Operators call for EU policy reform ahead of 5G rollout

The CEOs of many large European operators around the continent have signed an open letter calling for ‘genuine’ reform of the EU with regards to spectrum policy ahead of the rollout of 5G networks.

Telecoms ministers are due to meet in Tallinn, Estonia tomorrow (18th July, 2017) for a meeting on the conditions needed for the successful deployment of 5G technology in Europe.

Ahead of the meeting, the CEOs of Deutsche Telekom, GSMA, KPN, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telekom Austria, Telenor Group, Telia Company, and Vodafone Group have signed an open letter from the GSMA which calls for changes in spectrum policy across Europe.

The concerns regard current discussions about the spectrum elements of the proposed European Electronic Communication Code. “We see this as an unprecedented chance to champion genuine spectrum policy reform, that will position Europe as a true global leader,” the signatories wrote in the letter.

Specifically, the signatories emphasise the need for:

  • Clear provisions addressing the predictability of future rights, notably minimum license duration of 25 years coupled with a strong presumption of renewal;

  • An effective and efficient peer-review mechanism to spur the sharing of best practice over award design and procedures;

  • The ability to compete, innovate and differentiate through voluntary spectrum sharing;

  • A fee structure that reflects an efficient and effective use of the spectrum as well as coverage commitments.

The letter said: "Reforming the current spectrum rules is of the utmost importance. Creating the right spectrum policy framework in Europe is critical for the development of a true Digital Single Market.

"Failure to establish a well-functioning and investment-friendly spectrum framework risks stifling innovation, growth and development for decades to come.

"This will not only impact the mobile industry, but also adjacent sectors that increasingly rely on connectivity and digitalisation."

It’s not the first time operators around the continent have called on the EU to reform policy ahead of the 5G rollout. Last month, a cross-industry letter made similar demands to loosen regulation and even accused the EU of taking a ‘timid’ approach to 5G which could lead to a ‘grim’ environment for the next-generation technology.

Do you agree the EU needs to reform policy ahead of the 5G rollout? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Virtual treasure hunt launched to help develop 5G technology

A mobile game has been released which has teams competing in a virtual treasure hunt to help develop 5G technology.

The game is part of Bristol is Open, a smart city project ran by the University of Bristol and Bristol City Council, and will test new IP networking technology with the aim of improving end-user experiences by lowering the latency in use cases such as the virtual treasure hunt.

Players will group up in teams of three to six players and navigate around the city using the map and solving clues to complete the game. Each week, the best team will receive an unspecified reward for their ‘work’ in helping the researchers test new technology which should contribute to 5G development.

A spokesperson for Bristol is Open said: “People should get involved if they have an interest in playing with such new technology, get some insights on how improvements to future services could look like, and, well, possibly learn something new about Bristol!”

We’ve examined Bristol is Open and its infrastructure in the past as one of the leading smart city projects in Europe.

“We have some real high-profile companies here: Oracle, Intel, HP, Toshiba, they all have their R&D teams here. Infineon, who do engine management and automotive chips,” said Paul Wilson, Managing Director of Bristol is Open, speaking of the local talent. “Nvidia acquired a company here called Icera doing baseband processing – if you have a cellphone, they are one of the last few standing who have the complete capability of doing a software configurable modem for 3G/4G/5G."

The infrastructure used for Bristol is Open – which includes 100Gb/s connections to Bristol University’s supercomputer – has opened up new possibilities in the city. We took a tour around the iconic planetarium which is part of the ‘At-Bristol’ science centre and was recently fitted with 4K projectors which can be used for 3D data visualisation as part of this high-speed connection for things such as traffic management, as well as exploring space.

Every research and development partner in Bristol is Open benefits from at least 30 Gbps connectivity, with more needed where required. This is world-leading  the fastest available elsewhere is 1 Gbps.

Dejan Bojic, Director of Strategy & Solutions at NEC Corporation in EMEA, commented: “This is a truly ground breaking smart city project. It will use the latest NEC SDN-enabled network technologies – which will operate with Bristol is Open’s SDN platform, developed by the University of Bristol – to create an open, dynamic, virtualised network to serve each traffic type according to its Quality of Service priorities and real-time levels of demand over multi-carrier Wi-Fi, LTE, millimetre wave, and optical channels."

The virtual treasure hunt game released today will take advantage of the Bristol is Open infrastructure.

Things to be aware of:

  • The trial is designed to evaluate the design of the game and the technology behind it.

  • It should not take more than 40 minutes of your time to participate in the trial.

  • As the scavenger hunt is around the centre of the city, and against the clock, you should expect some level of outdoor activity.

  • Each player will need an Android phone or tablet onto which you are willing to download our app from PlayStore – the app can be deleted after the trial is completed.

  • Each player will be asked to complete short questionnaires during the trial. Completion of the questionnaires is necessary for entry into the prize draw.

  • To start the game, you will need to connect to the BIO network. Simply download the app and start it while being in Bristol. An offline map will appear showing you where to go to connect to the BIO network. Once you get there you will automatically be connected to the network, then simply follow the instructions on the screen.

You can download the game from the Play Store here.

Should games be used more for testing 5G technology? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Digital Evolution Index: The UK is among the handful of ‘digital elite’ countries – and leader of Europe

In the latest Digital Evolution Index, the UK has emerged as one of a handful of countries deemed a ‘digital elite’ due to being “highly digitally evolved and advancing quickly."

The major study conducted by The Fletcher School at Tufts University and Mastercard examined 60 countries to gauge their existing digital evolution and the pace of innovation from within them.

“Adoption, the quality of digital infrastructure and institutions, and innovation collectively shape a country’s digital competitiveness, but governments also play a key role. The report also found that consumers’ trust in digital technologies correlates with digital competitiveness,” said Bhaskar Chakravorti, Senior Associate at The Fletcher School at Tufts University.

The Index measures four key drivers and 170 unique indicators:

  • Supply (or internet access and infrastructure)

  • Consumer demand for digital technologies

  • Institutional environment (government policies/laws and resources)

  • Innovation (investments into R&D and digital start-ups etc.)

The UK emerged alongside seven other countries as standing out for its excellence across the study’s various indicators. Others included Singapore, New Zealand, Estonia, Japan, Israel, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates.

“This report shows the UK is the undisputed tech hub of Europe and confirms our place as a digital world leader and centre for excellence in innovation and growth,” says Minister of State for Digital, Matt Hancock. “The UK tech sector is attracting twice as much investment as any other European country, and only last week it was announced there had been a new record £5.6bn investment in tech in London in the past six months."

Another group was identified as having a current high degree of digital evolution but a slow pace of advancement is causing them to stall and they “would benefit from a heightened focus on innovation." The countries in this ‘Stall Out’ category include the US, Germany, and the Nordics.

Some countries were categorised as ‘Watch Out’ which means they “face significant challenges with their low state of digitalisation and low momentum.” In some cases, these countries were noted as moving backward despite some of these countries demonstrating “remarkable creativity in the face of severe infrastructural gaps, institutional constraints, and low sophistication of consumer demand.” Countries in this category include Greece, South Africa, Egypt, and Pakistan.

Perhaps most notable, however, are the ‘Break Out’ countries which are deemed to be evolving quickly despite starting from a low base and could become strong digital economies. "They are generally making gains in the innovation space or in consumer demand. However, many of them are held back by weak infrastructure and institutions," said the report. These countries include China, Russia, and India.

Countries are ranked in the Digital Evolution Index based on the number of web users coming online, the perceived value, and how trustworthy a digital environment has been fostered.

“We all know technology can do more to improve economies and make our lives better, but growth is only achievable if everyone has confidence in the developing ecosystem,” said Ajay Bhalla, president, global enterprise risk & security, Mastercard. “In our pursuit of a truly connected world, trust and security are critical to successful digital development. The UK is an exemplar in this.”

What are your thoughts about the Digital Evolution Index 2017 results? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Heat, light, water, and Wi-Fi: The benefits and risks for commercial buildings


Commercial venues have certain basics they must offer to their customers. Heat, light and water are absolute essentials, but Wi-Fi is fast becoming a must have.

It may seem glaringly obvious but offering your customers a slick, robust and free Wi-Fi experience is just as important as the environment, and the quality of service you provide.

Whether it’s a bar, restaurant, shopping centre or airport, people now just expect access to Wi-Fi as a minimum but they also have very definite expectations around its speed, safety and reliability too.

Get it right, and the customer will stay on your premises longer, increasing revenue and strengthening your customer base.

Of course lots of businesses already offer Wi-Fi to their customers. Access is usually provided by leaving the internet connection ‘open’ or by writing the password on the menu or a blackboard somewhere on the premises.

I’m sure we are all familiar with asking a member of staff for the Wi-Fi password or wandering around a venue until you spot it blue-tacked to the till.  Unfortunately this way of providing Wi-Fi comes with a number of risks and problems for both business and customer.

First of all, if the internet connection is critical to the day to day running of the company, from processing card payments to running retail point of sale systems, then there is a real danger that customers may stumble across sensitive and confidential information. I don’t need to tell you that this can end badly and be used for all sorts of nefarious activity.

Next is the risk that the default login details to the Wi-Fi router have not been changed. Anyone could simply log into the router and make changes, leading to all sorts of problems, from an unauthorised user wiping out internet connectivity completely, to something as puerile, but damaging, as changing your network name to something offensive or just plain hilarious.

Lastly, leaving your connection open or freely handing out the password means that people do not necessarily even have to be on site to use your internet connection. People just passing by or sitting next door could be happily using up your bandwidth without contributing anything to your bottom line, resulting in you running up hefty internet bills.

Alongside this there is the danger that an openly displayed password draws the attention of hackers. There are a number of free tools easily available on the internet which can be used to ‘sniff’ the traffic sent over a network. This means they could see data, including usernames and passwords. Seeking out open and vulnerable networks is a fairly common practice in the hacker community and is known as ‘wardriving’. Once they have intercepted information they can breach customer accounts anonymously and with no consequences to the attacker but reflecting very badly on your business or brand. The reputational damage incurred could be huge.

But as I said at the start, customers expect Wi-Fi and expect a good guest experience. So what can a business do to provide the best possible Wi-Fi and avoid the pitfalls of having an open connection?

Having a closed network that uses Wi-Fi management software is the way forward. It is very easy to set up and maintain and it is cost effective. It not only secures your business network it also makes it very easy for your customer to access the web safely and interact with your brand or business via dedicated portals.

There are many advantages for a business. Not only do they keep the customer happy by providing what they view as the fourth essential service but such management software enables the business to gather valuable raw data from the customers using Wi-Fi. It can provide amazing insights from new and repeat customers to gender ratios and much more.

This customer data can transform the marketing and promotional activity of a venue. It allows the business to build a complete picture of exactly who their customers are and provides them with the means to engage with them directly. They can then target their key demographic, promote offers that make sense to the customer base and encourage people to spread the word about their great experience.

In this age of instantly sharing our experiences – both good and bad – having a fully functioning, safe, closed public Wi-Fi network work means that companies can be one step ahead as soon as customer walks in. 

Read more: Fairhair Alliance drafts specifications to equip commercial buildings with IoT

O2 and Three UK criticise Ofcom’s spectrum auction

While it’s not the partnership the operators hoped for, Three UK and O2 have voiced their joint concerns about Ofcom’s upcoming spectrum auction.

Ofcom confirmed a spectrum auction for 190MHz across the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz frequency bands will happen later this year – with the proposals released today. 2.3GHz spectrum can be used for extra capacity and therefore faster download speeds, while spectrum in the 3.4GHz band is expected to be key for the rollout of 5G.

Spectrum in both frequency bands are highly desirable and bids are expected to be high as it could determine the competitiveness of the operators in the coming years. Rival operator, EE, had a headstart on rivals in launching 4G services and has used its success to continue network investment and outbidding rivals to cover 95 percent of the population with 4G and cement itself as Europe’s largest 4G operator. This had further advantages, such as being awarded the contract to supply the UK government’s £1 billion Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP)

At the time, EE CEO Olaf Swantee said: “We are immensely proud to be selected to deliver this vital new network for Britain’s Emergency Services. We’ve worked closely with the Police and Ambulance crews to show the power of 4G in helping save time and save lives. We will now work tirelessly to deliver a highly resilient, truly nationwide 4G network to serve all of Britain’s Blue Light and First Responder teams across the UK.”

Smaller networks, Three UK and O2 in particular, feel they are being treated unfairly. The companies even attempted to pool their resources and merge in a deal worth £10.25 billion, however, the deal was blocked by national and European regulators due to concerns a reduction to three operators in the UK would reduce competition. The merged companies would have become the UK’s largest in terms of mobile subscribers and helped to even the field in terms of spectrum ownership.

Three UK launched a campaign it called ‘Make the Air Fair’ which called on Ofcom to place a 30 percent cap on spectrum ownership so no one company is able to own more to prevent a monopoly of the industry. O2, for its part, asked for a 35 percent cap. Now the proposals have been announced, Ofcom has decided on a 37 percent cap.

“Ofcom’s proposal is a kick in the teeth for all consumers and in particular for the near-200,000 people who signed up to the 'Make the Air Fair' campaign,” responded Dave Dyson, Chief Executive of Three UK. “By making decisions that increase the dominance of the largest operators, Ofcom is damaging competition, restricting choice and pushing prices up for the very consumers that it is meant to protect.”

O2 CEO Mark Evans had a similar response and said: “The announcement from Ofcom falls short of our expectations but it is important we now press ahead with the auction quickly so that the spectrum can be obtained by operators that will deploy it for the benefit of consumers, businesses and ultimately UK plc.”

Three UK has previously threatened legal action if Ofcom did not come around to its way of thinking. Based on Dyson’s comments, it sounds as if this is still a possibility: “The mobile market is imbalanced and failing customers. Ofcom has shown little interest in tackling the problem. We will consider our response as a matter of urgency.”

We’ll be sure to keep you updated as this story develops.

Do you think Ofcom’s spectrum auction proposals are fair? Let us know in the comments.

Report argues ‘mixed’ results for Australian telco customer satisfaction

More than three quarters of Australian telecoms customers say they are happy with their service – but the figure is down on the previous quarter.

The figures come from the latest Telecommunications Customer Satisfaction Survey, from the Communications Alliance.

The research, conducted alongside Roy Morgan Research, found a similar number (74%) were satisfied when it came to the ease of contacting their provider, while more than four in five (83%) had no complaints when it came to understanding their monthly bills. Customer satisfaction with the information provided on telecoms products was at 82%.

This is where the good news ends, however. When it came to handling complaints, the satisfaction figures continue to go down, to 60%. This compares unfavourably with the antepenultimate and penultimate quarters where the figure was 66%, but holding steady from the previous quarter’s 61%. One in five respondents (21%) said they were dissatisfied with their provider’s customer service in some way, with 9% saying they were ‘very dissatisfied’.

Alongside satisfaction rates, the research also examined user trends. 98% of users had a mobile phone for their personal use compared to 71% for a landline or VoIP phone – although this was a slight uptick on previous quarters. Telstra remains the eminent telco in Australia cited by 46% of respondents, compared with Optus (30%), BigPond (27%) – a Telstra product – and Vodafone (13%). When comparing users under 30, Telstra (42%) and Optus (41%) were far ahead of Telstra/BigPond (21%) and Vodafone (14%).

The Alliance said that overall the results were ‘mixed’ for this quarter, with some metrics ‘highlighting areas for industry improvement’. You can check out the full results here (pdf).

Read more: Australia joins ‘Five Eyes’ partner UK in calls for weaker encryption

China Mobile downgraded by Morgan Stanley, ‘scrambling’ to catch up on IoT, say reports

It has not been the best week for China Mobile. The operator, which is the largest global telco in terms of domestic subscribers, has been downgraded in the eyes of analysts Morgan Stanley, while another analyst, Edison Lee at Jefferies, said the company faces a ‘dilemma’ in terms of Internet of Things (IoT) standards.

According to Barrons, Morgan Stanley finds three issues with China Mobile’s current strategy; the 5G spending cycle, higher operating expenses, and how competition effects profits. The analyst called the path to 5G a ‘painful journey’ for China Mobile, as well as removing the company’s stock from its Asia Pacific excluding Japan telecoms portfolio.

Elsewhere, a report from the South China Morning Post has found that the operator ‘may be scrambling to catch up’ with its two competitors, China Unicom and China Telecom, in deploying IoT architecture.

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) recently announced the country would need to accelerate its implementation of NB-IoT (narrow band IoT) technologies, building 1.5 million base stations by the end of 2020. As this publication previously reported, operators around the world are starting to dip their toes in the water with rollouts, including Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone New Zealand.

Edison Lee, equity analyst at Jefferies, noted that China Mobile could either wait for the MIIT to give it a licence to redevelop its GSM 2G network for 4G or upgrade it itself, while another issue is that its 4G network is based on TD-LTE (time division long term evolution), as opposed to FDD-LTE (frequency division duplex) preferred by Unicom and China Telecom.

Shares in the company, which were at 86.95 on June 1, slumped to a low of 80.10 on July 6 and at the time of publication sat at 80.85.

British government pumps £16m into 5G research

The UK government has pumped £16 million into 5G research to help ensure Britain is at the forefront of mobile technology.

By 2030, 5G is expected to inject up to £173 billion into the economy. In comparison, the £16 million investment announced today sounds like a bargain for the potential return.

Andrew Jones MP, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, added: “Ensuring Britain remains at the forefront of digital innovation is a priority for this government.

“We are investing £740 million from the National Productivity Investment Fund to boost the country’s digital infrastructure, and today’s announcement will help provide people and businesses with the next generation of connections.

The research will be conducted by experts at King’s College London, and the Universities of Surrey and Bristol. The plan is to develop a cutting-edge 5G test network with the aim of ensuring businesses and people can enjoy the benefits commercially sooner.

Professor Andrew Nix, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Head of the Communication Systems & Networks group commented: "As part of the University of Bristol's Smart Internet Lab we've been developing some amazing 5G technologies.

For example, we hold the world record for spectral efficiency with our 5G Massive MIMO base station. We're also a world leader in the use of millimeter spectrum and software defined networking. Working with our industrial and academic partners, we aim to show off some of the incredible new services made possible by 5G networks."

The speed, coverage, and reliability of 5G will enable new uses for mobile technology including for other recent advancements such as virtual reality and self-driving vehicles. It will also play a large part in enabling the IoT (Internet of Things) to flourish as record numbers of devices and sensors are brought online.

Matt Hancock, Minister for Digital, said: “We want to be at the head of the field in 5G. This funding will support the pioneering research needed to ensure we can harness the potential of this technology to spark innovation, create new jobs and boost the economy.

“We know 5G has the potential to bring more reliable, ultra-fast mobile connectivity, with quicker reaction times and larger data capabilities, and I’m thrilled to announce King’s College London and the universities of Surrey and Bristol have agreed to collaborate on this project.”

Countries at the forefront of 5G are sure to reap significant economic benefits, and the British government plans to ensure the country is among them. This investment aims to deliver a 5G end-to-end trial in early 2018.

What are our thoughts about the 5G research investment? Let us know in the comments.

NB-IoT and VoLTE progress: Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Verizon pushing initiatives

A couple of updates – and firsts – have taken place in the NB-IoT (NarrowBand IoT) and VoLTE (voice over LTE) spaces.

Deutsche Telekom has introduced two entry packages as pilot NB-IoT solutions in Germany, in a move to widen the scope of its network offerings in the arena and accelerate its 2020 5G communications standard.

The packages are NB-IoT Access, a streamlined NB-IoT device connectivity package, and NB-IoT Access & Cloud of Things, which is a more comprehensive product offering.

Both packages allow for easy prototyping and piloting of NB-IoT solutions in the markets, the German giant claims. The NB-IoT Access entry package comes with a six-month activation of up to 25 SIM cards each having 500 KB per SIM that uses the NB-IoT network. It includes useful add-ons such as a private APN with IPsec-key encryption. The NB-IoT Access & Cloud of Things entry package provides direct access to Deutsche Telekom’s Cloud of Things platform for device and data management.

Vodafone NZ has announced that it will deploy its NB-IoT in early 2018 across New Zealand. The business customer trial will comprise of software deployments across several cell sites and will also make use of Vodafone’s networking testing facilities. The trial is supported by more than 40 mobile operators, and aims to connect the tens of millions of IoT devices in the next few years.

Elsewhere, Verizon and China Unicom have announced the completion of Cat M1 VoLTE calls, with an eye on supporting Internet of Things (IoT) applications and use cases.

Verizon sent a release to the wire on June 30 confirming it had for the first time carried a live over the air LTE Cat M1 VoLTE call, while another release on July 3 confirmed China Unicom had demonstrated two Cat M1 VoLTE use cases, a fire alarm trigger panel and a GPS emergency tracking device, at the recent Mobile World Congress Shanghai event.

In both cases the assisting companies were Ericsson and Qualcomm. Ericsson said in the Verizon case that “the IoT space offers new revenue-generating services for operators and adding voice capabilities to IoT devices takes use cases such as alarm panels and medical alert systems to the next level of functionality,” while Qualcomm said for Unicom that its LTE IoT modem solution was “designed to support the low power, cost-efficient and global deployment required by many of these IoT applications.”

BBC Watchdog calls out Virgin Media for slow broadband – as stores close and staff voice dissatisfaction

The BBC’s consumer affairs show, Watchdog, will call out Virgin Media tonight for slow broadband with tests revealing that some consumers are only getting three percent of the download speed they were sold.

Many consumers are being told their slow download speeds are due to over-utilisation in their area, but packages are still being sold advertising much higher speeds than customers are receiving. Watchdog highlights Virgin Media promotes speeds up to 200Mbps, but this is old information and the company now promotes speeds of up to 300Mbps.

A letter from executive sales director, Neil Bartholomew, said:

"Customers trust Virgin Media and it is our job to live up to that hard won reputation; balancing how we talk and work with customers with the facts a customer needs to know.

"BBC Watchdog has highlighted some cases where we have not lived up to this responsibility."

Posing as new customers, Watchdog investigated how Virgin Media are selling packages in areas known to suffer from over-utilisation. They were consistently sold packages under the premise they’d be receiving speeds of around 200Mbps but with the concession “there would be a marginal decline at peak times.”

When the Watchdog team performed speed tests at the addresses, they found customers were at times receiving just 3 percent of the speed claimed by Virgin Media’s staff. Speaking as one of the affected customers, it’s something which I’m able to corroborate.

The revelations come as Virgin Media recently announced it plans to close 30 shops at the expense of 250 jobs.

Feedback from employees being shared on the company’s intranet forum have voiced their dissatisfaction at the apparent lack of internal communication about the redundancies with one member saying: "How come this wasn't briefed out to us all sooner rather than hearing it from the media over the weekend? Not good at all!"

The closures are expected to be a result of the company exaggerating the number of its superfast broadband ‘Project Lightning’ connections which utilise DOCSIS and FTTP. Many staff, however, are said to have become unhappy with the company ever since it was taken over by Liberty Global back in 2013 for £15 billion and the subsequent internal reorganisation and subcontracting it entailed.

During a Q&A session last year, one employee said: “We have worked really hard under the threat of redundancy for nine months with very little communication.” Another roasted their new employer by saying: “[Liberty Global] seems to be ripping the very soul (and people) out of the company and everything that was good about it. There’s no excitement or engagement about what we are working to become … Morale is at an all-time low.”

Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media CEO, said:

“I, along with everybody at Virgin Media, am disappointed that, in these cases, we fell short of the high standards we set for ourselves and which our customers rightly expect of us.

We apologise for the inconvenience to these customers and have resolved the issues they raised. All of our sales agents have been re-briefed on the Company’s sales policy and we are providing additional training to ensure everyone complies with it.

Virgin Media invests more than £1 billion a year in its ultrafast network. This year we are also investing £200 million to upgrade network capacity where it’s needed to meet the growing demand for faster broadband speeds across the UK.”

In the interest of balance, it’s worth noting even the reduced download speeds which Virgin Media offer are often still faster than many competitors and the company ranks high in speed test studies. The concern remains, of course, that customers are paying for mis-sold packages and only receiving 3 percent of the advertised speed.

The BBC Watchdog investigation will be aired on BBC One at 8pm tonight (July 5th, 2017.)

What are your thoughts about the Watchdog investigation into Virgin Media? Let us know in the comments.