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Virtual presence

One of the unintended consequences of an industry news site like Telecoms.com is its discovery by consumers desperate to vent their frustration at the poor quality service they’ve received from operators. Stories that mention operator CEOs, of which there are many on Telecoms.com—and in particular interviews or profiles of these execs—are sought out by overwrought consumers who post comments about their grievances.

There is a scale of intensity. Some of the comments are restrained and beseeching, some angrily ungrammatical, while a smaller yet significant volume are downright psychopathic. A choice few, darkly carnal in their rage, would give a prison psychologist the heebie jeebies.

There are few CEOs who have received as many complaints on Telecoms.com, none of which get  published of course, as Tom Alexander, the founding CEO of Virgin Mobile. This may be down to the fact that, as well as Virgin, he’s also led Orange UK and its subsequent self, Everything Everywhere. Quite why the grievous masses would expect him to involve himself in their complaints (especially after he’s left the company) is not clear, but they always leave a number.

Alexander has been absent from the industry for some time but he popped up again this week as non-exec chairman of an MVNA (where ‘A’ = aggregator) called Viacloud in the UK.

Funded by Bahraini investment firm Stratum, Viacloud moved from technical development to commercial planning earlier this year, with the appointment of a heavyweight executive team. CEO Emanuele Angelidis previously headed up Italy’s Fastweb, Greek firm On Telecoms and the UK’s Bulldog Communications. CCO Tim Stone was previously director business development and wholesale at Vodafone UK while CFO Richard Schafer is also late of Vodafone UK, as well as 3UK.

Viacloud can support up to seven million UK customers on its platform, which integrates with the EE access network, and plans to announce its first customer within the next couple of weeks, according to Angelidis. EE is the host with the most on the UK scene, with some 23 MVNOs on its network, ten of which are managed by Transatel, another MVNA.

Alexander’s is not the only comeback this week. Former NSN CEO Simon Beresford-Wylie, who has recently been heading up a not for profit organisation working to mitigate interference between UK LTE and Digital TV services, has been made global executive advisor to Samsung’s networks business, as the Korean vendor looks to strengthen its infrastructure play.

Not all the Korean-themed personnel news was so positive this week, however, as the chairman and vice-chairman of SK Group, which counts SK Telecom among its businesses, where sent to chokey for embezzlement by the Korean Apeals Court.

Less extreme was the sideways move being made by Tero Kivisaari, who until very recently was the president of mobility services at TeliaSonera. Kivisaari has agreed to take on a role elsewhere in the group due to his involvement in a corruption scandal surrounding the firm’s operations in Uzbehistan, which readers may remember from late last year. While TeliaSonera was not found guilty of bribery or money laundering, some mud stuck, with CEO Lars Hyberg having to fall on his sword.

At least SK’s high profile embarrassment has not slowed the progress of SK Telekom, which was steaming ahead in all directions this week. On Monday the firm announced that it was launching an improved LTE service, taking advantage of 35MHz of 1800MHz spectrum it acquired in August. Download peaks on its LTE Advanced network should hit 150Mbps the firm said.

It followed this announcement with the news that it is working with Intel on the development of a virtualised base station (vRAN) that can load and reconfigure all software functions in a general purpose server.

Under the agreement, the two firms have agreed to build a base station test bed based on virtualisation technology and general purpose hardware. In addition they will undertake joint research on solutions to effectively address congested traffic in the in-building environment, as well as research on intelligent base stations and cloud base stations.

The operator likened the technology to installing and deleting applications in computers, adding that it is able to deploy and delete base station software that provides communication functions and intelligent services.

“With the aim to accommodate surging data traffic and secure differentiated competitiveness, SK Telecom has been making aggressive efforts to enhance its network structure by applying cutting-edge IT,” said Choi Jin-sung, executive VP and head of the ICT R&D division at SK Telecom. “Through this technical cooperation with Intel and successful development of the vRAN technology, we will take the lead in next-generation network evolution.”

Over on the handset side of the wall, Kantar Worldpanel ComTech published some European figures this week that shone a rosy light (well, relatively) on Microsoft’s Windows Phone. The OS had its most successful three months ever across the five leading European markets of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, in the period to the end of August, Kantar said.

Windows had 9.2 per cent of the smartphone market across these five countries, hitting double figures in both France (10.8 per cent) and the UK (12 per cent) and closing the gap on iOS in Germany to less than one per cent (Windows 8.8 per cent, iOS 9.5 per cent).

What Kantar left out of the picture, however, was the launch of the iPhone 5s and 5c in September. Apple’s smartphone sales always drop off prior to a new iteration of the iPhone, which probably skews the figures for June, July and August considerably. After all, Apple flogged nine million of its new phones in the first three days of their availability.

Meanwhile HTC, once a key partner for Microsoft’s smartphone aspirations, has managed a first of its own, turning in it’s maiden quarterly loss. HTC had warned that this would happen in July and last month announced a headcount cut in the US. Informa handset specialist Malik Saadi suggested that HTC is hard hit by its enthusiasm for high end materials in its flagship devices. Without the scale enjoyed by the likes of Samsung and still required to remain cost competitive, HTC is in a tight spot, he said.

There was a buzz in China this week, not just because of the recent spate of giant hornet attacks, in which these super-sized beasts have killed some 40 plus people and injured thousands, but because China Mobile is super sizing its mobile network.

With recent predictions suggesting that LTE Diameter signalling traffic will grow at more than twice the rate of mobile data traffic until 2017, China Mobile is looking to widen its pipes to carry a larger load. Speaking of burdens in China, who else saw pics this week  of  pop brat Justin Bieber getting his handlers to carry him up the Great Wall, because he “couldn’t be bothered” to walk?

The world’s biggest carrier by subscribers has identified its TD-LTE suppliers as Ericsson, Nokia Solutions and Networks (NSN), Shanghai Bell Alcatel-Lucent, and six domestic vendors including Huawei, ZTE, Datang Mobile, Wuhan-based FiberHome Technologies, Potevio and New Postcom Equipment Company, in a joint tender worth over $ 3bn. The carrier didn’t say how it had sliced up the deal but it is thought the domestic vendors won the lion’s share.

The latest iterations of the iPhone, the 5s and 5c, went on sale in China the same day as in the US and proved very popular despite the high price with the ‘champagne gold’, known locally as ‘local tyrant gold’, selling out during pre-order. This was in contrast to precious launches, where China has had to wait several months after the rest of the world has received their iPhone fix despite the product actually being made pretty on its doorstep.

Although only China Mobile rivals, China Telecom and China Unicom, have got the latest iPhones at present, a China Mobile TD-LTE compatible version has been spotted in the wild suggesting that the local regulator has granted a licence to Apple certifying the device to operate on the relevant frequencies. Expect an official announcement soon.

In other LTE news Etisalat’s Mobily-branded Saudi operation has selected Swedish vendor Ericsson to deliver LTE infrastructure and enhance its 2G and 3G networks. The upgrade comes just in time to address the additional traffic expected on its network during the Hajj season.

“As the uptake of smartphones increases in Saudi Arabia, so does the demand on connectivity and advanced services, and it becomes increasingly important to ensure that the network performs well in order to maintain subscribers’ loyalty,” said Ali Eid, Head of Ericsson, Saudi Arabia.

The Swedish vendor also this month added Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and Rich Communication Service (RCS) verification to the scope of operations at its Experience Lab in Taiwan – previously known as the Interoperability Test (IOT) Center. Ericsson reckons it’s the first facility in the Asia-Pacific region to provide such services commercially, with a focus on supporting operators, device and chipset makers and application developers by accelerating the R&D, testing and verification, and commercialization of mobile broadband applications and products.

Belgian carrier Base was also getting its LTE on, courtesy of ZTE, making it the second Belgian operator behind Proximus to roll out LTE. It’s been tricky to get LTE out in Belgium and still impossible in Brussels we hear, due to strict regulations on radiation from mobile masts. The Eurocrats must be trying to protect their brains from THE RAYS! Apparently the local regulator is looking at lowering its standards, however.

The sale of Base was attempted by parent company KPN last year, to no avail. But the Dutch incumbent is fairing much better with attempts to offload its German offspring, with shareholders at KPN approving the sale of E-Plus to Telefónica Deutschland at an extraordinary general meeting. It must have been a cracker. The German arm of the Spanish operator group recently increased its bid for the business unit, offering KPN €5bn in cash and a 20.5 per cent stake in Telefónica Deutschland post transaction. The total transaction value stands at €8.55bn up from the initial offer of €8.1bn.

In other Telefonica news, the Spanish operator has signed a deal with mobile money solutions provider Mopay aimed at improving its carrier billing capabilities. The operator has granted Mopay direct access to Telefónica’s API platform BlueVia.

The deal enables consumers in the nine countries in which Telefónica services are currently available to purchase digital goods and charge those purchases to their phone bill. Mopay said carrier billing integration is valuable particularly for the emerging markets of Latin America where the ability to pay via a handset with charging going to the bill has become very popular.

Over in Russia, mobile operator Megafon has completed the acquisition of Scartel, the LTE operator controlling Yota, for $ 1.18bn. TeliaSonera, which already held 25.2 per cent of Scartel had described the deal as “strategically attractive and value enhancing” for Megafon. Scartel was previously owned by Garsdale, a holding company of Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who also controls more than 50 per cent of Megafon.

Similar moving and shaking was taking place in Brazil, where local operator Oi and its largest shareholder Portugal Telecom have agreed to merge into a combined entity called CorpCo. The deal is expected to enable CorpCo to generate operational and financial synergies of around $ 2.5bn and benefit from increased scale. The merged entity will have around 100 million subscribers.

Oi CEO Zeinal Bava, who was also CEO of Portugal Telecom from 2008 to 2013, will lead the merged company. PT already holds a 23.4 per cent stake in Oi. Speaking at revenue assurance firm WeDo’s user group in May this year, Bava conceded that Portugal Telecom lacks the capital to drive consolidation in Europe, making Brazil the firm’s future for opportunities to expand and grow revenue. Five years ago, he said, PT’s international footprint was managed like a holding company. But today there is a lot more integration across the portfolio, which includes a number of African operations. Operators will have to build greater reach through in-market consolidation, international expansion and service diversification in order to stay relevant in the internet age, he said.

After all, staying relevant is the operator community’s greatest fear isn’t it?

Until next time

The Informer

Telecoms.com

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