Edge Roundup: March 1 — March 7, 2021

Leigha Schjelderup

Leigha Schjelderup

Comcast network report reflects 2020 surge in internet traffic—Flying taxi startup Volocopter bags another $241M in investment—Senators urge FCC to raise broadband speed standardsComcast network report reflects 2020 surge in internet traffic—Flying taxi startup Volocopter bags another $241M in investment—Senators urge FCC to raise broadband speed standards

Wasting no time with intros this week (for the sake of brevity, definitely not because I can’t think of a captivating opener…), we need to address Google’s March 3rd announcement regarding its advertising policy: 

“Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.” —David Temkin, Director of Product Management, Ads Privacy & User Trust, Google

Yep. This means that when your coworker fanatically researches electric motorbikes on your work browser one day, you won’t get targeted ads for them till the end of time (totally not based on a true story, of course). Browsing history for ad tracking is out! But why would the tech giant do away with such a lucrative model? Though Google claims that it’s “charting a course towards a more privacy-first web,” cynics are well...cynical—claiming that the move is more of a PR stunt than genuine display of concern over users’ personal data. In any case, all the more reason for privacy advocates to double down on their rally against the internet’s other big offender: Facebook. 

5G & Edge

This isn’t the first time the topic of disguising unsightly 5G infrastructure has made it into the Roundup. But hey, it’s a pretty big deal to have your community scattered with conspicuous towers—especially when 5G paranoia is still making its rounds.  

In Scottsdale, Arizona, artificial cacti have been the go-to concealing mechanism. Unlike the infamous palm tree route, these structures have gotten pretty convincing. But the thing about 5G is that it relies on being unobstructed to function, that’s why there’s so many small sites to begin with. This poses a challenge for designers. 

"Design will be just as important moving forward with the 5G installations, but we will have a greater focus on streetlights than the cacti...in Scottsdale, aesthetics are pretty important. Every street has a different theme and streetlights vary. We want them to blend in as much as possible and not stand out.” —Keith Niederer, Scottsdale Telecom Policy Coordinator

With 5G concealment not only an aesthetic imperative, but a security one—we can expect growth in the market for creative, stealthy workarounds. 

13 million people in South Korea now subscribe to 5G, with top carriers SK Telecom, KT, and LG Uplus looking to bring on millions more through the rest of the year. Last summer, the same operators announced that they would collectively invest $22 billion through 2022 to boost 5G infrastructure across the county, focusing on Seoul and six other metro areas. 

The Air Force is the latest government body to set its sights on 5G applications, specifically how MIMO, MEC, cybersecurity, RAN slicing, AI, and machine learning applied to space systems. With 5G at three Air Force bases in the U.S. thanks to a partnership with AT&T, this latest effort isn’t its first foray into 5G.

Light Reading’s Mike Dano recently provided a useful overview of Rakuten, Dish, and Akamai’s approaches to edge computing. As relatively new network operators, Rakuten and Dish have the opportunity to build their networks from the ground up with edge computing in mind. Rakuten considers the radio workload to be the first edge application, with plans to expand to IoT, AR/VR, and other emerging use cases. Dish Network faces a bit more of a challenge with the sprawling US market, which spans 328 million people across 3.8 million square miles. As such, their number of edge computing locations pales in comparison. Content delivery company Akamai, in turn, has been vocal about its position in the edge space for quite some time. With a footprint of 300,000 servers over 4,000 locations, they certainly have enough reach to attract business from media, gaming, and other low latency-dependent companies. 

American Tower also weighed in regarding its edge strategy, which is following a neutral host model. VP of Investor Relations Igor Khislavsky clarifies the company’s position, stating that a “neutral host that brings together multiple cloud players and multiple carriers in one location is going to be the most efficient way to deploy the edge over the long term.”

Cable, Telco, & ISPs

The debate over the definition of high speed broadband continues, with a bipartisan group of senators advocating for a symmetrical 100Mbps download and upload to be the new baseline in a letter to government leaders

“Going forward, we should make every effort to spend limited federal dollars on broadband networks capable of providing sufficient download and upload speeds and quality. There is no reason federal funding to rural areas should not support the type of speeds used by households in typical well-served urban and suburban areas.” —Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Angus King (I-ME), and Rob Portman (R-OH)

The statement addressed recipients of telehealth, farmers pursuing precision agriculture, remote students, and parents working from home who desperately need broadband speeds robust enough to accommodate the demands of growing connectivity. The current benchmark of 25/3 Mbps would be laughable at this point, if it wasn’t so tragic. The push for higher standards has been a long time in the making, so we’ll see if it comes to fruition under a Pai-less FCC.  

While often under fire from frustrated subscribers, the ISPs were undoubtedly hit hard by the demands of this past year. In a new report, Comcast reflected massive surges in usage—with downstream traffic increasing by nearly 40% (mostly for video streaming, unsurprisingly). Upstream traffic also surged by 56%, which can largely be accredited to video conferencing. This, in particular, underscores the importance of shifting speed standards. While internet policy has largely followed the assumption that networks are primarily for consumption—entertainment, information, and goods—it should accommodate production and collaboration in equal measure. 

Comcast credits its AI platform Octave as its saving grace, as it helped modems work more efficiently to free up speed and capacity across the network as a whole.  

Given that consumer 5G applications still range from nascent to nonexistent, carriers are turning to enterprise solutions to justify their massive network upgrade expenditures. Customer fave T-Mobile has targeted a new suite of offerings for business consumers, including corporate unlimited wireless plans, cloud-based workspace communication tools, and a “Home Office Internet” program. With competitors AT&T and Verizon claiming over 90% of the enterprise wireless market, T-Mobile has officially started to carve out a place for itself. There’s a lot at stake here, given that the enterprise 5G market is projected to explode in the next few years: 

"If you just look at the math ... [it will be] a $40 billion market in the next five years and T-Mobile has less than 10% of it, so we think there's a massive revenue expansion opportunity for us.” —Mike Katz, VP, T-Mobile Business

Home Office Internet—which supplements users; existing home internet with a separate cellular-based WiFi network—will be available to businesses towards the end of the month, covering 60 million households at launch (with plans to expand to 90 million by 2025). 

Electric & Autonomous vehicles…plus flying taxis?

Volkswagen has accelerated its push towards all-electric vehicles, announcing its aim for 70% of its European sales to be EVs by 2030, as well as a plan to put $19 billion into “e-mobility, hybridization and digitalization” by 2025. This development is the latest in a series of automakers who have publicized their changing focus from combustion to electric models. Car and Driver made a good compilation of All the Promises Automakers Have Made about Electric Cars—who’s doing what, and how soon. 

Soon, some automakers may not have a choice whether or not to prioritize electrification. At least in California, where state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require all AVs to also be zero emission by 2025. Governor Gavin Newson has made similar ambitions clear, stating that he wants all new vehicle sales (save for commercial fleets) to have zero emission by 2035. AV industry leaders such as Nuro, Cruise, and Waymo have released statements of support: 

“As the first company to commercially deploy our fully autonomous technology to the public, we strongly support the goals outlined in Governor Newsom's recent Executive Order N-79-20 which takes a holistic approach to transition California towards a 100% EV future. Waymo has business lines and partnerships that span ride-hailing, trucking and local delivery, and we want to ensure that California's EV policy reflects the myriad issues and industries affected.” —Waymo statement

Speaking of EVs, startup Ample just announced its new battery swapping stations, which autonomously deploy robots to remove and replace modules from EVs using the company’s modular battery architecture. Currently available in the Bay Area, the company states that its goal is to help put a billion EVs on the road. 

Check out their promo vid to see it in action:

A number of notable names (like Robert Downey Jr. and Bill Gates) have backed the new electric motor company Turntide, whose innovation promises to reduce energy consumption. Its breakthrough innovation sounds pretty simple—a software-controlled motor that implements precise pulses of energy, rather than in a constant flow. 

“The carbon impact of what we’re doing is pretty massive. The average energy reduction [in buildings] has been a 64% reduction. If we can replace all the motors in buildings in the U.S. that’s the carbon equivalent of adding over 300 million tons of carbon sequestration per year.” —Ryan Morris, CEO, Turntide

The company has raised $180 million so far, and has set its sights first on smart buildings before expanding to electric vehicles. 

Flying taxis seem to be slowly inching their way into fruition, as evidenced by two recent developments.

First up, Linkedin founder Reid Hoffman joined forces with Zynga founder Mark Pincus to buy the Joby Aviation company, which develops electric flying taxis (valued at $6.6 billion). 

Check out Joby CEO JoeBen Birvirt’s vision for the company in this (enthusiastic, albeit a little weird?) address:

Another flying taxi startup, Volocopter, just finished a $241 million Series D round. The company is optimistic about the timeline of its services’ rollout:

“We are actually expecting to certify our VoloCity in around two years and start commercial air taxi operations right after. Paris and Singapore are in pole position [as the first cities], where Paris wants to have electric air taxis established for the 2024 Olympics. With our VoloDrone we expect first commercial flights even earlier than with our VoloCity.” —Florian Reuter, CEO, Volocopter

Other names in the space outside from Volocopter and Joby include Lilum, Kitty Hawk, and eHang—which all are racing towards flying commercially. While the technology is proving to be sound, significant regulatory hurdles need to be navigated before we can expect flying taxis in our airspace.

Investments & Acquisitions

Cloud communications platform Twilio is also set to invest up to $750 million in telecommunications services company Syniverse, which would position it as minority owner. The partnership will combine Syniverse’s foothold in the operator sphere with Twilio’s enterprise and API services; which will likely find ground in the growing IIoT and broader enterprise 5G network industry. 

Identity management giants Okta and Auth0 have recently joined forces, with the former buying out its smaller Seattle-based competitor for a $6.5 billion all-stock deal. While Okta functions as a tool for businesses to manage employees credentials when using work apps, Auth0 has a more bottom-up approach—building its authentication and authorization platform for custom-built applications. 

Heads of each company were enthusiastic about the outcome of the sale, with Okta’s CEO adamant that the decision would position identity security into one of the market leading clouds like Microsoft, Salesforce, and Zoom.

“For us, identity has to rise up to be one of those primary clouds, and if it doesn’t it will just be kind of subsumed into other clouds and Okta won’t reach its potential.” —Todd McKinnon, CEO, Okta

“What’s exciting to me is that these companies are compatible, identity is not a division, a part of another group or a necessary evil. This is all we do. So together, we have this opportunity to move the needle in terms of what we can offer our customers.” —Eugenio Pace, CEO & co-founder, Auth0

Last up, emerging communications services provider Stream has recently raised a hefty $38 million in Series B funding—just half a year following its initial $15 million Series A. The former Amsterdam and now Boulder-based company helps build in-app chat and activity feed infrastructure for its customers, with a focus on speedy integration. 

“End-to-end encryption, chatbots: We want to take as many components as we can…We were not planning to raise funding until later this year but then Aydin reached out to us and made it hard to say no.” —Thierry Schellenbach, CEO, Stream

TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden makes a good point—the business of online social interactions has been dominated by a small proportion of companies, many of which with mounting notoriety for the negative ramifications of their services (Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and Google to name a few). Companies entering the space that make it easier for others to integrate communication tools could broaden the amount of “social” platforms and models to gain traction.

Let’s cap it at that for this week. Happy International Women’s Day!