What’s up with… The Gigabit Infrastructure Act, Zegona and Vodafone, Comcast

TelecomTV Staff
By TelecomTV Staff

Feb 2, 2024

  • Telco lobby groups slam the EC’s Gigabit Infrastructure Act  
  • Zegona gets Spanish green light for Vodafone acquisition
  • Comcast chastened over 10G claims 

In today’s industry news roundup: Four major network operator industry organisations have joined forces to slam the European Commission’s Gigabit Infrastructure Act plans; Spain’s competition watchdog gives Zegona the all clear to acquire Vodafone’s local operations; US cable giant Comcast has been taken to task over its 10G advertising; and much more! 

Four industry organisations representing the interests of various European network operators – ECTA, ETNO, GIGAEurope and the GSMA – have issued a joint statement citing their individual and collective “strong concerns” in regard to the Gigabit Infrastructure Act (GIA) that is wending its way through European Parliament. The joint statement warns that, unless the present form and scope of the new regulation is amended, there will be a cascade of “unintended consequences” that could ultimately result in severe damage to Europe’s telecom industry. The laudable aim of the aforementioned Act is to cut red tape and reduce costs by simplifying, improving and expediting the processes and procedures that need to be followed where the granting of infrastructure permits for the deployment of gigabit-capable networks is concerned. For historical reasons, there are a number of major and/or minor disparities between the member states of the EU in terms of national interests, as well as between urban and rural areas. The new Act would see the period of time national authorities would have to make a decision on whether or not to grant a permit reduced from four months to two months. The new regulation will also facilitate access to physical infrastructure, such as buildings, rooftops, facades and street furniture and “encourage existing physical infrastructures, such as ducts, poles, masts, antenna installations, towers, and other supporting constructions to be shared, to minimise costly civil engineering works and accelerate the rollout of high-speed networks.” Furthermore, the legislation will introduce measures to coordinate civil works carried out by network operators or public authorities while provisions will “incentivise and speed up the extension of coverage to rural, remote and scarcely populated areas.” The Act will also see the abolition of end-user fees for intra-EU calls and SMS text messaging. Members of the European Parliament say that to avoid unnecessarily excessive prices, the legislation necessary to regulate intra-EU pricing should be passed before the end of May this year. In other words, at lightning speed compared to the usual leisurely perambulation through the bureaucratic thickets. The full object of the Act “is to ensure that, by 2030, all EU households should have access to fixed gigabit networks and all populated areas, including rural areas, have 5G coverage so no one is left behind.” However, the joint statement says the ongoing negotiations on the Act “risk turning it into a measure that penalises telecoms operators, without producing any real benefit in terms of administrative simplification. Key measures that would help speed up network rollout are now being placed into doubt. These include so-called ‘tacit approvals’, which allow fibre installation when construction permits are not granted within a reasonable timeframe.” Collectively, the four industry lobby groups stress that “the historic effort to invest in 5G and fibre across the EU will be undermined by proposals of aggressive and unjustified price regulation in competitive markets for intra-EU communications, without any impact assessment or evidence of market failure.” Yes, the sub-text of it all is money. The joint statement concludes, “Unless the original spirit of the European Commission proposal is preserved, the EU telecom industry believes that retaining current rules would be less damaging to network rollout than implementing an ill-conceived regulation. This risks leaving a damaging legacy on our sector under the remaining EU mandate.” Expect this dispute to trundle along for quite some time yet. The publication of the statement comes only days after Vodafone raised concerns about how Europe is lagging behind in terms of digital advances and ETNO (this time flying solo) piled pressure on the European authorities about the investment plight of the region’s network operators. 

Spain’s competition watchdog, the Comisión Nacional de los Mercados y la Competencia (CNMC), has unconditionally approved the planned €5bn acquisition of Vodafone Spain by Zegona Communications, a decision that marks a major step towards the completion of the takeover, which was first announced in October 2023. The CNMC noted that it sees no risk to competition from the deal and that the deal would not “significantly modify the structure of the affected markets, producing only a change in the ownership of control of Vodafone in Spain.” Earlier this week, Zegona received clearance for the acquisition from the European Commission’s competition directorate under the Foreign Subsidies Regulation

To Xfinity 10G… and back again. In the US, the regulation of advertising, be that on billboard posters, TV, radio, in print media and across the internet or anywhere else (such as a handy barn door) that can carry a commercial “message” to the masses is laissez-faire and lax in comparison to Europe and some other parts of the world. So when the US National Advertising Review Board (NARB) steps in and raps Comcast, the country’s biggest cable services and media conglomerate, over the knuckles for misleading advertising, you know it’s been properly naughty. The NARB has told Comcast that the advertising for its Xfinity 10G Network is misleading, “unnecessarily confusing” and could lead customers to think the Xfinity 10G services are providing “significantly faster speeds than are available on 5G networks,” The Verge has reported. Caught bang to rights, Comcast has agreed immediately to cease and desist using “10G” both in its Xfinity 10G Network branding and within the name itself. So, farewell then “10G”… maybe. The NARB issued its ruling after investigating complaints made by Comcast rivals T-Mobile US and AT&T, which argued that in the communications services sector, everyone, including all consumers, understand that the letter G (as in in 5G) stands for “generation”. In cableco-lingo, 10G means a 10 Gbit/s broadband speed – a very different thing. The complainants say Comcast’s Xfinity 10G adverts mislead subscribers into the belief that they are getting access speeds that are twice as fast as 5G on every Comcast service bundle that comes under the “10” appellation. The reality is that those 10 Gbit/s speeds relate to an “on-request” Xfinity Gigabit Pro service that requires a fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connection and cannot be achieved over Comcast’s traditional cable infrastructure. As is usual in the telecom world, irony abounds in yet another example of the pot calling the kettle black. It should be remembered that AT&T, now sitting smugly astride its high horse, was, back in 2020, taken to task by NARB for misleading customers by advertising its spurious 5G Evolution (aka 5GE) network that wasn’t 5G at all. The regulator also criticised Verizon for making fallacious claims about the speed and coverage of its 5G infrastructure. Comcast sings the same old song, saying it will no longer use the descriptor “Xfinity 10G network” but will relent under protest because it “strongly disagrees with the NARB’s analysis and approach.” It also turns out that the NARB has ruled that Comcast may continue to use the term “10G” provided it is applied accurately. We can be sure that rivals will be watching Comcast closely, ready to launch another complaint as soon as the term “10G” seems to be applied erroneously.

Canadian operator Rogers Communications has achieved a new milestone by carrying out what it claims was the first nationwide live test of 5G network slicing. The testing was conducted in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, running on Roger’s 5G standalone (SA) core network, which it launched in 2022. Following the trial, which was in partnership with Ericsson, Rogers plans to use network slicing this year to offer a “dedicated lane” for first responders, so that they have priority on the network. The telco also envisions using network slicing to separate fixed and mobile traffic on its national 5G network, and to speed up the expansion of its 5G Wireless Home Internet offering to more rural and remote communities across Canada. “This will proactively optimise and dedicate traffic flows to ensure a more consistent and reliable service for both residential and mobile users,” the company stated. According to Ron McKenzie, chief technology and information officer at Rogers, network slicing will foster services for public safety, residential and business sectors, “further improving our daily lives by providing even more focused and reliable support for essential applications.”

Still in Canada… Incumbent telco Bell Canada has partnered with Mila, a domestic AI research institute, to apply deep-learning neural network algorithms to its systems and data. “Bell has made significant investments to develop extensive data analytics capabilities and AI applications in multiple areas of its operations, and this collaboration is the latest step in advancing its AI expertise,” the operator noted in a statement unveiling the tie-up. The project will run for 18 months and will see the parties identify opportunities for “improving business performance and customer experience” using “cutting-edge” deep-learning neural network techniques. Essentially, these models are inspired by the human brain and teach computers to recognise complex patterns in content, such as pictures, text and sounds, with the aim of producing accurate insights and predictions. According to Bell, this initiative will help it achieve its goal of shifting from a traditional telco to “a technology services leader”.

Vodafone has partnered with Autobahn, the federal controlled-access highway system in Germany, to bring 5G to German motorways by 2028. To ensure fast network expansion, the pair will speed up the search for new mast locations, with Autobahn providing Vodafone with state-owned land, such as at rest areas or in motorway maintenance depots, for example. They will also work together on construction planning. According to Vodafone, building additional masts will “close remaining coverage gaps” along Germany’s motorways, which will make the network denser and minimise the number of dropped calls. The move is also set to support the development of “the autonomous transport of tomorrow”. Vodafone’s plan involves the installation of 150 new mobile sites with 5G technology by the end of 2026, and an additional 1,000 construction measures will look to expand capacity at existing systems. Vodafone noted that its German division currently operates more than 6,000 mobile phone sites covering motorway routes and tunnels. More than 3,600 of these already deliver 5G connectivity. Find out more.

As part of ongoing national efforts to reduce China’s reliance on foreign suppliers of communications technology, the chipmaker CXMT (ChangXin Memory Technologies) is to fabricate the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s  first advanced semiconductor memory chips for AI, Nikkei has reported. CXMT, situated in Hefei, in the east of the People’s Republic, is a specialist in the manufacture of DRAM memory. China is pushing for self-sufficiency and to be able to develop its own home-grown high-bandwidth semiconductors, which are vital components in the artificial intelligence systems the Chinese state sets such store by. As Nikkei Asia reported, although ostensibly hemmed-in by the strictures of US-imposed export controls on strategic high-tech, it is believed that CXMT has sourced and taken delivery of manufacturing and test equipment from both US and Japanese suppliers. The equipment is needed for the production of high bandwidth memory (HBM). Stacking DRAM chips into HBMs broadens the width of comms channels and so greatly increases the speed of data transfer – and fast data transfer is a key component of AI systems and applications. HBM requires high-quality DRAM production capability in combination with advanced techniques to link the semiconductors together and, to date, no local Chinese fabs have proved capable of manufacturing HBM chips that can provide state-of-the-art AI computing. In this context, China is an also-ran and it will take an immense effort and untold sums of money for the country to catch up with its rivals in global commercial markets. Indeed, the likelihood is that it never will. Semiconductor makers don’t hang around kicking their heels and waiting for their competitors to catch up, they continue researching, innovating and developing. Thus, China’s determination to do its own thing isn’t about global domination in AI, although the politburo would like it to be. The reality is that something is needed to meet the PRC’s burgeoning domestic demand. The Biden administration imposed wide-ranging controls on the exportation of advanced chip technology back in October, 2022, but since then some controls have been relaxed slightly and a few licences have been issued permitting the export of older, blunter equipment rather than new, leading-edge technologies. To put things into perspective, last year CXMT had less than 1% of the global DRAM market, while, between them, Samsung, SK Hynix and Micron had a 97% global market share. 

- The staff, TelecomTV

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