What’s up with… Cisco, Huawei, Vodafone Idea

  • Cisco cuts more jobs
  • Huawei’s hopes of a 5G reprieve in Portugal look slim
  • Vodafone Idea refutes takeover offer rumours

In today’s industry news roundup: Yet more jobs are being cut at Cisco; Huawei’s 5G future in Portugal looks dire; India’s Vodafone Idea refutes US-linked M&A speculation; and more!

Cisco Systems is shrinking its workforce further, announcing it is to slash 350 jobs in Silicon Valley in October, according to MarketWatch. The giant networking vendor will reportedly lay off 227 staff at its headquarters in San Jose, and another 123 in the nearby Californian city of Milpitas, with effect from 16 October. The intentions were filed with California’s Employment Development Department last week. In November 2022, Cisco announced plans to cut some 5% of its workforce, affecting more than 4,000 jobs in total. According to MarketWatch, it also axed another 700 jobs in March.

Portugal is a step closer to ensuring equipment by Huawei is not used in the building of 5G networks in the country. The Portuguese telecoms regulator, Anacom, is reportedly working with telcos to adopt a resolution that would ban Huawei’s equipment from the nation’s 5G networks. The high-level resolution was made by CSSC, Portugal’s Cybersecurity Council, and is to be implemented by Anacom despite it facing legal action from the Chinese vendor. Anacom’s chairman, João Cadete de Matos, was cited as saying that the authority will execute decisions that ensure security not only within the national but also the European framework. According to the report, the main telcos in Portugal – Altice, NOS and Vodafone – have previously said they will not use Huawei kit in their 5G core networks. In May, the Safety Assessment Commission of Portugal issued a report recommending that companies based in countries outside the European Union, which are not members of OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) or NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), should not be allowed to supply network equipment to Portugal’s mobile operators because such companies pose a high risk to national security – see What’s up with… AI concerns, Ethiopia, 5G in Portugal.

Things are going from bad to worse at Vodafone Idea in India. Last month the operator, which has been trying (unsuccessfully) to rebrand itself under the name of “Vi”, reported yet another quarterly loss – on this occasion the $942.8m undershoot was attributed to “weaker-than-expected 4G subscriber growth”. Vodafone Idea is running out of ideas – and excuses. The company is the result of the summer 2018 merger of Vodafone Group’s Indian business interests and Idea Cellular, which was owned by Indian conglomerate Aditya Birla Group (between them, Vodafone Group and Aditya Birla still own 50.1% of Vodafone Idea’s shares). It has turned out to be a marriage made in hell. The operator has posted a loss for each and every quarter since it started trading and has been losing more and more disgruntled subscribers as they defect to Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio in their masses. In the first quarter of this year, Idea’s 4G subscriber base grew by a miserable 0.2% to 122.9 million even as its overall subscriber base fell to 221.4 million from 225.9 million in the quarter. Plans to roll out 5G services have stalled. Vodafone Idea is mired in unpaid spectrum fees and laden with enormous debts to the Indian government and is struggling to fundraise and refinance. Something has to give, and eventually it will, perhaps with a helping hand from India’s government. Earlier this week the Indian financial press reported that the government, which is now (ruefully) Vodafone Idea’s biggest individual shareholder with a 33.1% stake, wants out and has been negotiating the sale of its shareholding to either Amazon, Elon Musk’s Starlink, or Verizon. As the news percolated through, Idea’s battered share price rose by 20% as stockholders saw some glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. But it didn’t last. Idea quickly scotched the rumour and denied that any such acquisition negotiations have taken place and the share price fell back again. A statement from Vodafone Idea has it that, “The company is not in any such discussion with any of the named parties”. You will note that it does not say it’s not in talks with other potential buyers. Something’s afoot. Quite what, we’ll find out sooner or later. Meanwhile, Vodafone Idea will just have to plough on with its much-vaunted, but little evident, recovery plan. 

AST SpaceMobile, one of the companies racing to enable cellular services to standard smartphones from low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites, claims it has successfully established the first 5G connection between an unmodified mobile handset, in this case a Samsung Galaxy S22, and a satellite. The company’s engineers “demonstrated space-based 5G connectivity by placing a call from Maui, Hawaii,” from a location that has no terrestrial mobile connectivity, “to a Vodafone engineer in Madrid, Spain, using AT&T spectrum and AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 test satellite,” it noted in this announcement. In a separate test, the company “broke its previous space-based cellular broadband data session record by achieving a download rate of approximately 14 Mbit/s,” it boasted. The announcement came just a day after Juniper Research predicted that satellite-enabled 5G services will generate billions of dollars in revenues for mobile operators during the rest of this decade.

X, the social media giant previously known as Twitter, might soon be the preserve of paying customers. According to a BBC News report of a conversation between X’s owner, Elon Musk, and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Musk believes the only way to stave off bots on the platform is the implementation of a payment system. “We’re moving to having a small monthly payment for use of the system,” Musk was cited as saying, but provided no further details or pricing. Currently, X can be used for free by anyone, while a more advanced version, available in the US and dubbed X Premium, features extras such as longer posts and enhanced visibility on the social media platform for a $7.99 monthly fee. Musk has also reportedly unveiled plans to introduce lower tier pricing.

The venerable International Telecommunications Union (ITU), founded in 1865, when Alexander Graham Bell was a hobbledehoy living in London, has released a new report showing that while the global population of those without broadband services continues to fall, there are still 2.6 billion people unable to access the internet and are thus disenfranchised from the digital economy and community. This equates to approximately 33% of all humanity. Some 5.4 billion people (that’s 67%) do have online access but, as the ITU stresses, “the race toward universal and meaningful connectivity” will require “sustained efforts” if the 2030 target date for “universal and meaningful” connectivity is to be met. The ITU’s secretary general, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, commented, “This improvement in connectivity is another step in the right direction, and one more step towards leaving no one behind in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We won’t rest until we live in a world where meaningful connectivity is a lived reality for everyone, everywhere.” Currently, growth in internet connectivity is strongest in low-income countries where access has increased by 17% over the past 12 months. That’s a positive trend but the reality is that, despite the increasing availability of broadband in low-income areas, about 70% of people living in them still cannot connect to the internet. Interestingly, the ITU figures show that the surge of double-digit growth in internet availability, which was at its apogee in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic was at its most virulent, was not maintained once vaccines became available and comparative normality was restored. The ITU report provides valuable data on the rate and range of the ongoing deployment of internet connectivity technologies in unserved and underserved area around the world, but we will have to wait for another couple of months for the full-fledged, detailed global, regional, and country-level analysis for key connectivity indicators, as tracked by the UN agency, that will be part of the ITU's annual facts and figures report.

Mobile connectivity appears to have extended its reach on a global scale, with the latest figures from industry association the GSMA showing the total number of people living in areas without mobile coverage has dropped from 1.8 billion in 2015 to 400 million by the end of 2022. In a report focused on assessing the role of mobile in contributing to United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs), the GSMA noted that 4.5 billion people (representing 57% of the world’s population) had access to mobile internet by the end of last year, which is a rise of nearly 2 billion people since 2015. The GSMA also found mobile connectivity had an impact on various SDGs, with the highest contribution seen across industry, innovation and infrastructure. “Countries which have achieved the biggest improvements in mobile connectivity have also typically made greater strides towards the UN 2030 Agenda”, GSMA’s report claimed. Asia-Pacific was highlighted as a region with “significant scaling” of mobile between 2015 and 2022, along with a “sharp rise in the number of unique subscribers and mobile connections”. Faster speeds coming with 4G and 5G rollouts, decline in prices and increased smartphone adoption have brought “a wave of new digital services that underpinned an uptake in the region’s SDG contribution”. North America and Europe were also outlined as achievers in terms of SDG impact, as users in these regions are typically higher than elsewhere and use a plethora of digital services. Despite the “promising performance” of the sector since 2015, factors such as the global cost-of-living crisis, conflicts, the Covid-19 pandemic and rise in climate-related emergencies have negatively impacted efforts towards the SDGs goals. As a result, the report warns that the industry will only reach “76% of its full potential impact on the 17 SDGs by 2030, based on its current trajectory”, the report noted. The average impact score of the mobile industry towards meeting the SDGs is currently 53%. The GSMA called for reformed policy to support sustainable levels of investment in mobile broadband infrastructure; actions to leverage the role of the international community, UN agencies and multilateral development banks to prioritise investment in digital development; efforts to drive the use of mobile solutions by all segments of the population and enterprises; and “consistently tapping into mobile-enabled innovation to address societal challenges”. Read more.

- The staff, TelecomTV

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