a week in wireless


If you like then you should have put a ring on it

AWIW536

“All the single markets! All the single markets! All the single markets! All the single markets!” was the tune Steely Neelie was humming along to this week when she issued a rallying cry calling for the formation of a single EU telecoms market before the next European election.(The Informer notes that the phrase ‘rallying cry’ is used a LOT when Kroes is written about. Google it and you’ll see. It makes the Informer wonder if she has an actual rallying cry; a special sort of bloodcurdling squawk or yowl that indicates the imminence of some kind of sector reform.)

One market to rule them all, and presumably one regulatory authority to bind them, is the implication here as she argued against the presence of borders in the telecoms sector. “Everyone loves the benefits of EU price cuts to roaming …and it could never have happened without the EU. But this fact is also a challenge. On one hand my portfolio is the source of this incredibly popular EU policy… but on the other hand we struggle to push other telecoms and digital issues to the top of the political agenda. A strong single market package is the way to change that.”

The Informer knows that not everyone loved the roaming cuts and that Europe’s mobile operators, like Nigel Farage, would argue that borders are very important and should be defended. Nevertheless, Kroes adopted the Lord Kitchener pose, finger aimed squarely at the telecoms industry and said she wants “you” to be able to say that “you” were able to end mobile roaming costs. “I want you to be able to say that you saved their right to access the open internet, by guaranteeing net neutrality. I want you to be able to say we took real action on cybercrime and other threats.”

Becoming quite impassioned she said: “This is the opportunity to stand up and be counted. I will fight with my last breath to get us there together,” suggesting that Kroes has employed the scriptwriters from Braveheart to cobble her speeches together.  All this, coming from a lady in her 70s, so it’s no surprise that she argued that elderly people who need new digital services to stay healthy and active, would also benefit from the reform.

“If we do this right, then digital connections can bring political connections. Digital dividends can bring social ones,” she said.

It’s a vision that might find some support from the CEO of Portugal Telecom who voiced concern over Europe’s ability to continue to compete on the global telecoms stage if further consolidation among the operator community is not encouraged.

“Europe doesn’t like in-market consolidation and the US loves in-market consolidation,” Zeinal Bava said at a WeDo Technologies user group attended by the Informer last week. “And I think the US is right, because if you don’t have in-market consolidation, if you don’t look at the EU as one big market then, we will always lag behind the US.”

Still, the regulators are partly to blame, Bava said. Although the European mobile sector has been damaged by operators’ “irrational behaviour” on pricing, this was partly driven by regulation on termination rates, which came down too quickly for operators to be able to adjust their cost bases at the expense of margin and shareholder return.

“If you do something at the expense of your shareholder’s money. Guess what?” he said. “He’s not going to give you capital to invest in your network.”

That’s not what Nokia Siemens Networks wants to hear, having just teamed up with US chip shop Intel to collaborate on common objectives around NSN’s Liquid Applications initiative. If you recall, Liquid Applications, unveiled in February at MWC, focuses on moving intelligence to the network edge with a computing platform designed to run applications within the mobile base station. The concept is designed to take some of the strain off the network and speed the delivery and localisation of services, but it seems to go somewhat against the trend moving in the SDN circles of using commodity hardware and software and keeping all the intelligence in the core.

NSN reckons it has a business case though, and one that means operators will be able to make more money by delivering media-rich services and content directly from the base station. It’s that much sought after Holy Grail of harmonised business models between mobile operators and other ecosystem players, such as OTT content providers, independent software vendors and application service providers.

Intel provides the beating heart of the system, with its telco specific Crystal Forest platform, which provides localised processing, content storage, and access to real-time radio and network information inside the base station.

Cable & Wireless Communications’ Monaco business was taking quite another approach, with a focus on the cloud. There’s probably not much cloud in the Monaco sky, so the aptly named Café Cloud offering from telecoms applications developer Movius Interactive hosted by Monaco Telecom might find some room on the big blue horizon.

The idea is to sell cloud services to smaller non-competing fixed and mobile operators across Europe, which is an interesting approach, given that the telco ecosystem operates a largely if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us model.

Finding safety in numbers was Russian operator MegaFon, which became the latest carrier to join Telefónica’s partnership programme this week. It’s the old bulk-buy operation, pooling resource, know-how and purchasing power across an international roster of telcos.

Keeping with the cloud, the deal will also see Telefónica extend the range of its international enterprise offering to Russia, with Megafon’s enterprise base given access to services across the Spanish incumbent’s footprint, leaving the door open for future collaboration on cloud and M2M offerings as well.

Telefonica’s partnership programme includes operators with which the firm has equity relationships, like China Mobile and Telecom Italia, as well as non-related players including Bouygues, KPN and Telenor. The Spanish player said that the programme now has reach into 52 countries and a combined customer headcount of 1.5 billion.

On the subject of acquisitions, mobile services firm Syniverse has been given the go ahead for a, er, ‘Machquisition’ of its own, as the European Commission gave its blessing for the company to acquire telecoms clearing house Mach.

It’s not a deal without constraint however, and the EC approval is conditional on the separation of “almost the entirety of MACH’s data clearing and near real-time roaming data exchange business” in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, which is to be separated into its own entity and sold to another buyer. This will include customers, certain employees and the platforms required to support the business.

“The combination of our two companies will give us the added capabilities, reach and human capital to deliver innovative solutions that address growing complexity in the mobile ecosystem,” said Syniverse CEO Jeff Gordon.

On the other side of the pond the FCC was not being let be by the country’s little guys, who were petitioning the regulator to cap the participation of big carriers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless in spectrum auctions to ensure competition.

The Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) said that contrary to the claims of the big carriers, a participation cap on auctions in 2014 and 2015 will not lead to lower spectrum prices.

The smaller, regional carriers are still pretty sore after the 700MHz auction, which saw AT&T, that acquired the same A block spectrum as the smaller guys, successfully lobby for the creation of a totally separate band containing only the B and lower C block. This is effectively a proprietary band and got AT&T out of using A Block, Band 12 chips in its devices. Verizon also didn’t make much use of its A block spectrum, with the result that many of the smaller carriers in the US have had their noses put out of joint. Since AT&T dodged the A block bullet, the smaller players say they have struggled to get hold of devices, after all, manufactures cannot sell affordable devices if there is not the scale to mass produce them. So many rural carriers are calling for an extension to buildout deadlines as a result.

The guys on MCI have a whole feature coming out on this very subject in the next week or so, so keep ‘em peeled for more info.

Another thing to keep an eye on is what’s being developed at Motorola, which said this week that it has a hero phone in the works that is, “self aware”.

There’s not much information beyond that except that sensors will allow the phone to know if it’s in a pocket or not or in the city rather than the countryside. Is that the definition of self awareness, the ability to distinguish between light and dark? The smart money says this self awareness will be provided by some kind of souped up Google Now offering.

It reminds the Informer of Telefónica, Intel and Samsung’s investment earlier this month in San Francisco start-up Expect Labs which is looking to create digital minions that allow devices and applications to monitor user behaviour in order to better anticipate information that the user needs.

In fact, Expect Labs already counts Google among its investors and claims its platform can model the context of user interactions in real-time, and proactively find information before the user needs to search for it. “In just a few years, we will live in a world where the connected devices all around us will know who we are, understand what we say, and be far more capable of interpreting our intentions and anticipating our needs, “ said Timothy Tuttle, Expect Labs CEO and founder, at the time.

Surely everyone knows that giving the machines minds is a bad idea but that’s really Google’s raison d’être if you think about it.

I’m sorry Dave. I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.

Take care

The Informer

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