Q&A with Sinan Akkaya, Director of RAN Engineering, AT&T

Please tell us a little about AT&T’s progress towards 5G.

Mobile 5G is on its way. We plan to offer it to customers in a dozen cities by the end of the year. And parts of Dallas, Atlanta and Waco, Texas, are first up, with additional city announcements in the coming months. This is standards-based, mobile 5G we’re talking about.

We’re also working on an accelerated schedule with vendors to help ensure customers can enjoy 5G when we launch. AT&T has promised to deliver this ground-breaking technology – standards-based, mobile 5G – to our customers in 2018.

How will we see existing RAN architecture evolve as the industry moves towards 5G networks?

5G and software-defined networks (SDN) naturally go hand in hand. A virtualized and software-defined network lets you develop, deploy and protect new network applications faster than with a hardware-based model.

What role will Cloud RAN play in the introduction of 5G services?

We’re on the most aggressive network virtualization path that we know of in our industry, with a plan to virtualize 75% of our network by 2020. Our goal in 2017 was 55%, and we hit that mark.

By leading the industry transformation, our customers will get the most out of 5G, including, at some point, experiences with augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR), future autonomous cars and delivery drones. What’s needed for these experiences to become reality is mobile 5G, powered by SDN and edge computing. We’re making the cloud smarter, faster and local.

What are your industry predictions for 2018?

5G trials and first commercial applications will be in the market and small cell \ densification efforts will become more critical. 5G deployments this year will be based on 3GPP standards and operate over mmWave spectrum. We will use mmWave to provide mobile 5G in some areas, and then we will deploy the technology on additional spectrum bands.

What is your key message at 5G North America this year?

We expect to reach theoretical peak speeds of multiple gigabits per second on devices through mobile 5G. While speed is important, we also expect to see much lower latency rates. With higher speeds and lower latency rates, our mobile 5G network will eventually unlock a number of new, exciting experiences for our customers. Be ready!

 

Sinan Akkaya will be speaking on the panel on The Evolution of RAN taking place at 5G North America 2018, May 14-16, in Austin, Texas.

The Openreach virtual dark fibre service finally sees the light of day

Six months after proposing a compromise between full dark fibre access and full managed service, Openreach has formally launched ‘virtual dark fibre’.

The proper name for this fibre wholesale service is Optical Spectrum Access Filter Connect and the thinking behind it was explained to us by Openreach General Manager of High Bandwidth and Passive Services, Darren Wallington, in October of last year. In essence it aims to combine the service assurance and response times of a managed service with the scalability and flexibility sought from dark fibre access.

“We’ve re-engineered our high-bandwidth optical services to give our wholesale customers far greater flexibility at a fantastic price,” said Wallington. “OSA Filter Connect allows providers to grow their needs affordably, at their own pace and using their choice of innovative equipment.

“By innovating a virtual dark fibre service, we can give customers that extra flexibility whilst still being able to monitor our network and respond to faults and issues proactively. With a regulated dark fibre access product, we would’ve literally been left in the dark with no monitoring capabilities and significantly longer service interruptions due to the reactive nature of fault reporting, but this means we can commit to a national five-hour response time.”

Pricing seems to be one of the things Openreach has worked on a fair bit on the last six months, much of which have been spent in what Openreach characterizes as ‘proper, constructive engagement’ with UK stakeholders. Additionally it has received a significantly increased level of direct lobbying from MNOs, keen to get ahead of the game on 5G fronthaul and backhaul.

“We’ve listened closely to our customers,” said Wallington. “They wanted something that would address the perceived failings of a ‘one size fits all’ regulated product and they’ve helped us to shape the product we’re launching”

“Both large and small customers told us they wanted a service that offered more competitive high bandwidth pricing with low incremental scaling costs. They also wanted more flexible and configurable services that give them more control, the ability to support fast evolving technology – like synchronization, and more efficient use of space and power.”

It’s not for us to say whether or not this is the right solution to the dark fibre access issue, but it does seem like a good-faith attempt by Openreach to balance a number of different factors and needs. We’ve copied the new pricing tables below to help you make up your own mind.

 

*Pricing – OSA filter connect prices below, note the 5 year term variant is less than our original consultation range

This provides CPs with a 10GB managed service with spare filter ports that they can use to scale to higher bandwidth by themselves with no additional costs from Openreach. We will continue to offer additional Managed Wavelengths for those CP’s who prefer a managed service at very competitive price points.

Product Minimum Period Connection £ Exc VAT Rental per annum £ Exc VAT
OSA Filter Connect FSP3000 – 12 month 12 month £15,550 £7,845
OSA Filter Connect FSP3000 – 36 month 36 month £12,233 £6,276
OSA Filter Connect FSP3000 – 60 month 60 month £12,233 £5,775

* Can be upgraded to 20Gb without a site visit

 

EAD 10Gb will see connection prices reduced by up to 32% and rentals by up to 53%

At the same time the 5 year term variant will now in effect make be a 3 year term product, as we’ve set the early termination charges for Year 4 and 5 to zero.

Product Charge type Current Price New price for 3 April 2018 Price reduction
EAD 10000 Connection £5,990 £5,590 -6%
EAD 10000 Rental £10,500 £4,980 -53%
EAD 10000 (60 month minimum period) Connection £5,990 £4,090 -32%
EAD 10000 (60 month minimum period) Rental £8,400 £4,380 -48%
EAD Local Access 10000 Connection £5,990 £5,590 -6%
EAD Local Access 10000 Rental £7,500 £4,146 -45%
EAD Local Access 10000 (60 month minimum period) Connection £5,990 £4,090 -32%
EAD Local Access 10000 (60 month minimum period) Rental £6,000 £3,648 -39%

 

Dual Fibre mainlink, the headline rate will be reduced from 37.2p to 24p

OSA Main Link charge feature Current price (pence per meter) Price on 3 April 2018 (pence per meter)
Main link per metre or part thereof  37.2 24.0
Main link + Standby link per metre or part thereof  82.8 57.6
Diverse main link per metre or part thereof 42.0 28.8

 

Sony beats out Apple, Huawei and Samsung for battery performance

Research firm Strategy Analytics has completed a study which points towards Sony’s Xperia XZ2 as the best on the market for battery performance.

This is certainly a good footnote to acquire for Sony, though it should be worth noting the research was commissioned by the Japanese multinational. The objective of the research was to identify how long a devices battery would last when subjected to what would be considered normal usage across the day.

And the results are quite surprising.

Battery life table

What is slightly worrying is the amount of time before battery exhaustion. Your correspondent can’t remember ever getting these sorts of times before charges (unless you count the trusty Nokia 3310) which makes us wonder what is considered normal usage. This has certainly been exceeded at Telecoms.com.

The test was designed to measure the amount of time before the battery was fully drained. A ‘typical user scenario’ was identified and applied to each of the devices. The conditions included using the device for a period of approximately 16 hours over a 24 hour period, with various activities including calling, texting, web browsing, social media, games, camera, music and video. The batteries were also subject to the drain of common activities from the operating system and alerts, with display brightness on each device was set to 150 Nits and sound volumes set to maximum. Default settings were used for everything else. Each device was tested twice before the average time was calculated.

Interestingly enough, Sony hit the top of the tables while Apple and Huawei lagged a little bit behind. Unfortunately for many, the world’s most popular smartphone brand compared pretty woefully to first place. 26 hours is still a considerable amount of time, but losing out so badly to rivals will certainly worry Samsung executives.

In a world where smartphone launches are becoming very repetitive, battery performance is fast becoming a USP for the manufacturers. There is very little change year-on-year to these devices aside from incremental steps on specs, and battery life is one which has featured on and off. Unfortunately for the manufacturers there are few breakthroughs to shout about in this space.

Battery performance has been increasing gradually, but the processing capabilities and applications on new devices are far exceeding these steps forward. The development of the battery has been lagging behind the development of every other area and this problem will only be compounded as the digital economy becomes more prominent.

While this is certainly interesting information to know, we would be curious to hear if anyone has managed to get through the entire day without having to put their device on charge.

Vodafone India completes €478mn tower sale

Vodafone has announced the completion of the sale of its Indian tower business to American Tower in a move to build the spreadsheets in preparation for the Jio battle.

The plan was initially set in motion back in January as Idea kicked off a number of initiatives to improve its financial position ahead of the merger with Vodafone. Assets are being hurled overboard as both parties streamline their organizations to ensure a healthy financial and operational position to tackle the Jio problem.

Today’s announcement will see American Tower complete the acquisition of the standalone tower business of Vodafone India for an enterprise value of €478 million, before turning its attention to finalizing the acquisition of Idea’s tower unit.

While the introduction of Jio ruined a perfectly comfortable position for Vodafone India and Idea, you can’t say the pair are not doing everything possible to meet the challenge. Aside from the merger, which is set to complete in the second half of the year, selling off assets would have been tough decisions to make. With the €478 million made of this deal, Idea will also be aiming to bring €882 million through sales of equity and assets.

Consolidation and divestment are two very common trends in the Indian telco industry right now, but these deals are nothing but the preliminaries. Jio might be in a relatively comfortable position right now, but the new Vodafone/Idea entity is working up a war chest to disrupt the space. One of the big questions which remain is whether Jio can entrench its position deep enough in the Indian consumers life to withstand the Vodafone/Idea assault.

2017 numbers show how much Huawei still owns the telecoms market

Nokia, Ericsson and ZTE spent 2017 clearing the decks in advance of 5G. Meanwhile Huawei made more money than the rest of them added together.

Huawei just published it’s 2017 full year numbers and, if anything, it’s even further ahead of the chasing pack than it was a year ago. Converted into US dollars Huawei brought in over $20 billion more than the rest combined. The profit comparison is even more stark, with Ericsson’s write-offs blighting its numbers, but even Nokia’s net profit was only a third of Huawei’s.

The top line analysis is that Huawei is doing everything better and more profitably than everyone else. The chasing pack are all running with the narrative that they’ve turned a corner and things should get better from here, but Huawei is not about to relinquish market share without a fight. To expand the snapshot we’ve selected some statements from the respective annual reports below, followed by a summary of the numbers and the summary tables from each of the reports.

“We’re on a new journey,” said Ken Hu, Huawei’s Rotating Chairman. “Opportunities and challenges are popping up faster than ever before, and nonstop open innovation is the only way we can keep ahead of the game. Over the next 10 years, Huawei will continue to increase investment in technological innovation, investing more than 10 billion dollars back into R&D every year. We will actively pursue open collaboration, attract and cultivate top talent, and step up efforts in exploratory research. We want to better enable all industries to go digital and intelligent.”

“As we work to deliver that sharply improved performance, we will do so in a very Nokia way: disciplined execution, relentless focus on costs and a commitment to innovation and technological leadership for our customers,” said Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri.

“2017 was a year of starting over,” said Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm. “We have a new strategy, a simplified company structure and strong plans in place to improve our performance. 2017 was also the year when 5G went from vision to reality and the first commercial contracts were signed. This also created traction for our 5G-ready 4G portfolio. The success of the ERS platform shows that technology leadership and a competitive portfolio pays off, both in terms of customer feedback and margin improvements. Going into 2018, we are fully committed to our plans and targets and we expect to see tangible results of our turnaround during the year.”

“In 2018, the Group is set to welcome new opportunities for development, given rapid growth in the volume of data flow over the network,” said ZTE Chairman Yin Yimin. “Specifically, such opportunities will be represented by: an accelerated process of 5G commercialization underpinned by ongoing upgrades in network infrastructure; robust demand for smart terminals; and an onrush of new technologies and models with AI, IOT and smart home, among others, providing new growth niches.”

2017 (US$ M) Revenue Op profit % Net profit %
Huawei  $ 92,549  $    8,645 9%  $      7,276 8%
Nokia  $ 28,564  $    3,260 11%  $      2,363 8%
Ericsson  $ 24,156  $  -4,575 -19%  $    -4,208 -17%
ZTE  $ 17,419  $    1,080 6%  $         144 1%

Huawei

Huawei 2017

Nokia

Nokia 2017

Ericsson

Ericsson 2017

ZTE

ZTE 2017

Spar prepares for opening of first cashless store

Retailer Spar International is making the final preparations to open the first cashless supermarket in the Netherlands at the Hogeschool Utrecht university campus tomorrow (Wednesday 4 April).

The initiative, which is known as ‘Skippen’ or ‘Skipping’ in English, will allow students who download the app to breeze in and out the store without queueing for a cash register. Customers who have downloaded the app, around 25,000 of them so far, will scan items into their shopping cart using QR codes before paying at the end with Tikkie, ABN AMRO’s online payment solution.

“Skippen is a shop-driven concept and comes from the desire to make customers even happier,” said Kyra van Elswijk, Smart Clients Manager at Spar. “Because the customer does not have to wait at the counter, the customer actually has a longer lunch break. The power of Skippen is mainly in the customer’s trust, something that has always been an important part of the formula thanks to the self-checkout cash registers.”

Spar University is a sub-brand of the Spar group with retail sites on university campus’. While providing a more tailored shopping experience for students, we can imagine the Pot Noodles supply is endless, this is also the site of trials and initial introductions of new projects. This is the first cashless store, but Spar University also got the ball rolling on the first 100% self-checkout site as well.

Launched in 2013, the 100% self-checkout store featured no cashiers. The cashless element, with customers entirely reliant on the app and digital payments, is the second phase in Spar’s development plan to make shopping simple, smart and fast.

The app itself was developed by Social Brothers, though Countr was brought in for the Point-of-Sale software, and Mood Media focused on the audio-visual customer experience. As mentioned before, ABN AMRO provided the payment solution.

While this is certainly an interesting concept, Spar is also heading into the world of personalisation and big data. By using the app Spar will be able to collect information on each specific user and therefore understand purchasing behaviour. Not only will this help the team make sure the right products are in the shop, but Spar has also said it wants to make personalised offers to shoppers based on previous behaviour. These rewards can be collected through the app.

There might be some in the world who are getting increasingly paranoid about handing over personal information, even more so when the last few weeks are taken into account, but students are much more accepting of new technologies. These are digital natives where the exchange of information for value is a normalized idea, and a demographic which will be much more receptive to free stuff. Not a bad place to tweak the bugs.

Trump sets Bezos in his sights

Amazon is the latest company to get President Trump’s own brand of condemnation as the Commander-in-Chief takes to Twitter to rant and rave.

The attention from the oval office has seemingly gotten a few people a little bit uncomfortable as share price has dipped by about 2% during overnight trading, as it seems Trump is targeting the interesting tax set up at the internet giants offices. There have been rumours Trump has been stalking CEO Jeff Bezos to figure out how he can claw back some tax dollars.

White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders commented that there “aren’t any specific policies on the table at this time,” but Trump was “looking to create a level playing field for all businesses”.

The issue here is down to physical presence. Legal precedent has been set in the US stating that the individual states cannot claim sales tax where the company does not have a physical presence. Certain states now argue that the world has changed since the original ruling in the early 90s, and therefore the rules should change also.

This is not the first time the President has targeted Amazon however. Last August, Trump criticized the company for causing great damage to smaller retailers causing a 1.2% drop in share price. Amazon may be causing damage to some businesses, but it (as well as other eCommerce sites) are enhancing prospects for those who are digital orientated. The number of potential customers go through the roof and some of the most notable overheads disappear.

The issue here is that Trump wants to protect those who have been making money in the more traditional manner. The real estate gurus who build shopping malls or high streets around the country; these are the people who are becoming increasingly vulnerable in the connected economy. One aspect of the rant which we can’t get our head around is the comment about destroying the US postal system.

Items purchased through Amazon are mostly sent through the public postal system, and while we imagine Amazon would have negotiated favourable rates, the sheer volume would surely kick economy of scale into action. Considering few people send letters anymore, we wonder what the condition of the postal service would be without it being propped up by the eCommerce giant. Last year, revenue from package deliveries increased $2.1 billion (12% year-on-year) which is seemingly the only area of the postal service which is successful. The basic concept of the postal service is in crisis, but Amazon (and other eCommerce deliveries) seem to be the only thing propping up the successful part!

Interestingly enough, Facebook has not received any criticism from the President, so you have to wonder whether there is another reason for the dislike of Amazon. Both companies should tick the box for Trump when it comes to abusing the American people, but only one of the owners owns a major news publication which doesn’t bend to the will of the erratic President.

The next couple of months might be a pretty uncomfortable period for Amazon and Jeff Bezos. Trump might be respected by all as an incredibly intelligent, compassionate or logical individual, but when he makes a promise he almost always follows through with it.

Mission: damage limitation continues for Facebook

Facebook has announced that it will end its Partner Categories to limit the amount of information it shares with advertisers and collects off third-parties.

The practise itself is not necessarily uncommon throughout the industry as many companies which offer advertising solutions source additional data to make products more accurate. Organizations like Experian and Acxiom will provide additional information to platforms like Facebook to create the hyper-targeted advertising which is currently being intensely scrutinised.

“We want to let advertisers know that we will be shutting down Partner Categories,” the company said in a blog post. “This product enables third party data providers to offer their targeting directly on Facebook. While this is common industry practice, we believe this step, winding down over the next six months, will help improve people’s privacy on Facebook.”

Alongside this announcement, Facebook also restructured its platform to make privacy settings and controls more accessible to users. While it might not be the most attractive idea to advertisers or even the Facebook shareholders, the mission to recover the trust of the user is far from over. Cambridge Analytica is only one case which has been unveiled so far, we think there will be more revelations over the coming weeks and months; Facebook will need to do a lot of PR work to steady the ship.

For the moment, Facebook does seem to be doing an okay job when it comes to reassuring investors. There was a steep decline in share price during the immediate aftermath of the scandal, but it does seem to have stabilized over the last couple of days. Investors and shareholders will have an eye on the bigger picture; Facebook is not going to disappear overnight and will continue to make money, but winning back the general public will be a bit more difficult.

Cutting the ties with third parties is a sensible move from Facebook as it cannot control the practises in these organizations. It is an example of the business being proactive in identifying potential problems, as the government and privacy practises of these third-parties has not been put under the spotlight yet. All Facebook needs at the moment is being dragged into another scandal which it does not have direct control or influence on.

With new data regulations on the horizon, and politicians out for blood, Facebook needs to put across the impression it is angelic. The element of control is incredibly important in this projects. Facebook will be held accountable and therefore needs to make sure it is only involved in practises in which it can implant its own influence.

Plantronics gets rolling on $2 billion Polycom acquisition

Plantronics has announced it will acquire unified communications specialist Polycom in a cash and stock transaction worth $2 billion, expected to close by the end of the third quarter.

The pair claim the deal will create the broadest portfolio of communications and collaboration endpoints for the $39.9 billion UCC industry, adding voice and video collaboration expertise to the Plantronics strategy of ‘delivering new communications and collaboration experiences’. Bringing the two companies together will enable Plantronics to target new opportunities in the data analytics and insight services segments, the company said.

“Polycom has returned to growth by focusing on building strong ecosystem partnerships and delivering innovative, smart solutions for our customers and partners,” said Mary T. McDowell, CEO of Polycom. “Bringing Plantronics and Polycom together will broaden the breadth of solutions available to customers and partners and create a consistent end-user experience across many collaboration applications and devices. As one company, Plantronics and Polycom will make it even easier for all customers to solve big-business problems through human-to-human connections.”

“With the addition of Polycom’s solutions across video, audio and collaboration we will be able to deliver a comprehensive portfolio of communications and collaboration touch points and services to our customers and channel partners,” said Joe Burton, CEO of Plantronics. “This will put Plantronics in an ideal position to solve for today’s enterprise collaboration requirements while capitalizing on market opportunities associated with the evolving, intelligent enterprise.”

In terms of the specifics, the $2 billion will consist of an estimated $690 million in net debt and an estimated $948 million in cash and 6.352 million Plantronics shares, valued at $362 million based on the 20 trading day average. Polycom shareholders will own approximately 16% of the combined company. Siris’ Capital’s (an investor in Polycom) Frank Baker, Managing Partner, and Daniel Moloney, Executive Partner, will join Plantronics Board of Directors.

This is not the first time Polycom has been in the news regarding an acquisition. Back in 2016, Polycom was the centre of consolidation talk with Mitel, though the pair parted ways after Polycom received a superior offer from Siris Capital.

Synchronoss delivers the bare minimum in its business update call

Telecoms cloud vendor Synchronoss was obliged to offer a business update call in advance of restating historical accounts on 10 May.

The call was a condition of the decision by the NASDAQ to give Synchronoss some extra time to get its historical accounts in order, following its announcement a year ago that it needed to restate at least two years’ worth of accounts because they could no longer be relied upon. It was made clear from the start that 10 May is when the substantial update will come so this one appeared designed to deliver the bare minimum needed to satisfy the NASDAQ.

Having said that CFO Lawrence Irving, who was also Synchronoss CFO from 2001-2014, and whose departure coincided with the start of the more creative approach to accounting, did serve up some reasonably frank admissions at the start of the call.

“We have preliminarily concluded on our accounting positions and are working with our outside auditors as they review our positions and perform audits for our 2015, 2016 and 2017 years and respective quarters,” said Irving.

“In summary, the primary adjustments result in revenue being spread over multiple periods or netted as part of a related M&A transaction. Over the years of 2014 through 2016, we anticipate that approximately $60 million to $80 million of the approximately $1.2 billion of revenue initially recognized will be reversed and recharacterized as part of the consideration paid as part of an M&A transaction, while the revenue timing adjustments will be recognized in different periods, sometimes being spread over a period of years, including 2017 and 2018.”

So it looks like they need to restate 2014 too, around 5-7% of revenues in the period in question were questionable, and even some of the legit revenue will need to be retrospectively moved to different quarters. Irving was keen to stress that none of these adjustments will have an impact on the company’s cash position. In other words, don’t let the past contaminate the present and future.

This temporal containment exercise was taken up enthusiastically by Synchronoss CEO Glenn Lurie, who summarised at length much of what he had said in his interview with Telecoms.com. There was very little reference to the past and a lot of emphasis on all the grand plans he has for taking the business forward. That’s all great, but the whole premise of the call is that the past has to be dealt with properly before the company can move on.

There was at least a Q&A and the first questions came from Tom Roderick, who provided so much insight when we investigated the past few years’ fun at Synchronoss late last year. He focused his questions on trying to get some additional detail behind the company’s signature deals with the big US operators and seemed resigned to hearing nothing more about the accounts until the big reveal in May.

Michael Nemeroff of Credit Suisse seemed a bit exasperated when he asked “don’t even know what your business is anymore. I don’t even know what’s left of your business, I don’t know where the revenue is coming from. Could you just, in real simple terms, tell me what the business is, how many divisions you have?” The long answer seemed to amount to: cloud, digital transformation, messaging and IoT, and that Mary Clark is playing a big part in evaluating the product strategy.

This answer didn’t seem to salve Nemeroff’s frustration, as he followed up with “And I just want to understand what do you want us to take away from this call because we’re not getting any financials. We’re not — I mean, we barely have an idea of what’s going on. What would you like us to take away from this call? And what would you like us to do?”

“The goal of this call was just a business update, and the goal of the call was to make sure we gave yourself, others the opportunity to hear kind of the direction of the company, where I want to take the company as far as strategically,” said Lurie. “We do understand, as we said a couple of times, we really can’t share what we will be able to share hopefully on May 10 and after that. And I think what you’ll hear on May 10 will be a full update that you would expect from a company that obviously has refiled and met the guides that NASDAQ has asked us to meet.”

Sterling Auty from JPMorgan asked about the relationship with AT&T and Lurie indicated he expects to be able to draw heavily on the relationships he has from working there for 27 years which, while probably true, is not really the basis for an ongoing business partnership. Or is it?

And that was that. The easy conclusion to make is that if Synchronoss is able to file clean accounts by 10 May then we’re all good, can put the past behind us and leave Lurie, Clark et al to get on with growing the business again.

That may well turn out to be the case but, to the best of our knowledge the class action civil law suit is still live and will presumably only be assisted by the historical accounting revelations. They might also catch the attention of a regulator such as the SEC, which has a rich history of behaving uncharitably towards people who cook the books.

But Lurie can quite reasonably claim not to be focusing on what he can’t control. The people in charge in the 2014-2016 period will be the focus of any fall out from that period, while he and his new team should be insulated. Equity analysts seem to have given the call a resounding ‘meh’ and are reserving judgment until the grand refiling, so we will too.