What’s up with… Qualcomm and Iridium, Fujitsu, Cellnex

  • Qualcomm dumps satellite-to-smartphone R&D partner Iridium
  • Fujitsu tackles GPU shortage and deploys liquid cooling with SoftBank
  • Cellnex seeks further M&A deals

In today’s industry news roundup: Qualcomm has abruptly ended its satellite-to-smartphone development partnership with Iridium; Fujitsu innovates to help with AI workloads and deploys an energy-efficient network using liquid cooling with SoftBank; towers giant Cellnex is looking for further M&A deals as its revenues rise but its operating profits fall; and much more!

Satellite operator Iridium is feeling somewhat miffed after being dumped by wireless chip giant Qualcomm, with which it had been developing technology that will enable direct satellite-to-smartphone communications, one of the hottest areas of the global telecom sector right now. The two companies announced at the start of this year that they had jointly developed Snapdragon Satellite, a solution that can “provide global connectivity using mobile messaging from around the world, starting with devices based on the flagship Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Mobile Platform.” Snapdragon Satellite, the chip vendor noted at the time, will “enable OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] and other service providers to offer truly global coverage. The solution for smartphones utilises Iridium’s weather-resilient L-band spectrum for uplink and downlink,” noted Qualcomm. But now Iridium has noted that even though the pair “successfully developed and demonstrated the technology… smartphone manufacturers have not included the technology in their devices. Due to this, on 3 November 2023, Qualcomm notified Iridium that it has elected to terminate the agreements, effective 3 December 2023.” Brutal! Iridium’s CEO, Matt Desch, stated: “While I’m disappointed that this partnership didn’t bear immediate fruit, we believe the direction of the industry is clear toward increased satellite connectivity in consumer devices. Led by Apple today, MNOs [mobile network operators] and device manufacturers still plan, over time, to provide their customers with expanded coverage and new satellite-based features, and our global coverage and regulatory certainty make us well suited to be a key player in this emerging market. User experience will be critical to their success, and we’ve proven that we can provide a reliable, global capability to mobile users,” added Desch. Iridium said it is now free to directly re-engage with smartphone vendors, other chipmakers and smartphone operating system developers with which it had been collaborating previously. “Iridium will also be pursuing new relationships with smart device [vendors], chipmakers and developers for its existing and future service plans,” the company noted, in a not too subtle message to its soon-to-be ex partner. Read more

Having recognised that demand for technology capable of supporting AI workloads is likely to exceed supply for quite some time, Japanese giant Fujitsu has developed what it claims is “the world’s first technology to optimise the use of CPUs [central processing units] and GPUs [graphics processing units] by allocating resources in real time to give priority to processes with high execution efficiency, even when running programs that use GPUs. Fujitsu designed the new technology to address the global shortage of GPUs due to the explosive demand for generative AI, deep learning and other applications, by optimising users’ existing computing resources.” The vendor says it has also developed “a new technology for parallel processing that switches processing of multiple programs in real time without waiting for the completion of a running program in an HPC [high-performance computing] system that performs large-scale computations by linking multiple computers. This technology makes it possible to immediately execute the processing of applications that require large-scale computational resources and real-time performance like digital twin and generative AI programs.” Read more

That’s not all from Fujitsu, as it has also been making great headway in the green networks sector. Japanese network operator SoftBank has completed the deployment of an all-optical network using a disaggregated data transport system that supports open networks, including Fujitsu’s next-generation optical transmission platform, the 1 FINITY Ultra Optical System T900. According to the two companies, the network “realises a reduction of power consumption of up to 90% compared to previous networks” by using photoelectric conversion technology and the application of liquid cooling technology. “With the introduction of the new optical transmission system, SoftBank aims to build a network that achieves carbon neutrality while meeting the ever-increasing demand for data communication in anticipation of future networks based on Beyond 5G/6G technology,” noted Fujitsu. To get all the details on this fascinating development, see this in-depth press release

European towers giant Cellnex Telecom, which today announced the planned sale of its private wireless networks unit, has reported a 16% increase in revenues for the first nine months (three quarters) of the year to just over €3bn, though its operating profit sunk by more than 50% compared with the same period a year earlier to €137m. “This period has been marked by excellent commercial performance and consistent operational execution, with revenues and EBITDA well on track and our free cash flow turning positive earlier than anticipated,” noted CEO Marco Patuano. “Once again, we are confirming all our short- and medium-term financial targets, including achieving positive FCF [free cash flow] by the end of the year, ahead of the planned 2024 timeframe, thanks to a strict control of Capex expenditure. We are making good progress on reducing debt thanks to the disposal of sites in France and the recent deal in the Nordics,” added the CEO.  Cellnex has this year sold sites in France to Phoenix Towers and offloaded a 49% stake in its operations in Sweden and Denmark to Stonepeak. The company noted that it “continues to evaluate the possibility of monetising other assets to crystallise value and speed up the process to achieve S&P investment grade,” so expect further M&A announcements from Cellnex in 2024. For further details on its financials, see this press release

Altice, the multinational telecom operator owned by billionaire Patrick Drahi, is set to seek bids for its Portuguese unit and a stake in its French operations as it scrambles to reduce the size of its debt pile, reports Bloomberg. Reports have been swirling for months that Drahi is in dire need of some group divestments in order to keep his telecom empire afloat. 

Zegona Communications has started the process of raising €300m by issuing new shares as it lines up the funds needed for its planned €5bn acquisition of Vodafone Spain – see Vodafone sells Spanish unit for €5bn.

Neigh, neigh and thrice neigh… A storm is brewing over comments made by BT’s chief digital and innovation officer Harmeen Mehta, who has shared an unsympathetic view of those whose jobs are under threat from AI-enabled automation. As The Guardian noted, in an interview with the business website Raconteur, Mehta said: “I don‘t know how horses felt when the car was invented, but they didn’t complain that they were put out of a job; they didn’t go on strike. It’s part of evolution. Some jobs will change, some new ones will be created and some will no longer be needed.” Mehta’s view will strike a rather loud note internally, as BT earlier this year announced that it plans to reduce its labour force by up to 55,000 roles, from the current 130,000, before the end of this decade, and that at least 10,000 of those are linked to automation and digitisation efforts as AI plays an increasing role in the telco’s operations. 

- The staff, TelecomTV

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