Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Sky Mobile: Winner of best MVNO

Sky Mobile is a UK MVNO which uses O2’s infrastructure. So wherever O2 has signal, so does Sky Mobile , which currently means 4G coverage for around 99% of the UK population indoors. Since their inception Sky Mobile continues to gain recognition for their innovative strategies and customer service.

Sky Mobile won MVNO of the year in 2018 and once more again this year. 

Some examples of the unique approach that Sky has been adopting with their mobile plans.

Firstly in January of last year it was announced they had saved customers over £20 million worth of data spend due to rolling over the previous month’s unused data.Sky Mobile Roll, it banks unused data for up to three years.

On average Sky Mobile customers were saved from spending on average £100 each topping up data, out of fear of running out before the allotted time.

Sky Mobile customers saved over 2.2 billion gigabytes of mobile data. That is equivalent to streaming over three million hours of TV and movies on a phone, streaming and listening to 440 million songs, or sending over 30 billion instant messages on WhatsApp.

 According to Sky Mobile commercial director Liz Wynn : 
“When we entered the smartphone market we wanted to tackle the issue of unused data and customers paying too much for their allowance. Over 20 million people in the UK were regularly buying more data than they needed to avoid going over their data allowance, and accepted this as the norm. We created Sky Mobile and Roll to challenge this status quo. One year on we can see its working, with our customers already saving £20 million worth of data.”
In addition to this Sky Mobile were recognized for the choice and flexibility of its mobile phone deals, allowing customers to cut costs for things they don't need. Those not needing to make calls or texts from your mobile can save £10 per month by removing them from their plan. If they have no intention of upgrading their phone for a couple of years then they can opt for a Swap 24 tariff for the best prices.

Most recently  Sky Mobile announced a new version of its Watch offer, giving customers unlimited streaming on any Sky app, such as Sky Go, Sky Kids, Sky Sports and Sky Cinema, without using a single MB of their data allowance.

With Watch, Sky customers can stream everything from movies and TV shows to unmissable sports matches live through the Sky apps anywhere in the UK and the EU , without using any data. The new feature builds on the existing Watch offering, where you can download shows to your mobile to watch offline with Sky Go Extra, however this is the first time that you’ll be able to stream wherever you are, on-the-go, without using your data allowance.

Sophia Ahmad, Director of Sky Mobile states: 

 “We launched Sky Mobile to connect our customers to more of what they love. Streaming films and TV shows on-the-go is now one of the most popular ways to pass time while travelling or commuting – and our new Watch offer makes it easier for our customers to stay up to date with the unmissable must-watch television, from Game of Thrones to F1 races, that we know our customers love.”
Sky Mobile also allows customers to use as much of their data as they want for tethering, using their mobile data to get other devices online.

Some criticisms of Sky Mobile have also been made, for example it feels mostly built for Sky TV customers, giving them a huge saving on calls and texts if they subscribe to both.

However, it’s worth considering even if people get their entertainment elsewhere, being able to roll over an unlimited amount of data is a big selling point that few networks can match. 

Being able to change your plan every month also makes Sky Mobile very flexible, however a lack of plans, fairly low data limits and no inclusive roaming beyond Europe holds it back, as does being on O2, as that network currently can’t match the speed of rivals.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

SK Telecom & Samsung performs 5G EN-DC tests, achieve 2.65 Gbps

South Korean MNO SK Telecom and Samsung Electronics has announced that they have successfully completed the network device interoperability test applying Dual Connectivity technology using both 4G and 5G networks provided by Samsung’s Networks Business, a.k.a. ‘E-UTRAN New Radio Dual Connectivity (EN-DC)’ based on the 3GPP Release-15 5G New Radio (NR) standard.

Before proceeding further, if you are not aware of different 5G Network Architecture Options (including EN-DC), you may want to check out our tutorial on 3G4G page here.

According to the Samsung press release:

During the test, both companies have successfully achieved 2.65Gbps in data speeds on the 5G smartphone, combining both 1.5Gbps in 5G using 3.5GHz frequency (100MHz bandwidth) with 1.15Gbps in LTE using 1.8GHz, 2.1GHz, and 2.6GHz frequencies (65MHz bandwidth) all of which are for commercial use by SK Telecom.

The test, carried out at Samsung Electronics located in Suwon, Korea, used Samsung’s commercial 4G and 5G NR end-to-end networks solutions which have been provided to the operator’s current service. In addition, companies used Samsung’s virtual core (vCore) that supports simultaneous 4G and 5G as well as its Galaxy S10 5G, Samsung’s first 5G smartphone which was unveiled last month.

SK Telecom, in particular, will be able to boost the overall transmission data speed by 80% by leveraging the 4G and 5G dual connectivity. It will allow users who are staying in the 5G service coverage to download UHD videos of 2GB in just 6 seconds, and large video content such as 4K VR video of 10GB in less than 30 seconds.

The two companies demonstrated the delivery of multi-gigabit speeds for 5G device, with a focus on seamless user experiences. Wherever mobile service subscribers are without being limited to 4G or 5G service areas, they can expect seamless, consistent, and stable mobile services. In the early stages of 5G era, the combined capabilities of 4G and 5G networks are important forces for mobile carriers to maximize the characteristics of the 5G network – ultra-fast speed, low-latency, and massive-connectivity by leveraging widely deployed 4G network coverage.

The success of the demonstration by SK Telecom and Samsung signifies a blueprint of early 5G deployment, spotlighting a rapid, stable and effective path to 5G service using a dual 4G and 5G approach.

This success is part of an ongoing collaboration between SK Telecom and Samsung of many years. Pushing forward early 5G commercialization, the companies have succeeded in the world’s first 4G and 5G interworking back in 2017 and world’s first 5G Next-Generation Core (5G NC) trial in June 2018, which featured control and user planes separation and VNFs implementation based on 3GPP release 15 standard. These joint forces have led Samsung to become a major partner for SK Telecom to successfully launch 5G mobility commercial service in Korea, December 1st 2018.

Related posts:

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Current IMT Spectrum Allocation in Japan

The chart below shows the current spectrum allocation in Japan (source)

As can be seen, Softbank has the maximum spectrum, 250 MHz followed by NTT Docomo and KDDI with 240 MHz each. Newcomer Rakuten has 2x20 or 40 MHz abailable in Band 3 (1800 MHz).

New spectrum for 5G has not yet been auctioned but will happen this year. It was expected to be auctioned last year. Below slide shows the spectrum under consideration.

Related posts:

Monday, 11 March 2019

Current IMT Spectrum Allocation in South Korea

The slide below summarises the IMT spectrum allocation before 5G (source presentation)

On 1st Dec 2018, all three operators launched commercial 5G networks simultaneously. The plan was to have nationwide commercial 5G services available for everyone by March 2019 but this date has just been postponed. According to Mobile World Live:

The news outlet cited a number of setbacks as hindering SK Telecom, KT and LG UPlus’ target. Handset availability is presumed to be the main factor in the delay, but the government has also rejected proposed 5G pricing plans submitted by operators.

“Commercialisation of 5G is possible when various factors such as network, smartphones and service are ready”, the country’s Ministry of Science and ICT said in a statement.

While it did not commit to an alternative date for consumer service launch, the ministry said it is coordinating with SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus, along with device makers Samsung and LG Electronics on the matter, the news agency reported.

5G Spectrum has already been auctioned in South Korea with each operator winning 800 MHz in 28 GHz band (high throughput layer) and in C-band (capacity layer), LGU+ received 80 MHz in 3.4 GHz band, KT received 100 MHz in 3.5 GHz band while SK Telecom received 100 MHz in 3.6 GHz band.

All operators are ideally placed with regards to spectrum to role the best possible commercial 5G services there can be. We will just have to wait a bit longer but will happen in 2019 for sure.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Rakuten Japan: Transitioning from MVNO to MNO later in 2019

Rakuten is a Japanese giant with a turnover of over $139 billion last year. Along with all the other e-commerce and internet business, it is also an MVNO.

According to Smart Karma:

In the latest data, MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) have reached 7.0% market share of Japan’s main 3G and LTE (4G) services with over 12m subscribers. Government support remains robust for the MVNOs. Mr. Suga, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, has suggested that MVNOs, in all forms, should expand to 50% of the market in the future. 

As Rakuten prepares for its full MNO (mobile network operator) service launch later this year, the Rakuten MVNO services continues to execute well, taking market share and building a formidable foundation of subscribers. Rakuten is now Japan’s largest MVNO by customer numbers. We expect Rakuten will struggle to make a reasonable return on its MNO on a standalone basis, but it may strengthen the company’s overall ecosystem and create enough synergies to add positive value to the group.

Back in January, Rakuten Blog talked about building the world's first end-to-end cloud-native mobile network:

During Rakuten Technology Conference 2018 in Tokyo last October, Rakuten Mobile Network Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Tareq Amin explained for the first time the revolutionary approach that his team is taking to build Japan’s fourth major network.

Since 2014, consumers in Japan have enjoyed affordable mobile phone service through Rakuten Mobile. The service has grown to become Japan’s biggest MVNO (mobile virtual network operator), enjoying particular success attracting young people with its low fees and appealing loyalty point incentives. As an MVNO, however, Rakuten Mobile utilizes the infrastructure of other major network carriers to deliver its service – limiting its ability to launch technical innovation and provide new services to customers.

As the new mobile network will be required to provide coverage across the entire country, Rakuten has mobilized partners and its employee base to rapidly secure sites to build out the radio access network, as well as signing an agreement with KDDI Corporation to provide roaming services during its own infrastructure construction period. Nevertheless, there has been speculation about the ambitious schedule and budget Rakuten has proposed for rolling out its plans.

“How could you do this? It is not possible to build a network in only 12 months without a significant capex investment,” posed Amin during his presentation. “It is possible because we are deploying a very different architecture and leveraging Rakuten IT skills as a leading tech company.”

Rakuten has also been making headlines in Japan with its forays into 5G innovation, in partnership with firms such as Nokia, Altiostar, Cisco, Mavenir, Intel, Qualcomm, Quanta and NEC. According to Amin, deploying “true” 5G is an integral part of Rakuten’s mobile journey.

“What does 5G transformation for Rakuten really look like?” Amin asked the audience at the Conference. “If you look at any traditional operator, both inside and outside of Japan, it’s actually a very unnatural process to upgrade to 5G. They have to completely virtualize their infrastructure, they have to deploy new core architecture, they have to deploy new radio access. In Rakuten’s world, the entire core technology, including our Radio Access Network, is fully ready for 5G.”

The fact that Rakuten, unlike existing telecommunication companies, has no outdated and legacy infrastructure to maintain is a significant advantage. “We don’t have to worry about building and transforming our network from 3G or 4G to 5G. From day zero, Rakuten network is 5G ready.

At the same time, Amin doesn’t consider the 5G services that other telcos are launching to be “true” 5G. “If you truly want to offer functionalities and capabilities like network slicing into this new architecture, you must deploy standalone 5G core, which Rakuten is doing.”

This is a very bold vision but is supported by many different legacy and new vendors bringing lot of experience and innovation into the whole process. The following video from Cisco is showing how the experience and innovation is working together at Rauten

Telecom TV points out:

As if a brand new cloud-native 5G-ready network wasn’t sufficiently exciting on its own, there’s another key angle to the Rakuten story. What makes it different is that the company has a strong services and applications heritage (over 70 services to date, in use by over 100 million registered members). This is not a mobile network operator that will then create and launch applications – this is an established services and apps company that is launching a mobile network. It’s an important distinction, and one which could – if successful – lead to other similar new entrants and business models in the decade ahead.

The RAN will initially be 4G and Wi-Fi, with the addition of 5G planned for early 2020, subject to government licensing approval. As well as consumer mobile, Rakuten also plans to offer 5G FWA and NB-IoT.

The Mobile Network has a lot of insights on the Rakuten Network here and here.
  • The virtual radio access network for Rakuten’s brand new mobile network in Japan will be provided by Altiostar. The vRAN company, which has just taken a strategic investment from the operator, will provide all the virtual Central and Distributed units (vCUs, vDUs) within the RAN.
  • Nokia mentions its  role as “Turnkey” deployment partner. It says it will provide deployment and integration of the new radio network leveraging a ‘zero footprint’ site approach with remote radio heads connected to cloud RAN software on the edge cloud. That cloud RAN software, we know now, will be Altiostar’s. Nokia will be providing its AirScale RRHs as well as some vIMS functions and its AirGile core.
  • Nokia is supplying the remote radio units, bolting these on via a specially designed coupling to antennas from Korean antenna supplier KMW Communications.
  • Intel’s release confirmed the RAN-core software providers, stating, “The Rakuten network uses a virtualised radio access network running on Intel Xeon processor-based servers from Quanta, support radio access technology from Altiostar and core network software from Cisco, providing a network that is fully virtualised from RAN to core.”
  • Cisco is the cloud core and NFVi provider. The hardware, which comes in just four server variants, is all from Taiwanese provider Quanta Cloud Technology

Here is an official video from Rakuten on their mobile network strategy and details of launch plans

Finally, I caught up with my ex-colleague and a big supporter of 3G4G blogs, Rahul Atri at the Rakuten booth. I had to add his picture here 😉

Related reading on this topic:

Further Reading:

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Current IMT Spectrum Allocation in China

A nice slide summarising IMT spectrum allocation in China can be seen below.

Presentation Source

According to Mobile World Live back in December,

China’s government allocated 5G spectrum in the mid-band frequency range to the three state-owned mobile operators, preparing the way for large-scale network testing in 2019 and the launch of commercial 5G services in 2020, China Daily reported.

Both China Telecom and China Unicom received 100MHz in the 3.5MHz band (also known as the C-band), while market leader China Mobile obtained 260MHz of spectrum in the 2.6GHz and 4.8GHz bands, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology revealed.

Friday, 1 March 2019

China Unicom connects a remote village Duogai in Qinghai Province for #CaseForChange

The Qinghai Province of China is vast and daily life is defined by struggles like extreme isolation, widespread poverty and harsh climate. In the remote village Duogai, winters can last up to 8 months, and many young children at the local boarding school only see their parents twice a year.
Getting an area so inaccessible onto the digital map seems like an impossible task. In 2017, China Unicom rose to the challenge and, despite the countless problems caused by the punishing weather, successfully installed 17.5km of optical cable and constructed multiple base stations.

Xuemei Sun bravely accepts #CaseForChange’s mission to visit the school in Duogai and learn how life has changed for the teachers and students there and experiences first hand just how severe Qinghai’s climate can be. Video below.

More details here.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Switzerland 5G Spectrum Auctions Results

According to Mobile World Live:

Switzerland’s Federal Communications Commission (ComCom) awarded 5G radio frequencies to all three mobile operators – Swisscom, Sunrise and Salt – raising CHF380 million ($379 million).

The frequencies will be assigned for 15 years, which the regulator said provides the “operators long-term planning security to develop their networks.”


Dense Air, a small cell player which launched in 2018, pulled out of the Swiss auction. Reuters noted this “removes a potential rival for the three companies in the already crowded Swiss mobile market”.

Swisscom, which paid CHF196 million, said by the end of 2019 it expects to roll-out 5G to 60 towns and communities.

Sunrise and Salt did not have such concrete plans. The former said the frequencies gained will help it to “deliver a world-class 5G network in the future” and the latter that it will “improve its high-quality mobile network” with “next-generation speed, latency and capacity”.

According to a media release by Sunrise:

At the 5G frequency auction, Sunrise has acquired the strategically most important frequencies in the 3.5 GHz band, which perfectly fit its "5G for People" strategy.

With its existing and new frequencies, Sunrise will be able to secure its existing 96% 4G area coverage and deliver a world-class 5G network in the future. This will provide outstanding area coverage and, notably, give suburban and rural areas "optical fiber speed over the air".

Thanks to a clever bidding strategy, Sunrise was able to acquire the most important bands at a favorable price of 0.077 CHF per MHz/Pop. With the frequencies acquired in the middle frequency range and combined with the existing frequencies, Sunrise will be able to provide the area coverage and capacities needed in the long term. 

According to the chart on top (from Sunrise media release), you can see that all the three operators are well placed with a reasonable amount of coverage and capacity layer 5G spectrum. The 5G future looks good for Swiss.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Japan Mobile Subscribers and MNO Market Share

NTT Docomo Factbook lists the number of subscribers for each of the Japanese MNO as well as their market share. At the end of 2018, according to Telecommunications Carrier Association (TCA), the following was the market share:

NTT Docomo - 77.1 million subscribers (45.1% market share)
KDDI - 53.5 million subscribers (31.3% market share)
Softbank - 40.4 million subscribers (23.6% market share)

NTT Docomo provides a complete breakdown of it's mobile subscribers which is available here. The forecast is to have 78.1 million subscribers by Q3 2019.

KDDI au subscriptions info is available here. At the end of 2018, there were 54,262,800 subscribers

Softbank on the other hand, has 33 million mobile subscribers and 7 million broadband subscribers according to their web page. Their broadband service contains of Softbank Air which is high speed 4G wireless internet as well as Optic Fiber service. 

Friday, 8 February 2019

Bell Canada to Deliver ‘Tailored’ Advertisements Based on Customers Personal Info

Bell wants permission to gather and track customer data but Canadian privacy laws mean they first have to ask. A news article in CBC last month said:

Bell Canada began asking its customers in December for permission to track everything they do with their home and mobile phones, internet, television, apps or any other services they get through Bell or its affiliates.

In return, Bell says it will provide advertising and promotions that are more "tailored" to their needs and preferences.

If given permission, Bell will collect information about its customers' age, gender, billing addresses, and the specific tablet, television or other devices used to access Bell services.

It will also collect the "number of messages sent and received, voice minutes, user data consumption and type of connectivity when downloading or streaming."

Privacy and security concerns

"I mean, in a perfect world, they would give you discounts or they would give you points or things that consumers would more tangibly want, rather than just the elimination of a pain point — which is what they're offering right now," Toronto-based consultant Charlie Wilton, whose firm has advised Bell and Rogers in the past, says.

Teresa Scassa, who teaches law at the University of Ottawa and holds the Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy, says Bell has done a good job of explaining what it wants to do but there are also privacy and security concerns to consider.

At the macro level, Bell's data security could be breached by hackers. At the micro level, she adds, there's the potential for family friction if everybody starts getting ads based on one person's activities.

Ads for pornography, birth control or services for victims of abuse could trigger confrontations, for instance.

"Some families are open and sharing. Others are fraught with tension and violence," Scassa says.

Wilton says a company in Bell's position also runs the risk that customers will feel betrayed if their information is leaked or the advertising they receive is inappropriate.

Back in Oct. 2013, CBC reported another similar news item on Bell about Privacy commissioner to start investigating Bell's data collection as Canadian telecom giant was about to begin highly targeted advertising program in Nov. What Bell said back then:

"What's new is that we're giving Bell customers the option to receive internet advertising that's relevant to them rather than the random online advertising they're receiving now. The number of ads customers see won't increase and they can opt out anytime by visiting ads. We're giving customers advance notice before we start offering relevant advertising on Nov. 16."

iPhoneInCanada has more details on this topic.

The Relevant Ads Program was eventually phased out in 2015 after the Privacy Commissioner of Canada ruled the advertising violated Canadian law, as it automatically opted-in customers.

Now, Bell’s current version of this ad tracking program recently asked customers last month to gain more access to personal information for improved “tailored marketing.” This data would arise from a Bell’s customers wireless or landline, internet, television, or anything related to Bell apps and the company’s affiliates.

The Canadian Press reports a notice sent out last month by Bell explained, “Tailored marketing means Bell will be able to customize advertising based on participant account information and service usage patterns, similar to the ways that companies like Google and others have been doing for some time.”

Bell says it wants to gain data such as a customer’s age, billing address, gender and specific devices used to access Bell services, on top of the “number of messages sent and received, voice minutes, user data consumption and type of connectivity when downloading or streaming,” for the sake of delivering more targeted ads.

Both pictures above are from iPhoneInCanada. You can read more details about this story there.