability and Low Latency Communications (uRLLC), focusing on high-reliability and low-latency services such as self-driving car and telemedicine, requiring a delay as low as 1 millisecond; massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC), focusing on smart city, smart home and other massive connection services, requiring to support accessing 1 million devices per square Kilometers, 10 times that of 4G.

Therefore, 5G networks need to have higher performance and more powerful management capabilities, and also need to be flexible and intelligent to meet a wide variety of application scenarios.

At present, the early NFV network infrastructure cloud solutions have bottlenecks in many aspects, and need to be further reformed in terms of deployment architecture, network performance, and operation and maintenance (O&M) convenience.

Distributed Deployment

5G completely realized control and user plane separation (CUPS), driving the network evolving to a distributed deployment architecture. On the one hand, flexible and high-performance edge nodes are built at the edge of the network to get close to end users: through the local offloading of high-bandwidth services such as 4K/8K and AR/VR, the occupation of the core network and backbone transmission network is reduced, and the utilization rate of bandwidth resources is effectively increased. The high-speed processing capability is moved to the edge, effectively supporting services requiring ultra-low latency such as self-driving car and telemedicine; in addition, edge nodes need to be flexible and scalable to meet diversified 5G application scenarios.

On the other hand, a network-wide intensive central node is constructed: providing a resource pool shared across regions, effectively improving resource utilization; achieving efficient centralized management of massive nodes, and coping with the rapid development of network scale; at the same time, the central node also supports to build an capability exposure platform to provide digital services, to help operators achieve value innovation.

Therefore, a distributed deployment architecture with features such as flexibility, high performance, and high efficiency will be the main development trend of telecom cloud network.

Hardware Acceleration

Early telecom network cloudification solutions turn traditional network infrastructure based on dedicated hardware into the unified resource pool based on common X86 servers, breaking down resource silos and achieving flexible resource scale-in/out. However, with the advent of 5G, facing the challenges from the performance requirement for ultra-low latency and exponential growth of service scale, common servers lose competitive edge in performance and cost.

Hence, hardware acceleration technology is tightly concerned by the industry. Current mainstream hardware acceleration technologies include: offloading the data switch function of virtual switches in the telecom cloud platform to the FPGA SmartNIC, to improve forwarding performance; introducing the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) into the unified cloud resource pool as a kind of high-performance computing resource, to make full use of GPU’s excellent processing capabilities to improve the computing capability of the telecom cloud platform, so as to provide better support for HD video, AR/VR and more services; using ARM processor virtualization and other technologies.

The new-generation telecom network cloudification solution should converge these hardware acceleration technologies to comprehensively improve forwarding performance and computing performance.

AI-Based Intelligent O&M

5G drives network functions (NF) moving to edge nodes close to end users. This trend leads to the dramatic growth of edge nodes by ten times even hundred times, and the O&M workload gets doubled accordingly. Besides, after the cloudified reconstruction of network structure, though layered decoupling significantly reduces hardware costs, more complicity is brought to O&M work. Therefore, telecom operators are looking for more efficient O&M approaches.

To this end, the deep application of AI technology becomes the key driven force for constructing automated, intelligent O&M. The AI technology is capable of analyzing multidimensional complicated problems across layers and domains, and brings higher processing efficiency to multiple aspects of O&M through rapid root cause analysis (RCA), real-time dynamic resource adjustment, capacity predication and analysis, and gradually fully automated O&M mode, to release manpower continuously and reduce OPEX effectively.

Container + Virtual Machine

5G NFs will be based on components and microservices. With advantages of less resource occupation and easy migration, container is considered as the resource carrier more fitting to 5G microservice architecture.

However, container technology is not mature enough in the telecom field, as it has weaknesses in orchestration capability, security and other aspects. Moreover, most of present cloudification projects use VM solutions which have developed and evolved in long-term practices and have many advantages. Thus, the two technologies are both important to 5G, and the industry is exploring how to make selection and balance between them.

To address such challenges, ZTE promotes the 5G-Ready 4MIX distributed cloud infrastructure solution. It is based on the distributed architecture with“Core Cloud + Edge Cloud + Access Cloud”, and integrated with HCI, container, hardware acceleration, AI and other advanced technologies, to build the 5G-Ready cloud infrastructure featuring green, energy-saving, flexible adaption, performance acceleration, intelligence, and high efficiency.

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Figure 1: ZTE 5G-Ready 4MIX Distributed Cloud Infrastructure Solution

Features of 4MIX distributed cloud solution:

MIX Deployment Modes: for different DC scale requirements, providing matched deployment solutions rapidly and accurately, such as automated large-scale deployment for center cloud, and green lightweight deployment for edge cloud.

MIX Resource pools: combining two mainstream open source cloud platforms, OpenStack and Kubernetes, to build the integrated resource pool, to carry out unified management and orchestration of VM, bare metal, and container sources, and flexibly allocate resource according to demands of upper layer applications.

MIX Hardware: combining X86 servers and acceleration hardware such as FPGA organically, and carrying out unified management through the same cloud platform, to significantly reduce hardware investment and guarantee high performance of the network, so as to bring the most cost-effective solution.

MIX O&M Modes: by virtue of remote control, AI and other technologies, building the end-to-end closed-loop automatic O&M for the entire distribute cloud, to bring the efficient O&M mode with unmanned remote site + centralized control at the center.

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Figure 2: Features of 5G-Ready 4MIX Distributed Cloud Infrastructure Solution

The 4MIX distributed cloud solution provides 5G scenarios with precise deployment solutions to flexibly match diversified demands, to achieve the best match of user experience and cost control, to give a big push to the construction of 5G-Ready cloud infrastructure. This solution won the “Best New Cloud Infrastructure” at the SDN NFV World Congress 2018, fully recognized by industrial authorities.

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Figure 3: Best New Cloud Infrastructure at the SDN NFV World Congress 2018

As the world’s leading provider of integrated communication solutions, ZTE is committed to building 5G core technology capabilities, actively applying in practices, and has been cooperating with many of the world’s leading operators. ZTE will continue to increase investment in research and development, promote the development of advanced technologies, and accelerate the commercial pace of 5G in the future.

Germany reportedly mulls Chinese kit vendor ban for 5G

Germany is the latest ‘western’ country rumoured to be thinking of prohibiting Huawei and ZTE from its participating in its 5G infrastructure.

This is according to a report from Reuters, which claims to have spoken to senior German officials who are planning a last-ditch drive to persuade the government to ban Chinese firms from getting involved in its 5G roll out on national security grounds. The report sounds slightly sceptical that any such efforts will succeed, but the mere fact that they’re giving it a go must be of grave concern to Huawei et al.

“There is serious concern,” one of these anonymous senior German officials told Reuters. “If it were up to me we would do what the Australians are doing.” They are, of course, referring to the decision made by the Australian government back in August to rule out any foreign vendors it thinks might be subject to governmental interference – a clear reference to China.

This seems to be part of a broader drive to have more of a conversation around 5G security in Germany than is currently taking place. Huawei, of course, has insisted that nothing is more important to it than security, but it must be pretty concerned that these stories keep coming up. Even if no ban takes place this sort of thing must compromise the trading environment for Chinese vendors, who will presumably have to go to greater lengths to prove themselves than the likes of Nokia and Ericsson.