Tag Archives: mwcamericas

Self driving cars will be ready, but U.S. 5G networks won’t

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Manufacturers might have self-driving cars ready to roll in the next five to seven years, but how far they’ll roll will, in large part, be determined by 5G mobile network deployments. To support fully autonomous driving, where no human driver is needed and passengers can just kick back and ignore the road, fast broadband connections will be necessary.

Nobody knows yet how fast, but minimum service levels will depend on three speed metrics: download throughput, upload throughput and latency. All three will have to be better than what’s available via today’s 4G networks.

The chart above was published by GSMA, which is a trade group that represents mobile carriers around the world. It reckons that up and down throughput will have to be in the 10 Mbps range, with latency – the round trip time – in the 1 millisecond range, in order to support autonomous driving.

Continental is one of the automotive technology companies that has to actually invent and manufacture the equipment, and design the supporting platforms for self driving cars. It takes the GSMA estimate as a starting point, and stretches those specs: latency might not have to be so good – they’re considering a range of 10 milliseconds to 100 milliseconds – but speeds might have to be faster, maybe as fast as 100 Mbps.

Existing 4G networks can’t support those speed and latency requirements. The four major U.S. mobile carriers all have typical latencies well over 50 milliseconds. Their real world download speeds in California almost never hit the 10 Mbps mark, and upload speeds are significantly less than that, often by an order of magnitude.

Despite the hype from carriers and the Federal Communications Commission, there’s little indication that ubiquitous 5G networks in the U.S. will be there when the automotive industry’s technology is ready to go to market. You might be able to buy a self driving car by the middle of the next decade, but opportunities to take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel (or whatever controls it might have) will be limited.

5G reality still lags 5G hype in U.S.

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Lots of 5G talk, not so much 5G action at the Mobile World Congress Americas conference in Los Angeles this week. No phones, no 5G-specific services, no schedules for 5G mobile deployments, Verizon’s fixed wireless plans and AT&T’s equally limited real soon now announcements notwithstanding.

Although it has a hemispheric mission, this year’s show was nearly all about U.S. carriers, content and services. The question on the minds of equipment and technology vendors – mostly from asian and european companies – was what will U.S. carriers do?

“5G is not about doing the same things faster. It’s about doing entirely new things”, said Rajeev Suri, CEO of Nokia during a keynote talk. “Blazing speed is important, but it’s not the only thing”. What those new things will be in the U.S. is still largely a mystery. He was one of many speakers who urged U.S. companies and policy makers to make decisions and act fast to maintain leadership.

If anything, AT&T took a step backward. The keynote speech by David Christopher, who heads up AT&T’s consumer wireless business, focused on video. AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner’s content businesses has to move forward right now and its existing 4G network is well suited to video distribution, so Christopher’s 5G brush off makes sense – Wall Street is a lot more interested in today’s revenue than tomorrow’s capital spending plans.

Cameron Coursey, an AT&T product development vice president, pointed to the 2022 to 2025 time frame as a target for meaningful availability of 5G service. Meaningful in the sense that enough 5G infrastructure will be deployed to support new products and services that absolutely depend on it. An AT&T assistant VP, Suzanne Hellwig Navarro, also focused on 4G, saying that the carrier will continue to upgrade its 4G core, a process – and a positioning statement – that AT&T misleadingly calls “5G evolution”.

Self driving cars, and the increasing role of cars as a consumer electronics platform, are an entirely new thing. The automotive industry follows 5G deployment plans closely, and is timing its product development cycle to begin producing data-heavy cars in the 2022 to 2025 time frame, according to Kenichi Murata, a Toyota executive who also spoke at the conference. He was speaking on a global basis, though. There didn’t seem to be any assumption – certainly no expectation stated – that the U.S. would be ready then.

Mobile industry moves ahead, but mobile trade show backslides

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Ten years ago this week, I went to what was then the CTIA MobileCon show in San Francisco for the first time, and began this blog. My first post was about an app that turned a smart phone into a mobile hotspot – an unremarkable standard feature now, but back then it was controversial.

Carriers – particularly AT&T, which had an early lock on the iPhone market – were dead set against it. Networks were a mix of 2G and 3G technology, and capacity was severely constrained, compared to today’s 4G infrastructure. It was also a business model issue. Carriers wanted to capture as much of the revenue that came from content, services and apps that flowed through their networks. They were as motivated to fight tethering apps then, as they are to fight network neutrality now.

The show has changed, too. In 2008, CTIA ran two shows a year: the big spring equipment show, usually in Las Vegas, and a fall event, called MobileCon, that focused on apps, content and technology. As the industry changed, though, the center of gravity shifted to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and the two CTIA shows collapsed into a much diminished, single conference in the fall. The final CTIA show, in Las Vegas in 2016, was a shadow of its former self.

Then CTIA partnered with MWC, to create MWC Americas. Its maiden voyage in San Francisco last year seemed to be a hit. The exhibits and conference sessions reflected a hemispheric audience: there was much to learn about mobile telecoms in Latin America, and the U.S.-style smarmy keynotes and meaningless powerpoint presentations were largely replaced by execs with something interesting to say.

This year’s show in Los Angeles was a step backwards. The show’s focus was almost completely on U.S. carriers and regulators (and the universal message was get the lead out). None of the panels or keynotes I attended had a single speaker from Latin America. Policy discussions were Beltway echo chambers. Even the so-called “International Perspectives on Spectrum and 5G” panel consisted of an FCC bureaucrat and two corporate lobbyists from Washington, D.C.

Next year’s show will also take place in L.A., but it’ll happen in late October. The hope is that it’ll be better timed for a lively event. I hope so too.

FCC commissioner frames preemption of local streetlight ownership as digital divide issue

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Big cities are blocking 5G deployments in rural communities with high permit fees and expensive aesthetic requirements for new wireless facilities. That’s the argument FCC commissioner Brendan Carr made at the Mobile World Congress Americas show in Los Angeles yesterday. He’s the principal author of new, draft rules that would set federal benchmarks that, he hopes, cities and counties will follow when processing permit applications.

If mobile carriers have to spend more money than they want to when they build out 5G networks in high value, high priority cities, then there won’t be anything left over for rural areas, his reasoning goes…

Despite all of that progress, there still are many communities, especially in rural America, that feel that they may be left behind. They want to see their residents get a fair shot at the new wave of economic opportunity that will come with 5G.

But they worry that the billions of dollars of investment needed to deploy next-gen networks will be consumed by high fees and long delays in big, “must serve” cities…

When I think about success—when I think about winning the race to 5G—the finish line is not the moment we see next-gen deployments in New York or San Francisco. Success can only be achieved when all Americans, no matter where they live, have a fair shot at fast, affordable broadband.

The draft rules would, in effect, extend the free and open access that mobile carriers have to the public right of way to government-owned assets, such as streetlights or traffic signals. Cities wouldn’t necessarily have to follow the FCC’s rulebook, but Carr assumes it would guide decisions made by federal judges when disputes end up in court.

Two other FCC commissioners – Michael O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel – also spoke at the show. Both focused primarily on spectrum policy – how to make more frequencies available for mobile broadband service – and neither dwelled on wireless deployment issues.

But Rosenworcel did talk about the far future of wireless networks and what she apparently sees as the permanent trend of network densification – the need to build more and more cell sites to support ever faster and more reliable service. As the sole democrat on the Federal Communications Commission for the present, she might have taken the opportunity to put a little daylight between her and her colleagues on wireless deployment policy in general or local preemption in particular. She didn’t.

The FCC vote is scheduled for 26 September 2018.

5g, of a sort, coming to “parts of” two Californian cities in October

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Verizon grabbed what media spotlight was shining yesterday at the opening of the second Mobile World Congress Americas show in Los Angeles. Its announcement that it would be first to market with 5G fixed wireless service wasn’t a surprise – it’s been talking about it for months – but putting a price tag and a launch date on it makes it much more real. Whether it’s really a big deal or not is a matter of how you look at it.

Mobile customers can add the fixed Verizon service to their accounts for $50 a month, standalone subscriptions are $70 a month. Verizon says users “should expect typical network speeds around 300 Mbps” with no data caps (although a mobile carrier’s definition of a data cap and yours is probably different – as the Santa Clara County Fire Department found out). The new service will be available “in parts of” Los Angeles, Sacramento, Indianapolis and Houston, beginning next month.

A very limited, fixed service-only roll out of 5G service gains two things for Verizon: a day or two of media buzz, and a test platform for 5G service, of a sort. The fixed wireless gear they’ll be installing (a service call is required) isn’t fully compliant with the official 5G spec, and will have to be replaced when the real stuff is available sometime next year. But it’s a legitimate beta test with actual customers, and that could give Verizon an operational and marketing edge down the road.

The announcement also helps to let some of the hot air out of the 5G balloon. Earlier this year, Verizon hyped 1 Gbps throughput, which it still claims is the “peak” speed for its 5G fixed service. There’s no reason to doubt that 5G networks can support gigabit throughputs, but that’s a long way from consistently delivering it to customers. Dialling expectations back to 300 Mbps is a good move.

Apple will take augmented reality to the next level today

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Reality augmented by instant info.

Augmented reality – AR – will take a big step forward later today when Apple launches iOS version 11. It includes ARkit, which is Apple’s new platform for running augmented reality apps, instantly putting the technology onto more than 300 million devices, as soon as the iOS update is downloaded.

At least, that was the hot gossip yesterday at the Mobile World Congress Americas trade show in San Francisco. It’s always risky to take Apple rumors at face value, but AR companies at the show are taking this one seriously.

Up until now, AR hasn’t gained much traction in the consumer market, Pokemon Go notwithstanding. But it has a growing foothold in industrial and business-to-business markets.

With augmented reality, a smart phone screen or totally geeked up glasses can overlay digital information on the real world. The photo above shows AR glasses displaying port labels for a circuit board as soon as the wearer looks at it. That kind of automatic information speeds up work and reduces errors.

I wrote about Vuzix, a company that makes AR glasses, nearly five years ago. They had great expectations – as did Google with its Glass product – for consumer applications, which were not fulfilled. Since then, they’ve focused on industrial applications and found happiness in vertical markets. One customer they talk about it is Airbus, the European airliner manufacturer. When workers are assembling complex wiring harnesses, the digital overlay on the Vuzix M300 glasses sorts out wires by color and tells them which hole each one needs to go into.

The immediate effect of Apple’s presumed announcement will be to boost the commercial side of the AR business. The cost of adopting the technology will drop to near zero for anyone who already has an iPhone, and the bar won’t be that much higher for someone who just buys one off the shelf. Pure consumer applications will be slower out of the gate, but with an instant market of hundreds of millions of users, it won’t take long to catch up.