Edge Roundup: July 12 — July 25, 2021

Leigha Schjelderup

Leigha Schjelderup

Tesla launches full self-driving subscription package—California passes bill to build an open fiber network—Amazon boosts Project Kuiper with Facebook’s satellite teamTesla launches full self-driving subscription package—California passes bill to build an open fiber network—Amazon boosts Project Kuiper with Facebook’s satellite team

Annnd we’re back with a special, jet lag-fueled double header of an Edge Roundup! Your’s truly has undergone a bit of a relocation, which has thrown a bit of a wrench into our typical operation. But the show must go on! So without further ado, let’s get into what the past two weeks of tech news have had in store.

5G 

After covering the nth headline on the matter, it’s finally official: the FCC has finalized the program responsible for ripping and replacing Huawei and ZTE telecom equipment from US network infrastructure. 

“The FCC initiative only creates extraordinary challenges for carriers in the most rural/remote areas of the U.S. to maintain the same high level and quality of service they provide to their customers without disruption…[the FCC is] using policy in an effort to make a geopolitical statement.”—Glenn Schloss, VP, Huawei USA

Weighing in at $1.9 billion, the fund will aid telecom firms with 10 million or fewer subscribers (up from two million stipulated in an earlier iteration of the policy) transition to vendors not deemed a national security threat—such as Ericsson. 

The Swedish supplier just inked a behemoth deal with Verizon, which will hand over $8.3 billion to help the telco bolster its 5G wireless network. While Ericsson might be sweeping up additional partnerships in lieu of Huawei’s absence, the company has maintained its stance in support of Huawei—especially in its home Scandinavian country. WIth a large presence in the Chinese market, Ericsson is wary that its 5G contracts may become collateral damage amidst the geopolitical power struggle.  

“Where we are now is actually a state of uncertainty. There is a risk here that we will see an ongoing lower volume in China. Our job then is to compensate with other geographies.” — Carl Mellander, CFO, Ericsson

Competing provider AT&T has signed a $5 billion deal of its own with Dish, the latest incomer to the US telco troop. Over the next 10 years, AT&T will support Dish’s MVNOs Boost Mobile, Ting, and Republic Wireless with voice, data, and messenger services. 

Weighing in with over 186 million mobile subscribers, AT&T has superseded analysts’ estimates for additional customers—adding nearly 800,000 more this past quarter. This jump is thought to be due to more Americans switching over to 5G-capable phones. The carrier also made the news for its decision to axe usage caps, following T-Mobile’s lead. Unfortunately for Verizon, they’re officially now the only leading wireless provider restricting subscriber’s access to high-speed data. T-Mo, nonetheless, quipped back with some significant sass at their competitor’s announcement:

"It only took them four months to follow our lead with a Magenta Max knock-off.  Too bad AT&T customers will still have to use AT&T's network. It's like we said, a strong T-Mobile is GREAT for customers. Now, when will Verizon, Comcast, Charter decide to step up?"—Jon Freier, VP Consumer Markets, T-Mobile

When they’re not battling it out with each other, telcos are busy swerving into cable’s lane with fixed wireless access offerings. Verizon has bumped up its own FWA service to cover 42 cities across the US, where it used to sit at 24. They’ve come out swinging, too—offering up to a $1,500 credit to offset early termination fees for customers looking to make the jump from their incumbent ISP.

“5G Business Internet customers get more than just a new kind of superfast Internet connectivity for today – they also get a 5G digital-transformation platform for tomorrow. Professional installation from Verizon means easy setup and quick application deployments from the start, and, as 5G technology evolves, customers will also have a scalable framework for leveraging technologies like edge computing and IoT.”—Sampath Sowmyanarayan, CRO, Verizon Business

Fiber & Satellite 

California just secured a big win for proponents of open-access fiber, passing legislation that will roll out a statewide network accessible to small ISPs in rural and underserved areas. The bill allots $3.25 billion to build out the middle mile network. While not as speedy as fiber to the home, the additional lines will enable major service upgrades. Unsurprisingly, larger ISPs lobbied fiercely against the initiative. 

Also a boon to rural internet subscribers is the proliferation of satellite initiatives, such as SpaceX’s Starlink. Competitors such as Amazon are keen to catch up, to the point where the tech giant decided to acquire Facebook’s satellite team (they had one?) to boost its own Project Kuiper:

“Amazon has acquired a team of more than a dozen wireless Internet experts from Facebook in an effort to boost its multibillion-dollar effort to launch thousands of satellites...the workers are in the Los Angeles area and included physicists as well as optical, prototyping, mechanical, and software engineers who had previously worked on aeronautical systems and wireless networks.”—The Information

But Amazon’s got some catching up to do. While it’s looking to launch its constellation of LEO satellites in 2023 or beyond, SpaceX’s beta service is already being used by over 10,000 users. 

Intelsat, in comparison, is a satellite industry veteran also shaken up by SpaceX’s astronomical rise. The company, however, just signed a $150 million deal with Alaskan service provider GCI to boost rural telco services across the state. 

"Some people have expressed concern that Alaska is running out of GEO satellite capacity — well, that's no longer an issue. This deal will nearly quadruple our available capacity. GCI intends to remain the leader in connectivity in rural Alaska. The Intelsat partnership is part of a much broader rural connectivity strategy that includes our AU-Aleutians Fiber Project.”—Ron Duncan, CEO, GCI

Gaming & VR

It’s not everyday a new gaming device comes out! Especially when most of the news we cover proselytize the movement away from consoles. Valve has entered into the portable gaming ring with “Steam Deck”—a device that looks, functions, and costs the same as Nintendo’s Switch (minus the detachable controllers). In an interview with IGN, Valve developer Pierre-Loup Griffais went into detail about Deck’s specs—asserting that “it can pretty much run anything you can run on a PC.” Check out the hardware deep dive: 

Google’s Stadia has introduced a new revenue-sharing model that incentivizes developers to get on the platform—splitting 70% of all monthly revenue on its pro subscription between the partners based on how much time players have spent on their games. 

"Stadia Pro continues to be a focus for us to reward and incentivize partners who build great experiences for players, which we're confident will translate into more exciting reveals and content in the future."—Alan Joyce, Product Manager, Stadia

Facebook’s cloud gaming offering is now playable on iOS systems through a new web app that looks and functions like a native app on users’ home screens. The ease of finding and leveraging the pseudo-app is tenuous, however, given Apple’s track record of steering people away from any sort of purchasing mechanism independent of its own. 

But Progressive Web Apps are the lowest rung of new initiatives spearheaded by the company. A profile by The Verge’s Casey Newton outlines Mark Zuckerberg’s aspirations for a Facebook outside of just social apps and related hardware dubbed the “metaverse.” What does this entail? According to an essay by venture capitalist Matthew Ball, a metaverse “has to span the physical and virtual worlds; contain a fully fledged economy; and offer ‘unprecedented interoperability’ — users have to be able to take their avatars and goods from one place in the metaverse to another, no matter who runs that particular part of it.” Zuckerberg calls this an “embodied internet.” 

Listen to the full interview, here.

How will the metaverse be regulated, Facebook?How will the metaverse be regulated, Facebook?

Drones, Autonomous vehicles, & AI

Upping the ante on delivery logistics, unsurprisingly, is Amazon—recently patenting a van/drone combo delivery mechanism. While combining traditional vehicles with their airborne counterparts is hardly a novel strategy, Amazon did come up with a cool strategy: offloading the “intelligence” from the drones to the vehicles themselves, which would then send flight instructions wirelessly. We’ll see whether it ever comes to fruition. 

While before drivers needed to drop ten grand for the full self-driving package, Tesla owners can now access it  for $199 a month. Though far off from full autonomy, perks of the upgrade include autopilot navigation, auto lane change, auto parking, summoning, self-driving computer, and traffic light and stop sign control—albeit with “active driver supervision.”

What is fully autonomous, however, is Microsoft’s new beach-cleaning robot. Well, at least the AI behind it is—the machine is an initiative by Dutch Startup BeachBot, which is on a mission to get cigarette butts off of beaches. 

There’s nothing casual about a $2.5 billion funding round—which was just secured by EV startup Rivian. Led by Amazon and Ford, the California company will use the funds to power its upcoming vehicle production. Already banking $10.5 from previous rounds, Rivian originally swept the scene with its “electric adventure vehicles” back in 2009. Its flagship plant in Normal, Illinois, the second planned operation—dubbed “Project Tera” will aso include battery cell production.

Honorable mention goes to our hometown heroes over in Armenia, SuperAnnotate, who just raised $14.5 million in Series A funding to fuel their computer vision software. According to investor TJ Nahigian, the tech will become a key feature of business infrastructure in the future—in the same league as AWS or Stripe.

“Everyday we can’t stop being fascinated about the new applications we are seeing. We see someone using it to track cows in the farm and build a robot to milk the cows. From security to autonomous vehicles, basically every industry is eventually going to use computer vision.”—Tigran Petrosyan, co-founder & CEO, SuperAnnotate

Oh, and this is apparently what happens when you siphon $2 million worth of electricity in Malaysia to mine bitcoin:

We’ll leave it at that until next week, where we’ll be back with our regularly scheduled programming.