Tag Archives: ces2020

Early 5G adopters will pay a high price for phones

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Huawei 5g ces 9jan2020

5G phones won’t come cheap in 2020. Although the Consumer Technology Association expects manufacturers to ship 20 million 5G-enabled smartphones to U.S. carriers and retailers this year, that’s not enough volume to drive prices down into the typical Android phone range (although iPhone users might not feel as much sticker shock).

The first 5G smartphone to hit the U.S. market last year was priced around $1,300 – that’s what high tech toys cost when they’re really just toys. The 2020 price point will drop by more than half to the $600 range by next Fall, according to a story on C|net by Roger Cheng and Eli Blumenthal. That’s iPhone territory.

As they typically do, most manufacturers kept their cards face down on the table at CES in Las Vegas in January. Samsung and LG had 5G smartphones on display, but deferred questions about price points to mobile carriers – that’s their distribution channel for now.

Huawei, on the other hand, was upfront about pricing. Its flagship Mate 30 pro 5G smartphone can be bought right now for $1,200 on the web. When a company is on the U.S. enemies list, distribution options are fewer and direct sales to consumers starts looking pretty good.

2021 will be different. CTA projects 61 million 5G smartphones will be pushed out into U.S. retail channels, which is about a third of total volume (the rest are 4G units). Add in previous year’s total and that represents a 20% to 25% market share, which goes beyond the technophile and early adopter segments, and reaches into the price sensitive general consumer population.

China is a wild card in this game. Like the two big South Korean manufacturers, Chinese smartphone makers have the advantage of a better developed home market for 5G products, and it’s a bigger market and, ultimately, a bigger advantage – Qualcomm expects 200 million 5G smartphones to be shipped worldwide in 2020, which, if taken at face value with the CTA numbers, means 90% will be going somewhere other than the U.S. If the likes of Huawei and ZTE can overcome U.S. government opposition and break into mainstream U.S. distribution channels, prices will come down faster.

Don’t expect to be able to buy a cheap – say, sub-$200 – 5G smartphone this year. Unless the doors to Chinese manufacturers open up, you probably won’t see that in 2021 either.

4K is the video, and consequently broadband, standard in 2020

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Samsung booth ces 8jan2020

Fears that Internet routers and switches will melt under an onslaught of 8K-enabled cord cutters can be put aside for a few years, according to projections released by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). But the number of U.S. households with 4K screens will continue to grow rapidly, and that will be problematic enough for broadband service providers: 25 Mbps download speeds will be the minimum needed to serve the typical U.S. home.

8K is a big screen technology. According to Steve Koenig, CTA’s vice president of research, those sets are in the 70-inch and up range, which is more limited market – not everybody wants something that big in the living room (although the same could have been said about 40-inch to 50-inch screens a few years ago). He projects half a million 8K screen shipped into the U.S. market in 2020, which is a drop in the bucket, particularly considering that many, if not most, of those will be used for commercial and industrial applications.

On the other hand, CTA’s projections show 4K sets hitting a steady state shipment rate in the upper 20 million annual unit range for the next three years, climbing to 32 million by 2023. Using the same, back of the envelope calculations that I used a couple of years ago, that means that about half of U.S. homes have 4K screens now, and that share will climb to at least three quarters by the end of 2021. We’re to the point where 4K resolution is the market standard, and it’ll soon be almost as hard to buy anything less as it is to find a black and white TV set now.

4K video needs a steady 15 Mbps stream to function in real time, and to have a fighting chance of getting that bit rate consistently requires service specced at 25 Mbps download speeds or better. That’s the minimum set for rural homes by the federal agriculture department, and it’s the FCC’s de facto minimum as well.

California’s pitiful 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up standard has to change too.

Pai offers net neutrality rules custom made for AT&T’s, Comcast’s business models

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Pai shapiro 1 ces 7jan2020

Ajit Pai’s three-year delayed debut at CES as Federal Communications Commission chair last week was a friendly, and at times lighthearted, conversation with Gary Shapiro, the CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which produces the show. Pai used the opportunity to float what he seems to thinks are consensus network neutrality rules. What he’s really proposing is to cement major ISPs and mobile carriers’ monopoly model business plans into federal law.

Shapiro led off by asking Pai about the FCC’s decision to scrap network neutrality rules two years ago. Pai endorsed net neutrality legislation. But of a sort…

Let’s focus on the things that we can actually agree on, those core principles of an open internet that we all agree upon – no blocking, no throttling, no anticompetitive conduct, transparency – I’ve just described in five seconds a bill that should sail through congress, but this has become more of a political issue than a policy one.

He left a couple of items off the list, at least the list that net neutrality advocates keep: paid prioritisation and zero rating. Those are two related practices that big, monopoly model Internet service providers – AT&T and Comcast, for example – and mobile carriers dearly want to hold onto.

When an ISP zero rates particular content, it doesn’t count the bytes consumed against a user’s monthly data cap. Paid prioritisation happens when an ISP creates a fast lane for content it owns – say, AT&T sending you Road Runner cartoons that it owns faster than Disney movies that it doesn’t – or charges the owner a fee for the same treatment.

Both practices create a hierarchy of content, as a result of an ISP’s ability to manipulate data streams to suit its bottom line. There’s not a meaningful difference between deliberately speeding some content up, versus deliberately slowing – throttling – other content down. Limiting legislation to a carefully wordsmithed consensus allows telcos and cable companies to write U.S. telecoms policy, and lock in privileges for decades to come.

Don’t expect fiber or 5G in rural communities, FCC commissioners say

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

John deere booth ces 7jan2020

Fiber and mobile 5G are fine for cities and suburbs, but rural communities can look forward to satellites and fixed wireless broadband service, according to the Federal Communication Commission’s republican majority. Speaking at CES in Las Vegas this week, FCC chair Ajit Pai, republican commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr, and their democratic colleague Geoffrey Starks were upbeat about 5G, fiber and, as Carr put it, the “new wave of innovation and services”.

But that wave will only break on urban and suburban beaches, at least via conventional broadband service.

“To say we’re going to have fiber throughout the United States is both not realistic – it’s not technically doable”, said O’Rielly. “There are communities where satellite service is the exact answer”.

Pai said 5G infrastructure that connects a smartphone to fast broadband access – the standard 5G use case – will be built in cities and suburbs. Rural 5G deployments will support other services – fixed wireless broadband, for example – that might or might not be offered by mobile carriers on mobile spectrum. His rural broadband advisor, Preston Wise, who spoke on a rural 5G panel, said the rebooted version of the FCC’s primary broadband subsidy program – now called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund – will be used “to deploy fixed broadband in parts of rural America”, although he held out the possibility that some of the money would go toward fiber to the premise (FTTP) projects.

Rural FTTP doesn’t fit very well into the business plans of incumbent monopoly model telecoms companies. Rural electric cooperatives, on the other hand, are deploying fiber. Pai hopes to encourage rural utility co-ops to apply for FCC subsidies – he said he doesn’t care which broadband carriers get the money.

I hope that’s true. Although electric co-ops and wireless operators figured prominently in the last round of FCC broadband subsidy auctions, they were only allowed to bid on communities that AT&T, Frontier Communications and other legacy telcos didn’t want to serve.

Legacy telcos were given a right of first refusal and they exercised it. Satellite and fixed wireless fit their rural business plans perfectly. Letting them dictate rural broadband technology choices, as O’Rielly seems happy to do, will lock in a deep divide between rural and urban communities for many decades to come.

WiFi and 5G win spectrum that the satellite and car industries lose

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Pai shapiro 1 ces 7jan2020

Despite his enthusiasm for federalising any policy that touches on telecoms, big footing state and local governments isn’t at the top of Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai’s 5G wish list. Pai and three of his fellow commissioners spoke at CES in Las Vegas earlier this week. When asked about the main barriers to widespread deployment of 5G broadband service, Pai listed cost, spectrum and the availability of trained construction crews.

Although there’s not a lot that a telecoms regulator can do about workforce training or construction costs, spectrum availability is the FCC’s core responsibility.

Pai promised to “push” more frequencies, licensed and unlicensed, into the broadband market. But opening up new spectrum for broadband means taking it away from or sharing it with other users, which quickly devolves into a zero sum game in Washington, D.C.

The satellite industry stands to lose 280 MHz of spectrum in the 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz ranges – AKA the “C” band. The FCC plans to auction off those frequencies to mobile carriers for exclusive, licensed use, presumably later this year.

The FCC has a plan to repurpose 45 MHz in the 5.9 GHz range, transferring it from the automotive industry and opening it up for WiFi and similar unlicensed uses. Carmakers “had not lived up to the promise” of their 75 MHz of dedicated short range communications (DSRC) spectrum, said Geoffrey Starks, the lone democratic commissioner to speak at CES. The FCC’s plan would assign 20 MHz of the balance to cellular-type vehicular communications – C-V2X in the jargon – and maybe leave 10 MHz for whatever uses the automotive industry eventually develops for DSRC. Or maybe not – WiFi has a huge fan base.

Sharing is contentious in D.C. because it’s often federal agencies that are being asked to give up exclusive use of frequencies they’ve had to themselves for decades. “I’ve learned in Washington there are three things you don’t discuss three things in polite society, religion, politics and sharing of spectrum”, Pai said.

California’s consumer privacy law is a call to action for federal regulators

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Flashers

Federal Trade Commission chair Joseph Simons was on the undercard for Consumer Technology Association CEO Gary Shapiro’s “fireside chats” with federal policymakers at CES in Las Vegas on Tuesday. Warming up the audience ahead of Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai’s long awaited CES debut, he urged congress to give his agency the U.S. privacy cop job that California now holds by default. The FTC is already pursuing privacy enforcement actions under existing law “because the big tech platforms are becoming so consequential to our lives and so large”, Simon said.

Simon favors federal privacy legislation over the state by state approach. “Of course, now we’re dealing with California”, he said. There’s a place for state-level consumer privacy legislation, but “it depends on how the states evolve and how the federal law evolves”. So long as a state law tracks with federal requirements he seems to be okay with it, but if it doesn’t he wants congress to step in. In other words, states can tinker with the details so long as they stay in the federal privacy policy sandbox.

There is bipartisan agreement in Washington, D.C. that the sandbox should be built, but democrats and republicans disagree on a couple of key issues. Two FTC commissioners – democrat Rebecca Slaughter and republican Christine Wilson – took part in a separate panel discussion later in the day. They both favor federalising consumer privacy rules. Wilson said that California’s privacy law, along with the European Union’s privacy regulations, makes federal action urgent “because interoperability is needed”.

They disagreed about a couple of key details, which largely define the partisan gap on privacy legislation: whether congress should completely occupy the field and preempt states and whether private individuals – in reality, trial lawyers – should be able to sue companies that don’t follow the rules. Democrats, like Slaughter, tend to say yes to both; republicans, like Wilson, are on the no side.

FCC promises more of the “P-word” – preemption – in 2020

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Line to see pai ces 7jan2020

Due to the nature of the program, you’re going to have to go through metal detectors.
CTA staffer to long queue waiting to see Ajit Pai.

Ajit Pai made his first appearance at CES as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission yesterday, sitting down for a talk about the coming year with Gary Shapiro, the CEO of the show’s organiser, the Consumer Technology Association. Much of the conversation was about 5G infrastructure, and the public policy that surrounds it.

More preemptions of local and state authority over wireless sites, utility poles and the use of the public right of way are on the FCC’s agenda. Pai reiterated his belief that wireless policy should be made at the federal level, including policy that’s traditionally in the hands of states and local governments.

“We want to see a consistent, easy to understand set of regulations that anyone can innovate around”, Pai said. Mobile carriers and infrastructure companies want “a consistent level of regulation” as they build out 5G networks. Which means rules should be set by the FCC and not state legislatures or city councils. Pai intends to “encourage” state and local governments to approve permit applications small cell sites and other wireless facilities. “Multiple layers of government” are “not conducive to infrastructure investment”, he said.

His wingmen in the FCC republican majority echoed his comments. Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr, along with democratic commissioner Geoffrey Starks, took part in a panel discussion later in the afternoon at the Las Vegas show. O’Rielly put it bluntly…

It’s not just small cells. It’s going to mean more macro towers. That means dealing with difficult issues on placement when states and localities want to either extract too much money or try to dictate what services will be offered. That’s problematic and I’ve been talking about this for a long time. It does come with the P-word, which is – it requires preemption. And that is something the commission is going to have to continue to do.

Cities and counties should expect more “bold actions”, as Carr put it, from the FCC.

5G adoption begins a slow ramp up in the U.S. in 2020

by Steve Blum • , ,

Cta 5g projections 5jan2020

Source: CTA

Mobile 5G broadband service adoption starts to grow in the U.S. in 2020, but it won’t be a breakout year. A couple of near term 5G market predictions were offered at CES in Las Vegas over the past couple of days, by the show’s organiser, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and by Qualcomm, which is the mobile industry’s primary chipmaker. Taken together (and at face value), the picture that emerges is of a global 5G market that 1. will launch for real over the next 12 months and 2. won’t be U.S.-centric.

Qualcomm predicts that 200 million 5G smartphones will be produced worldwide in 2020, growing to 750 million units shipped in 2022. CTA’s projections of annual smartphone shipments pegs the U.S. 5G handset total for 2019 at 1.6 million units and predicts 20.2 million 5G smartphones shipped in 2020.

Those are estimates of the pipeline, not the installed user base. Yet.

Although historical seasonal consumer electronics sales patterns have weakened, particularly for telecoms-related products, manufacturing ramp up rates still operate on a upward curve. The biggest chunk of the annual output for a new product will come in the last three or four months of the year, and it takes time for products to move from the factory loading dock to a consumer’s hands. So CTA’s shipment projections for 2019 are an indication of what the U.S. 5G user base will be by, say, mid–2020.

In very round numbers, that means less than 1% of U.S. mobile broadband subscribers will have 5G-capable smartphones in their hands by mid–2020, and less than 10% by mid–2021. For the next three years, CTA predicts that smartphone makers will be pumping out more 4G smartphones in the U.S. than 5G ones. It won’t be until 2022 that 5G overtakes 4G unit shipments, so 5G consumer smartphone upgrades won’t outstrip 4G handset upgrades until 2023.

CTA’s timeline for 5G smartphone production tracks with U.S. mobile carriers’ likely 5G deployment rate. Although carriers continue to hype their 5G build outs – and those build outs will accelerate in 2020 – widespread availability in the U.S. is still three to five years away.

It’s a different story in Asia. Qualcomm talked a lot about Chinese manufacturers at its CES press conference. Asian carriers, particularly in South Korea, are aggressively deploying 5G infrastructure. That would seem to be where the bulk of next year’s 200 million 5G smartphone shipments will go.

Wearables graduate from accessories to hardware platform status as CES opens

by Steve Blum • , ,

Smart watch

CES is underway in Las Vegas. What used to be called the Consumer Electronics Show but now goes by the less modest appellation of “CES 2020, the world’s largest and most influential technology event” kicked off this weekend with pre-show and preview events. Today is press day and the show floor opens tomorrow.

From a product perspective, the consumer electronics technology industry is collapsing into a handful of all purpose products – smart phones, cars, and computers and big screens of one sort or another. That list will grow this year as wearables become full featured hardware platforms that can support complete ecosystems of apps, services and content.

The wearables market is about form factor, not specific device function. That’s true whether it’s smart watches, fitness trackers, sleep monitors or something else. Smart phones are networked, handheld computers that are a convenient parking spot for any app, sensor or content that you can imagine. It’s an accident of history that we call them phones. Similarly, what we’ll end up calling a smart watch will just be a wrist-mounted platform for whatever can conveniently ride on it. I’m seeing fewer and fewer Fitbits and other dedicated fitness wearables on people, and more and more Apple watches, which are often used for step counting and other fitness tracking purposes.

Batteries are the major limiting factor inhibiting the collapse of everything into a single smart watch. There are two problems: battery life and recharging. So far I haven’t found a smart watch that can operate with everything running, including GPS, for more than about eight hours straight. That’s inconvenient for people who just want to put it on in the morning and let it do its thing all day long. It’s a deal killer for people who need that level of functionality for long durations – cyclists, hikers, triathletes for example. Recharging requires users to take the watch off once or twice a day and leave it somewhere to charge. That can limit its usefulness as a sleep monitor, for example. It is also a lot more fussy than we’re used to being about our watches.

But there’s a potential solution to both problems. If someone can figure out a system for wirelessly recharging smart watches with ambient energy, it’ll be a game changer. At that point, it won’t be just fitness trackers that collapse into smart watches, but also many smart phone functions as well. Maybe a low level magnetic field on keyboards, steering wheels, handlebars or anything else that’s regularly near your wrist for more than a few minutes a day?