What’s up with… SONIC Labs, e&, E-Space, Intel, the FCC

The SONIC Open RAN lab in north London.

The SONIC Open RAN lab in north London.

  • Another Open RAN lab opens in the UK
  • e& teams up with E-Space and Intel
  • The FCC looks set to take further national security measures

In today’s industry roundup: The UK’s Digital Catapult opens up a new Open RAN test lab facility in north London; Middle East giant has forged IoT and green network partnerships; the FCC is reviewing foreign-owned telecom services in the US; and more!  

It’s been a frantic week for the Open RAN test lab community in the UK. Following on from the official launch of Rakuten Symphony’s facilities in Weybridge, just south-west of London, earlier this week, UK state-funded Digital Catapult has opened a new lab (see above) in north London as part of its SONIC (SmartRAN Open Network Interoperability Centre) Labs programme (in association with UK regulator Ofcom). The facility “provides a commercially neutral, collaborative environment for the testing and integration of Open RAN network solutions,” according to the Digital Catapult team, providing “multiple Open RAN vendors with the opportunity to trial, test and accelerate the development of their products in a commercially neutral environment. The SONIC Labs programme aims to support the UK government’s 5G Telecoms Diversification Supply Chain Strategy so it is fit for the future – making it more secure and accessible for new market entrants, as well as fostering innovation in the Open RAN space.” Read more

Middle East telco giant e& (aka Etisalat) has been busy this week, partnering with low-earth orbit satellite constellation hopeful E-Space to “develop advanced global IoT, smart-IoT and digital transformation solutions,” as well as teaming up with Intel to develop “technologies that respond to the demand for a sustainable distributed edge datacentre infrastructure.” The collaboration between e& and Intel is “focused on the deployment of edge datacentres with net-zero carbon footprint,” noted the operator. “The challenge of climate change demands immediate action through systems change, technology innovation, and industry-wide collaboration,” it added. Sabri Ali Yehya, group chief technology officer at e& international, noted: “At e&, sustainability is our top priority and through this collaboration with Intel, we aim to design a green-energy innovative blueprint for the new distributed edge datacentres, and become an integral part for shaping a sustainable future for e&.”

In the US, the regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is proposing to introduce new regulations to enable what it calls “the periodic reassessment” (in “close consultation” with various national security agencies) of existing authorisations permitting foreign-owned companies to provide telecoms services in the US. The chairperson of the FCC, Jessica Rosenworcel, said reassessments would determine whether or not such permits will be renewed. Decades ago, several Chinese telcos obtained licences to operate in the US. The first to be denied a renewal of a service permit, back in 2019, was China Mobile. Then came China Telecom, which had been operating in the US for a full 20 years before being banned. The telco went to court to appeal the FCC’s decision but finally lost the case in December 2021. Also banned was new infrastructure equipment from Huawei and ZTE: The two companies were branded as unacceptable risks to US national security. Then, in January last year, China Unicom got the same treatment with its authorisation to operate being revoked because of “national security concerns”. More companies look like they will soon be made to take the one-way door marked "Exit".

Vodafone Germany is reducing its headcount by 900, or just over 6% of its total workforce, over the coming year in the face of increasing costs, “especially in the areas of energy and components” it noted in this announcement (in German). The operator is cutting 1,300 jobs in various management and other non-customer-facing departments and creating 400 new “customer-related areas”. The news comes only weeks after it emerged that Vodafone Italy is to cut about 1,000 staff, about 17% of its workforce. Vodafone is on a cost-reduction drive currently as it aims to reduce its annual operating costs by €1bn over the next three years – see Vodafone targets €1bn in savings as margins are squeezed.

The member states of the EU have agreed a “negotiating mandate” (ie. a common position) from which to begin talks with the European Parliament on a Data Act that will enshrine in law the parameters of “fair access” and “the uses of data”, as well as define who can create value from data and under what conditions. Thus, the Data Act will dismantle barriers to the movement of so-called “industrial’” business-to-business (B2B) data by regulating “the rights and obligations of all the economic actors involved in sharing data from internet of things (IoT) products.” The way is now clear for substantive talks (triologues, no less) to take place between the EU Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament. The discussions will focus on codifying the principle that users of connected devices will have the right to access and share the data they contributed to generating. Damian Boeselager, a member of the European parliament (MEP), is a vocal supporter of the proposal. He says it is time to move from a world “where data is mostly kept hidden on private servers, to a future in which data is widely shared and further used for innovative business models, more efficient processes and better policy making.” Sweden currently holds the revolving presidency of the Council of the European Union and Erik Slottner, Sweden’s minister for public administration, commenting on the agreement, said it will “facilitate the digital transformation of our societies and economies. The Data Act will unlock the economic and societal potential of data and technologies in line with EU rules and values. It will contribute to creating a single market to allow data to flow freely within the EU and across sectors for the benefit of businesses, researchers, public administrations, and society at large.” The Data Act will also “give both individuals and businesses more control over their data through a reinforced portability right, copying or transferring data easily from across different services, where the data are generated through smart objects, machines, and devices. The new legislation will empower consumers and companies by giving them a say on what can be done with the data generated by their connected products.” Other major provisions of the new act will be to safeguard against the unlawful data transfer by cloud service providers and provide for the development of interoperability standards to allow data to be “reused” between sectors. The legislation will further require cloud services providers to locate their data infrastructure in Europe. While the new act will principally cover B2B data and data-sharing, some provision has been made for business-to-consumer (B2C) scenarios, such as when the owner of, say, a smart fridge, might want to share the data it produces with an alternative company that provides a cheaper repair service than the original manufacturer. Furthermore, where ordinary consumers are concerned, organisations that harvest and control their data will not be allowed, directly or indirectly, to charge a fee for users to access it. Other clauses of the act will prevent “the abuse of contractual imbalances in data-sharing contracts due to unfair contractual terms imposed by a party with a significantly stronger bargaining position.” Interestingly, public sector bodies will be allowed to access and use data held by the private sector when deemed necessary because of “exceptional circumstances” including  public emergencies, such as earthquakes, floods and wildfires.

Last year, before the disastrous and mercifully short-lived UK premiership of Liz Truss, the woman who almost succeeded in destroying the British economy overnight, Rishi Sunak, her successor as prime minister, was the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) during the chaos that characterised the regime of Boris Johnson. One of his gimmicks to  bring a bit more dosh into the coffers was to introduce a little something else that gambling-mad Brits could take a punt on – speculating in non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The idea involved that venerable and trusted institution, the Royal Mint, the maker of British coinage. The Mint was founded in London in 886 AD and has been churning out coinage, from groats, marks, crowns, half-crowns, guineas, sovereigns, florins and shillings, to threepenny bits, pennies and farthings for 1,137 years. The thing about coins, of course, is that they are real. They are metal, gold, silver, bronze etc, and they have physical form and weight as well as value. NFTs are literally nothing, just a few intangible lines of code floating about in cyberspace. The people that buy them ‘own’ the original copy of a digital file in a disreputable, utterly unregulated marketplace riddled with fraud, scams and thefts. Still, Sunak was very keen to jump on the crypto/NFT bandwagon and so further puff-up an already over-inflated bubble by wanting to launch a government-backed NFT, which would be produced by the Royal Mint to give it extra credibility. The so-called “NFT for Britain” would be traded online in not-so-stable stablecoins and, who knows, fortunes might be made, or perhaps, maybe even lost? Since he floated the genius idea, sales of NFTs have collapsed by 97% and they continue to lose what vestigial value remains. As the crypto winter set in, many crypto companies went bankrupt or rogue, or both, including FTX, Celsius, Voyager, Genesis, Silvergate, Signature and Binance. In the meantime, a few wheeler-dealers made money on NFTs while the great majority of punters lost their investments and Sunak went radio silent on the subject. The Mint never did produce a visualisation of what the “NFT for Britain” would look like. Neither was it explained how it would work or what blockchain infrastructure it would be built on. Now the Royal Mint has announced it “will not proceed with the launch” [of the great British NFT]. It made the inevitable decision after “consultation with the Treasury.” On hearing the news, Harriet Baldwin, the Conservative member of parliament for West Worcestershire and chairperson of the Treasury Select Committee, which is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Treasury, Revenue & Customs, and the Bank of England, said, “We have not yet seen a lot of evidence that our constituents should be putting their money in these speculative tokens unless they are prepared to lose all their money.” Exactly. Another half-baked vanity project bites the dust. Only last year, Sunak was pushing for the Bank of England to create a “central bank digital currency” as part of his master plan “for a more open, greener, and more technologically advanced financial services sector.” He said, “The UK is already known for being at the forefront of innovation, but we need to go further.” That’s just what Truss did, and look what happened. Perhaps now the window tax will be up for resurrection. That should go down well.

- The staff, TelecomTV

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