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Do we need 6G wireless already? 5G engineers debate

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It was a minefield that attendees of the first day of sessions at Brooklyn 5G Summit 2019 on Wednesday maneuvered through: The topic of whether the world’s governmental policy makers have blown 5G wireless all out of proportion. Representatives of the world’s three principal telecommunications equipment suppliers — Huawei, Ericsson, and Nokia — took the stage at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, along with other stakeholders in the 5G global standard.

At issue: Have the expectations of both policy makers and wireless customers been raised so high that the development of “6G Wireless” — until now merely a placeholder for future discussion — actually begins now?

“This summit is about 5G, but it is also ‘Year 0’ of the 6G era,” remarked Nokia President and CEO Rajeev Suri, without explaining whether that meant the clock had started or was on hold.

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“There is some pretty reasonable concern that people are getting distracted by 6G, while 5G is still in its infancy,” Suri continued during his keynote address. “Fair point.  But at the same time, we should recognize that forward-looking research and potential technology components could be useful, not only for 6G but also for evolved 5G. And that is what Nokia Bell Labs is working on.”

What’s the rush?

The standards body globally recognized for defining the 5G portfolio of technologies is 3GPP, an organization of telecommunications stakeholders founded during the 3G era.  Its members include, among other groups, service providers and equipment manufacturers. Though 3GPP is ultimately responsible for certifying 5G standards, it has actually published 15 complete versions of those standards, the latest of which was dubbed “5G” because its components can completely replace those specified by earlier versions. Release 16 of the 3GPP standards will also be 5G, and thus far, such is the plan for Release 17.

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Nokia President and CEO Rajeev Suri


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Under the precedent that 3GPP has set, a 6G standards portfolio would include components that may co-exist along 5G for a time, though are capable of replacing them completely. Here’s the problem:  This may not be what some members would prefer. Rather, especially as wireless technologies encompass broader ranges of business and consumer applications, they may consider it more practical for individual components to have their own lifecycles. Who knows, for example, whether standards for low-latency moving vehicle communications may become obsolete well before, say, the Millimeter Wave (mmWave) standard for fixed wireless access?

What’s so wrong with 3GPP Release 15, asked panel moderator Dr. Robert Heath, that mandates stakeholders pick up the pace for Release 16?

“I don’t think, fundamentally, there’s anything wrong with Release 15,” responded Peiying Zhu, senior director of wireless technology at Huawei. “In fact, we actually designed the standard in phased approaches. It’s kind of planned in that way.” Going forward, Zhu continued, she believed it would help the standard if more attention were paid to uplink speeds in throughput tests, not just downlink speeds.  

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 Peiying Zhu, Huawei senior director of wireless technology


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One potential mode of evolution for mobile communications, remarked Dr. Arun Ghosh, director of AT&T’s Advanced Wireless Technology Group, could be the actual phasing out of the cellular model. Base stations could, under a new and more dynamic model, serve more flexible and even fluctuating regions, perhaps even changing over time. Perhaps resilience could improve over a given region if more than one hub serviced it simultaneously.

“Multi-hub networks have existed for decades,” said Dr. Ghosh. “They just have not been in play in the cellular network. . . And I do see this paradigm shift of going to such architecture, eventually evolving. Who knows, maybe in the future, your network infrastructure itself could be on a mobile platform?  I think that’s why some of the non-terrestrial options of delivering network, are very important. When we say ‘non-terrestrial,’ we always start to think about satellite, but that’s not the only option; there are other options that could be much closer to the ground, that are perhaps much more interesting.”  

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Dr. Arun Ghosh, director of AT&T’s Advanced Wireless Technology Group


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Tomorrow’s backhaul today

The future AT&T’s Ghosh brought forth could be a very different one than even 5G’s earliest architects envisioned. Without all the cumbersome processing equipment tied to base stations, not only could they become lightweight, they could conceivably be mobile themselves. At the very least, transmitters blown out of commission during a wind storm could be replaced by teams of one or two workers in pickup trucks, in a matter of minutes. It sounds like the kind of future to which you could attach a “6G” banner.

But Huawei’s Zhu reminded her colleagues, the basic technologies that would make such a situation feasible are already part of the 5G portfolio.

“I think what you put here is not really for ‘Beyond 5G,” said Zhu. “I think NFV [network functions virtualization], C-RAN [Cloud (China) Radio Access Network] — they’re happening already, in the product, right now. The issue with C-RAN is really, do you have reliable, fast backhaul?  But I think in fact, mmWave can be used to enable C-RAN. It makes C-RAN easier. I think those will definitely happen in 5G; it’s not going to be ‘Beyond 5G.”http://www.zdnet.com/”

“Backhaul,” as Zhu referred to it, is the transfer of data and voice traffic that needs to take place on the back end, to make that content available through the transmitter by customers. Up until recently, engineers thought that countless thousands of miles of fiber optic pipes would need to be laid to enable the colossal amount of backhaul that 5G would require. Then more recently, some engineers suggested that mmWave — a technology originally envisioned to replace wired broadband for gigabit speed Internet customers — could be leveraged as an alternate backhaul mechanism, for when carving up the Earth to lay new pipes simply isn’t practical.


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Zhu’s implication here is that a simple reassignment of functionality in the 5G portfolio could lead to the future Ghosh outlined: One where a fixed fiber connection wouldn’t be necessary for a transmitter and base station to go live.

But Zhu was also saying something deeper and much more critical to Huawei’s future as a global competitor. Huawei has a deep stake in the intellectual property of 5G. Indeed, it is an original creator of many of its technologies and, along with China Mobile, co-created the C-RAN base station scheme that inspired 5G in the first place.

Huawei’s deputy chairwoman remains under house arrest in Vancouver on a US warrant alleging her firm did business with Iran in violation of sanctions against that country. And just Wednesday, the UK government said it would limit Huawei’s participation in its own 5G rollout to “non-core” elements of the network — without really explaining what parts those are. By one interpretation, since Huawei is measurably responsible for core 5G technologies, it may only be able to participate in technologies in which it has no direct stake.

That ship may have sailed

The UK’s decision is not quite in defiance of Germany, which earlier this month was given the green light to participate in its 5G rollout. This after a warning from the US weeks earlier that it could suspend its partnership in German intelligence partnerships, ended up being walked back.

Growing tensions between the countries that just happen to be 5G equipment providers’ principal customers, especially with regard to what they still perceive as a “race to 5G” between themselves, has provoked some to consider whether it’s time to set 6G goalposts — especially for the US — and aim for them.

“I think there’s a lot that you can learn from being early in the process for a new generation of technology,” remarked Chris Pearson, president of telco advocacy group 5G Americas. “In the North American market, we saw that 4G LTE, we were very early, we pushed it to the limit, I think. . .and it did serve the North American market very well. . . It is a long race, but you get a learning curve that’ll help you in this long race.”

That prompted a comment from Adrian Scrase, who heads the 3GPP partnership committee for parent organization ETSI, on what he called “this rush-to-be-first bit.”

“Let’s be fair. Presidents of countries are saying, ‘My country’s going to be the first to deploy.’  The UK prime minister at the time, [David] Cameron, said the UK is going to be the first country in Europe to deploy 5G. (He’s now an ex-prime minister, but that’s for a different reason.)  My point is, standardization takes time. It takes several years to write a generation of standards. When we set about this process in 2015, there were many, many operators saying, ‘We don’t need this right now. Please slow down the standardization process!  We don’t need 5G, because LTE’s doing fine.’ And yet when we started the three- or four-year program of writing these standards, during that process, there was this massive acceleration, and the political push that said, ‘We want these standards right now!  Why are you so slow, 3GPP? You need to speed up!’

“My point is,” Scrase wrapped up, “standards historically are either too early or too late. It’s very difficult to have standards that are perfectly on-time. It’s even more difficult when the timeline keeps shifting forwards and backwards.”

Scrase’s assertions illustrated an apparent disconnect between the political and the technological proponents of 5G. A “6G” would be very convenient for countries wary of becoming perceived as lagging behind in 5G, perhaps for backing the wrong proverbial horses — or trying to exclude the right ones. And the group with “3G” still in its name is still trying to dry the ink on the second version — the second of maybe four, perhaps more — of today’s idea of the future.

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The all-electric EQS is ground zero for Mercedes’ most lavish tech

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Lavish and electric, the 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS doesn’t look like any other car the German automaker offers, and neither does the rest of the range come near its frankly excessive tech and gadgetry. Unveiled today, and headed to US dealerships in fall of 2021, the new EQS won’t only be America’s first taste of Mercedes electrification, but the headliner for a whole range of luxury features it’s been working on.

EQS MBUX Hyperscreen

We’ve already spent plenty of words describing Mercedes’ epic new dashboard, but the MBUX Hyperscreen does seem to elicit an outsized response. A 56-inch wide single sheet of curved glass hides three different displays, blurring the edges so that it resembles one, vast panel.

There’s a 12.3-inch display for the driver’s instrumentation, another 12.3-inch display for the front passenger, and an even bigger 17.7-inch OLED touchscreen in the center console. As you’d hope, Mercedes’ UI designers have made good use of all those pixels on offer. A new, zero-layer structure means no more sub-menus to delve through, with all of the key features presented contextually.

Mercedes is using AI to power that, learning from the commonly-used features for each driver and making sure the Hyperscreen presents them as appropriate. A fingerprint sensor recognizes the driver and automatically switches between one of seven profiles, so that the customizations the EQS makes for you aren’t skewed by another person. As for those virtual buttons, a combination of actuators and pressure sensors promise to give the feel and response of physical controls.

Automatic Comfort Doors

Having someone hold the door for you is nice, but having the car open the door as you approach is even nicer. The EQS adds motors to all four of its doors, powering open when you tap the pop-out handles or, if you so prefer, when you get close to them.

When you’re about 20 feet away, the door handle slides out silently. At around five feet, the door unlocks and the driver’s door automatically swings open. They close again either when you tap a button inside, or when the driver puts their foot on the brake pedal. Alternatively, all four doors can be operated through the MBUX infotainment system.

As you’d expect, there are extra smarts built in for safety. Ultrasonic sensors for each door monitor the area around the EQS, as do cameras in the side mirrors, and proximity sensors. If you try to open the door when, say, a car is approaching the side of the EV, it will stop to avoid a collision. The same goes if the powered door could inadvertently hit a wall or another obstacle, with the system preventing them from getting damaged.

Automatic comfort doors will be an option on the EQS, but it’s hard to imagine not checking that particular box on the order form.

Energizing Nature

Mercedes launched its Energizing Comfort system back on the 2018 S-Class, blending relaxing soundtracks, ambient lighting, massage seats, and even fragrances for themed soothing programs like “Warmth” and “Vitality.” The EQS adds to that with three new Energizing Nature programs.

Called “Forest Glade,” “Sounds of the Sea,” and “Summer Rain,” the soundscapes were created with Emmy Award-winning sound recordist Gordon Hempton. Famous for his nature audio, Hempton’s soundscapes are combined with lighting and images, among other things.

In Forest Glade, for example, there’s birdsong, rustling leaves, and the HVAC system creates a gentle breeze as though you’re sitting in the woods. Warm music and a subtle fragrance are included, too.

For Sounds of the Sea, you’ll hear soft musical soundscapes mixed with wave and seagull sounds. The HVAC will blend warm and cool airflow, as though you’re sitting by the bay watching the waves.

Finally, Summer Rain takes the sound of raindrops on leaves as its core, blended with distant thunder and pattering rain, as more ambient music filters through. Each is based on Hempton’s “Quiet Planet” audio library, remixed by Mercedes’ sound design department into 10 minute long pieces.

Since you might not realize it’s time to wind down, the EQS’ Energizing Coach will automatically suggest when it’s time to run an Energizing Comfort program. If you’re wearing a Garmin wearable, or a Mercedes-Benz vivoactive 3 or Venu smartwatch, MBUX will even use metrics like personal stress levels or your recent sleep quality to make those recommendations even more timely. Or, you can simply say “Hey Mercedes, I’m tied,” and MBUX will automatically start the Vitality program.

EQS Power Nap

You might not expect Mercedes to bake in a feature that encourages you not to drive the 2022 EQS, but that’s just what the Power Nap feature does. It’s designed to provide a potent break during stressful days – or while you’re waiting for a DC fast charge to top the batteries up.

There are three phases to each nap – falling asleep, sleeping, and waking up – with the EQS automatically putting the seat into a relaxing recline, closing the side windows and the sunshades, dimming the ambient lighting, and even activating the air ionization system. Soothing sounds begin to play through the audio system, while a starry sky shows on the central display and, if the front passenger is snoozing too, on their front passenger Hyperscreen panel too.

When it’s time to wake up, there’s another soundscape designed to be more activating, paired with a fragrance. The seats will give a subtle massage and their ventilation will turn on as well. Finally, Mercedes says, the seat moves back into its usual position and the sunshade across the panoramic glass roof opens. Just in time to make the most of all those electrons.

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2021 Mercedes-AMG A35 4MATIC Review: Spark Joy

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It’s easy to get addicted to excess, especially when it comes to buying a new car. Bigger engines, bigger trucks, bigger power figures, and the inevitably bigger price tag to go along with it. Sliding sneakily in-between all that is the 2021 Mercedes-AMG A35 4MATIC, a comparative minnow in size, horsepower, and – in AMG terms, at least – price, but which lands even more of a punch because of it.

It helps that I already really like Mercedes-Benz A-Class. The smallest sedan in the automaker’s range looks the part, straddles a reasonable balance between luxury spec and affordability, and its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is unexpectedly well matched to its chassis and suspension.

In short it distills a lot of the appeal of “big” Mercedes into something a little more attainable and, for that matter, reminds us that just because a big chunk of car buyers are going with SUVs these days, that doesn’t mean sedans are passé. It also proved to be catnip to the tuners at Mercedes-AMG.

The result is the 2021 AMG A35 4MATIC, which just so happens to be the cheapest point of entry into AMG ownership. Sales kick off at $45,850 (plus $1,050 destination) though, as with any German automaker, the options list offers an easy way to send that spiraling upward. Even in “base” spec, though, you get a surprising amount.

It starts with an exterior makeover, cranked up even further with the $1,550 AMG Aerodynamics Package with its new front apron with large splitter and flics, bigger rear lip spoiler, and gloss black rear apron and diffuser blade. The $750 AMG Night Package adds different grille, splitter, and side panel inserts, swaps most of the exterior chrome trim for gloss-black, and dresses up the tailpipes to match.

The result is something that builds on the A-Series Sedan’s already handsome, shark-esque aesthetic with legitimate presence. It’s not outlandish, or excessive, but neither do you feel like you’ve been shortchanged by AMG.

At its heart is the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4, as in the A220, but here it’s tuned for 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. That’s a healthy 114 hp and 74 lb-ft more than in the regular ‘Benz. It’s an “AMG-Enhanced” engine, not one of the division’s fancy hand-made monsters, but you’re looking at double the cylinders and $20k more before you find one of those in a C63 Sedan.

0-60 mph comes in 4.6 seconds, hitting the gas pedal delivering a brief moment of thought as the turbos consider, and then the A35 surging forward playfully. The steering feels meaty and nicely weighted. On the opposite side, the beefy steel brakes never felt anything less than over-specified. Dare I say I enjoyed it more than I did the significantly more expensive 2021 AMG GT 43 4-Door Coupe?

Excess on paper, or at the track, or even on the Autobahn, is compelling. Out in the real world, it can often just be a shortcut to speeding tickets or just plain losing your license. Like some of the more entertaining cars on the market, the A35’s appeal is intrinsically tied up with its relative limitations, and the fact that you can actually graze the redline without risking it getting impounded.

It barks and crackles, with shouty gurgles on downshifts in Sport and Sport+ mode. Probably some of that is “enhanced” for the cabin but honestly it all sounds great, and manages to miss that edge of fakery some other performance cars struggle with. The 7-speed Speedshift DCT gearbox is suitably named, with its fast changes and its hunger to hold lower ratios as long as possible. The metal paddles, though, feel equally pleasing and snap you up and down smoothly.

The downside is that Comfort mode is, well, not exceptionally comfortable. Even with $990 AMG Ride Control Sport Suspension the limits of adjustable dampers become apparent on longer drives, especially given AMG has clearly erred on the side of firmness rather than Mercedes-esque plush. It’s not outrageously stiff – though the Sport and Sport+ modes are admirably flat even in sharp cornering – but this is not so much a sedan of dual personality as it is a sporting car that will grudgingly restrain itself when so demanded.

Little exemplifies that quite like the DCT gearbox. Everything that makes it so pleasing when you’re driving urgently adds up to a more jerky experience as you slow to a halt. At one point I caught the telltale “oh look, he stalled it” pitying glance from the driver alongside me at the lights, as I juddered to a halt next to them.

Far smoother is MBUX, Mercedes’ generally excellent infotainment system. It gets twin 10.25-inch displays to play with as standard on the A35, crisp and bright, with a touchscreen, a trackpad, and a steering wheel touchpad to navigate. Or, you can bark out “Hey Mercedes” and ask for just about any feature or setting instead.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported – though they don’t expand to make the most of the whole infotainment display, which looks a little odd – and if you add the $1,295 Multimedia Package you get navigation with augmented reality arrows overlaid onto a live camera view of the road ahead. That’s shown on the center screen, mind; if you want an AR HUD you’ll need a new 2022 EQS.

The panoramic sunroof, power front seats, dual-zone climate control, blind-spot warnings, ambient lighting, and keyless start are all standard. So too, for better or worse, is the “AMG Design Trim” which adds shouty graphics across the passenger side of the dashboard. Combined with the color-changing light strips it leaves the cabin either playful or played-out, depending on your taste for such things.

There’s plenty of room in the front, and the dashboard feels a lot like Mercedes’ other sub-E-Class offerings. The shiny black plastic still isn’t my favorite, but the switchgear and trim generally feel solid. In the rear there’s okay legroom and headroom, while the 8.6 cu-ft trunk is also fine if nothing special. It feels right-sized for what it is, definitely more practical than a 2+2 coupe.

My review car had the $500 AMG Performance steering wheel in leather and faux-suede, $400 drive mode pods bolted onto that wheel, $460 for SiriusXM, $850 for the Burmester audio system, $500 for heated front seats, and $200 for wireless phone charging. The $800 Premium Package adds power folding side mirrors, keyless start, and auto-dimming mirrors.

Combined with the styling and performance extras, plus destination, it nudged the 2021 A35 up to $56,020. Not cheap by broad standards, no, but definitely competitive for a performance sedan with luxury branding. Were it my money, I’d probably leave off all but the sports suspension, nicer steering wheel, heated seats, and maybe the AMG Aero package and handsome $800 alloy wheels, and still be under the $52k point. Running costs needn’t be exorbitant either: the 25 mpg figure for EPA combined consumption isn’t too difficult to hit, as long as you resist the urge to play too much.

2021 Mercedes-AMG A35 4MATIC Review

I’m as much a sucker for a big, burbling V8 and a vast performance sedan as anyone else. Nonetheless, there’s something about the AMG A35 which, as Marie Kondo might say, just sparks joy. It feels, quite honestly, cheap for what you get and how it feels put together.

That’s cheap relatively speaking; cheap with all the usual provisos and qualifiers. Much in the same way, those with a family to consider or anybody needing a car that makes more than a vague, passing stab at comfort may find the A35 the round peg for their square hole. It makes compromises, they’re just more around practicality and cosseting than anything else.

I find it hard to pick fault with AMG’s decisions here. And honestly, if you need more of that slick Mercedes’ glide, the A220 4MATIC delivers. The 2021 AMG A35 4MATIC is all about fun, usable and shouty in equal measure, and the only excessive thing here is the size of my grin.

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A Ferrari EV is coming in 2025

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Ferrari will reveal its first all-electric car in 2025, the automaker has confirmed, putting to rest long standing will-they-or-won’t-they speculation about whether an EV really can find a place in the Italian supercar-maker’s range. The timeline for the new Ferrari EV was confirmed during its Annual General Meeting, held today.

“We are continuing to execute our electrification strategy in a highly disciplined way,” John Elkann, chairman and acting CEO at Ferrari, said in his address. “And our interpretation of application of these technologies both in motor sport and in road cars is a huge opportunity to bring the uniqueness and passion of Ferrari to new generations.”

That electrification strategy has already seen two hybrid production models hit the roads, though not doing away with the gas engine howl that the automaker is known for. Instead, a plug-in hybrid drivetrain was developed, combining a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 with three electric motors. One motor is on the transmission, while each front wheel gets a motor apiece.

“As you would expect, we have started by setting the bar high,” Elkann explained. “In leveraging our know-how from motor racing, we have created the wonderful technical achievement and driving experience that are the SF90 Stradale and the SF90 Spider, our hybrid cars. They are in the very finest Ferrari tradition in both its styling and its performance.”

Unsurprisingly, as we’ve seen from other hybrid performance cars, there’s a whole lot to like about Ferrari’s PHEVs. Far from putting economy as the priority, they deliver 986 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque, with gas and electric working in tandem. They also mean the two SF90 variants have all-wheel drive.

Still, the 7.9 kWh lithium-ion battery driving the electric motors doesn’t exactly deliver impressive EV-only range. In fact, the cars are rated for about 16 miles of electric driving in their selectable eDrive mode. It’s something we’re expecting the Ferrari EV to address.

“We are also very excited about our first all-electric Ferrari that we plan to unveil in 2025 and you can be sure this will be everything you dream the engineers and designers at Maranello can imagine for such a landmark in our history,” Elkann teased. “So, we see this exciting decade of accelerating change as opening even more ways to push to new levels the boundaries of excellence and passion in everything we do.”

Exactly what Ferrari has in mind remains to be detailed. The automaker has already startled purists with confirmation that it plans an SUV, with the Ferrari Purosangue using a front-mid engine layout and, the company has insisted, delivering the fastest speed in its segment when it launches.

SUVs are an obvious target for automakers to go electric, given the typically larger size and the expectation of extra weight. Nonetheless, that’s not to say all-electric performance cars are in short supply. Tesla continues to insist that it’s building its new Roadster, while the Lotus Evija is among several other car companies’ electric wares coming over the next few years.

For Ferrari, the Purosangue will be unveiled in 2022, the automaker has said. Meanwhile, Elkann said at today’s AGM, there will be three new Ferrari models unveiled in 2021.

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