Lycamobile aims to kill T-Mobile’s proposed acquisitions

News

Lycamobile, a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) has publicly criticized T-Mobile.

Lycamobile is a London-based MVNO offering services in more than a dozen countries and serving over 16 million subscribers. Its US subsidiary offers mobile service over T-Mobile’s network. However, Lyca is now making its fight against T-Mobile very public.

Having entered the US market through an MVNO deal with T-Mobile in 2012, Lyca is now claiming that T-Mobile has failed to fairly abide by the terms of the agreement. In a filing with the FCC, Lyca wrote that it has “struggled over the past several years to obtain basic functionalities from T-Mobile, such as eSIM and access to T-Mobile’s 5G standalone architecture, and to get T-Mobile to fairly observe the terms of its MVNO agreement”.

In the filing, Lycamobile urged the FCC and the Department of Justice to block T-Mobile’s prospective acquisitions of Mint Mobile and Ultra Mobile.

In fact, Lyca suggests that “T-Mobile has been advantaging Ultra and Mint because of their intended acquisition of the companies while systematically disadvantaging Lyca, a close independent competitor”. Lyca wrote that if T-Mobile is allowed to acquire Mint and Ultra, “this anti-competitive behavior will only worsen” in an effort to eliminate competition for in-house MVNOs.

T-Mobile is fighting back, filing a motion to dismiss Lyca’s comments, arguing that Lyca’s complaints come nine months after the FCC’s comment deadline and are, therefore, irrelevant. According to T-Mobile, Lyca is seeking to insert an irrelevant private dispute into the FCC’s public interest review.

This is the latest battle in an ongoing war between Lyca and T-Mobile. In 2022, T-Mobile filed a lawsuit against Lyca, claiming that it accidentally undercharged the MVNO for access to its network for over a year. The billing discrepancy is reportedly due to problems with a third-party billing provider.

The lawsuit states that Lyca should have caught this mistake. However, Lyca claims that it renegotiated its MVNO agreement with T-Mobile in April 2022, based on T-Mobile’s data, which turned out to be faulty. The MVNO then concluded that its payments to T-Mobile would not increase while it added more customers.

Lyca “relied on the false information from T-Mobile to lower its prices to customers and expand its operations to grow its customers”, according to Lyca’s counterclaims. The subsequent scaling back of Lyca’s growth plans and changes to its customer plans has “substantially injured Lycamobile”, the company claims.

The counterclaims submitted by Lyca call the lawsuit a “smokescreen” hiding T-Mobile’s desire to hinder Lyca’s ability to compete with T-Mobile and, potentially, to force Lycamobile out of the US market. This reflects its claims now that T-Mobile is engaging in “anti-competitive” behavior.

T-Mobile had hoped to complete its proposed $1.35 billion acquisition of Mint Mobile in the first quarter of 2024. However, the deal has now been delayed twice as the FCC continues to evaluate the potential deal.

It remains to be seen whether Lyca’s recent complaints of anti-competitive actions will sway regulators to block the deal. Meanwhile, the stage is set for a further battle – the court case between Lycamobile and T-Mobile is set to go to trial in 2025.

SoftBank to invest $960m in Japanese AI 

News

The investment follows the company spending JPY20 billion ($129.2 million) on computing infrastructure last year 

 

Japanese tech giant SoftBank has announced that it will invest JPY 150 billion $960 billion to upgrade its computing infrastructure to deliver a Generative AI (gen AI) platform in the Japanese language, according to a report from Nikkei, which cited anonymous sources. 

Over the next two years, SoftBank will reportedly purchase GPUs (graphics processing units) from US based chip company Nvidia, using them to train and power its own large language models (LLMs), and then loan access to them to other firms. 

The investment in computing infrastructure is set to be the largest of any Japanese company, although SoftBank has not yet commented on the report. 

Last August, SoftBank invested JPY 150 million ($969 million) launched a new company, named ‘SB Institutions’, to research and develop homegrown LLMs that are specialised for the Japanese language. The company will ‘provide the necessary data sets and tools for LLM learning and develop models for reinforcement learning on SoftBank’s computing platform,” the press release reads. 

“By developing LLM specialized for the Japanese language, SB Intuitions can develop generative AI services tailored to the unique needs of Japan-based customers,” it continued. 

SB institutions is currently working on its own LLM, which is set to be completed this year. 

Keep up to date with the latest international telecoms news by subscribing to the Total Telecom daily newsletter  

Also in the news:
South Korea to invest $7 billion in AI semiconductors
Swisscom expands 5G partnership with Ericsson
Daisy Group set to acquire 4Com for £215m

Authenticity in action: Charlotte Scott’s keys to investor relations

Insight

Using her experience working in Venture Capital, Angel Investment and with startup businesses, Charlotte Scott, Senior Investor Relations Manager at Innovation SuperNetwork, works to improve the relationship between investors and businesses. 

Through her work in the Northern Investor Hub and on the Pathways to Funding North of Tyne and Tees Valley Securing Investment programmes, she builds bridges between businesses and investors, helping investors expand their portfolio, reach new opportunities, and connect with exciting businesses.  

Hear from Charlotte as she shares her key tips and advice on how to improve your business investor connectivity. 

Be Authentic. 

Transparency and authenticity are often missing when it comes to building long lasting investor business relationships. There’s a misconception that investors loom in the upper echelons of society. However, human stories will engage them, and authentic connections can be the basis of a very trusting and productive relationship.   

An investor will likely take a board seat in your business, so if you haven’t taken the time to build that trusting relationship where you can disclose key information, then they can’t help you make decisions and offer advice that could potentially save your company.  

Take the time to just get out there, network with investors and invest time nurturing those relationships. Treat them as humans and respect their time and opinions as you would anyone else. You’ve got to be able to have good communication and good interpersonal relationships. 

Expand and diversify your pool of connections. 

Working with start-ups in a variety of roles and regions has introduced me to a lot of underrepresented founders and communities that have – through no fault of their own – slipped through the access to funding net. And that was quite an eye opener. It was clear how much having access to business support could really transform their personal and professional situations.    

It’s generally acknowledged that we want to hang out with people who have similar interests. But if an investor is really committed to diversity and inclusion then they should be branching out, involving themselves with communities who are not from the same background, and welcome the diversity of opinion that comes with expanding our network beyond the familiar.   

Expanding your network allows you to come across such a range of people, ideas, and businesses. The nature of individuals operating businesses is that they’re ambitious and highly motivated – have a certain resilience and grit. It’s a wonderful thing to be surrounded by. 

Make sure your voice is heard. 

Get out there and start talking about yourself! If an investor needs to go to areas and break into communities who don’t look and sound like them, you’ve got to try and do the same.  

For example, put an event every week in your diary where you think investors might be and show up.  Don’t pitch in that informal environment but have a chat and start to build a positive relationship. That person will remember you as that interesting individual who they had a good chat with a couple of months ago, so they’ll be more receptive to start up a conversation and lend you a hand.   

Working with Innovation SuperNetwork. 

At Innovation SuperNetwork, we work with businesses access the finance they need, helping them to understand their options. 

We offer a programme of events, workshops, and one-to-one support to help you identify and apply for grants or loans. Our investor readiness programme steps in to make you pitch perfect and able to secure investment for growth.  

Through the Northern Investor Hub, we work closely with local and national partners, to bring experienced and budding investors together, identifying co-investment opportunities, and showcase the North’s most inspiring businesses. 

If you are an investor, find out more about the opportunities we can provide for you here.

Government Reject Calls by UK Mobile Operators for 4G SRN Delay

The CEO of the Government’s Building Digital UK (BDUK) agency, Dean Creamer, has told MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that officials have rejected a request from several mobile operators to delay completion of the 4G roll-out for Partial Not-Spot (PNS) areas under the £1bn Shared Rural Network (SRN) project by 18-months.

The industry-led SRN – supported by £501m of public funding and £532m from operators – involves both the reciprocal sharing of existing masts in certain areas and the demand-led building and sharing of new masts in others between O2 (Virgin Media), Vodafone, EE (BT) and Three UK. The goal is to extend geographic 4G coverage (aggregate) to 95% of the UK by the end of 2025 (84% when only considering the areas where you’ll be able to take 4G from all providers).

NOTE: The target varies between regions, thus 4G cover from at least one operator is expected to reach 98% in England, 91% in Scotland, 95% in Wales and 98% in N.Ireland. But this falls to 90% in England, 74% in Scotland, 80% in Wales and 85% in N.Ireland when looking at coverage from all MNOs combined.

The programme includes two key targets. The first involves the delivery of industry funded coverage improvements in Partial Not-Spot (PNS) areas (i.e. areas that receive coverage from at least one operator, but not all), which needs to be achieved by June 2024 – at this point 4G (mobile broadband) must cover 88% of the UK’s landmass. EE (BT) recently became the first operator to report having achieved the first target for PNS areas, although Ofcom has yet to confirm this.

The second target involves Total Not-Spot (TNS) areas by early 2027. Just to be clear, Ofcom’s licence obligations commit each individual operator to increase its 4G coverage to 88% of the UK’s landmass by June 2024 – rising to 90% by January 2027 – with these individual obligations supporting the overall target of 95% by December 2025.

However, during February 2024 the National Audit Office (NAO) confirmed (here) that Three UK, Vodafone and O2 were “each likely to miss their Ofcom licence obligation to provide 88% 4G coverage by June 2024” and had requested to “discuss an 18-month extension to the PNS element of the programme.” At present, this only impacts the PNS, not TNS target.

Government Rejects SRN Delays

The issue of a delay came up again yesterday during a formal oral evidence session of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on “supporting mobile connectivity” (here), which was attended by committee MPs, as well as Sarah Munby (Permanent Secretary at DSIT), Dean Creamer CBE (BDUK CEO) and Emran Mian CB OBE (Director General for Digital, Technology and Telecoms at DSIT).

The most interesting development from this session came from Dean Creamer, who in referencing the calls by O2, Vodafone and Three UK for a delay to the PNS target, said: “the [mobile operators] didn’t ask for 2 years [delay], they asked for 18 months. That wasn’t accepted, and we haven’t agreed that.” But the question of what they will agree to is more complex.

Creamer pointed out that it was ultimately Ofcom’s responsibility to take a view on whether the licence obligations have been met and what, if anything, they want to do about that. The regulator plans to run its progress assessment during the summer and will reach a conclusion a couple of months later, during the early autumn.

In theory, Ofcom could fine the operators up to 10% of their global turnover, if the roll-out is delayed. But in reality, the regulator is expected to be “reasonable” in their judgement. This is important because some of the delays come from external factors, such as rejected planning applications by local authorities, which are a politically tedious area.

Sarah Munby also made the crucial point that “it’s entirely possible of course for some of those 88% not to be met in June 2024, but to still be in good shape to hit the 95% target in December 2025″. Dean Creamer similarly noted that part of the reason for setting the ultimate SRN completion date in 2027 is to allow some contingency for the inevitable complexities and delays that often flow from mobile infrastructure projects (much as we’ve seen many times before).

Finding suitable sites, securing the necessary permissions through the planning system, obtaining power supply and fibre backhaul – particularly in remote rural areas, are all known bugbears.

Both O2 (VMO2) and Vodafone have issued statements today that reaffirm their “commitment” to the SRN, while Three UK has opted not to comment.

A spokesman for DSIT said:

“Mobile network operators are responsible for delivering the first part of the Shared Rural Network and legally bound to reach 88% geographic coverage by June 2024. The Shared Rural Network has already delivered substantial improvements to mobile coverage across the UK with 4G geographic coverage now at 93.2pc.”

As above, DSIT launched the SRN in March 2020, which has so far led – at least in part (commercial upgrades have played a role too) – to 4G mobile coverage increasing from 91.4% in 2020 to 92.7% in 2023 and the latest data puts it at 93.2% (Feb 2024), against the target of 95% by 2025.

At this point, it’s worth reminding readers that the SRN isn’t the only mobile coverage target to consider. The Government’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy (WIS) also set an ambition for “all populated areas to be covered by ‘standalone’ 5G (5G-plus) by 2030” (here). But the use of terms like “all populated areas” doesn’t really make for the clearest of targets, and we’d have preferred to see one based around geographic coverage.

“We’ve out innovated China”: US Commerce Secretary slams Huawei chip tech

News 

The US secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo has dismissed Huawei’s latest chip technology breakthrough powering its latest smartphone, the Mate 60 Pro, which was released in August last year

In an interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes”, Raimondo said smartphone is still not as advanced as American made chips, which shows that US sanctions against the company are working.  

Sanctions against Huawei first began in 2019 under President Trump, when US companies were banned from doing business with the Chinese giant without a licence. President Biden then upheld the sanctions, and tightened restrictions on the sale of semiconductors for 5G devices. 

“The export controls are working because that chip is not nearly as good, … it’s years behind what we have in the United States, she said. “We have the most sophisticated semiconductors in the world. China doesn’t. We’ve out-innovated China.” 

The smartphone is powered by a new Kirin 9000S chip manufactured by China’s top chipmaker, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), and developed by Huawei’s chip-design unit, HiSilicon. 

Although trade with China accounts for 750,000 US jobs, “we want to trade with China on the vast majority of goods and services,” Raimondo said. “But on those technologies that affect our national security, no.” 

Despite many chips being designed in the US, almost 90% are made in Taiwan. The extreme outsourcing of production exposed the fragility of the chip supply chain, and led to President Biden launching the CHIPS and Science Act in 2022. The US hopes investment from the CHIP act will result in a much-needed boost for US domestic chip manufacturing to decrease its reliance on other countries. 

Keep up to date with the latest international telecoms news by subscribing to the Total Telecom daily newsletter 

Also in the news:
South Korea to invest $7 billion in AI semiconductors
Swisscom expands 5G partnership with Ericsson
Daisy Group set to acquire 4Com for £215m

Full Fibre AltNet ISP Zzoomm Tops 25,000 UK Broadband Customers

Oxfordshire-based alternative broadband network and UK ISP Zzoomm, which has already extended their 2Gbps Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network to cover 190,000 premises (RFS) in England, has today revealed that their customer base has now grown to 25,000 (up from 23k on 5th March 2024).

The operator, which is being fuelled by an equity investment of £100m from Oaktree Capital (here) and a £100m debt facility via an international banking consortium (here), has typically focused their roll-out on smaller towns in parts Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Herefordshire, North Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Wiltshire, West Yorkshire and Cheshire. But their deployment has recently suffered from a slow-down and job cuts (here and here).

However, despite the noted challenges, Zzoomm has continued to focus on growing service take-up and have now passed the milestone of 25,000 customers.

Matthew Hare, CEO of Zzoomm, said:

“We’re delighted to welcome our 25,000th customer to Zzoomm! We are delivering a brilliant Full Fibre broadband service to happy customers. We welcome our latest family to our service and wish them many years of gigafast, faultless Zzoomming.

These now-happy Zzoommers have access to some of the fastest broadband speeds anywhere in the world! Zzoomm is all about delivering a fabulous Full Fibre broadband service to happy customers and we look forward to hitting our next major milestone as we continue to grow our share of the market.”

Customers who take their residential service typically pay from £29.95 per month for an unlimited 150Mbps (symmetric speed) package on a 12-month term with an included router, which goes up to £54.95 (normally £64.95) if you want their top 2Gbps tier. The ISP is also offering a £100 Amazon gift card to new customers.

Nexfibre Make Progress on FTTP Rollout for 22k Premises in Leicestershire

Network operator nexfibre, which shares some of the same parents as Virgin Media UK (VMO2), has announced that they’ve expanded their 10Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP / XGS-PON) broadband ISP network to cover 2,000 premises in Loughborough – forming part of their plan to reach 22,000 premises in Leicestershire during 2024.

The company has already covered 1 million premises across the UK with their new full fibre network, and they’re currently in the process of investing another £1bn during 2024, which should enable them to cover an additional 1 million UK premises (on top of their existing footprint). But we should point out that Virgin Media already covers most of Loughborough, which makes this build more of a complementary expansion (infill).

NOTE: Virgin Media is the only ISP on nexfibre’s network via an “exclusive partnership” (here), but they plan to add more ISPs via wholesale in the near future (here). Virgin Media’s own network will shortly also open up to wholesale via NetCo (here).

Just for some context. Telefónica, Liberty Global and InfraVia Capital Partners originally setup the new £4.5bn nexfibre joint venture in 2022 (here), which aims to deploy an open access fibre network to reach “up to” 7 million UK homes (starting with 5m by 2026) in areas NOT currently served by Virgin Media’s network of 16m+ premises. The funding reflects £3.3bn of fully underwritten financing and up to £1.4bn in equity commitments.

Fernando Molina, CTIO at nexfibre, said:

“Delivering our high-quality, future-proofed network to over 2000 premises across Loughborough – and the wider Leicestershire area – is part of our mission to provide lasting value to the people and places we serve. By boosting access to broadband, we are enabling local communities to access the tools they need to participate and thrive in a modern, digital society and stoking growth in the local economy. Myself and the whole nexfibre team look forward to working with local leaders as we deliver on our commitment to provide next generation broadband to thousands.”

Sadly, the announcement doesn’t state precisely how many premises in Loughborough itself are expected to benefit from this work by completion.

Broadband ISP Aquiss Accuse Vodafone UK of Incorrect Switching

In an unusual move, the boss of Shropshire-based broadband ISP Aquiss, Martin Pitt, has today publicly accused rival provider Vodafone of “handling a large percentage of migrations cases completely incorrectly” by treating them as “New Installs” rather than following the correct Ofcom process for consumer switching.

According to Aquiss, the issue seems to largely impact switches that occur across Openreach’s national broadband network (FTTC and FTTP lines). Consumer switches between Openreach based ISPs are required to follow Ofcom’s Gaining Provider Led (GPL) process, which is a largely automated process that starts when a customer contacts their chosen (new / gaining) ISP to begin the migration.

NOTE: The current GPL switching process typically takes at least 10 working days, starting from the date the gaining provider notifies the losing provider (i.e. this gives customers a chance to stop the switch, such as if it was started without their express consent).

Switches like this are usually a fairly smooth affair and should take place with only a minimal amount of downtime, particularly if the type of line being switched remains unchanged (i.e. FTTP to FTTP or FTTC to FTTC) as this should not require an engineer to visit. The customer is not required to contact their old provider for the switch to be put into effect.

However, Aquiss appears to be indicating that Vodafone are now treating a lot of normally smooth migrations incorrectly, which they say can “butcher the current connections” and “results in live assets remaining active with the losing provider, as no formal transfer has taken place.”

Martin Pitt, Managing Director of Aquiss, told ISPreview:

“We are repeatedly seeing Vodafone handling a large percentage of migrations cases completely incorrectly, especially across the Openreach network, treating them as New Installs, rather than following the correct migration transfer path as laid out within the GPL process. Their approach results in the unnecessary attendance of engineers to properties, who either fit a 2nd ONT or butcher the current connections, where a working service and ONT is already present. This results in live assets remaining active with the losing provider, as no formal transfer has taken place.

If you catch these early on in the process, normally via the customer making contact, Vodafone representation, will often claim this is how the process is done or the losing provider is on CityFibre (even
where no coverage exists), completely deflecting their responsibility to make sure orders are handled correctly and trigger, where required, a takeover of live services.

Customers are therefore left in a “they said this” and “they said that” approach, which is totally unacceptable, especially as this process should be seamless. We are seeing far too many examples where this is a normal process, rather than an exception”.

We have reached out to Vodafone for a comment and will report back once they respond.

Update on the State of Modem Mode for Virgin Media’s Hub 5x

The recent launch of Virgin Media UK’s new 2Gbps full fibre (FTTP / XGS-PON) home broadband package was a welcome development (here). But one notable caveat was that it shipped with a new variant of the Hub 5 router, the Hub 5x, which lacked a functional Modem Mode, although this is planned to be introduced.

Customers of Virgin Media have long learnt to expect a Modem Mode option, which switches-off some of the bundled router’s networking features (e.g. WiFi) and makes it easier for users to essentially connect a second router to handle their local network / WiFi connectivity. Advanced users often like to do this in order to get around some of the limitations of Virgin’s own kit.

NOTE: The Hub 5x is different from the Hub 5 in that it only supports their XGS-PON based full fibre connections (no more DOCSIS / coax) and replaces the 2.5Gbps LAN port with a 10Gbps one. This is currently only available to those in their Nexfibre areas.

However, for reasons unknown, and despite the Hub 5x being cosmetically almost identical to the prior Hub 5, customers who received the Hub 5x soon found that it lacked Modem Mode as an option (here). Several months have now passed since we first saw people using the Hub 5x and little has changed, although the odd user of the 5x did recently claim to have seen the option appear and then disappear from the device’s menus.

The official line from Virgin Media is that they “have nothing to say on this at this stage“, which is about as informative as we’ve come to expect from the operator. Some rumours from customers have previously indicated that it might launch this spring, but we’ve never been able to confirm those.

ISPreview’s own sources have indicated that the tentative plan is to introduce Modem Mode to the Hub 5X by the end of the year, which means those taking Virgin Media’s new XGS-PON powered packages (e.g. 2Gbps) may have a bit of a wait on their hands. Clearly something about this familiar feature is proving to me more tedious than usual to implement on the 5x.

Vodafone Launch Scam Signal to Tackle UK Impersonation Fraud

Telecoms giant Vodafone UK, specifically their business focused Carrier Services (wholesale) division, has launched a new service called Scam Signal that allows businesses to protect their customers from impersonation scams, such as Authorised Pushed Payment (APP) fraud.

APP fraud typically involves a criminal tricking someone into sending them money, often through impersonating representatives from banks, government departments, or even a family member. They can also deceive a victim into making advance payments for fraudulent investments, counterfeit goods and services, or even extort money through a seemingly genuine romance or friendship.

The new Scam Signal service, which is part of Vodafone’s suite of Application Programmable Interfaces (APIs), is designed to tackle this by enabling financial institutions to identify and thwart fraudulent bank transfers as they occur in real-time. The system leverages advanced analysis of real-time network data during live transactions to help it detect and mitigate social engineering attempts aimed at deceiving and defrauding account holders.

Statistics published by the UK government show that 1 in 15 people have fallen victim to fraudulent activity. In 2022, more than £485m was lost to APP fraud alone. As new UK legislation mandates that banks reimburse customers for fraudulent transaction losses, financial institutions are looking to adopt better protections to help tackle the problem.

Fanan Henriques, Director of Vodafone Business International and EU Cluster, said:

“Vodafone is using the intelligence in our networks to help financial institutions to protect consumers by tackling fraud at its source. Scam Signal provides both end users and banks with an additional layer of protection against scammers and peace of mind that their transactions are legitimate.”

Scam detection is said to have improved by 30% after only three months of a successful pilot of this service with a leading UK bank. At present the service is only being made available to businesses in the UK, but other markets are planned to follow.

The introduction builds on the launch of other APIs in several markets to improve online verification and security, including SIM Swap and Number Verify (see details). These APIs use common open standards defined by the global alliance CAMARA in conjunction with the GSMA industry body.