Edge Roundup: March 8 — March 14, 2021

Leigha Schjelderup

Leigha Schjelderup

Roblox founder David Baszucki backs big payouts for independent creators—Waymo simulation strives to prove safety of self-driving cars—one fifth of Facebook employees are reportedly working on AR/VR projectsRoblox founder David Baszucki backs big payouts for independent creators—Waymo simulation strives to prove safety of self-driving cars—one fifth of Facebook employees are reportedly working on AR/VR projects

As a fraction of the world “sprung forward” Sunday morning, it occurred to me that I still don't really know how Daylight Saving Time works. Born and raised in a place where resetting the clocks twice a year was the norm—and currently living in a place that does not—I understandably took for granted that “standard time” was, well, the global standard for a reason. 

So why is DST still a thing? Six years ago, “Last Week Tonight” asked the same question:

“a bit rich calling cows stupid, when it's the humans that have daylight savings”

Speaking of contested topics, an in-person Mobile World Congress is still on the table—even without the participation of Sony, Nokia, and Ericsson. Despite plans to incorporate an online component to mitigate risk—in addition to mandating negative COVID tests prior—many are still dubious whether the GSMA’s decision to stick to the June 28th event is a good call amidst continued struggles with pandemic. Spain isn’t even letting visitors into the country right now unless they meet “very specific requirements or have already obtained special permission from the Government of Spain.”

Engadget asks: “even if Mobile World Congress isn’t ultimately canceled this year, will there even be any major announcements to look forward to?”

MWC aside, let’s get into what the telecoms industry got up to last week: 

5G & Wireless Broadband

T-Mobile recently clarified its capex plans for the year, stating:

“We expect cash purchases of property and equipment to range from $11.7 billion to $12.0 billion in 2021. Property and equipment capital expenditures primarily relate to the integration of our acquired Sprint 2.5 GHz spectrum licenses and existing 600 MHz spectrum licenses as we build out our nationwide 5G network. We expect the majority of our remaining capital expenditures related to these efforts to occur in 2021 and 2022, after which we expect capital expenditure requirements to reduce.” —T-Mobile 2020 SEC filing

CEO Mike Sievert spoke with Yahoo Finance about Warren Buffet’s recent increased investment in the company, commending how he sees the value in the sector (5.2 shares valued at $656 million, to be precise). 5G’s value shouldn’t be news, though, especially following projections by the World Economic Forum:

"Fast, intelligent internet connectivity enabled by 5G technology is expected to create approximately $3.6 trillion in economic output and 22.3 million jobs by 2035 in the global 5G value chain alone. This will translate into global economic value across industries of $13.2 trillion, with manufacturing representing over a third of that output; information and communications, wholesale and retail, public services and construction will account for another third combined." —WEC Report

Verizon and T-Mobile are moving in on wireless broadband, the former expanding its 5G home service to 10 additional cities this month. T-Mobile, in turn, is looking to bring on 7-8 million subscribers to its own home internet service over the next five years. AT&T has instead decided to focus its efforts on fiber-to-the-home, looking to add three million more homes and businesses into its network by the end of 2021. This upgrade, however, still leaves out the vast majority of those in the carrier’s wireline service area, which spans 21 states. All the while, the company has drawn criticism due to its deteriorating copper phone network lines, which are disproportionately found in low-income areas (shocker).

One school district in Dallas has taken connectivity into its own hands; embarking on a mission to build its own network of cell transmission towers to provide internet service to students. Starting with five sites at $500,000 per tower, the district is looking to eventually cover a few thousand students for neighborhoods most in need. This kind of solution—a direct response to existing gaps in service by private industry—is outright banned by 22 states in the US. There’s even a move by House Republicans to make that nationwide—all in the name of “promoting competition.” These kinds of community-driven initiatives have gained significant support (or at the very least, reduced resistance) due to the demands of the pandemic. One representative from another school district in Fort Worth, Texas spoke to that effect: 

“I don’t know how many black eyes we have from people telling us, ‘What? You’re crazy.; “However, after March, it was plastered over. We went from, ‘Why are these crazy people wanting to provide this?’ to ‘Everybody needs to think like this.’” —Renee Smith-Faulkner, Associate Superintendent, Castleberry Independent School District

Gaming & VR

If you hadn’t already heard of Roblox, you probably had by the end of last week. The gaming company went public last Wednesday after a $29.5 billion evaluation—scoring a market cap of $38 billion after a few days of trading. Founded in 2006, Roblox struggled to gain its footing until—you guessed it—the platform skyrocketed over the pandemic. 

The social game creation site (with over 150 million players) is centered in the idea that independent developers deserve fair compensation for their work. Roblox has lived up to that promise. Just this past year, creators made $328.7 million in payouts from the company—and that’s set to grow. This is a major departure from the traditional gaming publisher “blockbuster” release approach, which centers around internally developed, multi-million dollar games like Ubisoft’s Assassin's Creed and Activision's Call of Duty franchises. 

“What used to be a hobby has become a job for an individual person, and now is more and more becoming the foundation for large, incredibly creative studios who are emerging on our platform.” — David Baszucki, founder & CEO, Roblox

Go more into depth in this CNBC profile of the company, its avid “Robloxians,” and parents scrambling to get a hold of their credit cards.

Industry figures weighed in on whether Google closing its internal game development project Stadia is a reflection on wider issues within the game streaming space. The collective conclusion? The problem was in Google’s approach, not the industry itself. Hear it from them: 

"There is no guaranteed path to success when developing games. Google's approach to gaming says nothing about the power of game streaming—the potential is there. Google also built its game streaming platform with a proprietary approach making it very difficult as every game needs to be re-built from the ground up for their platform or needs to be ported. This approach creates an enormous barrier for game developers.” —Doki Tops, CEO, Utomik

"Developing game streaming technologies is challenging for all players—no matter if you are a startup or a world-renowned tech behemoth with infinite resources and talent. We're still in the nascent stages of the industry. All players will make mistakes along the way, ourselves included. But beyond any hurdles, this rapid trend demonstrates the tech industry's confidence in cloud streaming." —Florian Giraud, VP Global Consumer Business, Blade

"The Stadia game dev team—no matter how smart, experienced, and amazingly talented—was always going to struggle to deliver something compelling that wouldn't take years to realise, or need an audience of millions to make the return worthwhile, with the technology and economics that come with developing content for that platform. Simply put, Google couldn't afford for them to make a hit...Google's decisions and efforts in and around cloud gaming are not reflective of what else is happening in cloud computing today, nor should it be an indicator that cloud gaming has had its day. Quite the opposite. There is a lot of great innovation happening —it's just not happening with Stadia.” —Bruce Grove, CEO and co-founder, PolyStream

It’s all part of the development process of the market, which is just finding its footing.

Speaking of fledgling markets, new reports say that Facebook now has 10,000 people working on AR/VR projects—with the third and fourth generations of the Oculus Quest VR headset already in development. That’s nearly one-fifth of the company’s 58,000 total employees. Of the features the company wants to see implemented in Quest 2’s successors, Zuckerberg highlighted that delivering a sense of “social presence” through eye and face-tracking will be a future focus, making sure that devices have the tools to animate realistic avatars users can communicate through. 

It’s not just tech giants like Facebook working on developing VR tech. Like cloud gaming, a lot of the innovation is coming from startups. Case in point: three teens in Sweden have designed a full-body VR tracker at a majorly-reduced price point with the help of a student entrepreneurship non-profit initiative, JA Sweden. Check out the demo:

Drones & Autonomous Vehicles

The FAA’s new set of drone regulations will come into effect at the end of next month (April 21st), mandating that UAVs must sport Remote IDs while also giving them the green light to operate over people. There’s some leniency, however. Drone makers will have to comply with Remote ID requirements early fall of 2022, while pilots have an additional year after that. Alphabet, unsurprisingly, isn’t happy with the developments—having noted privacy concerns about the digital “license plates” back when the new laws were just announced. Between this and Google’s recent ad policy overhaul, it’s interesting that a company so heavily criticized for its privacy track record has positioned itself as a guardian of consumer data. Or maybe it’s not that interesting. 

Another Alphabet subsidiary, Waymo, is on a mission to prove that robot drivers are safer than humans. To do this, the company simulated dozens of fatal crashes modeled after real incidents in Arizona over this past decade. Dark, but effective, considering their data reflected that replacing just one of the cars involved in a two-car crash with one from its autonomous fleet of minivans would eliminate all deaths.

The Verge’s Andrew Hawkins points out an important takeaway: there is no established approach for evaluating AV safety. This is a major problem, made even worse by a largely “hands off” approach taken by the federal government—who doesn’t even require autonomous vehicle operators to submit safety data in the first place, leaving it up to individual states instead. Which aren’t doing much, either. This sort of “hot potato” approach to regulation is going to hurt the development of the industry. As we’ve just seen, the DoT stepped up with the FAA’s drone regulation. Mayor-turned-Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has identified developing the nation’s AV framework as a key policy concern moving forward, so we’ll keep an eye out for any developments on that front.

"Automated vehicle technology is coming; it's advancing very quickly...It is something that holds the potential to be transformative and I think in many ways policy has not kept up. Technology is being developed, industry is advancing, and we have to make sure the regulatory framework keeps up, both that it keeps up in terms of securing our safety and other goals, and that it keeps up in terms of making sure that these new technologies can flourish in a safe way.” —Pete Buttigieg, USDOT Secretary

Security & Privacy

Despite what may be popular belief, clouds can catch fire. Well, at least some kinds can—and one unfortunately did last Wednesday, destroying one of OVHCloud’s data centers in Strasbourg, France. The incident disrupted millions of websites, including government agency portals, banks, shops, and media sites. While blogs went down, game history lost, and email access cut off for a period of time—no immediate news of major data losses have come out. Still, the event highlights the vulnerability of data storage.

Source: ReutersSource: Reuters

In a pretty embarrassing blunder, Russia accidentally shut down the Kremlin’s own website when the state communications regulator (*censorer) Roskomnadzor tried to slow down Twitter for “failing to remove banned content.” The greater crackdown on social media can be tied to increasing support for opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was jailed immediately after volunteeringly flying back to Moscow post-poisoning by his own government last summer. Domestically marketed as a move towards “digital sovereignty,” legislation was passed by Russian parliament in December that allowed for instilling fines on platforms that neglected to delete banned content; further restricting them if deemed to “discriminate” against Russian media. 

The hack attack continues, but this time China’s on the hook—not Russia. Security experts are alarmed about the Microsoft Exchange email service’s recent breach, which has targeted hundreds of thousands of global users. Microsoft disclosed four software vulnerabilities that enabled hackers to access servers, urging customers to update their on-prem systems to mitigate the damage. 

In light of this and the unfolding ramifications of the SolarWinds attack, the Biden administration reportedly will introduce an executive action aimed at bolstering the country’s cybersecurity safeguards, which would include a letter-grading system for federal software vendors. Maybe too little, too late—but at this point, anything is better than nothing.

https://edition.cnn.com/2021/03/12/politics/microsoft-solarwinds-biden-administration/index.html

Aside from the introduction of Paramount+ (props to the very original branding), all’s been calm on the #StreamingWars front. Disney+ did, however, hit the notable milestone of 100 million global subscribers this past week—about half of reigning lead Netflix’ total of 203 million. Considering that the streaming service is just over a year old, this feat is more than impressive. That said, the timing of their launch—on the eve of everyone staying indoors for a year—was largely conducive to success.

With that, feel free to return to your current Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, Peacock, Apple TV+, HBO Max—or whatever your streaming platform of preference is—binge. That’s my plan, at least ;)

Until next week!