What’s up with… Orange & Vodafone, Vodafone Idea, AI safety

Open RAN is all the rage in rural Romania!

Open RAN is all the rage in rural Romania!

  • Orange and Vodafone expand Open RAN pilot in Romania
  • India’s Vodafone Idea preps capex splurge
  • Nations and developers sign up to AI safety measures

In today’s industry news roundup: Orange and Vodafone have completed a vital expansion stage in their shared rural Open RAN pilot rollout in Romania; Vodafone Idea is ready to pump billions into its 4G and 5G rollouts; 16 major developers commit to AI safety measures; and much more!

Orange and Vodafone have expanded their shared 4G Open RAN pilot in a number of rural areas in Romania and say they have fully integrated 2G virtual RAN (vRAN) technology. “This achievement represents an important step towards the cloud migration of radio access networks, allowing network operators to consider moving their entire traditional network to fully virtualised RAN spanning 2G/4G/5G networks, in line with European requirements, especially in areas where the shutdown of 3G networks is completed or imminent,” noted Orange in this announcement (in Romanian). The pilot, first announced in February 2023, is being conducted using technology from Samsung (multi-radio access technology software and radios), Dell (servers) and Wind River (cloud platform). Orange noted: “Over the past six months, both operators have gained local operational experience in managing an active Open RAN network used in real operating conditions, contributing to increased confidence in the maturity of virtualised networks. This observation period has allowed for a comprehensive comparison between Open RAN and traditional RAN networks and has demonstrated similar performance between the two options.” The use of disaggregated solutions has enabled the operator partners “more freedom and autonomy in managing their own virtualised RAN software on a common cloud infrastructure” while also sharing operating costs. 

Having successfully raised 180bn rupees ($2.16bn) through its recent follow-on public offer (FPO), a financial instrument via which an existing company already listed on a stock exchange can issue new shares, Indian mobile operator Vodafone Idea, the country’s third-largest service provider, is now ready to splash a lot of cash on expanding its existing 4G network and starting its 5G rollout. In its recent full financial year earnings announcement, the operator noted that it is in discussions to raise up to 250bn rupees ($3bn) in new bank debt facilities and is looking to raise a further 100bn rupees ($1.2bn) from other sources. As a result, it plans to invest between 500bn and 550bn rupees ($6bn to $6.6bn) in its network infrastructure over the next three years. “The capex will be towards expanding 4G population coverage in 17 priority circles [service areas], 5G launch in key cities/geographies and capacity expansion to address the increasing data demand,” the operator stated. It noted in an investor presentation that much of its existing radio access network (RAN) is “5G ready” and that it intends to deploy “disaggregated RAN” – virtual RAN and Open RAN – technology to enable “cost efficiencies”. Vodafone Idea has already conducted an Open RAN pilot using radio units and software from Mavenir and a cloud platform from Red Hat. Vodafone Idea is still in the early stages of its 5G activities and is some way behind its main and much stronger rivals, Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, both of which have already achieved national 5G coverage and signed more than 50 million 5G customers each in a market that boasts more than 1.1 billion mobile connections. Despite losing millions of customers in recent quarters, Vodafone Idea still ended March with 219.8 million mobile connections for an 18.9% share of the total mobile user base. It is now focused on reversing its subscriber base decline as well as increasing its average monthly revenue per user, which stood at 146 rupees ($1.75) per month during the first three months of this year (incredibly that figure represents a 7.6% year-on-year increase). Vodafone Idea reported full financial year revenues of 426.5bn rupees ($5.12bn), up by 1.1%, and an operating loss of 14.9bn rupees ($179m), about 5% worse than the previous year. 

As expected, Australia, Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, the US and the UK have used the occasion of the AI Seoul Summit to sign the Seoul Statement of Intent toward International Cooperation on AI Safety Science, which commits them to developing an international network of AI Safety Institutes as part of broader AI cooperation measures. The UK launched the first such institute last year following the AI Safety Summit that was held at the beginning of November. An overview of the agreement can be read here. The summit also saw national and AI business leaders sign up to the broader Seoul Declaration, which “cements the importance of enhanced international cooperation to develop AI that is ‘human-centric, trustworthy and responsible’, so that it can be used to solve the world’s biggest challenges, protect human rights, and bridge global digital divides.” The AI developers have “recognised the importance of a risk-based approach in governing AI to maximise the benefits and address the broad range of risks from AI, to ensure the safe, secure, and trustworthy design, development, deployment, and use of Al,” according to the UK government announcement about the summit. As a result, 16 companies, including Amazon, Anthropic, Cohere, Google, IBM, Meta, Microsoft, OpenAI and Samsung, have agreed to the Frontier AI Safety Commitments. You can read about the agreement here, but it includes a commitment to “set out thresholds at which severe risks posed by a model or system, unless adequately mitigated, would be deemed intolerable,” and to “set out explicit processes they intend to follow if their model or system poses risks that meet or exceed the pre-defined thresholds… In the extreme, organisations commit not to develop or deploy a model or system at all, if mitigations cannot be applied to keep risks below the thresholds.” This, in effect, commits those companies to implement a “kill switch” that would cease the development of their AI models if they can’t guarantee mitigation of these risks, reported CNBC

Philippines telco Globe is exploring the potential of branching into industry verticals, such as healthcare, to diversify its services portfolio and broaden the growth prospects for its fintech unit, Mynt, the operator’s CEO Ernest Cu has told Bloomberg. The company is exploring such options in case growth from its telecom services comes to a halt, which is a concern for all service providers. “Growth all over the world as far as telco revenues [are concerned] has been challenged. I think it’s no secret,” he told Bloomberg, adding that the potential “promised in the 5G era hasn’t really come about for most operators today.” The CEO stressed, though, that Globe will continue to develop and invest in its telecom infrastructure and services as the business is currently “very healthy”. In the first quarter of this year, Globe reported a 3% year-on-year increase in revenues to 41.1bn Philippine pesos ($708m), while EBITDA grew by 4% to 21.4bn pesos ($369m). Mynt, in which Globe holds a 34% stake, contributed 962m pesos ($16.6m) to Globe’s pre-tax net profits in the quarter, 11% of the total. Mynt’s GCash digital payments platform has 94 million users in the Philippines, making it the country’s most popular fintech service. Globe is currently considering an IPO for Mynt, but various options are still being considered, according to the CEO. 

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced plans to invest €15.7bn in its AWS Europe (Spain) Region, a move that, the hyperscaler claims, “will support an estimated 17,500 full-time equivalent jobs in local businesses on an annual average basis, and will contribute an estimated €21.6bn to Spain’s gross domestic product (GDP) through to 2033.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX and T-Mobile US have completed a video call via the Starlink low-earth orbit (LEO) direct-to-cell satellite constellations using regular smartphones, the satellite giant has announced on X. “We’re excited to go live with @TMobile later this year,” noted the satellite firm in its post. You can see a demo of the video call in this post on X. SpaceX and T-Mobile US announced their plans for  satellite-to-smartphone services in August 2022. Starlink, the LEO operating unit of SpaceX, launched its first direct-to-cell satellites at the start of the year and has been undergoing service tests with T-Mobile US since then. 

A growing IT skills shortage is having an impact on organisations in all industries and across all regions, according to a recent report from IDC. It predicts that “by 2026, more than 90% of organisations worldwide will feel the pain of the IT skills crisis, amounting to some $5.5tn in losses caused by product delays, impaired competitiveness, and loss of business.” It will come as no surprise that the IT skills in most demand right now are related to AI.  Read more.  

Nokia has completed the acquisition of Fenix to expand the portfolio of wireless network products it can offer to customers in the defence sector. The deal to acquire the Chantilly, Virginia-based “tactical” cellular communications networking solutions specialist, for an undisclosed sum, was first announced in December last year.   

The Italian government has given its “unconditional” approval for Swisscom’s planned €8bn acquisition of Vodafone Italy, which was officially announced in March this year. Swisscom noted in this announcement that the deal remains subject to further regulatory and other customary approvals and is expected to be completed during the first quarter of 2025. Swisscom plans to merge Vodafone Italy with Fastweb, its existing fixed line operation in Italy. The sale of its Italian operations is just one of a number of M&A deals that is reshaping Vodafone’s European footprint.    

- The staff, TelecomTV

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