The Mobile World Congress is one of the biggest telecom events of the year, and in 2021, the biggest topic seems to be AI and the need for change in the regulatory framework. Several executives and top-level experts from global telecoms have spoken out about the crucial role that AI plays in the development of the industry and called for regulations that reflect how much the adoption of high-tech has increased during the pandemic. Apart from that, several telecom giants come with important updates, as Nokia launches a bunch of new AirScale Products and Samsung reveals its new radio design. Meanwhile, Vodafone is making huge progress in eliminating its carbon footprint and BT started a partnership with OneWeb to improve rural connectivity in the UK. There were several other notable partnerships during the past week, with IBM expanding its 5G collaboration with Verizon and Telefonica, and Google deepening its 5G partnership with Jio with the goal of bringing an “ultra-affordable” smartphone to the market. When it comes to the Chinese telecoms, the Huawei ban has been upheld by the Swedish court and Xiaomi has stressed its priority is security and privacy.
During the Mobile World Congress, Telefonica’s top executive, José María Álvarez-Pallete Chairman of the Spanish incumbent, delivered a presentation during which he stressed the importance of AI and called for regulatory change.
On Monday morning in Barcelona, he emphasized that the telecom industry’s development depends on cutting-edge connectivity that will allow telecoms to run edge computing, cloud IoT, and big data. Álvarez-Pallete noted that already “as much as a 40% of Internet traffic is non-human, generated by machines that are talking to each other” – and this can be transformed into information through AI. “The real evolution lies there,” he said.
“Governments need to attract investment in the smart digital infrastructure that will make all that possible,” Álvarez-Pallete said, warning that the industry faces some time pressure. “To grab [the opportunity], Europe needs a sustainable telco sector, otherwise we will lag further behind in the global race for digital leadership,” he cautioned.
“We demand a new regulatory framework and competition rules to build a strong digital Europe,” Álvarez-Pallete said, adding the usual comments around the need for such a move to enable digitalization to drive growth, job creation, sustainability, and inclusion.
So far, AI is turning into one of the key topics that are brought up by different speakers at the conference. Executives from different telecoms have been stressing that the pandemic has pushed the world forward in terms of the adoption of technology and that the regulatory framework has to catch up to allow the continuous development of technology.
The Finnish kit vendor Nokia is pushing forward on 5G as they just released several new AirScale products that include basebands, remote radio heads, and huge MIMO active antennas. Nokia also launched the newest version of the ReelShark chip portfolio.
“Our new generation of ReefShark-powered AirScale radio and baseband products is evidence of the successful transformation of our business and ability to deliver market-leading products to our global customers,” said Tommi Uitto, president of Mobile Networks at Nokia.
“Nokia’s new portfolio enables communication service providers to offer both consumer and enterprise customers cutting-edge 5G experiences with premium speeds, capacity, and connectivity underpinned by seamless, simple, and efficient ‘plug-in’ deployment. Our new AirScale products are O-RAN ready. They consume less energy and highlight our commitment to climate change. We’re excited to see our customers deploying these products and see the transformative impact of 5G technology.”
Samsung has had a good year as it managed to attract plenty of customers with its 5G portfolio, especially in the markets that have banned Huawei and ZTE. Now, the South Korean electronics company tries to go one step further and gain more traction with European telecoms with its new radio design.
Last week, the company has launched its newest product, One Antenna Radio that consolidates a 3.5 GHz massive MIMO radio with low-band and mid-band passive antennas into one box. Combining several different antennas into one box will lead to a much simplified installation and what follows, lower labor and maintenance costs. It will also save up space on a tower.
“Recognising that mounting hardware, cabling, crew site time and space limitations are a challenge for most operators, we created a solution to help tackle this issue, and expand deployment boundaries,” said Wonil Roh, SVP and head of product strategy at Samsung’s networks business, in a statement.
Samsung said that the antenna will become a part of its RAN portfolio at the beginning of next year and it will start with targeting only the European market.
“As operators continue to extend their 5G coverage, a key challenge they face is the space and footprint restrictions at sites and on towers,” Samsung said this week. “Samsung’s all-in-one radio will address varied environmental and site demands – easing installation, saving space and reducing OPEX.”
This week, Vodafone announced all of its European operations would be powered by renewable energy sources. The company said it is a part of a long-term goal to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2030.
Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone Group, said: “From 1 July 2021, Vodafone’s customers across Europe can be reassured that the connectivity they use is entirely powered by electricity from renewable sources. This is a major milestone towards our goal of reducing our own global carbon emissions to net-zero by 2030, helping our customers reduce their own environmental footprint, and continuing to build an inclusive and sustainable digital society in all of our markets.”
The company considerably sped up its initial goal to reach 100% renewable energy use by 2025. Although the increase in mobile data traffic has been extreme over the past year, the energy use of Vodafone has remained roughly at the same level. The company highlights they managed to achieve it due to the more energy-efficient technology such as M-MIMO.
BT has announced they will collaborate with the UK low-earth-orbit satellite operator OneWeb on improving the connectivity in rural areas of the UK. This was something residents of these areas have been waiting for since Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged one of his goals was delivering faster connections across the country.
Matt Warman, Digital Infrastructure Minister, said: “No one should miss out on the benefits of better broadband and mobile coverage. It is great that BT and OneWeb are working together to explore new ways to bring faster and more reliable connectivity to the hardest-to-reach homes. Alongside industry, we have kicked off the biggest broadband build in British history and are spending a record £5.5 billion to end poor or patchy 4G coverage and deliver gigabit speeds in all corners of the UK.”
By July, OneWeb wants to deploy 254 of its 648 satellites and start connecting the UK customers in the Northern region by the end of this year.
Neil Masterson, CEO of OneWeb, commented: “This partnership is a huge sign of progress in the resilience and advancement of the overall telecom infrastructure in the UK. OneWeb’s network will be a vital means for bridging the last digital divides across the network and we are excited to be part of the solution with BT to expand the nation’s digital infrastructure.”
Philip Jansen, Chief Executive at BT, added:“Our ambitious full-fiber and mobile commitments have put BT at the forefront of efforts to expand digital connectivity across the UK. It is clear that greater partnership is needed, both with government and within the industry, to ensure connectivity can reach every last corner of the country. Our agreement with OneWeb is an important step to understanding how that goal could be achieved in the future.”
IBM announced it will expand its partnerships with telecoms Verizon and Telefonica and offer them a variety of new services that include running 5G over a cloud platform and leveraging AI.
“It’s a disruptive time in this particular market segment, telcos are trying to position themselves as the destination for services like augmented reality, machine learning and AI,” Darell Jordan-Smith, vice president of Redhat, told Reuters.
Through the collaboration between IBM and Telefonica, a virtual AI-powered assistant has already been created to remove several crucial points such as long wait times.
“We see this as an existential moment for telco operators with 5G: architecturally, they’re looking to gain more control on their platforms and rethink their network as a digital world rather than a structured physical model,” said Steve Canepa, IBM’s general manager for communications business.
On Thursday, Google announced it would extend its partnership with Reliance Jio and launch what they call an “ultra-affordable” smartphone that can connect millions of customers to high-speed mobile data and as a result, boost the 5G plans of the Indian telecom.
The ‘JioPhone Next’ has been created by Google and Jio and targets solely the Indian market. Although India is the second-biggest mobile market in the world with its 530 million smartphone users, over 300 million people are using legacy feature phones.
Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries of which Jio is a part, said, “This (the smartphone) is a testimony to a global technology giant and a national technology champion working together to make truly a breakthrough product that can be first introduced in India and then taken to the rest of the world,”
Although the price has not been disclosed, Ambani promised it will not only be the most affordable smartphone in India but around the globe. Ambani added that Jio is confident it will be the first telecom to launch 5G in India.
Early last week, a Swedish court decided to uphold the Huawei ban that prevents the Chinese giant from selling 5G equipment in Sweden. The ban first came as a surprise announcement in October of last year, when the Swedish telecom regulator PTS quoted security concerns as the reason for prohibiting Huawei from supplying 5G equipment to Swedish telcos.
“Sweden’s security is of heavy importance and the administrative court has taken into account that only the Security Police and the armed forces together have an overall picture regarding the security situation and the threat to Sweden,” the court said in a statement.
Huawei has commented on the decision that was upheld by the court last week and said the company is currently considering its options.
“It’s not unexpected based on the fact that the court is also leading their conclusions on basically the assumptions being made by SAPO,” Kenneth Fredriksen, Huawei’s Executive Vice President, Central East Europe, and Nordic Region, told Reuters. We will continue to fight for our right to be in the (Swedish) market.”
The problems that Huawei is currently facing in the European market have been positive to other companies such as the European giants Nokia and Ericsson, but also allowed Samsung to enter the market and Vodafone to grab its fair share. Having said that, Ericsson which gets about 10% of its global revenue from the Chinese market has voiced its concerns about Sweden banning Huawei and pointed out the decision may likely result in Ericsson losing its market share in China.
Today, at a Xiaomi Science and Technology Park meeting, the company emphasized the importance of information security and privacy protection. The company has always been publicly saying their users’ data and privacy are the highest priority. Xiaomi established a Security and Privacy Committee back in 2014 and two years later received a TrustArc certification as the first Chinese company. In 2019, Xiaomi security and privacy practices were certificated on ISO/IEC 27001, ISO/IEC 27018 and soon after, the company has published its first security and privacy white paper.
Cui Baoqiu, Xiaomi Vice President and Chairman of Xiaomi Security and Privacy Committee, said, “As a leading Android smartphone manufacturer, we carry a great responsibility. We are committed to letting consumers know how their personal information is collected, used, and protected. We are proud to say that Xiaomi upholds world-class standards on security, privacy, and transparency.”