Telefónica and Netsia slice and dice RAN

Telefónica and Netsia have announced the successful integration of Netsia’s Virtual LTE RAN Platform into Telefónica’s Global Network Labs.

As part of Telefónica’s virtualization project UNICA, the pair have been working towards reproducing a Private LTE network with the ability to be sub-divided into multiple slices in Telefónica’s Madrid Labs. At RAN level, such a proposition can offer different performances, latencies, and radio resources to different sets of customers. As a result of this integration, it is believed SDN/NFV techniques can be applied to the RAN.

The product in question from Netsia is ProgRAN, which is described as a a programmable Software Defined Network (SDN)-based Radio Access Network framework. ProgRAN virtualizes the wireless channel resources allowing a remote controller to ‘slice the network’ into multiple virtual sub-networks.

“The integration of Netsia’s Virtual LTE RAN Platform into a commercial LTE core in our Labs is an important step forward to demonstrate that an end-to-end network slicing for 5G networks is possible, from the core to the RAN, and how it can be applied to specific service environments, like that of a virtual Private LTE network,” said Juan Carlos García, Telefónica’s Technology and Architecture Global Director.

“ProgRAN’s dynamic RAN slicing capability carries the potential to link network services to new commercial opportunities for operators”. Oguz Oktay, Netsia’s VP of Wireless Solutions. “ProgRAN allows RAN to programmatically adapt itself to different service requirements and customer experience needs.

“This means that an operator will be able to offer network functions to many different industries, such as IoT, healthcare or automotive, using a RAN-As-A-Service business model. Netsia’s virtual Private LTE platform integrated into Telefónica’s Global Network Labs using a commercial LTE core successfully demonstrates an example for how RAN slicing may be leveraged for new, revenue generating service opportunities.”

While it might sound very technical, and thusly relegated to the basement dwellers in the IT department, this is a useful step forward for network slicing advocates. A good usecase example is a hospital, where wireless resources are shared among doctors, patients, visitors, objects and other people. Should robotic surgery or AI applications for diagnosis be a realistic ambition, such separation of the airwaves would be seen as a critical step. After all, you wouldn’t want a cat video causing buffering in triple-bypass surgery.

Nokia picks Singapore to show what a great idea IoT is

A collaboration between Nokia and Singapore operator StarHub will try to develop all kinds of IoT services and maybe even launch a few of them.

As we move from the testing phase of tech megatrends such as IoT and 5G into the ‘this is why everyone should care’ phase, we’re seeing an increasing number of initiatives designed to highlight their utility in the ‘real world’. Huawei recently combined with LG U+ for a spot of 5G virtue-signalling, and now this.

So serious are Nokia and StarHub about their collaboration that they even signed a memorandum of understanding to seal the deal. They now plan to develop new IoT use cases in the areas of connected living, connected vehicles and connected buildings, and might even offer commercial services as soon as Q1 2018.

“A large component of Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative involves the deployment of IoT devices in the environment, including in the home, along streets and in parks, and in offices,” said Dr Chong Yoke Sin, Chief of the Enterprise Business Group at StarHub. “The granular data derived from these sensors will allow enterprise customers to understand and gain insights from their customers, improving operational efficiencies and aid in long-term planning.

“We will leverage Nokia’s IoT technology to help address urban challenges faced by our government and commercial customers. We also look forward to building viable business models on this nascent technology.”

“We are honoured to be working with StarHub to help maximize the gains from the vast potential of IoT,” said Nicolas Bouverot, head of the Asia South Market Unit at Nokia. “We are committed to supporting service providers in IoT to gain new customers and add new revenue streams. Nokia is at the forefront of the evolution of IoT, and our insights will enable StarHub to build and deploy high-value services and business models.”

Nokia seems to be on a bit of a tour of East Asia at the moment, having issued a separate announcement to talk up its Gfast partnership with Japanese company EneCom. This is part of the drive to update Japan’s VDSL network and supposedly paves the way for XG-FAST if EneCom fancies it.

StarHub has also had some other big news recently, with its CEO deciding to call it a day after four years at the helm. This seems to be an orderly departure and Tan Tong Hai will hang around long enough to help find his replacement and give them some top tips.

Cisco continues to dominate switching and router market – with NFV and SDN on the horizon

The global switching and router market continues to be led by one company, according to the latest analysis from Synergy Research.

Cisco’s share of the total market was 51%, with particular dominance in the enterprise routers section, where it holds 63% share, Synergy added. For Ethernet switching, Cisco still held more than half share, and for service provider routers Cisco held 38% of the market.

The company’s main competitor across all markets is Huawei, with HPE and Arista competing on Ethernet switching, Technicolor and Juniper on enterprise routers and Nokia and Juniper on service provider routers. In aggregate, Juniper takes the bronze medal behind Huawei, with Nokia and HPE rounding out the top five and Arista and H3C leading a ‘long tail’ of challenger vendors.

Global switching and router revenues hit more than $11 billion in the third quarter of this year, with the figure for the last four quarters being $44bn. This represents a 3% growth on a rolling annualised basis – but are there signs of decline?

The short answer right now is no, Synergy argues, saying that while emerging technologies such as software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV) are disruptive, it is ‘business as usual’ for Cisco, who is dominating a currently stable market. “While these are genuine issues which erode growth opportunities for networking hardware vendors, there are few signs that these are substantially impacting Cisco’s competitive market position in the short term,” said John Dinsdale, a chief analyst at Synergy Research.

“The big picture is that total switching and router revenues are still growing and Cisco continues to control half of the market,” Dinsdale added.

According to ABI Research, the NFV market is set to hit $38 billion in total by 2022, with both NFV and SDN growing at a rapid clip. Speaking to this correspondent at this year’s Mobile World Congress, Steve Gleave, senior vice president of marketing at Metaswitch Networks, argued that ‘the momentum was there’ for NFV deployments.

It may be a question of when rather than if for disruption, but for now Cisco appears to be in a comfortable position.

TfL hopes to remove conversation from London Underground

Without the distraction of smartphones Londoners can get dangerously close to talking to each other on the tube, but social interaction shouldn’t be an issue if TfL has anything to do with it.

After a successful trial delivering a 4G mobile network on the Waterloo & City Line of the London Underground, Transport for London (TfL) has confirmed it will begin tendering for service providers in the New Year to deliver 4G mobile coverage on the Tube from 2019.

“The success of this trial shows that we are on track to unlock one of the UK’s most high profile not-spots and deliver 4G mobile coverage throughout our tunnels and Tube stations,” said Graeme Craig, Director of Commercial Development at TfL.

“This is great news for our customers and will also help us generate vital commercial income to reinvest in modernising and improving transport in London.”

Unlike citizens around the rest of the UK, Londoners are traditionally terrified to interact with strangers. In some circumstances, Londoners have also been known to actively avoid engaging with those they actually know on public transport, to maintain the unwritten rule of ‘no talking, no eye contact’.

Newcomers to London often flout these rules, which can cause almost as much irritation as standing on the right hand side of the escalator when leaving the station. Before too long, the condemning looks from native and naturalized Londoners drowns the social enthusiasm out of the newcomers, dragging them down to the silent misery of the traditional commute.

Should TfL be able to introduce connectivity onto the underground transport network, it would mark a significant milestone for the despondent and depressing Londoner, who wants nothing more than to stare with discontent at emails or discover the latest faddy coffee shop, craft ale pub, patronising art exhibition or restaurant which delivers food in the latest unimaginable method. If everyone else is staring down at a smartphone the London newcomer will have no choice but to bow to social convention; the naturalization to London ways can be accelerated.

“The demand for ubiquitous, fast mobile connectivity is unquestionable,” said Derek McManus, Chief Operating Officer of O2.

“People expect to have connectivity wherever and whenever they are and, by increasing connectivity on the Tube, people will be able to get more out of their journey time. Trials such as these are vital in laying the foundations for customers, especially commuters, to have seamless connectivity on the go.”

The trials on the Waterloo & City Line allowed TfL to practice laying new fibre cables within stations and tunnels, while also testing data calls from one station to another without dropping mobile reception. All four major mobile network operators participated in the design of the trial, while only Vodafone and O2 carried out testing within the tunnels, which took place outside customer hours.

Should the tender go to plan a service partner to be brought on-board by summer 2018 and the first stations will be connected from 2019. Those talkative foreigners won’t have a chance before too long.

Huawei does 5G Gangnam style

Huawei teamed up with Korean operator LG U+ to demonstrate some novel 5G applications on the streets of Seoul.

The two set up what they claim is ‘the world’s first large-scale 5G network test in a pre-commercial environment’ in the Gangnam district, which is known for its high-rise buildings as well as the cool kids alluded to in the famous pop song. It featured base stations using the 3.5 GHz and the 28 GHz spectrum bands.

This demo was designed to coincide with the fourth global 5G event, which otherwise yielded suspiciously little news. It was symptomatic of the growing desperation from the telecoms industry to demonstrate 5G infrastructure is worth spending money on because of all the great utopian stuff it will enable.

Among those, apparently, are the ability to stream 4K IPTV video into a moving bus and to control and stream data from a VR drone. How we have coped without such basic essentials to date is a mystery, but the good news is those dark days will soon be behind us.

Huawei drone

“The world’s first large-scale joint 5G pre-commercial test indicated a significant breakthrough in 5G,” said Kim Dae Hee, VP of LG U+ 5G Strategy Unit. “We believe that Huawei is set to help LG U+ implement the world’s first Commercial 5G network over 3.5 GHz.”

“In the Gangnam District of Korea, we have successfully validated the 5G pre-commercial network and released the world’s first 3.5 GHz CPE,” Zhou Yuefeng, Huawei Wireless Product Line CMO. “This demonstrates that Huawei will maintain its capability to provide competitive E2E 5G network products in 2018. LG U+ and Huawei will continue to conduct further research into 5G technologies and build a robust E2E industry ecosystem to achieve business success in the upcoming 5G era.”

Incidentally Gangnam Style recently became only the third YouTube video to hit three billion views, having been the first to cross the one billion mark. It is only third on the list of all time YouTube views, however, behind Despacito and See You Again – both also music videos. In fact music videos dominate the top 100 most-viewed YouTube vids, accounting for 95 of them.

 

UK Police set to be given new powers in Drone Bill

In a shock move, the UK Government is preparing rules to address the rise of drones before they actually hit the mass market.

Under the new rules, police will have the power to ground and seize drone parts to prove it has been used to commit an offence, while there will also be no-fly zones introduced in the areas surrounding airports or above 400 feet. Drone owners will also be forced to register drones weighing over 250 grams, and also sit safety awareness tests, as well as use apps to make sure any planned flight can be made safely and legally. The latter three will be present to improve accountability of owners.

“Drones have great potential and we want to do everything possible to harness the benefits of this technology as it develops,” said Aviation Minister Baroness Liz Sugg.

“But if we are to realise the full potential of this incredibly exciting technology, we have to take steps to stop illegal use of these devices and address safety and privacy concerns. These new laws strike a balance, to allow the vast majority of drone users to continue flying safely and responsibly, while also paving the way for drone technology to revolutionise businesses and public services.”

Could this mean regulation is keeping up with technology!? Just to put things in perspective, artificial intelligence is an area which is still yet to be addressed from a legislation and regulation perspective, even though it is an area which is arguably more advanced than drones. Admittedly, it is an immensely complicated area to regulate, so let’s use another example; social media.

The internet giants are still roaming in a relatively lawless regulatory landscape, even though mass market acceptance has been there for around a decade. The difference in the way social media giants and telcos can manage and utilise customer information (in personalized advertising for instance) is still staggering, though it is addressed slowly. This is the pace of change we are used to when it comes to regulating the TMT space.

Some might argue these rules are already arriving a bit late, considering there have been a number of near misses in recent months. Back in October, a drone passed over an Airbus 319 which was approaching Gatwick Airport to land, with 130 people on board. The captain of the plane said a larger aircraft might not have missed the drone.

While drones did look like being somewhat of a fad in years gone, recent trends and new business ideas have made the technology look more realistic. Huawei showed off a prototype for an autonomous, flying taxi in London recently, Facebook has been championing drones for connectivity in rural areas and Amazon has been playing around with drones as a new delivery option.

To support the new rules, the government is working with manufacturers to use geo-fencing to prevent drones from entering restricted zones, while it has also launched an initiative to invite cities to become test beds to advance the technology. The Flying High Challenge will include five cities in the research and development of drone technology which could transform critical services. Ideas floated so far include emergency health services and organ transport, as well as parcel delivery and logistics.

We are struggling to think of another example where regulation has kept in step with technology. With the Drone Bill set to hit the Houses of Parliament in early 2018, it might not be too long before the new rules are a reality. Perhaps this new type of proactive bureaucrat, who addresses technology breakthroughs before they hit the mass market, is something we can look forward to seeing more of. Or perhaps not.

Ofcom is not giving up on its dark fibre quest

BT/Openreach has been accused of guarding its network for some time, and the latest consultation from Ofcom is another chapter in the watchdog’s mission to break the market dominance.

Despite BT’s legal team hitting back at Ofcom in July, Dark Fibre Access (DFA) is back in action with the launch of the new consultation. Let’s hope this time the Ofcom bods have got their own house in order after muddling market definitions was its downfall on the first assault.

“We consider in this consultation whether to add a requirement on BT to provide dark fibre in addition to the other remedies imposed in the BCMR Temporary Conditions Statement,” the document reads. “As part of this dark fibre consultation, we are also consulting on the market definition and SMP assessment set out in the BCMR Temporary Conditions Statement.”

The idea of course is simple. Ofcom’s believes BT is ready and able to provide dark fibre products, which would make the telco space in the UK better for everyone. Whether it is to improve productive efficiencies by allowing providers to reduce equipment costs, or enhancing dynamic efficiencies by offering telecoms providers more scope to innovate, there does seem to be arguments in Ofcom’s favour. Of course, another advantage for Ofcom is that it would make regulating the market simpler.

The new approach is as such; Ofcom has split contemporary interface symmetric broadband origination (CISBO) services into two areas to tighten up definitions. Lumping everything together is perhaps one of the reasons for the downfall, but of course that will be up to the courts to decide. Ofcom now looks at CISBO as two separate areas bandwidth up to 1 Gbps, and everything else above it.

Since giving the Ofcom bods a lesson in the courts, BT/Openreach has introduced an alternative Optical Spectrum Access (OSA) Filter Connect, which gives telcos access via an Openreach managed service, though Ofcom does not believe this is a suitable alternative to its own DFA idea. There might have been some initial good feedback for BT’s OSA, but this might be down to a ‘better than nothing’ mentality. But just because it is better, doesn’t mean that it is the best option for the telco industry.

“We’re very surprised by Ofcom’s decision and disappointed given the clarity of the CAT judgement and Openreach’s commitment to developing new, alternative products which can meet the demand for Dark Fibre,” said an Openreach spokesperson.

Ofcom is clearly not going to go away. BT/Openreach clearly wants to hold onto its dominant position in the market, and who wouldn’t want to. As with all of these arguments, it will probably end up in the courts before too long, and there is probably a logical solution in the middle somewhere. But of course it will take a while to find that logical middle position.

Most people baffled by their phone bills – survey

Some research commissioned by billing vendor Brite:Bill has found that the majority of people find their phone bills hard to understand.

The precise figure is 68% and furthermore 75% are not even interested in the information provided even if they can get their heads around it. The apparent purpose of commissioning the research was to demonstrate that the phone bill and more generally billing communications are a major pain point for subscribers. It should be noted that Brite:Bill, which is owned by Amdocs, specialises in providing billing communications platforms.

“How much a customer likes a product often matters less than how they feel about their experience,” said Alan Coleman, Head of Brite:Bill. “Billing is the least transformed part of the digital experience today, but as a key touch point it must evolve, too. Service providers are under increasing pressure to transform billing from a negative, stressful experience into a useful and interesting one that can bring them a competitive advantage.

“This starts with presenting the information so that it is more relevant, visual, and easy to understand. At the same time, providers have to be more proactive in dealing with billshock and bill frustration – for example, by advising their customers on ways to save money that are relevant to that particular customer’s usage pattern.”

The research, which was conducted by Censuswide Research, surveyed 3,236 consumers across the USA, Canada, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Brazil and the UK It focused a fair bit on generational differences, with older people finding their bills more confusing. Apparently younger people are happier to communicate with chatbots and more likely to expect their billing communications to feature proactive efforts on the part of their provider to save them money.

Other interesting data points include the discovery that 29% of respondents have contacted their CSPs because of billing issues and that 44% of churners had experienced a billing problem.

More telco customer service woes abound – but for Gen Z, chatbots could be the answer

It’s the age-old complaint around telecom providers and customer service; more than two thirds of customers surveyed by Brite:Bill admit they find their bills hard to understand, with three quarters saying they were not interested in the information which came with their statements.

The study, which took responses from more than 3,200 consumers in eight countries, found a worrying amount of churn among consumers.

29% of those polled said they have contacted their service providers over billing issues, while billing calls account for up to three in five calls to call centres. More than a third (36%) said they have switched service provider in the last two years – and of this number, 44% had experienced billing issues.

The research digs into the particular issues the youngest generation – Generation Z, centennials, call them what you will – face. More than half (59%) of Gen Zers polled said they would like their bill to tell them how they can save money. No surprises there perhaps; but one area which Gen Z customers may be leading the way is in automation.

Half of Gen Z respondents polled said they would like access to a chatbot for bill enquiries, while just under a third (32%) agreed that chatbots were a good alternative to usual customer care lines. Earlier this week, this publication reported on findings by ABI Research on what it called ‘telcobots’, and how it could save operators billions long term. The initiative signified ‘the level of urgency within telcos to start emphasising the importance of customer relationships and customer care management, something they have been taking for granted for decades’, according to the analyst firm.

Regardless, the Brite:Bill study uncovers the same old problems which need to be addressed. “Any service providers that’s serious about becoming more customer-centric urgently needs to rethink the way they communicate charges to their customers,” said Teresa Cottam, chief analyst and strategist at Omnisperience.

“Given the enormous benefits that derive from improving bill communications, it continues to surprise me how many service providers continue to overlook something that’s relatively easy to fix, but has a hugely transformative effect on customer relationships and business outcomes.”

Read more: Why mobile operators must break free from bad customer service