Singapore readies for 5G rollout by 2020

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Singapore’s digital economy vision where every citizen tech and business is connected by a world-class infrastructure will be empowered by the introduction of 5G in 2020. In June this year, Singapore’s telecommunication regulator, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) unveiled plans to set aside SG$40 million to build up the supporting ecosystem to fuel 5G innovation, focusing on six key verticals including smart estates, urban mobility, and maritime.

Gearing up for 5G and in order to deliver the greatest value to the economy, (IMDA) recently called for 5G proposals from Singapore’s Mobile Network Operators.

Commenting on the rollout of 5G, Ecosystm Principal Advisor – Telecommunication, Peter Wise said “5G promises much faster, more reliable wireless connectivity that will bring applications such as augmented reality, higher quality video and eventually smart cars, to life. Moreover, IoT will also be enriched by the increased data carrying capacity that 5G enables.”

 

Singapore pushing for four 5G networks instead of two

Instead of the two initially planned networks for 5G, there are now four networks proposed to be rolled out. Two networks will be used for full-fledged 5G networks whereas the other two will be smaller ones that will provide limited coverage. The two smaller networks of 800MHz will leverage on Millimetre Airwaves and will be used in small ports and factories and be Singapore’s most immediate use of 5G technology. “More networks would likely bring more competition and deeper coverage. The designation of some spectrum for port usage appears to enable applications to get up and running quickly and not have to wait for a wider rollout” said Wise.

The IMDA has called for proposals from the interested operators rather than going for an airwave auction. Proposals will be assessed on telcos’ financial capability, as well as network security design.

The introduction of 5G will be a costly and time-consuming activity in order to set up the infrastructure and provide customers with sufficient coverage. “Some existing 4G cell sites will be able to be upgraded to 5G through software or card swap outs, which are comparatively cheaper than acquiring and building whole new cell sites. However, over time, 5G will require a denser network of smaller cell sites, and there may need to be infrastructure sharing arrangements between MNO’s for acquiring these new sites for practical and economic reasons,” said Wise.

 

Only half of Singapore will have 5G coverage initially

IMDA announced that at least 50% of Singapore will be covered with a standalone 5G network by the end of 2022 and full island-wide coverage by 2025. “Many users may not initially notice whether they are on 4G or 5G speeds. 4G is still more than adequate for most of today’s applications, including video” said Wise. “However, over time as heavy data applications are introduced or very high definition video becomes more mainstream the benefits of 5G will become more apparent.”

A standalone network will use 5G-specific technologies for developing newer applications around IoT, smart factories, and autonomous vehicles. “Another fascinating development will be whether any operators use 5G to compete with fibre” said Wise. “Singapore is well served by high-speed fibre broadband so while the Singapore population is high in density (making 5G economics better), it may be that having 5G as a competitor to fixed broadband is more successful in other countries where most fixed broadband is still provided over older, slower copper-based technology.”

 

5G is still in the early phase of its lifecycle and is at the centre of an ongoing telco development, we are yet to see how it may become crucial to economic growth.

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Ecosystm Snapshot: Apple betting big on Intel modem business

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Apple and Intel have signed an agreement where Apple will acquire Intel’s smartphone modem business for a deal valued at $1 billion. Apple will gain Intel’s Intellectual Property, equipment, leases, and approximately 2200 Intel employees will join Apple.

The deal is Apple’s second-largest ever after its $3.2bn purchase of Beats Electronics in 2014. The deal is expected to close at the end of the year and Intel will continue to develop modems for non-smartphone applications such as industrial equipment, autonomous vehicles and personal computers.

 

What Apple has really acquired from Intel?

Beyond getting 2,200 employees from Intel’s modem group along with the accompanying 17,000 patents, Apple now has the intellectual property to develop a modem that can be integrated with Apple (system-on-a-chip) or SOC.

Commenting on Apple’s acquisition of Intel modem business, Ecosystm Executive Analyst, Vernon Turner said  “given its performance-driven and highly vertically integrated product line, Apple had its own ambitions to build its own modem. However, despite being capable of building chips, Apple lacked the knowledge to build a modem. To solve that issue, it would always have had to license patents from a 3rd party, unless they buy the company that has the patents instead.”

 

Aligning with the fifth generation

The acquisition of Intel modem business displays Apple’s ambition to ramp up on 5G technology. The foothold in the 5G modem business is also expected to reduce Apple’s reliance on Qualcomm, its modem supplier. Speaking of the competition, Apple’s global rivals in the handset business – Samsung Electronics and Huawei – already produce their own modem chips.

“Apple has a lot of catching up to Samsung and Huawei in the 5G modem market, and while it has now gained technology from Intel, there is still a significant gap and it will be a haul for Apple to suddenly catch up and overtake them,” said Turner. “Apple’s modem supplier, Qualcomm isn’t likely to be worried by this news either – it too has a lead of several years. The bottom line is that Apple didn’t have a lot of options to turn too if it wanted to be in control of as much of the phone IP stack as possible. It purchased a modem supplier that was perhaps the weakest in the market and had already thrown in the towel on their mobile modem business.”

Apple will take some time to absorb the Intel team into its business and likewise with the modem roadmap. The deal is a step in Apple’s journey to make all of its own smartphone chips and having a more self-sufficient supply chain.

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Ecosystm Snapshot: The future of 5G for APAC

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Roll Out of 5G will Contribute $900 Bn to APAC Economy over the next 15 years

According to a forecast by the GSMA Foundation, 5G will contribute almost $900 billion to APAC’s economy over the next 15 years. APAC’s edition of the GSMA’s Mobile Economy series published at MWC19 Shanghai revealed that Asia’s mobile operators will invest $370 billion – two-thirds of their overall investment in new networks – in building new 5G networks between 2018 and 2025. The report forecasts that the number of subscribers is expected to increase to 3.1 billion by 2025 with the main contributions coming from India, China, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.

 

The Roadmap for 5G

Every major Asia Pacific country has announced its intent or made the commitment to roll out 5G. The upside for an Asia Pacific digital economy is huge which will be driven by massive amounts of cross-cloud, inter-cloud, and smart infrastructure giving rise to the need for high-density connectivity between businesses and consumers.

“Take a step back and look at the key attributes of 5G – speed, latency, and density. Now take a step forward and look at global urban development. The explosion of bigger and more modern cities makes the telecom infrastructure a scaling issue for which 5G will be the right technology,” says Ecosystm Executive Analyst, Vernon Turner.

Working closely with the mobile operators pioneering 5G, governments are also engaging in the preparation and roll out of 5G Networks. Recently, the Singapore government announced to set aside SG$40 million to build up a 5G ecosystem. To promote digital transformation and economic growth, IMDA and the National Research Foundation (NRF) has allocated this funding for innovation, trials, R&D and enterprise use-cases in the 5G technology.

Similarly, the Vietnamese government awarded its first 5G trial licence to its largest telecommunications company, Viettel, to uplift the economy. Thailand is also seeking to deploy 5G and aims to start commercial 5G service next year.

“By 2022, 5G will be ‘the rising tide that lifts all boats’, making the Asia-Pacific region the biggest network offering network services that could give it an economic advantage,” says Turner. “But before that, some challenges for 5G belongs to regulatory approvals and the cost to build the next generation wireless network. For example, 5G networks operate on ‘millimetre waves’, a high radio frequency able to transmit large amounts of data but only over a short distance. To overcome this issue, governments have to approve large numbers of 5G small cells for operators to deploy.”

 

Is this an opportunity to skip out 4G altogether and leapfrog to 5G?

 

“The challenge for operators is to find workloads and applications that need 5G and at a price point that customers will pay. In my everyday travels, I have been underwhelmed by the number of customers ready to take advantage of 5G. Existing networks have the speed and capacity to run much of their businesses. I can see a scenario whereby operators will be forced to roll up 3G and LTE network functionality into 5G networks without being able to raise prices – despite being able to offer more benefits” says Turner.

 

How will 5G impact industries?

 

The future of interconnected ecosystems runs through IoT. The data that IoT sensors will create will be more valuable the faster it is analysed to produce business outcomes. Turner commented “Innovation accelerators such as VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) will generate new services for both consumers and industrial uses cases. The potential for asset management and services is ripe for disruption as 5G will bring more valuable information to workers through more efficient platforms. The knowledge-based worker and the future of work is here.”

Ultimately, APAC has the same possibilities and challenges as the rest of the world. Overall, the involvement of telecom companies, government organisations, infrastructure upgrades and the adoption of devices by consumers can affect the development and only after that can 5G become a reality.

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MWC 19 – 5G’s Report Card Shows Key Industry-wide Changes

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When I wrapped up my visit to this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, I had wondered if my pre-trip question of what would the 5G story be after several years of being told that each preceding year was ‘the’ year. However, this year had a very distinct vibe to it, and I was rewarded for my pilgrimage to the Grand Fira.

Let’s not forget that technology takes longer to roll out that all of us want to think and 5G is no different. We have had no excuses since we only have to look at how long it took 3G and LTE to become mainstream and how long the transition from the prior technology took to move to the next generation.

However, the mobile and telecom industry is not the same as it was when earlier telecommunication tech was being upgraded. In the past hardware, benchmarks feeds and speeds dominated the marketing messages, but now it is about software, cloud and ecosystem collaboration. Gone are the days when the telecom equipment vendors ruled the conversation about their technology – that has clearly been replaced by IT companies leading the charge with topics such as virtualization, IoT, analytics and new services. Once there was a US automobile commercial that touted the latest edition of its cars was ‘This is not your father’s Oldsmobile’. Well, 5G is not your father’s telecom infrastructure!

This time around, operator and equipment vendors may have to take the collaborative partner role in any new digital solution. Instead of 5G projects being dominated by Ericsson or Huawei for example, there is a role for the likes of VMware, Microsoft, and Salesforce to be the lead company. In some cases, it could be Bosch, PTC, or Siemens while in others it could be Audi, BMW or Mercedes. The overall trend here is that all of these companies are being digitally driven to deliver new services to a customer that is firmly at the center of an ecosystem. The one industry sector who might lose out could be the telco operators who could be squeezed by the surge from IT vendor relevance, despite them investing heavily on 5G licenses. However, this time the operators are in a much stronger position to be the perfect channel for the massive amount of intelligence-laden data being created by smart connected devices that are not typical mobile devices.

So what was the outcome at MWC? I visited both the Huawei and Ericsson booths following pre-MWC briefing sessions to see if the customer buzz was there – and indeed it was.


Huawei Stand at Mobile World Congress 2019

Ericsson may have won the prize for the most crowded booth, while Huawei’s sprawling booth wins the most lavish and largest booth. The two company’s 5G messages could not have been more different.

The Big Two

For me, Huawei had invested heavily in making its hardware products very compelling for operators to install. Clearly, there had been a lot of research had gone into replacing existing infrastructure with massive performance upgrades and deployment friendly attributes e.g. size and weight of base stations that could be mounted by individuals rather than by cranes. The result of this strategy is that Huawei’s customers can quickly deploy 5G platforms with lower CapEx and OpEx thus creating significant incentives for operators to migrate to 5G networks.

Ericsson’s leading story was about migrating to 5G by highlighting its key enablers (i.e. carrier aggregation, LTE-NR spectrum sharing, and dual mode 5G cloud core). It appeared that Ericsson had moved its message off hardware (which, by the way, is still table stakes in any selection process and Ericsson had plenty of new 5G related offerings) and onto a strategy of smooth evolution and deployment at scale – a much more business leader discussion than a network, driven by software. Finally, both companies had strong messages around their AI capabilities to help their service providers make sense of the growing complexity of services that will be generated by the connected smart IoT devices.

The Importance of IT Software On 5G

IT and industrial companies played an increasingly important role at this year’s MWC as service providers and they became involved in deeper partnerships. 2019 was the year when the gaps for 5G between the network and IT services were being filled in. For example, I saw AR (augmented reality) solutions by PTC supported by Microsoft and being fed by data off a 5G network. This showed how industry, cloud and network service providers will accelerate new technologies.

In another example, Salesforce showed how Edge Computing events triggered Salesforce SaaS-based enterprise management services while being supported by AT&T’s 5G network and the modules being designed and tested at AT&T’s Foundry. Here, AT&T 5G network was being used as a high-value channel for Salesforce’s customers to run their business functions at the edge of the network.

Digital twins have shown up as a digital representation of a physical device or asset. However, this year, I saw a Wipro example of how 5G could drive digital twin concepts beyond physical assets and into the workflow, supply chain management, logistics and worker safety. Every ‘asset’ that was to be used in a factory floor was digitized into a digital twin and then a 5G network was used to monitor and manage every aspect of the factory. It seemed that Industry 4.0 had arrived in its full glory.

Finally, VMware continues to be the IT company that service providers will either love or dislike – I still don’t know which one it will be. VMware’s virtualization and cloud management capabilities have been extended right into 5G networks. For example, NFV (Network Function Virtualization) is critical to operators as they slice the 5G bandwidth into the appropriate services. VMware has its strategy correct when it says that it could virtualize the network just as it has with the cloud, but in doing so is making itself either a partner or a competitor of the operators for their 5G services revenues. 2018 was the year when VMware made a big splash at MWC, 2019 was the year when they showed that they have something to offer – will 2020 be the year when they take over the network software virtualization profit pools just as they did with the enterprise server virtualization market?

Crawl, Walk, Run

In conclusion, MWC 2019 was the year that the 5G gaps to make end-to-end infrastructure solutions where clearly being filled in. Service providers had stepped up their willingness to be part of the customer-centric ecosystem that is almost certainly being led by IT software companies. Telecom equipment vendors were offering technology solutions to speed up 5G deployments while making forward compatible solutions much easier. Finally, 5G-supported applications remain the last piece of the puzzle that MWC hasn’t addressed fully. As a result of the massively varied 5G use cases, there is still a look of curiosity on which industry will be the lead for 5G – will it be the auto industry with autonomous cars, will it be Industry 4.0 and the smart factory, or will it be smart cities with video surveillance. In addition, it is certain that IoT is still very much a necessary part of any 5G strategy just as AI outcomes continue to fuel IoT-based sensors in technologies such as the self-driving cars, AR, and digital twins. 2019 may have been the year that decided that it won’t matter whether the connected IoT device used licensed (NB-IoT) or unlicensed (LoRa) spectrum protocols as both will be seamlessly connected to a 5G network. IoT was not dead, it had simply grown up and was now integrated with more valuable solutions.

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Is there any charm left for IoT enthusiasts at MWC?

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At last, the Mobile World Congress (MWC) – the world’s largest exhibition for the mobile industry – is moving back to its origins. 5G technology has been a star in this year’s conference and I must say that it still has almost the same number of defenders as detractors. Opinions from both sides – the proponents and the critics – have been heard this week in Barcelona and while in the middle I have adopted an easy and not very brave opinion on this aspect. I still think that 5G can bring great advances in many sectors such as healthcare or transport, but contrary to this I don’t think that we will be using 5G in Virtual Reality multi-player games. That’s like, too much investment for a few general use cases of the technology.

I went to Barcelona to discover about happenings on the Internet of Things (IoT), start-ups and to discuss advances on IoT strategies with Operators, Manufacturers and System Integrators who were present at this Congress.

The gist of my visit at the end of my three days time and impressive 70,000 steps on my Fitbit tracker, is that the role of IoT at MWC has been diluted. A couple of years ago almost all the exhibitors used the word IoT on their stalls, many without knowing anything about what it was and today, it hardly appears on a few. There are no longer innovations, nor new use cases that attract visitors.

IoT and Operators

In the long-wait of 5G, IoT operators are torn between several technologies such as NB-IoT or LTE-M o LPWAN networks. The LoRA alliance had a booth in Hall #8 (the Hall of the poor’s, I call this Hall). SigFox did not even attend this year’s conference, which further increased the rumors among the attendees on the possible precarious situation of the French Operator.

Analysts should revise their estimates downwards based on data from new connections announced by Vodafone or Telefonica this year. I agree with Allen Proithis, Global Tech Executive: IoT, Digital Transformation, Strategic Partnerships, Emerging Technology, he said “the lack of emphasis on IoT reflects the struggle of mobile operators to monetize IoT outside of connections, especially at the SaaS or data level

Winner MWC2019 – Deutsche Telekom – IoT Solution Optimiser    

IoT and Network Infrastructure Vendors

This section is reserved for a few players – Ericsson, Huawei, and Nokia share most of the pie around the network infrastructure. A suspicion of Huawei security and doubts on the Operator’s role in election outcomes can delay 5G deployments in Europe. The Americans and the Chinese have already placed their decisions.

Only Huawei granted me an opportunity to meet their VP, a friend of mine.

I tried several times to reach Nokia whereas I did not even try to reach Ericsson this year, I already heard its strategy three times in the last year.

By far, Nokia has gained in terms of its connectivity offer with Nokia Wing, the ecosystem and the use cases (somewhat more advanced than those presented last year).

Winner MWC2019 – Nokia – Nokia Wing 

IoT and IT Technology Vendors

The technology behemoth Microsoft revealed its second-generation HoloLens AR and all I can say is that it left a ridiculous gap for IoT. Other IT giants such as Dell-EMC-VMware, SAP, Cisco, Oracle, SAS or SAG-Cumulocity did not showcase anything new.

Moving towards the System Integrators, they are not even expected at this fair in relation to IoT. Neither the Cloud, nor the Edge IIoT, nor the IoT Platforms, nor the IoT applications had any new ideas that could have attracted the interest of veterans and novices. Where are the millions of dollars going in the industry, which they say are being spent on IoT?

Winner MWC2019 –  No Conclusión

IoT and Countries

Finding an IoT gem among the many tiny cubicles of various countries was similar to finding a needle in a haystack. To me, there was hardly any interest to go through the dozens of small companies that used this event as a stage to make themselves visible to the world. The umbrella allows them to be here but attracting visitors between so much noise and variety to their booth was a big and miraculous task.

Every year, I get in touch with IoT companies and know companies from Israel, UK, Sweden, Canada or France. However, this year to my surprise, I found an interesting company in the pavilion of Belgium. They have developed another league of IoT platform and I liked what they have achieved with Orange. They are my winner of this year.

My special regards to the Colombia pavilion and my friend  Edgar Salas.

Winner MWC2019 – AllThingsTalk

IoT and Start-ups

I could not visit 4YFN, but I went to IoT Stars. My friend Marc Pous and his colleagues always do a great job, who comes as a jury every year. It was a good time spent with them over a beer while sharing impressions of the IoT and discussing new ideas to accelerate this market once and for all.

In my opinion, there was no great achievement this year and I still notice a gap in the Industrial IoT start-up space. Most ideas are like “Déjà vu” applications for Consumer IoT which reminds me of the post-years after the Internet boom. Much remains to be done here and it will take time for Universities to train innovators and entrepreneurs of IoT.

Winner MWC2019 – No Conclusión

P.S. The IoT Stars jury awarded two prizes


Key Takeaway:

It does not matter; this Congress was as soporific as the Oscars ceremony but for some strange reasons I keep coming back every year. Although after the fiasco of 2019, my expectations were set to find progress and opportunities in IoT but considering the after-effects, I think next year I will reduce my stay to only two days.

It has become clear that the MWC no longer holds anything interesting with respect to IoT to attract visitors, exhibitors, companies. Instead, IoT enthusiasts should probably look to other – more focussed – industry events.

If you want me to cover anything specific on IoT from MWC,19 then let me know in your comments.

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Ecosystm Snapshot: CBA, Telstra, Ericsson to trial 5G for banking sector

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Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has entered into a partnership kicking off trials of 5G and edge computing with telecommunication majors Telstra and Ericsson to explore the benefits of 5G in the banking sector.

The partnership agreement was signed at the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019, in Barcelona. The trials are projected to showcase what banking in the future might look like, and how 5G technology and edge computing can help to lower the requirements of the infrastructure presently required for banking operations.

Speaking on the subject, Ecosystm’s, Principal Advisor, Tim Sheedy, thinks that “this trial will help all parties better understand where the opportunities are for users of the mobile networks, and for the telco and equipment providers too. They will understand the potential demand for specific network slices and capabilities and get a better idea of what they need to deliver and whether or not there may be demand for these services”.

5G edge computing is still in nascent stages and there’s not much present in the market. Whether it minimises infrastructure or distributes it differently is yet to be seen. “The trials will likely determine what the shape of the new distributed architecture looks like (how close to the “edge” do the data centres need to be?)” says Tim, “There are unknowns of 5G at the moment – so the trials are invaluable to all parties to help them know where and what they need to invest in to make 5G services commercially viable.”

For a layman, 5G edge computing is all about delivering the reliability, speed, and latency that they need – or more likely – a sensor needs in order to get its job done. Once the technology becomes mainstream the end-users/banking customers will reap benefits from it. “5G is not just about delivering faster speed but it is about delivering them intelligently”, says Tim, “5G will help Telco’s to prioritise traffic AND network services – meaning that the end user can achieve their goals.”

While it’s too early to tell at this stage how will 5G benefit the banking sector, it should help banks offer their customers more reliable and relevant services – but what services need to be distributed at what times, and what can remain at the core are not yet understood.

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MWC 2019: Why can’t we build the telco networks like the clouds?

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Rightly so, the first day of the Mobile World Conference was taken up by more and more air time on the ever coming 5G networks. Was 2019 going to be the year when operators around the world would finally deploy 5G in volume? The booths in the halls at the Fira Grand would indicate that ‘if you build it, they will come’. Indeed the speculation that 5G is the next big game changer is over – it is the game changer for this next turn of the technology dial.

However, let’s assume that the 5G hype is in the rear view mirror and we look to see what could be ahead of us in the mobile and telecom industry. At the end of the first day of this year’s MWC, I may have seen the future opportunity – and it is awesome! Pat Gelsinger asked the question “why can’t we build the telco networks like the clouds have been built for with scalability, flexibility, efficiency, and agility”? It’s a very fair question. After all, we do have Network Function Virtualization (NFV), and we will have new 5G services, so why not a new telco cloud?

I spent time with two companies that may show us a glimpse of the future network and cloud infrastructure. The first is the Israeli software startup, DriveNets with its solution “Network Cloud”. DriveNets is focused on helping service providers disaggregate proprietary routers from their networks as they move to 5G. DRiveNet’s Network Cloud solution aims to disrupt the current network business model by separating network costs (e.g. proprietary hardware functions) to create network functions from its software stack and two ‘white label’ hardware building blocks. The entire network infrastructure is software-centric allowing for agility, scalability, and normalizing costs with business growth.

However, Network DriveNets is an unusual startup in that it came out of stealth mode with $110 million in its first round of funding. The company was founded in 2015 by Ido Susan who should be familiar to Cisco watchers as he sold his first startup, Intucell (self-optimising network technology), to them for $475 million in 2013. DriveNets other co-founder, Hillel Kobrinsky founded Interwise (web conferencing) which was snapped up by AT&T for $121 million. To that end, the company is well funded and has the ability to sustain itself long enough to potentially disrupt the $50 billion network hardware business.

The second is Rakuten Mobile, a well-known name in Japan, but the first mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) to launch there in over 10 years. MNOs are not new so what makes Rakuten different? The company’s CTO, Tareq Amen explained to me that they are building the world’s first end-to-end fully virtualized cloud-native network running all of its workloads in the cloud. Being a fully virtualized network enables Network Function Virtualization to take advantage of cloud computing basis assets where a service delivery platform can be implemented, customized and scaled at speed. Finally, all of Rakuten’s core technology including its Radio Access Network (RAN – a topic that has been highly discussed at this year’s MWC) on 5G thus delivering immediate and actual 5G services. This compares to most of the rest of the industry who will have to build an uncomfortable transformation roadmap from 2/3G and LTE to 5G. While Amen’s strategy is compelling, there are a few technical hurdles to overcome. For example, enterprise-grade 5G indoor coverage isn’t fully there yet so Amen will have to rely on the operators that he is competing against who have that real estate.

So why highlight DriveNet and Rakuten in the same blog? In Rakuten’s case the CAPEX and OPEX business models for operators may be turned on their heads by the fact that its network is taking all of the competitive advantages of 5G while offering customers as disruptive pricing models and services. In a country such as Japan where traditional operators have struggled to modernize their networks, this could be a competitive threat. Equally, there could be a global rise in copy-cat pure 5G/cloud-based MVNOs spring up and fiercely compete against the incumbent local operators as well as give other MVNOs a tough time. As for DriveNets – it’s simple…it’s software and virtualization of the switch and router market which is very appealing to the service providers. It will commoditize the hardware, lowering their costs while allowing them to continue to focus on new 5G services.

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Pre MWC Thoughts On 5G

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Arriving ahead of this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona always makes me wonder what will be the big plays from the leading operators, carriers and equipment manufacturers. The ‘Intelligently Connected’ theme from the GSMA would suggest that emerging innovation surrounding smart connected IoT devices feeding massive amounts of data to drive AI would be in the spotlight. It will!  However, it will play a significant second fiddle to 5G, where everyone will be looking to see the progress made from last year to now, 2019, the year when the whole industry is looking to monetize it.

Using a construction site analogy, the foundation has been poured and the building has been ‘topped’ out – in this case, the 5G standards have been finalized and global test beds are now switched on, so now it is ‘show time’ to fill the building with fixtures and fittings . However, there is still a lag in 5G devices and use cases so I would expect to see an avalanche of announcements from mobile device manufacturers (some have already announced the return of the foldable phone).

Lastly, 5G continues to bring new business model challenges to everyone. Operators continue to be pressured to deliver revenues and profits from 4G investments, while looking for ways to make the 5G license costs appear to be the right choice and not part of government price gouging. One thing that I will be looking for is the evolution of the operators’ market places where they bring IoT-related data to cloud ready enterprise SaaS platforms. It is here where the contextual data will be used to drive enterprise data management systems such as CRM and generate valuable business outcomes.

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Does Vodafone and IBM’s Cognitive Connection Make IoT Sense?

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Recently IBM and Vodafone announced a new strategic commercial agreement, as a joint venture, to provide their clients with the ability to integrate multiple clouds that have a need to access emerging technologies such as 5G, AI, Edge Computing and Software Defined Networking. Under an eight-year engagement valued $550 million (€480 million), IBM will provide managed services to Vodafone Business’ cloud and hosting unit.

Businesses are becoming more and more challenged to run their operations and business processes in a seamless manner as data is distributed and managed across more and more clouds. Together, Vodafone Business and IBM aim to remove these complexities to support the basis of any digital transformation and enable a company to share data freely and securely across its organization.

On the surface, this announcement makes sense if you are a Vodafone business customer who wants to take the next step in a digital transformation journey. The convergence of multi-clouds has the ability for companies to enrich their own data management systems with external sources. With the purchase of Red Hat late in 2018, IBM now has the ability and credibility to offer that capability. However, as many IoT-based solutions create the data to fuel these cloud processes, IBM has not had a clear Edge Computing or network connectivity strategy. This is where Vodafone can help IBM connect the edge of the network to the enterprise systems. This announcement seems like a complimentary win-win situation for both sets of IBM and Vodafone customers.

Red Hat is undoubtedly one of the premier cloud management companies and IBM invested heavily in its multi-cloud connectivity assets. IBM is hoping that the deeper that Red Hat is involved in the multi-cloud connectivity market, the more it will pull through IBM’s high-value business services in cognitive computing and machine learning and other compute-intensive technologies.

However, this market is still shaking itself out and there are many other competitive offerings to Red Hat. There are startups such as RightScale and Morpheus who can offer up multi-cloud management. Alternatively, as a mature company, VMware competes head to head with Red Hat and has had a long-standing partnership with Vodafone. In particular, VMware and Vodafone have partnered in telco specific functions such as NFV and 5G.

To understand the importance of VMware in the midst of this announcement is to appreciate the end-to-end customer experience that VMware can bring to telco customers such as Vodafone. As 5G rolls out and NFV-based network slicing becomes a valuable onboarding differentiator VMware could offer its vCloud NFV solution to Vodafone’s customers. Vodafone’s customers could have access to the same multi-cloud services from VMware and not IBM while obtaining AI, cognitive and ML services available from the major public cloud providers (such as AWS, Google and Microsoft). VMware’s position at the edge of the network would, therefore, appear to leapfrog IBM’s position. Vodafone Business’ customers could bypass IBM and its cloud services strategy. At the end of the day, IBM could be left with only the managed services contract while missing out on analytics and cognitive business services.

To negate this scenario, IBM will have to lead more and more with Red Hat and be willing to downplay the cognitive and machine learning services. Business solutions in vertical markets such as agriculture are extremely price sensitive and customers will look closely at the cost of connectivity followed by the cost of data acquisition to enrich their business outcomes. We believe that if the cost to run data science and cognitive services are too expensive, then Vodafone customers will seek the same tools and services from other cloud service providers and not IBM.

Finally

Our advice to tech buyers who are in the midst of business transformation should consider how they fuel their decision-making engines for analytics, machine learning, and cognitive computing. Real-time processing and dissemination of business outcomes is one of the table stakes for a successful digital company. As a result of that, seamless end-to-end processing across a complex and distributed enterprise infrastructure is a challenge that needs to be overcome. Tech buyers should ask if IBM’s edge computing strategy and Vodafone’s connectivity are mature enough to funnel IoT-data generated smart data to a broad inter-cloud infrastructure.

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