Tech.pinions – Perspective, Insight, Analysis Perspective. Insight. Analysis Sat, 18 Feb 2017 09:00:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The analysts at Tech.pinions share their thoughts, perspectives, and observations on the technology landscape. Tech.pinions – Perspective, Insight, Analysis Insight and Perspective on the Technology Industry Tech.pinions – Perspective, Insight, Analysis Podcast: Samsung Arrest, iPhone AR, Apple Content, Facebook Manifesto Sat, 18 Feb 2017 09:00:21 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

In this week’s Tech.pinions podcast Tim Bajarin and Bob O’Donnell discuss the recent arrest of the Samsung heir apparent, chat about iPhone rumors and Apple’s potential plans for Augmented Reality, debate Apple’s efforts in creating original content, and discuss the implications of Mark Zuckerberg’s massive tome on social media in the modern era.

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Baby Steps toward a Smart Connected Home Fri, 17 Feb 2017 09:00:18 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I recently took the first steps toward turning my “dumb” house into something a little bit smarter by buying some of the most expensive light bulbs and light switches on the planet. My reasons were twofold: One, I wanted something more robust than the old-school timers I’ve always used for turning lights on and off while we’re traveling. Two, I wanted a more automated way to follow behind my two kids, who’ve never met a light they didn’t leave on.

Philips Hue

There is a growing list of connected bulb vendors out there but Philips has been in the market for a long time and their products have generally strong reviews. The company has clearly learned from hitting the market early, as my experience setting up their Hue bulbs proved exceedingly simple. I bought a bridge and two light bulb bundle for $70 and a bunch of individual bulbs. A single white LED bulb costs $15 (and is rated for 15,000 hours); a third-generation, any-color-you-can imagine LED bulb costs $50 (!). After connecting the bridge to my router and loading the iOS app on my phone, it took just a few minutes to connect all of my various bulbs to the bridge. 

I was very impressed with my Hue experience. The app lets you set up individual lights, and group those lights into rooms. You can also add accessories, such as physical dimmer switches and motion sensors. Creating routines, such as having some lights come on when you arrive home and others turn off when you leave, was a bit more complicated but ultimately, pretty achievable. It’s worth noting the programmable color light Hue is very cool (Philips claims it is capable of 16 million colors), but it is overkill for most people. Before you make such an investment, you should test the waters with a basic white bulb. 

Belkin Wemo

In addition to setting up a handful of connected light bulbs, I also installed a Belkin Wemo light switch as well as two Wemo smart plugs. The switch ($50) lets me control a set of four lights without buying four connected bulbs. The smart plugs ($35) let me control two standalone lamps with standard LED bulbs. The switch is a more involved installation as it necessitates swapping out an existing light switch and requires a neutral home wire. Happily, this installation also went smoothly. The plugs are dead simple: You just plug them into the wall and plug in the existing lamp. Of course, to make the Wemo products work, I had to download yet another iOS app and navigate yet another interface. Instead of routines, Wemo offers rules, which are also fairly straightforward to set up. 

In the span of about an hour, I had my various light bulbs, plugs, and switches up and running and connected to their requisite apps. The whole process was so smooth and painless I found myself wishing that it resulted in something slightly more useful than just being able to turn on and off lights. That said, while it may be pretty basic, it’s also pretty useful.

Almost Ready for Prime Time

I’ve been thinking about diving into the smart home pool for some time, but I didn’t actually make the leap until another product made me give it more serious consideration: Amazon’s Echo. In the last year, we’ve added an Echo and a Dot to the house and the Alexa technology has integrated into my family’s life in a major way, from setting timers to playing music and podcasts to checking weather and traffic. Once that evolution happened, it was a short step to add more connected devices. All told, it took about 30 seconds to set up Amazon’s Alexa to control both Hue and Wemo. The fact is, if I had to find and use my smartphone to interact with these connected devices every time I needed to turn on or turn off a light, I would not have made the purchase. Another thing is pretty clear: I’m probably not done. With this success under my belt, I find myself looking more closely at other connected options such as door locks, security cameras, and a thermostat. 

One of the reasons the smart, connected home has taken so long to find traction among “regular” people is there have long been too many competing standards muddying the water. Philips, Belkin, and Amazon have made these competing standards largely disappear for this end user and that’s a big step in the right direction. As more people take the plunge, economies of scale kick in, and prices should continue to come down. In the end, Alexa may turn out to be the missing piece that finally brings the smart home puzzle together for more people. I look forward to watching this market evolve over the next few years. 

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Unpacking the Week’s News: Friday, February 17, 2017 Fri, 17 Feb 2017 09:00:04 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Amazon Chime Adds Value for AWS Customers Turning Amazon into a more Appealing One-Stop Shop – by Carolina Milanesi Earlier this week, Amazon released a new video conferencing app called Chime. Chime is a managed…

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Apple, Content, and Exclusivity Thu, 16 Feb 2017 18:05:38 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Exclusivity = differentiation. This is a key point to understand. Apple has always remained differentiated in the market on the back of what they offer that no one else can. Apple’s management likes to call…

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Acquisitions in Tech have a Checkered History Thu, 16 Feb 2017 09:00:38 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Acquisition strategy has been in the news this week. Apple CFO Luca Maestri was asked at a Goldman Sachs conference about how the company might use its cash in the wake of a repatriation tax holiday. He downplayed the potential for acquisitions while reiterating Tim Cook’s point that Apple doesn’t reject deals on the basis of being over a certain price point. There’s also been reporting this week about Apple’s negotiating strategy during acquisition talks hurting its ability to close big deals. In that context, it’s worth looking at the history of consumer tech acquisitions and how they’ve fared.

I’ve focused this analysis on a handful of the largest and most acquisitive companies in the consumer tech sphere and used data from Crunchbase to identify those deals worth over $100 million. The charts below show both the total value of these deals and the average deal size for each company:

As you can see, there’s a big range here with Microsoft coming out on top, in terms of total value of the deals, and Facebook coming out on top with highest average deal size (heavily affected by its $19 billion WhatsApp acquisition). Among the larger companies, Apple and Amazon have done the smallest total value of deals over $100 million, while Twitter’s total is quite a bit less.

If you narrow the focus to deals over a billion dollars, which might reasonably be considered “big” deals, an interesting picture emerges – here’s the listing of deals I found which match that criterion:

Microsoft is most represented on this list, in part by virtue of being one of the longest-standing companies in the group, but also because it seems particularly willing to do these billion-plus deals relative to others. It has eight out of the 19 deals shown with Alphabet second at five. Apple only has one entry on the list (Beats at $3 billion) and Samsung also has just the one, with its recently announced Harman deal at $8 billion.

How, then, have these various big deals fared? It’s worth looking at them in several categories:

  • Big successes: I’d put Instagram, DoubleClick, YouTube and Zappos into this camp – each of those companies has been a massive success for its new parent
  • Big failures: Skype, Motorola Mobility, Nokia, and aQuantive all belong in this list – each was either resold at a much lower price, written down almost entirely by the acquirer, or has simply failed to perform
  • Solid successes – I’d say this group includes Beats, on the basis of the solid success of Apple Music (but also part of the declining accessories business at Apple), Fast Search and Transfer at Microsoft (now Microsoft Development Center Norway), Waze, and Navision (although it could be argued it belongs in the big success bucket as a foundational piece of Dynamics).

Many of the rest of the deals are too early in their tenure at their new homes to be certain how these acquisitions will fare long term. The LinkedIn deal just barely closed, while the WhatsApp deal has been closed for some time but Facebook hasn’t really turned on monetization for it yet so it’s hard to tell whether that will ever pay off.

Some companies seem to fare particularly poorly. Microsoft has three of the four big failures, with Alphabet having the other. But it’s also done well with some deals and all the big failures happened during the Steve Ballmer era rather than under new CEO Satya Nadella. Alphabet’s deals have mostly done well, Facebook’s are a mixed bag, and Samsung’s only big acquisition looks smart on paper but hasn’t even closed yet. Apple has only the one pretty successful acquisition on the list.

The reality is M&A is a risky business, with one of the biggest challenges being cultural fit. That’s particularly challenging at Apple because it sees its culture as both unique and uniquely important. That means smaller deals for technology and tight-knit teams of people are a better fit than massive established businesses with large workforces. For other companies with more generic engineering and software cultures, such acquisitions may be easier.

But it’s also fair to say the biggest failures include several attempts to use big acquisitions as levers for massive strategic shifts, while the most successful acquisitions have often been logical extensions of existing businesses. Skype, Nokia, and aQuantive at Microsoft all fell into the former category, for example, whereas Zappos at Amazon, YouTube and DoubleClick at Google, and Instagram at Facebook were all fairly adjacent businesses. Big strategic shifts have rarely been enabled by taking on entirely new and different businesses – those are often best established through organic change or technology acquisitions which enable broader changes.

To me, it looks like the smartest companies in this group understand this and are very discerning about the acquisitions they make. In some cases, that probably means looking at a lot of deals they eventually pass on and, in other cases, it means losing out to companies willing to move faster on due diligence. But that’s the price you pay for a careful acquisition strategy intended to protect a corporate culture rather than bring change at any cost.

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Black History Month: Another Reminder Tech Needs Diversity Wed, 15 Feb 2017 09:00:40 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

It would come as no surprise that tech is a big part of my life, not just my job. As such, many books around the house, podcasts I listen to, documentaries I watch are tech-related. If you read my article ‘What “Hidden Figures” Can Teach Us about AI’ or follow me on Twitter you also know I have a 9-year-old daughter who is mixed race. So, as a mom, I always try and make sure my girl has role models for her gender and ethnic background. When it comes to tech, however, finding names of black leaders is still not that easy.

Let’s Look at the Numbers

The most recent Apple Inclusion and Diversity Report shows black employees make up 9% of the current workforce and 13% of new hires. When looking at leadership, however, that 9% drops to 3%, a number that has not changed since 2014. At Google, black employees represent only 2% of both the overall staff and the leadership. At Microsoft, 3.7% of the employees are black and only 2.1% are in leadership positions. Amazon’s workforce is only 5% black (I could not find any information on how blacks are represented in leadership roles). At Facebook, black employees represent 2% of overall employees and 3% of senior leadership. Twitter, that just last week lost its diversity chief, had recently shared its diversity numbers showing the percentage of black employees in its workforce had remained the same as in 2015: 3%. This was after a very public diversity pledge.

It’s hard for me to look at these numbers and feel encouraged about how inclusive tech really is and what opportunity my daughter will have in it.

The Diversity Wheel

The Diversity Wheel was created by Marilyn Loden in the 1990s to better understand how group-based differences contribute to people’s social identities. There have been several iterations of the diversity wheel but the most common is made of three circles:

  1. Internal Dimensions – age, gender, physical ability and race. These dimensions are usually the most permanent and they are also the most visible.
  2. External Dimension – marital status, work experience, income
  3. Organizational Dimension – management status, work location, work field

The latter two circles represent dimensions acquired over time and can also change over time.

Educational background is one of the external dimensions that contributes to people’s social identity. A recent report by Georgetown University said that, while the number of African-Americans going to college has never been higher, African-American college students are more likely to pursue majors that lead to low-paying jobs. Law and public policy is the top major for African-Americans with a Bachelor’s Degree. The highest paying major among African-Americans is in health and medical administration. The second lowest paying major among African-American is in human services and community organization with median earnings at $39,000. African-Americans only account for eight percent of general engineering majors, seven percent of mathematics majors, and five percent of computer majors. Even those who do major in high-paying fields typically choose the lowest paying major within them. For example, the majority of black women in STEM typically study biology, the lowest paying of the science discipline. Among engineers, most black men study civil engineering, the lowest paying in that sector.

A very interesting point the report also raises is that African-Americans who have strong community-based values enter into college majors that reflect those values. Despite comprising just 12 percent of the population, African-Americans are 20 percent of all community organizers.

Incorporating elements of community service into careers in tech, business and STEM will increase the appeal to Africa-American students and will be a way for tech to be more visible in those communities. This can become a positive circle of evangelization but needs to start with black students seeing the opportunity first.

Diversity is the Nation’s Unfinished Business

How do you break the cycle first? How can my little girl be inspired to be in tech if she does not see enough peoplelike her, not just in tech, but people being successful in tech? Chief Diversity Officer at Case Western Reserve University, Dr Marilyn Sanders Mobley, refers to diversity as “the nation’s unfinished business”. When it comes to tech, it certainly is the case.

The recent focus on immigration have had many comment on how diverse Silicon Valley is. You only need to stroll down Mountain View to bump into Chinese, Koreans, Europeans, Indians. But this only means Silicon Valley is international, not diverse. Dr. Sanders Mobley says you cannot address what you cannot acknowledge and it starts with acknowledging blind spots. Here is the first one: internationalism and diversity are not one and the same.

Another important point Dr. Sanders Mobley highlights is that, when it comes to fostering diversity in the workplace, there is a need for affinity and employee resource groups. Not everybody will use them or need them but they are necessary to provide a sense of belonging.

So it starts with empowering students to enter the workplace aiming for better paying jobs, aiming for management and leadership positions and then creating a work environment that fosters a sense of belonging. Kimberly Bryant’s effort with BlackGilrsCode is a great example of how to plant the seed with kids, in this case girls, right at the time when they are starting to think about what they want to be when they grow up.

While black students are underrepresented in tech education, however, this is not the ultimate issue as there are still more black students graduating than there are currently working in tech. How is that possible? Mostly because the recruiting process is broken. Silicon Valley often looks within itself. Employee referral programs are very common and recruiters, who often do not have any coding or engineering expertise, tend to rely on Ivy League universities and large tech names like Google and Apple as a measure of a candidate’s ability. Then there is a hiring bias. Blind resumes like the ones that Blendoor offer help in making a candidate visible to the recruiter but do not necessarily guarantee an interview, let alone a job.

Widening the pipeline, changing recruiting techniques and increasing awareness of bias will all help to solve what is the ultimate issue in attracting a diverse workforce: nobody wants to be a tick in the box of a diversity report. It is hard to attract a diverse workforce when the current mix of the company is predominantly white and male. It is even harder for a black kid to think he or she can be the next Steve Jobs.

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Is Mobile Innovation Dead? Wed, 15 Feb 2017 09:00:03 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I have a very long history when it comes to being involved with laptop designs. In 1984, as part of my consulting work with IBM, I was asked to be part of the team that…

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The Big Six in Q4 2016 Tue, 14 Feb 2017 09:00:58 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Every quarter, I do a comparison of the financial and operating results of the “big six” consumer technology companies – Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Samsung – for my clients as part of the…

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Modern Workplaces Still More Vision Than Reality Tue, 14 Feb 2017 09:00:50 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

We’ve all seen the images. Happy young employees, working productively in open-air workspaces, easily collaborating with co-workers and outside colleagues all-over the world, utilizing persistent chat tools like Slack to keep on top of all their latest projects and other efforts. It sounds great, and in a few places in Silicon Valley, things do work that way—at least in theory.

But at most companies in the US (and likely the rest of the world), well, not so much. It’s not that companies aren’t looking at or starting to use some of these new communication and collaboration technologies. Some are, but the deployment levels are low at less than 30% overall; plus, employee habits haven’t really changed in many places.

Such are the results from the latest study on workplace trends completed by TECHnalysis Research. The study is based on a survey of 1,001 US-based working adults aged 18-74 at medium (100-999 employees) and large (1,000+ employees) companies across a range of industries. The survey goal was to understand how the modern workplace is evolving in terms of how and where people work, as well as the hardware, software, services and capabilities that employees expect from their employers.

I wrote about some of the surprising results regarding work habits and locations in a previous column called “The Workplace of the Future” but for this column I’m going to focus on some of the big picture implications of the research, as well as some technology-specific trends.

The key takeaway is that both technologies and habits rooted in the 20th century are keeping the 21st century vision of the modern workplace from becoming reality. For example, despite the appearance of modern communications and collaboration tools, it’s the “old school” methods of emails, phone calls and texts that make up 75% of all communications with co-workers. There are certainly some differences based on the age of the employee, but even for workers under 45, the number is 71% (emails and voice calls make up 58% for that age group).

From a device perspective, the most common tool by far is not a smartphone, but a company-owned desktop PC, which is used for just under half (48%) of all device-related work. (For the record, personally owned smartphones are only used for 7.5% of total work on average.) Partially as a result, some version of Windows is used for rougly 2/3 (65%) of all work, with Android at 11%, iOS at 10%, and the rest split among cloud-based platforms, Macs, Linux and other alternative options. Arguably, that is a drop from the days when Windows owned 90%+, but it still shows how dominant Microsoft is in the workplace.

Open air environments have received a great deal of attention and focus in modern workplaces, but there’s a potential gremlin in that future work vision: noise. In fact, in about 25% of outside the office alternative or shared workspaces (such as WeWork) and in 20% of inside the office alternative or shared workspaces, noise was cited as having a serious impact on productivity. Given these numbers, it’s not terribly surprising to see reports suggesting that some of these experiments in workplace flexibility are not working out as well as hoped.

From a conference room perspective, basic audioconferencing, guest WiFi, and wireless access to projectors (or other displays) are the most widely available services, but when asked which of these capabilities offers the greatest quality and utility, the story was very different. Modern tools such as HD videoconferencing, large interactive screens (a la Microsoft’s Surface Hub), electronic whiteboards, and dedicated computing devices designed to ease meeting collaboration(such as HP’s new Elite Slice, based on Intel’s Unite platform), scored the highest satisfaction levels, despite their currently low levels of usage. In other words, companies who invest in modern collaboration tools are likely to find higher usage and appreciation for those devices.

Companies who invest in modern collaboration tools are likely to find higher usage and appreciation for those devices.”

From a software perspective, it seems that old habits die hard. Emailing documents back and forth is still the most common methold of collaboration with co-workers at 35%, while the usage of cloud-based storage services is only 8% with co-workers and 7% with colleagues from other organizations. Similarly, real-time document collaboration tools, such as Microsoft’s Office 365 and Google Docs, which have now been available for several years, are only used with co-workers for collaboration purposes by 19% of respondents.

Modern forms of security, such as biometrics, are another key part of the ideal future workplace vision. In current-day reality, though, biometric security methods are only used 15% of the time for corporate data, 14% for physical facilities, and 12% for access to either corporate-owned or personally owned devices. Surprisingly, 41% of respondents said their company does not have any security policy for personal owned devices—yet those personal devices are used to complete 25% of the device-based work that they do. No wonder security issues at many organizations are a serious concern.

The tools and technologies are already available to deliver on a highly optimized, highly productive workplace of the future, but, as the survey results show, there’s still a long way to go before that vision becomes reality.

(If you’d like to dig a bit deeper, a free copy of a few survey highlights is available to download in PDF format here.)

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Smartphone Brand Repurchase Intention Mon, 13 Feb 2017 17:10:27 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

As I’ve said before, the global smartphone sales race is establishing the global consumer tech brands to fuel the next decade. When we talked about global consumer technology brands in the past, companies like Samsung,…

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Snapchat Spectacles and Making Memories Mon, 13 Feb 2017 09:00:17 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I recently acquired a pair of the elusive Spectacles by Snap Inc. the parent company of Snapchat. While not the most stylish design, the best way to describe them is whimsical, playful, fun, and entertaining. Phrases which I also believe are the best way to understand Snapchat and Snap Inc. as a whole. Strategically, Snapchat is positioning themselves as a camera company. However, it really is not as simple as that when you dig into what Snap Inc is up to.

An important element to understanding a typical Snapchat user is the vast majority of its user base is equally both a content consumer and content producer. This dynamic is somewhat similar to Instagram but quite different from Facebook where more users are consumers than producers. A highly engaged producer of content, both in videos and photos in Snapchat, is key to the services future. In this light, Spectacles make a great deal of sense. Your smartphone is no doubt an amazing capture device. However, your smartphone is not always handy. The value of having a camera on your face, in this case in sunglasses, is the ease and convenience of instant capture. While not the biggest Snapchat user (certainly not like my teenage daughter), my contribution of video to stories on Snapchat has dramatically increased thanks to Spectacles. Increasing the amount of video created by users lies at the center of where Snap Inc. is going as a camera company.

Part of the clear upside with Snapchat is the number of hours its users spend consuming video content. This remains a clear benchmark Snap’s management uses and is, amazingly, on par with Facebook’s number of video views but with roughly a tenth of the daily active users. Video is central to Snapchat’s upside. The playful, whimsical, and entertaining nature of the videos created by its user base is also key to its differentiation. While I don’t expect Snap Inc. or Snapchat the service to break from this fun and entertaining focus, there is a broader point about Spectacles and my experience with them that I think is worth making. The camera in your smartphone remains one of the most important features year over year consumers gravitate to. I’d argue this is not because of the picture taking capabilities and but more subtly about the memory making capabilities.

Making Memories

I was an early adopter of GoPro cameras. I live a relatively active lifestyle and being able to create video underwater, snowboarding, biking, etc., was extremely appealing to me. Most of those use cases don’t make it convenient to hold your smartphone while you take video of yourself plunging down a mountain. So, the ability to strap a capture device to your body, turn it on, and go have fun made a lot of sense and still does today. The side benefit of the GoPro I did not realize until I owned one was the role it would take in making memories, not just of some crazy stuff I did but of my family.

I was that guy. The dude who strapped a GoPro to his head and walked around Disneyland with his family.

Yes, I got strange looks from people but I didn’t care. Getting great memories of my girls’ first time on a roller coaster or skiing or ice skating for the first time was, and still is, worth it. When you have a first person capture device on you, you realize something profound when you use it in the memory-making context. In my experience, when using it for birthday parties, Disneyland, and other key moments I want to remember, a device like a GoPro and Spectacles (in concept) allows you to remain present when the moment is unfolding. Who wants to watch all of their kid’s firsts through the screen of your smartphone camera? With a GoPro and now, with Spectacles, you can watch the moment as it happens and be totally present in it but still capture it on video for all of eternity. This is the broader opportunity for a less invasive camera that we have in our glasses, on our head, or wherever it may end up in the future.

What has gotten better over the years, as GoPro has evolved and even more with Spectacles + Snapchat, is the ease to go straight from memory capture to sharing/saving. I’d argue the experience with Spectacles + Snapchat is the most seamless I’ve used yet with a device that isn’t a smartphone. With a GoPro, it could take me several minutes to get a video I just took, add some slight editing, and share it, With Spectacles, it takes seconds since the video is quickly synced with your smartphone and available in the app to edit and share. The great thing about Spectacles is they truly function like an extension of your smartphone camera that seamlessly integrates back into the software. This is an area where I feel there is a broader opportunity for companies, Apple and Facebook in particular, and perhaps Google to continue to explore.

While the smartphone will remain a primary capture device for some time, capture accessories that become extensions of our smartphone camera, like a GoPro or Spectacles, make a great deal of sense when done right. Particularly with things like virtual and augmented reality experiences in the future where we can relive memories in virtual reality or simulate being present at a sports game or event in another town without having to be physically present. In most cases, these capture devices will not be your smartphone and will most likely come from companies perfecting the optics, silicon/sensors, design, and software today. Which is a key reason, Snap Inc., in making their key mission to be a camera company, is so interesting.

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Podcast: Android Wear 2.0 Smartwatches, Android-Enabled Chromebooks, Oculus-Best Buy Sat, 11 Feb 2017 09:00:18 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

In this week’s Tech.pinions podcast Ben Bajarin and Bob O’Donnell discuss the release of Android Wear 2.0-based smartwatches and the state of the overall wearable industry, analyze the potential impact of forthcoming Chromebooks from Samsung and others that directly support Android apps, and debate what the closing of hundreds of Oculus VR demo stations at Best Buy stores means for the VR market.

If you happen to use a podcast aggregator or want to add it to iTunes manually the feed to our podcast is:

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Unpacking the Week’s News: Friday, February 10, 2017 Fri, 10 Feb 2017 09:00:55 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Apple Renewed Focus on Apple TV Business – by Carolina Milanesi On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported Apple has hired former head of Amazon’s Fire TV business Timothy D. Twerdhal. At Apple, Twerdhal is in charge of…

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This will be a Big Year for Wireless Network Innovation Fri, 10 Feb 2017 09:00:45 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

2017 is shaping up to be a year where we will see more new things out of wireless networks than we have in some time. Some of this will be in the form of select market trials while, in other cases, these will be new services offered by cellular operators and even some wireless upstarts. There are four themes to this: the first commercial 5G trials, centered around fixed wireless access; testing higher parts of the spectrum band to deliver wireless service; new techniques to deliver faster services and increased capacity, such as leveraging power lines and the unlicensed bands; and new types of networks or approaches, such as LTE-Unlicensed, 3.5 GHz ‘shared spectrum’ services, the FirstNet public safety network, and IoT-centric networks using LTE.

5G Trials

We are still a good two years away from the official 3GPP standard being released for 5G, although there will be some steps along the way. Even so, Verizon and AT&T have both announced they will conduct 5G trials this year in several cities. Mainly, they are testing 5G for fixed wireless access, as a potential broadband alternative in markets where they don’t currently offer broadband. The other important aspect is the operators are testing millimeter wave spectrum for 5G – that is, higher spectrum bands that can deliver ultra-fast speeds but have more challenging propagation characteristics, such as requiring line-of-sight.

These 5G trials are not restricted to the cellular operators. For example, Starry, founded by Aereo CEO Chet Kanoja, plans on testing broadband via fixed wireless access using the 28 GHz band in Boston and several other cities this year.

Keep in mind the difference between ‘real 5G’ and ‘marketing 5G’, or pre-5G. These initial tests might deliver ‘only’ 400-500 Mbps, whereas true 5G is focused on 1 Gbps or better, and much lower latencies.

New Techniques to Deliver Faster Services and Greater Capacity

There’s a lot going on in this corner. After nearly two years of delays, Unlicensed LTE, in the form of LTE-U, is set to roll out this year, with T-Mobile and AT&T leading the charge. This technique augments licensed LTE spectrum with channels in the 5 GHz unlicensed band (used by Wi-Fi) to deliver faster speeds and greater capacity. It’s a win for the cellular operators because they don’t have to buy extra spectrum to use the unlicensed band. While there is contention within the Wi-Fi community because of concerns about interference, the two sides have finally agreed on techniques to minimize the risk.

This will be an interesting test of the ‘coexistence’ of licensed and unlicensed spectrum and the potential for new and creative business models around a differentiated service. Most mobile data services today deliver the same speed to all users, at least in theory. Operators might test the potential for a ‘premium service’, such as speed or capacity boosts, using LTE-U. There are several other approaches to combining licensed and unlicensed services in the works as well, such as LAA, LWA and MulteFire. So LTE-U will be an important litmus test.

LTE Roadmap

Even though there’s already plenty of pre-5G marketing, the LTE roadmap for the next couple of years looks pretty compelling as well. Operators are using additional spectrum they have acquired and deployed to deliver additional channels of carrier aggregation. The most advanced, three-channel carrier aggregation (“3CA”), continues to be rolled out in select markets.

You will also hear more about “4.5G”, or “LTE Advanced Pro”, which employs 20 MHz wide radio channels, carrier aggregation, and advanced antenna techniques to deliver additional capacity and download speeds of 400 Mbps or more. Ironically, this is what is being discussed for some pre-5G services. In fact, per my earlier point, LTE Advanced Pro services might be marketed as early 5G, in the same way WiMAX and HSPA+ services were marketed as 4G even though they weren’t officially LTE.

Finally, AT&T will also be testing AirGig (a technique the Bell Labs folks have been working on for ten years) that uses plastic antennas over power lines regenerating millimeter waves to deliver gigabit speeds. The potential is for a more flexible and cost-effective last mile solution which would have application for both broadband and wireless (for 5G, and backhaul) services. This also leverages existing infrastructure, as finding locations to deploy antennas or small cells has proven vexing for service providers.

New Type of Wireless Networks

During 2017, we will see initial tests and deployments of several new types of mobile networks. During 2016, the FCC issued an order for shared spectrum services, using the 3.5 GHz band (see here for more). Sometime over the next few months, rules and procedures about Spectrum Access System (SAS) will be decided and administrators chosen. During 2017, we could well see some market tests or trials of shared spectrum services. This is an area where the US could really lead in wireless. The proposal for 5G also relies on shared spectrum techniques for some of the millimeter wave spectrum bands.

Also on the LTE front, the provider of the FirstNet public safety network should be chosen within the next couple of months, pending some litigation currently underway. We should see some early FirstNet deployments this year, with a more comprehensive rollout in 2018. More than $7 billion has been earmarked for FirstNet, using proceeds of past spectrum auctions.

Finally, there will be a lot of action related to purpose-built IoT networks this year. Networks using the unlicensed band, such as Sigfox, Lora, and RPMA, are being rolled out. During 2017, the cellular operators are getting into the action, launching IoT networks over LTE (LTE Cat-M and NB-IoT, see “The Emergence of Purpose Built IoT Networks“).

In short, this should be an exciting year for wireless network innovation.

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Virtual Realities’ Slow Start Thu, 09 Feb 2017 16:29:14 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Regular readers will remember the many posts I’ve written on Virtual Reality and my continual reminders that this market is going to develop slowly. The tech industry tends to get very excited about new shiny…

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