ZTE Considerations for 5G Network Deployments

5G will not only bring much faster access rates, but also penetrate into every corner of the world through flexible network slicing. It will drive the digital transformation of vertical industries and become the cornerstone of digital society.

With the freeze of R15 standard, the release of 5G spectrum, the maturity of 5G equipment and the accelerated development of 5G terminal chip, 2019 will be the first year for 5G commercialization. At this stage, the focus of mobile operators is gradually shifting from 5G equipment testing and verification to more practical network deployment. This article will discuss the key challenges in 5G network deployment, and give some suggestions to operators who are preparing for 5G deployment.

Choosing the Most Suitable Network Architecture

5G deployment has two architecture options: Standalone (SA) and Non-Standalone (NSA). With NSA, a first-mover advantage can be derived from architecture maturity, but it is only applicable to eMBB services and involves complex coupling with 4G network. SA, as the ultimate target network of 5G, has obvious advantages in new service support, coverage, performance, network flexibility and terminal energy efficiency. At present, the major concerns operators have with SA architecture including network coverage, SA terminal and 5GC maturity.

From the 5G R&D roadmaps unfolded by 5G terminal chip vendors like Qualcomm, Intel and MTK, chipsets released from 2019 onwards will support NSA and SA at the same time; thus for operators starting 5G network construction after 2019, terminal is not a decisive factor in choosing NSA or SA.

Considering the maturity of 5GC, there is no need to have complete features in the initial stage of 5G deployment. Operators can adopt the target architecture in one step, open the interfaces step by step, and introduce the functions in stages, so that the commercial time of 5GC can be advanced to Q1 2019. Therefore, 5GC does not constitute a constraint factor to the commercialization of SA.

Taking the obvious advantages of the SA architecture into account, if operators could achieve continuous 5G coverage with reasonable investment and build an independent 5G network, operators are not very motivated to choose the NSA architecture. Therefore, besides the mandatory requirement of new service, we believe that the coverage capability of 5G base station and the operator’s 5G network investment are the key factors for choosing SA or NSA, whether 4G and 5G co-site deployment is feasible highly depends on the cell edge speed requirement of 5G and the density of existing 4G base stations.

Once the quantity of antenna elements, the independent transceiver channels and the transmit power of the 5G AAU are determined, the coverage of the 5G base station mainly depends on the available 5G frequency bands, the complexity of the wireless environments, and the KPI requirements for 5G services, especially the cell-edge access rates. And the planning of cell-edge access rates depends on the minimum network performance requirement of 5G services, whether to support seamless mobility, and the acceptable 5G network construction cost.

Based on the above principles, if an operator only has the millimeter-wave spectrum for 5G construction, it is more appropriate to select the NSA architecture because millimeter-wave has larger propagation loss and poor scattering or diffraction capabilities compared with 1.8 GHz or 2.6 GHz band. When millimeter-wave spectrum is used for mobile access service, it can hardly achieve continuous coverage as 4G network, so it’s better to rely on the 4G network coverage and only use it as a capacity layer to the ultra-high-speed service in hotspot areas.

If an operator can obtain the mainstream 3.5 GHz spectrum, has reasonable cell edge access rate requirement, for example 50 Mbps downlink (supporting 2K/4K HD video and AR applications), 2 Mbps uplink (supporting 720p video upload anytime, anywhere), and also has enough investment to build a 5G continuous coverage network in dense urban areas, we believe that SA is a one-step and more suitable network construction mode. According to ZTE’s field test data, in dense urban scenarios where the inter-site distance is less than 400 meters, it is possible to achieve continuous coverage of 5G through 4G/5G co-site deployment; in the area where the site spacing is more than 400 meters, an appropriate number of 5G macro or micro base stations can be added to meet the uplink data rate requirement of 2 Mbps.

Of course, if an operator has very limited investment at the initial stage of 5G deployment, can only deploy a small number of 5G base stations in 4G network hotspots for marking purpose, it is more economical and practical to choose the NSA network construction mode.

If the operator has higher requirements for network edge performance, such as increasing the uplink rate to 5 Mbps (supporting 1080p video upload anytime, anywhere), it is recommended to use carrier aggregation of 3.5 GHz spectrum and 1800/900/700 MHz spectrum. Since 1800/900/700 MHz bands have been refarmed for 5G New Radio, the network construction mode is still SA. We think It is very difficult to achieve 5 Mbps uplink data rate in NSA mode with around 400 meters inter-site distance even if the uplink capability of both 4G and 5G is utilized; deploying a large number of new base stations also involves high investment costs, and supplemental uplink solution is too complex.

Maximizing the Value of Existing Site Infrastructure

Besides the network architecture, how to introduce 5G into the existing sites with high-density of RAN equipment is also a major challenge for operators. At present, the majority of operators have multiple bands (such as 900 MHz, 1.8 GHz, 2.1 GHz and 2.6 GHz) and multiple standards (GSM, UMTS, LTE and NB-IoT) in the same site. It is also very common for several operators share the same site infrastructure such as towers and cabinets. Most of the sites have dense deployments of antennas and RRUs, making it difficult to add 5G AAUs. While building new sites face such problems as difficult site acquisition, high investment costs, and long construction periods.

The introduction of multi-band, multi-port passive antennas, active + passive hybrid antennas, and ultra-wideband RRU provides a new way to solve the problem of tight antenna installation space in the macro base station. Operators can consolidate and optimize the multiple antennas of each sector of the existing network before or during 5G construction. Thus, valuable space will be released for installing 5G AAUs, and each sector will only use one or two multi-band antennas to cover all frequency bands and wireless standards for 2G, 3G and 4G, and one active antenna to serve 5G networks. In this way, the 5G network can be deployed without adding new sites, and the multi-network operation and maintenance (O&M) costs can be reduced.

Regarding the 5G AAU equipment, ZTE recommends using 64T64R AAU in dense urban areas to achieve the highest performance, and 16T16R AAU in urban and suburban areas to make a good balance between coverage and network construction costs. The 64T64R AAU consists of a large number of independent transceiver channels, which can support accurate horizontal and vertical beamforming at the same time, thus achieving ideal capacity gains with space division multiplexing in densely populated areas. In addition, 64T64R AAU has strong beam reflection, diffraction, and anti-interference capability. Even in dense urban areas with complex wireless environments, 3.5G NR can achieve the same coverage as existing 1.8 GHz 2T2R LTE with co-site deployment mode, thus reducing the difficulty and cost of 5G network deployment. For the general urban and suburban scenarios with a small number of data users, low traffic density, a very low pairing probability of MU-MIMO, 16T16R AAU is recommended, because it has higher cost-performance ratio, and also enables 3.5G NR to have the same coverage as 1.8G LTE even with co-site deployment mode.

For 5G network blind spots or hotspots, it is recommended to use Pad micro station to improve local performance. The pad-sized 5G micro base station can be installed in a concealed location like the exterior wall of the building, the street light pole and the advertising light box, which significantly reduces the difficulty of the site acquisition and can quickly increase the hotspot capacity and eliminate blind spots.

In terms of baseband processing unit, the future-oriented high-capacity baseband processing unit can support all wireless standards from 2G to 5G, and flexible deployments of centralized units (CUs) and distributed units (DUs). Besides converged 4G/5G networking capability, it can support smooth transfer of hardware processing resources from 2G and 3G to 4G and 5G in the future when the existing 2G/3G network reaches the end of its life cycle, thereby maximally protecting the investments of operators.

Introducing AI to Improve Multi-Network O&M Efficiency  

In the 5G era, operators will face the challenges of complex networks, diversified services, and personalized experiences.

The network complexity is mainly reflected in the coexistence of multiple networks; and with the dense networking of large-scale antenna arrays, the complexity of beam control and parameter configuration in 5G is increased by an order of magnitude compared with 4G. The SDN, NFV, and cloud deployments also disrupt the familiar network O&M model of the operator’s O&M team. Business diversification is mainly reflected in the fact that 5G exceeds eMBB business and penetrates into vertical industries such as industrial manufacturing, agricultural production, smart home, telemedicine and autopilot. Experience personalization is mainly reflected in the fact that 5G delivers customized and differentiated services for specific industries or users, builds network access, data analysis and application services covering a user’s full business processes and full business scenarios, and allows lifecycle management and continuous optimization of customized network slices. The above three challenges urgently need the introduction of AI to improve O&M efficiency.

AI technology represented by machine learning and deep learning can be widely used in network alarm, fault root cause analysis, network coverage, performance optimization, network capacity prediction, accurate network construction, network-level energy management, dynamic scheduling of cloud network resources, and intelligent network slicing, thereby improving network O&M efficiency and reducing network O&M costs. The application of AI can be roughly categorized into intelligent site equipment, intelligent O&M, intelligent edge cloud engine, and intelligent network planning and optimization.

Summary

Although operators will face various challenges during the 5G network deployment period, 5G’s flexible slicing capability and its potential for digitalization and intelligent transformation of vertical industries also give operators confidence about the network profitability in the 5G era. ZTE is willing to closely cooperate with operators to solve the problems in network deployment and O&M, and work together to create a brilliant future!

Trump’s Huawei executive order not much more than a power play

Rumours are swirling around Washington DC suggesting President Donald Trump is on the verge of signing another executive order, this one the final blow to Huawei’s US ambitions.

While the document itself will actually have very little impact on Huawei’s business, it is more of a symbolic blow to the kit vendor, as well as other Chinese businesses looking to exploit the riches of the Land of the Free. While the rumours were originally reported last week, by the time you get back to the office on Monday the order may well have been signed.

In a single signature, Huawei, a representation of China’s ambitions in the global technology and telecommunications industry, could be officially and explicitly shut out of the worlds’ largest economies.

Although details on the executive order are limited to rumour and hearsay for the moment, officials have stated this order will not impact electronics companies or products which incorporate Chinese components. This is a political move to demonstrate the power of the US. Trump is making a statement to China; look at what I can do to one of your flagbearers.

As it stands, Huawei’s involvement in US communications infrastructure is pretty minimal. T-Mobile US CEO John Legere has very publicly stated his business will very much avoid using Huawei equipment, while back in August Trump signed the Defense Authorization Act into law which effectively banned any meaningful work Huawei or ZTE could do in the US.

Huawei’s, and ZTE to a lesser extent, condemnation has become nothing more than a symbol of US dominance on the technology world. Trump is posturing, demonstrating what will happen to anyone who challenges the US leadership position. Over the last few months, US delegations have been visiting governments around the world to pitch the idea of a ban, admittedly with varied success, though there have been some willing to listen. Banning ZTE from using US components or IP brought the firm to the brink of extinction. The US forced Canada to arrest the Huawei CFO. A lot of this is a demonstration of power.

This is of course a complex and rich tapestry, and there are numerous intertwining and independent narratives going on. Some of it will be political, some economic, some espionage assumptions will be true and there will be validity to accusations of a government-influenced unfair playing field. This is an incredibly complex matter. But look at what the executive order actually is.

Huawei is already incredibly limited in the US, the damage to ambitions has already been dealt, this is chest beating from Trump.

Delivering 5G Promises with Efficient and Intelligent Solutions

5G is one of the defining buzzwords of the telecom industry. After years of lab and field trials, live networks have been switched on in North America and Asia-Pacific, with more expected to follow soon. The industry has high expectations of 5G, with the most important use cases falling into three categories: enhanced mobile broadband, massive IoT, and extreme low latency. The services offered to business users and consumers so far are mainly of the first category.

To deliver all the 5G promises, telecom operators and other stakeholders in the value chain do not only have to overcome the remaining technology hurdles, but also do some deep soul searching regarding what business models to adopt and what services to offer whom.

When interviewed by Telecoms.com recently, I shared my thinking on how telcos can deliver the 5G promises by addressing these issues.

Telecoms.com: 5G is more than just technologies. Can you please share your views on some fundamental questions telcos need to answer before they start planning technology deployment?

Pu, ZTE: You are right. 5G is the first time in the cellular industry that business cases and applications were considered prior to technology specifications. So before planning technology options, telcos should ask themselves what short-term and long-term business objectives they want to achieve with 5G. For example, for all the incumbent operators which have 4G networks, they should realise that every dollar spent today on the network infrastructure should not only make 5G deployment faster, easier, and more cost-efficient, but also would offer faster 4G with lower per-bit cost. Rolling out 5G without coordination with existing networks would run the risk of compromising the user experiences of the current customers, whereas improving 4G without factoring in the demand of 5G deployment would marginalise the operator in the long term, if not right away.

Along the same lines, when we consider the technology impediments in the road to 5G deployment, we should strive for the balance between critical investment in 5G to offer much better user experiences and guaranteed service in the existing 4G. This is exactly why ZTE believes a comprehensive solution for both efficient 5G rollout and modernised 4G is in the core of facilitating operators’ network upgrade and 5G implementation. ZTE’s UniSite is such an integrated solution for multi-RATs, especially the long-term 4G/5G coordination, integration and evolution.

Telecoms.com: This is true. Most operators will run hybrid networks with legacy technologies side by side 5G. In those cases where operators combine 5G with 4G and sometimes even 3G, pressure on the radio frequencies, which arguably is the scarcest resource in the cellular industry, is increasing. How should operators manage mixed networks to maximise the frequency efficiency?

Pu, ZTE: Many wireless networks have embraced or evolved into multi-RATs co-existence, and the co-existence will stay for a long time, even after 5G is rolled out on a big scale. To optimise spectrum utilisation, mobile operators need a super-efficient networking solution. Essentially this should be an intelligent and dynamic spectrum allocation mechanism between multi-RATs, including 5G in the future. ZTE’s Magic Radio Pro is a leading solution of this kind. This dynamic spectrum allocation should be carried out based on real-time traffic loads on the different RATs, as well as AI-supported traffic load prediction, which will improve the spectrum sharing efficiency. A smooth network evolution, the phasing-in and phasing-out of RATs, is then realised with the least impact on the network.

In addition to dynamic spectrum sharing, the FDD Massive MIMO Solution has also been proved to be able to improve 4G spectrum efficiency by three to six times. It has been deployed in many live networks for FDD Massive MIMO, with a surprisingly large capacity improvement. ZTE is going to release a new dual-band FDD Massive MIMO product in 2019, with three-carrier configuration, up to 2Gbps data throughput within a single product to support commercial applications.

Telecoms.com: Similar to radio frequency, base station sites are also a resource getting harder to come by. From 2G, 3G to 4G, with very few exceptions, operators are moving to higher frequencies. In most markets 5G will be deployed in the higher end of the sub-6GHz bands and the mmWave bands, which means the cell sizes are getting smaller, and more sites are needed. How do you see mobile operators dealing with this dilemma?

Pu, ZTE: Yes, with the exceptions of the greenfield 5G operators, which will need to build the networks from ground up, all the incumbent operators are going to manage mixed networks for a long time. This means that they will still keep updating the 4G networks (even 3G in some parts of the world). The fast-growing demand for mobile data is driving bigger capacity, for example, 2T to 4T upgrade, more sectors and even new spectrums etc., which in term will demand more RRUs, antennas, additional combiners and cables, all congesting the site space. That is even before 5G is deployed on top.

To solve this problem, operators need a unified site solution to not only dynamically share spectrums between multi-RATs (2/3/4/5G) but also share as many common components as possible so as to minimise the amount of equipment at one site. ZTE’s UniSite solution comes with a series of UBR (ultra-band radio) products to reduce the number of RRUs by close to 70%, plus the innovative RRUs with imbedded combiners can handle the 2/3/4/5G in sub-3GHz band with only one antenna. Additionally, the UniSite solution is not only made for macro sites, but also able to offer differentiation for other scenarios such as hot spots, traffic centric indoor access, etc.

Telecoms.com: The increasing complexity of networks and the fast-growing amounts of data going through them, as you just mentioned, have gone beyond the capacity of manual operation and maintenance. Therefore, operators would require strong automation capability to provide system assurance and deliver service quality. How should operators leverage the AI advancements to improve their operation quality and efficiency?

Pu, ZTE: There are a number of areas that AI can play a significant role, in particular, network operation and maintenance (O&M), network planning, network optimisation, and fault investigation etc.

ZTE’s next-generation network O&M platform, called UME, can deliver the unified management and operation of 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. Moreover, supported by AI, the UME platform can largely improve the efficiency of network optimisation and error investigation. For example, the alarm processing time is vastly reduced in root cause analysis (RCA), based on RCA rules mining, self-learning associations, and forming rules into the RCA model for alarm root cause viewing and alarm suppression. Furthermore, the unified big data platform (V-MAX) based on richer data and stronger data processing capability can support more efficient and more intelligent network planning, network evaluation and optimisation, and centralised SON.

Signs not looking positive for Huawei and ZTE in Italy

Reports in local press suggest Italy could be the next country to bow to pressure from the US, banning Huawei and ZTE from contributing to communications infrastructure.

Although many telcos across the bloc have been taking precautionary measures against Huawei and ZTE, Telecom Italia (TIM) has previously stated it would continue to work with the vendors until the government told it otherwise. This is a market which looked relatively safe for the both parties, but things are starting to look quite wobbly.

This is a largely unconfirmed report however Italy’s La Stampa newspaper has claimed the Defense Ministry and Ministry of Foreign Affairs is ready to bring out the ‘Golder Powers’ to enforce the ban. The ‘Golden Powers’ effectively give the government the power to do whatever it wants, and in this case will be applied to contracts allowing the government and telcos to exit without financial penalties from the vendors.

Security concerns have of course been cited as the reasoning, with the paper suggesting strong pressure from the US government. Italy currently has several US military bases across the country.

The US government has been on somewhat of a European road-trip over the last month, with Foreign Office officials meeting with counterparts in European governments to pitch the case of paranoia. Although little concrete evidence has been presented to support the accusation companies like Huawei are supporting the Chinese government’s espionage campaigns, Europe does seem to be turning against the vendor.

Italy might be the next domino to fall, though it seems to be in a race with Poland. Following the arrest of a Huawei employee in recent weeks on the grounds of corporate espionage it does look like the vendor (or potentially Chinese companies on the whole) will be banned from the country. This would be a huge decision to make though as Poland acts as the HQ for Huawei’s Eastern European business, employing roughly 900 people.

While there are countries which are resisting the calls to ban Chinese involvement in 5G infrastructure, Germany is one drafting rules to heighten security requirements and Huawei has seemingly ticked all the boxes in the UK, the power of the US lobby is proving effective. Of course, these battles in the individual nations are only part of the problem, the US delegation has been whispering in the ear of the European Commission in recent weeks. We all know the Brussels brunch brigade love a free lunch…

US Senate bill reintroduced to bring heat back on ZTE

US senators from both parties have re-introduced a bill to hold ZTE accountable in spite of the deal reached with the US government last summer.

On Tuesday (5 February), seven senators from the Republican and Democratic parties re-introduced the ZTE Enforcement Review and Oversight (ZERO) Act . The same bill was first introduced in September last year, following the deal between the Chinese telecom equipment maker and the US government, but expired when the last Congressional session ended with the mid-term election in November.

Like last time, the bill was sponsored by Marco Rubio, the former presidential candidate and Republican senator from Florida, and joined by his fellow senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The changes on the signatory included the absence of the Republican senator James Lankford of Oklahoma and the addition of Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Doug Jones (D-AL).

The press statements from the senators’ offices read largely similar to those from September. The law-makers reiterated that dissatisfaction with the lifeline the Commerce Department threw ZTE in the summer but believed the bill would serve as a deterrent. “While it was a mistake to strike a ‘deal’ with ZTE in the first place, this bill would ensure ZTE is held accountable if and when it cheats again,” said Rubio.

“When it comes to violating U.S. sanctions and deceiving our government, ZTE is a repeat offender. Companies like ZTE threaten our security and compromise American interests but this administration has failed to hold them accountable,” said Warner, who also serves as Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “This much-needed legislation will force the telecom firm to play by the rules by imposing punitive measures if ZTE once again violates trade restrictions or its agreement with the U.S.”

A couple of factors make the timing of the re-introduction noticeable. The first was the high-level official meeting over the trade disputes between the US and China only finished a few days ago with no deal signed, but which the Chinese delegation claimed to have achieved “important progress”. The second is the legal cases recently filed by the US government against Huawei and its executives, ZTE’s domestic and international competitor. Another is Venezuela, which is in a highly volatile status. After reaching the deal with the US government in July, ZTE was suspected to have continued its business with the Venezuelan government officials under US sanction. Last but not least, collateral damage or not, the re-introduction fell on the first day of the Chinese New Year.

China 5G ambitions might hit a Brussels speed bump

The boresome bureaucrats of Brussels have finally gotten back from lunch and there might just be a 5G ban for Chinese companies on the menu before too long.

According to Reuters, the EU officials are considering drawing up new rules which would effectively ban any participation from Chinese companies in the up-coming 5G bonanza. Although there have certainly been some dissenting voices across the bloc over the last couple of months, a bloc-wide ban would be scaling up the anti-China rhetoric more than a few incremental steps.

Officials would almost certainly state any changes would be made for the greater good and are not targeted at a single nation, but that statement is increasingly difficult to swallow. There are a couple of different strategies to achieve the anti-China goal, but the Brussels brunch brigade will certainly have to get a move on if they are to make an impact.

5G is just around the corner and the groundwork is being laid for the lean, mean networks. Purchases will be made in the near future, but with this air of uncertainty flowing out of the Brussels waffle shops, some telcos might be hesitant to charge forward. What’s the point in potential purchasing and deploying equipment if the rosy-cheeks regulators are going to make you tear it out of the network?

The European Commission wants Europe to lead in the digital economy, but for this to happen the connectivity infrastructure needs to be up to scratch. The telcos need consistency and certainty when it comes to policies if they are to spend billions. The Flemish food fanatics are hardly known for their agility but for the European digital economy to remain on-track any significant changes to the regulatory landscape will have to be set in stone sharpish.

Now you start to get a feel for the problem. Who knows what conditions will be put into place with new policies, especially if the public service ponderers want the wording to appear generic enough so China cannot accuse the bloc of targeting it specifically. The gluttonous government officials will have to skip a few free lunches and get a move on.

But how could the covetous civil servants ban Huawei sorry China sorry nefarious bodies from contaminating the 5G goldmine?

The first suggestion is rumoured to be an amendment to a 2016 cybersecurity law to heighten the security requirements for any company which wants to contribute to critical infrastructure. Germany is reportedly making similar amendments to heighten requirements, but to protect itself and also allow Chinese companies to participate. You can only assume any altercations at a European level would not be as welcoming, targeting companies who could potentially be influenced (irrelevant of any concrete evidence) by a nefarious government.

A second suggestion would be more related to procurement processes, though the gaggle of red-tapers will have to be careful here. Whenever regulators and legislators attempt to influence commercial processes too much there is often resistance from the private sector.

The revelation will certainly be of interest to the US, which has done its best to turn the world against the country which is challenging the Land of the Free for global supremacy. While government intervention might sound like a bit of a contradiction for a country which so proudly promotes the concepts of market freedoms and capitalism, we have stopped keeping check on how mental the US is becoming.

But perhaps this was the long-game from the US all along. It bans Chinese companies sharpish and then moves onto plant the seeds of doubt elsewhere knowing other countries would take a more considered and evidence-based approach to such a massive decision. With the Europeans dithering, the US can race ahead with 5G deployment, attract the most innovative companies to establish R&D sites within its own border and all of a sudden it dominates the 5G economy just like it dominates 4G now.

Whatever the outcome, uncertainty is the enemy of progress. If they ban Chinese companies or if they don’t, the bureaucrats need to decide quickly. Regulations need to be set in stone to allow the telcos to consider all the implications and make commercial decisions. Uncertainty is only going to stutter rollouts and damage the influence of Europe on the digital economy.

And for Huawei, 2019 seems to be going from bad to worse.

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.