Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Facebook dreams of better network connectivity platforms – Part 1

Facebook's decision to launch the Open Compute Project (OCP) six years ago was a good one. At the time, Facebook was in the process of opening its first data centre, having previously leased space in various third party colocation facilities. As it constructed this first facility in Prineville, Oregon the company realised that it was going to have to build faster, cheaper and smarter if this strategy were to succeed, and that to keep up with its phenomenal growth it would have to open massive data centres in multiple locations.

In 2016, Facebook kicked off the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) with a mission to take the principles of the Open Compute Project (OCP) model and apply them to software systems and components involved in access, backhaul and core networks. The first TIP design ideas look solid and have quickly gained industry support. Among these is Voyager, a 'white box' transponder and routing platform based on Open Packet DWDM. This open line system will include Yang software data models of each component in the system and an open northbound software interface (such as NETCONF or Thrift) to the control plane software, essentially allowing multiple applications to run on top of the open software layer. The DWDM transponder hardware includes DSP ASICs and complex optoelectronic components, and thus accounts for much of the cost of the system.

The hardware design leverages technologies implemented in Wedge 100, Facebook's top-of-rack switch, including the same Broadcom Tomahawk switching ASIC. It also uses the DSP ASIC and optics module (AC400) from Acacia Communications for the DWDM line side with their open development environment. Several carriers and data centre operators have already begun testing Voyager platforms from multiple vendors.

In November 2016, Facebook outline its next TIP plans including Open Packet DWDM for metro and long-haul optical transport networks. This idea is intended to enable a clean separation of software and hardware based on open specifications. Again, there is early support for a platform with real world possibilities, either within Facebook's global infrastructure or as an open source specification that is ultimately adopted by others.

What's cooking at Facebook's network connectivity labs

At its recent F8 Developer’s conference in San Jose, Facebook highlighted several other telecom-related R&D projects out of its network connectivity lab that seem to be more whimsical fancy than down-to-earth practicality. In the big picture, these applied research projects could be game-changers in the race to the billions of people worldwide currently without Internet access, or potential Facebook users of the future. Facebook said its goal here is to bring down the cost of connectivity by an 'order of magnitude', a pretty high bar considering the pace of improvement already seen in mobile networking technologies.

This article will focus on three projects mentioned at this year's F8 keynote, namely: Terragraph, a 60 GHz multi-node wireless system for dense urban areas that uses radios based on the WiGig standard; Aquila, a solar-powered drone for Internet delivery from the stratosphere; and Tether-tenna, a sort of helicopter drone with a base station. It is not clear if these three projects will eventually become part of the TIP of even if they will progress beyond lab trials.


Terragraph is Facebook's multi-node wireless system for delivering high-speed Internet connectivity to dense urban areas and capable of delivering gigabit speed to mobile handsets. The scheme, first announced at last year's F8 conference, calls for IPv6-only Terragraph nodes to be placed at 200-metre intervals. Terragraph will incorporate commercial off-the-shelf components and aim for high-volume, low-cost production. Facebook noted that up to 7 GHz of bandwidth is available in the unlicensed 60 GHz band in many countries, while U.S. regulators are considering expanding this to a total of 14 GHz. Terragraph will also leverage an SDN-like cloud compute controller and a new modular routing protocol that Facebook has optimised for fast route convergence and failure detection. The architecture also tweaks the MAC layer to solve shortcomings of TCP/IP over a wireless link. The company says the TDMA-TDD MAC layers delivers up to 6x improvement in network efficiency while being more predictable than the existing WiFi/WiGig standard.

At the 2017 F8 conference, Facebook talked about how Terragraph is being tested in downtown San Jose, California, a convenient location given that is right next door for Facebook. Weather will not be a significant factor since San Jose does not experience the rolling summer fog of nearby San Francisco, nor does it suffer torrential tropical downpours, whiteout blizzard conditions, scorching summer heat, or Beijing-style air pollution that could obscure line-of-sight.

While the trial location might be ideal, one should also consider in which cities would Terragraph be practical. First, there are plenty of WiFi hotspots throughout San Jose and smartphone penetration is pretty much universal and nearly everyone has 4G service. Heavy data users have the option on unlimited plans from the major carriers. So maybe San Jose only serves as the technical trial and the business case is more applicable to Mexico City or Manaus, Lagos, Nairobi, or other such dense urban areas.

At the F8 conference, Facebook showed an AI system being used to optimise small cell placement from a 3D map of the city centre. The 3D map included data for the heights of buildings, trees and other obstacles. The company said this AI system alone could be a game changer simply by eliminating the many hours of human engineering that would be needed to scope out good locations for small cells. However, the real world is more complicated. Just because the software identifies a particular light pole as an ideal femtocell placement does not mean that the city will approve it. There are also factors such as neighbour objections, pole ownership, electrical connections, etc., that will stop the process from being fully automated. If this Terragraph system is aimed at second or third tier cities in developing countries, there is also the issue of chaotic development all around. In the shanty towns surrounding these big conurbations, legal niceties such as property boundaries and rights-of-way can be quite murky. Terragraph could be quite useful in bringing low-cost Internet into these areas, but it probably does not need fancy AI to optimise each small cell placement.

Generally speaking, 3G and now 4G services have arrived in most cities worldwide. The presumption is that Facebook is not seeking to become its own mobile carrier in developing countries but that it would partner with existing operators to augment their networks. Meanwhile one suspects that the reason carriers have been slow to upgrade capacity is certain neighbourhoods or cities is more economic than technical. It is probably not a lack of spectrum that is holding them back, nor a lack of viable femtocell products or microwave backlinks, but simply a lack of financial capital or a weak return on investment, or red tape. One reason for this that is often cited is that over-the-top services, such as Facebook, suck all the value out of the network, leaving the mobile operator with very thin margins and little customer stickiness.

Part 2 of this article we will look at Facebook's Aquila and Tether-tenna concepts.

Verizon expands universal CPE portfolio with whitebox, OpenStack

Verizon announced it has expanded its Virtual Network Services offering with the addition of x86-based whitebox options leveraging OpenStack to its universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) portfolio.

Verizon's uCPE offering means that enterprises do not need to invest in separate, dedicated hardware appliances to deliver key virtual network functions (VNFs) such as software-defined WAN (SD-WAN), security, routing, WAN optimisation, or any network function that can be virtualised.

Verizon is seeking to simplify the transition to software-defined, application-centric network deployments for organisations of any size by expanding its Virtual Network Services uCPE options from vendor-specific platforms to an open hardware, open source whitebox architecture.

Verizon's uCPE portfolio targets applications ranging from solutions suitable for small retail sites up to large data centre deployments and leverages commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and a globally distributed open source architecture. This allows enterprises to rapidly deploy services globally using Verizon's application library.

The uCPE solution features service chaining and enterprise orchestration functionality that enables automated onboarding and provisioning, with future orchestration releases to offer service assurance capabilities for fault and performance monitoring, closed-loop healing and a VNF factory. The enhanced life-cycle orchestration capabilities are designed to enable enterprises to implement near real-time SDN technologies.

Verizon noted that the combination of COTS hardware and a distributed deployment of OpenStack allows customers to decouple hardware from software and removes the need for proprietary hardware. This capability can help customers to reduce costs and simplify the physical network architecture, as well as allowing them to choose the most suitable hardware and applications for their individual requirements.

Telefónica Picks Nuage Networks for SD-WAN

The Telefonica Group has selected Nuage Networks, a division of Nokia, as its provider for next-generation Software Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) services. The installation will deliver automated end-to-end services leveraging next-generation cloud technology to several thousand global enterprise customers using Nuage Networks Virtualized Network Services (VNS). Financial terms were not disclosed.

The companies said the new SD-WAN service from Telefonica is expected to be available in second half of 2017 in Spain, and will be followed by Telefonica Business Services (International) and other subsidiaries. Telefonica is integrating the Nuage Networks SD-WAN solution with new full-stack approach across the Group and will develop a superb customized self portal for user-driven service customization and fulfillment, which will accelerate deployment and bring individual sites online while reducing operational overhead at the customer site.

"The IT, communications and service demands of today's enterprises are much higher than just a few years ago. Companies require new cloud technologies to support them while simplifying traditional service models. We worked closely with Telefonica to ensure the Nuage Networks' VNS solution addresses their new SD-WAN service requirements around the globe. Enterprise customers who need more flexibility and agility to adapt to rapidly changing business needs can get it through a trusted provider like Telefonica," stated Sunil Khandekar, founder and chief executive officer of Nuage Networks from Nokia.

SDN Market Update: Sunil Khandekar, Nuage Networks

What is resonating in the market today for software-defined networking (SDN) and SD-WAN technologies? Sunil Khandekar, founder and CEO of Nuage Networks, says it is the ability to connect users everywhere with applications anywhere, whether they are in public or private clouds. Real deployments are becoming the new normal.

See video:

NEC begins construction of 3 subsea cables in Micronesia

NEC, in partnership with Belau Submarine Cable (BSCC) and the government of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), announced it has commenced construction of three submarine cable links that will connect the islands of Palau, Yap and Chuuk in the western Pacific Ocean to the global network.

BSCC, supported by a loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), has signed a supply contract with NEC to build the spur to Palau, while FSM, backed by a grant from the World Bank (WB), has signed a supply contract with NEC to construct the spur to Yap, and recently signed an additional agreement for the extension from Pohnpei to Chuuk.

The spurs to Palau and Yap will both interconnect with the SEA-US cable system, also under construction by NEC, which connects the Philippines and Indonesia to the west coast of the U.S. via Guam and Hawaii. In addition, the extension from Pohnpei, the capital of FSM, to Chuuk branches out of another existing cable linking FSM, the Marshall Islands and Guam. All three routes feature transmission speeds of 100 Gbit/s per channel.

BSCC is a state-owned entity of the Republic of Palau with responsibility for the submarine cable project. BSCC has signed an IRU agreement with GTI (a subsidiary of Globe Telecom) for the provision of 5 x 100 Gbit/s wavelengths and a branching unit (BU) on the SEA-US West subsystem linking Indonesia, the Philippines and Guam. It has also contracted NEC to supply a spur cable linking the BU on the SEA-US West subsystem to Palau.

On completion of the project, BSCC will provide open bandwidth access to the international cable system for domestic telcos.

In addition, DTCI has signed an IRU agreement with Telkom Indonesia (Telin) for 5 x 100 Gbit/s wavelengths and a BU on the main trunk of the SEA-US West subsystem, plus a supply contract with NEC to deliver a spur cable linking the BU on the SEA-US West subsystem to Yap, along with a contract extension that includes a cable linking Weno Island Chuuk to the existing spur on to the HANTRU-1 cable system in Pohnpei to Guam.

Ownership and implementation responsibilities for the cable systems will pass from DTCI to the newly established FSM Telecommunications Cable (FSMTCC) which, as owner of the Yap and Chuuk cable systems, will provide open bandwidth access to the international cable systems for domestic telcos.

Ericsson introduces Dynamic Orchestration for physical/virtual networks

Ericsson has launched its Dynamic Orchestration solution, designed to facilitate the introduction and closed-loop automation of services across physical and virtual networks, as part of the company's strategy to enable IT transformation for its customers.

Ericsson Dynamic Orchestration offers a flexible and modular solution for the management of existing technologies, while also enabling the provision and control virtualisation capabilities.

Delivering support for zero-touch automation, rapid provisioning and policy-driven service assurance, Ericson's Dynamic Orchestration, which is being showcased at TM Forum Live! in Nice, can help operators achieve faster time to market and enhance their ability to deliver new and differentiated services.

Ericsson noted that leveraging advances in IT networking and driven by the evolution towards 5G and IoT, services are becoming more cloud-based. This means that service providers need to be able to both deliver services on demand and respond to changing requirements in real time, necessitating faster provisioning and the enforcement and monitoring of SLAs.

A key element within the Ericsson Digital Support Systems portfolio, the new Dynamic Orchestration offering is designed to provide operators with the tools needed to transition to software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV). The solution integrates software with professional services and automates multiple layers to enable the creation, delivery and assurance of digital services such as software defined WAN (SD-WAN), VPN and 5G network slicing.

Dynamic Orchestration is an end-to-end, automated service orchestration solution that supports validation of virtual network functions (VNFs), design and onboarding of new services, inventory, resource and capacity management, service configuration management and service assurance.

Microsemi and Aquantia introduce multi-rate Ethernet switch reference platform

Semiconductor solutions provider Microsemi and Aquantia, a supplier of high-speed Ethernet connectivity solutions for data centres, enterprise infrastructure and client connectivity, introduced a production-ready multi-rate switch reference platform optimised to support 24 x 2.5 Gbit/s and up to an additional four 2.5/5/10 Gbit/s BASE-T ports.

The solution, which is available immediately, combines Microsemi's SparX-IV Layer 2/3 enterprise switch, VSC7448, Linux SMBStaX software, clock management, PD69208M Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) power sourcing equipment (PSE) manager, and Aquantia's second generation multi-rate IEEE 802.3bz PHY, the AQR409.

Designed for applications including 1, 2.5 and 10 Gigabit Ethernet switching and aggregation, the joint reference design from Microsemi and Aquantia is suitable for enterprise infrastructure applications such as switches, access routers and WLAN access point (AP) switches.

Microsemi's VSC7448 SparX-IV-80 device is an 80 Gbit/s SMB/SME industrial Ethernet switch offering up to 52 ports supporting 1, 2.5 and 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports. Utilising multi-stage versatile content aware processing (VCAP), the solution delivers VLAN and QoS processing to enable the delivery of differentiated services, security via intelligent frame processing and egress frame manipulation. For industrial applications, VSC7448 integrates VeriTime timing technology.

The device also features a 500 MHz CPU that enables management of a Layer 2/3 Ethernet switch solution, and an API and software development package to aid development for managed Ethernet applications.

In addition, the PD69208M PoE PSE manager is designed to support IEEE 802.3bt for data rates up to 10 Gbit/s, while Microsemi clock management portfolio provides low jitter devices for clock synthesis, frequency conversion, jitter attenuation and fan out buffers.

Aquantia's AQrate AQR409 is an advanced low power, three-speed, quad-port PHY housed in a 19 x 19 mm flip-chip BGA package. AQrate technology is designed to bridge the bandwidth gap between legacy cabling infrastructure designed for 1 Gbit/s data rates and new 802.11ac WLAN technology offering higher bandwidth. The AQR409 can support 2.5/1 Gbit/s and 100 Mbit/s line rate over 100 metres of Cat 5e or Cat 6 cabling.

AQrate PHYs are compatible with the NBASE-T Alliance PHY specification and IEEE 802.3bz standard and perform physical layer functions required for transmission over 100 metres of twisted pair cabling. They also offer support for the IEEE 802.1AE MAC-layer security (MACsec) protocol and IEEE 1588 v2 PTP to synchronise real-time clocks to sub-microsecond accuracy,

Microsemi noted that the collaboration with Aquantia is part of its Accelerate Ecosystem, designed to speed time to market for end customers and development time for ecosystem participants.

Kaiam expands UK manufacturing capacity via acquisition of facilities from CP

Kaiam, a privately-held developer of hybrid photonic integrated circuit (PIC) technology, announced the completion of its acquisition of the manufacturing facilities of Compound Photonics (CP) in Newton Aycliffe, Durham in the UK as part of a transaction that also includes investment by CP into Kaiam to further develop the facility.

The Newton Aycliffe facility will enable Kaiam to significantly increase its manufacturing capacity for silica-on-silicon planar lightwave circuits (PLCs) and 40 and 100 Gbit/s transceivers, and adds both electronic and optoelectronic compound semiconductor devices to the product line. The acquisition also includes tooling and an experienced team that complements and expands Kaiam's existing Livingston, Scotland factory.

Kaiam noted that the new facility will enable it to produce InP photonic integrated circuits (PICs) that will form the basis for advanced transceivers in the future. The transaction continues Kaiam's strategy of achieving vertical integration, building on its acquisition of Gemfire's PLC fab in 2013.

The Newton Aycliffe facility encompasses 300,000 sq feet and includes a fully operational wafer fab with 100,000 sq feet. of cleanroom space for processing, packaging, and testing of III-V devices. The factory is currently shipping GaAs devices and circuits, with the capability to produce InP optoelectronics. Kaiam noted that the facility was originally built as a silicon fab for DRAMs before being converted to III-V materials and currently has 3 and 6 inch lines.
Kaiam announced in March that it planned to acquire the manufacturing facilities of Compound Photonics (CP) in Newton Aycliffe. Kaiam acquired Gemfire, its strategic PLC supplier, in 2013 and currently operates an 8 inch silica-on-silicon line for the fabrication of integrated optical components in Gemfire's Livingston facility in Scotland. It also operates 40 and 100 Gbit/s optical packaging lines at the facility, and noted at the time that these were nearing capacity.

Compound Photonics (CP) is a privately held photonics company with a focus on liquid crystal on silicon display devices and laser technologies for a range of applications in the projection and near to eye display markets.

Commenting on the acquisition, Bardia Pezeshki, Kaiam CEO, said, "… future transceivers that run at higher speed and use complex modulation formats will require integrated photonic elements that are highly differentiated and will not be readily available in the market… this new facility will give Kaiam this essential PIC capability, positioning it to meet customers' needs for improving speed, cost, power, density and manufacturing scale".

SiFive Raises $8.5m for RISC-V based custom chips

SiFive based in San Francisco, the fabless provider of customised, open-source-enabled semiconductors:

a.         Co-founded in 2015 by Krste Asanovic, currently the company's chief architect, Yunsup Lee, currently CTO, and Andrew Waterman, currently chief engineer, the inventors of RISC-V technology.

b.         Established with the aim of providing access to custom silicon chip designs leveraging RISC-V technology.

Announced that it has raised $8.5 million in a Series B round led by Spark Capital, with the participation of Osage University Partners and existing investor Sutter Hill Ventures. The latest funding brings the total investment in SiFive to $13.5 million and comes as the company reports increasing demand for RISC-V IP. In conjunction with the new funding, Todd Dagres, general partner at Spark Capital, is to join the SiFive board of directors.

SiFive is a fabless provider of custom semiconductors based on the free and open RISC-V instruction set architecture. Founded by the inventors of RISC-V, SiFive stated that in the first six months of availability, more than 1,000 HiFive1 software development boards have been purchased and delivered to developers in over 40 countries.

SiFive launched its Freedom Everywhere platform, designed for micro-controller, embedded, IoT and wearable applications, and Freedom Unleashed platform for machine learning, storage and networking applications in July 2016. In November, it announced general availability of the Freedom Everywhere 310 (FE310) SoC and HiFive1 software development board.

The company noted that RISC-V has established an ecosystem of more than 60 companies that includes Google, HPE, Microsoft, IBM, Qualcomm, NVIDIA, Samsung and Microsemi, while member companies and third-party open-source contributors are helping build a suite of software and toolchains that includes GCC and binutils.

Alaska's GCI deploys Aricent ANS

Alaska telco General Communication (GCI) has selected a combination of Aricent Autonomous Network Solution (ANS) and Monolith Software's AssureNow platform to integrate its enterprise infrastructure and enhance communication service quality and establish a dynamic service environment to enable the delivery of new digital services.

The largest telco in Alaska, GCI offers a range of services including voice, video, broadband data services and wireless to businesses and residential customers, and is deploying Aricent ANS with the Monolith AssureNow platform to unify information, automate remediation and expedite issue resolution to help improve quality control and performance management.

The overall solution provides a complete view of infrastructure comprising converged IP and infrastructure from cable, IP LAN/WAN, core, wireless and transport domains, enabling zero-touch policy orchestration, intelligent predictive analysis, automated correlation and application performance management for enhanced digital services improved operational efficiency.

GCI stated that the synergy between its technical expertise, Monolith's AssureNow and Aricent Autonomous Network Solution is intended to strengthen its operational capabilities and accelerate the development of new solutions in Alaska.

Monolith's AssureNow platform enables end-to-end, unified management of services, performance and faults across legacy and dynamic virtualised domains. GCI noted that by implementing AssureNow it will be able to phase out older networking tools while improving and simplifying issue tracking.

The recently launched Aricent ANS is designed to enable rapid network transformation for network equipment vendors and service providers. The solution facilitates the transition toward self-steering networks to support new interactions and platforms that can deliver new customer services.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Big shifts in the U.S. mobile market – Part 2


After years of rather stagnant market positioning and look-a-like services, suddenly a lot is happening in the U.S. mobile market. In the first part of this article, the move to unlimited mobile data plans and the new regulatory climate in Washington were covered. Part 2 will look at other key factors affecting the market.

The rapidly evolving spectrum map

The next big force that looks set to disrupt the U.S. market is the rapidly evolving spectrum map. A scramble is underway to lock down spectrum for 5G, with unlicensed spectrum coming into play. There is also the possibility of wildcard players entering the market, notably Comcast, which has already signalled its imminent launch of a nationwide mobile service using Verizon's network. This move could help revitalise its triple play bundles, now that home phone service no longer seems like a worthy leg to the three-part bundle. In fact, in Q1 Comcast reported a drop of 27,000 residential voice customers, although the number of business voice customers rose by 5,000 during the first quarter. Rather than launch an all-out attack on the big four mobile operators, Comcast is likely to pick up a smaller number of its existing cable customers who may not be heavy mobile users but are tired of separate bills for their communications services.

Broadcast Incentive auction spectrum

The FCC's 600 MHz broadcast incentive auction, which concluded in April, attracted bids totalling $19.8 billion (gross revenue) for 70 MHz of spectrum for nationwide mobile use. The FCC scored a major success with the undertaking, noting that the exercise ended among the highest grossing auctions ever conducted. More than $10 billion of the total sum will go to 175 broadcasters whose previously licensed spectrum was selected for the incentive auction; remaining funds go to the U.S. Treasury.

A total of 50 bidders won 70 MHz of licensed spectrum nationwide, including a total of 14 MHz of spectrum available for unlicensed use and wireless microphones. On a nationwide basis, 70 MHz is the most mobile broadband ever auctioned below 1 GHz by the FCC. Among the largest winners were T-Mobile, Dish, Comcast and US Cellular.

T-Mobile proclaims itself the winner

As the auction closed, T-Mobile US immediately declared itself the winner having secured 45% of all low-band spectrum sold, covering 100% of the U.S. and Puerto Rico, 'enabling the Un-carrier to compete in every corner of the country'. The acquired $7.9 billion in spectrum licenses represents 31 MHz nationwide, on average, and quadruples T-Mobile’s low-band holdings. It also represents the largest investment to date for T-Mobile US. T-Mobile's colourful CEO John Legere put it this way: 'T-Mobile now has the largest swath of unused low-band spectrum in the country, that is a BFD for our customers!'.

The company anticipates that some of this 600 MHz spectrum will be clear and ready for activation this year. Ericsson and Nokia have announced 600 MHz infrastructure platforms and Qualcomm is expected to begin delivering chipsets supporting 600 MHz this year. T-Mobile already claims a performance advantage for its LTE network over AT&T and Verizon, and if all goes to plan T-Mobile feels that it will be in the position to bump up its performance to even higher levels.

For their part, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon separately stated that they did not need to bid for the 600 MHz licenses because they each have significant low-band spectrum already. While these band offer superior in-building penetration, AT&T and Verizon are racing for millimetre wave spectrum in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands for carrying 5G services. Sprint, on the other hand, has been the king of the 2.5 GHz spectrum since the days of the Clearwire WiMAX venture. These bands are not tied in via carrier aggregation for its LTE network.

Dish Network

Dish Network was the second biggest buyer at the 600 MHz auction with a commitment of $6.2 billion for nationwide licenses in urban areas. Earlier this year, working an FCC deployment deadline for 700 MHz licenses acquired in 2008, Dish unveiled plans to launch a narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) network. In FCC filings, Dish has said it intends to operate a 5G network geared toward IoT services rather than building a 4G/LTE network that would duplicate those of the wireless incumbents. Dish also holds AWS-3 spectrum and AWS-4 spectrum acquired for $2.8 billion from two bankrupt satellite companies (DBSD and TerreStar). Because an NB-IoT tower can cover over ten times the geographic area compared to the coverage of a typical LTE tower, Dish believes it will be able to scale up a powerful IoT network very quickly. In Q4 2016, Dish circulated a Request for Information (RFI) to over a dozen vendors for the construction of this NB-IoT network. Once technology and product selections have been made, Dish expects to roll out the full network by March 2020.


Comcast was another big buyer in the FCC broadcast incentive auction, spending $1.7 billion for spectrum licenses mostly in its current wireline footprint. Some of this cost was recaptured in the reverse auction, where NBC (Comcast's subsidiary) sold spectrum licenses in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York valued at $482 million. Unlike the T-Mobile licenses, may of those acquired by Comcast are currently in use and the process to clear these bands may take a number of years. For its forthcoming mobile launch, Comcast will operate as an MVNO on Verizon's infrastructure, although metro backhaul and the long-haul backbone conceivably could run over Comcast's network.  Following the auction, Comcast stated: 'Comcast made a strategically compelling investment at historically low prices… it has no current plans for the acquired spectrum and the spectrum will not be cleared by the FCC and available for use for several years... the launch and growth of the Xfinity Mobile product is not dependent on this purchased spectrum'.

While the company has stated that it has no immediate plans for the newly licensed 600 MHz spectrum, it would not have purchased it if mobile were not a big part of its future. This point is worth noting, as Comcast is known to be seriously interested in mobile. Verizon will be searching for media partners beyond AOL and Yahoo to provide exclusive, top-tier video content to compete with a revitalised AT&T + Time Warner, plus there could also bee a more hand-off approach at the FCC. So the time could be ripe for a deal.

Bidding begins for millimetre-wave spectrum

Several other twists and turns in U.S. spectrum also happened in the first part of the year. On April 10th, AT&T agreed to acquire Straight Path Communications, which holds a nationwide portfolio of millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum, including 39 GHz and 28 GHz licenses. Specifically, AT&T agreed to buy 735 mmWave licenses in the 39 GHz band and 133 licenses in the 28 GHz band. These licenses cover the entire U.S., including the top 40 markets. The deal was valued at $1.6 billion, which includes liabilities and amounts to be remitted to the FCC per the terms of Straight Path's January 2017 consent decree. The bid for Straight Path was actually AT&T's second move to buy spectrum this year. Although AT&T did not participate in the 600 MHz broadcast Incentive auction, in late January it announced plans to acquire FiberTower, a privately-held company based in San Francisco that holds an extensive spectrum footprint in 24 GHz and 39 GHz bands. Financial terms of this deal were not disclosed. AT&T touted both deals as major enhancements to its IoT ambitions.

However, on April 25th Straight Path Communications issued a press release stating that it has received a superior offer from a multi-national telecommunications company, which the market takes to be Verizon Communications. This offer is valued at $104.64 per share (reflecting an enterprise value of $1.8 billion). It remains to be seen if AT&T will increase its bid or settle for a $38 million break-up fee should Straight Path ultimately choose the second suitor.

(A subsequent article will look at two other mega-trends that started to impact the U.S. mobile industry in the first part of this year: the FirstNet emergency network, which is finally getting underway, and the early 5G rollouts that are just over the horizon.)

Comcast and Charter to explore national wireless market cooperation

Regional cable operators Comcast and Charter have announced an agreement to explore potential opportunities for operational cooperation in their respective wireless businesses to help accelerate and enhance each company's ability to address the national wireless marketplace.

Under the agreement, the companies, which have each separately established mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) reseller agreements with Verizon Wireless, will explore cooperation in a number of potential operational areas in the wireless space, including: creating common operating platforms; technical standards development and harmonisation; device forward and reverse logistics; and emerging wireless technology platforms.

The efficiencies created are intended to help deliver greater choice, new products and competitive prices for customers across their respective service footprints. In addition, Comcast and Charter have agreed to work only with each other with respect to national mobile network operators through potential commercial arrangements, including MVNOs and other transactions in the wireless industry, for a period of one year.

Regarding the agreement, Brian L. Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast, said, "(Comcast) is launching Xfinity Mobile in the coming weeks and… (will) work with Charter to explore ways it can make the respective wireless initiatives more efficient and cost effective… both companies have regional wireless businesses using the same 4G LTE network, and by working together the goal is to create better experiences for our customers".

* Comcast recently reported that as part of the FCC's Broadcast Incentive Auction, in the reverse auction its broadcasting operation NBC sold spectrum in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago for total proceeds of $481.6 million, while it purchased for $1.7 billion spectrum covering 88% of its service footprint and most of the footprint of its top 25 markets.

* Comcast serves nearly 29 million residential and business customers including over 23 million residential Internet and 10.5 million residential voice subscribers. Charter is the second largest U.S. cable operator, serving nearly 22 million residential broadband Internet customers and nearly 10.5 million residential voice customers.

Verizon selects Prysmian to supply optical cable under $300m 3-year agreement

Italy-based Prysmian Group, a major supplier of cable systems to the energy and telecom industries, announced has been awarded a supply agreement by Verizon Communications to support its U.S. network expansion.

The three-year contract is valued at approximately $300 million and will include the supply of more than 17 million fibre km (10.6 million miles) of ribbon and loose tube cables. To support this contract, as well as demand from other carriers, Prysmian plans to make a significant investment through 2018 in its U.S.-based optical cable operation. Prysmian's telecom division has been qualified as a provider of fibre, optical cable and connectivity solutions to Verizon for over a decade.

Prysmian noted that Verizon is expanding its infrastructure based on a next-generation fibre platform designed to support the deployment of 5G services, as well as enhance 4G LTE and other broadband capacity.

Prysmian added that Verizon believes demand for next-generation PON (NGPON2) technology will extend well beyond 2020 as new technologies such as 5G and the IoT experience increasing adoption.

Prysmian has an established manufacturing base in the U.S. for optical fibre and cable for a range of applications, with three telecom production sites, including two for the production of optical cable and one for optical fibre.

  • In April, Verizon announced a three-year minimum purchase agreement with Corning for the provision of fibre optic cable and associated hardware equipment to ensure coverage and capacity for its nationwide wireless broadband network. Under the agreement, Verizon is to purchase from Corning up to 20 million km (12.4 million miles) of optical fibre in each of the three years from 2018 to 2020, with a minimum purchase commitment of $1.05 billion.

CenturyLink Completes Sale of 57 Data Centers

CenturyLink completed its previously announced sale of its data centers and colocation business on May 1 to funds advised by BC Partners, in a consortium including Medina Capital Advisors and Longview Asset Management. The deal was valued at $1.86 billion. Cyxtera assumes ownership of CenturyLink's portfolio of 57 data centers which includes approximately 195 megawatts of power across 2.6 million square feet of raised floor capacity. Approximately 700 CenturyLink employees will transition to Cyxtera.

"This sale allows CenturyLink to drive greater focus on our network infrastructure while still having the ability to sell colocation services in these data centers," said Glen F. Post III, chief executive officer and president of CenturyLink. "CenturyLink provides reliable and secure network solutions that are critical to the success of businesses which increasingly rely on digital connections to help ensure the growth and success of their operations. Additionally, our hosting and cloud services, combined with our robust IT services and solutions, offer customers an impressive suite of complementary services."

Monthly update on the Indian telecommunications market - Part 4

Full article: Part 1Part 2 , Part 3Part 4

Preamble - note on RJIO coverage, update on BharatNet and the DTH market

It will be noted that while in Parts 2 and 3 a fair amount of detail was provided on the complex, wholesale restructuring of the Indian mobile communications market for three out of the four main groups - Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and RCOM - RJIO was covered somewhat peripherally in terms of its actual and potential relationship to RCOM, and there are several reasons for that. Firstly, RJIO is not being restructured, secondly its structure and situation and offer so far are all dramatic but not that complicated, thirdly, the company has been covered in detail from its first moves in 2010 and more specifically over the last 18 months, both in quasi-monthly updates on the market and in at least one dedicated series. In addition, it should be noted that however glorious its future may eventually turn out to be, the current situation is that RJIO is still very much a work in progress with as yet almost no revenue, no meaningful customer service history and no base of committed customers.

While India's mobile market is by far the largest part of its communications systems and OND normally focuses on this currently turbulent sector, the country looks poised for real economic lift-off, and could manage to double its wealth each decade, so that many of its smaller markets will start to be of greater interest.

BharatNet - India's National Optical Fibre Network

This project, launched by the Indian government in October 2011 at a proposed cost of INR 20,000 crore, as the National Optical Fibre Network, to link 250,000 small and medium-sized villages (gram panchayats) to a national fibre backbone and thus bring India's still huge unconnected rural population into one national digital internet community via fixed broadband rates of under INR 150 per month, has constantly missed connectivity targets set for it. This is largely due to difficulties of obtaining rights of way to lay the fibre. As of late February 2015, only 5,000 villages had been connected. In early April 2015, when 20,000 villages were reported to have been connected, the project, expected to cost INR 72,000 crore, was re-launched under the name BharatNet, with a target of completing the 250,000 connections by the end of 2016.

At the end of May 2015 at a meeting in New Delhi of representatives of the majority of Indian states, chaired by Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, it was revealed that several states, namely Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha. Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, all said to be dissatisfied with the rate of progress of implementation of the network (nominally being carried out under the management of SPV Bharat Broadband Network Limited and executed by CPSUs BSNL, RailTel and Powergrid) were considering, had proposed or were already engaged in implementing independent state versions of the network.

Specifically, in mid-January 2015 India's Economic Times had reported that the state government of Andhra Pradesh (with a population of over 53 million, or 4.0% of the national total) planned to provide broadband connections with speeds of up to 15 Mbit/s to 12 million households for a monthly fee of INR150 in the first stage of a local INR 50 billion optical fibre deployment project, and had requested India's federal government hand over its share of funds from the NOFN. Also, in mid-October 2016 the first minister of the State of Maharashtra (population - 121 million, or 9.29% of the national total) Defendra Fadnavis, was quoted by numerous sources as saying that the Maharashtra government was investing around INR 5,000 crore in the Digital Maharashtra project, which in the first phase would digitally connect 29,000 gram panchayats across the state under a program called MahaNet, described as part of BharatNet and designed to ensure education, healthcare, better access to government services and markets.

Similarly, in mid September 2015 NDTV reported that the government of the state of Tamil Nadu (population 78 million, or about 6.0% of the national total) would, using an ISP license obtained from India's Ministry of Communications and an investment of about $452 million, provide Internet services including IPTV via the state-owned CATV operator Tamil Nadu Arasu Cable TV Corporation and implement BharatNet linking over 12,500 local rural bodies in the state. TACTV has signed a pact with RailTel to provide high speed broadband services and 552 local cable operators have been selected for this operation so far. The broadband will be provided by a newly formed company, the Tamil Nadu Fibernet Corporation, which may later offer VoD services as well.

Meanwhile, on February 1, 2017 Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the government would allocate INR 10,000 crore ($1.6 billion) to expand the BharatNet project in fiscal 2018. Jaitley added that high-speed broadband over fibre would be available in over 1.5 lakh gram panchayats with hotspots and access to digital services at low tariffs by the end of 2017-18.

Commercial DTH market with 62.65m active subscribers

Since its introduction in 2003, Indian DTH service has displayed a phenomenal growth. DTH has attained a registered pay subscriber base of around 97.05 million (including 62.65 million active subscribers). As on December 2016 there were 6 pay DTH service providers, aside from viewership of the free DTH services of state-owned Doordarshan.

These six private DTH firms are Dish TV, Reliance BIG TV, Tata Sky, Videocon d2h, Sun Direct TV and Bharti Telemedia. State broadcaster Doordarshan also runs a DTH platform for free-to-air channels called DD Free Dish, which some sources claim has around 20-22 million users. Of the pay TV vendors, Dish TV is the market leader with a 25% share, followed by Tata Sky with a 23%, according to data for September 2016 from TRAI. Videocon d2h and Bharti Telemedia have 20% market share each.

In November 2016 Zee Entertainment Enterprises-owned DTH platform Dish TV and the DTH arm of Videocon Industries announced plans to merge into a new 55/45% entity to be renamed as Dish TV Videocon, which based on the most recent TRAI data above would have a 45% market share and serve 27.6 million customers within an overall market of 175 million TV households. Meanwhile, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has asked TRAI to assess whether this merger will violate any anti-trust laws.

Although the DTH market in India continued to grow during 2026 there is evidence that it is coming under pressure at the top end from OTT services from companies such as Amazon and Netflix, and at the bottom end from Doordarshan, which is believed to have gained customers recently partly due to the impact of India's demonetisation drive on rural populations.

Full article: Part 1Part 2 , Part 3Part 4

Seaborn selects Spread Networks as exclusive sales partner

Seaborn Networks, an independent developer-owner-operator of submarine optical cable systems, announced that Spread Networks is to act as its exclusive channel partner for sales to the financial vertical on Seabras-1, which links New Jersey with Sao Paulo in Brazil.

The agreement covers sales of SeaSpeed, Seaborn's proprietary ultra-low latency (ULL) solution that is claimed to provide the lowest latency connectivity between Carteret, New Jersey and the BM&F Bovespa Stock Exchange in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Seabras-1, which is scheduled to be ready-for-service in June 2017, is the only direct point to point submarine cable system between metro New York and metro Sao Paulo. Circuits are due to be activated on Seabras-1 for the financial sector in July of this year. The Seaborn Networks cable has been in development for over five years, involving a total project cost of over $520 million.

Seaborn is also engaged in building the ARBR cable system between São Paulo and Buenos Aires, which is expected to be ready-for-service in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Spread Networks is a privately-owned telecommunications provider that has built a fibre network that takes the shortest, most direct route from New York to Chicago to enable low latency together with diversity and reliability. Spread Networks provides secure, low latency fibre-based connectivity between New York and Chicago for carriers, the financial sector, government organisations and the research and education sector.

  • Seaborn announced in April an agreement with Grupo Werthein, an Argentine investment holding company with significant holdings in the telecoms sector, for the construction of a new subsea optical cable system, ARBR, between Argentina and Brazil. The ARBR cable system will also provide onward connectivity via Seabras-1. At that time, Seaborn stated that combined the ARBR and Seabras-1 cables represent a total investment of more than $575 million.

Flex Logix, developer of embedded FPGA technology, raises $5m

Flex Logix Technologies, headquartered in Mountain View, California, a supplier of embedded FPGA IP and software:

a.         Founded in March 2014 to develop solutions for reconfigurable RTL in chip and system designs employing embedded FPGA IP cores and software.

b.         Offering the EFLX technology platform designed to significantly reduce design and manufacturing risks, accelerate technology development and provide greater flexibility for customers' hardware.

c.         Which in October 2015 announced it had raised $7.4 million in a financing round was led by dedicated hardware fund Eclipse Ventures (formerly the Formation 8 hardware fund), with participation from founding investors Lux Capital and the Tate Family Trust.

Announced it has secured $5 million in Series B equity financing in a round led by existing investors Lux Capital and Eclipse Ventures, with participation from the Tate Family Trust.

Flex Logix stated that new funding will be used to expand its sales, applications and engineering teams to meet the growing customer demand for its embedded FPGA platform in applications including networking, government, data centres and deep learning.

Targeting chips in multiple markets, the Flex Logix EFLX platform can be used with networking chips with reconfigurable protocols, data centre chips with reconfigurable accelerators, deep learning chips with real-time upgradeable algorithms, base stations chips with customisable features and MCU/IoT chips with flexible I/O and accelerators. The company noted that EFLX is currently available for popular process nodes and is being ported to further process nodes based on customer demand.

The Flex Logix technology offers high-density blocks of programmable RTL in any size together with the key features customers require. The solution allows designers to customise a single chip to address multiple markets and/or upgrade the chip while in the system to meet to changing standards such as networking protocols. It also allows customers to update chips with new deep learning algorithms and implement their own versions of protocols in data centres.

Regarding the new funding, Peter Hebert, managing partner at Lux Capital, said, "I believe that Flex Logix's embedded FPGA has the potential to be as pervasive as ARM's embedded processors… the company's software and silicon are proven and in use at multiple customers, paving the way to become one of the most widely-used chip building blocks across many markets and for a range of applications".

While Pierre Lamond, partner at Eclipse Ventures, commented, "The Flex Logix platform is the… most scalable and flexible embedded FPGA solution on the market, delivering competitive advantages in time to market, engineering efficiency, minimum metal layers and high density… the patented technology combined with an experienced management team led by Geoff Tate, founding CEO of Rambus, position the company for rapid growth".

Fujitsu and Mirantis partner to deliver OpenStack-based cloud infrastructure

Fujitsu Limited and Mirantis, the managed open cloud company, announced the signing of a global, strategic collaboration agreement designed to facilitate the adoption of open cloud infrastructure based on OpenStack and related open source technologies such as Kubernetes.

Under the agreement, Fujitsu and Mirantis will work together to integrate Mirantis Cloud Platform, which was introduced in April along with a new build-operate-transfer open infrastructure delivery model, with Fujitsu hardware, software and support capabilities. As part of the collaboration, Fujitsu becomes Mirantis' strategic partner for the methodology and will introduce it to customers.

Mirantis noted that its approach to infrastructure delivery differs from the traditional software-centric method based on licensing and support subscriptions. Mirantis is developing an operations-centric approach, whereby open infrastructure is continuously delivered with an operations SLA via a managed service or by the customer. This model means that software updates are implemented incrementally with no down time.

Fujitsu currently offers a range of private cloud offerings, and through the agreement will introduce the new privately managed global OpenStack solution based on Mirantis Cloud Platform from June 2017 in Japan, with plans to expand availability to other regions in the future.

Mirantis released a commercially-supported distribution of OpenStack and Kubernetes, delivered in a single package, as well as the new build-operate-transfer delivery model, in April.

Mirantis Cloud Platform (MCP) 1.0 is an open cloud software offering a single platform for orchestration of VMs, containers and bare metal compute resources that expands Mirantis OpenStack to include Kubernetes for container orchestration. The platform complements virtual compute stacks with open source software defined networking (SDN), specifically Mirantis OpenContrail for VMs and bare metal, and Calico for containers.

The software features DriveTrain, providing the foundation for DevOps style lifecycle management of the open cloud software stack by enabling continuous integration, testing and delivery through a CI/CD pipeline. It also supports availability SLAs via continuous monitoring of the open cloud software stacks through a unified set of software services and dashboards with StackLight.

NEC teams with Red Hat for trial of KDDI next generation enterprise platform

NEC announced that it contributed to a successful trial of a next generation enterprise platform by KDDI of Japan, a telecommunications and ICT solution provider serving around 40 million domestic mobile subscribers and over 2,000 large enterprises, in collaboration with Red Hat K.K.

NEC noted that as adoption of 5G and IoT services increases, it anticipates that rapid and efficient development and operation of services will be required across a larger number of servers and network infrastructure systems. As part of its effort to deliver this, NEC participated in trials with Red Hat designed to verify the feasibility of KDDI's next generation integrated platform, which incorporates infrastructure and IaaS elements, and its ability to operate with multiple types of systems.

The recent trials with KDDI, which were conducted earlier in 2017, confirmed the feasibility of delivering advanced functionality including:

1.         The use of open cloud technology to deliver quality, reliable system infrastructure for telecommunications carriers.

2.         Integrated management of multiple services using simplified infrastructure, flexible services and efficient operations.

3.         The maintenance and replacement of servers and storage devices without service interruptions.

4.         The provision of advanced monitoring utilising distributed technology developed by the KDDI Research Institute.

NEC stated that the trials were based on the Red Hat OpenStack Platform, which was used to create an open cloud environment, with the infrastructure implemented and managed by NEC. NEC plans to continue working with Red Hat to help deliver the performance needed for KDDI's next generation platform.

Zain Saudi Arabia upgrades LTE network using Nokia centralised RAN technology

Nokia and Zain Saudi Arabia, which recently announced the deployment of Nokia's multi-access edge computing (MEC) platform in Mecca, have enhanced network upload speeds at Jeddah's King Abdullah Sports stadium by a claimed up to 50% utilising Nokia centralised RAN technology.

The centralised RAN deployment is designed to improve uplink connectivity and quality of experience for attendees at football matches and other events held at the venue, known as the Al Jawhara Stadium, Jeddah's largest stadium.

Nokia noted that the popularity of events held at the stadium has prompted Zain Saudi Arabia to seek technology to address spikes in uplink data traffic triggered by large numbers of fans sharing photos and videos on social media. Zain selected Nokia's centralised RAN technology to improve uplink performance, specifically by deploying clusters of LTE base stations within the stadium to optimise bandwidth performance and address uplink congestion in the 1800 MHz bands.

The Nokia solution also helps improve smartphone energy efficiency as less power is required when uploading content. For the project, Nokia also provided professional services to support the design, testing and optimisation the performance of the new centralised RAN technology.

The Nokia centralised RAN is deployed on Zain's LTE network that is based on Nokia Flexi Multiradio 10 base station. The Nokia centralised RAN technology enables more than 60,000 fans to share content with up to 50% higher upload speed, with the capacity improvement supporting a claimed 31% increase in uplink traffic for events held at the Al Jawhara Stadium.

Earlier in May, Nokia announced that following a successful trial, Zain had deployed the Nokia MEC platform, combined with Edge Video Orchestration capability, into its network using both macro and small cell base stations to enhance services for Zain's subscribers. The solution leverages Nokia AirFrame data centre technology to support high levels of data processing.