2022 Predictions: Three Things to Watch in the Mobile Access Sector This Year

Ed Gubbins, Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

  • In 2022, RAN vendors will increasingly focus on the energy efficiency of their solutions as a competitive differentiator.
  • Network management applications for Open RANs will multiply – developed by both incumbent RAN vendors and third-party developers.

The past two years have been anything but predictable, but the new year brings hope for a return to normalcy. In that spirit, here are a few predictions for what to expect in the RAN space in 2022: Continue reading “2022 Predictions: Three Things to Watch in the Mobile Access Sector This Year”

U.S. Industry Associations Offer Assistance to States Eyeing Fed-Funded Broadband Buildouts

John Byrne, Service Director

Summary Bullets:

• With $65 billion in federal funding up for grabs, states in the U.S. will now have to navigate a set of complex regulatory hurdles in order to get projects off the ground.

• Two industry associations plan to introduce a playbook to help speed up this process. In the process, they hope to make the case for fiber as the best deployment option for many rural broadband scenarios.

With visions of government funding dancing in their heads, two U.S. fiber advocacy groups announced plans in December to publish a “Broadband Infrastructure Playbook” next month. The playbook is designed to help educate state governments spending some of the $65 billion in deployment funds allocated in the infrastructure bill passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Biden in November.

The two groups – the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) and the NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association – are preparing the playbook to help demystify the complex and convoluted funding mechanisms laid out by the newly-formed “Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment” (BEAD) program that will require each state to implement its own plan. While final awards will vary widely, each state will receive a minimum of $100 million in funding for broadband infrastructure development. The near-term catch is that every state is required to coordinate with local governments and submit a five-year action plan in order to qualify for funding.

Compared to most other countries (including the UK, many EU countries, Australia, and India) in which the central government directly administers subsidies, or funds wholesale national broadband networks, the U.S. plan vastly overcomplicates matters through its state-by state process. While including state governments into the process may have been necessary for passage, it risks delaying the process of subsidy distribution and broadband deployments and may open the way for more political horse trading and lobbying on behalf of various interest groups. In that context, the Broadband Infrastructure Playbook should be seen with two lenses: 1) as a badly-needed information source to help states navigate a complicated funding process, and 2) as an opportunity for the FBA and NTCA to influence the process in favor of fiber deployments.

The playbook will provide a detailed overview of the statutory requirements associated with the new broadband infrastructure law and offer recommendations for how states should structure their broadband programs. Templates will also be provided to help accelerate the process of creating state funding applications and competitive bidding evaluations.

Specifically, the FBA and NTCA have indicated the playbook will provide recommendations in the following areas:

• Overall program plan, sequencing and timing of activities
• Recommendations on how states can best incorporate federal grant programs
• Key process and information requirements (e.g., in the mapping of underserved areas, the management of the award process and post-award monitoring)
• Organizational structure, scale and distribution of responsibilities
• Interfaces with other state government departments and external bodies

The FBA and NTCA are also calling for both states and broadband network providers to participate in the research for the playbook and share lessons learned from earlier funding programs. The two associations plan to issue the playbook in early 2022 in order to give states the opportunity to have systems in place in tie for the announcement of final funding awards, expected in May 2022.

While the playbook should provide an important tool in addressing the digital divide, the motives of the FBA and NTCA are of course not entirely altruistic. The FBA in particular represents dozens of telecommunications infrastructure vendors eager to break ground on a host of government-funded rural broadband contracts that are likely to extend well through the remainder of this decade. Rural broadband can come in many flavors, notably fixed wireless, and the two groups are keen to steer many of those investment decisions to fiber. The to-be-released playbook can play a vital role in that regard.

Verizon Turns 5G Spotlight to Midband Spectrum in 2022

John Byrne, Service Director

Summary Bullets:

  • Verizon will exceed its 2021 plans of adding 14,000 ‘5G Ultra Wideband’ cell sites that operate at mmWave frequencies.
  • While mmWave buildout will continue, Verizon signaled that its 2022 5G buildout plans will center around the C-band spectrum it obtained at auction earlier in 2021.

U.S. operator Verizon announced in December it has already exceeded its previously announced 2021 target of building 14,000 ‘5G Ultra Wideband’ cell sites using so-called millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum. However, the company also left a clear signal to the industry that it is ready to devote more attention to providing 5G in midband spectrum in 2022 and beyond. Continue reading “Verizon Turns 5G Spotlight to Midband Spectrum in 2022”

SoftBank Sustainability Bond Plans May Face Skeptical Investment Community

John Byrne, Service Director

Summary Bullets:

  • SoftBank plans to issue a sustainability bond to help fund its high-altitude platform station (HAPS) project designed to enable Internet service in currently hard-to-reach locales.
  • Investors may be reluctant to invest in the new bond because of the long timeframe to commercial viability, lack of a clear path to profit, and emerging competition from LEO competitors like Starlink and Project Kuiper.

Japanese investment management conglomerate SoftBank Corporation announced it will issue a sustainability bond to fund its novel HAPS project designed to enable Internet service in currently hard-to-reach locales. Sustainability bonds are becoming an increasingly popular way for telecoms operators to fund environmental initiatives; however, investors may be skeptical of SoftBank’s plans to use a sustainability bond to fund development of its still-unproven HAPS model. Continue reading “SoftBank Sustainability Bond Plans May Face Skeptical Investment Community”

NEC and Netcracker Delve Deeper into 5G Xhaul

Emir Halilovic, Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

• NEC and Netcracker wrap their respective professional services and domain orchestration solution around Juniper’s IP networking and ADVA’s open line system for a multi-layer, multi-vendor, and automated 5G Xhaul.

• The cooperation has great potential to increase each of the vendors’ credibility in 5G transport, but must show tangible advantages in functionality and cost savings to uproot entrenched competitors.

The 5G transport market continues to heat up, as operators are gradually waking up to the fact that transport renovation and automation will be one of the key ingredients of their future end-to-end 5G architecture. In that context, accelerated activity by NEC and Netcracker in 5G Xhaul illustrates well the importance of transport for 5G, and the size of the market opportunity awaiting. NEC, Netcracker, Juniper, and ADVA contributed their leading capabilities to their joint solution introduced in September.

The offering ticks several important boxes:

• IP/optical integration to simplify and streamline transport architectures;

• Support for 400ZR interfaces for cost-optimized, high-speed coherent transport;

• Open optical line system technology that can seamlessly support gear from multiple transport vendors;

• Multi-layer service and network lifecycle management to manage increasing complexity that accompany the migration to 5G architectures; and

• Closed loop automation to improve agility and respond more quickly to changing network traffic conditions.

NEC’s 5G Xhaul transformation services will serve both as a key ingredient of the solution and as a differentiator, especially for operators keen on composing technology elements from different vendors but lacking in-house capabilities to do so. The multi-vendor nature of the solution should also resonate well with customers seeking more openness and choice in their transport networks.

Including Netcracker’s Network Domain Orchestration into the offering is particularly significant and will appeal especially well with operators seeking flexibility and advanced capabilities like network slicing lifecycle management in their Xhaul networks. Network slicing functionality support is generally present in most transport networking elements today, both in IP and packet-optical domain. But deploying, maintaining, and decommissioning end-to-end network slices requires multi-layer and multi-domain orchestration, and is far from trivial. Even converged IP/optical networks need multi-layer and multi-domain coordination to successfully provision network slices and match them with services deployed on the network.

NEC’s and Netcracker’s solution enters a highly competitive Xhaul market, with already slanted playing field. Large radio vendors like Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, and ZTE have wide and deep Xhaul offerings, and enjoy the opportunity to bundle their transport with radio access. Historically, this has meant that the attach rate between radio and Xhaul has been significant (50-60%); this significantly shrinks addressable market for any non-radio vendor. However, that could be changing as many vendors look to 5G to alter traditional infrastructure procurement paradigms. NEC’s services offering and Netcracker’s Network Domain Orchestration may provide important differentiators for operators seeking advanced Xhaul capabilities, but the key to success will be to demonstrate the integrated solution’s capabilities in live networks – both in terms of advanced functionality, such as network slicing, and in delivering significant and measurable improvement in terms of underlying network operation economics.

Continue reading “NEC and Netcracker Delve Deeper into 5G Xhaul”

Orange and Nokia Push the Circular Economy Forward with RAN Refurbishment

Andy Hicks, Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

  • Orange’s expansion of its equipment refurbishing efforts to the radio network represents new levels of scale, complexity, and maturity in its circular economy initiative.
  • Fears that reused radio equipment will not match the improved energy consumption of new units have not been borne out in real-world usage.

In October 2021, Paris-based multinational telecoms operator Orange announced an agreement with Nokia to increase its use of refurbished network equipment across its entire 26-country footprint. Beginning with radio access network (RAN) equipment, the arrangement will extend to other network infrastructure elements. In taking this step, Orange is establishing an advanced position that it hopes other telecoms groups will follow. Continue reading “Orange and Nokia Push the Circular Economy Forward with RAN Refurbishment”

Telefónica Tech Blockchain Platform Bolstering Telecom Tower Management

John Byrne, Service Director

Summary Bullets:

  • Telefónica Tech will utilize blockchain to accelerate automation within mobile operator networks and foster ecosystem development.
  • With new concepts such as ORAN promising more vendors within operator architectures, the ability to establish transparency will be crucial. Blockchain potentially addresses this challenge.

Spanish telecommunications infrastructure management company Atrebo announced in October that it will deploy Telefónica Tech’s blockchain platform to digitize over 200,000 towers and other telecommunications infrastructure assets. Continue reading “Telefónica Tech Blockchain Platform Bolstering Telecom Tower Management”

Optical Pluggables Evolution: Higher Performance Brings Extended Usability

Emir Halilovic, Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

  • The next generation of digital optical pluggable interfaces will have deep implications on traditional optical transport platforms.
  • The attraction of pluggable form factors, and further standardization, will shape the optical transport market going forward.

When networking giant Cisco acquired optical solutions specialist Acacia Communications in 2019, one of the proclaimed goals of this high-profile move was powering the next stage of IP-optical integration. Mating Cisco’s routers with miniaturized coherent pluggable optical interfaces allows clients to simplify their transport networks and, in some scenarios, eliminates the need for some optical transport network elements in the architecture. This approach works best in metro aggregation scenarios, where span lengths match the capacity sweet spot of the currently available crop of pluggables, like 400G-capable 400ZR. Continue reading “Optical Pluggables Evolution: Higher Performance Brings Extended Usability”

Vodafone Issues 5G/IoT Call to Action to UK Government in Advance of COP26

John Byrne, Service Director

Summary Bullets:

• In a new report, Vodafone warned that current initiatives underway by the UK government are insufficient to help meet aggressive carbon emission reduction goals, including a 2035 78% reduction target.

• Vodafone and its research partner WMI Economics offered solutions designed to help jumpstart progress on these aggressive goals by deploying 5G and IoT to a host of vertical segments, notably agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation.

UK telecom operator Vodafone warned in September that the UK government has much more to do to meet aggressive emissions reduction targets that call for a 78% reduction in carbon emissions by 2035 and net zero emissions by 2020. The company believes its Internet of Things (IoT) solutions can help.

In a new report issued in conjunction with political communications consultancy WPI Economics, Vodafone pointed to slow progress in important sectors including agriculture, manufacturing, and transport where IoT could potentially deliver important progress. In these three sectors alone, Vodafone estimates that existing IoT technology has the ability to reduce between 11.7 million and 17.4 million metric tons in annual greenhouse gas emissions – at the high-end, that would represent 4% of total UK emissions, or approximately the total emissions in the Northeast of England. The benefits of IoT vary by population density – Vodafone estimates that in city centers, 87% of the benefit would come from smart transportation solutions; by contrast, agriculture would drive 38% of emission reductions in rural areas.

TOTAL POTENTIAL ANNUAL CO2 SAVINGS FROM DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY
BY SECTOR AND SCENARIO

Source: Vodafone/WPI Economics “Connecting for Net Zero: Addressing the climate crisis through digital technology” (September 2021)

In order to fully realize these emissions reductions, Vodafone issued a call to action for the UK government. Among its recommendations:

• Set clearer targets and benchmarks for the adoption of digital technology within the company’s 2050 zero net emissions strategy.

• Incentivize adoption of IoT and 5G technologies in key sectors to accelerate emissions reductions.

• Increase the weight given to carbon reduction technologies and vendors’ internal carbon reduction targets in procurement processes.

• Expand the role of UK programs such as Digital Catapult and Connected Places Catapult that are tasked with accelerating digital technology innovation and adoption in high impact sectors of the economy.

• Allocate £500 million of public funding to regional innovation centers focused specifically on IoT and 5G applications that can reduce carbon emissions.

• Enable interoperability among solutions by introducing regulation to drive common security and data standards in IoT devices.

• Introduce a regulatory and policy framework that “creates the right signals for investment” in mobile networks across the UK.

For all the focus on the lead-up to COP26, the next annual UN climate change conference happening in Glasgow, Scotland in November, Vodafone also offers another, less altruistic rationale for focusing on 5G-based digital solutions to reduce carbon emissions: jobs. According to the September report, Vodafone estimates that 5G could add £6.3 billion to the value of UK manufacturing by 2030 and create 175,000 additional jobs across the economy.

Continue reading “Vodafone Issues 5G/IoT Call to Action to UK Government in Advance of COP26”

AT&T and Verizon Showcase Two Approaches to Environmental Sustainability

John Byrne, Service Director

Summary Bullets:

  • AT&T announced a new initiative designed to help its customers dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The company still has work to do on internal ‘greenification.’
  • Verizon is taking a different approach, issuing its second and third $1 billion green bonds recently to fund a host of renewable energy contracts.

AT&T arguably took a leadership position among U.S. telecommunication operators, announcing August 31 that it will drive a reduction of a gigaton of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions —1 billion metric tons — by 2035, in conjunction with a consortium of partners that includes Microsoft, Equinix, Duke Energy, and a number of research universities. A gigaton is equal to roughly 15% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and 3% of global emissions based on 2020 estimates. Continue reading “AT&T and Verizon Showcase Two Approaches to Environmental Sustainability”