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Dreaming of 5G mobile? Many are still waiting for 4G to arrive

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4G and 5G spectrum auction signals coverage boost
Nearly half of all rural homes have access to poor or no mobile coverage.

The UK’s communications regulator Ofcom today said that it will release more airwaves in 2020 to auction for mobile network operators, while also removing the legal requirement for them to extend their coverage to more remote areas.

The move comes after the announcement last week that the government is working with Vodafone, O2, EE and Three in a £1 billion deal to expand 4G coverage to 95% of the country by 2025.

Airwaves are a finite resource managed by Ofcom, and the rights to transmit signals over specific bands are sold in an auction system. Network operators can bid to determine how much spectrum they get and for which specific frequencies. 

To ensure that operators extend the reach of 4G to more isolated regions, Ofcom previously intended to rule that the two winning bidders should have to extend their outdoor data coverage to 90% of the UK’s land area by 2024, long after 5G will is due to be rolled out in many metropolitan areas.

Last week, however, the government put forward an agreement with Vodafone, O2, EE and Three that would let each of them individually reach 92% coverage by 2025, with the collective effect of extending coverage to 95% of the UK.

Ofcom said: “In light of the commitments, we are no longer proposing to include coverage obligations in our auction. This is because the companies’ new agreement will achieve higher coverage than the requirements we could have set through an auction”. 

The removal of coverage requirements does means, however, that the companies are no longer legally tied to achieving the targets laid out by the government. Ofcom said that it will therefore still “write conditions” into the operators’ spectrum licenses, and “monitor and report” on their progress in its yearly Connected Nations report. 

Instead of coverage obligations, the new agreement will rely on a new shared rural network (SRN) to connect isolated areas. A £1 billion budget was announced for the project, divided between £532 million industry funding from the four operators, and a further £500 million from the government.

This will go towards building a network of new and existing phone masts that all the operators will share to run their networks, and therefore avoid the unnecessary duplication of infrastructure. 

In addition, infrastructure built as part of the emergency services network (ESN) and owned by the government will be made available to the four operators, which it claimed will expand geographical coverage to an additional 2% of the country in the most remote locations. 

Digital secretary Nicky Morgan said: “Brokering an agreement for mast-sharing between networks alongside new investment in mobile infrastructure will mean people get good 4G signal no matter where they are or which provider they’re with”.

The government claimed that this will provide additional mobile coverage for 280,000 premises, and ultimately close almost all “partial not-spots” – areas where there is coverage from only one, and not all operators. This is still the case of 22% of UK premises according to Ofcom’s latest report on connectivity.

Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at service comparison website uSwitch, said: “The idea of allowing national roaming between networks in rural areas has been considered many times over the years, but ultimately proved too difficult to implement.

“This solution could greatly improve the coverage for residents in rural areas, while giving them a wider choice of networks and tariff options”.

It is not the first time that operators attempt to join forces to increase 4G coverage in rural areas, but until now they had failed to compromise. The four providers, however, have now defined the terms on which they will share existing masts; and the new SRN scheme will also let each of them invest amounts that are reflective of their current position in rural coverage. 

They reached this agreement last May and said then that they were prepared to go ahead with the plan on the condition that the government would provide some funding and remove coverage requirements from the spectrum auction. Both demands have now been met.

Neudegg, however, warned that this doesn’t mean that the promised extra connectivity will come in the near future. “While potentially exciting, this agreement still isn’t signed and has several legal hurdles to clear, so people in rural areas need to maintain pressure on the government and network providers to get this over the line”, he said.

The SRN proposal is still subject to legal agreement, and the government hopes to reach this early next year. 



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2021 Kia Niro Hybrid and Niro PHEV gets new tech and safety updates

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The 2021 Kia Niro Hybrid and Niro PHEV are soldiering on with a couple of new safety and technology features. Kia updated the Niro’s styling last year, and the changes carry over to the 2021 model. The Niro may not be the roomiest or best-handling crossover on the road, but it easily achieves 43 to 50 mpg in combined city/highway driving.

New for the 2021 Kia Niro and Kiro PHEV is a rear occupant alert system, a new 8-inch touchscreen infotainment display, and wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity. Vehicles equipped with Kia’s Smart Key now have a remote engine start feature. Meanwhile, Niro models with navigation get ten years of complimentary MapCare updates.

Moreover, both the Niro Hybrid and Niro plug-in-hybrid also get navigation-based smart cruise control with a ‘curve’ function. The latter automatically applies the brakes to reduce vehicle speed upon entering a corner. The Niro is comprehensively equipped with top-notch safety and driver assistive features like forward collision avoidance, blindspot detection, lane keeping assist, smart cruise control, and a rearview camera, to name just a few.

The 2021 Kia Niro Hybrid remains motivated by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor pumping out a combined 139 horsepower, all of which are sent to the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox. It also has a 1.56 kWh lithium-ion polymer hybrid battery pack sending juice to the small electric motor.

On the other hand, the 2021 Kia Niro PHEV has the same gasoline engine and electric motor as the hybrid version producing 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. The difference is a larger 8.9 kWh battery pack, allowing 26 miles of all-electric range before the battery runs out of juice. The Niro PHEV is EPA-rated at 46 mpg.

The 2021 Kia Niro Hybrid is available in five trim models: LX, LXS, Touring, Touring SE, and EX Premium. Base prices start at $25,865 (an increase of $100 over last year’s model), while the top-of-the-line Niro Hybrid EX Premium starts at $34,125 (inclusive of $1,175 destination fees).

If you like the 2021 Kia Niro PHEV, you can choose from three available trims: LXS, EX, and EX Premium, with base prices starting at $30,765. Both the Niro Hybrid and Niro PHEV are available to order now. The new 2021 all-electric Niro EV is also coming later this year.

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The final phase of Ram’s limited-edition “Build to Serve” truck line launches

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Ram has been building special limited edition “Build to Serve” trucks to celebrate the United States Armed Forces. So far, the automaker has built these special trucks to honor all five branches of the United States Armed Forces. The fifth and final installment in the series introduces 500 units in a color called Spitfire and 750 in Bright White.

The military branch-inspired interior will be available in showrooms starting in Q2 of 2021. The Built to Serve edition’s fifth installment offers a maritime force-inspired theme with both exterior color options featuring a black interior with orange accent stitching. With the fifth and final version of the truck revealed, each of the five US military service branches has been honored by Ram with two specially selected exterior paint colors meant to evoke the spirit, mission, and history of that service.

Built to Serve edition Ram trucks were made in the following numbers and colors. Ram made 1000 units in Gator and 1000 in Diamond Black Crystal. Ram produced 1000 in Ceramic Gray and 1000 in Patriot Blue. 1250 units were built in Anvil with 1500 produced in Billet Silver Metallic.

In the series, 1000 trucks were made in Tank and 1000 in Flame Red. This fifth and final installment are the rarest of the special edition trucks, with only 500 produced in Spitfire and 750 made in Bright White. All Built to Serve trucks get 20-inch aluminum wheels with a unique Technical Gray finish along with body-color wheel flares.

All the trucks feature unique Built to Serve instrument panel badging, optional lockable center storage console, deeply bolstered cloth and vinyl sport seats, black onyx chrome interior trim, and all-weather slush mats. The trucks also include the 4×4 Off-Road Group and are available on all body styles and with all powertrains.

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Manhart MH3 600 and MH4 600 are spicier versions of BMW’s M3 and M4

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German tuning brand Manhart has a nifty pair of new BMWs to call its own: The MH3 600 and MH4 600. Based on the all-new G80 BMW M3 sedan and G82 M4 coupe, both the MH3 600 and MH4 600 receive a plethora of upgrades, including a 600-plus horsepower turbocharged inline-six motor.

Manhart starts with the 2021 M3 and M4 Competition models, both pumping out 510 horsepower from the factory. After installing a Manhart MHtronik Powerbox, the inline-six motor has a new maximum output of 620+ horsepower, around 100 more horses than stock. Additionally, you have 553 pound-feet of torque at your disposal.

The mods include a Manhart Performance cat-back or OPF-back exhaust system with twin carbon tailpipes to unleash those spent gasses. According to Manhart, their Mhtronik Powerbox is also applicable to a standard M3 or M4, allowing the motor to churn out 590 horsepower. If you’re keeping count, that’s 117 more horsepower than a typical M3’s 473-horsepower output. Nice.

Other upgrades include new H&R lowering springs, staggered Concave One forged wheels developed in-house by Manhart, and a sprinkling of carbon-fiber exterior bits to improve aerodynamics, including a new hood, front splitter, rear spoiler, and rear diffuser. Manhart is also developing a unique set of side flaps for MH3 600 and MH4 600.

Of course, no Manhart creation is complete without a set of body decals. You get a gold decal kit for the MH3 600 and MH4 600, including side stripes and racing stripes. What’s more, you can have gold pinstriping on the wheels if you like a bit more bling in your Bimmer.

The 2021 BMW M3 and M4 (including the 4-Series in general) were targets of blatant criticism upon debuting last year, and it all has something to do with that oversized kidney grille. But looking at Manhart’s MH3 600 and MH4 600, the stealthy vibe fits both vehicles quite well. Dare we say Manhart has sorted out the M3 and M4’s polarizing façade?

And when you think about it, Manhart isn’t done with the M3 and M4. The 600-horsepower upgrade is only Phase 1 of the tuning program. Phase 2 involves more power, more noise, and more ridiculous exterior appendages, and we can’t wait to check it out soon.

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