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Innovation Briefing Issue 11 | News

  • 11 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 22 Sep 2022
  • Last modified 20 Sep 2022
The Innovation Briefing quarterly news roundup

Google squeezes Apple on messaging lock-in

Google is trying to shame Apple into opening its proprietary iMessage service and adopting RCS, the messaging stack originally devised by the mobile telco industry. “It’s time for Apple to fix texting,” is the banner of the Google-funded site, Get The Message (Android, get-the-message)

While iMessage users can exchange messages from a variety of Apple devices, the vast majority of mobile users in the world are on Android. But they are represented to iMessage users as a “green bubble”, meaning they cannot receive rich media or participate in group chats without risking mobile network charges.

Apple internally acknowledged that interoperability would “remove [an] obstacle to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones,” according to one executive. Moves to impose messaging interoperability were added to the EU’s Digital Markets Act earlier this year.

RCS was originally announced in February 2008, before Apple had even opened the Apple iPhone app store. Conscious of the poor take-up of MMS, which operators saw as a profit centre, and fearful of over-the-top messaging services, the operator industry developed the RCS suite, enhancing basic SMS messaging with group chats and rich media.

The result was a complex, multi-layered specification exceeding 2,000 pages of documentation, which nevertheless did not include international interoperability – a default feature of IP-based messengers such as WhatsApp and which only came a decade later in 2018.

As a result of the flop, free-to-use IP-based messaging services such as BBM, then WeChat, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger proliferated, guaranteeing users interoperability and no hidden billing costs.

Google isn’t as altruistic as the marketing campaign suggests. It effectively took control of the RCS specifications three years ago, and RCS messages now run through Google’s servers. It also follows years of failure as Google launched successive over-the-top messaging clients: GTalk, Google Voice (with its own messaging client), Hangouts, Allo, and Duo all failed to impact the market.

RCS was incorporated into its Android messaging client in 2019 (as optional “chat features”) and gained end-to-end encryption (E2EE) for 1:1 conversations last year. But beware: RCS is now a proprietary Google service, Ron Amadeo at technology publication Ars Technica pointed out: the only third party allowed to integrate with it is Samsung, thanks to a private agreement.

“Other than Google being desperate for one of the few messaging solutions it hasn’t exhausted with mismanagement, there’s no clear argument for why RCS is worth this effort,” he wrote. Amadeo joined calls for Apple and Google to work together on an entirely new standard.

An uptake in the niche practice of using mobile networks to replace cable or DSL has prompted Barclays to downgrade expectations of the share prices of US cable operators.

Such offerings are called FWA, or fixed wireless access, and Three first launched 5G in the UK as a domestic FWA broadband package, rather than an upgrade for mobile phone users.

US mobile operator T-Mobile added more FWA customers in the most recent quarter than Comcast or Cable expect to add in the entire year. Additions in the fixed line market are largely fuelled by house moves. The additions are lower than expected, and the FW additions higher than expected. Barclays Group media analyst Kannan Venkateshwar was one analyst to adjust his equity ratings.

T-Mobile USA added 560,000 fixed wireless subscribers in Q2, far exceeding consensus expectations. Shipments of FWA modems are expected to double in 2022 to 3.6 million, according to the GMSA, although today most remain 4G only.

The prediction is based on a survey of vendors. Almost one in ten US households may be using FWA as their main broadband connection by 2026, according to analysts Global Data.

EU looks to mobile phones to save energy

Ursula Von Der Leyen, president of the EU, is on a charge to save energy and the planet. And in her sights are the way we use and repair mobile phones.

As part of the EU Ecodesign Regulations, the European Commission is looking for a 25 percent reduction in the power used by mobile phones, tablets and cordless phones by 2030. Using 2020 as a baseline this would see consumption drop from 39.5 TWh to 25.4 TWh.

But it is the repair of mobile phones, a recognition that consumers want to have the same device for longer, that has the biggest impact on the industry.

The proposals look to equip registered, professional repairers with the skills, tools and parts to maintain a phone for at least five years after a device is removed from sale, with comprehensive details on how to take apart, repair and re assemble phones and tablets.

Replacement of batteries will have strict rules with the devices where batteries are more prone to needing replacement will have to be simple for the layman to swap. Allowance is made for ruggedised phones.

Consumers are looking to use their phone for longer and upgrade less often, in part because model to model improvements are less significant than in 2G and 3G devices. Read more here...

Mobile Data Defies Inflation

Despite inflation-busting price increases, the UK mobile consumer has seen the cost of data fall, according to a report from Cable.

“Contrary to what one might expect as the cost of living continues to rise, the average package cost has fallen, from $23.28 to $17.58,” said analyst Dan Howdle.

Cable surveyed 58 UK SIM-only consumer plans, and compared them with plans from providers in more than 100 other countries. These were then converted to US dollars as a reference currency. The numbers exclude roaming costs.

The analysis priced mobile data in the UK at $0.79 per GB, a significant fall from 2021, when it was calculated to be $1.48/GB. The average package had fallen in price from $21.28 to $17.58.

But this places the UK behind France ($0.12/GB) and Italy ($0.23/GB).

The high costs of mobile data in Sweden ($1.88), Germany ($2.67), Belgium ($3.00) and Switzerland ($7.25) may reflect local purchasing power, as well as a less competitive market. Israeli mobile pay consumers pay just 4c for a gigabyte of mobile data a month.

Halfway There?

Two of the UK’s four mobile network operators now claim to have reached half the population of the UK with 5G.

Hutchison-owned Three says it now reaches 56 per cent of the population, one percentage point higher than the 55 per cent that EE claims to cover. O2 and Vodafone can claim to cover around 35 per cent of the population, according to a RootMetrics, which has been acquired by speed test company Ookla, in a  survey conducted over the first half of 2022.

RootMetrics data also confirmed that Three has the highest peak speeds for 5G, with a median download speed of almost 200 Mbit/s. O2 came bottom with 110 Mbit/s. Ookla confirmed that Three delivered the fastest download speeds, although it placed Vodafone in first place for upload speeds.

None performed well with latencies of 40 milliseconds, however. That’s a far cry from the promises made at launch.

“With 5G’s sub-5 or sub-2 ms latency, you can get live 3D video to your fully wireless headset and experience events in real-time – kissing goodbye to motion sickness,” one mobile network promised as it turned on 5G in July 2019. The benefits are real, but theoretical unless the network moves to the newer 5G Standalone technologies. Ookla found median latencies of 29ms for Vodafone and EE, 32ms on O2, and 35ms for Three.

New 5G Health Study

Some parts of the population have concerns about the potential health effects of the RF exposure, in particular that of mmWaves, related to 5G.

The European Union recognised these concerns and provided funding in its Horizon Europe research programme for research in this area.

GOLIAT (5G exposure, causal effects, and rIsk perception through citizen engagement) is a five-year project aimed at providing responses to some of the questions raised by the new wireless technologies, with a special focus on 5G.

The aims of GOLIAT are to monitor radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) exposure, particularly from 5G, to provide novel insights into its potential to affect health and wellbeing, and to understand how exposures and risks are perceived and best communicated using citizen engagement.

Part of the GOLIAT project focuses on two particular societal groups: (i) young people who could be more susceptible to the effects of RF-EMF, and (2) workers and industry, for which particular industries, occupational settings or scenarios could result in high exposure levels or abnormal exposure patterns.

GOLIAT is led by the ISGlobal institute in Barcelona and involves 22 institutions. The University of Bristol leads the work on the use of 5G in industry and for workers and will focus on developing and conducting exposure measurements and neuropsychological and wellbeing effect studies in worker populations exposed to 5G.

Professor Frank de Vocht of the University of Bristol told us: “To obtain as comprehensive as possible a picture of 5G implementation and developments in industrial settings, we are keen to discuss the application of 5G with representatives of industries and companies that have implemented 5G or are planning to.”

If you are interested in discussing EMF effects  or would like to know more about the GOLIAT project, email Professor Frank de Vocht at frank.devocht@bristol.ac.uk.

The project brief is available at here...

Six for 6G

A consortium of industry and German academic research institutes has identified six key areas for R&D work for 6G. The 6G Lighthouse Project brings together vendors Nokia and Ericsson, and 15 universities and research institutes, with Nokia chairing. Codenamed Anna, the initiative wants to “drive global pre-standardisation activities from a German and European perspective”, mirroring national efforts in France and Spain.  Standardisation work for 6G only commences in three years’ time; there’s lots of 5G to do first, before it can deliver on even a fraction of the promise. The most significant milestone will be v5G Advanced in 2024.

Read more here...


Xiaomi breaks fast charging record

Market challeneger Xiaomi has demonstrated 210W charging. Using its 11 Ultra mobile phone, the company reports charging the 4,000 mAh battery from 0 per cent to 100 per cent in 8 minutes. The rapid charge showed 210W of power and received a certification as well. This makes it the fastest charging that has yet been demonstrated.

BT achieves 3MB/s with 5G carrier aggregation

BT has claimed a breakthrough in aggregating four different spectrum bands on a 5G standalone network for the first time.

Pooling the bands allows for greater throughput and efficiency. The successful trial, using Nokia radio equipment and a MediaTek 5G modem, took place at BT’s Adastral Park centre in Suffolk. It aggregated  2.1 GHz, 2.6 GHz, 3.4 GHz, 3.6 GHz bands on EE’s network.

MediaTek’s M80 chip provided the “handset”.  A lab test in March demonstrated transmission speeds of almost 3 Gbit/s on the downlink. Lower bands penetrate walls better, while the higher bands provide additional capacity.

Amazon claims a 5G network as easy as wi-fi

Amazon has finally launched its widely anticipated “5G in a box” service, AWS 5G Private, in its first market, the United States.

The US is well suited to this approach as CBRS spectrum licensing allows free access to unused frequencies.

The service is intended to allow organisations to design and deploy a 5G private network with little or no expertise, with the deployment and management handled remotely by Amazon’s AWS service.

A blog post by AWS’s Jeff Barr demonstrates how a new network can be specified and ordered with just four basic web forms. Amazon bills $10 per hour for each radio unit.

While it supports only 4G for now – 5G is coming – it is a landmark in taking cellular industry technology and making it widely available for private commercial use. Amazon claims a watching brief for the UK.

Full Innovation Briefing | 11th Edition