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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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GM and LG reveal second $2.3bn Ultium EV battery plant

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GM and LG will build a new electric car battery plant together, the two companies have confirmed today, settling rumors of an expansion of the joint Ultium Cells venture as the automaker tries to maximize production of cheaper EV power packs. The new facility will be in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and see General Motors and LG Energy Solution pump in a further $2.3 billion in investment.

It follows an existing $2.3 billion investment by the pair in a battery production facility in Lordstown, Ohio. Construction there is currently underway, as GM prepares for a rapid uptick in demand across its various brands for batteries.

GM Ultium, announced in 2019, is the automaker’s new platform for all-electric vehicles. It’ll underpin models from Cadillac, GMC, Buick, Chevrolet, and other nameplates in General Motors’ portfolio, with the potential for 450+ miles of range and a variety of drivetrain configurations. However, it’ll also be expensive, at least to begin with, and no small part of that is the cost of the battery cells themselves.

It’s leading to a split in GM’s EV portfolio, of sorts, as Ultium is reserved for the electric vehicles that can command the highest sticker prices. That means models like the six-figure GMC Hummer EV and the Hummer EV SUV, along with the Cadillac Lyriq. In contrast, more affordable – and more mainstream – models like Chevrolet’s Bolt EV and new Bolt EV electric crossover will continue using the automaker’s existing, less advanced but much cheaper, platform.

Looking ahead, though, GM is counting on Ultium coming down in price and making affordable batteries at-scale more of a possibility. The roadmap calls for pack sizes from 50 to 200 kilowatt hours, made up of large-format, pouch-style cells which can be stacked either vertically or horizontally for maximum flexibility. There’ll also be support for either 400-volt packs with 200 kW DC fast charging, or 800-volt packs with 350 kW DC fast charging, depending on model and target audience.

Getting that all to a cost-effective point is vital if planned vehicles like the all-electric Chevrolet Silverado are to be competitive.

The new Spring Hill Ultium plant will be built by Ultium Cells on land leased from GM to the joint venture. Eventually it’s expected to span approximately 2.8 million-square-feet, with construction beginning immediately. However it’s not going to be open until late 2023, GM warns.

At that point, it’ll be supplying batteries to GM’s Spring Hill assembly plant nearby. That’ll be the location where Cadillac builds the upcoming Lyriq luxury electric crossover, alongside the existing gas-powered XT6 and XT5 SUVs.

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Samsung’s new smart headlamp tech just leaves me angrier

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You might not associate Samsung with car parts, but the company has revealed new smart LED headlamp clusters that could bring active lights to a much broader range of vehicles – though for the moment it looks like American drivers will miss out. The Samsung PixCell LEDs aren’t just one light source but in fact a whole cluster of more than 100 ultra-small segments, built into a single LED chip.

Those segments can be individually controlled, such as by an adaptive driving beam (ADB) system. For instance, if the system spots an oncoming vehicle at night, while you have your high-beams switched on, it could selectively occlude the parts of the headlamps which are directed at that vehicle.

The result would be avoiding glare for that car, but continued visibility around it for you. Alternatively, headlamps using the PixCell LEDs could focus light according to ambient conditions, such as when driving in fog or heavy rain, to maximize how much of the road can be seen.

Samsung isn’t the first company to offer smart headlamp LEDs like this, but its method is a little different. The PixCell system combines 100+ tiny segments – each separated by a silicon wall – with each acting like a pixel. The light-emitting area is only 1/16th of the size of a conventional discrete LED module used in current ADB systems, Samsung says. That means the overall light assembly could be as much as 50-percent smaller without impairing functionality.

That’s great, assuming you live in a country where these sort of headlamps are actually permitted. It’s a problem US drivers find themselves facing, where automakers have been forced to disable the smart lighting features on cars for sale in America. Currently, regulations in the US don’t allow this sort of selective lighting on vehicles, and while car companies and safety organizations have pushed for changes, there’s no telling when – or if – that will happen.

It’s frustrating, because it leaves American drivers missing out on some of the biggest advances in tech we’ve seen in automotive recently. Audi’s digital matrix LED system, for example, is offered elsewhere in the world on vehicles like the e-tron SUV; the same EV in the US, however, doesn’t offer that feature. Mercedes’ Digital Light – as featured on the new flagship EQS all-electric luxury sedan – is similarly blocked by out-of-date rules. Both systems, when functional, can even do things like project graphics on the road to better communicate vehicle behaviors with pedestrians and other road users; in the US, about the smartest thing they can manage is automatically flip between high- and low-beam settings.

Polestar found itself in the same situation with the recently-launched Polestar 2. The EV has Pixel LED headlamps, made up of 84 individual LEDs within each light, and which can do things like selectively shade the brightness in patches so as not to dazzle oncoming traffic.

While US-spec cars are fitted with the Pixel LED hardware, the advanced ADB features aren’t enabled. Polestar has said that it could do that with an OTA software update in future, should the local regulations change, though again it can’t say when that might happen, if it ever does. In fact, owners of the Polestar 2 could have the EV and never get to use the full extent of the features it’s capable of.

Samsung says there are still good reasons to use the PixCell LED system, even if ADB isn’t legally allowed in every region. For a start, it supports different configuration of the same hardware to suit varying light regulations and requirements. “Based on a single standard headlamp design,” the company points out, “lamp makers can customize light output to suit varying design needs and enjoy reduced lead time for development, production, supply and time-to-market.”

With some software architecture foresight by automakers, then, smart LED lights like these could one day be upgraded with a firmware patch to enable the more advanced functionality that the hardware is capable of. For that to happen, though, we’ll need US road safety regulators to get up to speed with the cutting-edge of vehicle tech, and that’s a process which is frustratingly slow in comparison.

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Alpha Wolf+ EV has an extra pair of suicide rear doors

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California-based startup Alpha Motor Corporation is expanding its electric vehicle portfolio with the Wolf+ (Wolf Plus), an extended-cab version of the brand’s Wolf electric pickup unveiled last month. Whereas a standard Wolf EV pickup truck has only two doors, Wolf+ has dual rear-hinged half-doors to make the rear seats more accessible, similar to what you get in the 2022 Mazda MX-30 EV.

Despite its extended-cab body style, Alpha Wolf+ has the same 5.5-feet bed as the non-plus version. It also gets a bevy of off-road accessories like standard fog lights, a roof basket, and a set of solar panels in the bed cover.

Like the first Alpha Wolf, the Wolf+ you see on this page are just renderings of an incoming pre-production prototype model. We have no word yet of an official launch date, but Alpha is on track to make its first customer deliveries beginning as early as 2023. The company also revealed the JAX (Junior All-Terrain Crossover) SUV earlier this year, a four-passenger off-road vehicle with retro styling cues similar to Wolf and Wolf+.

Alpha claims a range of 250 to 275+ miles from a still-unspecified battery pack. If the Alpha JAX is any indication, we reckon Wolf+ might come with a 75 kWh lithium-ion battery. Additionally, Wolf+ is available in a single motor RWD or dual-motor AWD powertrain. We find this surprising since a standard Wolf with a single motor is a front-wheel-drive unit.

We also found the performance numbers a bit surprising. Alpha claims Wolf+ accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 5.9-seconds versus 6.2-seconds for a front-drive Wolf. It also has a maximum towing capacity of 6274 pounds (3050 kg). In contrast, a standard Wolf can tow 3000 pounds (1,360 kg). Indeed, you can haul more stuff with Wolf+.

Inside, Alpha Wolf+ has a digital instrument cluster, a large center touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, and a premium audio system. Base models get 16-inch wheels, while larger 17 to 18-inch alloys are available. And yes, Alpha Wolf+ has a roomy frunk or front trunk.

Alpha has yet to unveil definite launch dates for its all-electric vehicles, but the reservation books are open for both the Wolf and Wolf+ models. The Wolf has base prices starting at $36,000 to $46,000, while pricing for Wolf+ will follow soon.

Alpha Wolf+ Gallery

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