What’s up with… Telefónica, Vodafone Idea, IBM

  • Telefónica tackles quantum-safe IoT networking 
  • India’s Vodafone Idea seeks bank support
  • IBM snaps up HashiCorp

In today’s industry news roundup: Telefónica has teamed up with security and quantum computing partners to develop a solution that will offer quantum-safe networking capabilities to internet of things (IoT) devices; India’s third-largest telco is hoping to top up its coffers with loans from the nervous banking sector; IBM has struck a deal to acquire multi-cloud infrastructure automation specialist HashiCorp for $6.4bn; and more!

Telefónica has teamed up with cryptography specialist Idemia Secure Transactions (IST) and quantum technology developer Quside to develop a quantum-safe networking solution for internet of things (IoT) devices. The collaboration builds on an existing and long-term partnership between Telefónica and IST that has already resulted in the development of what the companies claim is “the world’s first quantum-safe 5G SIM card”. The latest initiative “introduces cutting-edge quantum-safe IoT connectivity and transport layer security (TLS), a cryptographic protocol that enables the deployment of new cryptographic protocols without the need for hardware changes. It also leverages Quside’s strong randomness quantum technology generator that ultimately leads to unpredictable and more efficient computation,” noted the partners in this announcement. They added: “In the wake of quantum computing advancements, internet of things (IoT) devices are being confronted by unprecedented security challenges that require… quantum-resistant security measures tailored to the unique constraints and requirements of IoT deployments. These solutions will be particularly useful as a first step for industrial companies, especially for those with long-lasting devices (15+ years), granting secure connections between IoT devices, such as smart meters and their operating systems.” According to Antonio Guzmán, discovery director at Telefónica Innovación Digital, “These quantum-safe developments will enable Telefónica and its customers to benefit from enhanced security with easier deployment. End users will also gain from the assurance of uninterrupted services and protection against advanced cyber threats during the whole device lifetime”. News of the development comes just as TelecomTV publishes its Quantum-Safe Networking Perception Report, which identified IBM as the leading developer of technology that will enable quantum-safe networking – see IBM tops quantum-safe networking ranking.

In an effort to raise up to 450bn Indian rupees ($5.4bn) so it can invest in its networks and get itself on a more even financial keel, cash-strapped Indian telco Vodafone Idea recently launched a fresh cash-call to investors via a follow-on public offer (FPO), a financial instrument via which an existing company already listed on a stock exchange can issue new shares. The FPO received a somewhat surprisingly enthusiastic response and was oversubscribed: As a result, Vodafone Idea raised 180bn rupees ($2.16bn) towards its fund-raising target. With the FPO now completed, India’s third-largest mobile operator is now approaching commercial banks in the hope and expectation that they will offer some hefty loans – either new or extended – so it can start rolling out 5G services and try to catch up with its main rivals Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, both of which have invested heavily in and have been offering 5G services for more than a year already. But it’s turning out not to be easy. According to the Business Standard, the banks are demanding to examine Idea’s accounts to verify the operator’s levels of liabilities and its apparent ability to meet loan repayment terms over the period of a  4- or 5-year schedule, which is not surprising given Vodafone Idea’s history and past performance. The last thing India’s banks want is to find themselves, in a few years’ time, having Vodafone Idea default on its loan repayments and being forced to fall back on the largesse of the Indian government, which is already the telco’s largest creditor and owns a 33.4% equity stake in the company. The government fully backed Vodafone Idea’s FPO but must dread the possibility that in a couple of years it will seek a bail out. It’s worth noting that in 2026, Vodafone Idea is due to start paying some $4bn a year in annual spectrum, licence fees and other repayments. That could be the crunch time. Vodafone Idea ended February with 220.5 million mobile connections and is currently losing customers every month. 

IBM has struck a $6.4bn deal to acquire HashiCorp, a multi-cloud infrastructure automation company, in what the tech giant describes as “a continuation of IBM’s deep focus and investment in hybrid cloud and AI, the two most transformational technologies for clients today.” IBM CEO Arvind Krishna noted: “Enterprise clients are wrestling with an unprecedented expansion in infrastructure and applications across public and private clouds, as well as on-prem environments. The global excitement surrounding generative AI has exacerbated these challenges and CIOs and developers are up against dramatic complexity in their tech strategies. HashiCorp has a proven track record of enabling clients to manage the complexity of today’s infrastructure and application sprawl. Combining IBM’s portfolio and expertise with HashiCorp’s capabilities and talent will create a comprehensive hybrid cloud platform designed for the AI era,” added the CEO. Why does it all matter? That’s the question that Scott Raynovich, founder and principal analyst at Futuriom, posed as he analysed the move. His answer? “HashiCorp is considered a leading provider of tools to cloud developers and infrastructure managers. Its infrastructure-as-code (IaC) product, Terraform, is an industry standard. Its secrets management product, Vault, is also popular and is one of the company’s cash cows. Other products such as Consul are not as well known. Originally launched as an open-source product, Terraform put Hashi on the map. It has been widely adopted by DevOps teams building cloud infrastructure and is considered an industry standard. Terraform is a verb. The success of Vault followed, as an alternative for cloud providers to manage ‘secrets, or encryption keys and passwords,” he noted. Read Ranovich’s full analysis here. IBM’s announcement came as the company reported a slight year-on-year increase in first-quarter revenues to $14.5bn. 

Telia’s first-quarter financials were hampered, not for the first time, by the company’s loss-making TV and media operations, which reported a decline in sales and margins that contributed to an overall like-for-like decline in group revenues of 1.3% to 21.3bn Swedish krona (SEK) ($1.94bn) compared with the same period a year ago, despite growth across all of the Swedish telco’s operating units (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Lithuania and Estonia). President and CEO Patrik Hofbauer, who took over from Allison Kirkby (now BT’s CEO) at the beginning of February, noted: “The focus in my first quarter as CEO has been to analyse the business and build our mid-term plan together with our business unit leaders. I have seen a company with an impressive set of assets and an engaged organisation and, building on a strategy which is sound in all material aspects, our goal is to eliminate barriers and complexities, so that Telia can become simpler and faster in decision-making and commercial execution. If we succeed with this, we expect that we can grow our cash flow to above our current dividend level in future years. We plan to share more details of our mid-term ambitions after the summer.” Hofbauer, though, will not be cheered by the investor reaction to the publication of the financials, as Telia’s share price dipped by 7% to SEK 25.3 on the Stockholm exchange on Thursday. Read more

Mission-critical use cases are driving private internet-of-things (IoT) connection growth in key industrial markets, such as manufacturing, logistics, and transportation, according to ABI Research, and that in turn is driving demand for private 4G and 5G networks. The manufacturing and transportation industries are expected to have the most private cellular IoT connections by 2030, with 108 and 71 million connections respectively, according to the research firm. “Mission-critical use cases require ultra-reliable connectivity,” noted Lizzie Stokes, IoT networks and services analyst at ABI Research. “Any interruption in these operations could lead to significant revenue loss or threaten human life. Given these consequences, most mission-critical IIoT [industrial IoT] customers upgrading to wireless connectivity will choose a private cellular network,” she added. Read more

For some time now some US politicians have been floating the idea that a law should be passed that prohibits those companies affected by system incursions and ransomware attacks from paying criminals the (literally) extortionate sums they demand for the return of stolen data. Kemba Walden, who for a time last year was acting head of the US Office of the National Security Director (and previously legal counsel at Microsoft’s Digital Crimes unit) but who is now the president of the Paladin Global Institute (part of venture capital firm the Paladin Capital Group), told a recent Congressional panel that a prospective ban on ransomware payments is the “North Star” that US cybersecurity experts are following. However, she added that getting there will take some time because the US economy is not yet “resilient enough to withstand” a law that would make it illegal for companies to make payments to resolve a cyberattack. She stated: “If we banned ransomware payments today, we could bankrupt the small- and medium-sized businesses [SMEs] that the American economy relies upon. What we need to do is prepare for the worst – prepare those organisations to be more resilient against ransomware attacks, because a ban on payments is not going to stop the attacks from happening but it will starve those businesses.” Walden’s remarks come as Help Net Security, an independent website based in Croatia, reported the latest statistics from Coveware, a “ransomware remediation business” headquartered in Norwalk, Connecticut, which indicate that an increasing number of companies hit by ransomware attacks are refusing to pay extortionists. “In Q1 2024, the proportion of victims that chose to pay touched a new record low of 28%,” it noted. This is because victim organisations (including an increasing number of SMEs) are taking action to enable them to withstand an encryption attack and restore operations without resorting to paying their extorters for a decryption key. It seems they have learned through hard experience that even when a ransom has been paid, criminal gangs can and will come back for multiple bites of the cherry. Then, even when such demands have been met, victims can still find their stolen data has been leaked or traded anyway. Big companies and multinational corporations have been extorted in the past but, having deep pockets, have since acted to deploy the most sophisticated defences. However, the great majority of the world’s many millions of SMEs, not having the financial means to pay for widespread defence against ransomware attacks, are not only vulnerable but have become prime targets for gangs that make less in ransom payments than they would from large companies, and have a far bigger range of potential victims to target. As Megan Stifel, chief strategy officer at the US Institute for Security and Technology, notes, “It is unfortunately often those who are cyber poor who are targeted for these types of incidents, which oftentimes can drive these organisations out of business… they do need additional support.” Tactics to help mitigate attacks are being developed and include the provision of incentives for SMEs to adopt “proper cyber hygiene practices and training”, the deployment of comparatively inexpensive ‘secure-by-design’ cyber products, and the institution of formalised information-sharing between victims and potential targets. Finally, the latest Coveware report shows that whilst ransomware payments may be trending downwards, the average in the first quarter of this year was still $381,980, a very considerable sum and more than enough to destroy an unwary SME.

Let there be more light… Scientists at NTT in Japan have invented a new fabrication technology that can branch and merge various types of optical fibre without the flow of data through them being disrupted or stopped. NTT claims that “as the number of connected devices continues to rise globally, this new technology has important implications for the future of IoT (and industrial IoT), with the potential to slash fibre construction costs and time.” What the team of researchers at NTT have done is to solve the major problem endemic to branching and merging optical fibres in and between networks and different network technologies. The optical fibres deployed across the globe all have differing “refractive index distributions” (i.e. the diameter of the core of the optical fibre and the refractive index of the core and cladding). They also exhibit different propagation characteristics. The NTT breakthrough provides a new structure that is compatible across various refractive indices, thus expanding the range of optical fibres that can seamlessly be branched and merged well beyond what is possible with conventional methods. That range includes all optical fibres that meet the international standards adhered to in optical access (FTTX) networks worldwide. The new approach should reduce significantly both the cost of optical network construction and shorten the time it takes telcos to deploy new fibre optic systems. This is particularly important given the ever (and quickly) increasing number of devices being connected. Hitherto, it was not possible  to change a network configuration without interrupting the flow of data communications, but the new NTT solution enables the branching of optical fibres during communication regardless of their effective refractive index. NTT’s expectation is that the discovery will enable the development of flexible optical networks that can be connected from anywhere, to anywhere, without affecting communications. And the research programme is not over – NTT will continue to conduct field verification trials using prototype devices to build flexible optical networks that can be built quickly to respond to customers’ needs.

- The staff, TelecomTV

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