We think we know where Vodafone’s next ‘gigabit city’ is going to be

A couple of weeks ago Vodafone and CityFibre announced Milton Keynes was going to be first recipient of gigabit-capable full-fibre broadband, and we think we know where they are going next.

The Vodafone/CityFibre partnership was announced back in November as an alternative to the status quo. Broadband deals are usually either from a provider which uses the Openreach infrastructure or Virgin Media, and this tie-up is supposed to offer a fibre alternative. In Milton Keynes, Vodafone has promised full FTTH broadband, which will be trenched throughout the city irrelevant of demand.

After Milton Keynes an additional 11 cities will get the fibre diet, but Vodafone is keeping these locations secret for the moment. But we think the next city will be one of the following:

  • Peterborough
  • Edinburgh
  • Aberdeen
  • York
  • Coventry

There is a couple of common factors in the aforementioned cities. Firstly, they are all areas where CityFibre already has a notable fibre network laid. Secondly, average broadband speeds are relatively low. And finally, there isn’t a runaway winner in terms of broadband providers; they are all pretty shocking in the city.

Let’s start with Peterborough. CityFibre has laid a fibre network which spans 120km throughout the city, while average broadband speeds are currently at 12 Mbps. Virgin Media is currently the fastest provider with an average download speed of 33 Mbps, BT offers 16 Mbps and TalkTalk 11 Mbps.

Peterborough is also one of the cities in the UK which is launching a number of smart city initiatives, and even won the Smart City of 2015 award, beating off competition from the likes of Helsinki and Moscow.

Edinburgh is another interesting city as it is another with smart city ambitions and also a large university. The CityFibre network here is 150km long and the average download speeds across the city are 19 Mbps. Not as slow as some of the others on the list, but certainly a candidate.

The Scottish capital is also home to a number of different start-ups and a community of angel investors. Companies such as Skyscanner and FanDuel, both of whom have now achieved unicorn status, were born in Edinburgh, and organizations like TVSquared, Topolytics and PureLiFi are all starting to make the right noises. A thriving start-up community will certainly attract the interest of Vodafone and CityFibre when planning the gigacity revolution.

In Aberdeen, CityFibre has a smaller footprint, only 90km, though it is a smaller city. The population of the city is roughly 210,000, though the oil and gas industry does have a substantial presence. Speeds here were also pretty shocking, with the average broadband download speed being 12 Mbps, with BT offering an average of 17 Mbps and TalkTalk 11 Mbps.

York is another region with a notable CityFibre network, 153km, and low average broadband speeds, 13 Mbps. Interestingly enough, Virgin Media average download speed is 55 Mbps speeds while TalkTalk has 27 Mbps. The prices are also quite reasonable, after a quick look on a comparison site, so we’re not too sure why average speeds are so low when there are decent options out there.

Finally, Coventry. CityFibre has a 180km fibre network in the city, while average broadband speeds are as low as 14 Mbps. Virgin Media average speeds are 19 Mbps, while Sky is 17 Mbps and BT as low as 9 Mbps.

Out of the five option above, we think that Edinburgh or Peterborough are the best bets, then again, we could be completely wrong.

Openet reckons Globe Telecom deal win vindicates its ‘agile’ philosophy

Irish BSS vendor Openet has persuaded Philippines operator Globe Telecom to use its Digital Business Platform for its data services.

With much of the pre-5G talk focusing boosting the capacity and agility of the network, often overlooked is the question of what’s in it for operators and their customers. There are approximately zero mobile subscribers currently complaining that networks aren’t agile enough and Openet CEO Niall Norton has, for a while, been telling anyone who’ll listen that BSS vendors are doing a rubbish job of doing what they’re supposed to do.

“I have said very recently, and very publicly that the relationship many vendors have with operators is broken and needs fixing,” Norton told Telecoms.com. “Long term service contracts, packed full of unnecessary costs and expensive licenses, are tying operators to technology and systems that are no longer fit for purpose.”

As you would expect, Norton reckons Openet is different and the hero product put forward to demonstrate its novel approach to BSS is the Digital Business Platform. One of the ways in which it aims to buck the ‘vendor lock-in’ trend is to offer a more flexible, modular, bespoke approach, which presumably involves forgoing some up-front revenue in favour of a better long-term customer experience.

“New technology is redefining this relationship and putting the operator firmly back in control,” said Norton. “We have a range of new solutions, including the digital service platform that we are deploying for Globe that prove the case for an alternative approach. Our deal with Globe shows Openet walking the walk, not just talking the talk. We’re confident that this is just the beginning as the global operator community realise the significant benefits that a different approach to service delivery and monetisation can bring.

“Users in the Philippines have consistently exhibited intense social media usage and engagement,” said Globe CTIO Gil B. Genio. “In addition, Globe has seen dramatic smartphone adoption, take up of data plans, and exponential growth in mobile data, to the point that we now carry two thirds of consumer mobile internet.

“With this new platform, we can be more creative in developing and monetizing new services and offers, even as we make personalization a key differentiator of our services. Our partnership with Openet will give us the speed and agility that we need to grow our business to compete and win in the new digital market.”

There’s that term ‘agility’ again, but this time applied to the operator/subscriber relationship, rather than the network itself. Openet’s strategy seems sensible enough – after all the SaaS model has been accepted wisdom for years now – but it still begs the question of what operators are going to do with all this lovely agility. Perhaps we should check back in with Globe in a year or so to see what, if any, business benefits it has experienced.

UK Government shows some teeth on cyber security defences

The UK Government has finally had enough of the data breaches which have been popping up over the last 18 months, threatening businesses with a fine up to £17 million if defensive standards are not met.

New sector-specific regulators will be set up to assess the individual needs of those sectors which are deemed critical to the UK, such as energy, transport or healthcare. The National Cyber Security Centre will publish new guidelines today (January 30) which will roughly outline the rules and expectations, though businesses will be encouraged to actively engage with the newly-formed regulator.

“Today we are setting out new and robust cyber security measures to help ensure the UK is the safest place in the world to live and be online,” said Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries.

“We want our essential services and infrastructure to be primed and ready to tackle cyber-attacks and be resilient against major disruption to services. I encourage all public and private operators in these essential sectors to take action now and consult NCSC’s advice on how they can improve their cyber security.”

While the majority of data breaches do occur in the US, there are of course examples everywhere else as well, with the UK hosting its fair share. In November, shipbrokers Clarkson warned shareholders of an upcoming breach as it refused to pay a ransom to the hacker, Deloitte suffered a breach as it was believed the firm did not have two-step verification set up and BUPA suffered a leak affecting 500,000 customers on its international health insurance plan.

Moving forward, incidents would have to be reported to the regulator who would assess whether appropriate security measures were in place. These regulators will also have the power to issue legally-binding instructions to improve security, and hand out fines. A £17 million fine is certainly a deterrent, though it won’t be handed out willy-nilly. Companies which have assessed the risks adequately, taken appropriate security measures and engaged with regulators but still suffered an attack, will not face a fine.

Interestingly enough, that irritating ‘up to’ qualifier has appeared again. £17 million is the maximum fine which can be placed on an organization, but there has not been any guidance about how the amount will be assessed. The guidance from the National Cyber Security Centre will possibly offer more detail, but for the moment we’ll have to wait for the formation of the new regulators. These watchdogs might well be feisty, or they might be just another bloated government body.

Cute pug dog sleep rest in the bed, wrap with blanket and tongue sticking out in the lazy time

The digital economy is dangerous, we just haven’t figured out how

We’re all about the digital economy and if you listen to the industry leaders, you can’t go wrong. But the digital economy is incredibly dangerous, it’s just the nefarious characters haven’t figured out how to hurt you yet.

This might sound very doom and gloom, and we are by no means trying to stop people using the internet, but just because the risks are unknown does not mean they are not there. Companies like Facebook or Amazon will tell you it is completely safe, and they are sort of correct. Right now it is safe, but that is only because those clever hackers haven’t figured it out.

Back in November, Strava, a popular exercise which tracks your runs/cycles, released a heat map which revealed where people were exercising. The result is quite an interesting map, which you can have a look at here. Is this a bad thing? No, of course not. Except when dodgy characters realise that military personnel like to do exercise.

According to the Guardian, military analysts noticed the map was detailed enough to give away sensitive information on where military bases where and what the layout was. For most bases this is not the end of the world, but for overseas bases this could be an issue. In countries like Iraq or Afghanistan, where Strava users are most likely to be military personnel, the jogging routes are a bright speck in a sea of darkness.

Of course, Strava should not be blamed for this, it is an innocent accident. But there are quite a few examples of technology coming back to bite the user. How about families who post holiday pictures on Facebook only to come home and find their house has been robbed. Or that Tweet a decade ago which just cost you your dream job. Just because the internet seems safe now, doesn’t mean the euphoria of information won’t be exploited in the future.

This is part of the problem with data leaks. Right now, no-one really cares as there are no immediate financial or emotional implications. There are few examples where a human face can be put on the consequence of a data breach.

But there might be problems already. With all this information out in the public domain, there could be a fake virtual you out there. This is not causing you any problems, but how about clever hackers who have created dozens of online gambling accounts and is collecting the referral rewards or promotional bets. This is doesn’t affect you, but it is fraud.

Facebook and other social media accounts are being used to authenticate users in a variety of different ways, and all the information which is out there is making these profiles seem more genuine. The gambling example above doesn’t hurt any individual, but what about dating apps.

Someone those on the dating app might validate the authenticity of the person they are speaking to by checking out their social media profile. If this fake profile looks genuine, this could lead an individual meeting another person who might have some pretty suspect intentions. This does sound very doom and gloom, and we should not these are the extreme exceptions not the rule, but it is worth a reality check every now and then.

As a society we are quick to find the shiny new ball and start throwing it around before we figure out how high it will bounce. This is where we are right now. The digital economy is so cut-throat we are desperate to throw new ideas out into the public before it is properly stress tested. Strava had a good idea, but more thought into the possible consequences might have resulted in excluding the data from potential military zones, or removing data from active military personnel.

Some people might look at the data which has been leaked from various online platforms and services without being too bothered. And it might not hurt you right now, but that is not to say it won’t hurt you at some point in the future; the technology and the various companies are still maturing after all.

The digital society is still young which is the source of the challenge. Amazon is one of the oldest at 23, Facebook is 13, Twitter is 11, Uber is 8. These are all maturing companies, who are venturing into unexplored areas of the map; the challenges they are facing are sometimes genuinely unique and the first time they have ever been experienced. Knowing all the possible outcomes is impossible, so there will be a few scenarios which surprise even the technology geniuses.

The internet is the way forward, but like adopting a new puppy, there is always the chance it will bite you until it is fully grown. The internet companies are only talking about throwing services out the market quicker, which could increase the variety and velocity of the risks.

The most sensible answer to this would be to slow down the development cycle and apply more stress tests to any new product, but slowing down the internet is like trying to keep to stop a Welshman from getting to choir practise.

Beijing slams U.S. plan to counter Chinese ‘threat’ by nationalising 5G

Beijing has issued a response to documents revealing a plan from Trump’s administration to counter the Chinese “threat” by nationalising 5G.

The documents, obtained by news outlet Axios, argued the U.S. government should take over the deployment of a nationwide 5G network. One reason provided by the alleged Nation Security Council official is the fear of China’s advancements.

“Data is the oil of the 21’s century and China has built the world’s largest reserve,” the memo reads. “Building a nationwide secure 5G network sets the condition for future success in the information domain. Not building the network puts us at a permanent disadvantage to China in the information domain.”

5G networks will enable a range of upcoming technologies including self-driving cars, virtual reality, and the Internet of Things. Whoever owns the infrastructure behind 5G will have a tremendous amount of power.

The document claims Beijing is "the dominant malicious actor in the information domain," and argues the nationalisation of 5G networks would contribute to protecting US economic and cyber security from China’s threats.

In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry Hua Chunying said:

“Any form of cyber-attacks is forbidden in China and the Chinese authorities are tackling all forms of hacking. As we can see, the militarisation of the Internet threatens international security. We think that all members of the international community should respect each other, strengthen cooperation and dialogue, to mutually fight against cyber threats."

Earlier this month, Telecoms reported U.S. lawmakers approached AT&T and called on the operator to cut ties with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. Lawmakers are said to be advising American companies that any ties to companies such as Huawei or China Mobile could hamper their ability to do business with the U.S. government.

What are your thoughts on the situation? Let us know in the comments.

The road to 5G – Where are we headed and when will we get there?

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Shrikant Shenwai, CEO of the Wireless Broadband Alliance, takes a big-picture look at the dawn of 5G and how it might play out.

From smartphones and tablets, to connected cars and even smart kettles, the world we are living in is becoming increasingly connected. In fact according to Gartner, by 2020, there will be almost 21 billion connected ‘things’ in use around the world. 5G is promising to be the framework for the connected world, with things, data applications, transport systems and cities seamlessly talking to one another and sharing information to improve our quality of life.

But with 5G only a few years away (and with some operators even citing 5G implementations by 2018), what will a 5G world look like? How will licensed and unlicensed technologies work together to deliver new services? How will Wi-Fi and mobile networks evolve to cope with 5G? And how will the gap in interfaces be addressed to connect different devices and across vertical industries? We’ve asked the more than 65 operators, vendors and hubs from six different continents to share exactly what it is they think will need to happen to kick-start the road to 5G, and found out from industry leaders what they think the 5G world will really look like.

What is 5G?

There has been much debate in the industry as to what 5G will actually look like, with almost every company having their own definition of 5G. While we know it will be the glue that connects everything to everyone, how do the companies that are helping to make 5G a reality see it?

For KT, 5G is about providing massive seamless connectivity for all devices, in hyper-real time speed and with low latency. This will support countless devices hitting the network and trying to gain access at the same time, as well as support various types of traffic – from Kbps to massive 3D content and holograms going through the future network.

For Cisco, “5G is far bigger than radio and transcends mobility to provide networking as a platform… Think of the enormous potential for countries, cities, venues, industries, transportation, people and all of the infinite interplay between things, people and services/applications. If we play it right 5G can live up to the hype and expectations to support and deliver new services that have not yet been invented.”

While the 5G umbrella network encompasses a virtually limitless number of verticals, when will 5G really come in to fruition?

Expectation vs reality

While most of the industry is already looking into 5G related topics, and with many believing 5G will be standardized by 2020, only a third of the industry expects to have deployments in place by this time. Operators are even less optimistic, with two thirds expecting to have 5G deployments in place by 2025.

For 5G to be successful, the industry agrees that convergence of services and technologies, virtualization and regulation of shared spectrum models are critical. For operators, virtualization is an absolute must for 5G to become a reality. Standardization is a major industry gap that needs to be addressed, along with coexistence of technologies and certification.

For Orange, 5G will not only extend and open new opportunities in vertical markets – from factories to utilities, healthcare to automotive, agriculture and cities – it will offer a consistent user experience. However, like any new generation, 5G will require significant investment from operators – and with revenues decreasing, a major challenge the industry faces is having a regulatory environment that encourages investment in connectivity.

Convergence and coexistence

More than half of the industry believes that 5G will be a combination of licensed and unlicensed technologies, with an agreement that unlicensed, in some way, shape or form, will be relevant for 5G. We are predicting that Wi-Fi will be the unlicensed spectrum technology that is a significant driving force for 5G.

For Cisco, “there has never been a better time to start building the next generation 5G ready network. The market knows it, [and] our service provider customers know it as well… 5G will be as strong as its weakest link across domains: HetNet, Cloud-RAN, IP transport, mobile core, edge and orchestration, analytics, and security”.

ZTE believes that unlicensed technologies, coupled with core networks, can increase the access network capacity and benefit users’ wireless experience. Intel is very much in agreement when it comes to the convergence and coexistence of licensed and unlicensed technology – a world where everything is connected, it believes the industry needs all the spectrum it can get.

The perks of unlicensed

The industry believes that the services that are set to be improved by the use of unlicensed technologies as part of 5G are smart cities, IoT sensor networks, safety and surveillance, smart home and healthcare.

Why unlicensed? The main benefits of unlicensed technologies focus on enhanced throughput, and better cost and coverage.

Orange believes that “Network operators will need to access various spectrum resources to deliver ubiquitous services… LAA and LWA are seen as complementing licensed technologies to provide increased capacity for small cells in a variety of locations such as indoor for enterprises and public venues, and outdoor hotspots and events.”

Cisco is of a similar view, and believes that 5G is about leveraging the best access technologies in a seamless manner to stay plugged in the connective tissue of internet, with ‘seamless interoperability’ as 5G’s mantra.

Key 5G takeaways

5G is on the horizon, and the industry believes it will be a combination of licensed and unlicensed technologies. Convergence of services and technologies is currently the industry hot topic, with coexistence enabling the efficiency levels seen in Wi-Fi networks. With smart cities, IoT sensor networks, safety and surveillance being the industry verticals driven by 5G, more needs to be done in terms of spectrum allocation, cost and regulation, in order arrive to make a 5G a reality.

 

ShrikantProfileShrikant Shenwai is the CEO and one of the founders of Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA). Under his leadership, the WBA has transformed into a global industry organization with 130+ members, including leading wireless & broadband operators and technology companies who are driving the vision of a frictionless wireless service experience for Citizens, Businesses, Cities and Things. The WBA membership is strategically focussed on enabling services with next generation Wi-Fi and significant adjacent technologies to address business issues and opportunities for service providers, enterprises and cities. To drive the development of connected communities and cities, the WBA has launched specific global initiatives such as World Wi-Fi Day and the Connected City Advisory Board. An Electronics & Communication engineer by training, Shrikant Shenwai has lived and worked in Asia for many years and currently lives in Canada with his family.

Telenor considers offloading Central and Eastern Europe operations

Telenor has said it has received unsolicited interest from an unnamed organization which is interested in acquiring its Central and Eastern Europe operations.

Details are very thin on the ground right now, but considering Telenor has not been setting the world alight in recent quarterly calls, such a cash injection and an opportunity to focus more acutely on the core business might be welcomed by investors.

“With a view of creating shareholder value, Telenor has engaged in a process to evaluate the interest received. Telenor expects to conduct these assessments in the first quarter of 2018, “ the company said in a statement. “The assessment will not impact Telenor’s operations, customers or employees.”

Central and Eastern European operations have been performing relatively well in recent years, contributing 9% to total revenues. Looking at the year-on-year comparisons for the last quarter, Hungary, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Serbia all demonstrated increases in both revenue and operating profit. As you would expect, these are markets which are notably smaller than Telenor’s Nordic playground, though any win is a good result in the present telco climate.

The approach is under consideration for the moment, and Telenor has said it will not release any additional information prior to the completion of this review.

Huawei and UnionPay tie up for global road trip

Huawei has signed a cooperation agreement with UnionPay International to add fuel to the worldwide rollout of Huawei Pay.

The partnership itself will focus on improving the experience for users, but also adapting the platform for international markets. Right now the platform is focused on the Chinese markets, but Huawei has never kept such streamlined ambitions for long with its other products, why should this be any different?

“Open sharing is an important direction for the future of the digital economy and intellectual interconnection, which is why Huawei’s end-user cloud services built an open and globalized smart mobile ecosystem for the end-user experience,” said Alex Zhang, President of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service.

“Huawei hopes to work with partners such as UnionPay International to provide more secure and convenient mobile payment services for every user of Huawei smart devices around the world.”

Huawei Pay is currently only available in China, supported by 66 banks and is compatible with 20 mobile devices, including various mobile phones and smart watches. This number is likely to increase, as are the number of users, owing to the success of Huawei in cracking new international markets. Huawei has successfully negotiated the stereotype of Chinese products being inferior, with its lofty position in the global smartphone market share ranking offering an excellent springboard for additional services.

“UnionPay International carries out extensive cooperation with various players in the payment industry to integrate the advantages of each party,” said Larry Wang, Vice President of UnionPay International. “This cooperation with Huawei is of great significance.

“Firstly, with this agreement, the two sides realize cooperation on a global scale, and issuers outside mainland China can now launch Huawei Pay Pay-as-you-go once connected to the UnionPay Mobile Service Platform, which greatly saves time and costs. Secondly, UnionPay’s innovative products are an important propeller for the business localization of the two parties, and it supports payment upgrades in more countries and regions. Thirdly, cooperation between the two giants will jointly enhance the global influence of China’s independent mobile payment apps.”

Russia will be first on Huawei Pay’s global tour, with UnionPay offering an excellent foot into the market. Currently, UnionPay bank cards are accepted at 85% of POS terminals and ATMs in Russia, while 10 Russian banks have issued about 1.3 million UnionPay bank cards to date. After Russia, the pair will continue the road through Eastern Europe.

Nokia uses it silicon secret sauce to make new ReefShark chipsets

Uniquely among major networking vendors Nokia is keen to talk-up its chip design credentials, with the latest lot designed to help base stations get with the 5G programme.

The chipset family is called ReefShark, for some reason. We guess Nokia’s marketing department thought it was time its products got sexier, tougher-sounding names. That seemed to work well for Qualcomm with Snapdragon which, despite being named after a flower, went big on the sinister giant lizard imagery in its marketing.

ReefShark actually consists of three distinct chipsets, so it’s technically a school of ReefSharks (or whatever the collective noun for sharks is – apparently a shiver of sharks is a thing, who knew?) Wikipedia says there are four main varieties of Reef Shark, so there are naming opportunities there too.

One addresses the digital front end for LTE and 5G radio systems supporting massive MIMO, one is a RFIC (Radio Frequency Integrated Circuit) front-end module and transceiver designed to be a massive MIMO adaptive antenna solution. And the last one is a baseband processor with a compute-heavy design, aimed at supporting the massive scale requirements of 5G.

Why do we need special super-duper silicon for all this stuff? 5G of course. The digital front end is the interface between the antenna and transceiver and once 5G turns up will need to do a lot more processing to optimise the signal. The RFIC chip integrates a lot of previously discrete components, much like the SoC in a smartphone, thus generating efficiencies. Ultimately the three chipsets are collectively designed to boost both the performance and efficiency of base stations to support the massively increased scale of 5G.

Henri Tervonen, CTO of Nokia Mobile, was predictably pleased with the new chipset family. “With ReefShark, Nokia has created a clear competitive advantage. Its combination of power, intelligence and efficiency make it ideally suited to be at the heart of fast arriving 5G networks.”

The last big Nokia silicon announcement clearly happened before the shark memo was circulated, resulting in the much more prosaically-named FP4 chipset. But Nokia is doing a good job of differentiating itself from its competitors with all of this silicon talk, and we would imagine that having your own, bespoke chipset is quite a handy USP for its sales team to have at its disposal.

In a separate announcement Nokia talked up its Future X architecture for 5G, which includes all the ReefShark cleverness previously described. It looks like Future X is the broader 5G network brand for Nokia, also encompassing the Full Monty of 5G products and services. In fact here they are:

  • Nokia 5G New Radio
  • Nokia AirScale Radio Access
  • Nokia’s 5G AirScale active antennas
  • Nokia’s 5G Small Cells
  • Nokia 5G Anyhaul
  • Nokia 5G Core
  • Nokia Massive Scale Access
  • 5G Acceleration Services

“With our 5G Future X portfolio we are opening up network data and network intelligence to our customers to jointly program and tailor machine learning and automation that runs on our new silicon,” said Marc Rouanne, president of Mobile Networks at Nokia.

“The Future X architecture invented by our Nokia Bell Labs research has made it possible to mix the knowledge across Nokia, between IP, Optics, RF, software and innovative in-house silicon. We now expect to be able to deliver unprecedented capabilities and efficiencies that will allow our customers to transform their service offering for 5G.”

As you can see from that bullet-list, it takes a lot of parts to make an ‘end-to-end 5G solution’ and Nokia seems to be trying to rationalise that messaging process, which is no laughing matter. We’ll leave you with a video about the new chipsets and a documentary on black tip reef sharks going about their apex predator business.