Tag Archives: CES2019

Eight essential characteristics of 5G networks defined by Verizon CEO

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Vestberg keynote ces 8jan2019

Hans Vestberg, Verizon’s CEO, did a rockstar, black t-shirt keynote at CES in Las Vegas yesterday. Vestberg took over the top spot at Verizon last year. As he often did in his former job as head of Ericsson, Vestberg offered a clear and credible explanation of what 5G networks and technology – particularly, Verizon’s – will deliver.

According to Vestberg, the five “currencies”, or defining characteristics, of 5G are…

  • Peak data rate of 10 gigabits per second. This is what the technology can deliver, the question will be whether the infrastructure and resources are deployed to support it in any given location.
  • Mobile “data volume”, aka network capacity, of 10 terabits per second per square kilometer. Again, depends on whether a given network is fully built out and provisioned.
  • Mobility. Users can connect while travelling at 500 kilometers per hour. That’s roughly 300 miles per hour and good enough for high speed trains. Not quite airliner speeds, though.
  • One million connected devices per square kilometer. That’s versus a similarly theoretical maximum of 100,000 connected devices per square kilometer for 4G networks.
  • End to end latency of 5 milliseconds. That’s at least ten times faster than what 4G networks deliver. The plain meaning of the words implies a roundtrip (end to end to end) latency of 10 milliseconds, which was also a spec Vestberg mentioned on stage.
  • Reliability of 99.999%. It’s the traditional and often attained “five nines” goal of copper phone networks.
  • Service deployment of 90 minutes. To logically configure a bespoke network, that is. One of the touted benefits of 5G technology is “network slicing”, the ability to easily create subnetworks for specialised uses such as, say, for first responders or internal organisational networks.
  • Energy efficiency of 10% of current consumption. It’s not clear if Vestberg means that individual 5G small sites will use 10% of the energy that a 4G macro site uses, which is credible, or if he’s talking about the entire network, which would be difficult to take on faith.

Verizon will only be able to hit these benchmarks, assuming it can, where 5G infrastructure is fully deployed. That means deploying a lot of small cell sites and stringing a lot of fiber to connect them.

Huawei to Intel: so long, and thanks for all the fish

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Huawei press photo 7jan2019

The two big Chinese players – Huawei and ZTE – have a low profile in Las Vegas. The troubles that the two companies have had this past year took a toll. ZTE was shutdown for a time by the U.S. government and a very senior Huawei executive was jailed in Canada, pending extradition to the U.S. Both companies have been accused of being too cosy with the Chinese government. Neither company held their usual media extravaganzas at CES this year.

Huawei hasn’t gone into stealth mode, though. At a separate event in Shenzen, China, Huawei unveiled a ARM-based chip that’ll power a new line of servers that target the high performance data center – aka big data – market. ARM is a chip architecture that is the alternative to Intel’s venerable x86 central processing units that trace their lineage back to the dawn of the personal computer. But it’s steadily losing market share to ARM-based chips, which are the core technology inside smartphones and tablets. Qualcomm, Apple and many other companies make chips based on ARM architecture, and it has made steady inroads into the server market.

It’s not good news for Intel. According to Huawei’s press release

Huawei has long partnered with Intel to make great achievements. Together we have contributed to the development of the ICT industry. Huawei and Intel will continue our long-term strategic partnerships and continue to innovate together,“ said William Xu, Director of the Board and Chief Strategy Marketing Officer of Huawei.

”At the same time, the ARM industry is seeing a new development opportunity…We will work with global partners in the spirit of openness, collaboration, and shared success to drive the development of the ARM ecosystem and expand the computing space, and embrace a diversified computing era."

Translation: so long, and thanks for all the fish.

Intel doesn’t seem to be worried about Vogon Constructors arriving anytime soon. It offered the usual hot, new chip press release at its CES press conference yesterday.

5G is about video and gaming, says Qualcomm exec at LG press event

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Lg rollable tv 7jan2019

The big benefits of 5G technology and networks will be old benefits, just more of them. 5G will be sold to consumers as a way to watch high bandwidth video and play fast twitch games. Judging from LG’s opening press conference at CES in Las Vegas this morning, 5G service is all about 8K video streaming, instant 4K video downloads and low latency multiplayer gaming.

This limited focus might be industry-wide. The 5G announcements were made by a Qualcomm executive, Jim Tran, vice president of product management. Qualcomm makes core processor chips that power smartphones, 5G and otherwise. LG executives had little to say about mobile products or technology. No handsets were on display (but they did have pretty pictures) and there was no one around who could answer questions after the press event.

But whatever they eventually do, Qualcomm, and presumably LG, want to get 5G-capable products into the market quickly. “If you’re going to bring a device in 2020, you’re definitely going to be late for 5G”, Tran said. That’s a dig at Apple, which makes its own chips and plans to sit out the 2019 5G scrum.

Tran spoke the traditional words about 5G – it’ll boost cars, health care, manufacturing and smart cities to a new level – but offered no details about what those wonders will be. Qualcomm and LG are chasing 5G buzz, but doing it in a very traditional and conservative way: don’t try to sell consumers something new; sell them something they’re already using, just more of it with better quality.

The takeaway is that for the immediate future, the 5G experience will be pretty much like the 4G experience, with a bit more zip. AT&T must be hoping so – it’s slapping a 5G label on 4G service and hoping no one will notice.

Mobile non-announcements aside, the star of the show was a rollable flat screen television. The screen rises vertically out of a rectangular base, kind of like kleenex popping out of a box. It’s very cool technology – they’ve finally found a purpose for flexible video screens.

LG showcased its artificial intelligence technology again. AI is embedded in a wide range of LG products, including TVs, refrigerators and washing machines. No doubt thinking about last year’s CLOi fiasco, they kept the live demos to a minimum, though – the presentation was mostly video based, and what wasn’t appeared to be faked.

Five consumer technology challenges will decide who owns the future

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Vegas cocktail

The innovation capital of Earth is Las Vegas for the coming week, as hundreds of thousands of technology makers and breakers, and buyers and sellers converge on the event formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show. Most of what’s on display is as boringly mainstream as clock radios and console televisions were at the first CES in 1967.

But there will be a handful of technologies and prototypes amidst the chaos that will offer clues to what our world will be in 2067, and that’s what I’ll be looking for…

  • New smartphone form factors – It’s an accident of history that networked, pocket-sized super computers are called phones. Advances in materials science and chipmaking will enable a breakout from the rigid rectangle that’s restrained the design of these truly personal computers since the introduction of the iPhone. Flexible screens are only the first step.

  • Handsfree interfaces – As the shape of mobile technology changes, so will the way data goes back and forth between people and machines. Voice recognition is good, but a faster, more discreet input method – just think? – is necessary. So is an alternative to transferring visual information via a flat, handheld screen. Forget about the demise of Moore’s law and fears of artificial intelligence. The human body is technology’s most intractable constraint.

  • Ingestibles and Implantables – The inner world of the human body is next level in general interface development and, specifically, personal health monitoring and maintenance. Getting there requires more discipline and regulatory aptitude than we’re used to seeing in the tech world, but the first glimmer of bio-adapted products are starting to appear. Real time, full body monitoring and analysis will be wonderfully disruptive to the medical industry. The big prize is faster and truer links between the biological and digital realms.

  • Personal transportation – From electric scooters to self driving cars to Elon Musk’s tunnels and hyperloops, a once-in-a-century transportation revolution is slowly coming to a boil. Part technology, part business model and part policy, this revolution will make snapshots of jammed streets and highways as quaint as horse and buggy daguerreotypes. Most of the pieces are already on the table. We’re just waiting for someone to put the puzzle together.

  • Power – The ultimate energy storage and charging solutions have yet to appear. A couple of wireless charging gizmos have been touted in the run up to CES, but so far there hasn’t been any movement toward an industry standard. Once we have the wireless equivalent of USB charging and power cells with the energy density of a tank of gas, for both low and high voltage devices, the market for wearables and Internet of things/home automation products will explode, and the adoption rate of electric vehicles, of all kinds, will hit escape velocity.

There are two more items on the list and always present at CES: the unknown and the unexpected. The challenge is to know it when you see it. Wish me luck.

Merry Christmas! Because that’s what today is

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Christmas vacation

Thank you, Gentle Reader, for the best Christmas present a writer can wish for: an audience. If you’re reading this on Christmas morning, you are doubly valued and thrice blessed. And you might even be interested in a blog post about the blog. If you aren’t, please forgive me and be assured my usual rants insights typing will resume tomorrow. If I were reading this, I’d just click here and listen to Jimmy Buffet and Linda Ronstadt instead.

The top three posts for 2018 were about 4K television, with the number one slot going to an analysis of 4K bandwidth requirements. With video already the biggest source of Internet traffic, upgrades to 4K and 8K formats, and beyond, will determine network capacity requirements for years to come. Big thanks goes to Danielle Cassagnol at the Consumer Technology Association for the stats.

The top ten included two posts about Tim Draper’s second attempt to break up California, this time into three states. The news that it was blocked by Californian judges finished far down the rankings, though. Frontier’s California travails also hit the list twice. The top ten was rounded out by posts about vertical integration, fiber maps and wildfire prevention.

It’s tricky to estimate how many people read this blog. I think my audience is something like 5,000 unique readers a month, including social media distribution, but it’s hard to know for sure. It’s stayed more or less even over the past year. If I include my occasional articles for Santa Cruz Tech Beat, which are usually republished here, the average goes up by untold thousands. Special thanks goes to SCTB editor Sara Isenberg for her patronage.

I’ve been posting every day, seven days a week for more than six years. At one point, my plan was to cut back to something like five days a week, but I couldn’t let go. For 2019, I really mean it. After CES, anyway. I made a deal with myself, and please hold me to it: write fewer but better posts. I’ll occasionally post on weekends when something is happening, and I might skip a holiday, when something is not. During the work week, I’ll maintain the schedule. Other changes are in the works, too.

Again, thank you for reading!

Wireless charging is less fussy, but still a work in progress

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

One of my goals for CES was to see if wireless charging technology is ready for mainstream consumer adoption. The answer is yes if you’re making contact with a charging pad, but only maybe if you’re not.

Charging pads, of one kind or another, were easy to find at CES. Near field charging – putting a gizmo in direct contact with a wireless charging device – appears to be a maturing technology. Although the Qi standard is gaining – Samsung, LG and Apple support it in some of their models – compatibility is still an issue. There’s no universal solution yet for wirelessly charging your smartphone or wearable device, in the same way that pretty much anything with a wire can plug into a USB outlet. That’s more of an issue for public spaces, though. Consumers can buy what they need to do what they want.

Wireless charging at a distance, though, is more challenging. I saw two companies that claimed to have technology that would allow contactless charging. The most aggressive claim came from Powercast, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based company that says its FCC-approved technology can deliver upwards of 100 milliwatts – enough for many wearables, if not for a smartphone – at distances of 1 to 3 feet. Very low power, Internet-of-things devices can be charged up to 80 feet away, according to company staff.

I’m cautious about accepting wireless charging performance claims at face value, mainly because of the second company, Energous. Two years ago, it exhibited a prototype that company executives said would work at distances up to 15 feet. And maybe it would, although I didn’t see them actually do it. It ended up on the scrap heap because the company couldn’t get technical approval from the FCC. It used the same 5 GHz band as WiFi devices, and blasting out multiple watts of radio frequency energy into that spectrum would be sure to interfere with data transmissions.

Energous has backed off from those claims, though. The company recently received FCC approval for technology that also has a 3-foot range. It hasn’t been rolled into a product yet, so there was no demo or prototype on display at CES, but company staff at the show expect that manufacturers will adopt the technology and integrate it into products by the end of the year.

We’ll see.

4K TV will be in half of U.S. homes by end of 2019

by Steve Blum • , , ,

The consumer adoption rate of 4K television sets blew past last year’s expectations, climbing to 25% of U.S. households by January 2018, according to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). My rough estimate that ultra-high definition 4K sets would be in 20% of U.S. homes by the end of 2017 was low. The adoption rate grew even faster, amidst falling prices, increased content availability and 4K’s status as the default standard for large screen TVs (50 inches and larger).

CTA isn’t releasing a household penetration projection for 2018, but its U.S. Consumer Technology Sales and Forecasts (January 2018) report predicts that 22 million 4K sets will be sold in the U.S. this year and 25 million in 2019 (versus 17 million in 2017). That would imply that the 4K adoption rate will continue to accelerate in 2018 and 2019.

There are 120 million homes with televisions in the U.S. A 25% adoption rate translates to 30 million with at least one 4K set. If all 22 million of projected unit sales ended up in homes without a 4K set, then the adoption rate would climb to 43% by the end of this year. But some of those sets will end up in homes that already have one – as replacements or second (third, fourth…) sets – and in commercial establishments.

Let’s do the same kind of back-of-the-envelope estimating as last year (which turned out to be conservative). Make a wild guess and say a fifth of sets sold will end up in existing 4K homes and another fifth will go to bars, offices and other businesses. That leaves three-fifths to add to the 4K universe, which would result in a 36% adoption rate at year end 2018, and 49% by the end of 2019.

In other words, the number of U.S. homes with 4K viewing capability – and commensurate bandwidth demand – will all but double in two years.

Self driving cars will need wireless broadband, but not for heavy duty computing

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

There will be a flood of bits swirling through self driving cars, and virtually all of that data will be processed by onboard computers, even where 5G networks are deployed.

“Autonomous vehicles are software defined”, said Deepu Talla, vice president of autonomous machines at Nvidia, a high end chip maker, speaking at CES. That software will run on onboard computers, and won’t be processed served from the cloud via mobile broadband networks, he said. There are four reasons for that:

  1. Latency. If you’re in a moving car, the round trip for data takes too long.
  2. Bandwidth. Cars will continually generate huge amounts of data, particularly from the many high definition video cameras they’ll use to monitor where they’re going and what’s around them.
  3. Connectivity. It’s not always there, particularly in rural areas, but even in cities there are momentary holes and bottlenecks in network coverage. Not big enough, perhaps, for a human to perceive but enough to delay machine to machine communication for critical milliseconds.
  4. Privacy. Although it’s not as big of a concern for cars as for, say, medical devices, it’s still a limiting factor.

5G won’t solve the problem, Talla said. Latency may decrease but it will still be there and 5G’s greater bandwidth will be eaten up by greater demand. “the amount of data will increase too”, he said.

Continental, a German automotive technology company, plans to scale up in-car local area networks to 10 Gbps to handle that load. Most of it will be video streams from high resolution cameras – 8 megapixels – that have to processed and analysed in real time. Each car will have at least four cameras, and possibly more. Plus radar and lidar, and video streams transmitted directly from cars up ahead.

Mobile broadband will still play a role. Live connections to the cloud are yet another source of data, particularly for error detection, debugging and instant repair. Connectivity will be required for cars to reach Level 5, the top level of autonomous operation, according to Continental staff who briefed industry analysts during CES. At that level, the car does everything, everywhere, without the need for human monitors. That’s the point where you can take a nap in the back seat while driving to work.

Santa Cruz techies get to CES the hard, fun way

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Four thousand companies brought their products to CES last month, but only one was brought by its product. A five person team from Santa Cruz – Jane Campbell, Elai Dankner, Nicola Hopwood, Cade Vlacos and Christian Shaw – rode 300 miles from Palm Springs to Las Vegas on a Onewheel+ XR, the new, extended range version of Future Motion’s single wheel, electric powered board.

“It was the most epic journey I’ve ever done”, said Campbell. “You feel so free. The first thing you want to do is call your mom”. And she and her teammates did, calling friends and family from the road as they glided through the Mojave desert.

It took them four days to make the trek, arriving in Las Vegas yesterday in a rain storm. Campbell kept on rolling, right into Future Motion’s booth at the Showstoppers media showcase last night, where she went to work demonstrating the XR with energy and enthusiasm to spare.

The team did the trip as a relay, swapping off riders and boards every 10 to 15 miles. They rode during the day, and pitched tents in the desert at night. It was a remarkably smooth run with no physical or mechanical problems, except for the diesel support van, which temporarily broke down after gasoline was mistakenly pumped into it.

There was a point – besides the sheer joy of it – to what Mudd calls “the longest recorded Onewheel ride”. It was a proof of performance for the XR, which has a range of 12 to 18 miles, more than double the range of the original Onewheel+. That makes it a plausible alternative to a car, said company spokesman Jack Mudd, who also took a turn riding with the team.

Future Motion is headquartered on the west side of Santa Cruz. It was founded in 2013 and initially funded via $630,000 Kickstarter campaign.

You can see the video of the trip here:

Governors agree scrapping net neutrality was wrong, but differ on role of states

by Steve Blum • , , ,

The end of network neutrality and broadband’s status as a common carrier service doesn’t sit well with a pair of western governors. Speaking during the National Governors Association summit held alongside CES in Las Vegas last week, Nevada governor Brian Sandoval and Montana governor Steve Bullock both thought it was a bad decision by the Federal Communications Commission, but had different views on whether net neutrality is something that can be addressed at the state level.

“I’m concerned about the decision. I don’t support the decision but the exclusive regulation of that issue is within the FCC”, said Sandoval, republican. "The danger, in my mind, is having 50 different sets of rules and regulations associated with that, particularly with something as ubiquitous as the Internet.

“It took us all a little by surprise, that we would repeal something that seemed to be working pretty darn well”, said Bullock, a democrat. “If congress doesn’t act, we’ll see if there’s something states can do”.

Sandoval chairs the association and brought it to Las Vegas for the first time. Proximity didn’t seem to be a selling point for California governor Jerry Brown, who skipped the conference. The hot topic was technology and transportation. “We had 26 states with us this week, and the focus was on transportation, particularly autonomous vehicles”, Sandoval said. He sees self driving car policy as a responsibility that states share with the federal government, and coordination is necessary.

Bullock agreed. “We need to help provide an environment and a regulatory framework that supports innovation”, he said. “I don’t think it’s government’s role to prop up businesses that can’t compete, but where we can facilitate the opportunities for technologies…most governor work in concert with private companies”.

Energy innovation and infrastructure was also high on their list.

“None of these developments can happen without equal advancements in energy”, Sandoval said. “While states are driving innovation, the burden of modernising and maintaining the nation’s transportation and energy network is a shared obligation. State, federal and local governments must partner to invest in quality infrastructure and meet our nation’s needs”.

It’s a pressing problem, Bullock said. “One of the most antiquated technologies in the western United States is the electric grid”.