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A week in telecoms: Telcos advance 5G SA network APIs and FWA strategies

A major AI data center capacity upgrade in the MENA region was in the news, along with India’s muted 5G auction result and power-saving tech in UK mobile sites.

Michelle Donegan
27 Jun 2024
A week in telecoms: Telcos advance 5G SA network APIs and FWA strategies

A week in telecoms: Telcos advance 5G SA network APIs and FWA strategies

Ooredoo collaborates with Nvidia in MENA region

Nvidia has signed a deal to deploy its artificial intelligence (AI) technology at data centers owned by Ooredoo in Qatar, Algeria, Tunisia, Oman, Kuwait, and the Maldives.

The deal, which was signed on the sidelines of DTW24 – Ignite in Copenhagen last week, will see the Qatar-based operator deploy thousands of Nvidia Tensor Core GPUs in its data centers to support the region, enabling customers to deploy an AI platform with “advanced infrastructure, tools, and software.”

Ooredoo will also provide GPU-as-a-service, which offers customers on-demand access to AI and machine learning tools including generative AI.

The operator said its collaboration with Nvidia is part of a broader aim to “boost AI infrastructure in the MENA region while enabling enhanced security, optimized performance, and customization to align with local standards.”

Aziz Aluthman Fakhroo, CEO of Ooredoo, told Reuters that the operator is investing $1 billion to expand its regional data center capacity by 20-25 additional megawatts on top of the 40 megawatts it currently has, and plans to almost triple that by the end of the decade.

“Our B2B clients, thanks to this agreement, will have access to services that probably their competitors (won’t) for another 18 to 24 months,” Fakhroo added.

The move comes after the US restricted the export of Nvidia’s most advanced chipsets to the Middle East in order to prevent Chinese companies from using those countries as a back door to access new AI technology. This affects the company’s A100 and H100 chips, which are used to accelerate machine-learning tasks on tools such as ChatGPT.

EE deploys ‘cell sleep’ tech across the UK

BT-owned mobile operator EE has deployed so-called “cell sleep” technology at mobile sites across the UK as part of efforts to make its network more sustainable.

BT expects the technology to deliver energy savings of up to 2 KWh per site per day, or 4.5m KWh per year across EE’s estate.

BT said cell sleep software works by putting certain 4G LTE capacity carriers to sleep when the capacity is not needed, based on predicted periods of low traffic which have been established for each site through machine learning.

The system then automatically wakes up during busy periods, and is also configured to react to unexpected surges which might occur during scheduled sleep modes – in which event, the carriers wake up within a matter of seconds to serve demand without any interruption to customers.

An even lower power state, ‘deep sleep’, can also be activated if required, for example during overnight periods of extremely low demand, the operator noted.

Although it did not name its vendor partners, BT said the ‘cell sleep’ and ‘deep sleep’ functionality are provided by the respective RAN equipment supplier on each of EE’s sites. Ericsson and Nokia are BT’s two key RAN vendors.

BT said its networks account for around 89% of its total energy consumption. According to Greg McCall, the group’s Chief Networks Officer, there is huge potential for energy savings across the networks by dynamically matching power consumption against network usage.

“The optimization and rollout of cell sleep technology to over 19,500 sites across the UK is a significant milestone in achieving this, and an important development in countering the massive growth in data consumption we’re seeing across our networks,” he said.

Rival operator Three UK also recently highlighted how it is working with Ericsson to save energy costs by switching off radio components at certain times. It noted that AI, data analytics and micro sleep features “allow radio components to autonomously deactivate during low traffic hours or when not active.”

Telefónica and Nokia tie on 5G standalone APIs

Telefónica has signed an agreement with Nokia with the aim of enabling developers to build network application programming interfaces (APIs) that exploit characteristics of standalone 5G (5G SA) networks.

The Spain-headquartered operator said it plans to use the Nokia Network Exposure Function (NEF) in Spain and Germany, and will also open its network to developers using the vendor’s Network as Code platform, to “define new use cases that will boost 5G SA usage.”

The two companies want to enable developers to access 5G SA functions such as precise device location, enhanced notifications based on connectivity status, and edge discovery.

Cayetano Carbajo, Telefónica’s Chief Technology & Information Officer, cited the “tremendous opportunity” to provide developers with more tools for the creation of new customer services and use cases.

“This partnering agreement is about steering the industry in building new APIs and more use cases over 5G SA capabilities that have been launched across Telefónica’s main operations,” he said.

Shkumbin Hamiti, Head of Network Monetization Platform, Cloud and Network Services at Nokia, noted that there is “rising recognition that sustaining closed networks is a thing of the past and that embracing ecosystems is the way forward for deepening collaboration and creating new use cases; delivering better customer experiences; and generating new revenue opportunities.”

Hamiti added: “Our agreement with Telefónica is added proof of the much greater telco ecosystem openness that we are now seeing today and we look forward to jointly working to support developers in harnessing a broader array of network capabilities.”

Telefónica also backs the GSMA’s Open Gateway initiative for network APIs. Moreover, it is a long-time proponent of TM Forum Open APIs and ODA.

Notably, the group’s new Growth, Profitability, and Sustainability (GPS) strategy is partly focused on developing an “extensive” portfolio of API-based services by 2026.

India concludes lackluster 5G auction

The Indian government’s second 5G spectrum auction has ended after two days of bidding and only a small amount of the available airwaves sold in a widely anticipated outcome.

As expected, the country’s three main mobile operators Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea spent sparingly. The auction has reportedly sold 141MHz of spectrum for just INR 113.4bn ($1.4bn). This is far less than the roughly 10.5GHz that was on offer in bands ranging from 800MHz to 25GHz and that the government had hoped would net around INR 963bn.

As Developing Telecoms reported, the operators were more focused on renewing licenses that were due to expire and strategically topping up holdings in the mid-band range for 5G services.

The operators were not expected to spend big because they had splashed a record INR 1.5 trillion in India’s first 5G auction in 2022, acquiring 51.2GHz of spectrum, according to Reuters. The Department of Telecommunications told Reuters that, “As auction for 5G spectrum was held recently and 5G monetization is still in progress, no bidding took place in 800MHz, 2300MHz, 3300MHz and 26GHz bands.”

Bharti Airtel said that it has acquired 97MHz for INR 68.6bn “by winning back spectrum that was expiring” this year and adding to its mid-band frequencies. The operator noted its strategy to “build a large pool of mid-band holding” for delivering “seamless” 4G and 5G services in the country.

“Airtel continues to judiciously acquire the right amount of spectrum to deliver the best possible experience to our customers. In this auction, we have bolstered our sub-giga hertz and mid-band holding which will significantly improve our coverage especially indoor,” said Gopal Vittal, Managing Director and CEO of Bharti Airtel in a statement.

Reliance Jio announced that it has spent INR 9.7bn to add 14.4MHz more spectrum to its 1800MHz frequencies, claiming to be the only Indian operator with access to low-, mid- and high-band spectrum.

“We have already demonstrated our commitment to the Digital India Vision by rolling out one of the world’s fastest and widest Stand Alone 5G networks within 12 months of allotment of spectrum. This new spectrum acquisition will continue to enable us serving aspirations of the new India, in terms of growing traffic demands and superior customer experience, which is no longer limited to only urban markets,” said Shri Akash M Ambani, Chairman of Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited.

Vodafone Idea has acquired 50GHz of spectrum in the 900MHz, 1800MHz and 2500MHz bands in 11 circles for a total outlay of INR 35.1bn. The operator also revealed that is in “active discussion” with Samsung on virtualized radio access network technologies for its 4G and 5G rollouts. Trials with Samsung that were conducted over the last 12 to 18 months in Chennai have been extended to two other circles.

Vodafone Idea CEO Akshaya Moondra said, “VIL has strategically acquired spectrum in the select markets to enhance and strengthen its overall spectrum portfolio.”

5G fuels FWA strategies but 5G SA still slow, finds Ericsson

Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) has continued to reign as a top 5G use case, second only to mobile broadband, according to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report released this week.

The Swedish vendor has found that 241 mobile operators (80% of 310 surveyed worldwide) offered FWA services as of April 2024, of which 128 (53%) are providing their offerings over 5G.

Also, 40% of FWA providers are offering speed-based tariffs (as opposed to volume-based plans), which is 27% more than the previous year, indicating that more service providers are offering FWA as a broadband alternative.

But there are big differences in the availability of services across geographies. North America is the leading region with all service providers offering speed-based FWA plans and 80% deliver the services via 5G. Four large U.S. service providers accounted for 9 million FWA connections in the first quarter of 2024, up from 5 million in the previous year.

In Western Europe, only 50% of mobile operators offer FWA, although this has grown from 30% in the previous year. In the Middle East and Africa region, 43% of mobile operators offer 5G FWA. A substantial portion (42%) of 5G FWA service providers are in emerging markets.

Ericsson also noted early 5G standalone (5G SA) varieties of FWA services. An operator in Finland and another in India have launched “premium 5G FWA” using network slicing to deliver “assured services”.

However, 5G SA adoption remains low. Out of 300 service providers that provide 5G services, only 50 have launched 5G SA. Fredrik Jejdling, Executive Vice President and Head of Networks at Ericsson said that the report “highlights the need for increased deployment of 5G Standalone technology to fully realize the potential of 5G.”

As for the overall 5G market, Ericsson reported that 160 million 5G subscriptions were added in the first quarter of 2024, bringing the total to more than 1.7 billion. By the end of 2029, global 5G subscriptions are expected to approach 5.6 billion, which would be about 60% of all mobile connections.

Also noted…

Orange Group is weighing a sale of its 40% stake in Mauritius Telecom, Bloomberg reports.

Chunghwa Telecom and CTM are the latest operators to join the GSMA Open Gateway initiative, and Alibaba Cloud is a new channel partner. The project has attracted 53 operators around the world.

Nokia has agreed to sell its Alcatel Submarine Networks business to the French government for €350m ($374m) in a transaction that is expected to close by then end of 2024 or early 2025.