XPRIZE names two grand prize winners in $15 million Global Learning Challenge

XPRIZE, the non-profit organization developing and managing competitions to find solutions to social challenges, has named two grand prize winners in the Elon Musk-backed Global Learning XPRIZE .

The companies, KitKit School out of South Korea and the U.S., and onebillion, operating in Kenya and the U.K., were announced at an awards ceremony hosted at the Google Spruce Goose Hangar in Playa Vista, Calif.

XPRIZE set each of the competing teams the task of developing scalable services that could enable children to teach themselves basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills within 15 months.

Musk himself was on hand to award $5 million checks to each of the winning teams.

Five finalists including: New York-based CCI, which developed lesson plans and a development language so non-coders could create lessons; Chimple, a Bangalore-based, learning platform enabling children to learn reading, writing and math on a tablet; RobotTutor, a Pittsburgh-based company which used Carnegie Mellon research to develop an app for Android tablets that would teach lessons in reading and writing with speech recognition, machine learning, and human computer interactions, and the two grand prize winners all received $1 million to continue developing their projects.

The tests required each product to be field tested in Swahili, reaching nearly 3,000 children in 170 villages across Tanzania.

All of the final solutions from each of the five teams that made it to the final round of competition have been open-sourced so anyone can improve on and develop local solutions using the toolkits developed by each team in competition.

Kitkit School, with a team from Berkeley, Calif. and Seoul, developed a program with a game-based core and flexible learning architecture to help kids learn independently, while onebillion, merged numeracy content with literacy material to provide directed learning and activities alongside monitoring to personalize responses to children’s needs.

Both teams are going home with $5 million to continue their work.

The problem of access to basic education affects more than 250 million children around the world, who can’t read or write and one-in-five children around the world aren’t in school, according to data from UNESCO.

The problem of access is compounded by a shortage of teachers at the primary ad secondary school level. Some research, cited by XPRIZE, indicates that the world needs to recruit another 68.8 million teachers to provide every child with a primary and secondary education by 2040.

Before the Global Learning XPRIZE field test, 74% of the children who participated were reported as never having attended school; 80% were never read to at home; and 90% couldn’t read a single word of Swahili.

After the 15 month program working on donated Google Pixel C tablets and pre-loaded with software, the number was cut in half.

“Education is a fundamental human right, and we are so proud of all the teams and their dedication and hard work to ensure every single child has the opportunity to take learning into their own hands,” said Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE, in a statement. “Learning how to read, write and demonstrate basic math are essential building blocks for those who want to live free from poverty and its limitations, and we believe that this competition clearly demonstrated the accelerated learning made possible through the educational applications developed by our teams, and ultimately hope that this movement spurs a revolution in education, worldwide.”

After the grand prize announcement, XPRIZE said it will work to secure and load the software onto tablets; localize the software; and deliver preloaded hardware and charging stations to remote locations so all finalist teams can scale their learning software across the world.

Tencent’s new alternative to PUBG is already topping the revenue chart

In a move clearly driven by economic interests and an urgency to meet stringent regulations, the world’s largest games publisher Tencent pulled its mobile version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on Wednesday and launched a new title called Game for Peace (the literal translation of its Chinese name 和平精英 is ‘peace elites’) on the same day.

As of this writing, Game for Peace is the most downloaded free game and top-grossing game in Apple’s China App Store, according to data from Sensor Tower data. That’s early evidence that the new title is on course to stimulate Tencent’s softening gaming revenues following a prolonged licensing freeze in China. Indeed, analysts at China Renaissance estimated that Game for Peace could generate up to $1.48 billion in annual revenue for Tencent.

Tencent licensed PUBG from South Korea’s Krafton, previously known as Bluehole, in 2017 and subsequently released a test version of the game for China’s mobile users.

Game for Peace is available only to users above the age of 16, a decision that came amid society’s growing concerns over video games’ impact on children’s mental and physical health. Tencent has recently pledged to do more ‘good’ with its technology, and the new game release appears to be a practice of that.

Tencent told Reuters the two titles are from “very different genres.” Well, many signs attest to the fact that Game for Peace is intended as a substitute for PUBG Mobile, which never received the green light from Beijing to monetize because it’s deemed too gory. Game for Peace received the license to sell in-game items on April 9.

For one, PUBG users were directed to download Game for Peace in a notice announcing its closure. People’s gaming history and achievement were transferred to the new game, and players and industry analysts have pointed out the striking resemblance between the two.

“It’s basically the same game with some tweaks,” said a Guangzhou-based PUBG player who has been playing the title since its launching, adding that the adjustment to tone down violence “doesn’t really harm the gamer experience.”

“Just ignore those details,” suggested the user.

For instance, characters who are shot don’t bleed in Game for Peace. A muzzle flash replaces gore as bloody scenes no longer pass the muster. And when people are dying, they kneel, surrender their loot box, and wave goodbye. Very civil. Very friendly.

“It’s what we call changing skin [for a game],” a Shenzhen-based mobile game studio founder said to TechCrunch. “The gameplay stays largely intact.”

Other PUBG users are less sanguine about the transition. “I don’t think this is the correct decision from the regulators. Getting oversensitive in the approval process will prevent Chinese games from growing big and strong,” wrote one contributor with more than 135 thousand followers on Zhihu, the Chinese equivalent of Quora.

But such compromise is increasingly inevitable as Chinese authorities reinforce rules around what people can consume online, not just in games but also through news readers, video platforms, and even music streaming services. Content creators must be able to decipher regulators’ directives, some of which are straightforward as “the name of the game should not contain words other than simplified Chinese.” Others requirements are more obscure, like “no violation of core socialist’s values,” a set of 12 moral principles — including prosperity, democracy, civility, and harmony — that are propagated by the Chinese Communist Party in recent years.

Match Group restructures exec team with focus on Asia

Tinder parent company Match Group, also the owner of a suite of dating apps including OkCupid, Meetic, Match, PlentyofFish and others, announced this morning plans to restructure its leadership team in order to better focus on the market opportunities for dating apps in Asia. Specifically, the company has appointed three new general managers in Asia to focus on areas like Japan, Taiwan, India, South Korea and other parts of Southeast Asia.

The company explains its decision has to do with the potential it sees for growth outside the U.S. and Europe, where there are more than 400 million singles, two-thirds who have not yet tried a dating app.

One of the new GMs is Tokyo-based Junya Ishibashi, who has been CEO of Match Group’s Eureka business in Japan. He now becomes the general manager of Match Group for Japan and Taiwan.

Taru Kapoor, who’s based in Delhi, will be GM of Match Group India. And Seoul-based Lyla Seo, who previously served as regional director of East Asia for Tinder, is now GM of Match Group for South Korea and Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, Alexandre Lubot, who has served as both CEO of Meetic and CEO of Match Group EMEA & APAC since 2016, will remain CEO of Match Group EMEA & APAC. He will oversee the brands across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with the three general managers reporting directly to him.

Meetic, which is Match Group’s European dating app, will now be overseen by Matthieu Jacquier, who has worked as a CPO with the company for a year. Alongside Jacquier, Elisabeth Peyraube will now take on a new role of COO & CFO of Match Group EMEA & APAC.

While Match Group plans for growth across Asia, India has been of particular importance, especially as rival dating app Bumble entered the country last year, where it tapped actress, celebrity and Bumble investor Priyanka Chopra to advise its expansion.

Tinder has also tried to cater to its Indian users with the more recent launches of expanded gender options in its app, and the Bumble-like “My Move” feature, which allows the women to chat first.

However, Tinder’s strategy in India needs to differ from here in the U.S. where it’s now promoting the young, carefree and often less relationship-focused “single lifestyle.” In India (as well as in China and other markets), dating apps today still face challenges due to cultural norms. That’s led to an unbalanced ratio between men and women using the apps in India, a report from The Wall Street Journal found. And when women join, they’re overwhelmed by the attention they receive, as a result.

These issues will require Tinder to adapt everything from its marketing and advertising messages to even its product features in order to better cater to its Indian users. And it requires someone who fully understands the market to lead.

“Taru was originally hired to grow Tinder in India, but a little more than a year ago we increased her responsibilities to oversee the growth of other Match Group products in the country,” said Mandy Ginsberg, Match Group CEO, in a statement about the leadership restructuring. “During that time Tinder has become a big brand in India, but Taru also has meaningfully grown OkCupid’s user base in India over the last six months due to her keen understanding of the market and culture. Her success is a template for how we can approach these emerging Asian markets, particularly when we have stellar talent on the ground that understands the cultural, regulatory and market dynamics at play,” she added.

In Korea, Match Group credits Seo with executing Tinder’s first-ever TV ad campaign, which helped increase downloads in Korea 2.5x from 2016 to 2018.

The company also says Ishibashi more than doubled Pairs’ revenue in Japan since its acquisition in 2015.

Both executives will oversee other Match Group brands in their respective markets as part of their new responsibilities.

Match Group has been growing its footprint in the Asian market for some time. On its Q4 2018 earnings call in February, the company noted it already had teams in around half a dozen key countries throughout Asia focused on its marketing programs and developing the cultural insight it needed to succeed in those regions.

Ginsberg now says she would like to see a quarter of Match Group’s revenue coming from Asia within five years.

TikTok’s next ambitious goal is to discover future music stars

TikTok needs a lot of music. A lot. The short-form video service began life as a lip-synching app in China, where it’s called Douyin, and although other categories of content, like skits and life hacks, later took off, music remains a key element to the app as its users in the hundreds of millions grow accustomed to soundtracking their video clips.

And TikTok, a Vine-like app that has amassed about 1 billion downloads around the world, is getting serious about securing good music for its content creators. The app just launched an initiative to scout music talents in Japan and South Korea after a similar program kicked off in China, where its parent, the world’s most valuable startup Bytedance, is based.

Called Spotlight, the audition will take place digitally via TikTok. Artists submit their work to the app, and winners will eventually get introduced to the company’s 21 label partners and publishers, which could lead to recording opportunities. In turn, TikTok users can pick from the fresh batch of music to spice up their work.

People already have access to a massive catalog of copyrighted song snippets that TikTok builds up by partnering with studios worldwide. In China alone, the app claims to have inked deals with over 800 label companies, including big names like Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. Alternatively, users can also upload their own soundtracks.

Music marketers have pounced on short-form video apps like TikTok and Vine to promote artists. Unlike music streaming apps that are designed for consumption, TikTok, which has a social component to it, allows two-way interaction between artists and fans, who can lip-synch, hand-dance and remix their idols’ songs often as part of the platform’s hashtag challenges. Indeed, many artists, including Korea’s boy band BTS and girl band Blackpink, have embraced TikTok to promote new releases.

TikTok bills Spotlight as a program that will “discover and support the growth of independent artists.” Beyond marketing aid and access to music execs, it’s unclear how the platform plans to share with the artists any financial gains they help to produce. We’ve reached out to TikTok for more information and will update the story if we hear back.

While viral songs on TikTok can bring attention to the artists behind, the focus is not always on the music, which is meant to do service to the 15-second clip. A song catches on often because it’s an earworm, or that it suits a particular meme, not necessarily in virtue of how “good” the music is.

The “splinternet” is already here

There is no question that the arrival of a fragmented and divided internet is now upon us. The “splinternet,” where cyberspace is controlled and regulated by different countries is no longer just a concept, but now a dangerous reality. With the future of the “World Wide Web” at stake, governments and advocates in support of a free and open internet have an obligation to stem the tide of authoritarian regimes isolating the web to control information and their populations.

Both China and Russia have been rapidly increasing their internet oversight, leading to increased digital authoritarianism. Earlier this month Russia announced a plan to disconnect the entire country from the internet to simulate an all-out cyberwar. And, last month China issued two new censorship rules, identifying 100 new categories of banned content and implementing mandatory reviews of all content posted on short video platforms.

While China and Russia may be two of the biggest internet disruptors, they are by no means the only ones. Cuban, Iranian and even Turkish politicians have begun pushing “information sovereignty,” a euphemism for replacing services provided by western internet companies with their own more limited but easier to control products. And a 2017 study found that numerous countries, including Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen have engaged in “substantial politically motivated filtering.”

This digital control has also spread beyond authoritarian regimes. Increasingly, there are more attempts to keep foreign nationals off certain web properties.

For example, digital content available to U.K. citizens via the BBC’s iPlayer is becoming increasingly unavailable to Germans. South Korea filters, censors and blocks news agencies belonging to North Korea. Never have so many governments, authoritarian and democratic, actively blocked internet access to their own nationals.

The consequences of the splinternet and digital authoritarianism stretch far beyond the populations of these individual countries.

Back in 2016, U.S. trade officials accused China’s Great Firewall of creating what foreign internet executives defined as a trade barrier. Through controlling the rules of the internet, the Chinese government has nurtured a trio of domestic internet giants, known as BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent), who are all in lock step with the government’s ultra-strict regime.

The super-apps that these internet giants produce, such as WeChat, are built for censorship. The result? According to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, “the Chinese Firewall will lead to two distinct internets. The U.S. will dominate the western internet and China will dominate the internet for all of Asia.”

Surprisingly, U.S. companies are helping to facilitate this splinternet.

Google had spent decades attempting to break into the Chinese market but had difficulty coexisting with the Chinese government’s strict censorship and collection of data, so much so that in March 2010, Google chose to pull its search engines and other services out of China. However now, in 2019, Google has completely changed its tune.

Google has made censorship allowances through an entirely different Chinese internet platform called project Dragonfly . Dragonfly is a censored version of Google’s Western search platform, with the key difference being that it blocks results for sensitive public queries.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google Inc., sits before the start of a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Pichai backed privacy legislation and denied the company is politically biased, according to a transcript of testimony he plans to deliver. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “people have the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Drafted in 1948, this declaration reflects the sentiment felt following World War II, when people worked to prevent authoritarian propaganda and censorship from ever taking hold the way it once did. And, while these words were written over 70 years ago, well before the age of the internet, this declaration challenges the very concept of the splinternet and the undemocratic digital boundaries we see developing today.

As the web becomes more splintered and information more controlled across the globe, we risk the deterioration of democratic systems, the corruption of free markets and further cyber misinformation campaigns. We must act now to save a free and open internet from censorship and international maneuvering before history is bound to repeat itself.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – MAY 22: An Avaaz activist attends an anti-Facebook demonstration with cardboard cutouts of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, on which is written “Fix Fakebook”, in front of the Berlaymont, the EU Commission headquarter on May 22, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. Avaaz.org is an international non-governmental cybermilitating organization, founded in 2007. Presenting itself as a “supranational democratic movement,” it says it empowers citizens around the world to mobilize on various international issues, such as human rights, corruption or poverty. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Ultimate Solution

Similar to the UDHR drafted in 1948, in 2016, the United Nations declared “online freedom” to be a fundamental human right that must be protected. While not legally binding, the motion passed with consensus, and therefore the UN was provided limited power to endorse an open internet (OI) system. Through selectively applying pressure on governments who are not compliant, the UN can now enforce digital human rights standards.

The first step would be to implement a transparent monitoring system which ensures that the full resources of the internet, and ability to operate on it, are easily accessible to all citizens. Countries such as North Korea, China, Iran and Syria, who block websites and filter email plus social media communication, would be encouraged to improve through the imposition of incentives and consequences.

All countries would be ranked on their achievement of multiple positive factors including open standards, lack of censorship, and low barriers to internet entry. A three tier open internet ranking system would divide all nations into Free, Partly Free or Not Free. The ultimate goal would be to have all countries gradually migrate towards the Free category, allowing all citizens full information across the WWW, equally free and open without constraints.

The second step would be for the UN to align itself much more closely with the largest western internet companies. Together they could jointly assemble detailed reports on each government’s efforts towards censorship creep and government overreach. The global tech companies are keenly aware of which specific countries are applying pressure for censorship and the restriction of digital speech. Together, the UN and global tech firms would prove strong adversaries, protecting the citizens of the world. Every individual in every country deserves to know what is truly happening in the world.

The Free countries with an open internet, zero undue regulation or censorship would have a clear path to tremendous economic prosperity. Countries who remain in the Not Free tier, attempting to impose their self-serving political and social values would find themselves completely isolated, visibly violating digital human rights law.

This is not a hollow threat. A completely closed off splinternet will inevitably lead a country to isolation, low growth rates, and stagnation.

After FAA doubles down on 737 decision, Canada grounds the planes amid reports of complaints from U.S. pilots

After the Federal Aviation Administration issued a statement late yesterday doubling down on its decision to keep the Boeing 737 Max planes at the heart of two accident investigations flying, Canada has become the latest nation to ground the plane.

“There are — and I hasten to say not conclusive — but there are similarities,” said Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau, in a statement broadcast on Canadian television. Garneau noted that the similarities “exceed a certain threshold in our minds with respect to the possible cause of what happened in Ethiopia. This is not conclusive, but it is something that points possibly in that direction, and at this point we feel that threshold has been crossed.”

Canadian concerns actually echo incident reports that were made by pilots in the U.S. regarding the control system of Boeing’s latest version of its 737 flagship aircraft.

At least two pilots who had flown the 737 Max 8 planes in the U.S. commented in incident reports about the noses of their planes dipping when the autopilot system on the aircraft had been engaged, according to a report in The New York Times citing a federal government database of incident reports.

Those reported problems are similar to the ones that occurred before the October Lion Air crash of Flight 610 in Indonesia.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is standing behind its decision to keep the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes airborne.

In a statement issued late yesterday, the FAA said it is reviewing all available data and has found “no systemic performance issues.”

The plane has been involved in two accidents within the last 6 months.

On Sunday, an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed just after take off killing all 157 people on board. Last year, in October, the Boeing 737 Max 8 was involved in a crash in which an Indonesian Lion Air jet also crashed, killing 189 passengers and crew.

Roughly 350 737 Max 8 planes remain in service around the globe, mainly in the U.S.

Meanwhile, fleets using Boeing’s latest 737 in countries across the globe have grounded the aircraft. The plane has been suspended from service in AeroMexico, Argentina, Australia, Brazil’s Gol airline, China, Egypt, all European countries, three Persian Gulf states, India, Iceland, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Singapore, South Korea, and Turkey.

Here’s the full statement from the FAA.

The FAA continues to review extensively all available data and aggregate safety performance from operators and pilots of the Boeing 737 MAX. Thus far, our review shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft.  Nor have other civil aviation authorities provided data to us that would warrant action.  In the course of our urgent review of data on the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash, if any issues affecting the continued airworthiness of the aircraft are identified, the FAA will take immediate and appropriate action.

5G phones are here but there’s no rush to upgrade

This year’s Mobile World Congress — the CES for Android device makers — was awash with 5G handsets.

The world’s No.1 smartphone seller by marketshare, Samsung, got out ahead with a standalone launch event in San Francisco, showing off two 5G devices, just before fast-following Android rivals popped out their own 5G phones at launch events across Barcelona this week.

We’ve rounded up all these 5G handset launches here. Prices range from an eye-popping $2,600 for Huawei’s foldable phabet-to-tablet Mate X — and an equally eye-watering $1,980 for Samsung’s Galaxy Fold; another 5G handset that bends — to a rather more reasonable $680 for Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 3 5G, albeit the device is otherwise mid-tier. Other prices for 5G phones announced this week remain tbc.

Android OEMs are clearly hoping the hype around next-gen mobile networks can work a little marketing magic and kick-start stalled smartphone growth. Especially with reports suggesting Apple won’t launch a 5G iPhone until at least next year. So 5G is a space Android OEMs alone get to own for a while.

Chipmaker Qualcomm, which is embroiled in a bitter patent battle with Apple, was also on stage in Barcelona to support Xiaomi’s 5G phone launch — loudly claiming the next-gen tech is coming fast and will enhance “everything”.

“We like to work with companies like Xiaomi to take risks,” lavished Qualcomm’s president Cristiano Amon upon his hosts, using 5G uptake to jibe at Apple by implication. “When we look at the opportunity ahead of us for 5G we see an opportunity to create winners.”

Despite the heavy hype, Xiaomi’s on stage demo — which it claimed was the first live 5G video call outside China — seemed oddly staged and was not exactly lacking in latency.

“Real 5G — not fake 5G!” finished Donovan Sung, the Chinese OEM’s director of product management. As a 5G sales pitch it was all very underwhelming. Much more ‘so what’ than ‘must have’.

Whether 5G marketing hype alone will convince consumers it’s past time to upgrade seems highly unlikely.

Phones sell on features rather than connectivity per se, and — whatever Qualcomm claims — 5G is being soft-launched into the market by cash-constrained carriers whose boom times lie behind them, i.e. before over-the-top players had gobbled their messaging revenues and monopolized consumer eyeballs.

All of which makes 5G an incremental consumer upgrade proposition in the near to medium term.

Use-cases for the next-gen network tech, which is touted as able to support speeds up to 100x faster than LTE and deliver latency of just a few milliseconds (as well as connecting many more devices per cell site), are also still being formulated, let alone apps and services created to leverage 5G.

But selling a network upgrade to consumers by claiming the killer apps are going to be amazing but you just can’t show them any yet is as tough as trying to make theatre out of a marginally less janky video call.

“5G could potentially help [spark smartphone growth] in a couple of years as price points lower, and availability expands, but even that might not see growth rates similar to the transition to 3G and 4G,” suggests Carolina Milanesi, principal analyst at Creative Strategies, writing in a blog post discussing Samsung’s strategy with its latest device launches.

“This is not because 5G is not important, but because it is incremental when it comes to phones and it will be other devices that will deliver on experiences, we did not even think were possible. Consumers might end up, therefore, sharing their budget more than they did during the rise of smartphones.”

The ‘problem’ for 5G — if we can call it that — is that 4G/LTE networks are capably delivering all the stuff consumers love right now: Games, apps and video. Which means that for the vast majority of consumers there’s simply no reason to rush to shell out for a ‘5G-ready’ handset. Not if 5G is all the innovation it’s got going for it.

LG V50 ThinQ 5G with a dual screen accessory for gaming

Use cases such as better AR/VR are also a tough sell given how weak consumer demand has generally been on those fronts (with the odd branded exception).

The barebones reality is that commercial 5G networks are as rare as hen’s teeth right now, outside a few limited geographical locations in the U.S. and Asia. And 5G will remain a very patchy patchwork for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, it may take a very long time indeed to achieve nationwide coverage in many countries, if 5G even ends up stretching right to all those edges. (Alternative technologies do also exist which could help fill in gaps where the ROI just isn’t there for 5G.)

So again consumers buying phones with the puffed up idea of being able to tap into 5G right here, right now (Qualcomm claimed 2019 is going to be “the year of 5G!”) will find themselves limited to just a handful of urban locations around the world.

Analysts are clear that 5G rollouts, while coming, are going to be measured and targeted as carriers approach what’s touted as a multi-industry-transforming wireless technology cautiously, with an eye on their capex and while simultaneously trying to figure out how best to restructure their businesses to engage with all the partners they’ll need to forge business relations with, across industries, in order to successfully sell 5G’s transformative potential to all sorts of enterprises — and lock onto “the sweep spot where 5G makes sense”.

Enterprise rollouts therefore look likely to be prioritized over consumer 5G — as was the case for 5G launches in South Korea at the back end of last year.

“4G was a lot more driven by the consumer side and there was an understanding that you were going for national coverage that was never really a question and you were delivering on the data promise that 3G never really delivered… so there was a gap of technology that needed to be filled. With 5G it’s much less clear,” says Gartner’s Sylvain Fabre, discussing the tech’s hype and the reality with TechCrunch ahead of MWC.

“4G’s very good, you have multiple networks that are Gbps or more and that’s continuing to increase on the downlink with multiple carrier aggregation… and other densification schemes. So 5G doesn’t… have as gap as big to fill. It’s great but again it’s applicability of where it’s uniquely positioned is kind of like a very narrow niche at the moment.”

“It’s such a step change that the real power of 5G is actually in creating new business models using network slicing — allocation of particular aspects of the network to a particular use-case,” Forrester analyst Dan Bieler also tells us. “All of this requires some rethinking of what connectivity means for an enterprise customer or for the consumer.

“And telco sales people, the telco go-to-market approach is not based on selling use-cases, mostly — it’s selling technologies. So this is a significant shift for the average telco distribution channel to go through. And I would believe this will hold back a lot of the 5G ambitions for the medium term.”

To be clear, carriers are now actively kicking the tyres of 5G, after years of lead-in hype, and grappling with technical challenges around how best to upgrade their existing networks to add in and build out 5G.

Many are running pilots and testing what works and what doesn’t, such as where to place antennas to get the most reliable signal and so on. And a few have put a toe in the water with commercial launches (globally there are 23 networks with “some form of live 5G in their commercial networks” at this point, according to Fabre.)

But at the same time 5G network standards are yet to be fully finalized so the core technology is not 100% fully baked. And with it being early days “there’s still a long way to go before we have a real significant impact of 5G type of services”, as Bieler puts it. 

There’s also spectrum availability to factor in and the cost of acquiring the necessary spectrum. As well as the time required to clear and prepare it for commercial use. (On spectrum, government policy is critical to making things happen quickly (or not). So that’s yet another factor moderating how quickly 5G networks can be built out.)

And despite some wishful thinking industry noises at MWC this week — calling for governments to ‘support digitization at scale’ by handing out spectrum for free (uhhhh, yeah right) — that’s really just whistling into the wind.

Rolling out 5G networks is undoubtedly going to be very expensive, at a time when carriers’ businesses are already faced with rising costs (from increasing data consumption) and subdued revenue growth forecasts.

“The world now works on data” and telcos are “at core of this change”, as one carrier CEO — Singtel’s Chua Sock Koong — put it in an MWC keynote in which she delved into the opportunities and challenges for operators “as we go from traditional connectivity to a new age of intelligent connectivity”.

Chua argued it will be difficult for carriers to compete “on the basis of connectivity alone” — suggesting operators will have to pivot their businesses to build out standalone business offerings selling all sorts of b2b services to support the digital transformations of other industries as part of the 5G promise — and that’s clearly going to suck up a lot of their time and mind for the foreseeable future.

In Europe alone estimates for the cost of rolling out 5G range between €300BN and €500BN (~$340BN-$570BN), according to Bieler. Figures that underline why 5G is going to grow slowly, and networks be built out thoughtfully; in the b2b space this means essentially on a case-by-case basis.

Simply put carriers must make the economics stack up. Which means no “huge enormous gambles with 5G”. And omnipresent ROI pressure pushing them to try to eke out a premium.

“A lot of the network equipment vendors have turned down the hype quite a bit,” Bieler continues. “If you compare this to the hype around 3G many years ago or 4G a couple of years ago 5G definitely comes across as a soft launch. Sort of an evolutionary type of technology. I have not come across a network equipment vendors these days who will say there will be a complete change in everything by 2020.”

On the consumer pricing front, carriers have also only just started to grapple with 5G business models. One early example is TC parent Verizon’s 5G home service — which positions the next-gen wireless tech as an alternative to fixed line broadband with discounts if you opt for a wireless smartphone data plan as well as 5G broadband.

From the consumer point of view, the carrier 5G business model conundrum boils down to: What is my carrier going to charge me for 5G? And early adopters of any technology tend to get stung on that front.

Although, in mobile, price premiums rarely stick around for long as carriers inexorably find they must ditch premiums to unlock scale — via consumer-friendly ‘all you can eat’ price plans.

Still, in the short term, carriers look likely to experiment with 5G pricing and bundles — basically seeing what they can make early adopters pay. But it’s still far from clear that people will pay a premium for better connectivity alone. And that again necessitates caution. 

5G bundled with exclusive content might be one way carriers try to extract a premium from consumers. But without huge and/or compelling branded content inventory that risks being a too niche proposition too. And the more carriers split their 5G offers the more consumers might feel they don’t need to bother, and end up sticking with 4G for longer.

It’ll also clearly take time for a 5G ‘killer app’ to emerge in the consumer space. And such an app would likely need to still be able to fallback on 4G, again to ensure scale. So the 5G experience will really need to be compellingly different in order for the tech to sell itself.

On the handset side, 5G chipset hardware is also still in its first wave. At MWC this week Qualcomm announced a next-gen 5G modem, stepping up from last year’s Snapdragon 855 chipset — which it heavily touted as architected for 5G (though it doesn’t natively support 5G).

If you’re intending to buy and hold on to a 5G handset for a few years there’s thus a risk of early adopter burn at the chipset level — i.e. if you end up with a device with a suckier battery life vs later iterations of 5G hardware where more performance kinks have been ironed out.

Intel has warned its 5G modems won’t be in phones until next year — so, again, that suggests no 5G iPhones before 2020. And Apple is of course a great bellwether for mainstream consumer tech; the company only jumps in when it believes a technology is ready for prime time, rarely sooner. And if Cupertino feels 5G can wait, that’s going to be equally true for most consumers.

Zooming out, the specter of network security (and potential regulation) now looms very large indeed where 5G is concerned, thanks to East-West trade tensions injecting a strange new world of geopolitical uncertainty into an industry that’s never really had to grapple with this kind of business risk before.

Chinese kit maker Huawei’s rotating chairman, Guo Ping, used the opportunity of an MWC keynote to defend the company and its 5G solutions against U.S. claims its network tech could be repurposed by the Chinese state as a high tech conduit to spy on the West — literally telling delegates: “We don’t do bad things” and appealing to them to plainly to: “Please choose Huawei!”

Huawei rotating resident, Guo Ping, defends the security of its network kit on stage at MWC 2019

When established technology vendors are having to use a high profile industry conference to plead for trust it’s strange and uncertain times indeed.

In Europe it’s possible carriers’ 5G network kit choices could soon be regulated as a result of security concerns attached to Chinese suppliers. The European Commission suggested as much this week, saying in another MWC keynote that it’s preparing to step in try to prevent security concerns at the EU Member State level from fragmenting 5G rollouts across the bloc.

In an on stage Q&A Orange’s chairman and CEO, Stéphane Richard, couched the risk of destabilization of the 5G global supply chain as a “big concern”, adding: “It’s the first time we have such an important risk in our industry.”

Geopolitical security is thus another issue carriers are having to factor in as they make decisions about how quickly to make the leap to 5G. And holding off on upgrades, while regulators and other standards bodies try to figure out a trusted way forward, might seem the more sensible thing to do — potentially stalling 5G upgrades in the meanwhile.

Given all the uncertainties there’s certainly no reason for consumers to rush in.

Smartphone upgrade cycles have slowed globally for a reason. Mobile hardware is mature because it’s serving consumers very well. Handsets are both powerful and capable enough to last for years.

And while there’s no doubt 5G will change things radically in future, including for consumers — enabling many more devices to be connected and feeding back data, with the potential to deliver on the (much hyped but also still pretty nascent) ‘smart home’ concept — the early 5G sales pitch for consumers essentially boils down to more of the same.

“Over the next ten years 4G will phase out. The question is how fast that happens in the meantime and again I think that will happen slower than in early times because [with 5G] you don’t come into a vacuum, you don’t fill a big gap,” suggests Gartner’s Fabre. “4G’s great, it’s getting better, wi’fi’s getting better… The story of let’s build a big national network to do 5G at scale [for all] that’s just not happening.”

“I think we’ll start very, very simple,” he adds of the 5G consumer proposition. “Things like caching data or simply doing more broadband faster. So more of the same.

“It’ll be great though. But you’ll still be watching Netflix and maybe there’ll be a couple of apps that come up… Maybe some more interactive collaboration or what have you. But we know these things are being used today by enterprises and consumers and they’ll continue to be used.”

So — in sum — the 5G mantra for the sensible consumer is really ‘wait and see’.

Developing good BGP neighbour relationships @ APRICOT 2019

Routing Security is featuring heavily on the APRICOT 2019 programme, which is being held on 23-28 February 2019 in Daejeon, South Korea. This helps build on the MANRS initiative being supported by the Internet Society,

On Wednesday, 27 February (09.30-13.00 UTC+9) there will be a Routing Security session that will discuss the latest problems, developments, and how routing security measures can be implemented. Speakers include Job Snijders (NTT) who’ll be discussing changes to BGP in the coming 18 months; Töma Gavrichenkov (Qrator Labs) on how BGP hijacks can be used to compromise the digital certificates used to secure online transactions; and from Anurag Bhatia (Hurricane Electric) who’ll analyse the top misused ASNs.

During the second part of the session, Tashi Puntsho (APNIC) will cover the practical issues and implications of deploying your own RPKI Certificate Authority; Tim Bruijnzeels (NLnet Labs) will discuss the use of route servers at Internet Exchange Points; whilst Ed Lewis (ICANN) will discuss the issues with using the RIR Whois databases.

Following on from this, our colleague Andrei Robachevsky will be raising awareness of the MANRS Initiative during the FIRST Technical Colloquium (16.30-18.00 UTC+9).

FIRST is the global organisation of Computer Security and Incident Teams (CSIRTs) which are often in the front line when network security incidents occur, but are also involved in implementing preventative measures and capacity building. MANRS therefore considers CSIRTs to be important partners in improving the security and resilience of the global routing system, as well as providing input and feedback on the MANRS Observatory that is being developed to provide analysis of the state of the security and resilience of the routing system.

The Asia Pacific Regional Internet Conference on Operational Technologies (APRICOT) is the largest international Internet conference in the region, drawing network engineers, operators, researchers, service providers, users and policy communities from over 50 countries to teach, present, and develop relationships. Other Asia-Pacific networking organisations also use the opportunity to meet, in order to share knowledge required to operate the Internet.

If you’re interested in attending then it’s still possible to register at https://2019.apricot.net/register/register/

Alternatively, if you’re unable to make it in person, then the sessions can be followed via webcast.

Further Information

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