4G roaming traffic doubled globally last year – BICS

Regulatory changes and increased competition continue to drive massive growth in LTE roaming around the world, according to new data from BICS.

The precise increase is 95%, with a major catalyst still being the European Union’s regulation that banned European operators from charging a premium for roaming within the bloc. While we’re not seeing the ridiculous increase in European roaming that took place in 2017, the first full year after roaming was abolished, growth is still pretty steep.

“European subscribers have enjoyed being able to ‘Roam Like at Home’ and now seek high quality, affordable roaming services, wherever they travel,” said Mikaël Schachne, VP of Mobility Solutions at BICS. “This is forcing operators in other regions outside of the EU to match the European offering by coming together to offer more cost-effective packages to subscribers, while optimising traffic flow at the back-end.”

We had a chat with Schachne to get some further insight into this trend. He reckons that changes in the regulatory environment have forced operators to rethink their approach to roaming. This more competitive environment has been self-reinforcing and it looks like operators worldwide are now inclined to offer much more attractive roaming packages than they did a few years ago.

Another major reason for them to curtail their roaming profiteering is the growth in dual-SIM as a smartphone feature. This makes it much easier for people to buy a local SIM when they’re travelling and this circumvent roaming entirely. On top of that public wifi is improving all the time so the simple fact is that if roaming is too expensive, most people just won’t use it.

BICS is forecasting global 4G roaming growth of around half the rate of 2018 this year, which is hardly surprising considering how extreme it was previously. Another major driver is expected to be IoT over cellular networks, for which global roaming is a key feature, with billions of embedded SIMs expected to hit the market in the near future.

Scotland and Wales top the broadband not spot list once again

While there might be a few rogue entries into the UK broadband sh*t-list, the usual suspects are present once again demonstrating the difficulties in taking everyone across the digital finish line together.

The digital divide might not be on the same scale or intensity as some other continents are facing, but it is still a genuine problem for some regions in the ‘developed’ markets. Which has unveiled its latest list of connectivity not-spots throughout the UK, and unfortunately for those who like the peace and tranquillity of the countryside, the Eden comes with the sacrifice of connectivity.

The Orkney Islands in Scotland were the worst offenders for connectivity, with average speeds hitting a whopping 3 Mbps, though Allerdale, the Shetland Islands and Moray were also representing Scotland at the top (or bottom). Ceredigion and Powys, as well as Fermanagh and Omagh contributed to the Welsh representation.

While there might be constant reminders that digital equality is top of the list for politicians, the consistency of the worst offending areas just shows how difficult it is to solve the problem. The government might well have its Universal Service Obligation to wave in the face of the operators, but that seems to be having little effect.

Interestingly enough, previous reports have pointed towards the availability of higher speed broadband packages in these areas. Research such as this from Which can bemoan the lack of proactiveness from the telcos, pompously demanding that broadband is a right for all, but you can only lead a horse to water. Ofcom has previously stated only 45% of premises have signed up to superfast broadband packages, despite the option being available.

On a side note, the research also includes figures on how long it would take to download movies, music and other content at each of the speed tiers. Perhaps this is a measurement we should stop using to denote better or worse broadband speeds considering how many people are now streaming content rather than downloading it.

Your correspondent cannot think of the last time downloading content was favoured over streaming in his household, and suspects more and more households would fit this trend. Perhaps it would be a more useful comparison to list speeds at which a satisfactory streaming experience could be achieved for one or multiple devices simultaneously? Or measurements which take into account latency?

Looking at some of the figures online, Netflix recommends a 3 Mbps connection for one standard-quality stream and 5 Mbps for a high-definition stream. Two simultaneous HD streams would need around 10 Mbps, while multiples continuing upwards in a fashion you would expect. Compare the Market estimates that for adequate Spotify experience, 0.160 Mbps is needed to desktop applications, and 0.96 Mbps for mobile. High-definition video calling requires an upload and download speed of at least 1.2 Mbps. Users will also have to take into account how many connected appliances there are in the home.

These are all minimum speed requirements, and there will be other factors to take into consideration, but this might be a bit more suitable in a world which is moving away from asset downloads and towards streaming.

Ericsson’s loss is a US operator’s gain once more as T-Mobile hires Ewaldsson

T-Mobile US wasted little time in snapping up former Ericsson lifer Ulf Ewaldsson after he came on the market, to head up its 5G efforts.

Ewaldsson’s most recent significant position at Ericsson was to head up its struggling Digital Services division. This time last year he became another casualty of Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm’s apparent desire to refresh the executive team by getting rid of some dead wood. He does it gently, however, by moving them to the position of advisor to the CEO for a few months before finally casting them adrift.

Following the well trodden path taken by his former boss Hans Vestberg, Ewaldsson presumably needed little persuasion to escape the Swedish winter and move state-side, although he might not find Washington state to be much of an upgrade weather-wise. He will be reporting into TMUS CTO Neville Ray.

“We are thrilled to share the great news that Ulf is joining our team of amazing leaders at T-Mobile who continue to show the other guys what it takes to win in wireless,” said Ray. “Just look at what we’ve done with 4G wireless! We’ve been the fastest for 19 straight quarters – nearly 5 straight years… and we’re just getting started.

“Adding Ulf’s passion and track record for driving innovation to the Un-carrier mix is going to take us to the next level. Ulf has achieved so many firsts and truly supported the evolution of technology for telecommunications across the globe. Bringing him on board is a total win for T-Mobile and we couldn’t wait to share it! He is going to be the perfect addition to our consumer-first Un-carrier team to drive our 5G evolution strategy!”

Have you noticed how similar to Trump’s tweets the canned quotes from TMUS are? Anyway Ewaldsson, does have good tech pedigree, having been Ericsson’s group CTO for five years before being handed the Digital Services poisoned chalice, so he should be a good person to be running the 5G side of things.

France fines Google for being vague

The French regulator has swung the GDPR stick for the first time and landed it firmly on Google’s rump, costing the firm €50 million for transparency and consent violations.

The National Data Protection Commission (CNIL) has been investigating the search engine giant since May when None Of Your Business (NOYB) and La Quadrature du Net (LQDN) filed complaints suggesting GDPR violations. The claims specifically suggested Google was not providing adequate information to the user on how data would be used or retained for, while also suggesting Google made the process to find more information unnecessarily complex.

“Users are not able to fully understand the extent of the processing operations carried out by Google,” the CNIL said in a statement.

“But the processing operations are particularly massive and intrusive because of the number of services offered (about twenty), the amount and the nature of the data processed and combined. The restricted committee observes in particular that the purposes of processing are described in a too generic and vague manner, and so are the categories of data processed for these various purposes.”

This seems to be the most prominent issue raised by the CNIL. Google was being too vague when obtaining consent in the first instance, but when digging deeper the rabbit hole become too complicated.

Information on data processing purposes, the data storage periods or the categories of personal data used for the ad personalization were spread across several pages or documents. It has been deemed too complicated for any reasonable member of the general public to make sense of and therefore a violation of GDPR.

When first obtaining consent, Google did not offer enough clarity on how data would be used, therefore was without legal grounding to offer personalised ads. Secondly, the firm then wove too vexing a maze of red-tape for those who wanted to understand the implications further.

It’ll now be interesting to see how many other firms are brought to the chopping block. Terms of Service have been over-complicated documents for a long-time now, with the excessive jargon almost becoming best practise in the industry. Perhaps this ruling will ensure internet companies make the legal necessities more accessible, otherwise they might be facing the same swinging GDPR stick as Google has done here.

For those who are finding the NOYB acronym slightly familiar it might be because the non-profit recently filed complaints against eight of the internet giants, including Google subsidiary YouTube. These complaints focus on ‘right to access’ clauses in GDPR, with none of the parties responding to requests with enough information on how data is sourced, how long it would be retained for or how it has been used.

As GDPR is still a relatively new set of regulations for the courts to ponder, the complaints from NOYB and LQDN were filed almost simultaneously as the new rules came into force, this case gives some insight into how sharp the CNIL’s teeth are. €50 million might not be a monstrous amount for Google, but this is only a single ruling. There are more complaints in the pipeline meaning the next couple of months could prove to be very expensive for the Silicon Valley slicker.

Ren’s roadshow continues as Huawei warns of job cuts

Huawei Founder Ren Zhengfei has prepped his employees with a warning of ‘hardship’ and job cuts in the future.

In an email to employees, seen by the Financial Times, Ren has laid out an ominous prediction for the firm. The eras of 3G and 4G came too easily for the business and the extraordinary success which has fuelled Huawei’s domination over the last few years should not be expected as the firm enters the 5G frenzy.

“In the coming years, the overall situation will probably not be as bright as imagined, we have to prepare for times of hardship,” Ren said in the email.

Huawei confirmed to Telecoms.com the email was sent out to employees, though stressed that this is not necessarily new rhetoric from the management team. Over the last couple of months, Ren has been open with employees over the challenges in the future, while this email should be seen as a further step in this communication to re-iterate market conditions will make life for Huawei more difficult that it has become accustomed to.

Having started life in 1988, Huawei’s growth over the last two decades has been astronomical. Passing revenues of $1 billion roughly 20 years ago, the firm exceeded $100 billion in 2018, with the Consumer business group rumoured to have overtaken the Carrier business group as the biggest. Of course, dominance in the 4G era created this position of comfort to allow the Consumer business group to launch its assault on the global smartphone market.

Although this is one of the few examples of Ren being directly quoted in the media, the content of the email should hardly come as a surprise considering trends over the last couple of months.

“5G cannot possibly become as easy as 4G,” said Ren. “Maybe a mine will go off here and there. And even if there won’t be a big explosion all over the place, we will still need to feed 180,000 staff. Wages, salaries and dividends amount to over (US) $30 billion a year.”

Specific numbers have not been detailed, though Ren seems to be readying the troops for what could be a difficult few years fighting against currently unvalidated accusations and suggestions of nefarious behaviour.

Along with the US, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, Germany looks to be the next country to block the commercial intentions of Huawei. The Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) has previously stated it would not ban any companies from participating in the 5G frenzy without proof, though there are other factors to consider. Deutsche Telekom certainly wants to stay on the good-side of the US with a certain merger still not greenlit.

This is certainly not going to be the end for Huawei, but this communication from Ren confirms one thing to the world; Huawei truly realises how serious this situation has become and commercial contracts will be much more difficult to win in the future.

Anonymous targets Zimbabwe after government crack-down

International hacktivist group Anonymous has targeted the Zimbabwe government after it attempted to halt nationwide protests through various means including blocking social media sites.

The protests have been directed towards rising diesel and petrol prices across the country, with police crackdowns resulting in the death of 12 people. One tactic from the government to regain control saw legal action directed at the three mobile networks to block access to Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter, according to Bloomberg.

In reaction to the internet shut-down, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Zimbabwe unit of the Media Institute of Southern Africa has filed a lawsuit against the government order, suggesting it has resulting in loss of income and threats to life. Although largely unconfirmed, some are suggesting the government has initiated a full internet shutdown in various places.

While such lawsuits are unlikely to worry the government at this time, the attention of Anonymous might be more of a concern. On the Ghostbin website, the group left the following message:

“Greetings Zimbabwe, we are Anonymous. We have previously seen innocent people being killed in Zimbabwe. We have seen oppression and tyranny. We have seen people being oppressed for fighting for freedom. We cannot tolerate that. As we did with the Sudanese government, we have successfully taken down 72+ Zimbabwe government websites. This is only a start. Your banking system will also fall soon. Zimbabwe government, you have become an enemy of Anonymous! Your systems are in danger! In the face of oppression, rebellion become our duty.”

Some of the websites which have been targeted so far include the Ministry of ICT, the Housing Ministry, the Justice Department and the Ministry of Defence. You can see the full list of targets here.

While the scope of the group is relatively limited for the moment, the threat of wider retaliation could bring the country to its knees. In Sudan, the group attacked more than 200 websites, while also targeting the government’s services for electronic payments. Should the group target the banking system as promised in the above message, things could go from uncomfortable to disastrous.

Commuters account for 14% of UK online spending – research

A new report into commuters’ spending habits reckons they drop £23 billion per year of stuff via their mobile devices while on the move.

The research was conducted by media agency Kinetic and media owner Exterion, who both apparently specialise in OOH. Disappointingly this doesn’t mean they spend all their time exclaiming in amazement at stuff. Instead OOH stands for out-of-home and refers to the kind of advertising you get hit with when, you guessed it, you’re away from your house.

Across the whole country commuters apparently blow £89 per week on their phones one average, which seems remarkably high. London commuters spend £153 per week, we’re told which is bordering on mania and we can only assume this average is skewed by city types buying Lamborghinis on their phones or something. Across the board clothes seem to be the most popular purchase, which tallies with another recent report on this sort of thing.

“Our research shows that in today’s age of time-poor consumers, the everyday commute is fast becoming a valuable opportunity to make purchases,” said Stuart Taylor, CEO of Kinetic. “At a time when footfall is declining on our high streets, these findings confirm that retailers can nevertheless reach a valuable urban audience in a physical environment.”

“Commuters are the lifeblood of the UK, and hugely important to the economy, businesses and advertisers; they keep our nation moving and growing, as they travel,” said Nigel Clarkson, Chief Revenue Officer at Exterion. “Our research proves the commercial impact of the Commuter Economy, through the billions contributed to online retail annually.”

Both of them banged on about OOH advertising but laboured the point far too much for us to burden you with their unvarnished propaganda. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong, however. It stands to reason that people would use the dead time taken up by commuting to get other stuff done and it’s worryingly easy to buy stuff on your phone these days.

Cybersecurity investments on the up but not sustainable – study

Research from Strategic Cyber Ventures points to an increased appetite for cyber security investments, but the euphoria sweeping the segment forward is not sustainable.

On numerous occasions we have commented security is the ugly duckling of the technology world. It is critical to ensure the industry, and digital society on the whole, functions appropriately, though more often than not it is ignored. There will be numerous reasons for this, perhaps because security is a thankless and often impossible task, but the data suggests 2018 might have been a watershed year.

Not only did 2018 see $5.3 billion in global venture capital funding, 81% more than 2016, M&A activity increased as did private equity investments. On the M&A side of things, Cisco made a bang with a $2.4 billion acquisition of Duo Security, while Blackberry acquired Cylance for $1.4 billion. These are two of the larger deals, though there was increased activity in the segment across the period.

In terms of private equity, Barracuda Networks was acquired for $1.6 billion by Thoma Bravo, Bomgar by Francisco Partners for $739 million, while Blackrock spent $400 million on Cofense. Elsewhere in the more complicated financial world, Skyhigh Networks acquired McAfee with assistance from its financial sponsors Thoma Bravo and TPG Capital.

Cybersecurity one

Overall, the trends for the security segments are heading in the right direction. Perhaps now this is an area which will be taken more seriously by the industry, with adequate investments heading into security department.

That said, Strategic Cyber Ventures has warned the trends from a funding perspective are not exactly the most favourable. The amount of cash being invested is increasing, though it does not appear the rewards are reflecting this. Some of these companies have raised funds through big rounds, but growth has slowed, perhaps due to vendor fatigue or increased competition. The risk here is firms cannot raise additional funds at increased valuations from prior rounds, meaning they will have to lean on existing investors. Eventually these parties will grow tired of keeping them alive for minimal rewards.

The issue here is the need and hype around security. Its critical to secure the expanding perimeter of the digital economy, creating the need for the segment, while executives constantly talk about security being a number one priority of firms, creating the hype. This would seem to be the perfect recipe for investment in security companies and start-ups. However, the segment hasn’t taken off, perhaps due to the preference of customers investing in technologies which will make the company money as opposed to more secure?

This is maybe the most accurate assumption on why the security segment has faltered continuously over the years. Companies have limited spending power with executives choosing to invest in areas which will make the company more profitable, such is the pressure from investors and shareholders. However, consumer attitudes might be changing.

While many would have ignored the security risks of the digital economy in years gone, today’s consumer is more educated. Privacy scandals have demonstrated the power of data forcing the consumer to consider security more critically. This might have an impact on future buying decisions.

According to research by Onbuy.com 60% of US and 44% of UK consumers believe there is a risk to personal safety in the sharing economy, while 58% of all the respondents believed the risks outweigh the benefits in the sharing economy. Such attitudes will force companies to consider their security credentials as there is now a direct link back to the bottom line.

What this means for VC funding and investments from around the ecosystem remains to be seen, though the tides are turning in favour of the security segment. As Strategic Cyber Ventures notes, the current levels of investment are unsustainable, but there certainly are rewards.

SK Broadband is having to double its capacity for Netflix

South Korean fixed broadband operator SK Broadband has said it’s having to double its network capacity to cope with Netflix demand.

In order to cope, the operator will boost its data transfer speed for high-speed networks to 100 Gbps from 50 Gbps. The operator plans to address complaints about Netflix streaming quality by doubling the size of its overseas network.

South Korea is renowned for its fast broadband speeds. Last year, SK Broadband rolled out 2.3 Gbps internet speeds and the nation regularly tops Akamai’s State of the Internet report for average download rate.

Below are Netflix’s stable internet download speed recommendations per stream for playing TV shows and movies:

  • 0.5 Megabits per second - Required broadband connection speed

  • 1.5 Megabits per second - Recommended broadband connection speed

  • 3.0 Megabits per second - Recommended for SD quality

  • 5.0 Megabits per second - Recommended for HD quality

  • 25 Megabits per second - Recommended for Ultra HD quality

Netflix puts a tremendous strain on networks. The US-based streaming giant was often cited in the argument for repealing net neutrality rules.

In the neutrality debate, operators argued bandwidth-intensive services like Netflix should pay extra for ‘fast lanes’ to help fund infrastructure upgrades. Services were concerned their content would be restricted in favour of rivals, while consumers feared operators would charge for unrestricted access to certain services.

There are estimated to be almost one million active Netflix subscribers in Korea.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo, and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.

Europe struggles to get support for Article 13 digital copyright laws

The most controversial part of the EU Copyright Directive, known as Article 13, is struggling to pass through Europe’s Byzantine bureaucracy.

German MEP Julia Reda recently reported that the process of passing Article 13, which seeks to block the uploaded of content that may infringe copyright, as well as Article 11, which seeks to make people pay when they even share a link, had stalled.

This roadblock was thrown up by the European Council, in which several countries rejected a compromise recently proposed to the wording of all this stuff. Last September the directive was approved by the European Parliament, having previously been rejected. It also looks like pretty much everyone else hates it too, including the content producers it claims to be trying to protect.

“This surprising turn of events does not mean the end of Link Tax or censorship machines, but it does make an adoption of the copyright directive before the European elections in May less likely,” wrote Reda. “The Romanian Council presidency will have the chance to come up with a new text to try to find a qualified majority, but with opposition mounting on both sides of the debate, this is going to be a difficult task indeed.

“The outcome of today’s Council vote also shows that public attention to the copyright reform is having an effect. Keeping up the pressure in the coming weeks will be more important than ever to make sure that the most dangerous elements of the new copyright proposal will be rejected.”

Reda is quite rightly anticipating the standard MO of the EU, which is to keep putting decisions to the vote until it gets the result it wanted from the beginning. Usually there is presumably some degree of horse-trading behind the scenes followed by just enough of a cosmetic tweak to the issue to allow those who change their mind to save face. Let’s see if it’s any different this time.