a week in wireless

All you need is love

That’s what John Lennon said, at least. The Informer’s not sure Lennon is an entirely reliable source, however.  After all, this was a millionaire who entreated us all to imagine no possessions. And let’s not forget that he also claimed on at least one occasion to be a walrus. The Informer thought of Lennon when he saw the news that Vodafone was attempting, in this most romantic of weeks, to woo Ono; the Spanish cable and TV provider.

When Vodafone finally agreed to part with its 45 per cent share of US operator Verizon Wireless last year everyone fell to wondering what investments might be made with the money left in the pot after its vast shareholder return was carried out. The UK operator’s acquisition of Kabel Deutschland offered an indicator and Vodafone’s fixed ambitions were on display this week once again.

It is not, however, Ono’s only suitor, with Liberty Global also having indicated its interest in the Spanish player. Spurred on by Liberty’s provocative declarations Vodafone is reported (by Reuters) to have made a bid for Ono in the region of €7bn. But Ono’s playing hard to get, announcing this week that it intends to go ahead with a planned IPO. This is probably just an attempt to get Vodafone to up its offer, proving that money, in fact, can by you love. Ono has said it will stage a board meeting to confirm its IPO on March 13th, so Vodafone’s got a few weeks to decide whether or not the firm is worth more than it offered at first.

If the bid is successful, Ono will doubtless sit in moody silence, occasionally waving a tambourine but not really contributing anything else, while the other opcos grow increasingly resentful of its presence.

Vodafone has also teamed up with the Irish electricity board the ESB to plan the deployment of a fibre network that will run connections to 450,000 homes at a cost of €400m, according to reports in the local press. Legislation that will allow the ESB to use its infrastructure for broadband delivery is in the process of being passed by the Irish government and Vodafone was reportedly the only firm to extend the hand of partnership to the ESB.

Not all relationships work out, of course, and Vodafone’s complicated entanglement with the Indian government shows no signs of simplifying. Having recently cleared Vodafone to take full ownership of its Indian subsidiary, the Indian G is now threatening to abandon its talks with the operator over Vodafone’s outstanding $2bn tax bill. A 2012 Indian Supreme Court ruling cleared Vodafone of liability for the bill relating to its 2007 entry to the market but the government subsequently shifted the goal posts, applying taxes retrospectively.

No doubt the government will be more pleased with its spectrum auction, which raised $9.8bn for the state coffers, considerably more than was anticipated.  Vodafone and Bharti Airtel were the biggest spenders, dropping around $3bn apiece. Vodafone said it has established a strong platform for 4G data services by buying 1800MHz spectrum in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Karnataka and Kerala, which account for more than 50 per cent of data revenues and are expected to drive the adoption of 4G, as was the case after the introduction of 3G services in 2010.

Spectrum allocation was uppermost in the hive mind of the GSMA this week, with the organisation warning that a move away from traditional, sole-access licensed usage could threaten operator investment. While a number of different approaches to spectrum allocation are being investigated in the face of a global spectrum shortage, the GSMA said sharing should be employed as no more than a complement to licensed exclusive-access allocation of spectrum for mobile broadband services.

Availability of spectrum was identified as one of the most serious challenges facing operators over the next five years in the 2014 Telecoms.com Intelligence Global Industry Survey. Almost half of operator respondents to the survey rated it six or seven out of seven for severity. Only regulatory pressure on pricing and the competitive threat of OTT players were judged more challenging.

Meanwhile one third of respondents said they felt it was very likely that operators in their market would use shared spectrum for some of their capacity requirements within the next five years.

“Given governments realise they have these increasing demands on spectrum, they’re looking for ways to make new spectrum available to service providers,” Tom Phillips, chief regulatory officer at the GSMA told Telecoms.com. “Because of that there are a number of ideas being discussed which move from the traditional, sole access model which the mobile industry has been using for a number of decades. Shared access does impose limitations on new users coming into those bands and those limitations decrease the value of that spectrum,” he added.

In a report compiled in collaboration with consultancy firm Deloitte, the GSMA suggested that using exclusive licensed spectrum in Europe’s 2.3GHz band could add €86bn to the EU economy between 2016 and 2030. But it claimed that shared licensed access would only add $70bn to the economy. In a worst case scenario, the organisation said, the economic benefit could be as little as €5bn due to the lack of a common approach to spectrum allocation across member states, timing and geography issues and potential contract limitations.

In November last year, Real Wireless, a consultancy that worked with UK regulator Ofcom on last year’s LTE spectrum auctions, warned that the country will face a serious spectrum shortage by 2020 if 300MHz of cellular spectrum and 350MHz of wifi spectrum are not made available. The statement prompted Ofcom’s former director of R&D to suggest that traditional spectrum allocation models will not meet the identified demand.

“Finding all this extra spectrum by the previous approach of clearing bands and then auctioning them is looking increasingly hard. Instead, regulators are looking to use sharing approaches, for example to allow access to military spectrum or to enable multiple users to share small cell spectrum,” William Webb, former head of R&D at Ofcom and president-elect at the IET told Telecoms.com.

While we’re on the subject of small cells, Ericsson revealed this week that it will be offering small cells as a service, owning and operating infrastructure in high capacity, peaky environments, allowing operators to boost capacity without densifying the macro network.

Patrik Jakobson, head of network sharing at Ericsson, said the move was an evolution of the managed service model. Traditionally operators outsource both network operations and service to provide operational scale and savings, he said. “But operators are looking for even more scale in economies and efficiencies. So it’s not just operational scale but scale in assets, combining that with capex and opex savings,” he said. “As a result it’s natural that we go into areas like small cells and managed rural coverage where we own the sites.”

Jakobson was not talking about owning one site here and there but instead talking about large districts or several districts together and taking responsibility for that chunk of the network. “If an operator is going to buy this capacity as a service then the provider must guarantee the SLAs and KPIs and that entity needs to own the hardware and software,” he said.

Too many operators still consider small cells an engineering-led solution for plugging network holes rather than a business-led solution for launching new services, meanwhile. This was the warning issued by small cell specialist ip.access this week, backed up by research commissioned from Yankee Group.

After conducting in-depth interviews with five leading mobile operators, Yankee principal analyst Ken Rehbehn said it was striking that every operator’s thinking on small cells was dominated by the traditional engineering view of coverage and voice reception.

The thinking was “narrowly focused,” said Rehbehn. “It seems, as far as small cells are concerned, RF engineers still drive deployment. The marketing and sales teams are largely unengaged, leaving the services potential of small cells trapped within tactically oriented RAN teams. Clearly, a major service opportunity is being ignored,” he said.

ip.access CEO Simon Brown told Telecoms.com that technical issues with small cells, such as interference management, are now “largely solved” and proven by the company’s million-plus small cell site deployment with AT&T in the US.

As a result, small cell deployments are no longer an engineering concern and should be seen as a business concern for launching location or presence-based services and providing improved voice and data service to business customers to lock them further into their network, Brown said. So the budgeting for these deployments should now be passed from the RAN team to the marketing team.

While we’re on an indoor theme, Curated wifi network provider Devicescape has announced a contract win with UK operator and MVNO Virgin Media, the first UK deal for the US firm. Devicescape operates a curated network of amenity wifi hotpsots that operators can rebrand as their own wifi offering.

Software deployed on smartphones feeds real time data on the quality of amenity wifi connections back to Devicescape and those connections are taken in or out of the approved network dependent on performance. Earlier this month the firm said its network had grown to include 20 million approved hotpsots from a pool of 315 million monitored connections. It expects its network to hit 100 million hotspots by 2017.

In the 2014 Telecoms.com Intelligence Global Industry Survey, amenity wifi was identified as the best source of public wifi by half of respondents. And yet more than 80 per cent of respondents to the 2014 Survey felt that telcos had the best brands and market positions to offer wide area wifi networks, with 54.1 per cent specifying mobile operators and 26.4 per cent fixed operators. Specialist wifi providers scored poorly, with only 10.5 per cent of the votes, with internet players a little further off the pace, with 9.1 per cent.

Asked to rank the benefits of a wifi offering respondents put the ability to keep customers on the best quality connection at all times as the key driver, ahead of alleviating the strain on cellular networks. Commenting on today’s deal, Jamie Heywood, director of mobile at Virgin Media, reflected the importance of the connection:

“We‘re always looking at new ways to ensure our customers have access to the best possible data connection, whether in home or on the go. Using wifi we know how much our customers value services like Virgin TV Anywhere so it’s important we’re able to deliver a seamless integrated experience when it comes to data connectivity,” Heywood said.

In an interview with Telecoms.com published this week, Devicescape CEO Dave Fraser acknowledged that mobile operators have tended to approach wifi with “a certain amount of reluctance”. But the fact that wifi is the dominant means of data access for smartphone and tablet users (between 60 and 70 per cent of all smartphone data is consumed over wifi, according to the firm) means that operators cannot afford to ignore it.

“A mobile operator is a service provider and so it needs to have involvement in the customer experience,” Fraser said, “even if that customer experience is happening off the network.”

Now it’s not often you hear about MVNOs ditching the ‘V’ but it’s happening in Cyprus. Cypriot MVNO PrimeTel has said it has secured a licence to become the country’s third mobile operator. Already a player in the fixed and TV arenas the new licence will enable PrimeTel to deploy an LTE network.

Finally this week NSN and Huawei have become the first vendors to cross licence their OSS interfaces as part of a multi-vendor interoperability initiative announced last year.

The bilateral agreement is the first to emerge from the OSS interoperability initiative (OSSii) set up between NSN, Huawei and Ericsson in May 2013. The initiative is designed to facilitate multi-vendor interoperability ‘up front’ between the OSS products of all three vendors, simplifying operations, reducing the overall integration costs and speeding up the time it takes to roll out new services.

Under the OSSii agreement, NSN and Huawei will cross-license their proprietary Element Management System (EMS) interfaces. The agreement allows NSN and Huawei to use the proprietary EMS interfaces for systems integration and provides the rights to develop, manufacture and sell the integrations as part of their OSS system.

At the time the initiative was set up, Peter Dykes, principal analyst at Informa and B/OSS specialist, said that OSS in particular has never been a sector that was heavy on standards but with CSP’s increasingly insisting on a multi-vendor approach to next-generation IT systems, reduced integration costs and fast roll-out times, true interoperability is being forced on the sector.

“If the new spirit of friendly and open-mindedness OSSii is trying to engender does gain traction and become the industry norm, doubts over the need for standards bodies of one complexion or another will inevitably grow,” he said. “For this to happen however, the OSSii is going to need a lot more signatories than the current three.”

Alas the initiative still only has the three founding members on its roster and with the first movement taking nine months to appear a sense of urgency from the industry does not seem to be forthcoming. Indeed, the Informer spoke with an independent B/OSS player this week who said his company treated the initiative “with disdain” and saw it as the big hardware vendors sticking together to protect their legacy.

A chat with NSN however, suggested the vendor does still expect more of the smaller players to jump on board. It does strike the Informer as strange though, that the first announcement to come out of the OSSii is only between two of the founding members and isn’t even a three-way deal. Is Ericsson turning itself into a third wheel here?

Table for two sir? Or will your friend be staying?

The Informer

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