AT&T CEO John Stankey was interviewed by Brett Feldman, Goldman’s U.S. telecom and cable analyst. AT&T is both a telecom and media company. We focus on the former for the IEEE Techblog. Here are selected telecom related comments Stankey made (BOLD font emphasis added):
We’re pulling (market) share back from our two largest competitors (Verizon and T-Mobile). I feel good about how we’re doing that. There’s more to be done as we invest in fiber, and we can compliment our wireless business with fiber. There’s opportunities for us to take communications further than what we’ve traditionally done at AT&T. And I think that business should be recognized for being a leading global communications business, like it is, very uniquely positioned with more fiber than any other communications company on the face of the planet, with a great wireless asset domestically in the U.S. and in Mexico, an opportunity to bring those things together, and run it incredibly effectively as a focused business. I think we’ve got a great story there.
I think AT&T is in a great position moving forward. I think the industry frankly is in a great position. I think there’s tremendous promise right now in what ubiquitous high capacity bandwidth with the kind of capabilities that 5G brings in terms of the density that it can afford, the number of devices, the ability to use technology to do things like network slice (requires 5G SA core network which Microsoft is building for AT&T) and begin to differentiate the network. I think this is going to be great for society. I think this is going to be great for the U.S. economy as a whole. If I had to bet, we don’t have the numbers for 2021, certainly can’t project 2022, but I have a sense of where this industry is going. (This author totally disagrees, largely because real, standards based 5G has yet to be deployed as there is only a standard for the RAN which doesn’t meet URLLC performance requirements. No standard for 5G SA core network.).
We’re probably going to see record infrastructure investment coming out of this industry in this period of time. And I think it’s going to equip the United States and our economy and our infrastructure in a way that we’ve never seen. I think that’s going to be incredibly powerful. And I think it’s not only going to be good for AT&T, because I think we have the right kind of wherewithal and the right kind of capability to be right alongside others that are investing at a high clip to bring that infrastructure forward. I think we’ll do just fine with where we are there. I believe when unleashed we have some of the best network minds in the country. I believe that dense fiber footprint that we have that’s denser than anybody else in the United States when engineered properly on top of a great spectrum assets and a great wireless business, it’s going to make our combined product offer and our business even better and more capable to deal with what customers need to do. So, I feel really comfortable about that. And I can do nothing more than not ask you to look at my prognostications, but look at how we’re performing in the market today.
We’ve now started doing some things quietly behind the scenes. We have another muscle to build here, which is how do we begin to work on software to differentiate our products and services in a way that makes our product better than what our competitors can do, because we do have a different asset base, and we are able to serve every corner of the market from the largest of enterprises to the smallest apartment somewhere in the United States. And I don’t think we’ve done as much as we can do in that vein, to actually make that real for our customers and the right products and the right services and the right offers. And so, rebuilding that product engine that we can do that and begin to differentiate allows us to do things that won’t necessarily just hinge on, can I get an attractive handset?
Brett Feldman: I believe your fiber network passes something around 15 million customer locations right now, you’re targeting to ultimately get to 30 million by 2025, that would still only be about half roughly half of the customer locations in the AT&T wireline footprint. Question we’ve gotten is how did you decide what the right target was? Why is it 30? And what really dictates the pace at which you build out fiber?
Stankey replied: Getting this kind of an engine (fiber optic build-out) ramped up to go from building 3 million to 4 million to 5 million homes (locations) past, working through the supply chain, all the logistics that are necessary to build network, it’s not a real simple undertaking. And as I’ve said, my goal is I feel very comfortable, we have places we can go to build 30 million homes (he really means residential and business locations combined) right now on an owned and operated basis, that have very attractive returns in the mid to upper teens. We’re demonstrating every day with our existing base, that we can operate that more effectively, we’ve now crossed over places where we have scale where we’re taking cost out of the business based on fiber replacement, the old infrastructure, we’re seeing that flow through in lower call rates, lower repair rates, better churn, all those things are going to continue to give us goodness moving forward.
Do I think there’s a magic number of 30? No, I don’t. I think there’s a combination of things. One is unlike the investment base, to recognize the good work we’ve been doing. And then in fact, we are building and adding value back to our shareholders. And when they start to recognize that in the form of the equity in the stock, do I believe my credibility and the team’s credibility goes up? Yes, do I believe there’s going to be other opportunities for us to come out, as we hit those scaling metrics that we have in place, the supply chain metrics that we might be able to go in and say, there’s more that we could possibly attack, I’d love to be in that position to do that. And I’ve kind of put that out as a challenge to the management team to say the only thing that stands in the way between you doing 30 million and doing more is your execution and performance.
Brett Feldman: Speaking of execution, execution really has two pieces. It’s deploying the network, and then it’s driving penetration of that network. I believe you had about 5.4 million fiber subscribers as of your most recent quarters, that’s about 35% penetration [1.]. What do you think is the right target for your fiber penetration and how are you going to get there?
Note 1. Fiber-based broadband has clearly established itself as a growth engine for AT&T, which added another 246,000 fiber subscribers in Q2 2021, ending the period with 5.43 million. With about 80% of new fiber subscriber additions new to AT&T, overall broadband revenue growth at the company has finally surpassed declines in its legacy, non-fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband business.
Stankey replied: If I look what’s happening right now, and kind of where we are in our maturity scale, one of the things I’m most excited about is our new net adds to fiber right now good, almost 80% of them are new to AT&T. So, we’ve now gotten to this place where we’ve been managing the base. And we’re now shifting over where got a lot of new customers coming in. And in fact, as you saw last quarter, we’re starting to get ourselves to a point where that consumer business is a growth business today, despite the legacy drag on historic telecom products, parts and the like of legacy data products, that the fiber growth is beginning to outstrip that where we have real growth in that business. And we’re now starting to turn that corner real EBITDA growth in that business. And so, I would tell you as I step back from that, we’re going to see consistent growth. But I’m not going to be happy until we have a 50:50 share split in places where there’s two capable broadband providers. And I think there’s no reason with the product is capable as what we have out there and how fiber performs and what we’re able to do and the differentials we see in our customer satisfaction to our most significant competitor often cable in those markets, we were looking at 10, 15 points of difference in satisfaction levels, between other players in the market and ourselves, that we shouldn’t be able to achieve that over time.
Brett Feldman: You had earlier made a slight adjustment to your fiber deployment for this year, you were hoping to do 3 million homes, it’s going to be closer to two and half million and you noted some of the well reported supply chain issues as being a factor. Any update there, is there any further disruption in your supply chains and your ability to secure labor?
And we’re talking about what’s probably effectively about a 90 day delay for us to hit those numbers, and really primarily in this case, got to fiber assemblies. The way fibers built in the distribution network is we engineer it, we provide detailed engineering to our manufacturer, the manufacturer in the manufacturing facility, pre-splices and pre-assembles some of that fiber before we receive it. So, when it goes in, we’re doing less field splicing. And we’re able to basically put it up in the air or bring it through infrastructure in a way that lowers labor costs coming in. And we’re having some supply issues in the factory partly labor driven because of COVID, individuals getting sick not being able to run enough shifts, and carry through and partly some raw material issues. But those have been worked through right now our deliveries over the last 30 days have tracked to what our expectations are.
So, we feel like we’re through that dynamic right now. We should be fine with it. But look the supply chain is fragile at all levels. It’s fragile on everything. Last week, it was the number of generators, we’re deploying for power backup on cell sites, there’s, we’re going to miss a target on some of those by a couple 100 because there’s a resin base connector in the harness and we can’t get the resin. And that resin base connector, it’s a $15,000 generator that’s been held up on something that’s $0.25 part, you see these things popping up, left and right, every corner of the business. So, I don’t know what next week brings, we’re aggressively managing it. We’ve got a great supply chain organization. We’re a scaled provider, with all of our vendors. So, we lean into that, we were able to work through the fiber dynamics because we are the largest consumer of fiber in the United States. We use that ability and that expertise to make sure we get what we need to move through. So, I feel we’re managing through it, okay. I don’t think there’s anything around the challenges we’re dealing with, it gives me concern on guidance where we stand right now, but it’s going to be choppy and a little bumpy moving forward on some of these things as we move through the years.
Typical fiber optic deployment to multiple homes via underground and aerial cable
Stankey wouldn’t say how the proposed U.S. infrastructure bill might also alter AT&T’s outlook in a way that encourages the company to explore a buildout that goes beyond 30 million locations.
“There’s a degree of uncertainty there,” he said of the bill. “But in its current form [and if] it does actually make its way into law, that’s going to change the landscape of the broadband business in this country … It will also change my posture and point of view on where we should be playing as a company.”
Nokia today announced the launch of FP5, its fifth generation of high-performance IP routing silicon. As the new heart of Nokia’s IP service routing platforms, FP5 will enable service providers to address today’s unrelenting requirements to efficiently scale network capacity, enable new higher speed IP services, and provide unmatched protection against escalating network security threats. Building upon four generations of industry-leading network processors, Nokia is raising the bar by adding support for high density 800GE routing interfaces, a 75% reduction in power consumption and new embedded line rate, flow-based encryption capabilities. Nokia FP5-based platforms will be available starting in the first half of 2022.
When Nokia unveiled the FP4 platform four years ago it did so amid great fanfare, positioning its in-house silicon as a major advantage over its rivals. In the intervening time Nokia has made some major strategic miscalculations on its proprietary chips, especially for 5G, so this latest launch has been much more muted. However, the FP5’s decrease in power consumption is impressive.
According to an interview in Light Reading, the power consumption reduction is partly a product of more a advanced semiconductor manufacturing process and partly incorporating more stuff on a single piece of silicon, thus reducing the need for interconnects. BT has long been a fan of Nokia routing silicon and is in at the start of this latest effort.
- Nokia FP5 network processing silicon delivers a generational leap in IP network capacity and power efficiency while introducing new capabilities for protecting network traffic from security threats
- FP5 is the industry’s first high performance routing silicon delivering integrated line rate encryption for L2, L2.5 and L3 network services at speeds up to 1.6Tbps
- Nokia’s fully programmable network processor is the first to bring 800GE routing interfaces for service provider applications to market while retaining the agility to adapt to new applications
- FP5 sets a new benchmark for sustainability in IP routing with a 75% reduction in power consumption over previous generations
As cloud architectures, 5G and Industry 4.0 continue to drive network transformation, service providers require mission critical IP networks to be increasingly secure, agile and sustainable. IP networks must provide guaranteed high performance and integrity in the face of growing threats from network-level attacks and security breaches. They must also be able to adapt to address unforeseen changes and to support service evolution over the lifespan of the network. In addition, IP networking equipment must become increasingly power efficient to minimize impact on the environment.
With the introduction of Nokia’s fifth generation FP5 network processing silicon, Nokia says it brings a new suite of IP routing solutions to market to help service providers transform mission critical IP networks to address these new and evolving requirements.
Nokia has long been at the forefront of providing an embedded approach to IP network security. With FP4, the company transformed volumetric DDoS defense with router-based detection and mitigation. FP5 brings an additional layer of network protection with the introduction of ‘ANYsec’ – a new line rate, flow-based encryption capability integrated directly into the chipset. ANYsec supports the delivery of secure IP services including MPLS and segment routing, on-demand and at scale without impacting performance or power efficiency. Service providers can now ensure the integrity and confidentiality of all data flowing through their networks.
With FP5, Nokia brings a generational leap in router network capacity to market. Nokia service router platforms are the first to support high-density 800GE and 1.6 Tb/s clear channel routing interfaces for applications including mobile transport, IP core, peering, BNG and provider edge. New FP5-based line cards will support 14.4 Tb/s (19.2 Tb/s with Nokia’s intelligent aggregation capability.) A new series of fixed form factor 7750 Service Router-1 platforms enable the benefits of FP5 to also be realized in smaller network locations.
Nokia’s FP5 network processors drive down power consumption per bit by 75%. As FP5 is backwards compatible with FP4 and fully integrated into the latest versions of Nokia’s Service Router Operating System (SR OS), all existing features are supported from day one on the new hardware. Through this aligned hardware and software evolution strategy, Nokia delivers unmatched and sustainable investment protection to its customers.
As a fully programmable network processor, FP5 enables the agility required to evolve the network as standards and applications change. Its deterministic performance combined with rich telemetry insight ensure network operators can drive a maintainable and serviceable IP network both today and into the future.
Neil McRae, Managing Director and Chief Architect, BT, said: “BT has a long-standing relationship with Nokia, and we are pleased to see that with FP5, Nokia continues to innovate to ensure IP networks have the scale, flexibility and features to help us stay ahead of escalating demand from our residential, mobile and business customers. In particular, we are very happy to see the focus on power optimization as we grow our network, with both BT and Nokia committing to significant reduction in carbon footprint. In the past 18 months, our lives have been turned upside down, and our reliance on networks has been dramatically increased and reliability for customers is crucially important. With security being ever more important for our customers, seeing Nokia’s approach to building more security features into the platform is fantastic.”
Hiroyuki Oto, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Core Network Development Department, NTT DOCOMO, INC., said: “Our network needs to continue to evolve to meet the demands from our consumers, communities, and businesses. With Nokia’s latest generation of silicon innovation and their careful attention to ensuring investment protection with the flexibility to adapt to new requirements, we believe Nokia is delivering the right foundation to ensure IP networks can efficiently scale and transform to stay ahead of ever shifting market demands.”
Christian Gacon, Vice President, Broadband Networks, Orange France, said: “We have had a long relationship with Nokia from the very first silicon processor release. As our network continues to evolve to meet the demands of our customers, innovations such as Nokia’s FP5 silicon will enable us to balance capacity, maintainability and security to deliver the best customer experience. Introducing this exciting innovation into existing platforms will ensure that we can gracefully evolve our networks as we look to manage both planned and unexpected demands in a sustainable way.”
Ray Mota, CEO and Principal Analyst, ACG Research, said: “Nokia does it again and shows its understanding and commitment to service providers, which has been key in its #1 momentum gain in the overall $12 billion service provider market. With the introduction of its fifth generation FP5 routing silicon, we believe Nokia is well-positioned to continue as a vendor of choice for service providers seeking to evolve their IP networks to become more agile, efficient, and secure all the while providing investment protection.”
Federico Guillén, President of Network Infrastructure, Nokia, said: “Of all the things that are surprising about human beings, perhaps the most surprising is our ability to be surprised. Our customers require their networks to be robust, agile and adaptable enough to handle everything life throws at them – from disruptive security threats to a global pandemic. FP5 is a significant step forward in performance, security and efficiency and – in combination with our software excellence and investment in network automation and tools – it opens the next chapter in Nokia’s long-standing leadership in IP networking and IP silicon innovation.”
“This is the industry’s most advanced network-processing silicon for service provider IP networks,” Heidi Adams, VP of IP and optical network marketing at Nokia, said in a phone interview.
- Webpage: Nokia FP5
- Video: Master the unexpected with Nokia’s new FP5 silicon
- eBook: Master the unexpected with Nokia FP5
- App Note: Nokia FP5 silicon innovation
- Webpage: IP Network security
- Media Library: Nokia FP5 image
Nokia and Indosat Ooredoo have launched commercial 5G services in Surabaya city, Indonesia. Under the terms of the deal, Indosat Ooredoo’s customers can explore new enterprise and industrial use cases powered by the new 5G network.
Nokia and Indosat Ooredoo, as well as partners, Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology and the University of Oulu, will also open the Nokia 5G Experience Centre at ITS’ facilities in Surabaya. The site includes a Centre of Creativity designed for technology developers and ITS students to explore and develop new 5G use cases to drive innovation and socio-economic development in Indonesia. In addition, the facility includes a Center of Knowledge with 5G millimeter-wave capability to simulate a live 5G environment for testing a range of 5G uses cases. It also includes a Center of Excellence offering professional 5G certifications and other academic programs to support the development of local digital talent.
“I am deeply humbled and proud to launch Indosat Ooredoo’s 5G services in Surabaya aligned with our commitment to being the forefront of the 5G revolution in Indonesia,” said Ahmad Al-Neama (pictured), president director and CEO of Indosat Ooredoo. “This technology will help unleash many opportunities for the region’s education, people, and economy,” he added
Specifically, Nokia will supply equipment from its ReefShark based AirScale product range, which includes its AirScale Single RAN portfolio for both indoor and outdoor coverage. Once deployed, these solutions will deliver faster speeds and wider mobile coverage for Indosat Ooredoo’s customers, while at the same time cutting Ooredoo’s network operating costs.
In addition, Nokia will also deploy its dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) solution, which will allow Indosat Ooredoo to use its 4G networks spectrum for 5G services, decreasing the time it takes to get 5G up and running.
“We are excited to launch commercial 5G services in Indonesia with Indosat Ooredoo as its trusted partner,” said Tommi Uitto, president of mobile networks at Nokia. “Our AirScale portfolio will deliver best-in-class services to its subscribers and I look forward to working hand in hand with them on this project moving forward. The opening of the Nokia 5G Experience Center will also provide a platform to drive innovation in the country,” he added.
Further to this collaboration, Nokia and Indosat Ooredoo, as well as partners, Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology and the University of Oulu, will also open the Nokia 5G Experience Centre at ITS’ facilities in Surabaya.
The site includes a Centre of Creativity designed for technology developers and ITS students to explore and develop new 5G use cases to drive innovation and socioeconomic development in Indonesia.
The facility will also feature a Center of Knowledge with 5G millimeter-wave capability to simulate a live 5G environment for testing a range of 5G uses cases. It will include a Center of Excellence offering professional 5G certifications and other digital academic programs.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with Nokia and Indosat Ooredoo to bring 5G innovation to Indonesia and specifically into Surabaya,” said Prof. Dr. Ir. Mochamad Ashari, Rector of Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology.
“Through such industry partnerships, we aim to provide a platform for young minds to collaborate directly with industry and business leaders and develop 5G solutions that will benefit the University and the wider community.”
Russian metallurgy company Norilsk Nickel is considering applying for a license to use 5G frequencies, reports Comnews.ru citing CEO Alexander Kudinov’s remarks during the GSMA Mobile 360 Eurasia conference in Russia last week. The company plans to deploy a private 5G network on its own, without cooperating with any telecommunications network operator.
Norilsk Nickel is interested in working with equipment vendors directly. The idea of deploying a private 5G network independently is based on security rather than economic issues.
“At Norilsk Nickel, work directly with the vendor is being worked out very actively. We are considering this model not for economic reasons, but from the point of view of IT security. But such a model of cooperation cannot exist at the moment. There are many incomprehensible points in the law that the government still has. In my opinion, operators have more experience. But Norilsk Nickel is interested in working directly with vendors, “emphasizes Alexander Kudinov.
Dmitry Lakontsev, head of the Skoltech-based NTI Competence Center for wireless communication or the Internet of Things, emphasizes that there is no threat to the operators’ business. Vice versa. The more companies build 5G networks, the higher the demand for equipment will be. And this, in turn, will lead to the growth of the entire industry through additional investment. “It is also worth recalling that it is the industry that gets the maximum effect from the introduction of 5G. Therefore, the creation of private mobile 5G / LTE networks by the enterprises themselves is quite logical,” he says.
According to Dmitry Lakontsev, most companies note such advantages of private networks as full control over data that does not leave the enterprise network perimeter, exact correspondence of the network to use scenarios and the radio environment of the enterprise, and quick setup, reconfiguration and expansion when needs change. In addition, private networks have such advantages as the further development of their own distributed computing resources, at the right point, at the right time, with the necessary characteristics and guaranteed reliability. Also, a private mobile network is a strategic asset of the enterprise and an essential competence.
The disadvantages of private networks are the need to create new competencies for the deployment, optimization and operation of mobile networks, the cost of building a new network and wireless infrastructure, as well as, emphasizes Dmitry Lakontsev, its maintenance and updating. Due to the lack of economies of scale, the purchase of equipment and services takes place on less favorable terms than for mobile operators and owners of a tower business (infrastructure operator). Also the disadvantage is the need to meet the requirements of regulators, which for private 5G networks are still vague and lagging behind technological progress.
At the same time, Dmitry Lakontsev notes, obtaining a license, as a rule, is one of the smallest lines in expenses. To create your own communications infrastructure, you need serious money and relevant competencies. Not all companies can afford it, so this story is unlikely to be massive. However, the demand for private networks is and is only growing, mainly from the largest enterprises. Globally, we are talking about thousands of installations, and on a Russian scale, about dozens, which is quite a lot.
Semyon Zakharov, Director of Project Implementation for Corporate Business of MegaFon PJSC, emphasizes that the operator sees a great interest in private LTE and 5G networks from the corporate market.
The participation of the telecom operator in the construction of private LTE / 5G will allow corporate clients to avoid mistakes when planning a network, taking into account the peculiarities of the territory in which the enterprise is located and the tasks that it faces. “For the same reason, it is more profitable for companies to transfer the operation of networks to operators. If an enterprise builds a network on its own, it must not only obtain frequencies, but also legalize the network itself, carry out radio control and other necessary processes. As a result, the network becomes a non-core asset, which requires significant financial and human resources. Over time, the majority of enterprises give up such non-core activities,” said Semyon Zakharov.
Australian network operator Telstra has unveiled a strategy it is calling T25, with the main aim of extending 5G coverage across Australia, as well as enhancing its customer service.
Telstra said that the T25 strategy is likely to come into effect by July 2022. The T25 strategy also aims to bring down the telco’s annual fixed costs by $366 million.
Telstra noted that the new plan will build on the operator’s previous T22 strategy. “T22 has been one of the largest, fastest and most ambitious transformations of a telco globally. Today we are a vastly different company, one poised for growth as our society and economy increasingly digitizes and we all work, study, transact and get our entertainment online,” Telstra’s CEO Andy Penn said.
“If T22 was a strategy of necessity, T25 is a strategy for growth. And in its implementation, we will be using exactly the same disciplines and governance that we used for T22 – the metrics and the milestones, the roadmaps and the scorecard which we will make transparent to you. And this is why I am confident it will be a success – why change a winning formula when you don’t need to,” Penn said.
T25 is Telstra’s strategy for growth, which is broken down into four pillars:
- Provide an exceptional customer experience you can count on
- Provide leading network and technology solutions that deliver your future
- Create sustained growth and value for our shareholders
- Be the place you want to work
Telstra said it aims to further invest in 5G with the goal of increasing the reach of its 5G network from the current 75% of the population to 95% population coverage.
“Our customers will keep enjoying our investment in 5G, which will deliver approximately 95% population coverage by fiscal year 2025 – including a 100,000 square kilometer increase in our 4G and 5G network footprint, substantially increasing regional coverage,” Penn explained.
“Over the next 3-5 years, this will be supported by our continued 5G network rollout and the doubling of metro cells to increase density for greater capacity and speed. As a result, we expect 80% of all mobile traffic to be on 5G by fiscal year 2025,” the executive added.
Penn also highlighted that Telstra will also extend its 4G coverage to 100% of its network by 2024, enabling the carrier to “continue to lead in composite coverage, speed and performance for 4G and 5G as we close 3G. This will set us up well for early planning on 6G, which will clearly be on the agenda by the end of T25,” Penn concluded.
Telstra, which had launched 5G in May 2020, is currently using its spectrum in the 3.6 GHz band to provide 5G technology across Australia. Some of the cities in which Telstra offers its 5G service are Canberra, Central Coast, Brisbane, Sidney, Cairns, Gold Coast, Adelaide, Hamilton, Melbourne and Perth.
In May last year, Telstra upgraded its 5G radio access network (RAN) coverage footprint across Australia, connecting a cloud-native 5G Core (5GC) network to handle new 5G standalone traffic.
Telstra used equipment from Swedish vendor Ericsson for the network upgrade.
Paul Scanlan, CTO of Huawei Carrier Business Group made clear what everyone already knew- that the Chinese tech giant doesn’t support Open RAN or Virtualized RAN (vRAN). On a media call today, Scanlan noted that Open RAN has a lot of problems: It isn’t standardized, it can’t be easily integrated with existing network infrastructure, and it’s not ready for the most intense period of 5G deployments coming up with 5G SA core networks.
“It’s not that it’s not going to happen, and I believe it will in different guises but I’m not sure whether … from a commercial perspective, is it too late practically? The challenge is it’s not standardized. It’s an association. Because things are not standardized, no standards, you don’t get cooperation, you don’t get competition, you don’t get innovation to drive this,” Scanlan said, describing groups such as the O-RAN Alliance as “just a bunch of friends.”
Absent standardization, technologies like open RAN become fragmented and lack interoperability — two outcomes that most network operators are unwilling to accept, according to Scanlan.
The IEEE Techblog has noted from day one that neither the O-RAN Alliance or TIP Open RAN project are standards development organizations (SDOs). Worse, is they don’t even have liaisons with ITU-R, ETSI, or 3GPP which are (although 3GPP specs must be transposed by SDOs like ETSI or submitted to ITU-R WP 5D to become binding standards).
In June, Scanlan told Asia Times that Huawei has already built enterprise networks for 2,000 manufacturing companies and plans to build 16,000 next year. The Chinese tech giant has also built 5,300 private networks for mining companies, Scanlan stated. Today, he said that the real cost for network operators is opex, rather than capex.
“The telecom operator’s problem is not capex, it’s actually opex,” he said, adding that opex eats up about 65% of the average cost per site for site rental, backhaul, and energy. RAN comprises about 12% of opex costs per site on average, he said. The implication is that Open RAN opex will be higher than that of conventional RANs with purpose built network equipment from legacy base station vendors.
Another challenge for open RAN involves security and point of responsibility. That’s because of many more exposed interfaces between different vendor equipment. In a typical open RAN deployment “you’ve got three or four vendors all providing components (modules) that are going to be patched together. Scanlan asked, “Who’s responsible for making sure that it’s going to be secure or it’s going to deliver” on performance and fall in line with guaranteed operating costs?”
“Everybody says from a cybersecurity perspective it’ll be more secure. Well, I don’t agree with that. I mean, who’s going to be responsible?”
Critics of O-RAN argue that the much-touted alternative to Huawei will be costly, cumbersome and ineffective. Henry Kressel wrote in Asia Times on December 29, 2020:
O-RAN proposes to open up only part of the proprietary wireless network, namely the part that goes from the antenna to the delivery of transportable data packets to the extended interconnection network that routs the packets to their ultimate destination. These functions are currently performed using equipment and software proprietary to each equipment vendor.
This is a big ,multiyear project that requires the collaborative efforts of industry and governments. These technologies are complex and require extremely high levels of reliability – hence, extensive and costly testing.
The O-RAN Coalition has recommended that US federal sources put $1 billion into the project. But even if government money is forthcoming, it will be only the beginning of a costly development project. One estimate from a reliable industry expert states that at least five years might be needed before competitive products meeting the new standards could reach the market.
“So many people just throw out (?) virtualization or throw out (?) vRAN, or open RAN, and all the rest for different types of reasons,” he said. “If you’ve not been either developing the technology or you’re not at the operator’s point to understand the challenges and the pain points of each of them, then often a lot of the reasons why we want to do something is perhaps for political reasons [1.] and just haven’t been very well thought out.”
Note 1. Many believe the motivation and impetus for Open RAN is to permit new base station vendors, particularly skilled in virtualization software, to enter the 4G/5G market. Two particular politically inspired vendor targets are Huawei and ZTE who are not permitted to join either O-RAN or TIP projects.
Of course there are also performance issues with the commoditized chips that will be used for Open RAN. Several years ago, Huawei explored the use of commoditized silicon in its 5G network equipment, but “the problem was that the jitter at the substrate level was too high. It would not achieve the targets that we wanted in terms of latency, so we had to develop the chip ourselves,” Scanlan said.
“For virtualized RAN, what do you want to do with virtualization, what’s the target objective? When we put things in a cloud the first thing we’re really trying to do is create flexibility and resource scaling. And because it’s software driven, we’re able to change those things and downstream everything can operate from it,” Scanlon explained.
“Within the next two or three years, there are no commercial opportunities for open RAN because of technological maturity,” Victor Zhang, Huawei’s vice president, told Light Reading when asked what Huawei was doing to support the concept. “There is still a long way to go with open RAN.”
One problem is that the general-purpose processors used in open RAN baseband equipment are less power-efficient than customized gear. Huawei summed this up in 2019. “There is a specific R&D team doing research on using white boxes with Intel CPUs [central processing units] in 4G basestations and the power consumption is ten times more,” said Peter Zhou, the chief marketing officer of Huawei’s wireless products line, at a London event. “5G is [even] more complicated and an Intel CPU gives you a problem with jitter. In terms of existing CPU technology, we haven’t seen the possibility of using that with 5G basestations.”
John Strand, the CEO of Strand Consult, thinks it inconceivable that Huawei is not privy to the O-RAN Alliance’s activities. Smaller Chinese vendors could even be representing Huawei, he has suggested. It seems highly likely that links between China Mobile and Huawei are much stronger than connections between a European operator and its main supplier.
Nokia claims a new speed record with Vodafone Turkey with a regional demonstration of a 1 Tbps per channel coherent transmission over a live optical network. The companies proved a capacity increase of 150 percent over a single channel coherent transmission, and the ability to scale network capacity up to 70 Tbps per fiber. This capacity milestone is part of an ongoing modernization effort with Nokia to future-proof Vodafone Turkey’s optical network architecture.
This optical transmission test builds upon an earlier trial conducted by Nokia and Vodafone Turkey that validated a 1Tbps clear channel IP router interface, further preparing the operator’s network for the future.
The optical network speed test showcased 1 Tbps capacity over 130 GHz bandwidth without any errors on Vodafone Turkey’s live optical network between its data centers. The trial was conducted over the operator’s in-service optical network, based on Nokia’s wavelength routing technology, which includes its non-blocking CDC-F ROADM optical switch architecture. Supporting operation over C+L bands, Nokia’s optical line system also enables a doubling of the total fibre capacity of Vodafone Turkey’s network.
Nokia’s photonic service engine (PSE) technology, providing maximum performance and spectral efficiency. The Nokia PSE coherent optics are deployed in Vodafone Turkey’s network using the 1830 PSI-M (Photonic Service Interconnect-Modular) compact modular optical networking platform, optimized for data center interconnect applications over metro, regional and long-haul distances.
Thibaud Rerolle, CTO at Vodafone Turkey, said: “At Vodafone Turkey, we are committed to using next generation technology to provide the most convenient services to our customers – uninterrupted and reliably. Our fiber optic backbone is an important step on the way to 5G and, with Nokia, we continue to equip our optical network with the latest technologies and innovations for our services today and in the future.”
James Watt, Head of Optical Networks Division, Nokia, said: “Our field-proven optical technologies and solutions are enabling service providers like Vodafone Turkey to meet growing capacity demand and provide the best end-user experience. We are pleased to complement our deployment of advanced optical transport solutions with the successful and timely completion of this crucial trial to modernize Vodafone Turkey’s optical network. Together, we are accelerating their digital transformation with solutions that can be easily scaled to meet 5G demands.”
Separately, Nokia today announced that it has been selected to roll out UScellular’s standalone 5G core network with deployment expected to be completed by the end of 2022.
- UScellular will deploy Nokia’s portfolio of hardware, software and services to enable its 5G standalone (SA) core network
- UScellular’s 5G SA network will provide its 5 million customers with superior service, capacity, and reliability
By implementing Nokia’s 5G SA core, UScellular will be able to unlock the full potential of 5G for its customers, delivering the high speeds and low latencies that will power new applications such as virtual and augmented reality. UScellular will also be able to leverage Nokia’s cloud-native, open modular structure to rapidly introduce and scale future network functions for new revenue opportunities.
UScellular’s deployment of Nokia’s 5G core adds to its existing support for the Radio Access Network (RAN) where Nokia is supplying its AirScale radios for both low-band and mmWave 5G.
Mike Irizarry, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, UScellular:
“As we continue to expand and enhance our 5G network, we value the innovation and support that Nokia provides to help us deliver a superior wireless experience to our residential and business customers. As we deploy 5G SA core, Nokia brings expertise, technology excellence and the right mix of hardware, software and services to meet our requirements for high performance and low latency.”
Ed Cholerton, President of Nokia North America:
“We are thrilled to be selected by UScellular to deliver a full 5G experience to its customers. Our 5G SA core and 5G radios provide not only new capabilities, scale, operational efficiencies, and revenue opportunities, but drive a far better user experience that customers expect. Working with UScellular to provide the core network function software and cloud infrastructure continues our momentum in the North American standalone 5G core market.”
Nokia’s 5G SA core is a cloud-native architecture with network functions deployed as microservices that can be moved to the network edge to meet low latency requirements for software-driven services, like network slicing. Globally, Nokia has already deployed over 250+ cloud core networks and 70+ 5G standalone core networks.
Nokia said its 5G SA core is currently deployed in more than 70 networks globally, but very few of those are commercially available.
Nokia also sold its 5G SA core to T-Mobile US, the first operator to deploy a 5G SA core. It remains the only U.S. operator with a commercially available standalone 5G network.
5G SA cores remain incredibly scarce. Most of the 141 live 5G networks at the end of April 2021 were still operating in non-standalone mode (5G NSA), Stéphane Téral, chief analyst at LightCounting, noted during a panel discussion at MWC Barcelona 2021. As of the end of July, there were only nine standalone networks globally, he said. The latest was KT Corp.’s 5G SA core deployment using Samsung’s technology.
A 5G SA core introduces many unique 5G features, including higher data throughput and performance, lower latency, network slicing. It separates the data and control planes which is required for mobile edge computing and many industrial applications.
Australia’s TPG Telecom and Ericsson have announced the completion of the virtualization of TPG Telecom’s core network and a new partnership to deploy its 5G standalone core network.
With the virtualization of TPG Telecom’s core network, the telco will become the first operator in Australia to have its entire 4G and 5G customer base on a virtualized platform. Virtualization of TPG Telecom’s core network is the result of a multi-year partnership between TPG Telecom and Ericsson.
Building on the success of the virtualization program, TPG Telecom has extended its partnership with Ericsson to include the deployment of its 5G Core for standalone network. Ericsson’s cloud native dual-mode 5G Core will drive service and technology innovation for TPG Telecom’s customers.
The completion of TPG Telecom’s 5G standalone Core Network will assist the operator to cover 85 per cent of the population in ten of Australia’s largest cities and regions with its 5G network by the end of this year, whilst enabling it to deliver innovative services and emerging industry 5G applications with greater flexibility and scalability.
The 5G Core network is based on future-proof network architecture that will enable TPG Telecom to combine 4G and 5G technologies on one platform, delivering tailored services for its customers through network slicing, network exposure, and edge capabilities. The new cloud-native 5G Core network will deliver the full benefits of automation and enhance 5G customer experience through improved network speed, latency, and coverage.
TPG Telecom Executive General Manager Mobile and Fixed Networks Barry Kezik, said: “The virtualization of our core network has enabled us to fast-track our 5G rollout without disrupting 4G services.
“By introducing our new 5G Core network, we are ensuring that we can significantly expand our 5G coverage whilst introducing new and innovative 5G industry applications that are tailored to enterprises.”
Emilio Romeo, Head of Ericsson, Australia and New Zealand, said: “This achievement is a testament to the strong and ongoing partnership that we have with TPG Telecom. The virtualisation of its core network will be critical in unleashing the potential of 5G using Ericsson’s market leading 5G Core solutions.”
“I am looking forward to continue building our partnership with TPG Telecom as we support the deployment of a 5G standalone that will truly enable everyday consumers and enterprise to harness the potential of 5G.”
The successful virtualization of TPG Telecom’s Core network was enabled by the Telco Cloud Transformation partnership between TPG Telecom and Ericsson which delivered a leading-edge horizontal NFVI platform to virtualize TPG Telecom’s Core network and a range of multi-vendor network functions. This partnership has now been expanded to evolve the NFVI platform to a Cloud-native, container based environment, which will allow TPG Telecom to deploy Cloud-native Network Functions (CNFs) , including Ericsson’s dual-mode 5G Core.
The mobile network owned by TPG Telecom provides services to Vodafone, TPG, iiNet, Lebara, felix and Kogan mobile customers. TPG Telecom’s 5G services are available in selected areas in more than 700 suburbs around Australia and the company currently has around 1,600 sites in the planning and design phase. TPG Telecom’s plan is to cover 85% of the population in ten of Australia’s largest cities and regions by the end of 2021 for customers with a compatible 5G approved device.
Image Credit: Ericsson
In semi-related news, Ericsson has announced the launch of Intelligent Deployment, a suit of tools and services designed to help operators with network rollout and upgrade. As the name implies there’s lots of emphasis on AI and generally doing this sort of thing in a smarter way. This means addressing the needs of a cell site according to its specific circumstances and the particular needs of the network at a given time.
“With our Intelligent Deployment solution, we are vastly improving the way we deploy networks, making it more agile, flexible and responsive to customer needs,” said Nello Califano, Head of Strategy and Portfolio Management, Ericsson Business Area Networks. “This means we can deliver parts of our portfolio to service providers based on their specific requirements.
“We use extensive data insights to offer new services as well as pre-empt problems when introducing intelligent monitoring of the network even after end of deployment. By investing more in our network services, we create better solutions for our customers.”
Bharti Airtel said that it is engaging new partners to enable 5G use cases for various consumer and enterprise use cases in India. It will also start a campaign to educate users about their next 5G smartphone to ensure if they can get the best experience with support to all relevant bands.
A handset to support all possibilities of 5G is very important, Bharti Airtel’s chief technology officer Randeep Sekhon told ET. Airtel will come out with a campaign for users who want to buy 5G handsets informing them about various checks of their particular handsets to make sure the handset works well in India across not just 5G but various other bands and carrier aggregation. “This is important when you choose a 5G handset to get the best experience,” he said.
The Sunil Mittal-led telecom operator had recently urged the India Department of Telecommunications to bring uniform guidelines to develop the 5G smartphone ecosystem. It recommended that any new 5G handset sold in India must support all existing bands in India for 5G, including the mmWave bands.
Indian telecom operators have spectrum in the 2G, 3G and 4G bands which can be refarmed and used for 5G NSA or 5G SA and also use Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) for fast deployment. They want handset brands to support all existing spectrum bands like 1800/2100/2300 MHz and sub-GHz bands 800/900 Mhz.
The telecom operator said that it successfully conducted a cloud gaming session on its 5G trial network in Manesar using the 3.5GHz spectrum band. Sekhon said that “immersive entertainment” will be another major consumer use case of 5G. “But, for A/R and V/R, content needs to be created and be personalized at the edge. We are seeing how we can make it real.”
Airtel is currently using the 3.5 GHz spectrum band for 5G trials in Delhi-NCR and Mumbai. Sekhon said that the telco hasn’t started 5G trials using mmwave band. “As and when we will get equipment, we will try that too. 3.5 GHz anchored with traditional 4G bands are currently being used for trials.”
“For the B2B, industry 4.0, high speed, high latency and mass concurrency around IoT cloud and 5G are required.. We are working with many of our industry customers on creating fir infra, FMCG, factory, mining. This will be relevant,” Sekhon added.
The CTO said that telecom operators can’t do everything by themselves and their main focus is to build the best infrastructure to enable partners. Airtel, he said, will have various partners to enable 5G use cases like education, e health and for industries.
“Some partnerships are for initial 5G trials and some will for massifying the roll out. The 5G real experience will happen when all stakeholders ecosystem partners are available,” Sekhon said.
This week, Ericsson installed a new antenna-integrated radio solution (AIR 3227) on the roof of Speechmark, Vodafone UK’s central London office that, according to the telecom vendor, reduced the site’s daily network energy consumption by an average of 43% in direct comparison to previous generations of radio technology, and as much as 55% at off-peak times.
Designed for future-proof and sustainable networks, Ericsson’s new radio is 51 percent lighter than existing radio’s [1.] and its more compact design and improved energy management features will help to optimize overall site footprint, making 5G rollout and 4G upgrades faster and easier.
Note 1. The comparison is with the 64TR antenna units from Ericsson that Vodafone has been rolling out so far, which are very heavy (about 60 kilos) and less energy efficient, noted Vodafone UK’s Head of Performance and Radio, Ker Anderson, at a media briefing earlier this week.
“Vodafone is looking for ways to deploy 5G in a more energy-efficient way. When we started rolling out 5G we were using a 64-by-64 [64TR] panel from Ericsson and it’s close to 60 kilos in weight and burns electricity for fun,” noted Anderson, who added that the new AIR 3227 unit, while on paper having half the capacity of the 64TR units, “performs just as well… two years of technology evolution means we can now get the same performance from a 32-by-32 that we got with the first generation 64-by-64. Plus, they’re half the weight, and we’ve got a 43% energy reduction. So it’s been a real godsend for us for this product to come along and it’s the right thing for us to deploy – it’s cheaper, it’s faster, burns less electricity and the performance is really, really good,” Anderson said.
1,500 of the new energy efficient Ericsson radios will be deployed across Vodafone’s network by April 2022, helping to reduce Vodafone’s forecasted energy consumption of its future 5G network and support a sustainable and responsible 5G rollout.
Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer, Vodafone UK, says: “Our strategy is simple; turn off anything we don’t need, replace legacy equipment with up-to-date alternatives and use the most energy efficient options available. The success of this trial allows us to explore new ways we can more effectively manage the energy consumption of our network with our partner Ericsson. There is no silver bullet to manage our network energy consumption – it is about putting sustainability at the heart of every decision and adding up all the small gains to make a material difference.”
Björn Odenhammar, Chief Technology Officer, Networks and Managed Services, Ericsson UK and Ireland, says: “Building on the success of an award-winning 5G network in London, it is another fantastic achievement for Vodafone and Ericsson to reduce network energy consumption by a daily average of 43 percent. Sustainability is central to Ericsson’s purpose and our new radio will help Vodafone to reduce network energy consumption, simplify network rollout and efficiently manage the expected growth in data traffic of both current and future 5G networks. Together we are building the 5G network of the future – one that delivers the highest possible performance with improved resource efficiency and low environmental impacts.”
Ericsson and Vodafone UK first launched commercial 5G services in 2019. The strong working partnership was recognised for a high performing best-in-class 5G network in London in 2020. In June 2021, it was announced that Ericsson will be supporting Vodafone’s entire cloud-native 5G Core Standalone for packet core applications – a critical milestone to deliver 5G Standalone connectivity services.
The two companies have also been collaborating to reduce the environmental impact of site upgrades and speed up network deployment through the use of drones and Ericsson’s Intelligent Site Engineering service.