Ericsson picks a new Chairman

The Nomination Committee is proposing former Atlas Copco CEO Ronnie Leten as the new Ericsson Chairman, replacing Leif Johansson.

Leten headed up Swedish industrial equipment maker Atlas Copco for eight years, during which its share price seemed to have out-performed the market. Ericsson’s share price, by contrast, has halved in the last couple of years. The 60-year-old Leten stapped down as CEO earlier this year and will also relinquish his chairmanship of Electrolux to take this gig.

This would appear to complete the executive overhaul of Ericsson by its largest shareholder – Investor AB – which owns almost a quarter of its voting rights. Current CEO Börje Ekholm used to be CEO of Investor AB and, by bizarre coincidence, Investor AB has a similar proportion of the voting rights of Atlas Copco. It seems to have taken a few pages from the Vivendi playbook.

The Chairman of the Nomination Committee is, of course, Johan Forssell, who just happens to be CEO of Investor AB. “The Nomination Committee believes that in Ronnie Leten, we have found the right person to assume the position as Chairman in Ericsson, providing experience and competence that will benefit the company,” said Forssell.

“Ronnie Leten has a very strong track record when it comes to value creation. Mr Leten is a very skilled businessman, technically savvy and strategically versatile. Furthermore, he has significant experience from digitalization of major operations, which will be beneficial for Ericsson’s focused work together with its customers.

“In addition, the Nomination Committee proposes Kurt Jofs as a new member of the Board. With Mr Jofs’ deep knowledge of and background from the telecom and IT-industry, not least from his previous tenure at Ericsson, we believe that he will contribute complementary skills and experience to Ericsson’s Board. With these changes, the Nomination Committee believes that the company is given the right conditions for realizing its long-term potential.”

Jofs is currently Chairman of Finnish IT services company Tieto and incongruously seems to have no direct link to Investor AB. He was, however, Networks EVP at Ericsson from 2003-2008 and is Swedish, so seems qualified on paper. One thing that is worth noting is that Cevian Capital is both the largest single shareholder in Tieto and also represented on the Ericsson Nomination Committee.

So both the CEO and the Chairman (presuming the formality of his shareholder approval is completed) of Ericsson seem to have been put in place by Investor AB, presumably with the blessing of other significant shareholders. This is probably as it should be, but they surely now have no grounds for complaint if the company fails to turn things around.

Project Loon gets the green light to help out Puerto Rico

Google’s Project Loon has been lifted out of the Mountain View crackpot basement lab to provide much needed connectivity in disaster hit Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

In recent years, Google has been almost as well known for its efforts to remove itself from the pigeon hole, as it has for it thriving search advertising business. Not every idea is a good one, but using hot air balloons as a means to provide emergency connectivity is one which has caught the attention of the FCC.

“More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, millions of Puerto Ricans are still without access to much-needed communications services,” said Chairman Pai.  “That’s why we need to take innovative approaches to help restore connectivity on the island. Project Loon is one such approach. It could help provide the people of Puerto Rico with access to cellular service to connect with loved ones and access life-saving information.”

As of 6 October, Google has been given permission to use 30 experimental balloons to provide connectivity to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, which have been ravaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, leaving around 90% of the territories without coverage. The objective here will be to ‘support licensed mobile carriers’ restoration of limited communications capability’.

Over the next six months, Google will use the balloons to provide voice and data services through local operators, replacing the various cell towers which were knocked out of action by the high winds. According to the FCC, 81.7% of cell sites are out of service in Puerto Rico, while 57% are down in the US Virgin Islands. 22 out of the 78 counties in Puerto Rico have 100% of their cell sites out of service.

The team has obtained various consent agreements to use land mobile radio (LMR) radio spectrum in the 900 MHz band from existing carriers which operate in the region. Each of the balloons, which can serve an area roughly 5,000 square kilometres, will hover 20 kilometres above the earth, relaying information and connectivity to handsets in the territories.

Project Loon itself was born out of the moonshot X labs of the internet giant, a division which has seen its fair share of ambitious ideas. The teams augmented reality platform Project Tango, as well as the deep learning unit Google Brain are two of the more successful ones which have graduated from the lab, though the Google Glass wasn’t exactly a winner, and neither was the Space Elevator.

With Project Loon however, the team seem to have found an idea which people like. For the moment it is focused on a relief mission, but there will be commercial ambitions in the pipeline somewhere. This is after all one of the most profitable companies on the planet.

The issue here might be a lack of experience though. Google has been working with Telefonica in Peru to test out the idea, though there are few other real-world examples to date. Another issue for the business is a lawsuit which is working its way through the legal system currently.

Space Data Corporation is currently suing the search advertising giant, claiming it stole trade secrets in a meeting back in 2007, when Google was apparently considering an acquisition of Space Data Corporation. Space Data Corporation uses a similar ideas as the basis of its business, to provide connectivity to operations in remote locations, such as oil rigs.

In Puerto Rico, the team is certainly jumping into the deep end, but success here could very realistically create another winner for the Google money-making machine. We can think of a couple of cheap-skate operators who would be more open to the idea of buying a balloon that spending cash in the traditional way…

Orange Business Services accelerates LTE-M strategy with enterprise IoT trials

Orange Business Services has launched several field trials across Europe in order to expedite its LTE-M strategy to support the development of IoT solutions for the enterprise market.

In Spain, the communications integrator – the B2B branch of the Orange Group – has started several tests with strategic customers and device manufacturers in an open ecosystem of participation. This covers different sectors and applications, including smart utility, smart cities and facility management.

The provider is gearing up to open an LTE IoT City in Antwerp, Belgium, which will be open for customer pilots in the fourth quarter of 2017, while in France the company is planning internal trials on both technical and usage aspects starting in Q4 2017.

It is interesting to note that all these trials are being conducted earlier than the scheduled launch of the LTE-M network in 2018. The availability of LTE-M is part of the Group’s dedicated programme to back the connected object and module makers. The company is welcoming object makers in its “Open IoT Lab” (compliant with GSMA) located at Orange Gardens.

The first equipment Orange has tested on its LTE-M network includes rugged products from Ercogener, including a u-blox module, designed to be used in asset tracking and Industry 4.0 use cases, a GPS personal tracker, which is designed by Meitrack (based on a Quectel module), with a waterproof casing that is targeted at lone worker applications, and a small GPS tracker developed by Sercomm with a Sequans Communications module for tracking valuable items.

ZTE turns to golf to help it flog smartphones

ZTE has signed a three-year marketing agreement to become the PGA Tour’s first ever ‘official smartphone’.

The Chinese vendor is presumably hoping for a bit of US smartphone credibility by associating itself with the country’s professional golf tour. Not only will it get to impose its marketing collateral on golf fans at select events, it will also preload certain phones with the PGA Tour Live app and subscription service, including a 30-day free trial of golfing goodies such as exclusive early-round coverage.

“Becoming the first official Smartphone of the PGA Tour is a historic moment for ZTE,” ZTE Mobile Devices CEO Lixin Cheng. “The Tour, with its prestigious brand and global fan base, brings a tremendous opportunity for ZTE to connect directly with golf fans around the world and demonstrate our prowess in mobile technology with our premium line of Axon smartphones.”

“The PGA Tour is delighted to introduce ZTE as a new marketing partner as we enter the smartphone category for the first time,” said Brian Oliver, PGA Tour SVP of Sponsorship & Partnership. “Mobile devices have become such a critical means by which fans watch and get updates on our competition, find information about their favourite players and share PGA Tour-related content. In ZTE, we are partnering with a global leader in the telecommunications industry.”

Sports sponsorship is a well-trodden path for brands looking for a credibility and awareness boost and sports don’t come any safer or affluent than golf. What ZTE smartphone customers will make of having golf-related bloatware imposed upon them, however, remains to be seen.

The tech is there so why aren’t we doing better?

New technology has been billed as a means to make us more efficient in the work place, but we are actually becoming less productive. So what’s missing from the equation?

The point was made by Joshua Meltzer from the Brookings Institute at the Nordic Digital Business Summit in Helsinki. The mobile world of cloud, connectivity and IoT is supposed to make us better, more efficient and more profitable, but it simply isn’t. And this isn’t just one analyst picking out a trend, the data is there to support such claims.

Analysis from The Conference Board shows a steady decline in how productive we actually are. According to the research, productivity actually stabilized in 2016, but this is after a five year period of decline. Even before this period, a decade of consecutively decreasing growth could be seen. This is all after the introduction of the internet, and a swarm of technologies which are supposed to make us better. But in reality, major productivity positives have not been seen for decades.

So what is the explanation? There might be three reasons.

Firstly, let’s have a look at the actual breakthroughs of the last couple of years. We have cloud and better connectivity, which allowed for increased mobility and flexibility. These are technologies which meant you log on from anywhere, and you might as well be at your desk. Your correspondent is currently sat in Helsinki, but it isn’t making much of difference to the working day.

Companies were also able to access services and products quicker and easier. The SaaS concept is one which changed the way a lot of organizations manage their processes. Procuring new software and applications was simplified, and getting updates to the latest bit of kit was a doddle.

There are countless other areas which we could focus on in terms of recent breakthroughs, but we are going to focus on cloud and connectivity. And perhaps they aren’t such a big deal after all.

Yes the cloud changed the way we did business, but we still had the internet before that. It was a step-change, an upgrade if you will. Connectivity also improved to allow for mobility, but people could still work outside of the office beforehand, they just did it offline. This can be said for a lot of the breakthroughs which we’ve seen over the last couple of years, they are nice, but not revolutionary.

Now compare these ‘breakthroughs’ to those which we witnessed in the 20th century. Indoor plumbing, ubiqtuous electricity, mass market penetration of cars, normalization of air travel, computers, mobile phones, email. These were all breakthroughs which fundamentally changed the workplace and society.

When you consider the impact anyone of these 20th century breakthroughs had on our day-to-day lives, it’s no wonder there were sweeping productivity gains. And when you compare them to the somewhat superficial breakthroughs in the 21st century, you can start to see why the trend is not repeating itself.

Now onto the second point, there are too many ideas at the moment.

This might sound like a bit of a strange one, but perhaps these are all just little incremental gains. They have all been billed as the next big thing, but maybe we need them to merge together and create one massive breakthrough. Ubiqtuous connectivity combines with the compute and storage power of the cloud, then we are aided by the automation of artificial intelligence, while getting our emails done in the comfort of a self-driving car.

Individually they are all nice bits of technology which make our lives a bit easier, but bring them all together and you have a new working paradigm. The shift from post to fax and then onto email took time to bed in, the step-change was one which really took decades to significantly impact our lives in a fundamental way, perhaps it is the same with the connected economy.

The third point is down to us. Maybe we’re just not using the technology correctly. This one would not surprise many people, but it is a point which might not be realized until it is said aloud.

Think about it this way. When was the last time your IT team implemented a new bit of software and it didn’t work properly. Or the team wasn’t taught how to use it? Or they simply just didn’t want to because most people fear the new. Kind of makes sense.

The greater workforce isn’t entirely to blame. When a central IT team implements a new idea to make someone’s job a bit easier, it will sometimes (or most of the time) be at the detriment of someone else’s frustration.

Our parent company has expenses software which probably makes it easier for the finance team to do their job, but it is a nightmare for those processing the expenses to use. This is one example of a company trying to improve processes through the implementation of technology, but not putting enough (or putting little) thought into the user experience. The blame shouldn’t be entirely directed at the IT team though. Users take time to adjust to new tech.

The answer probably lies as a combination of all three. Maybe we’re at the beginning of the next innovation cycle, and these ideas just take a bit of time to catch on. As with every new technology, initial uptake is slow and cumbersome, but then once the tweaks are made an effective solution is found. We’re constantly tweaking things at the moment, so maybe a bit of patience and long-term ambition is needed.

That might be the answer, or maybe we’re just lazier than previous generations. Who knows.

Ofcom wants to force broadband providers to stop lying

The UK telecoms regulator is finally getting around to doing something about dodgy broadband speed claims.

Few other industries can get away with selling their products on the basis of optimistic approximations, as opposed to hard facts, but ISPs have long been an exception. UK consumers typically buy their broadband on the promise that they can expect download speeds of ‘up to’ a certain maximum. In practise, however, the speeds they experience seldom, if ever, come close to that number.

This has long been a source of indignation, not just for consumers but for organisations like the Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA has frequently called out ISPs for taking the piss but the punishment of getting them to amend an advertising campaign that has long since completed is almost entirely useless.

The practise is endemic, as a quick visit to BT’s broadband site reveals. The three packages immediately offered all promote themselves through ‘up to’ speed claims.

BT broadband screen

Hopefully Ofcom will show itself to have more teeth than the ASA and has weighed into the debate by proposing a range of enhancements to its code of practice, which ISPs that have signed up to it are obliged to follow. Here are the extra powers Ofcom wants UK broadband consumers to have:

  • Improve speed information at the point of sale and in contracts, by reflecting the slower speeds people can experience at ‘peak’ times; and by ensuring providers always give a minimum guaranteed speed before sale.
  • Strengthen the right to exit if speeds fall below a guaranteed minimum level. Providers would have a limited time to improve speeds before they must let customers walk away penalty-free. For the first time, this right to exit would also apply to contracts that include phone and pay-TV services bought with broadband.
  • Increase the number of customers who benefit from the codes, by expanding their scope to apply to all broadband technologies.

So instead of (or more likely as well as) a theoretical maximum, ISPs have to offer a guaranteed minimum speed in their sales and marketing collateral. Hopefully there will be proper punishments for consistently failing to achieve these too, but at least they will provide consumers with an easy pretext to switch without fear of recrimination.

“We want broadband shoppers to know what they’re buying, and what speeds to expect,” said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director. “So we plan to close the gap between what’s advertised and what’s delivered, giving customers a fuller picture before they commit to a contract. We’re also making it easier to walk away from a contract, without penalty, when companies fail to provide the speeds they promise.”

Here’s what Ofcom would like ISP collateral to look like from now on.

Ofcom ISP screen

Plenty of other people have had stuff to say on this. “By emphasising the slowest speed a customer is likely to get at peak times, speed numbers are likely to more closely match user experience,” said Dan Howdle of cable.co.uk. “Whether or not this benefits the majority of consumers who are, by and large, unaware of how these numbers apply to day-to-day usage is questionable, however.

“New rules on broadband speed advertising would have to be coupled with guidelines to ensure customers are informed as to how the speeds apply to the broadband usage of their household, otherwise it’s just a case of swapping one meaningless number for another.”

“Giving more information on what speeds consumers can expect can be a useful move but burying this more detailed information in each provider’s sales journey will only go so far,” said Richard Neudegg of uSwitch.com. “What we need to see – and what we have been calling for – is for this information to be opened up so that consumers can compare different provider speeds side by side at the point of comparison.”

“The minimum guaranteed speed is currently shown by a number of providers at the time of a sale, but with some it is currently hard to find,” said Andrew Ferguson of thinkbroadband.com. “Making guaranteed speeds more prominent across all providers is an important step, but it needs highlighting that the guaranteed speed referred to is usually the connection speed to the router the provider supplies.

“The difference between the connection speed and a speed test on a perfect computer set-up will usually only be 4 to 10% lower (varies due to technology) but for those connecting at the fastest speeds this becomes visible. For example, a Gigabit connection will have a maximum speed test of 940 to 945 Mbps.”

As ever with Ofcom initiatives, this has to go through a process of public consultation before it becomes a thing and you can get involved here if you want. This feels like a good example of where regulation is a good thing. UK broadband consumers are currently being given dodgy information at the point of purchase and making everyone abide by stronger rules of transparency has no competitive or bureaucratic downside to ISPs. Let’s hope this goes through.

Just because it can be connected, that doesn’t mean it should be

Technology breakthroughs are great things; they present the opportunity for ideas, creativity and innovation. But there is always the risk of enthusiasm running away with itself.

That was certainly evident at this years’ Nordic Digital Business Summit, where IoT was at the top of the agenda. The connected world is big and beautiful, those who are smart enough can start creating money out of thin air. But one question which might gain sneers from the fanatics is whether connecting the entire world is sensible. Just because everything can be connected to the internet, doesn’t mean it should be.

This was one of the conclusions made when your correspondent got the chance to host a discussion with Aalto University’s Jarno Limnéll and Tieto Security Services’ Timo Ahomäki. We’re not prepared enough for the big, wide world of IoT.

“Open up the email, click the link and boom, you’re owned,” said Limnéll. “The problem with security is us, not the technology which is out there.”

“When you look at WannaCry, this was stuff we knew about a decade ago,” said Ahomäki. “We weren’t able to stop it because we weren’t looking for it.”

It’s a point which has been raised countless times over the last few years, but we are the biggest threat which an organization faces. We are lazy, forgetful and careless. Human error is often the downfall of a company’s security features.

This is not a new idea, but it will continue to be repeated for as long as it is still a problem. But the chorus of voices screaming for a more comprehensive and considered approach to security should only get louder considering the technological tsunami which about to sleep the globe. IoT will be everywhere, but is it the correct decision.

Another speaker at the conference used a phrase which we are all too familiar with; ‘everything that can be digitized, will be digitized’. It’s the idea of connecting everything to the internet, from your car in the driveway, to a buoy in the middle of the Atlantic and your coffee machine in the office. But if we are not yet capable of protecting ourselves in a pre-IoT world, why should we be ready to up the ante?

Ahomäki’s point about WannaCry is a fair one. This is not necessarily a new idea, it was a malicious campaign using technology which was known to the security community. But it still crippled hundreds of organizations around the world. We are not capable of doing the security basics, and yet we are about to expand the security perimeter of our organizations, creating thousands, if not millions, of gateways to a company’s network. Every device which is connected to your network is a potential locked door for a hacker to pick.

Which brings us back to the original point, just because something could be connected, doesn’t mean it should be. The point here is not to stop the IoT trends, that would not be sensible considering the potential opportunities, but to have a bit of maturity. It’s about understanding the risk and limiting the threats to your organization.

So do you think it is necessary to have a connected fish tank which feeds the fish for you, or a coffee machine which sends you a text when it is empty? The benefits of such ideas are not going to help a company avoid bankruptcy or create the next revolutionary product, but it does present opportunity for the nefarious characters of the world.

We not saying anyone should stop playing around with technology in the search of a great idea, but perhaps we should stop being so frivolous with it.

Liberty Global makes another big European R&D investment

The Telenet Innovation Center in Brussels joins and equivalent R&D hub in Amsterdam as Liberty Global tries to get ahead of emerging tech trends.

Belgian operator Telenet is owned by Liberty Global and has b identified by its parent company as a good place to mull over the challenges and opportunities presented by emerging tech megatrends such as 5G and IoT. It joins Liberty Global’s Tech Campus near Amsterdam and the two will also investigate other tech opportunities for the group.

“The opening of the Telenet Innovation Center is an important milestone for Liberty Global,” said Balan Nair, Liberty Global Chief Technology and Innovation Officer. “The cutting-edge infrastructure and Telenet’s fully owned mobile network provide the perfect conditions for us to test the products and services that can pave the way towards the GIGAWorld. I’m already excited about the opportunities and inspiration that await us.”

“With the Telenet Innovation Center, we want to be ambitious and bring our own innovations to a higher level, but also help shape external innovation projects,” said John Porter, CEO of Telenet. “I believe in the absolute strength of partnerships, so I am convinced that with our model of collaborative innovation and with the help of partners like ZTE, we can bring the best broadband and media technology to Belgium for thorough testing, experimentation and successful launch in our market.”

Paolo Pescatore of CCS Insight popped over for the grand opening. “For Liberty Global, this is a huge investment,” he said. “It shows a strong commitment to grow its presence in the rapidly changing and converging European landscape.

“Consumers’ insatiable appetite for connectivity and content is showing no signs of easing up. Cable and telecom providers’ are under huge pressure to stay at the forefront of innovation. They need to move at lightning speed as online giants are pushing boundaries even further. The increasing demand for IoT solutions and the arrival of 5G, opens up a wealth of opportunities and it is important that the networks are equipped to deal with the explosion of data traffic and to serve the emergence of new use cases.”

Among the stuff showcased on the day was a special demo room for ZTE, which as we heard is a close partner of Telenet. There was also the good old AI robot, which as you can see from Pescatore’s tweet below, managed to get a crucial question right.

 

Nokia’s Nuage Networks lands strategically significant Chinese SDN gig

Nuage Networks, a bit of Nokia devoted to software-defined networking, has won some datacentre work with the China Pacific Insurance Company.

This is a pure-play SDN gig in which Nuage is acting more as a system integrator than a networking vendor, in keeping with Nokia’s broader diversification strategy. The project revolves around Nuage’s Virtualized Service Platform, which will be used in two CPIC data centers to move a lot of the company’s IT into the cloud.

As well as bolstering Nuage and Nokia’s credibility in the IT services game, the deals also gives it some traction in the financial services vertical and a shot of credibility in the massive Chinese market. The contract was won via Nokia Shanghai Bell.

“Nuage Networks VSP has clear momentum in the telecoms industry, and we’re excited to bring that same technology to large enterprises here in China, in this case helping CPIC deliver a unified cloud experience,” said Jin Jian, Head of the Enterprise & Public Sector unit at Nokia Shanghai Bell. “Working with a top insurer like CPIC serves as an excellent reference for the broader industry, and we see this as an opportunity to win more large enterprise projects in China, continuing Nokia’s push into vertical markets beyond the telecoms space.”

Most of the emerging telecoms megatrends, such as virtualization, 5G and IoT lean heavily on datacenters, generally considered to be more of an IT sector thing. How the telecoms industry handles the growing confluence of these two sectors will be critical to its future success, so deals such as this have a significance beyond the immediate business they provide. You can read more analysis on this news at Light Reading here.

Vodafone has one of those gratuitous brand repositioning exercises

Few things seem to illustrate corporate folly more than blowing tons of cash on brand positioning, but that doesn’t stop them persisting with it.

The latest to take the plunge is UK-based operator group Vodafone, which has embarked on its first major brand spasm since the introduction of the ‘power to you’ strapline in 2009. This time some expensive brand consultancies have helped the company come up with the idea that technology ‘…will play a positive role in transforming society and enhancing individual quality of life over the years ahead.’

To represent this digital utopia Vodafone has gone for the new strapline: ‘The future is exciting. Ready?’. The ‘Ready’ bit seems to be especially important, so much so that Vodafone is going to force the English version on all its markets regardless of their spoken language. So in Spain, for example, it will be “El futuro es apasionante. Ready?” as opposed to “El futuro es apasionante. ¿Listo?”

“We believe there are very good reasons to be optimistic about the future as emerging innovations in science and technology begin to have a profoundly positive impact on society,” said Vodafone Group Chief Commercial Operations and Strategy Officer, Serpil Timuray. “Vodafone has a long and proud history of bringing new technologies to hundreds of millions of people worldwide, enhancing quality of life and transforming the workplace. Our new brand positioning is intended to embody Vodafone’s mission and purpose to help our customers and communities adapt and prosper as these remarkable new trends reshape the world.”

To back up this wide-eyed optimism Vodafone commissioned some research that concluded people are really optimistic. Vodafone is also doing a minor tweak to its parenthesis logo, which was first unveiled back in 1998, but the brand timeline video below serves mainly to illustrate how little it has evolved since then. Lastly there’s a video ad that Vodafone plans to inflict on us before long to hammer home the message.