Edge Roundup: February 15 — February 21, 2021

Leigha Schjelderup

Leigha Schjelderup

New Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeg outlines electric and autonomous vehicle goals—MWC Barcelona is set to take place this June in spite of pandemic concerns—The US is finally fixing its inaccurate broadband availability mapsNew Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeg outlines electric and autonomous vehicle goals—MWC Barcelona is set to take place this June in spite of pandemic concerns—The US is finally fixing its inaccurate broadband availability maps

Almost exactly one year after MWC Barcelona was officially cancelled (the first of who-knows-how-many conferences to go under throughout 2020), event organizers have announced that they intend for the show to go on this summer. The plan is to run the 50,000 person event in June, contingent that attendees receive a negative COVID test 72 hours prior.

Kieran McCarthy of The Register pegs the endeavor as a show of either “hopeless optimism or a heavily telegraphed super-spreader event,” and I can’t help but agree. With much of the global community still under lockdown provisions, hosting a massive conference in a country so heavily hit by the pandemic is not a great look.

Last year’s event cancellation didn’t stop all participants (including Mutable, grantedly) from keeping their flights to the Catalonian coast to take part in the #unnofficialMWC2020. At that point, the pandemic hadn’t reached its apocalyptic status quite yet (hello, March). Like GSMA’s CEO John Hoffman, we too want to “move away from the effects of COVID-19 and return to something normal.” But that’s not something that can be simply willed into reality. 

“It sucks, but not as much as dying alone in a hospital bed. Or causing someone else to.” —Kieren McCarthy for The Register

We’ll keep tabs on any updates and keep you posted.

Lot’s of things are happening in the telecommunications world, MWC aside. Let’s dive into some of the other notable headlines of the week:

5G

Is it just me, or has it been a minute since any advancements in #Huaweigate? Well, the saga continues with the FCC’s recent advancement of the $1.9 billion initiative to remove Huawei and ZTE equipment from American telecom networks. The funding was allotted last December under the COVID relief bill (Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021) to aid smaller telcos’ efforts—defined as service providers with up to 2 million customers—to rip and replace the blacklisted gear. Now, the FCC has proposed moving this cap up to 10 million subscribers, while still prioritizing smaller operators who will have a harder time transitioning their networks. 

“The threats posed by Communist China do not end with Huawei or ZTE….[there are] multiple telecom providers operating in the U.S. today that are owned or controlled by the People’s Republic of China...any backsliding or softening of our approach to China will be a monumental mistake.” —FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr

Also in US government news, DARPA has signed an agreement with The Linux Foundation to establish a joint open source project targeting 5G, edge, AI, IoT, and other emerging technologies:

"DARPA's use of open source software in the Open Programmable Secure 5G (OPS-5G) program leverages transparency, portability and open access inherent in this distribution model. Transparency enables advanced software tools and systems to be applied to the code base, while portability and open access will result in decoupling hardware and software ecosystems, enabling innovations by more entities across more technology areas." —Jonathan Smith, Program Manager, DARPA Information Innovation Office 

In other words, the government is moving away from proprietary technology that stunts new players from entering the market and fosters reliance on foreign suppliers. DARPA will be hosting a virtual event, the Open Networking and Edge Executive Forum (ONEEF), from March 10-12 to discuss the vision of the initiative alongside leaders across the edge and networking ecosystem.

It’s also been a while since we’ve heard any updates from Dish Network’s 5G rollout, with its competitors AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile so often nabbing the spotlight. The fourth-largest US carrier has just confirmed deals with seven companies to access 4,000 macro towers across the country. With this, on top of the company’s recent agreement with Crown Castle for up to 20,000 macro sites, Dish is adamant that it’s on track to hit the minimum benchmark of 15,000 sites to meet FCC coverage requirements. Though the standalone network is projected to go live during the second half of this year, some analysts have doubts—stating that the cost of the endeavor would top $10 billion

Cable, Telco, & ISPs

“Fixing the damn maps” of broadband availability in the US has been a hotly contested issue between policymakers, the FCC, and internet rights advocates alike. To put it simply, current connectivity maps are abysmal—and as Vice’s Karl Brode points out in a recent feature, “you can’t fix a problem you don’t understand.” As broadband accessibility has cemented its status as essential to working, studying, and just generally functioning in a connectivity-dependent society, the FCC under acting Charwoman Rosenworcel has launched a new broadband data task force to lead a cross-agency effort to collect detailed data and develop more precise maps regarding broadband availability. Existing coverage maps, courtesy of the carriers themselves, are less than reliable—leaving lawmakers clueless about where federal funding needs to be spent. A lot of lip service has been paid to “bridging the digital divide,” so let’s hope this task force actually starts to move things forward.

https://www.vice.com/amp/en/article/epd7yj/america-is-finally-fixing-its-crappy-broadband-availability-maps

Meanwhile, House Republicans have taken upon themselves to introduce a new bill that would ban municipal broadband in areas where a private alternative exists—all in the name of “improving” internet access. As Matthew Hughes of The Register rightly points out, “the CONNECT Act ignores the fact that municipal broadband exists in many cities due to the failure of the private sector, which has largely passed over rural areas.” A handful of cities across the United States had to fight incumbents tooth and nail to implement alternatives to incumbent network operators—and now enjoy superior service because of it. Though it’s safe to say that the bill won’t pass federally, 22 states already have legislation that makes implementing municipal broadband nearly impossible, or even outright illegal. The private market has left an estimated 162.8 million Americans without access to broadband speeds. What are affected municipalities expected to do in light of that? Sit happily in the dark?  

Comcast has been under fire for its plans to reinstate data caps in the Northeast, and has since delayed its plans to enforce the 1.2TB cap and overage fees after a concerted effort by customers and lawmakers alike. The latter argued that network capacity is not an issue, and therefore not a valid excuse to charge customers more—especially as residents are forced to work and study from home due to the pandemic. 

"[W]e are delaying implementation of our new data plan in our Northeast markets until 2022. We recognize that our data plan was new for our customers in the Northeast, and while only a very small percentage of customers need additional data, we are providing them with more time to become familiar with the new plan." —Comcast announcement

Unfortunately for the other 27 states Comcast operates, data caps are here to stay! Without the competition posed by Verizon’s un-capped FiOS service In the Northeast, there’s little incentive to offer the same courtesy to subscribers without the option to turn to another provider.

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2021/02/comcast-responds-to-pressure-cancels-data-cap-in-northeast-us-until-2022/?amp=1

The above neglects news from our friends across the pond, so in the spirit of inclusivity here’s a quick rundown: 

Ericsson CEO Borje Ekholm expressed his concerns to the Financial Times that European operators lack motivation to build 5G infrastructure, which will ultimately stunt them behind the US and China in the development of digital industries.

https://www.gizchina.com/2021/02/17/europe-will-lag-behind-of-china-and-united-states-in-5g-field/amp/

If Western Europe is having trouble, then in Eastern Europe it’s double—given additional geopolitical concerns. Countries outside the EU, such as those in the Balkan region, are often caught in the web of big power politics. The US, for example, has heavily campaigned its “Clean Network” initiative and is bringing more and more countries into the pact excluding Chinese equipment vendors. Huawei and ZTE, however, already have deep roots in the region—especially in Serbia. 

https://www.zdnet.com/google-amp/article/when-planning-5g-rollouts-eastern-europes-countries-have-to-worry-about-more-than-just-technology/

And lastly, Nokia penned a 5G deal with A1 Austria, where it will supply 5G radio access and core network services—including 5G RAN. 

Gaming & VR

The future of gaming is unquestionably in the cloud—but existing services are often not something to call home about. In a feature for CNET, Dan Ackerman outlines why cloud gaming, despite impressive technology breakthroughs, has yet to reach Netflix-level when it comes to ease of use:

Dare we suggest that edge computing come to the rescue?

It seems like Apple can’t get out of the boxing ring. Valve is the latest opponent being targeted by the tech giant’s legal team. Leading off of last summer’s Fornite-Apple Store confrontation with Epic Games, Apple is demanding that Valve hand over its Steam sales data in order to determine the size of the market of Epic’s “available distribution channels.” 

Valve’s isn’t complying on the grounds that such a demand poses an inordinate burden, and that the company should seek the pricing information from game developers directly rather than use them as a shortcut. 

VR systems no longer need make some users queasy. A new application seeks to leverage the tech as a therapeutic tool for people with disabilities or anxiety. Traditional meditation, which has numerous proven benefits, can be difficult for people who have trouble concentrating. But through apps like Guided Meditation VR, users can pop on their headsets for a more immersive experience:

“It’s Sunday evening, and I’m sitting with my legs crossed on the bottom of the sea. My fingers poke a nearby turquoise anemone, and it reflexively tucks into itself. A crab off to my left scuttles into a cave. My breath catches in my throat as a smack of vibrant pink jellyfish come into view. It’s gorgeous. I could stay here forever.” —Kilito Chan for Wired

Honestly, sign me up.

You’ve heard of VR, you’ve heard of AR, but have you thought to combine the two? French startup Lynx is designing a mixed reality headset that’s capable of both—and it’s pretty cool. Check it out: 

While the lenses look like a transparent display, it’s actually video passthrough AR—meaning that cameras are feeding the outside view into the headset’s display while the virtual objects are rendered onto the scene. While traditional transparent AR headsets aren’t able to make virtual objects purely opaque due to their inability to block all incoming light, Lynx’ system is able to achieve a more realistic display. 

Drones & Autonomous vehicles

A couple cool updates in the drone industry graced our newsfeeds last week, including a new delivery drone that can navigate without GPS from Israel startup Sightec (a “worldwide first” feat), a cargo drone helicopter out of Swiss company ANAVIA that can carry a 65 Kg payload over 4 hours, and a nifty drone package delivery solution that can deliver food and beverages to golfers, courtesy of AgEagle and Valqari.  

https://www.gizmochina.com/2021/02/17/israeli-firm-showcases-a-delivery-drone-that-can-navigate-without-gps/

Drone delivery is also making advancements in central New York, where the Syracuse-headquartered Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR) is running a critical test site in Rome (NY, not Italy—I had to double check). Though the technology is there, there’s a lot of key questions that need to be answered before UAVs can confidently hit the skies:

“If you got multiple drones, who has the priority, who has the right of way, you know is it law enforcement? Is it manned aircraft? Is somebody caring potentially an organ or some sort of pharmaceutical along those ways.” —Ken Stewart, CEO, NUAIR

Quickly after being sworn in as Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg outlined ambitious goals for electric and automated freight vehicles. Particularly, aligning with Biden’s target of installing half a million electric charging stations across the country by 2030. Industry figures have expressed their optimism about the initiative:

"The commitment of the administration towards electric vehicles, I think, will be a big boost not only to electric vehicles but to advancing autonomous vehicles. I think Secretary Buttigieg, being somewhat of a younger generation ... I think he's the right person at the department to advance these ideas and this technology.” —Eric Tanenblatt, Global Chair of Public Policy and Regulation, Dentons

Tanenblatt also asserts how the precursor to autonomy is electrification, where the lofty goals of the Biden administration will hopefully play a large part in moving forward.

Waymo continues to pilot its robo-taxi fleet in San Francisco, recently opening a rider testing program with employee volunteers to gather improvement feedback. The company released a statement relaying that it will be a while before a public service is deployed, but as one of the only companies with a permit to operate autonomous vehicles in California—its service will likely be one of the first of its kind to hit the roads. 

The permit dealer in question, the California DMV, released its yearly data on AV testing on February 9th. Though it demonstrated across the board improvements from the major autonomous driving companies, their mechanism for determining “improvement” isn’t without flaw, given that it only considers data from a limited number of companies. Check out this report from the EE Times for a more comprehensive overview:

https://www.eetimes.com/california-dmv-data-shows-autonomous-vehicles-improving/

 Having gained a lot from our participation in T-Mobile’s 5G Open Innovation Lab initiative, we were happy to hear that the telco has teamed up with Georgia Tech and the Curiosity Lab team to spearhead a new incubator program, 5G Connected Future.

https://www.t-mobile.com/news/network/t-mobile-georgia-tech-and-curiosity-lab

Our friends at Krisp, a noise-suppression startup that was one of the breakout stars of the pandemic tech scene for its “work from home” solution, was also recently featured in TechCrunch after banking a $9 million series A expansion. We love to hear (or rather, not hear) it!

https://techcrunch.com/2021/02/16/krisp-nearly-triples-fundraise-with-9m-expansion-after-blockbuster-2020/

I’ll leave it at that for now. See you next week for the last roundup of February!