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CES 2019: The biggest 5G news

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With 5G one of the biggest topics of the show, we round out the biggest news of CES 2019, from smartphone prototypes to promises on the value of 5G deployments across all industries.

The Samsung 5G smartphone prototype


(Image: Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

Samsung became the first out of the gate to produce a display 5G smartphone prototype, showing off a glass-encased device at CES.

Samsung retained the form factor of its current smartphones, with volume keys and Bixby button appearing to be on the left side of the handset and the power/lock button on the right side of the device. The front-facing camera was also visible at the top of the device.

Samsung CEO HS Kim on Monday confirmed that the Korean tech giant will be releasing a 5G smartphone to the market this year.

Using the Samsung CES 2019 press conference to outline the tech giant’s end-to-end solution across 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI), Kim said Samsung is continuing to invest in R&D.

From chips and devices to networking equipment, Kim said 5G is “here and now” thanks to Samsung’s leadership.

“Our experience and effort have compelled commercialisation of 5G forward. In the US we’re helping major carriers roll out 5G,” Kim said, pointing to Verizon’s live home 5G service in Houston and Sacramento.

Samsung is additionally running 5G trials with carriers across Europe and Asia, the chief executive said.

Verizon showcases 5G with Disney

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg used his CES 2019 keynote to promise that 5G will impact all aspects of the economy, calling it “a quantum leap compared to 4G”.

Sharing the stage with industry partners including Walt Disney Studios, The New York Times, medical technology company Medivis, and Verizon-owned drone operation company Skyward, the companies spoke about how 5G will impact their businesses.

Read also: CES 2019: Are these newly launched ‘5G’ services truly 5G wireless?

Verizon said it will be partnering with Disney’s StudioLab to explore 5G connectivity being used in content production and transmission, while Skyward said it will connect 1 million drone flights on Verizon’s 5G network.

Vestberg also announced that Verizon is laiunching a 5G innovation challenge backed up by $1 million in seed money.

Intel announces 5G innovation program and SoC

Intel’s latest 5G and AI push is Project Athena, an innovation program with new industry specifications for laptops.

Intel is expecting the first devices using Project Athena to launch in the second half of 2019, with its innovation partners on the project including Dell, Google, HP, Samsung, Microsoft, Acer, Asus, Lenovo, and Innolux.

“Including 5G and artificial intelligence, Project Athena creates a path forward to accelerate laptop innovation through: An annual spec outlining platform requirements; new user experience and benchmarking targets defined by real-world usage models; extensive co-engineering support and innovation pathfinding; ecosystem collaboration to accelerate key laptop component development and availability; [and] verification of Project Athena devices through a comprehensive certification process,” Intel said at CES.

Intel is additionally expanding its system-on-a-chip (SoC) range with a 10nm-based SoC code-named Snow Ridge, which it said was “developed specifically for 5G wireless access and edge computing”.

“This network SoC is intended to bring Intel architecture into wireless access base stations and allow more computing functions to be distributed out at the edge of the network,” Intel said.

AT&T will use 5G to connect hospitals and stadiums

AT&T announced that it is working on 5G use cases across hospitals and stadiums, including signing a deal with Rush University Medical Center and the Rush System for Health to create the “hospital of the future”.

Rush, based in Chicago, encompasses multiple hospitals and healthcare providers across the city. It will utilise both AT&T’s 5G network and its multi-access edge computing (MEC) cloud-based edge IT service environment, the carrier said.

“We strongly believe 5G is a game-changing technology that when fully implemented will help us support better hospital operations as well as provide the highest-quality patient and staff experience,” Rush University Medical Center and the Rush System for Health SVP and CIO Dr Shafiq Rab said.

“High-speed, low-latency 5G technology will help enable care to be delivered virtually anywhere at any time. The technology will enhance access to care, even from long distances, while also helping to decrease costs and improve efficiency.”

Read also: CES 2019: 5G, AI, design and data collide

AT&T also announced that it will be connecting AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, with its 5G network within the next few months.

“5G is expected to alter the in-stadium experience in dramatic, exciting ways by blurring the physical and digital experience in ways that are simply not possible on today’s networks,” AT&T SVP of Wireless Technology Igal Elbaz said.

AT&T’s 5G network went live last month in parts of Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio, and Waco, and will go live across Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose in the first half of 2019.

However, AT&T faced criticism  this week after branding devices as being 5GE.

Sprint makes 5G data call, will carry Samsung 5G phone, integrates 5G with Curiosity IoT platform

Sprint made a series of announcements during CES, including completing a world-first 5G data call across 2.5GHz spectrum on a live commercial network in partnership with Nokia and Qualcomm, which saw it stream YouTube videos, conduct Skype audio and video calls, and send and receive instant messages.

The trial made use of Massive Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (Massive MIMO) technology, Nokia’s dual-mode AirScale Massive MIMO radio, and a smartphone powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X50 5G modem and antenna modules with integrated RF transceiver, RF front-end, and antenna elements.

“This is a big step forward; Sprint 5G is now out of the lab and in the field as we prepare for our commercial launch in the first half of this year,” Sprint CTO Dr John Saw said.

“We’re making great progress towards giving Sprint customers the first mobile 5G experience in nine top cities with the first 5G smartphone in the US.”

Earlier this week, Sprint also confirmed that it would be carrying the Samsung 5G smartphone in summer 2019, as well as unveiling the smart home small cell solution with LTE called Trebl with Magic Box.

The Samsung 5G smartphone will connect to Sprint’s LTE and 5G networks, using its 2.5GHz, 1.9GHz, and 800MHz spectrum bands.

“Samsung is one of our key 5G network infrastructure Massive MIMO providers, so we are delighted that they will also deliver one of our first 5G smartphones, putting blazing fast connectivity right into our customers’ hands,” Saw said.

The Sprint Trebl with Magic Box is Alexa-integrated to allow control of other smart home devices, such as the Harman Kardon sound that has 2x 8-watt speakers, three built-in far-field microphones, an embedded amp, Bluetooth, and noise and echo cancellation.

Sprint also used CES 2019 to announce that Greenville, South Carolina, will see its first smart city build-out based on both its Curiosity Internet of Things (IoT) platform and mobile 5G network connectivity.

See also: Separating the hype from reality in initial 5G mobile networks and smartphones (TechRepublic)

As part of the project, Sprint will deploy Massive MIMO technology as well as a dedicated IoT network and “micro-positioning” technology aimed at enabling connected vehicles, smart machines, and autonomous drones to operate and react in real time.

Sprint further announced at CES that it will be constructing a smart vehicle test track in Peachtree Corners, Georgia, which will also utilise Curiosity IoT, 5G, and micro-positioning tech.

The Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners will feature a 1.5-mile test track equipped with nodes to trial AI, robotics, and autonomous vehicle applications including vehicle-to-vehicle communications, vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, and over-the-horizon warning systems.

Lastly, Sprint announced that it is launching “precision mapping technology” with Mapbox, again using its Curiosity IoT and later its 5G network.

Qualcomm’s president is convinced 5G will be thrilling

Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon told ZDNet at CES that users will be thrilled with 5G, especially with the low latency.

“You will get a phone — and there are 30 models that have been announced that are going to be coming starting in Q2 — that will have at least 10 times the speed you have today, with instant response time,” Amon said.

“Things you take for granted today, like storing music in the cloud, are going to spread to other areas. Video will be as easy to send and consume as music is today on a smartphone. The sports and news that you want will be instantly accessible. 

“All the social network companies are very excited about it; you will be able to broadcast to your friends; instead of checking their tweets, you will have instant presence with your friends.”

AI will also add to the value of 5G, he told ZDNet.

Australian carrier Telstra confirms 5G smartphones on its network by mid-2019

Australia’s largest telco Telstra announced at CES 2019 that it has entered into a number of agreements to offer commercial 5G smartphones on its mobile network in the first half of 2019, but could not say which companies, the specifications of the devices, or exactly when they will be offered.

In an interview with ZDNet, Telstra CEO Andy Penn declined to comment on whether he got hands-on experience with the Samsung 5G smartphone prototype at CES, but hinted that while Telstra signed “a number of deals” with some of the biggest smartphone brands in the world, there are still other brands to work with.

“This week’s been an important week for us, because we’ve had a number of discussions,” Penn told ZDNet.

“We’ve come to a number of agreements with a number of providers that’s going to give us access to devices, but there’s still others — the timing of their delivery of devices is not yet clear.”

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Speaking on the pricing of 5G devices, Penn said the device manufacturers are still working through this, but that “there are some characteristics of 5G that do add more cost into the devices”. The chipset and antenna components are more costly in 5G devices than in current smartphones, he explained, adding that he has no other information yet on pricing.

“We’re working with them behind the scenes, so our engineers are working together to test the devices. [By the time] we actually get to run them live in our commercial network, they’re usually pretty well advanced,” he told ZDNet.

“The device manufacturers themselves, they run to pretty tight timelines; Apple is an example, it runs an annual cycle, so they’re up against themselves in terms of they’re doing a lot of work to try and do the innovation that’s necessary to bring the new experiences within their phone set, so their ability to then give those new phones to operators substantially in advance is not there.”

Telstra exceeded its goal of switching on 200 5G sites in 2018, with Penn saying it reached 207 by the end of December, including across Canberra, Adelaide, Perth, the Gold Coast, Toowoomba, Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne.

 “We wanted to make sure that we got national coverage, and regional and metro coverage, and now it really is a function of how quickly the device ecosystem moves forward, and that’s quite dynamic at the moment,” he said.

LA and LV to use 5G in smart cities deployments

5G will change the game for smart cities technology, those in charge of the deployments across Los Angeles and Las Vegas said at CES 2019.

Las Vegas at CES announced that it will be trialling a smart lighting solution with AT&T and Ubicquia, aimed at improving public safety and energy efficiency.

The companies will test the solution for six months in parts of the Las Vegas Innovation District, using existing streetlights kitted out with Ubicquia’s Ubicell streetlight routers. AT&T will then integrate its LTE and LTE-M networks with Ubicquia’s smart lighting platform.

ShakeAlertLA, an earthquake warning app, was launched last week by AT&T and the City of Los Angeles.

“These aren’t just cool, techy, kind of fun Black Mirror kinds of conversations; these are real conversations that launched [the app] last week,” CIO for the City of Los Angeles Ted Ross said.

“When you fast forward a little bit … adding 5G on top of that, now you have a game changer. So we’re talking about making things 40 to 50 times faster, having that much less latency, which gives us the ability to deploy sensors and technologies to make ShakeAlertLA look like just a 1.0 type of conversation.”

Cisco skips right over 5G to 6G

Cisco is looking to a 6G future, CTO of Service Provider Networking Michael Beesley told ZDNet at CES 2019, and already has a rough idea of what 6G will bring when it comes.

“The 6G topic is an interesting one; from a technological innovation development point of view, it’s still very much in basic research. It’s a long, long, long way away,” Beesley told ZDNet during an interview.

He said it will take between 15 and 20 years to reach peak 6G.

“We do kind of understand what its characteristics and its abilities roughly will be in terms of the amount of bandwidth, the reduction in latency, the densification of the network, the coverage, and the fact that … it’s not just consumer handsets, but mobile enterprise workers, IoT, mobile IoT.

“In that timeframe, we can imagine that compute and intelligence will be embedded in everything. Its cost footprint and its size footprint will be so efficient and small that compute and intelligence will be embedded in everything that we can imagine, and all of those things will be connected to a network, whether it will be for the primary use case or connected to the network just for a maintenance and service point of view.”

He added that changes will have to be made in spectrum pricing, device cost, new killer apps, and use cases to justify the cost of a 6G build-out, but said cybersecurity would improve with 6G.

As quantum computing also comes closer, Beesley said this will tie in with 6G to form a “quantum internet”.

Disclosure: Corinne Reichert travelled to CES 2019 in Las Vegas as a guest of Intel

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Chevrolet Bolt recall: EV production resumes as GM details battery fix

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Chevrolet is resuming Bolt EV and Bolt EUV production, promising to have fixed the battery pack problem that saw multiple cars burst into flame. The automaker also has an update for existing Bolt owners on when they can expect their EV’s battery to be replaced, having warned them recently to park at least 50 feet from other cars and any buildings.

It was an embarrassing – and, in many cases, fairly impractical – escalation of what’s been a nightmare situation for Chevrolet and owner General Motors. Having initially insisted that the burning Bolt issue was an outlier not a persistent flaw, the automaker was forced to concede that the battery manufacturing problem was far more widespread.

Production of the Bolt EV and the Bolt EUV – the crossover-styled version which only launched this year – ceased as Chevrolet attempted to figure out a fix. Now, that solution has apparently been settled. In a statement today, the automaker thanked owners and dealers for their patience, promising new batteries and new software to monitor the packs for safety.

Battery production at supplier LG’s plants in Holland and Hazel Park, Michigan, has resumed, Chevrolet confirmed. LG is also adding capacity so as to be able to provide more cells. Thanks to that, the automaker says to expects to be able to begin shipping replacement battery modules to dealers from mid-October.

Who gets a new Bolt battery first

As for when you might expect to get that replacement battery, GM says it’s basing its scheduling on specific battery build timeframes. It’ll prioritize those Bolt EV and Bolt EUV owners who have vehicles with battery packs manufactured during the specific time periods where it seems defects are most clustered.

New batteries will get an extended limited warranty covering the pack, for 8-years or 100,000 miles. That will be 8-years/160,000 km in Canada.

All Bolt EV and Bolt EUV owners, meanwhile, will get new software, an “advanced diagnostic” package which GM says “will increase the available battery charging parameters over existing guidance.” It’s designed to better spot any of the abnormalities which might suggest the battery is damaged.

It can also better notify signs of those anomalies and prioritize damaged batty modules for replacement. The software will require dealer installation, rather than being pushed out as an over-the-air (OTA) update. GM says it expects that process to begin in around 60 days.

“It is GM’s intent that further diagnostic software will allow customers to return to a 100 percent state of charge once all diagnostic processes are complete,” the automaker says. For the moment, though, there are some straightforward guidelines that Chevrolet owners should follow.

Target Charge Level should be set to 90-percent, limiting the maximum that the Bolt EV and Bolt EUV can be recharged to. There are instructions on how to do that at GM’s Bolt recall site. At the other extreme, owners should avoid running the battery down to under approximately 70 miles (113 km) of range, if possible.

The EVs should be parked outside immediately after charging. Owners shouldn’t leave them charging indoors overnight, either.

Assuming you’re following those guidelines, GM says, the strict 50 foot limit has been dropped. Instead, the automaker suggests, generally leaving more space is wise. ” In an abundance of caution, GM recommends customers leave ample space around their vehicle wherever they choose to park,” the company explains. “GM is not aware of any fires that have occurred where customers followed this safety guidance, in parking decks or otherwise.”

The cause of GM’s Bolt EV battery problems

As for what caused all this headache, GM has given a few more details. Turns out, it’s a combination of two issues, in fact, which trigger a problem when they coincide.

“The root cause of the rare circumstances that could cause a battery fire is two manufacturing defects known as a torn anode and a folded separator,” GM says, “both of which need to be present in the same battery cell.”

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Hey Toyota, where’s the new Tundra BEV?

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It’s not unfair to say we’ve been waiting for quite some time for the new 2022 Toyota Tundra. The full-sized pickup may have become a familiar sight on US roads since it first launched in 2000, but with the second-generation truck debuting all the way back in 2007 it’s a reasonable observation that Toyota’s upgrade cycle hasn’t exactly been rapid.

That sales had been so strong up even as the Tundra aged – comfortably above 100k per year in the US for the past eight years – was a reminder that, even if the Ford F-150 gets more attention, Toyota’s pickup still had plenty of fans. They’ve been waiting eagerly to see what the 2022 Tundra would bring in its third generation.

The answer is a brash new design with a grille that’s already proving to be controversial. A new cabin that’s first to introduce Toyota’s brand new – and much-needed – infotainment system. And a twin-turbocharged V6 gas engine that will be offered as an i-FORCE MAX hybrid.

In short, a mixture of the familiar and the new. That could be a problem, not least when it comes to what’s under the hood.

On paper, the i-FORCE MAX V6 is a competitive drivetrain. Toyota combines the twin-turbo gas engine – that in the standard Tundra is good for 389 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque – with a clutch-driven motor-generator, sandwiched in-between it and the 10-speed automatic transmission. A 288V nickel-metal hydride battery pack provides the juice, and the result is a total of 437 horsepower and 583 lb-ft of torque.

Toyota is, clearly, no stranger to hybrids. Its efforts with the Prius helped push gas-electric into the mainstream, and it has been steadily adding the drivetrain tech to the rest of its range since. The latest Toyota Sienna minivan, for example, is only available as a hybrid now.

Five years ago, then, the Tundra Hybrid would’ve legitimately been a big deal. At this point, however, it’s tough to give Toyota too much credit here, given how the rest of the pickup segment has been moving. What might once have been considered a fairly conservative category has evolved into one of the most ambitious.

Ford, for example, already has a hybrid version of the F-150 on the market. Its 3.5-liter PowerBoost V6 manages 430 hp and 570 lb-ft of torque – in the same ballpark, then, as the Tundra’s – but Ford also uses it to help turn the truck into a mobile generator. With the Pro Power Onboard option, you get up to 7.2 kW of power in the bed to run worksite equipment, a campsite, or even key home appliances during power outages.

Toyota’s big bed tech boast, meanwhile, is a button on the key fob to open the tailgate.

More pressing, though, is the absence of any talk of full electrification for the Tundra. There it’s instantly playing catch-up with rivals: Ford has the F-150 Lightning on track for a launch in fall 2022, for example. Over 150,000 people have already put down reservations for the all-electric pickup, which promises up to around 300 miles of range on a charge.

Chevrolet and Ram are working on their own pickup EVs, with special battery-electric versions of the Silverado and 1500 respectively. Rivian’s R1T may be a less familiar name, but the startup hasn’t been short on hype as it begins deliveries of the quad-motor truck. Tesla’s Cybertruck and plenty of others are working their way to market too, taking advantage of an apparent awakening among pickup buyers to the potential advantages of EVs.

Toyota may well have a Tundra BEV on the roadmap too. Problem is, the automaker isn’t talking about it publicly yet, and while playing your cards close to your chest is good advice in poker, right now it means it’s hard to take the truck seriously at a time of great upheaval in work transportation. That’s doubly the case when, like Toyota, you don’t exactly have the strongest reputation for embracing BEVs in the first place.

There is, at least, a fully-electric Toyota platform coming. e-TNGA will underpin a range of vehicles from the company, including a new SUV. Toyota has also promised two BEVs for North America this year, though hasn’t said exactly what form they’ll take.

In short, though the 2022 Tundra may feel reasonably competitive right now, there’s every chance that the situation will change in relatively short order. Toyota, like Honda, may be reluctant to over-promise and then run the risk of under-delivering, but by remaining coy on EVs it’s doing nothing to upend perceptions that it lacks momentum in the transition to electrification.

There’s a lot to like about the new Tundra. If this third-generation version is to deliver the same longevity as its predecessor, however, Toyota could start with doing a better job at pitching it for the future. After all, the days of a truck being judged solely on torque, payload, and towing power are behind us.

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Honda’s 2024 Prologue EV targets are difficult to believe

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Honda is setting aggressive sales goals for its upcoming all-electric Prologue SUV, though limited availability and concerns around EV subsidies could hamper those ambitions. A collaboration with GM, the Honda Prologue will be based on the Ultium battery-electric platform, though isn’t expected to go on sale until 2024.

Honda has been fairly miserly with details about the SUV, though the general promise is a distinctly Honda-esque vehicle that distinguishes itself from GM models based on the EV platform. An Acura version will follow shortly after that. Beyond Prologue, meanwhile, the automaker plans more EVs using its own e-Architecture platform.

That’s still in development, but Honda needs to get it right. The automaker is aiming for 70,000 annual sales of the Prologue when it arrives in 2024; by 2030, though, it’s anticipating BEV sales of 500,000 each year. Come 2040, Honda insists, it should only be selling electric vehicles. That’s a huge jump from where Honda is today, without a single all-electric model on sale in the US.

Demand for electrified vehicles, Honda insists, has been solid. Vehicles like the CR-V Hybrid and Accord Hybrid have helped make the first half of 2021 its best so far for electrified models, the automaker claims.

Still, it’s fair to say that Honda’s electric transition hasn’t been a straightforward one. Expectations were high for the Clarity series, a broad range of electrified vehicles that included pure-electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel cell models. All have since been discontinued, however, with questions in each case about the market competitiveness of each model.

In contrast, Honda has pushed ahead with regular hybrids: vehicles that combine combustion engines with battery-electric drive that is charged via excess ICE engine power or when the vehicle is braking. These can have a positive impact on fuel economy – the 2022 Insight, for example, is rated for up to 55 mpg in the city – but are far from zero-emissions.

Honda’s argument is that such hybrids offer drivers a reassuring taste of electrification. “We know customers who have a good experience with a hybrid vehicle are more likely to buy a battery electric vehicle in the future,” Dave Gardner, executive vice president of National Operations at American Honda Motor Co., Inc, points out. “Our strategy is focused on introducing a higher percentage of hybrids in core models in the near term, making a committed effort to achieve higher volume leading to the introduction of our Honda Prologue.”

The 2024 Prologue, though, won’t be a golden bullet to Honda’s EV problem. For a start, it’s going to be limited in availability, at least to begin with: just California and the ZEV states. The automaker argues that those regions would comprise the bulk of sales anyway, and that a broader release will follow later on.

Honda’s stance that the buying public needs that sort of convincing is at odds with many of its rivals. GM itself has been pushing ahead with Ultium, with the Cadillac Lyriq already opening for reservations, the GMC Hummer EV over-subscribed, and the promise of a Chevrolet Silverado EV in the relatively near future. Ford, meanwhile, has been even more aggressive, with the Mustang Mach-E proving a hit in the electric crossover segment, and the F-150 Lightning bringing an all-EV version of the best-selling pickup to market in spring 2022.

Even Honda management has conceded that its roadmap may not be as forceful as is required. The European Green Deal, revealed in July, paves the way for zero-emissions-only sales of vehicles in the EU by 2035; that’s five years ahead of the transition on Honda’s all-electric timeline. In the US, it also sees worrying implications around the proposed changes for EV subsidies.

Where the current federal incentive for electric vehicles promises up to $7,500, new proposals could increase that to as much as $12,500. However, in order to qualify for the full amount, automakers would need to not only produce their EVs in the US, but in unionized factories. Honda ticks the first of those boxes, but not the second.

“As with other automakers, Honda’s initial zero emission vehicle sales goals of 40 percent by 2030 are contingent upon fair and equitable access to state and federal EV incentives intended to encourage American consumers to purchase electric vehicles,” the automaker said today. “Honda has urged Congress to ensure that all vehicles made in America are treated equally.”

Tesla – which also operates US factories, but without a union workforce – has also been critical about the possible update to the incentives system. Final changes for the US EV tax credits have not been confirmed at this point.

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