What’s up with… NGMN, Open RAN in the UK, Ericsson, Vodafone UK

  • NGMN has a new look, updates on strategic work
  • UK government backs Open RAN labs
  • Ericsson helps with Japan’s multi-operator RAN
  • Vodafone UK launches 5G standalone trials

An NGMN update, new Open RAN testing facilities in the UK and a step towards standalone 5G by Vodafone top today’s pillar of industry updates.

Following on from the unveiling of new key focus areas in recent months, the NGMN Alliance has unveiled a new logo and provided an update on its work in the areas of 6G, Green Future Networks and Operating Disaggregated Networks. A number of senior NGMN executives and board members, including Anita Döhler, CEO at the NGMN Alliance, and Antonio Carlos Correia-Fernandes, VP Group Technology Innovation at Deutsche Telekom, provided updates on the industry body’s work, provided timelines for various deliverables and answered questions from an online audience during a live discussion hosted by TelecomTV today. The whole briefing and live Q&A session is already available on demand, and you can see it in full right here

As Huawei equipment is being removed from Britain's telecoms networks, the UK government is striving to promote an alternative mobile networking supply chain and as part of that it has provided £1 million of funding for 5G testing laboratories to ensure that national networks will never again be reliant on just a small number of infrastructure suppliers. Run under the aegis of the comms regulator, Ofcom, and the technology innovation agency Digital Catapult, Sonic Labs, based in London and Brighton (a city on the south coast of England that has the nickname of ‘London-by-the Sea’), has the remit to ensure that 5G equipment will be interoperable with components from a wide variety of different manufacturers. Central to the diversification strategy is the adoption and promotion of Open RAN architecture. For further details, see this announcement

Ericsson is one of the vendors selected to help KDDI and SoftBank deploy Japan’s first Multi-Operator Radio Access Network (MORAN). “Ericsson’s network sharing solution brings new, flexible and efficient ways to deploy networks to both communications service providers while keeping both companies’ own operations and management capabilities,” noted the vendor in this announcement

Vodafone UK has launched 5G standalone pilots in London, Manchester and Cardiff to test new capabilities such as network slicing. Read more.

Samsung has unveiled a range of new chipsets for its 5G radio access network portfolio and a new radio, the One Antenna Radio (with integrated antennas), that “simplify and speed up 5G installations by consolidating a 3.5GHz Massive MIMO radio with low-band and mid-band passive antennas into a single form factor.” For more on the chips – a third generation mmWave Radio Frequency Integrated Circuit (RFIC) chip, a second generation 5G modem System-on-Chip (SoC) and a Digital Front End (DFE)-RFIC integrated chip – see this announcement, and for more on the One Antenna Radio, see this press release

In the US, the suitably-monickered Everynet has launched its national LoRaWAN Internet of Things (IoT) network. The first phase, which will be up and running by the end of the year, will encompass the "Top 36 metropolitan areas and key logistics corridors in the nation." (i.e. roads and cities). In the new US network, the company will operate as a neutral-host, enabling MNOs, MVNOs, ASPs, ISPs and MSPs to provide carrier grade Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) IoT services to their customers. To do so, Everynet will rely on Crown Castle’s infrastructure of more than 40,000 cell towers and base stations and and 80,000 route miles of fibre cabling. In addition to the American market, Everynet networks are operational in Brazil, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Puerto Rico, Spain and the UK. The company is a member the LoRa Alliance global association that offers roaming to 30 countries around the world. It also collaborates with Semtech, the supplier of performance analogue and mixed-signal semiconductors and creator of LoRa technology. Everynet's CEO, Lawrence Latham, says the company's networks "deliver carrier grade connectivity, with built-in resilience, security and meaningful SLAs without any need for network CAPEX from our wholesale customers."

T-Mobile US has been celebrating its latest next-gen mobile broadband network rollout landmarks by launching two drinks -- 5Gin, for those who like a tipple of the hard stuff, and 5Ginger Beer, for the teetotal crew. Seriously! Read more

Mobileum, which provides tools to help operators with their roaming, fraud management and network security, has gone a bit M&A crazy! Earlier in the week it announced the acquisition of Developing Solutions, a “network testing software provider that focuses on core network testing for load and lab use cases covering 3G, 4G, 5G and IP Multimedia Subsystem”: Now it has bought Convene Networks, a “technology provider of integrated core network solutions for 3G/4G/5G networks.” The acquisition “expands Mobileum’s core network technology footprint, extending its portfolio of 5G Core solutions and providing commercial off-the-shelf 5G-in-a-box for small carriers and private networks.” Financial terms were not disclosed for either deal. The acquisitions are “in line with Mobileum’s growth strategy since its acquisition by Audax Private Equity in 2016, as it continues building an integrated suite of analytics solutions to support telecom operators as they roll out 5G, launch new IoT services, and accelerate their digital transformation.” Read more.

During the UK's long and frequent series of national lockdowns designed to minimise the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of passengers using London's vital and often overcrowded Underground trains network (the Tube) fell to record low levels. As things slowly begin to get back to something approaching normality, passenger numbers are on the rise - although they are not yet back to anywhere near pre-Covid levels. Those that are back to the daily commute, masked to the eyeballs and as distantly socially-distanced as is possible in a railway carriage, have discovered that over the course of several lockdowns the mobile operator Vodafone has quietly, and without any sort of announcement, shut off its Wi-Fi access on Tube trains. Most commuters thought the absence of what, pre-Covid, Vodafone had oft-trumpeted as a free service for the benefit of travellers was down to a technical fault but no, it was a deliberate and all but secret  decision presumably taken to save a comparatively paltry sum of money. Following a string of complaints a belated message has appeared on Vodafone's website. It reads, "We are no longer continuing our WiFi services on the London Underground. We will still continue to supply 4G on the Jubilee line between North Greenwich and Westminster and are continuing to invest our network above ground across London. This includes improved coverage at key stations, including Charing Cross, London Bridge and Waterloo in particular. Learn more about our investment in the Jubilee line." For those of you who don't know London or the complexities of its massive Tube network, the statement means that Vodafone subscribers will only get 'free" service on the far eastern section of the Jubilee Line. If they want access to the service elsewhere on the Underground they'll have to buy a pass. The recently re-elected mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has promised that 4G services will be available everywhere on the Tube - by the end of next year. As for Vodafone it's a case of pay-up or "Mind The Gap" and customers do mind it, a lot.

The European Union has published its space activities agenda for the years 2022 through to 2027 and announced the formation of a new managing and oversight body, the EU Agency for the Space Programme or "Euspa" for short. And, yes, it does sound just like the name of a chocolate bar. The new five-year programme will focus on satellite-navigation, earth observation, secure communications and space situational awareness. That last sector is of increasingly critical importance given the ever-increasing amount of satellites and space junk now hurtling around the plant and threatening to knock out both satellite systems and manned space stations. The new agenda also formalises the EU's relationship with the European Space Agency (ESA). This is a problematic area given that members of the ESA and Euspa do not necessarily overlap. For example, the UK is in the ESA but not in Euspa, while the ESA is both technology advisor and procurement services provider to Euspa. This fudged area of post-Brexit co-operation is now formalised under the terms of the Financial Framework Partnership Agreement (FFPA). Complicated, isn't it? Basically, the FFPA oversees the sums of money that the EU will contribute to the ESA between now and 2027. In total this comes to €9 billion out of the total EU space budget of €14.88 billion. EU Commissioner Thierry Breton commented, "Space is going through massive transformation and rapid industrialisation, all around the world. For Europe to maintain its leadership, we must rethink the way we do space in Europe. We must adapt to fast developments and anticipate new ones. We must set an ambitious - and disruptive - space agenda for the future: Be more dynamic, more innovative, more risk-taking." Reaction to the new agenda has been generally favourable but critics say it is unambitious and just another five years of the same-old, same-old, pointing out that China has proven it can launch its own space station and put astronauts into space, something the EU still can't. Meanwhile, the UK is out of the Galileo consortium and system but remains a part of Copernicus-Sentinel, the multi-satellite, multi-sensor programme that observes and monitors the state of Planet Earth.

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