What’s up with… NTT Docomo, Deutsche Telekom, Google Cloud

  • NTT Docomo et al hit new ultra-high-speed data rates
  • Deutsche Telekom CEO slams 1&1 5G network delays
  • Google Cloud to invest $1bn in subsea cables

In today’s industry news roundup: NTT Docomo teams up with NTT, NEC and Fujitsu to achieve ultra-high-speed frequency that is 20 times faster than current 5G network data rates; Deutsche Telekom CEO appears to berate 1&1’s failure to meet 5G commitments; Google to splurge $1bn on subsea cables to link the US and Japan; and more!

NTT Docomo, in partnership with its parent company, NTT, as well as NEC and Fujitsu, has developed a “top-level wireless device” that is capable of “ultra-high-speed” 100Gbit/s transmissions in the 100GHz and 300GHz sub-terahertz frequency bands. In a joint statement, the quartet claimed that the newly achieved speed is approximately 20 times faster than the maximum 4.9Gbit/s data rate possible with current 5G networks. In the verification test, NTT Docomo developed wireless transmission equipment capable of transmitting data rates equivalent to 100Gbit/s at a distance of 100 metres. NTT’s contribution was the development of a wireless device that managed to reach the same results in the 300GHz band. NEC devised a multi-element active phased array antenna, which comprised more than 100 antenna elements, and Fujitsu enabled high-output, high-efficiency signal amplification to extend the communication range and lower the power consumption, claiming to have achieved “the world’s highest power efficiency in a high-output amplifier”. The four companies aim to continue their R&D efforts in sub-terahertz telecommunications, in a bid to contribute to 6G standardisation. Read more.

Tim Höttges, the CEO of the still massively powerful incumbent German telco Deutsche Telekom (DT), has once again taken up the cudgels to belabour the country’s fourth-largest operator. This time he did so without actually naming the company involved but everyone knows that he was talking about 1&1 and its greatly delayed rollout of mobile 5G. Back in 2019, 1&1 was allocated, and duly bought, telecoms spectrum in the aftermath of the merger between Telefónica and E-Plus, and announced ambitious plans to build out its own 5G network. However, 1&1 overreached itself and failed to meet its own, self-imposed targets for the deployment of 5G antennas. It found itself at serious loggerheads with Vantage Towers which, 1&1 claimed, had failed to deliver the required antenna technology. Caught in a cleft stick, 1&1 was forced to go cap in hand to its competitors and seek roaming agreements to be able to roll out any 5G services at all. 1&1 selected Open RAN-based technology for its 5G network and sourced equipment (and help) from several vendors, including Rakuten Symphony. However, progress has been slow, almost to the point of stasis. Very late to the 5G party, 1&1 now finds itself with limited coverage, a heavy reliance on roaming agreements with established network operators, and in direct, head-to-head competition with Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile), Vodafone Deutschland and Telefónica Deutschland (O2 Telefónica). Meanwhile, 1&1’s rivals already provide nationwide 5G services. Höttges has long been a critic of 1&1, reportedly claiming that, despite what he refers to as its “privileged perspective”, “this other operator rarely builds a network of its own.” He now describes 1&1’s deployed network as “just one big white spot” – presumably referring to where its 5G coverage ought to be. For its part, 1&1 claims that starting from now, it intends to deploy 2,000 new antenna sites to its network per annum over the next six years, with the goal of providing 5G coverage to 25% of German domestic premises “within its network” by 2025, and to grow that to 50% by 2030. Many analysts consider it will be too little, too late and opine that 1&1 will be gobbled up by a stronger rival well before then. Interestingly, and perhaps tellingly, Höttges, a strong proponent of consolidation in the European telecoms markets, actually admits that despite DT’s huge size, economies of scale and the massive investments it has made in 5G, “they have proven not to be profitable”. He says this is because the EU’s preferred policy of granting spectrum to new entrants, ostensibly to increase competition, is mistaken because it inhibits investment in incumbent telcos and thus distorts the market. He gives short shrift to mobile operators that lease network access from big and established competitors and, in referring directly to the German market, complains that the smaller fry operators are lobbying the government to regulate prices ever downwards. He objects to it on the grounds that [if] “you lease, you win; you build, you lose.” Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? And you can see why.

Google is to invest $1bn in the development of two new subsea cables connecting the US and Japan, according to a blog post by Brian Quigley, VP for global network infrastructure at Google Cloud. He explained that the cables will be provided by NEC to create new fibre optic routes between the continental US and Japan. The new submarine infrastructure is also set to improve the reliability of digital connectivity in “multiple Pacific Island countries and territories,” he added. One of the cables, called Proa, will connect Japan, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and Guam. The other cable, Taihei, will connect Japan to Hawaii. In addition, Google’s Tabua cable will be extended to Hawaii as part of wider plans to run the cable from the continental parts of the US to Fiji and Australia. The tech giant also plans to fund the construction of an interlink cable connecting Hawaii, the CNMI and Guam. Quigley also cited suggestions that Google network infrastructure investments in Japan have added more than $400m in GDP in the previous decade.

Internet service providers (ISPs) in the US will now be required to reveal fees on so-called ‘nutrition’ labels when users purchase broadband services. The rule has been adopted by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and, with effect from yesterday (10 April), forces ISPs to disclose a series of details, such as broadband prices, speeds, data allowances, discounts and introductory rate specifics. “These ‘nutrition label’ disclosures are designed to make it simpler for consumers to know what they are getting, hold providers to their promises, and benefit from greater competition – which means better service and prices for everyone,” explained FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel. In a similar fashion to nutrition labels that appear on food products, the broadband consumer labels will need to be displayed at the point of sale of home and fixed internet service or mobile broadband plans. By 10 October, providers will need to make the labels “machine-readable to enable third parties to more easily collect and aggregate data for the purpose of creating comparison-shopping tools for consumers.” Read more.

Senior executives at the troubled, heavily indebted and cash-strapped edifice that is Vodafone Idea, India’s third service provider, are claiming that its efforts to attract much-needed investor cash are, if you’ll forgive the pun, at last beginning to pay off. Vodafone Idea reportedly wants to raise 450bn Indian rupees (that translates to US$5.4bn) via an equity and debt exercise based initially on a follow-on public offer (FPO) that will be opened either later this month or sometime in early May. It is hoped that the FPO will raise 200bn Indian rupees ($2.4bn) and, if successful (and it’s a big ‘if’), will be immediately followed by debt funding to the tune of 250bn Indian rupees ($3bn). Much is being made of the claim that the telco has secured “up to” 50% of the value of the proposed FPO from so-called “anchor investors”. The Indian government owns 33% of Vodafone Idea and says it “fully backs” the latest efforts to raise the desperately needed new funds. It hasn’t really got much choice, but does perhaps have a little more wriggle-room than the “anchor investors” do. Meanwhile, the operator does not have the wherewithal to finance the launch of 5G services – and is the only private or privatised telco in India yet to introduce them. Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel have long completed their 5G networks. Meanwhile, Vodafone Idea can scarcely afford to upgrade any of its existing network assets and its market share continues to shrivel. As at the end of February, the latest date for which statistics are available, it was down to 18.3%. According to the company, the monies to be raised will be spent on building a 5G network and enhancing its 4G network. The remainder of the hoped-for new cash injection will be used to pay off some of its debt mountain. It might sound like a bit of an afterthought, but Vodafone Idea still owes a great deal of money to vendors that have not yet been fully paid for the 4G equipment they deployed. They have made it plain that they won’t supply 5G technology until existing, long-standing debts are cleared. On 31 December 2023, Vodafone Idea’s gross debt was 2.14tn Indian rupees ($25.93bn). Of that massive sum, $25bn was owed to the Indian government to pay for deferred spectrum payments. That’s not all, as Vodafone Idea also owes $730m to the banks.

Interesting news in this morning from that inestimable organ of the Chinese Communist Party, with the People’s Daily reporting that the powerful Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) is introducing a “pilot project” that will see the removal of foreign ownership restrictions on some domestic value-added telecom services in four regions of the Middle Kingdom: Beijing, Shanghai, Hainan and Shenzhen. This, the paper claims, is indicative of China’s determination to “expand opening-up on all fronts” and has nothing whatsoever to do with the country’s declining economic performance, rising debt and unemployment. Perish the thought. In an “official circular”, the MIIT adds that the value-added telecom services will include internet datacentres, content delivery networks and ISPs, to help promote “high-quality opening-up and accelerate the process of new industrialisation.” Seemingly, China will provide “equal treatment to foreign entities approved for the pilot programmes, eliminating the 50% foreign ownership limit in these critical sectors, and it will no longer impose ownership ratio restrictions.” China is making a virtue of necessity and the latest “Government Work Report” has it that “by relaxing restrictions” the new pilot project “is in line with China’s commitment to shortening the negative list for foreign investment. All market access restrictions on foreign investment in manufacturing will be abolished, and market access restrictions in services sectors, such as telecommunications and healthcare, will be reduced.” Jin Zhuanglong, the minister of industry and information technology, commented: “Advancing new industrialisation requires deepening reforms and expanding openness. Widening foreign access to value-added telecom services serves as one of the critical fulfillments of the plan.” The article in the People’s Daily adds: “China is progressively opening its doors, with the action highlighting the country’s confidence and determination in further opening-up amid global protectionism. These moves are expected to boost the vitality of the Chinese market. China welcomes foreign firms to thrive in its market while benefitting from its development. Meanwhile, we encourage other countries to create favourable business environments for Chinese enterprises, promoting win-win economic globalisation.” Apparently, the initiative will proactively align with “international high-standard economic and trade rules, continuously optimising the business environment for foreign investment, and facilitating the establishment of a new development paradigm.” Since 1949, when the Communist Party took power, the telecoms sector in China has been highly important strategically, sensitive politically and regarded by the powers that be as crucial to national security. As such, it has always been protected from “undue” influence by relationships with foreign companies, which have always been regarded with the greatest suspicion. Now though, a changed economic reality is emerging and the ending of restrictions “will bring in high-quality overseas enterprises to enrich consumer choices and stimulate domestic innovation and enhance industry standards and international competitiveness.” The MIIT is particularly exercised about the perceived potential for improvements and advancements in the datacentre sector where “quality foreign datacentres and cloud service firms” will bolster China’s computing infrastructure. Seems like China can’t do everything by itself all the time after all.

- The staff, TelecomTV

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