ComCom: No regulation for NZ mobile – but 5G spectrum auctions need close attention

New Zealand’s Commerce Commission has given a thumbs up for the Kiwi mobile market  – and a thumbs down to any regulatory intervention – saying it’s a competitive market, serving customers well.

The Mobile Market Study final report says New Zealand’s mobile consumers are benefiting from an increasingly competitive market environment with market share among the three national players – Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees – has become more evenly balanced, with 2degrees taking more market share.

The report shows Vodafone and Spark still hold the lion’s share of the market, with 40.5 percent and 37.9 percent of subscribers, with 2degrees, which entered the market in 2009, now holding 20.5 percent of the market.

“We haven’t identified any particular problems or structural issues that could be hampering competition,” says Telecommunications Commissioner Stephen Gale of the report findings.

Unsurprisingly the findings were welcomed by Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees.

The study also shows an emerging market for ‘virtual’ operators selling mobile services without having to build their own mobile network.

The mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) holds just 1.1 percent market share, but has seen growth in recent months with companies including Vocus – which earlier this year slammed the preliminary Mobile Market report – Warehouse Mobile and Kogan entering the market. Trustpower also plans to enter the fray, bundling mobile offers with its existing broadband and energy services.

“Because of these developments, the Commission does not consider there is any need for regulation of wholesale access at this time,” the Commerce Commission says.

But Gale flagged the need for wholesale and retail competition matters to be at the forefront of decisions relating to the upcoming auction of radio spectrum for 5G services in order to ensure continued competition.

“With Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees each having a network of similar technology with similar geographic and population coverage metrics, looking forward we consider the allocation of spectrum to be particularly important for future competition,” Gale says.

The report, instigated back in 2017, comes as Vodafone and Spark jockey for 5G leadership. Vodafone has been testing 5G with plans to have a commercial service up and running in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown in December.

Meanwhile Spark – which had its original 5G plans shot down by the New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau over Huawei network security concerns – has launched a limited, invitation only, 5G service in Alexandra. The service uses Nokia technology.

When is unlimited not unlimited?

When it come to the services Kiwis are receiving from their mobile telco providers, the report notes that New Zealand’s 4G performance is ranked eighth out of 88 countries in an OpenSignal report, though the availability of 4G at 57th out of 87 countries.

It notes that mobile plans offering higher volumes of data are increasingly popular. To highlight that, it noted the total number of residential subscribers purchasing voice, SMS and data bundles with allowances of 3G or more was up from 133,000 in 2016 to 497,000 in 2018.

Spark, in its cross submission on the reports preliminary findings paper, noted a shift towards unlimited data plans, including ones that can be shared across several users, as a predominant trend in the retail market.

However, Teligen, which does telco benchmarking, much of which the ComCom report relies on, no longer considers New Zealand’s ‘unlimited’ data plans to qualify as unlimited, because of telco’s throttling the speed once a threshold has been reached.

The average volume of data used by mobile consumers was 2GB per month in 2018 – a figure the report says is growing strongly.

Prices for mobile services in New Zealand have been falling and compare well with other OECD countries, the report notes – though not all fare so well compared with Australia, with mobile prices per GB for the highest data plans offered in New Zealand coming in around NZ$80-$85, versus NZ$56 from Vodafone Australia and NZ$103 for Telstra.

“For the 2G and 5G  baskets, the New Zealand price reported by Teligen is currently at or below the OECD average.”

For larger baskets, however, mobile pricing in New Zealand is relatively high when compared to Australia, but below the OECD average.

One area the report does note a need for change is in the low number of consumers moving telco plans. Sixty-eight percent say they rarely, if ever, compare plans and 54 percent saying they haven’t switched providers in the past five years.

“By shopping around more frequently consumers are likely to trigger more competition between mobile providers,” Gale says.

“We are keen to see more consumer activity and will be looking into ways we can help New Zealanders understand whether they are getting the best deal possible and, if not, consider switching.”

However, in response, Vodafone NZ says its data shows a high number of Vodafone customers change the make-up of their mobile plans each year – if not their provider.

Australia’s peak mobile telecoms body welcomes Federal Government 5G inquiry

The peak national body representing Australia’s mobile telecommunications industry, The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), has welcomed the announcement by the Federal Government of a Parliamentary Inquiry into 5G.

Responding to the announcement that the Committee’s remit will cover the capability, capacity and rollout of 5G as well as the application of 5G, including use cases for enterprise and government, AMTA CEO Chris Althaus said the Association wished to contribute to a thorough examination of the implications of 5G technology from all perspectives.

“As the 5G evolution continues, it is critical that Government and society alike understand the magnitude of the 5G opportunity, and its relevance and benefit to all sectors of our economy and society,” he said.

“The mobile industry currently contributes nearly A$23 billion of Australia’s GDP, and the productivity benefits enabled by mobile applications and services are forecast to boost the economy by A$65 billion in 2023; equivalent to 3.1% GDP.”

While Althaus emphasised that businesses and society more broadly could expect to see considerable opportunity and progress through faster download speeds and improved connectivity through advances in The Internet of  Things and other new technologies, he acknowledged that “some questions and concerns exist within the community in relation to 5G and, to that end, we are committed to raising awareness and understanding around credible research to ensure public confidence in the safety of 5G mobile networks.”

“AMTA looks forward to contributing to that discussion further by providing information to, and potentially appearing before, the recently announced Parliamentary Inquiry,” Althaus said.

Huawei Australia CTO: Australia to sleepwalk into world of 5G, 6G cyber-security pain

Huawei Australia Chief Technology and Cyber Security Officer David Soldani has warned that Australia risks facing serious issues with the rollout of 5G and future 6G technology unless new policies are brought in to tackle concerns around cyber-security.

“The current approach being taken towards cyber-security on 5G mobile networks solves absolutely nothing – and that will be exposed further in 6G,” he told the Emerging Innovation Summit in Melbourne

“Blocking companies from certain countries does nothing to make Australia any safer from cyber-security issues – in fact it just makes things worse because they are not addressing the real issues on cyber-security,” Soldani added, noting that although future 6G networks could deliver huge potential for new applications and services, this would also involve extra risks.

“The way that future 6G networks are designed means that the attack surface is larger for potential attacks as the traditional network boundaries and security control zone become ever wider,” he continued. ““In addition, with the converge of management and control plane, AI will poses a significant impact on network security, as it might be exploited to launch more effective attacks, and in some scenarios, the security of AI systems is a matter of life and death.”

Soldani said that unlike security vulnerabilities in traditional systems, the root cause of security weaknesses in machine learning systems centers on the lack of “explicability, which leaves openings that can be exploited by adversarial machine learning methods such as evasion, poisoning, and backdoor attacks.”

“Attackers may also implant backdoors in models and launch targeted attacks or extract model parameters or training data from query results,” he said.

Soldani called on policymakers to take note of a recent statement by the ‘Five Eyes’ countries of the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, calling for a new way to deal with cyber-security.

“The communique from the Five Eyes was absolutely clear that countries need to ensure entire supply chains are trusted and reliable to protect our networks from unauthorized access or interference,” he said. “This means there is absolutely no point in simply banning companies from certain countries.

Soldani said this, in fact, made Australia less secure “because it means we have to then increase our reliance on just one or two other vendors – neither of whom are having their equipment tested.”

Soldani also pointed out that the Five Eyes communique had stressed the need for the introduction of an evidence-based risk assessment to underpin the implementation of agreed-upon principles for setting international standards for securing cyber networks.

“Unless Australia changes it approach and adopts a standards and certification led approach to security then it will simply sleepwalk into a world of cyber-security problems in both 5G and 6G for which it is totally unprepared,” he said.

US network builder Spectrum Global Solutions highlights key demand uptick in 5G rollout lead-up

Florida-based comms network infrastructure specialist Spectrum Global Solutions has flagged it recently received US$3.6 million in new contract awards across all of the firm’s operating subsidiaries.

According to the company, the new contract awards include work orders from both new and existing customers, and are predominantly for infrastructure projects as network operators prepare for a nationwide implementation of 5G.

“We are pleased to announce over US$3.6 million in new contract awards,” said Roger Ponder, CEO of Spectrum Global Solutions. “Across the board, we are seeing network operators and carriers strengthen and expand their wireless infrastructure on the back of an ever increasing consumer demand for wireless data. These new contract awards in particular pertain to enhancing data infrastructure for the upcoming Super Bowl through improvements to hospitality facilities’ telecommunications and security infrastructure.

“As we continue to expand our service offering to support the rollout of 5G, which requires a large number of small cell deployments rather than a fewer number of larger towers as was traditionally seen, our opportunity pipeline continues to grow at a rapid rate. I look forward to continued operational execution on this front and long-term shareholder value creation,” said Ponder.

ACMA takes aim at 5G innovation with class licensing updates

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) hopes to support new innovative technologies and wireless data communications systems, including those underpinning 5G, with a range of fresh updates to the country’s class licensing arrangements.

The ACMA’s proposed variation to Australia’s Radiocommunications (Low Interference Potential Devices) Class Licence came into effect on 19 August, with the new licensing arrangements expected to support new technology applications and “bring Australia into line with international arrangements”.

Among the changes, which are contained in the Radiocommunications (Low Interference Potential Devices) Class Licence Variation 2019 (No. 1), are new arrangements for ‘all transmitters’ in the 57–64 GHz band aimed at supporting new interactive motion sensing technology that operates in this particular frequency range and can be used to enable touchless control of device functions or features.

Other changes include an expansion of frequency range for 60 GHz (57–66 GHz) data communication systems to now cover 57–71 GHz, for both indoor and outdoor usage, which the ACMA suggests will support wireless gigabit systems with applications such as backhaul for 5G and Wi-Fi.

The updates also saw the revision of arrangements for underground transmitters in certain bands, a move designed to support fixed and mobile services from 70–520 MHz to provide improved support for underground activities, such as mining.

Additionally, the new class licensing variation includes a revision of arrangements for radars in the 76–77 GHz frequency band in order to provide support for radar use in rail crossing and road safety applications.

There are also new arrangements for ground and wall penetration radar (30–12,400 MHz) to facilitate the usage of applications across a variety of industry sectors, such as agriculture, railways and underground pipe detection in the telecommunication industry.

Some of the new changes also work to align existing arrangements for ultra-wideband devices with United States and European arrangements for generic, indoor and outdoor devices operating in 3,100–3,400 MHz and 8,500–9,000 MHz ranges, along with aircraft applications (6,000–8,500 MHz), aimed at further supporting the use of such devices in Australia.

The ACMA first put the call out to industry for comment and feedback on its proposed updates to class licensing arrangements in December 2018. The updates were to be implemented by varying the Radiocommunications (Low Interference Potential Devices) Class Licence 2015 (LIPD Class Licence).

Now that the updates are in effect, the ACMA invites further suggestions from industry and individuals on devices and technologies for “possible future updates” to class licensing arrangements of the Low Interference Potential Devices Class Licence. 

Risk of competing goals ‘negatively impacting’ NBN quality, affordability: Infrastructure Australia

If the National Broadband Network (NBN) can’t meet all of its stated goals and obligations once the rollout is complete, the ability for Australians to access affordable and high-quality services over the network may be “negatively affected”.

This is according to the Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019, published on 13 August by the nation’s independent infrastructure advisor, Infrastructure Australia, the independent advisory body tasked with strategically auditing the nation’s key infrastructure.

The audit report, which covered areas such as transport, energy and water, delivered a mixed report card for the country’s telecommunication landscape, identifying several challenges relating to Australia’s fixed-line broadband offering, rural and regional availability, pricing and the NBN’s technology mix, among other things.

Unsurprisingly, the report’s telecommunications section focused heavily on the NBN, as one of the country’s largest infrastructure projects. One of the challenges highlighted in the audit report was an “inherent tension between the NBN’s strategic goals”.

It suggested that this tension will ultimately require potential trade-offs between the NBN achieving user outcomes and delivering a return on the capital investment made by taxpayers.

“If all goals cannot be achieved, the ability for Australians to access affordable and high-quality NBN services may be negatively affected,” the report authors said.

Moreover, the report suggested that these tensions raise the question as to whether or not the network will be sold and, if so, how exactly the assets would be divested and therefore how the market will be structured.

“A proposed eventual sale of the NBN to the private sector raises challenges in striking the right balance between realising its value for shareholders and achieving long-term goals for users,” Infrastructure Australia noted. “Decisions about restructuring and sale can affect both short- and long-term service delivery and outcomes for users.”

Another challenge relating to the NBN noted centred on its technology mix having been diversified, meaning that different users will receive different types of connections.

“This change will deliver varied outcomes for users, and some may shoulder higher costs or receive lower-quality services,” the report authors added.

As such, according to Infrastructure Australia, a range of NBN process and performance issues have arisen as the rollout has proceeded and users have migrated to the network, some of which are being dealt with by the company behind the rollout, NBN Co.

In addition, the independent infrastructure advisor flagged the risks that 5G network rollouts in Australia might present to the long-term competitive position of the NBN.

“Looking forward, risks for the NBN include competition from ongoing fixed line services and 5G fixed wireless substitution,” it said. “There is also the possibility of competition in remote locations from emerging low Earth orbit satellite technologies and other satellite technologies.”

However, the report also pointed out a potential silver lining, noting an opportunity for the NBN to leverage these technologies to deliver better services in its existing fixed wireless and satellite coverage areas.

Rural and regional Australians still missing out

Infrastructure Australia’s examination of the services offered to people in rural and regional areas was somewhat tempered by the existing limitations of the various technologies available, even with the NBN rollout underway.

“NBN’s use of fixed wireless and satellite technologies limits the choice of available broadband speeds and download quotas, particularly for remote areas,” it said. “However, these services are often the only option for regional Australian consumers and businesses.

“Although NBN is launching business-grade NBN services, these do not currently extend to [its] fixed wireless and satellite access technologies,” it said, noting NBN Co’s plans to deliver a business-grade satellite service this year.

More generally, however, Infrastructure Australia identified a range of issues with the current telecommunications services available for consumers in rural and regional areas, and for some minorities.

“The specific needs of rural and remote users are often overlooked in upgrades to national telecommunications infrastructure,” the report authors said. “Income, age, disability, education and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status are all factors that influence levels of digital inclusion.”

“Geography also matters,” it said. “In rural and remote settings, the cost of providing telecommunications infrastructure increases and the returns reduce as population densities decline. In some cases, this limits the scope for universal coverage by commercially-focused private sector operators, without government intervention.”

“While Australia’s mobile footprint includes over 99 percent of the population, it covers only one-third of total landmass, meaning there is limited service in particular rural and remote areas, for example along transport corridors,” it added.

However, the audit report also cautiously identified opportunities to improve the telecommunications services for the digitally disadvantaged, and for rural and remote communities and businesses.

“5G mobile technology provides a potential step change in mobile telecommunications infrastructure for Australia, offering huge benefits including faster mobile data, minimal delays and the ability to separate services on the same network. However, the cost of rolling out 5G is high, and without a change in prioritisation, existing issues may be exacerbated in rural and remote areas,” the report authors said.

Nokia, Zain Saudi use 5G net to demo remote viewing of Hajj pilgrimage via live VR

Nokia andbRiyadh-based mobile network operator Zain Saudi have successfully demonstrated a 5G-enabled Virtual Reality use case in the Mashaer area and the Holy Mosque area in Makkah, allowing visitors to experience the islamic Hajj* pilgrimage remotely.

As part of the demonstration, high-resolution 360-degree video feeds were transmitted to room-size displays enabling the viewers to be immersed in the experience. Zain’s 5G network was used to send the feeds from cameras deployed in multiple locations in Makkah to cover the events in real time, utilizing the enhanced mobile broadband capability for the content delivery and the low latency for the real-time camera control.

“Millions of people from around the world visit Hajj every year, ‘ said Eng. Sultan Abdulaziz AlDeghaither, CEO of Zain Saudi Arabia. “This use case will allow them to have immersive remote view of locations they have to visit such as the holy mosque to choose the best time and avoid crowds.”

“Further, the concerned authorities will be able to provide better security to the pilgrims and the people of Saudi Arabia.”

*) Hajj is annual Islamic pilgrimage to Makkah, the holiest city for Muslims. More than two million pilgrims visited Makkah as part of Hajj in 2018.