What’s up with... Openreach & Equinox, 1NCE, América Móvil

Picture courtesy of Openreach

Picture courtesy of Openreach

  • Ofcom gives green light to Openreach’s controversial wholesale fibre pricing model
  • Cellular IoT specialist banks $50 million from DT, SoftBank and others
  • América Móvil joins towers spin-off club

A critical ruling by regulator Ofcom related to the UK’s fibre broadband market and financial support from some operator heavyweights for cellular IoT network operator 1NCE are in pole position on today’s news grid.

Openreach, the quasi-autonomous access network division of BT, has been given the green light to introduce its Equinox wholesale fibre network services offer by UK regulator Ofcom, despite an outcry from alternative operators. Equinox, which offers discounted wholesale prices in return for a multi-year commitment. Ofcom, which says it recognized “the risk that Openreach could set commercial terms that undermine new network build” following its wholesale market review that concluded earlier this year, announced today that it had reviewed the Equinox offer and decided it should “not take any action at this time.” Members of trade body Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA) will not be happy – the Association described Equinox as "a thinly disguised anticompetitive initiative" in its submission to Ofcom about the Openreach move, as alternative wholesale operators will find it hard to match the Openreach terms and the discount model being used will disincentivize ISPs from using alternative wholesalers. INCA noted that there is “deep concern in the altnet community that Equinox is likely to cause material harm to [their] ability to continue their planned FTTP deployments and call down the finance commitments made by [their] investors.” Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, because the last thing the buoyant UK FTTH/B market needs right now is to have the brakes slammed on by a single regulatory ruling. (See Memo to UK broadband sector – don’t screw up!)

Cellular IoT network operator 1NCE has raised $50 million from a group of investors including Deutsche Telekom and SoftBank and plans to use the funds to expand in the US and Asia. Deutsche Telekom has been on board as a seed investor since the company’s founding in 2017 and uses 1NCE technology for its own IoT offerings. The investment by SoftBank “expands on the recent strategic partnership formalized between SoftBank and Deutsche Telekom and provides a clear opportunity to co-invest in global connectivity platforms focused on enterprise customers,” notes 1NCE in this announcement

Latin American giant América Móvil is forming a towers spin-off company that brings together its towers and passive infrastructure assets in 15 Latin American markets. The new company, called Sitios Latam, will own about 36,000 towers located in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Uruguay. Read more.

The trend to cash in on such infrastructure has also reached Malaysia, where, according to The Star, the country’s fourth largest wireless service provider U Mobile is considering the sale of its 1,611 mobile towers. 

Don’t forget about 4G, it has years of heavy lifting life in it yet. That’s the message from Enea, which has just launched what it claims is the industry's first user-based congestion management tool. The Session Congestion Manager is designed to be a point solution for 4G video congestion so that operators can concentrate on “investing in and priming their 5G deployments,” according to Roland Steiner, Senior Vice President of Enea’s telecom business unit. The SCM is tasked to monitor multiple traffic and network parameters in real-time and create a per-user session congestion score. If things are getting a bit tight, it takes automatic remedial action by applying optimization to the whole individual session without requiring any control plane or RAN integration. It does so by intelligently adjusting encrypted Adaptive Bitrate videos to reduce their impact on the RAN. Enea reckons the SCM’s preemptive optimization reduces the number of congested cells by 15% and creates additional Radio Access Network (RAN) capacity to deliver 25% more video without mobile operators having to invest in new infrastructure.

Research house Gartner has just published its 2021 Magic Quadrant for WAN Edge Infrastructure. It shows that spending on WAN edge will rise by 2.6 per cent per annum until 2025 as the shift away from edge routers based on now “old fashioned” MPLS technology towards SD-WAN continues to erode the market share of traditional solutions. Additional impetus has been added by the global pandemic with “work from anywhere” being the new watchwords. It means the VPN, long the tool of choice for the security of home and remote workers, is steadily being superseded by SD-WAN technologies. As the Gartner report shows, while there were just two “Leaders in WAN-Edge Infrastructure” in 2019, before Covid-19 changed the world. There are now six that Gartner adjudges to have the “completeness of vision”, the “ability to execute” combined with versatile products with rich features and brand recognition to be accorded the accolade of “Leaders”.  They are Cisco, Fortinet, Palo Alto Networks, Silver Peak, Versa and VMware. Secured Access Service Edge (SASE) architecture is also gaining traction and Gartner predicts that more than two-thirds of SD-WAN aficionados will implement SASE within the next three to four years. 

Google is up before the bench at the EU General Court defending itself against (quelle surprise!) yet more charges of anti-competitive practices. The allegations are that the company paid manufacturers to pre-install Google Search on Android-powered handsets. Google’s defence? It only did so to ensure that Android could compete against Apple! So now we know what Google means by “a level playing field”. It is one that is canted as steeply as possible in Google’s favour. The EU’s case is that Google did a special deal with handset makers and paid them for pre-installing Google Search on, and only on, Android devices. The payments were called “revenue sharing arrangements” (RSAs) and, it is alleged, were designed from the outset to be anti-competitive. Assimakis Komninos, a Google attorney, told the court that the payments were not anti-competitive at all, merely “an encouragement” to adopt Android and thus secure teeny-weeny place for it in the market. Komninos added that device manufacturers already made money from other apps anyway and the aim of the RSA payments was not just to ensure that Android stayed in the market but also because they help keep prices low whilst enabling “more successful” competition against Apple. The lawyer added that the “revenue sharing arrangements” related only to a mere five per cent of the market, so it all seems to be a big fuss about nothing very much.  Unsurprisingly, the EU’s lawyers disagree with that contention and counter that the RSA scheme was a mechanism devised to slow and distort competition and, as such, is “the pinnacle of Google’s interlocking practices”. Google is looking down the barrel of a €4.3 billion antitrust penalty and being legally required to loosen its Vulcan death grip on Android itself. Judgement will be handed down in the new year. 

The latest figures out of Hong Kong show that Honor is now the third biggest smartphone brand in China having secured a 15 per cent market share. The brand was tarred with the same brush that blackened Huawei’s reputation and faced the same international restrictions as its parent company. Huawei was more or less compelled to sell Honor to keep the brand alive and set it free from the regulations and penalties that were choking it to death. The Honor brand is now clear of the Huawei taint and, as the latest figures from Hong Kong-headquartered Counterpoint Research show, is in increasingly rude health. In August alone shipments of Honor handsets grew by 18 per cent on a month-to-month basis. Globally, Honor is also doing well. Its worldwide market share is up from 1.5 per cent in February this year to 3.7 per cent and gradually rising further. Tarun Pathak of Counterpoint Research, commented, “After being spun off from Huawei, Honor was able to restore ties with component players. Since then, leveraging its strong R&D capabilities, Honor has launched new products and has been on a rapid recovery path in China.” Meanwhile, forecasts are that Huawei will lose its place as number three in the list of the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturers and slide down the greasy pole to seventh place, at least for now.

Iliad founder Xavier Niel has secured more than 90% of the company’s shares and associated voting rights in his €3.1 billion effort to take the company private again, enabling him to request a “squeeze-out procedure,” which sounds painful but which is actually a process by which he can sweep up the remaining few percent of shares he hasn’t already snagged. Niel has been busy, not only with his delisting efforts, but in growing the company – Iliad recently agreed a €1.53 billion deal to acquire UPC Poland

NEC and its subsidiary Netcracker have announced an integrated multi-vendor network offering that includes ADVA and Juniper Networks for packet optical automation, combining their respective technologies in support of streamlined 5G transport. Essentially, ADVA delivers secure optical connectivity; Juniper provides automated IP WAN transport; while Netcracker brings unified end-to-end multi-domain service orchestration and automation expertise. The solution is designed and will be developed as part of NEC’s xHaul Transformation ServicesMore detail on which company offers what here...

Just what BT didn’t need at this point… The UK telco is bracing itself for a class action on behalf of 2.5 million BT customers who, it’s claimed, could each be due £500 compensation for historical overcharging. According to the Guardian newspaper the competition appeal tribunal (CAT) has allowed Justin Le Patourel, the founder of consumer group Collective Action on Landlines (Call), and a previous employee of regulator Ofcom, to bring the landmark £600m case on behalf of 2.3 million landline-only customers against BT. The group claims the customers, typically from older and low-income households, are owed compensation for payments made between October 2015 and April 2018. Naturally BT “strongly disagrees” with what it describes as a “speculative claim” and says it will consider all available options for its fightback.

Vodafone says it will add ‘Facebook Watch’ to Vodafone TV in Europe, thus becoming the first pay-TV operator in the region to offer the service on its set-top boxes. Vodafone TV is one of Europe’s biggest and most successful digital TV platforms, currently offering a cloud-based television service to 22 million customers across 10 markets - Facebook Watch will offer an additional library of scripted and unscripted content, from a diverse ecosystem of partners, publishers and individual creators, including national broadcasters.More detail can be found here…

DISH and Input Output Global (IOG) have formed a strategic collaboration to explore the use of distributed ledger technologies (DLT) across its business lines. Building on the Cardano blockchain, the teams will develop a variety of applications that enable and enhance the Boost, DISH and SLING customer bases. “Today, when we look at telco, we see intersections between the use of identity and the movement of data, and as DISH unleashes its next generation network, we see tremendous opportunity to move these innovations forward together," said Charles Hoskinson, founder and CEO of IOG. Read more...

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