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April 23, 2015

Q&A: Talking Mobile Video Alliance & 5G with EE

CBR sat with EE’s Principal Analyst at Equinix’s launch of its latest data centre in Slough.

By Joao Lima

On the day Equinix opened LD6, its sixth data centre in the UK, CBR spoke to EE’s Principal Analyst Matt Stagg to discuss the cooperation between the colo firm and the mobile giant.

JL: Explain the cooperation between EE and the data centre?

MS: We use LD5, and what will be LD6 for our interconnects to all of our content partners. All of the main content delivery networks are directly with YouTube, Netflix, and other channels. We have a very close relationship in that sense, but also we co-founded EE and Equinix’s Mobile Video Alliance (MVA).

The MVA is a global consortium, bringing together the entire end-to-end mobile video industry in the UK, to share knowledge and drive forward mobile TV in the UK.

We have the largest LT network in the country and we had a year of building that out before the competition. We are effectively building a video distribution network.

One of the big things about 4G is, as well as the high capacity, its extremely low latency taking 40 milliseconds from the handset to London and back. Pretty much for us London is where the internet is.

When we take into account the spectrum costs, the costs of backhaul from the cell site back to the network, the core network, everything that is around that, including all the back office systems, we cannot afford to hand that traffic over to someone that does not value it as much as we do. That was one of the big things about choosing Equinix. We did a very extensive RFP and Equinix scored very high both at technical and commercial competences.

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JL: What else do you get apart from collocation space?

MS: It is actually the other networks that we get to. EE, as a set, has to get to all the content delivery networks. We need to get to the London Internet Exchange and to be able to get to direct peering and direct fiber connectivity with all of the major content providers including YouTube, Google and Netflix.

We directly connect with all of EE’s top 20 content providers and CDNs via this data centre.

JL: Before T-Mobile and Orange were merged to form EE, how did the telecoms manage their data?

MS: When Orange and T-Mobile where active we had four interconnect networks, or main data centres. EE needed to consolidate that and, as it only needed two. A lot of the business case around the merger was consolidation and synergies savings. Obviously, that came down to data centres as well.

I used to be responsible for IP design and development and we would always think about ‘do we move to Slough?’ and in those times there was nothing that would drive us for a business case to say ‘ok we are going to move everything from one data centre to Slough because it is not in Docklands’. When we had the opportunity, we looked at it and as I said, it was commercially viable.

It would have been easier for us to just pick two data centres out of the four that were already being used because of consolidation, but actually we were so impressed with the site and comfortable relationship and support that we would get that we said ‘ok, we’ll keep one in Docklands and then we will move everything into Slough’.

EE feels comfortable that they [Equinix] value our traffic as much as we do and for me that’s quite key. Equinix is technically competent, we never have any problems. They give us more than just a service, which is a good feeling. As a mobile network we are very precious.

JL: How do the interconnects work?

MS: The interconnects are so quick and close that for us in terms of looking into end to end it don’t exist. EE does not want to see Equinix there and that might sound strange as something that exists between us and Google. We want it to be transparent because we want to look like we are connected to Google and that is what it is, fast and responsive.

EE is one year ahead of competition to roll that out. We are moving at an unprecedented speed, the fastest global roll out. We need Equinix to be exactly the same; they needed to respond, and that was never known when we first took Equinix on. EE had no idea that the roll out would be done at this speed, they were on board completely.

JL: You mentioned the Mobile Video Alliance founded between you and Equinix. Could you expand more that?

MS: We are kind of seen in the industry as unusual bad fellows in terms of founding a MVA. However, with all the contacts that we have and then all the contacts Equinix has, a data centre is fundamental.

We have here 18,000 sites, spectrum and then the internet. For our customers is to get that video played from YouTube on to their handset. Equinix, as a data centre is the centre of that. In addition, they will peak and drive the interconnect space in the US with the fix network. Their thinking was far advanced of data centres.

I put the challenge out to the industry saying we need to work together now. Equinix then approached me – a few days after I gave my speech at TV connect. That was very forward thinking of a data centre company and they were right as well, they needed to be involved, they brought a lot to the party. We have a data centre embracing a change of technologies and not just providing space, power and cooling.

JL: How do you work with the London Internet Exchange?

MS: The London Internet Exchange is a non-profit organisation that has hundreds of members and it is a site where everybody can connect directly to each other. It is a network that runs through all data centres, including Equinix. We plug in there and then we can connect to any other companies that also plug in there, so as a mobile network we have three different forms of connectivity,

We have one where we use internet transit where EE would just give traffic. We use Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom and we give them the traffic and they have the connection to the internet.

Then there is what we call a public interconnect and that’s where EE uses the London Internet Exchange’s transport network to connect.

After, we move to our critical partners. EE goes directly to them. We just put a fibber across connect from here, and we plug Google in and that is pretty much it.

That is where we can have any of those options with Equinix and more, because things move fast in terms of technology. Applications we need to be able to say ‘right, we have to move from Internet Exchange to direct peering, we need it quick and we need it seamless and we need it resilient’, and we get that service with Equinix.

JL: EE has recently announced £1.5 billion to rural broadband and ‘wowed’ Wembley with a download speed of 400mbs per second. How will 4G become finally wide available and what are the plans for 5G?

MS: EE will just continue to lead in LT and we are rolling out LT advance across the UK. We have just made a demonstration in Wembley of pre-carrier aggregation, which takes a spectrum from all of our different spectrum portfolios and adds them together, achieving 400Mbs per second download speed in the Wembley case.

EE is investing £1.5 billion over the next three years to continue that growth of coverage and capacity, so that we can maintain the experience our customers have now as we move towards that demand both on video and general demand. EE will stay ahead.

At the same time, EE does not want to just lead in the UK. EE wants to be continually pushing the technology to ensure that it is one of the global leaders of innovation.

We are also working on 5G and we have a number of inputs into that. EE collaborates with the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey; we seat on the board and we have a number of people in the work streams acting as mentors.

5G is going to be a big discover age and like a colleague said ‘if we get 5G right we won’t need 6G’. And that combines IoT.

When EE started to look at the move towards IoT, and I mean, that is not 5G technology, I guess everything is going to interconnect with everything else. In order to do that we need places like Equinix data centres to ensure that we can support the growth of the IoT.

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