A week in telecoms: Project Kuiper, Deutsche Telekom, Reliance, EC's Digital Markets Act
Welcome to the Inform weekly news round-up, where we take a look at a selection of recent CSP news and how it impacts the wider industry.
Vodafone ties with Project Kuiper
Vodafone expanded its non-terrestrial horizons with the announcement that it has formed a partnership with Project Kuiper, Amazon’s low Earth orbit satellite (LEO) communications initiative.
Vodafone intends to use Kuiper’s network to extend the reach of 4G and 5G services in Europe and Africa, serving areas that “may otherwise be challenging and prohibitively expensive to serve via traditional fiber or microwave solutions.”
As part of the collaboration, Amazon plans to partner with Vodafone to roll out Project Kuiper’s high-speed broadband services to “unserved and underserved communities around the world.” Furthermore, the companies are exploring additional services targeted at enterprises, such as backup service for unexpected events, and extending connectivity to remote infrastructure.
Amazon has yet to launch any satellites, so delivering access for Vodafone on the ground is certainly unlikely before 2024. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently granted Kuiper permission to deploy its LEO constellation of 3,236 satellites.
Vodafone already has a partnership with AST SpaceMobile, which aims to provide ubiquitous network coverage for consumers through direct-to-device (D2D) connectivity.
The UK-based operator is one of several communications service providers (CSPs) that are linking up with satellite service providers to solve backhaul and rural connectivity challenges.
For example, Deutsche Telekom has a partnership with Skylo and Intelsat, while Telefónica is collaborating with Sateliot. More recently, KDDI announced an agreement to use SpaceX’s Starlink LEO network for D2D services, extending mobile connectivity to areas including remote islands and mountains.
Indeed, a recent report from MTN Consulting argued that intense competition and a harsh funding climate mean satellite operators are moving deeper into the telecoms space for new market opportunities such as broadband internet, D2D and IoT market segments to find new revenue streams.
However, the analyst company said satellite operators are more likely to be a partnership opportunity than a threat to CSPs in traditional telecoms markets.
Deutsche Telekom flags non-RT RIC, 5G network slicing and speed trials
Deutsche Telekom announced a positive flurry of trials that are designed to support its digital transformation ambitions.
For example, it highlighted a “multi-vendor” lab trial of the non-real-time RAN intelligent controller (non-RT RIC), based on specifications laid out by the O-RAN Alliance and Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), a Linux-based networking project.
The multi-vendor collaboration assessed the integration complexity of the Non-RT RIC, rApps and Service Management and Orchestration (SMO) framework. Participating vendors included AirHop, Juniper Networks, VIAVI Solutions and VMware.
Noting that the multi-vendor framework presents integration challenges, DT said the PoC has shown that the adoption of the SMO, Non-RT RIC and rApp framework “is promising in how it allows for the decoupling of optimization algorithm development, the supporting platform development and the system integration — so that components from different parties can form a truly disaggregated RAN optimization concept.”
DT has been trialing open RAN technology at its O-RAN Town project in Neubrandenburg that it launched in June 2021. Earlier in 2023, the operator said the results and experience gained during the O-RAN Town trial “reaffirm our commitment” to make open RAN “the technology of choice for future networks”, but admitted that open RAN technology is not yet mature enough for widescale deployment.
In August, however, DT Group CEO Timotheus Höttges sounded more optimistic about open RAN’s development and said good progress is being made. He indicated that open RAN will be scaled up next year “in a significant magnitude” to demonstrate its readiness for the mass market.
Meanwhile, DT also claimed a new record for mobile network speeds of 12 Gbps in tests that used frequency spectrum at 6GHz bundled with 3.6GHz. Abdu Mudesir, Head of Technology at Telekom Deutschland, said 6GHz spectrum “has the characteristic to meet the growing demand of our customers for more capacity and more speed. That is why we hope that the World Radiocommunication Conference will set the direction for mobile radio use.”
In the area of 5G network slicing, the German operator tied with Blue Planet, Ericsson, and Mavenir to jointly demonstrate in a proof of concept (PoC) the agility benefits of multi-domain orchestration with open APIs to automatically create new slice-based service offerings on-demand.
Changsoon Choi, VP, Network Service Differentiation and Convergence at DT, said enterprise customers “are demanding tailored and flexible connectivity services.”
He said the PoC validated a multi-domain orchestration “to show how customers can order slices dynamically in minutes by clicking a few options. Dynamic slicing and automation are key innovations that will play a crucial role to enable the delivery of on-demand 5G offerings with guaranteed quality of service for our enterprise customers.”
STC’s purchase of Telefónica stake
In early September, Saudi Telecom Company (STC) said it acquired a 9.9% interest in Telefónica for a total consideration of SAR 8.5 billion ($2.25 billion). The CSP described the purchase as “another milestone” in its expansion that also reflects its confidence in the Spanish group’s “sustainable growth and upside potential.”
However, the move has not gone down well in certain quarters. According to Reuters, Yolanda Diaz, Spain's acting labour minister and a deputy prime minister, called on the government to block STC’s acquisition, citing Telefónica strategic importance as an operator handling data transmission.
Acting Economy Minister Nadia Calvino, who is also a deputy premier, is analyzing the transaction. While keen to protect Spain’s strategic interests, she also stressed the need to preserve the nation’s ability to attract foreign investment.
Reuters noted that Middle Eastern companies are showing a growing interest in European telecoms assets. For instance, UAE’s e& increased its stake in Vodafone to 14.61% and is seeking to raise it further to 20%. e& also acquired a controlling stake in Czech PPF Group’s telecom assets in Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia and Slovakia.
Furthermore, STC’s TAWAL acquired United Group’s mobile tower infrastructure unit in Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia.
Nvidia ties with Reliance and Tata on AI
Nvidia announced AI partnerships with Reliance Industries and Tata Group in India to develop cloud infrastructure and language models, as well as generative applications.
The move, which came shortly after Reliance outlined its strategy to build India-specific AI applications for people, enterprises and the government, will see the companies will work together to create an AI computing infrastructure and platforms for developing AI solutions.
Nvidia founder and CEO Jensen Huang said he thinks India “is going to be one of the largest AI markets in the world.”
Jio Platforms confirmed the plans to build a cloud-based AI compute infrastructure, in collaboration with Nvidia.
Mukesh Ambani, Chairman & Managing Director at Reliance Industries proclaimed that “computing and technology super centers like the one we envisage with Nvidia will provide the catalytic growth just like Jio did to our nation’s digital march.”
Virgin Media O2 announces 3G sunset
Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) became the last of the UK’s four mobile network operators to announce a timetable for switching off its 3G network.
The operator will start to turn off 3G services in 2025, and complete the process by the end of that year. It noted that the move will enable it to “further expand and upgrade its 4G and 5G connectivity, reduce energy consumption and deliver enhanced speeds and reliability for customers.”
The announcement means that 2025 will mark the end of 3G in the UK. Vodafone UK plans to sunset the technology in early 2024, and both EE and Three UK will follow suit later that year.
VMO2 particularly highlighted the fact that shutting down 3G will contribute to its sustainability goals.
“While the 3G network carries less than 4% of all data used on Virgin Media O2’s network, it accounts for 11% of the company’s total energy consumption. 4G and 5G, which together account for 96% of mobile network data traffic, are 10 times more efficient. The move to switch off 3G will contribute to Virgin Media O2’s wider plans to reach net-zero by 2040,” the operator said.
VMO2 said its 4G network covers 99% of the population while 5G services will be available to more than half of the UK population by the end of 2023. It noted that while 2G will ultimately be switched off by 2033, it will remain in place to carry calls and texts while 3G is switched off.
In December 2021, the UK government and MNOs committed to switching off 2G and 3G by 2033 at the latest.
EC designates six ‘gatekeepers’ under DMA
The European Commission has finally unveiled six digital services giants that it has designated as “gatekeepers” under the Digital Markets Act (DMA), a key piece of EU legislation along with the Digital Services Act (DSA).
Probably to the surprise of no one, the six companies are Alphabet (which owns Google), Amazon, Apple, ByteDance (which founded TikTok), Meta (which owns Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram), and Microsoft (which owns LinkedIn).
The six gatekeepers now have six months to ensure full compliance with the DMA obligations for each of their designated core platform services, of which there are currently 22.
Essentially, they will be under pressure to offer more choice and more freedom to users of their services.
If a gatekeeper does not comply with the obligations laid down by the DMA, the Commission can impose fines up to 10% of the company’s total worldwide turnover, which can go up to 20% in case of repeated infringement.
In the event of systematic infringements, the Commission is also empowered to adopt additional remedies such as obliging a gatekeeper to sell a business or parts of it, or banning the gatekeeper from acquisitions of additional services related to the systemic non-compliance.
The primary aim of the DMA is prevent gatekeepers from imposing unfair conditions on businesses and end users, and at ensuring the openness of important digital services. The DSA is designed to address the negative consequences arising from certain behaviours by online platforms acting as digital gatekeepers to the EU single market.
Telekom Malaysia and SK Telecom inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to jointly develop Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) in Malaysia.
Ethio Telecom announced the official launch of commercial 5G services in Addis Ababa.
Poland’s Office of Electronic Communications (Urzad Komunikacji Elektronicznej, UKE) pre-qualified the country’s four MNOs to compete in its forthcoming auction of 3.5GHz 5G licenses. Orange, Play (P4), T-Mobile and Plus (Polkomtel) were the only applicants.
Apple launched the iPhone 15, and confirmed that the new device will not feature its proprietary lightning charging port. Instead, it will use USB-C cable as the “universally accepted standard.”