Europe unveils its digital grand plan

The EU reckons Europe can be a digital leader so long as it does what the European Commission tells it to.

To be fair to the EC this is a pretty ambitious project as it seeks to define the rules, parameters and scope of all the digital ambitions for the entire bloc. It encompasses the European data strategy and its rules for the development of artificial intelligence in such a way that it helps the continent out, but doesn’t result in a Terminator-like dystopia.

“Today we are presenting our ambition to shape Europe’s digital future,” said President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. “It covers everything from cybersecurity to critical infrastructures, digital education to skills, democracy to media. I want that digital Europe reflects the best of Europe – open, fair, diverse, democratic, and confident.”

Democratic eh – who elected you then Ursula? Anyway, the collateral associated with this announcement is predictably encyclopaedic, but if you want you could start here, or here, or here. As if the scope of the project wasn’t broad enough the EC seems to be trying to reconcile a bunch of other trendy political issues like diversity and green stuff while it’s at it.

“We want every citizen, every employee, every business to stand a fair chance to reap the benefits of digitalisation,” said Executive Vice-President for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager. “Whether that means driving more safely or polluting less thanks to connected cars; or even saving lives with AI-driven medical imagery that allows doctors to detect diseases earlier than ever before.”

“Our society is generating a huge wave of industrial and public data, which will transform the way we produce, consume and live,” said Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton. “I want European businesses and our many SMEs to access this data and create value for Europeans – including by developing Artificial Intelligence applications. Europe has everything it takes to lead the ‘big data’ race, and preserve its technological sovereignty, industrial leadership and economic competitiveness to the benefit of European consumers.”

It’s hard to know what to make of such a massive initiative. This was clearly the sort of thing Vestager’s role was created for, but what does it mean on the ground? AI clearly needs some kind of global supervision and Europe has plenty of catching up to do with its geopolitical rivals when it comes to the digital economy. We’ll probably have a better sense of how effective this initiative has been in a decade or so.

Indian government strives to save its dwindling telco industry

Government officials have reportedly been having meetings to figure out how the prospects for Vodafone Idea can be improved and three-way competition can be preserved.

Rumours have been circling the Indian telco space over recent weeks as it appears the industry is sleep-walking towards the death of Vodafone Idea and the creation of a defacto duopoly. One potential outcome in the immediate future would be invoking banking guarantees, a precursor to termination of telecom licences, according to the Economic Times, though this would be a worrying move.

With finance and telecoms ministers meeting in private, the objective could be to preserve a level of competition which is deemed adequate. Three private telcos should be considered the absolute minimum, though this is arguably too few for a nation the size of India. If the status quo is to continue concessions will have to be made.

What is actually being discussed behind closed doors remains to be seen, though reports are suggesting the Indian Government is seeking remedies to the precarious situation. This may well mean deferred or staggered repayments for the €7 billion spectrum bill being faced by both Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel.

The seriousness of the situation in India should not be taken lightly, though whether the Indian Government has the foresight to appreciate the damage which could be done in pursuing immediate repayment remains to be seen.

Vodafone Group CEO Nick Reid has repeatedly stated he would not be prepared to invest more capital in the market, or at least the vast sums which are being discussed today. It does appear Vodafone is prepared to wrap-up the joint venture between itself and Idea Cellular. Reid is perhaps looking at the big picture.

Vodafone is under pressure in several markets across the world. In the UK, it is spending significantly to bolster its current market share, while both Spain and Italy are presenting challenging environments thanks to heightened competition. India offers great potential, but $7 billion is a significant investment to remain in the hunt. At some point, executives will have to question when the end is nigh.

The ‘Chase Theory’ is usually associated with compulsive gambling, but it is also applicable here. As one of the simplest forms of gambling, the punter doubles down to recoup losses in pursuit of a theoretical gain. India is a market which offers great rewards due to a massive population and rapid digitisation, but it is proving to be a very costly pursuit. The last thing Reid will want to do is bankrupt his business chasing the hypothetical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

If the Indian Government does not introduce some flexibility into its mindset in dealing with the telcos, the market will soon devolve into a defacto duopoly. Admittedly, there are two state-owned telcos still in the fray, but these are providing next to no genuine competition. For a sustainable and healthy telecoms industry in India, the existence of Vodafone Idea should be considered priority number one.

The trickiest aspect of this discussion will be how to maintain credibility as an authority; the Indian Government needs to help Vodafone Idea, but it cannot be held to ransom by divas in the telecoms space.

Huawei lawsuit against ‘unconstitutional’ ban in the US is thrown out

A judge has ruled against a lawsuit filed by Huawei in the US relating to a ban on government personnel using the company’s devices.

Huawei filed the lawsuit on the basis that the ban was “unconstitutional” back in 2018. Since then, Huawei has faced increased US-led scrutiny globally over claims the company is controlled by Beijing – an allegation the company denies.

US District Court Judge Amos Mazzant ruled that Congress has the right to ban federal agencies from using equipment manufactured by specific firms.

In a 57-page ruling on Tuesday, Mazzant wrote: “Contracting with the federal government is a privilege, not a constitutionally guaranteed right—at least not as far as this court is aware."

Huawei is now considering its options and said in a statement the “approach taken by the US Government in the 2019 NDAA provides a false sense of protection while undermining Huawei's constitutional rights."

Another brutal month for Huawei

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice charged Huawei and its subsidiaries with racketeering and conspiracy to steal trade secrets.

Last week, a bipartisan US delegation voiced their concerns about Huawei during this year’s Munich Security Conference.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that Huawei, and other firms backed by Beijing, are "trojan horses for Chinese intelligence". Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said China is conducting a “nefarious strategy” through companies like Huawei.

From the other side of the House, Republican Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the use of Chinese telecoms equipment would be “choosing autocracy over democracy” and “putting the state police in the pocket of every consumer in these countries”.

February is typically a great month for those in telecoms as it’s a time when everyone convenes at MWC in Barcelona to show off their latest technologies, make deals, and celebrate the industry. Of course, this year’s MWC has been cancelled over fears about the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

The best recent news for Huawei arrived last month when the UK government announced it will be allowing the company to have a “limited role” in national 5G networks following a comprehensive security review.

Huawei will be hoping for fewer months like February for the rest of 2020.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data ExpoCyber Security & Cloud Expo and 5G Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.

Nokia acquires Elenion to boost optical offering

Nokia plans to acquire Elenion, a privately-owned technology company whose proprietary silicon photonics design platform can lower the ‘per bit’ cost for network operators.

Through its acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent in 2016, Nokia has become one of the biggest suppliers of optical transport solutions. In the latest quarterly and full-year results, the IP routing and optical businesses registered healthy growth. This newly announced transaction looks to be an attempt to acquire unique technology know-how. The parties claim that Elenion’s silicon photonics design platform can, with its design toolset, improve the efficiency of the optical supply chain, and in turn, bring down the cost of data transmission on per bit basis for the operators.

The technology know-how can be highly relevant to Nokia’s core mobile business as well. The terse announcement stresses that Elenion’s silicon photonics technologies are highly integrated, low-cost, and ideal for short-reach and high-performance optical interfaces. This indicates that the technologies can be broadly applied in the dense radio networks expected for 5G, as well as the enterprise market where Nokia has made strong gains recently.

“As a world-class provider of silicon photonics solutions, advanced packaging and custom design services, Elenion provides a strong strategic fit for Nokia. Its solutions can be readily integrated into Nokia’s product offerings and address multiple high growth segments including 5G, cloud and data center networking,” said Sam Bucci, Head of Optical Networking at Nokia. “When combined with Nokia, Elenion technologies will accelerate the growth and scale of Nokia’s optical networking business, while enabling us to cost-effectively address new markets.”

“Nokia is an industry leader in networking systems, including advanced coherent optical interfaces and hyperscale datacenter solutions. Elenion benefits by having its technology incorporated into an industry-leading portfolio and with a company offering solutions across a wide array of networking applications,” added Larry Schwerin, CEO of Elenion Technologies. “Nokia’s strong optical industry leadership, size, scale, global reach, and ongoing commitment to investment in key technologies vastly accelerates the adoption of Elenion silicon photonics technology.”

The value of the transaction is not disclosed, and the companies expect the deal to close in Q1 2020 after regulatory clearance.

DT CEO ups US ambitions to double down on momentum

Deutsche Telekom CEO Tim Hoettges is looking to close the valuation gap between T-Mobile US and its rivals, as the telco revels following a very positive earnings call.

Share price in the German telco has jumped 3.9% in early morning trading following the financial results which saw revenues increase by 6.4% to €80.4 billion for 2019. Net profit was up by almost 80% to €3.9 billion, while free cash grew by 15.9% to €7 billion.

“The market environment in the European telecommunications sector is far from straightforward. Yet, despite the heavy regulation and inconsistent competitive situation, we emerged from the year just ended even stronger,” Hoettges said his letter to the shareholders.

“Not only that, but we are once again the leading European telco, based on both revenue and market value. That was and remains our overarching goal.”

Deutsche Telekom is one of the largest telcos across the world, but in recent years it is questionable as to whether it is one of the more progressive or future proofed. When looking at the penetration of full-fibre broadband or deployment of 5G infrastructure, the numbers are not as favourable, though the tide does seem to be turning.

The team now suggests 5G connectivity is being delivered in eight cities in its domestic German market, with ambitions to increase this to 20 by the end of 2020. Elsewhere, T-Mobile US launched its 5G offering in December and Austria has 31 5G base stations up-and-running.

Deutsche Telekom is heading in the right direction, but it is moving at a much slower pace than other telcos. It might want to proclaim itself as a leader in the telco arena, but realistically it is a fastish-follower at best, BT for example, has already launched 5G in 50 towns and cities across the UK.

One area where the company is proving to be incredibly aggressive is in the US, and this should continue over the coming months.

“We have the chance to become No.1 in the United States, to overtake AT&T and Verizon. That, at least, is our ambition,” Hoettges said during the earnings call.

With T-Mobile US and Sprint now looking at a clear path to the finish line, after a District Judge ruled in favour of the merger in the face of opposition from 13 Attorney Generals, the team can look further into the future. Following the merger, T-Mobile will be roughly the same size from a subscriber base as AT&T and Verizon, allowing more opportunity for the team to compete on a level playing field.

The US business is one which is once again proving to be very profitable for Deutsche Telekom.

T-Mobile US is the single largest business unit in the overarching business, accounting for just over 50% of the total revenues at €40.4 billion, a year-on-year increase of 10.7%. Momentum is clearly with the business also, the team boasted of 1.3 million branded postpaid net additions during its last financial results.

While the US is looking very positive for the telco, it will have to be careful sluggish activity in Europe does not open the door for rivals to steal market share in the various markets.

GSMA tells MWC 2020 exhibitors it won’t be providing refunds

Out of pocket MWC exhibitors are being directed to a clause in their terms and conditions that absolves the GSMA of liability.

Two MWC 2020 exhibitors from opposite sides of the world independently contacted Telecoms.com to inform us that they have been received a communication from the GSMA, which runs the event, regarding the financial consequences of its cancellation. They were both directed to clause 21.10 of the Standard Terms and Conditions for Exhibition, Advertising, and Sponsorship, which reads as follows.

The Organizer shall not be liable to the Company for any losses, costs, damages or expenses (whether incurred under contract, tort or otherwise) suffered or incurred as a direct or indirect result of an event beyond the control of the Organizer, including without limitation, any act of God, disease or epidemic, strike, lock-out, industrial disturbance, failure of suppliers, act of public enemy, war, labor dispute, terrorist act, blockade, riot, civil commotion, public demonstration or governmental or local authority restraint nor shall the Organizer be liable to refund any fees.

The GSMA communication stressed that no refunds will be given, since this is a ‘force majeure’ situation, i.e. circumstances beyond the GSMA’s control. It goes on to say, however, that the GSMA is working on ‘a proposal’ designed to make the best of a bad situation and maintain good relations between the GSMA and its MWC commercial partners. We invited the GSMA to provide a statement on this matter but it declined.

Rather alarmingly, the communication also refers to the situation created by the cancellation of MWC 2020 due to the coronavirus threat as ‘uninsurable’. Surely a lot of insurance exists precisely to cover ‘acts of God’ such as this. If the GSMA’s insurers are telling it that they’re not liable for any of the cost of the cancellation then that seems like a pretty rubbish policy.

Once more the GSMA was keen to stress that it’s a not-for-profit organisation and that it finds itself in a precarious financial position as a result of the cancellation. This communication seems to be designed to position the decision not to refund as something that is out of the GSMA’s hands and builds on the Bloomberg interview as a call for industry solidarity in these trying times.

There is plenty of reason to feel sympathy towards the situation the GSMA finds itself in. Of course it didn’t want to cancel the show and, having been forced to do so by circumstances outside its control, it now faces an existential crisis. It’s also in the interest of exhibitors that value MWC to do their bit to ensure the event returns next year.

Where the GSMA find it most difficult to inspire its exhibitors to take one for the team, however, is in the matter of what it costs to attend MWC. Every year we speak to exhibitors at the event who moan about how they feel exploited and, while the GSMA may be a not-for-profit, nobody doubts MWC Barcelona itself makes a massive profit.

The telecoms industry does need to show solidarity at a time like this, but it works both ways. It would be counter-productive in the long term for exhibitors not to accept their fair share of the cost of such an exceptional piece of collective bad luck. But at the same time the GSMA should ask itself if maximising the profit it makes on MWC is the best way to help the industry is was created to support.

Texas Judge rules for White House over Huawei

Huawei has faced a setback in its pursuit of legitimacy in the US. as a Texas District Court ruled against its lawsuit directed towards the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Judge Amos Mazzant of the US District Court in East Texas ruled that section 889 of the NDAA was valid and legal. Huawei had argued the clause, which effectively banned it and ZTE from working with any company receiving federal funding, was unconstitutional on the grounds it presumed guilt without a fair trial.

While a Huawei victory was hardly going to make an impression with the single-minded White House policy makers, this is a victory for the Government, seemingly validating its decision.

“Contracting with the federal government is a privilege, not a constitutionally guaranteed right – at least not as far as this court is aware,” Judge Mazzant said in the ruling, first reported by Reuters.

This is an interesting nuance which has been put forward by Judge Mazzant. Huawei has argued the clause banning service providers from spending federal money on Chinese equipment is unconstitutional, though Judge Mazzant has stated that the Government should have the right to control how its money is allocated and spent. The Act does not prevent Huawei from doing business in the US entirely, which keeps the Government on the right side of the line.

The lawsuit, which was filed in March 2019, stated that Congress was acting in violation of the US Constitution as it was denying the firm the right to bid on both Government and private sector contracts. Huawei suggested the Act was a Bill of Attainder, as it presumed guilt without trial. Under Article I Section 9 in federal law, and in state law under Article I Section 10, US Constitution forbids such actions.

For the US, this could add some momentum to the already existing propaganda campaign against China and seemingly all companies from China. This ruling could add buoyancy to the Simple Resolution which has recently been passed in the House of Representatives.

The resolution, which can be used to influence administrative actions and foreign policy, stated that the House of Representatives believed all Chinese countries were effectively under Government control, state-owned or private. Such a broad-brush approach to condemnation is a very dangerous and small-minded approach to take, though the anti-China rhetoric could be offered a new lease of live…

5G, Bring New Value: Huawei Products and Solutions Launch

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Four large telcos explore using blockchain to simplify inter-operator roaming

Four large international telcos are testing a blockchain solution to simplify inter-operator roaming agreements.

The operators – Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica, and T-Mobile US – are testing a “production-ready” solution to reduce the complexity involved with inter-operator roaming.

Inter-operator roaming requires drafting, signing, and manually implementing each agreement under the legacy system. The new solution aims to automate the cumbersome process.

Speaking to Mobile Europe, SVP of Deutsche Telekom Rolf Nafziger said:

“The inter-operator workflow in roaming has been basically unchanged for the last 20 years. In the near future, however, new services like NB-IoT, LTE-M or VoLTE and other quality-based services will drastically increase the complexity of inter-operator discount agreements and respective settlements.”

Deutsche Telekom designed the solution but the operator now plans to make it open-source for free use across the industry.

As a secure digital ledger, blockchain technology ensures the inter-operator roaming agreement is stored and cannot be altered.

While blockchain technologies have largely been overhyped in recent years, now we’re beginning to see truly useful deployments.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data ExpoCyber Security & Cloud Expo and 5G Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.