5G and Beyond

Eurobites: UK govt offers £500M carrot to sort out mobile's rural 'not-spots'

Also in today's EMEA regional roundup: Allison Kirkby heads back over the bridge; ARM plans to continue doing business with Huawei; Q3 revenue falls at Proximus and KPN.

  • The UK government has done a deal with the country's four main mobile operators, under the terms of which EE, O2, Three and Vodafone will share masts in hard-to-reach rural areas to bring coverage to what up until now have been classified as "not-spots." If the four operators invest £530 million (US$679 million) to open up and share existing masts and infrastructure to eliminate almost all partial not-spots, the government says it will weigh in with "up to" £500 million ($641 million) in additional funding to tackle the read dead zones -- the "total" not-spots. If it goes ahead, this agreement will bring 4G coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025, with each individual operator committing to reach 92% coverage by this date too. At this stage the Shared Rural Network proposal is just that, a proposal, and is still subject to legal agreement, which the government hopes to reach -- Brexit shenanigans permitting -- "early next year."

    Reaction from the industry, stage-managed though it may be, has so far been positive: Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK, proclaimed that "there is no other scheme like this in the world"; O2's Mark Evans called it a "a step-change in the way that mobile coverage is delivered"; Three UK's David Dyson said the plan "is the best way to enhance mobile connectivity for the 9.3 million living in the UK's countryside"; BT's Marc Allera said it would "will remove the key barriers to tackling the tricky not-spot problem."

    Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, said it "warmly welcomed these commitments," adding that in the light of the agreement it would no longer propose to include coverage requirements in its forthcoming auction process

    And outside the industry, the proposals have also received the tweed-jacketed backing of the Country Land and Business Association, whose deputy president, Mark Bridgeman, said: "This announcement will be welcomed by everyone who lives or works in the countryside. We have been hugely frustrated at the lack of progress in improving mobile reception to date, but the legal coverage obligations now put on operators to improve the situation, through the delivery of a Single Rural Network, will ensure demonstrable improvements over the next few years for rural communities."

  • It seems Allison Kirkby prefers Sweden to Denmark, because just a few months after leaving Tele2 to take the top job at TDC in Copenhagen, she has decided to head back over that iconic bridge to take the reins -- as CEO and president -- at Telia. She won't be making the trip until the second quarter of 2020, however: Until then, Christian Luiga will remain as acting president and CEO, before returning to his role as EVP and CFO of Telia.

  • ARM, the UK chipmaker owned by Japan's SoftBank, has gratefully received legal advice that it is in the clear to carry on supplying Huawei, as ARM's technology has been deemed to be of UK origin and therefore not in breach the US restrictions on American companies doing business with the Chinese vendor. As Reuters reports, Huawei's proprietary chips, which play a big part in reducing the company's reliance on US technology, are built on ARM's design architecture.

  • Belgium's Proximus saw underlying third-quarter revenue fall 2.3% year-on-year, to €1.4 billion ($1.5 billion), though EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) managed to inch up 0.5%, to €470 million ($522 million). Fixed-line voice, not surprisingly, is on the slide, but a more worrying development is a 3% decline in mobile services revenue, which Proximus largely attributes to the changes in European roaming regulation.

  • Third-quarter revenue was also down year-on-year at Dutch incumbent KPN, by 1.8% to €1.39 billion ($1.54 billion). EBITDA, however, soared 37%, to €588 million ($653 million), a success story attributed to cost-cutting or, as KPN's resident wordsmiths would have it, "accelerated simplification and digitalization."

  • Nokia and Orange have begun 5G trials in Lublin, Poland, with ten basestations on duty in various parts of the city. The trial enables data transfer speeds of up to 800 Mbit/s and utilizes 80MHz on the 3.4-3.6 GHz frequency band. Nokia's 5G radio access technology and FastMile 5G Gateways for Fixed Wireless Access are being used in combination with 5G smartphones.

  • Telefónica UK, which trades as O2, is trying a new approach to selling its phones and plans, setting up a "shop-within-a-shop" at four branches of fashion retailer Next. The operator claims to be doing its bit to tackle the challenges facing the UK high street, but it is worth noting that all of these four first trial sites are in standalone shopping malls, rather than in "traditional" high street Next stores.

    — Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, Light Reading

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