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Another one bites the dust

For all the industry’s current focus on virtualization there are some things, it would seem, that you still have to do in the realms of the physical world. One of these, according to more than 85,000 industry folk, at least, is Mobile World Congress. This was the attendance figure published by GSMA at the end of the show and it’s an awful lot of bodies.

It’s roughly the same number of people as attended the 1993 Glastonbury festival, which was the Informer’s first experience of crowds on this scale. Thumping sound systems, trippy visuals, party-goers dressed up in weird costumes and tens of thousands of dazed people wearing the same, glassy-eyed thousand-yard stare; MWC 2014 shared more than a few characteristics with Glasto ’93.

Alas, it didn’t have The Orb, Stereo MCs or the Velvet Underground. But it did have Fork. Those of you who are old enough to remember the killer shows put on by the Leningrad Cowboys at Nokia parties of old will hopefully have made it to the Nokia stand this year and checked out Fork, a band that could very much be descendants of the Cowboys. It was the best entertainment at the event this year and if you missed it, you  missed out.

Appreciative hollering was entirely justified when Fork were on the Nokia stand. It was altogether less acceptable when the firm was unveiling its new phones on the Monday morning. The born again fervour that Nokia has sought to inject into its press announcements in the last few years really sets the Informer’s teeth on edge. Strategically positioning squadrons of the pathologically (and professionally) upbeat to give witness at the unveiling of a mobile phone is a bit like having a man in a wheel chair in the front row of a revivalist meeting, ready to leap from his seat and proclaim himself cured.

It’s a shame because it just detracts from the real story. Nokia is redoubling its efforts to win hearts and minds in emerging markets, with a family of smartphones that run Android apps as well as Microsoft services and BBM. The Nokia X, will go on sale immediately, is priced from €89 and will be available in Asia-Pacific, Europe, India, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.

The Nokia X+ and Nokia XL, priced at €99 and €109 respectively, will be launched in the same markets next quarter. The handsets will also support Microsoft services such as Skype, OneDrive and outlook.com. Nokia also unveiled two handsets in the “first smartphone” category. The Nokia Asha 230 will be priced at €45 while the Nokia 220 will be priced from €29. They will be available in the same regions as the Nokia X family.

Tony Cripps, principal analyst at research firm Ovum, said it was too early to label the Nokia X a game changer but that it: “definitely shakes up an industry that has become fixated on incremental advances and smart accessories as growth drivers of hardware sales, largely at the expense of further ecosystem development”.

The devices are likely to be welcomed by consumers and developers alike, he said adding that they are also likely to evoke a response from Google, particularly in developing markets.

Nokia wasn’t the only outfit with its eyes on the emerging market prize, with the GSMA and Facebook pledging to connect the next wave of internet users. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was top of the bill at the keynotes this year, fresh from the WhatsApp acquisition with which he thumbed his nose at the operator community that flocked to see him speak.

Zuckerberg announced a GSMA-backed initiative to improve connectivity in developing regions that will focus on reducing the total cost of ownership of mobile service. The partnership will focus on creating a sustainable environment to incentivise mobile infrastructure investment and usage, as well as eliminating or reducing existing mobile-specific taxation or refraining from imposing new such tax regimes, the organisations said.

The plan is part of Facebook’s Internet.org scheme, which it launched last year in partnership with Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung with a goal of “making internet access available to the next five billion people.”

“A lot of the goal that we have with Internet.org is to create a sort of on-ramp for the internet,” said Zuckerberg during his keynote. “So the idea is that there’s a set of basic services that we think should exist, whether it’s messaging or being able to know what the weather is or food prices, or things like Wikipedia, basic search or basic social networking.”

Zuckerberg said he was looking for more operator partners having worked successfully with Globe in the Philippines and Tigo in Paraguay. “We don’t have capacity to work with a large number of partners at this point, but we want to work with a few more. Maybe three or five more partners,” said Zuckerberg.

On the subject of multiple partners, some of the biggest news of the week came from Telefónica. As the Informer mentioned earlier there was much talk of virtualization during the show but Telefónica’s announcements around Network Functions Virtualization were the most aggressive yet from the operator community. And in among the cost and efficiency drivers, the firm said, is a desire to escape vendor lock in and ensure a multi-vendor environment.

Telefónica unveiled a wide-reaching NFV programme that it says will see it have more than 30 per cent of new infrastructure virtualized by 2016. The initiative, which will launch in June this year and has been named Unica (Spanish for ‘unique’), provides a framework for Telefónica’s “global, end-to-end virtualisation deployment.”

But the firm has not offered any detailed insights at this stage into how and when it plans to decommission legacy systems. “Of course we need to maintain our legacy,” said Global CTO Enrique Blanco. “We have a big legacy but it is going to change and it will be exciting because it will happen in the next two or three years.”

The IMS, EPC and DNS are among the systems being virtualised in the first phase of the project, which closes at the end of this year. Meanwhile, following a trial currently running at the firm’s Brazilian operation, Telefónica is also planning to virtualise equipment that it has deployed at customer premises. All software and control functions for Telefónica modems will be moved into the Telefónica cloud, using technology developed by the operator in conjunction with “one of the big Japanese vendors,” Blanco said.

“This will be deployed in a massive way in the last quarter of this year,” he said.

Blanco said that the firm’s technical management no longer “see a clear differentiation between network and IT” and that the network unit had been inspired by the virtualisation work of the IT team led by CIO Phil Jordan which will have virtualised 40 per cent of its servers by the end of 2014.

“In the next three years when you walk round our data centres you won’t be able to distinguish if the server that you are looking at is providing a service to a big corporate customer, a cloud service for our own people or if it’s running the HLR, the IMS or the EPC. This is really changing the paradigm,” Blanco said.

Telefónica has been running proof of concept trials with Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent and NEC, with Broadsoft, Nokia Solutions and Networks, HP and Ericsson also involved in the Unica programme.

But not all vendors are happy about their customers move to a virtualized environment, said Cayetano Carbajo Martin, planning and technology director for Transport, Core, Platforms and Mobile Devices at Telefónica. “We are doing this to break vendor lock-in,” Martin said. “The traditional [telecom] vendors don’t like this. But if you force them to compete, if you define your reference architecture and say that, in Telefónica we will not have an network functions that do not conform to this reference architecture, sooner or later they will come to you.”

The Informer put this prospect to Alcatel-Lucent CEO Michel Combes. ALU has worked closely with Telefónica on virtualization and is arguably the most advanced of the old guard network vendors in this particular space. Combes said he’d never heard Telefónica say that and the Informer didn’t have time to find the right audio file to play him, unfortunately.

Combes said the most important aspects of virtualization were scalability and improved velocity in service development and deployment and cost improvements, which are all well understood benefits. While he sidestepped Carbajo Martin’s comments on vendor lock-in, he did note that virtualization would create greater competition among vendors, not least because of the convergence of telecoms and IT vendors in the space.

But, he said, NFV is more about the NF than the V. Expertise in Network Functions will give vendors the competitive edge, he said, because virtualization in and of itself has been in the data centre for ages. “This is not something that is so critical,” he said.

Increased competition from NFV represents a “fantastic opportunity to grab new revenue streams” for Alcatel-Lucent, he said. “For the first time ever we have the right portfolio. We are number one in IMS worldwide and number two in Packet Core which are the first candidates to be virtualized.”

From NFC to NFC, now and four Asian mobile operators have teamed up to form an alliance to accelerate the adoption of NFC technology worldwide. Taiwan’s Chunghwa Telecom, Hong Kong’s HKT, Japan’s KDDI and SK Planet, a wholly owned subsidiary of South Korea’s SK Telecom announced the formation of the Asia NFC Alliance with the support of GSMA during the show.

NFC technology has been comparatively successful in the Far East in terms of user adoption. The alliance explained that services offered in its operators’ home markets include travel information, ticket and hotel bookings, coupon downloads as well as mobile payments. However, these services have not been interoperable across national borders,

KDDI and Chunghwa recently cooperated on a smart poster service in tourist shopping areas, and the Japanese operator has also developed an NFC coupon project with SK Planet, but until now these programmes have been limited to single markets. The Asia NFC Alliance aims to expand the service coverage of these operators from within a single country to the whole Asian region.

“We hope that this alliance will be an open organization for the expansion of overseas cooperation services,” said Takashi Tanaka, president at KDDI. “We aim to actively promote collaboration with telecommunications carriers not only in Asia but in Europe and America, and create a world in which users in every country can avail themselves of NFC services.”

Meanwhile SK Telecom launched a platform that it says will provide real time information on exactly what its customers are doing. The Context Platform uses data collected by a customer’s smartphone, if it is embedded with the software, via its camera, GPS, sensors and wifi to discover contextual information about that subscriber.

The firm explained that the platform allows it to make informed guesses about whether  the user is walking, for example, as the handset detects the user’s repeated movement and speed via its sensors and GPS. It then analyses the data it has collected through an algorithm to conclude that the user is “in a walking situation”. SK Telecom added that the more the platform repeats this process of analysis, the more accurate the platform becomes.

The operator said the platform can also make conclusions based on customers’ usage patterns involving social networking, voice calls, SMS and applications.

The operator showcased a service running on the platform. ‘Life Log’ monitors a user’s daily life, such as their leisure activities, habits and health-related activities. The subscriber can later look up their past records and statistics.

Other examples of services that can run on the platform include money management applications and recommended song playlists, SK Telecom added.

The operator said it “will take all steps necessary” to safeguard the sensitive personal information on its subscribers. It said that information generated from each smartphone can only be stored in and accessed via that particular device. It added that it is currently developing an application lock feature and a feature that records certain pre-selected types of information to prevent that information being accessed by third parties.

“Along with Big Data, Context Platform is an important pillar of the newly emerging field of ICT intelligence,” said Park Jin-hyo, SVP and head of network technology R&D Center at SK Telecom. “With Context Platform, smartphones will truly become an indispensable life partner for customers.”

In other vendor news, Nokia Solutions and Networks and Ericsson were among the beneficiaries of Vodafone’s Project Spring. Vodafone signed five-year deals with both vendors as part of its £7bn network upgrade programme. Ericsson will supply its full RBS 6000 portfolio and its Antenna Integrated Radio product while NSN offers up its Single RAN platform and its Subscriber Data Management solution.

NSN also won a deal with UK LTE pioneer EE that will see the two firms partner on the next phase of the operator’s LTE network deployment. The Single RAN solution was once again the centre of the deal.

Ericsson and Vodafone Germany were also busy with LTE Broadcast. On the Saturday before the show, the two firms carried out what they described as Europe’s first live trial of the technology. The trial, which also involved Qualcomm and Samsung, took place at the stadium of German football team Borussia Mönchengladbach during a match played on Saturday.

Ericsson said that the technology could soon be available in other German sports stadia as part of Vodafone Germany’s network modernisation programme.

Meanwhile Qualcomm is also working with Vodafone’s German competitor Deutsche Telekom on peer to peer location technology LTE-Direct. The two firms will deploy Germany’s first LTE Direct trial later this year. “We are participating in this trial because LTE Direct promises new opportunities in the mobile ecosystem,” said Thomas Kiessling, Chief Product and Innovation Officer at Deutsche Telekom. “Teaming up with leading technology companies to explore the full potential of LTE is decisive for operators like us.”

Qualcomm and Ericsson are often to be found co-operating in tech development now, which would have been impossible to predict all those years ago when they were forever at one another’s throats. This year the two were running a demo of Category 6 LTE Advanced delivering download speeds up to 300Mbps.

Anything you can do, said Australian carrier Optus, which this week claimed to have attained a blistering 1.7Gbps downlink speed on a live site using carrier aggregation technologies across HSPA+, FDD LTE and TD-LTE.

The operator contracted NSN to build the site in Sydney, using commercially available equipment. The site in question made use of six frequency bands: FDD LTE: 700MHz; HSPA+: 900MHz; FDD LTE: 1800MHz; HSPA+: 2100MHz; TD-LTE: 2300MHz; and FDD LTE: 2600MHz.

“With this world first ‘Gigasite’, we are showing the capacity of all our spectrum assets, including our recently purchased 700, 2300 and 2600 MHz bands, by combining multiple layers and technologies onto a single site. Trials such as this are vital in enabling Optus to prepare for our network of the future, and support more users and more data per user while at the same time enhancing the customer experience,” said Andrew Smith, VP of mobile engineering, Optus.

Back to Qualcomm, though, and the most entertaining thing on the firm’s stand. This was the firm’s connected home demo which, for the Informer at least, brought forth the possibilities of this much discussed future for the first time. When he tells his parents about wifi-connected light bulbs they will no doubt dismiss them as completely pointless. But when he explains that they can flash on and off when you’ve left the house while the freezer door is open, they’ll see the benefit straight away.

Another interesting feature was the notification pinged to the TV when little Bobby who was supposed to be asleep in his bedroom had naughtily fired up his tablet. This level of parental visibility about digital behaviour, it occurred to the Informer, will safeguard the existence of the naughty magazine as the most effective and easily concealable off-net delivery platform for anatomical research among teenage boys.

There was a fancy car or two on the Qualcomm stand as well, as was the case for many of the larger exhibitors as connected cars are now a Big Thing.

M2M specialist Jasper Wireless unveiled a cloud-based platform targeting the automotive OEM sector, helping car companies implement and enhance the connected car experience. The Jasper Connected Car Cloud offers diagnostics, safety and security, to on-board infotainment systems, apps and wifi hotspot services and has been selected by 11 automotive OEMs worldwide the company said.

The offering features a global SIM, enabling manufacturers to manage a single SIM worldwide, while maintaining local service from local operators; split billing, which enables highly differentiated service business models by deploying a variety of different service, rating and billing policies all through a single SIM and modem inside the vehicle; and third party rating, bringing to life new business models that allow third parties to be charged for data consumption inside the vehicle, relevant to the location and preferences of the car’s occupants—a business model gaining a lot of interest at the moment.

“In-car connectivity has gone beyond cars being paired with mobile phones to the point where they are now performing as standalone platforms for broadband content and services,” said Jamie Moss, senior analyst, Informa. “Mobile operators and auto OEMs will not only provide access to familiar content in a format and manner appropriate for use within a vehicle, but also the delivery of specialized, vehicle-specific services.

“Critically for mass market adoption, LTE connectivity is being built into models of vehicle designed for all price brackets as part of the automobile manufacturers’ 2015 ranges. LTE has gone beyond simply being an extra option for luxury cars – it’s now a crucial part of the consumer experience.”

Jasper was among the firms whose achievements were celebrated at the inaugural Telecoms.com Awards in Barcelona this week. Looking out over the city on Monday evening from the Miramar restaurant, almost 200 industry executives turned out to see the following awards given out:

Best Enterprise Cloud Offering: YTL Communications for the 1BestariNet program.

Best Mobile Financial Service: Indosat for Dompetku Mobile Wallet and Mobile Money Service.

Best MVNO: Truphone.

Best use of Cloud Services by a Telco: Telefonica and TOA Technologies for ETAdirect.

Best use of Wifi: Devicescape for its Curated Virtual Network.

Customer Experience Management: Telefonica UK & SpatialBuzz for the Trusted Network Programme.

Innovation in the Device space: Qualcomm for its RF360 Front End Solution.

Best Consumer Cloud Offering: AT&T for the AT&T Speech API.

Green Technology: GreenTouch Consortium for its Green Meter study.

Innovation in Mobile Pricing: AsiaInfo-Linkage for its Real-time Self Service (RTSS) solution.

Best Operator OTT Service Launch: Smart Communications for SmartNet.

Progress in Machine to Machine Communications: Jasper Wireless for its IoT platform.

Urban Improvements: Tarana Wireless for its Concentrating Multipoint (CMP) topology.

Pushing the Limits in fixed communications: Alcatel-Lucent and Telekom Austria for G.fast fixed ultra-broadband.

Pushing the Limits in mobile communications: Ericsson and Telstra for their work on LTE broadcast technology and Radisys and Airspan for their LTE-A solution for small cells.

 

The Informer offers his hearty congratulations to you all.

 

Hope everyone gets a good rest over the weekend.
Take care

 

The Informer

Telecoms.com

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