Solar based ISP startup Tizeti launches 4G LTE network in Nigeria

Nigerian internet service provider Tizeti has launched its first 4G LTE network.

The Y-Combinator backed startup — that uses solar powered towers to deliver net connectivity — has built its premier 4G capable tower in the city of Port Harcourt, where Tizeti will offer its first 4G and ISP services.

The company operates primarily in Lagos, Nigeria’s unofficial business capital, and expanded this year to Ghana. Port Harcourt is the fifth largest city in Nigeria located in River State, another commercial hotspot for the country.

Tizeti plans to take its model to additional West African countries in 2020, according to CEO and co-founder Kendall Ananyi.

“We leverage inexpensive wireless capacity and plummeting cost of solar panels to create a low capex and opex network of owned and operated towers,” Ananyi told TechCrunch.

“We’re able to offer customers unlimited internet at 30 to 50% the cost of traditional mobile data plans,” he said.

The price for a Tizeti unlimited plan is 9,500 Nigerian Naira per month, or around $26. The startup has 1.1 million unique users and packages internet services drawing on partnerships with West African broadband provider MainOne and Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi. 

On the addressable market for Tizeti after its latest move, “Not everyone’s gonna sign up but we know we have 20 million in Lagos and 1.8 million in Port Harcourt; so even if we get 10%, that it’s a huge number for us,” Ananyi said.

A lot of businesses and tech startups bank on Nigeria’s numbers, since it has both Africa’s largest economy and population, at 200 million.

Tizeti raised a $3 million Series A round in 2018 and has built a suite of internet driven products to capture market share. In addition to ISP services, it launched a Skype-like personal and business enterprise communications service — WiFCall.ng— in April 2019.

Tizeti WiFi CallTizeti could shift the connectivity equation in Africa’s key tech hubs, such as Nigeria, where high levels of startup formation and VC investment are still hindered by weak internet stats.

Though Africa (primarily Sub-Saharan Africa) still stands last in most global rankings for internet penetration (35 percent), the continent continues to register among the fastest connectivity growth in the world.

Sub-Saharan Africa countries with the highest number of internet users include Nigeria (123 million), Kenya (46 million) and South Africa (32 million).

UK’s first 5G network taster goes live in six cities tomorrow

The UK’s first 5G consumer mobile network is launching tomorrow in six cities.

Mobile network operator EE will switch on the next-gen cellular connectivity in select locations in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester — promising “increased speeds, reliability and connectivity”. Though of course consumers will also need to have a 5G handset and 5G price plan, as well as being in the right location, to see any of the touted benefits.

EE says it expects customers to experience an increase in speeds of around 100-150Mbps when using the 5G network — “even in the busiest areas” where network coverage extends.

“Some customers will break the one gigabit-per-second milestone on their 5G smartphones,” it adds.

Ten other UK cities are set to get a taste of EE’s 5G later by the end of this year, also in select, busier parts — namely Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol — with more cities planned to come on stream in 2020.

While rival mobile operator Vodafone has said it will began its own rollout of a 5G network in July.

Among the advantages for 5G that EE is pushing on its website to try to persuade users to upgrade are better connections in busy places (such as festivals or stadiums); faster download speeds to support movie downloads and higher quality video streaming; and a gamer-friendly lack of lag — which it bills as “almost instant Internet connection”.

Whether those additions will convince masses of mobile users to shell out for an EE 5G device plan — which start at £53 per month — remains to be seen.

Earlier this month the network operator, which is owned by BT, launched its first 5G Sim-only handset plans, and began ranging 5G handsets — from the likes of Samsung, LG, OnePlus and Oppo.

Though not from Huawei. Last week it told the BBC it would pause on offering any 5G smartphones made by Chinese device maker Huawei — saying it wanted to “make sure we can carry out the right level of testing and quality assurance” for its customers.

Huawei remains subject to a US executive order intended to dissuade US companies from doing business with it on national security grounds. And Google has been reported to have taken a decision to withdrawn some Android-related services from Huawei — raising question-marks about the future quality of its smartphones. (The Chinese company’s involvement in building out core UK 5G networks is also subject to restriction, with the government reportedly intending to impose limits.)

EE says the 5G network it’s launching tomorrow is an additional layer on top of its existing 4G network — dubbing it “phase 1”. So this switch on is really a toe in the water. Or, well, a marketing opportunity to claim a 5G first.

It describes it as a “non-standalone” deployment, saying it’s combining 4G and 5G to “give customers the fastest, most reliable mobile broadband experience they’ve ever had” — saying it’s planning to upgrade more than 100 cell sites to 5G per month, as it builds out 5G coverage.

It will also expand its 4G coverage into rural areas and add more capacity to 4G sites — as 4G will remain the fall-back option for years to come (if not indefinitely).

Phase 2 of EE’s 5G rollout, from 2022, will introduce the “full next generation 5G core network, enhanced device chipset capabilities, and increased availability of 5G-ready spectrum”.

“Higher bandwidth and lower latency, coupled with expansive and growing 5G coverage, will enable a more responsive network, enabling truly immersive mobile augmented reality, real-time health monitoring, and mobile cloud gaming,” EE adds.

A third phase of the 5G rollout, from 2023, is slated to bring Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications, Network Slicing and multi-gigabit-per-second speeds.

“This phase of 5G will enable critical applications like real-time traffic management of fleets of autonomous vehicles, massive sensor networks with millions of devices measuring air quality across the entire country, and the ‘tactile internet’, where a sense of touch can be added to remote real-time interactions,” EE suggests.

As we’ve said before, there’s little call for consumers to rush to upgrade to a 5G handset, with network coverage the exception not the rule, even as building out the touted benefits of so-called ‘intelligent connectivity’ will be a work of years.

Huawei: “The US security accusation of our 5G has no evidence. Nothing.”

Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping kicked off a keynote speech this morning at the world’s biggest mobile industry tradeshow with a wry joke. “There has never been more interest in Huawei,” he told delegates at Mobile World Congress. “We must be doing something right!”

The Chinese company is seeking to dispel suspicion around the security of its 5G network equipment which has been accelerated by U.S. president Trump who has been urging U.S. allies not to buy kit or services from Huawei.

Last week Trump also tweet-shamed U.S. companies — saying they needed to step up their efforts to rollout 5G networks or “get left behind”.

In an MWC keynote speech yesterday the European Commission’s digital commissioner Mariya Gabriel also signalled the executive is prepared to step in and regulate to ensure a “common approach” on the issue of network security — to avoid the risk of EU member states taking individual actions that could delay 5G rollouts across Europe.

Huawei appeared to welcome the prospect today.

“Government and the mobile operators should work together to agree what this assurance testing and certification rating for Europe will be,” said Guo, suggesting that’s Huawei’s hope for any Commission action on 5G security.

“Let experts decide whether networks are safe or not,” he added, implying Trump is the opposite of an expert. “Huawei has a strong track record in security for three decades. Serving three billion people around the world. The U.S. security accusation of our 5G has no evidence. Nothing.”

Geopolitical tensions about network security have translated into the biggest headache for Huawei which has positioned itself as a key vendor for 5G kit right as carriers are preparing to upgrade their existing cellular networks to the next-gen flavor.

Guo claimed today that Huawei is “the first company who can deploy 5G networks at scale”, giving a pitch for what he described as “powerful, simple and intelligent” next-gen network kit while clearly enjoying the opportunity of being able to agree with U.S. president Trump in public — that “the U.S. needs powerful, faster and smarter 5G”.

But any competitive lead in next-gen network tech also puts the company in prime position for political blowback linked to espionage concerns related to the Chinese state’s access to data held or accessed by commercial companies.

Huawei’s strategy to counter this threat has been to come out fighting for its commercial business — and it had plenty more of that spirit on show this morning. As well as a bunch of in-jokes. Most notably a reference to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden which drew a knowing ripple of laughter from the audience.

“We understand innovation is nothing without security,” said Guo, segwaying from making a sales pitch for Huawei’s 5G network solutions straight into the giant geopolitical security question looming over the conference.

“Prism, prism on the wall who is the most trustworthy of them all?” he said. “It’s a very important question. And if you don’t ask them that you can go ask Edward Snowden.”

You can’t use “a crystal ball to manage cybersecurity”, Guo went on, dubbing it “a challenge we all share” and arguing that every player in the mobile industry has responsibility to defuse the network security issue — from kit vendors to carriers and standards bodies, as well as regulators.

“With 5G we have made a lot of progress over 4G and we can proudly say that 5G is safer than 4G. As a vendor we don’t operate carriers network, and we don’t all carry data. Our responsibility — what we promise — is that we don’t do anything bad,” he said. “We don’t do bad things.”

“Let me says this as clear as possible,” he went on, putting up another slide that literally underlined the point. “Huawei has not and will never plant backdoors. And we will never allow anyone to do so in our equipment.

“We take this responsibility very seriously.”

Guo’s pitch on network trust and security was to argue that where 5G networks are concerned security is a collective industry responsibility — which in turn means every player in the chain plays a monitoring role that allows for networks to be collectively trusted.

“Carriers are responsible for secure operations of their own networks. 5G networks are private networks. The boundary between different networks are clear. Carriers can prevent outside attacks with firewalls and security gateways. For internal threats carriers can manage, monitor and audit all vendors and partners to make sure their network elements are secure,” he said, going on to urge the industry to work together on standards which he described as “our shared responsibility”.

“To build safer networks we need to standardize cybersecurity requirements and these standards must be verifiable for all vendors and all carriers,” he said, adding that Huawei “fully supports” the work of industry standards and certification bodies the GSMA and 3GPP who he also claimed have “strong capabilities to verify 5G’s security”.

Huawei’s strategy to defuse geopolitical risk by appealing to the industry as a whole to get behind tackling the network trust issue is a smart one given the uncertainty generated by Trump’s attacks is hardly being welcomed by players in the mobile business.

Huawei’s headache might lead to the mobile industry as a whole catching a cold — and no one at MWC wants that.

Later in the keynote Guo also pointed to the awkward “irony” of the U.S Cloud Act — given the legislation allows US entities to “access data across borders”.

U.S. overreach on accessing the personal data of foreign citizens continues to cause major legal headaches in Europe as a result of the clash between its national security interest and EU citizens fundamental privacy rights. So his point there won’t have been lost on an MWC audience packed with European delegates attending the annual tradeshow in Barcelona.

“So for best technology and greater security choose Huawei. Please choose Huawei,” Guo finished, ending his keynote with a line that could very well make it as a new marketing slogan writ large on one of the myriad tech-packed booths here at Fira Gran Via.

Verizon and T-Mobile call out AT&T over fake 5G labels

AT&T recently started a shady marketing tactic that labeled its 4G network as a 5G network. Now, rivals Verizon and T-Mobile are not having any of it.

In an open letter, in which AT&T is not named directly, Verizon says in part “the potential to over-hype and under-deliver on the 5G promise is a temptation that the wireless industry must resist.” TechCrunch agrees. The advantages of 5G networks are profound. The next generation of wireless networks will bring more than just increased speeds, and AT&T’s current campaign of calling a 4G network a 5G network clouds the water.

T-Mobile is more direct in its criticism of AT&T. Because that’s how T-Mobile rolls. Watch.

This isn’t the first time AT&T has employed this mislabeling campaign. The wireless carrier did something similar prior to launching its LTE network; it was shady then and it’s shady now.

Disclosure: TechCrunch is a Verizon Media company.

AT&T is lying to customers with 5G marketing

After a recent update some AT&T phones now have a 5G E icon. This icon replaces the one indicated the phone is running on a 4G network. But here’s the thing: The phone is still on a 4G network. AT&T has played these games before, too.

This nonsense is a marketing ploy by AT&T. The so-called 5G E (5G Evolution) network is just a beefed-up 4G network and not true 5G, which is still far from being ready for general consumption. AT&T used the same deceptive tactics before launching its LTE network.

Right now only select phones in a few markets will see the change. The wireless carrier intends to roll out this madness to even more phones and even more markets throughout the year.

Disclosure: TechCrunch is a Verizon Media company.