Edge Roundup: April 5 — April 11, 2021

Leigha Schjelderup

Leigha Schjelderup

VR enthusiast DIYs haptic gloves—US Supreme Court makes landmark copyright ruling in Google v. Oracle case—Starlink, Telesat, and the emerging LEO satellite industryVR enthusiast DIYs haptic gloves—US Supreme Court makes landmark copyright ruling in Google v. Oracle case—Starlink, Telesat, and the emerging LEO satellite industry

In a 6-2 ruling, the US Supreme Court overturned a previous federal circuit decision deeming that Google’s use of elements of Oracle API constituted copyright infringement. The case concerned Google’s use of Oracle Java API (which the company bought from Sun Microsystems) in its development of the Android platform. The tech community overwhelmingly rallied around Google’s defense, with Microsoft even swooping in with an Amicus Curiae brief asserting their support. Ultimately, SCOTUS determined that: 

“To the extent that Google used parts of the Sun Java API to create a new platform that could be readily used by programmers, its use was consistent with that creative ‘progress’ that is the basic constitutional objective of copyright itself.” —Justice Stephen Breyer

This decision is pivotal, as it protects APIs under the fair use doctrine—meaning that developers have the liberty to leverage existing tools to enable code interoperability. Should the ruling had gone the other way, the precedent would have been apocalyptic for the whole industry; ultimately stifling innovation. Take it from Microsoft’s brief:

“[Ruling in Oracle’s favor] grants functional code the same level of copyright protection as creative expression in a novel. That has profoundly negative consequences for the computer industry, which depends on a robust fair use doctrine to ensure that software from different vendors will work well together and that developers can create collaborative innovations in software and hardware.” —Microsoft Amicus Curiae brief

The most helpful analogy I’ve come across that the outcome means moving forward, buildings can continue to be built without needing to reinvent the hammer.

It’s not necessarily a step forward, but at least it’s not two steps back? In any case, not an awful way to kick off the rest of the week. 

5G

Verizon is out to boost its 5G network coverage through adding signal repeaters, which aid in transmitting the super-fast but easily obstructable mmWave frequencies. While the difficulty in incorporating repeaters into existing wireless networks has traditionally deterred providers from using them, the demands of using higher spectrum bands has kickstarted their implementation. Less obtrusive and more energy efficient compared to small cells, dense urban areas will benefit from the extended coverage. 

AT&T, Ericsson, and Nokia have joined forces to launch a 5G Innovation Studio based out of Plano, Texas. Like T-Mobile’s 5G Open Innovation Lab initiative, the studio is aimed at cultivating new use cases for 5G and accelerating bringing them to market. Considering the massive investment telcos have poured into building out 5G infrastructure, projects like this are a reflection of the attempt to bridge the gap between the promise of next-gen applications and their actual profitability. 

T-Mobile has amped up its effort towards getting 5G into the hands of more consumers—quite literally. The company recently announced “The Great Free 5G Phone Upgrade,” a program which allows any subscriber—old and new—trade in any old phone in working condition (yes, including flip phones!) for a 5G-compatible Samsung Galaxy. They’ve also touted free unlimited data upgrades, as well as an initiative bringing T-Mobile Home Internet—aka fixed wireless broadband—to rural communities.

FWA, Fiber, & Satellite 

Evident from T-Mobile’s recent announcement, telcos are putting more effort into marketing their fixed wireless access offerings. In a discussion with analysts at Cowen, Verizon CTO Kyle Malady spoke about the company’s LTE Home Internet Service, which aims to cover 15 million homes by the end of the year. That’s just the initial target: 

“We see the opportunity, as we’re fully rolled out, of having the largest addressable market in residential broadband in the U.S...so we talk about 50 million homes by 2025 with fixed wireless access." —Ronan Dunne, EVP, Verizon

Meanwhile, Lumen CEO Jeff Storey is singing the praises of its Quantum Fiber offering—”superior” to wireless in that it reliably provides symmetrical upstream/downstream high speed connectivity. While this is integral for enterprise consumers, Verizon’s Malady argued that the everyday consumer doesn’t need anywhere near 1 Gbps speeds in order to enjoy quality service. Cowen analysts rightfully countered that the point is not articulated effectively to consumers. 

Speed aside, Lumen is claiming a more modern customer experience in comparison to the often headache-inducing interactions people come to expect when dealing with legacy operators.

“A customer’s bill looks as simple as your monthly Apple subscription notice. We have eliminated over 50% of human interactions with our new digital platform.” —Maxine Moreau, President of Mass Markets,  Lumen Technologies

Starlink continues to position itself as the ISP of choice for underserved areas. Though it’s beta is still only available to limited communities, preferably those north of Seattle, the satellite service is blowing competitors out of the water when it comes to speed. One user in rural Montana reporting 190 Mbps, and another in Saskatchewan reporting a nearly 50X upgrade compared to incumbent provider Xplornet:

But as easy as it is to sing Starlink’s praises, there are still some pretty major caveats to the offering. In addition to potentially overcrowding Space to the point where a satellite collision was only narrowly averted last week, cost could be a deterrent. Starlink terminals take a hefty $1,500 to produce (which SpaceX halved from $3000), and are available to consumers at the heavily subsidized price of $499. On top of that, the $99 per month subscription cost may exclude lower income households from accessing the service. 

A report from MoffetNathanson analysts goes as far to claim that Starlink’s total addressable market is limited, from 300,000 to 800,000 households, and that it has a limited capacity to deliver competitive speeds. But this isn’t arguably that shocking, as Musk himself is adamant that the solution was never directed at urban markets. If anything, heavy backlash by industry peers may be a testament to the disruptive potential of Starlink more than anything else. 

That said, it isn’t the only player in the satellite space. Canadian company Telesat is working towards launching a low-earth-orbit satellite constellation of its own. Founded in 1969, the entrant is hardly a “newcomer” to the satellite communications industry, which also includes Amazon’s Project Kuiper in addition to SpaceX. But in comparison, the future service’s price tag is expected to be a lot cheaper than its competitors, though focused on enterprise clients as opposed to consumers. 

“You have two heavyweight players, SpaceX and Amazon, that are already pledging to spend $10 billion on satellite constellations optimized for the consumer market. If Telesat can spend half that amount creating a high-performance system for businesses, then yeah, they stand to be very competitive.” —Caleb Henry, Senior Analyst, Quilty Analytics

The LEO is projected to reach full global service in 2024, so notably behind SpaceX and Amazon. That said:

“When we decided to go down this path, the two richest people in the universe weren’t focused on their own LEO constellations.” —Dan Goldberg, CEO, Telesat

Anyways, here’s a video of a monkey purportedly playing Pong with its mind, courtesy of Musk’s Neuralink.

Gaming & VR

In case you haven’t heard by now, cloud gaming is “the next big thing”—and operators are quickly catching on. Austria’s A1 Telekom, for instance, recently partnered with French cloud gaming company Blacknut to offer subscribers access to 500 titles available on any device, at home and on the go. 

“Our new partnership with A1 in Austria shows again how cloud gaming is near the top of the agenda for mobile operators. Latest cloud technology finally gives us the speeds and low latency to fulfil the promise of cloud gaming, delivering a quality experience wherever you are. The team of A1 really grasped the potential for gaming as a new service opportunity, and we look forward to working together to make this launch a success.” —Olivier Avaro, CEO, Blacknut

Blacknut’s deal with A1 adds to its growing list of partners, which includes Telecom Italia, Swisscom, POST, and PartnerTV among others.

https://www.mobileeurope.co.uk/press-wire/15659-a1-telekom-austria-to-launch-blacknut-cloud-gaming

Low latency is integral to quality gaming experiences—and a new offering from Nvidia promises to help achieve it. Most often—especially within the context of edge computing—we speak of latency as the time it takes for data to transmit from a device to a server and back, which is largely contingent on the distance it travels. Nvidia’s solution (dubbed Reflex) is different in that it targets delay caused on the computer hardware itself. So far, 15 games are supported by Reflex to date, and are accessible to anyone with a Nvidia graphics card on their PC. 

While for some of us finishing a 1000-piece puzzle or perfecting sourdough starters was as far as “quarantine projects” went, one hardware hacker “Lucas VR” endeavored to prototype DIY VR haptic gloves...and succeeded. For just a handful of office supplies and a fair amount of tinkering, anyone can have fully functional VR gloves to elevate gaming experiences for mainstream titles like Half Life: Alyx. Lucas has documented his projects through TikTok, where he’s amassed over 300K followers, and also makes free resources on Youtube to help guide others through the process.

"This started as a fun project for me to work on by myself, and now it’s become a mission to help make VR haptic gloves affordable for the average consumer." —Lucas VRTech

With professional prototypes costing thousands of dollars, individual VR enthusiasts are doing a lot to help make the tech more accessible to consumers.

Microsoft’s no stranger to innovative data center designs, and the newest rendition is apparently cooling servers by tossing them in a tub. While that sounds like a safety hazard to say the least, the company uses a non-conductive liquid that regulates servers’ heat when submerged. The initiative is part of Microsoft’s pledge to help mitigate water scarcity, given the strain that data center resource consumption can put on the environment. The idea was borrowed from cryptominers, who were the first to leverage immersion cooling for heat management.

I’ll leave it at that for now, until next week!