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How do you fix slow broadband in busy cities? Create a new network

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Ericsson’s focus on novel small cell solutions, in prep for 5G
Ericsson has taken the wraps off three new small cell solutions, the Multi-Operator Dot, the Multi-Dot Enclosure, and the Strand-Mount Unit, which will be commercially available next year.

There is no need to travel to remote countryside towns to moan about slow broadband speeds. In fact, you could stay right in the middle of central London, and find problems right there.

Last weekend, however, network provider Ontix quietly kicked off its plan to bring the UK capital’s broadband up to standards, starting with a single street in Soho.

Packed with small businesses, and home to an ancient market that is now full of street-food stands, some customers in Berwick Street, London, were getting speeds as low as 0.41 Mbps, said Ontix. By comparison, the median download speed in Orkney Islands, north of Scotland, is 3 Mbps.

SEE: IT pro’s guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)

According to Ontix, the new network infrastructure deployed in Berwick Street has let broadband performance jump to 300 Mbps. 

The magic trick? Forget about full-fibre broadband. Instead, Ontix wants to build a brand-new transmission network, called Metrohaul, using a mix of fibre and wireless technologies.

Antony Tomlinson, the CEO of Ontix, told ZDNet: “The challenge that mobile phone companies face is that they are desperately trying to dig up the streets to deliver full fibre, which is both costly and unbelievably complex.

“We thought about doing it differently, with a mixture of fibre and wireless to avoid digging up so much of the roads.”

Tomlinson explained that in Berwick Street, for example, BT and Virgin were unable to deploy superfast broadband because there is an embargo on digging up the road.

Ontix figured out that the solution had to be wireless. The company placed receivers outside their customers’ premises, and pointed them to a lamp post at the end of the road, which they fitted with one of Ontix’s wireless units. 

The unit connects to the company’s main Metrohaul fibre network. Ontix will also allow mobile operators to fit the lamp posts of Westminster with small cells – mini base stations that are increasingly being used in cities to provide additional broadband capacity without having to build a large tower or antenna. This would allow operators to share small-cell infrastructure, rather than build their own individual networks separately . 

The advantages of a shared service are evident, argued Tomlinson. “We need tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of new small cells in London alone,” he said. 

“Every cell needs a transmission solution, and that requires digging up the road a bit. So it is impossible, economically and logistically, for every operator to build its own small cell infrastructure.”

SEE: 5G hackers: These eight groups will try to break into the networks of tomorrow

At the moment, Metrohaul only consists of one small-cell device fitted to a post in Trafalgar Square, and wireless connectivity in Berwick Street. “But we want to deploy a whole separate network that isn’t dependent on other networks,” said Tomlinson. 

“A neutral network can deliver shared infrastructure at a lower cost and in less time. Otherwise, it’s difficult to see how we will get what we need. In which case we will continue to lag behind much of the rest of the world.”

It’s all well and good to talk about AI and edge computing, said Tomlinson; “but that’s all academic if we can’t get the infrastructure.”



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2021 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Review – Desirable Diesel

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Out in the midwest, a bright red 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 Duramax Turbo-Diesel will turn more heads than a supercar. Welcomed by my new pickup brethren with raised thumbs, nonchalant nods, and turning heads, it was a stark reminder that – for much of the US – the flexibility and styling of a truck still makes them the go-to mode of transport. After living with the Sierra, for the most part I could understand why.

The fifth-gen Sierra 1500 is, of course, much the same pickup as the fourth-gen Chevrolet Silverado 1500, only with a nudge upscale as GM has long used to differentiate the brands. Compared to the somewhat fussy – and fairly controversial – front end of the Chevy, the GMC’s more traditional grille is as palatable as it is large.

On the AT4 – sitting above the base Sierra, SLE, Elevation, and SLT versions, just below the most lavish Denali trim – that grille is body-colored, which helps reduce a little of the visual heft. It’s also more of an excuse to splash on the glorious Cayenne Red Tintcoat paint, a $645 option which readily rivals Mazda’s iconic red and pops nicely against the snow under the winter sun. LED headlamps and fog lamps are standard too, as is GMC’s MultiPro Tailgate.

At the rear of either a short or standard box, it flexes like a Transformers toy to offer six different positions, including a full-width step and a useful two-level load stop. At 5’8 I’m not going to say I didn’t appreciate the leg-up, just as I did the fixed high-level side step that’s standard on the $3,700 AT4 Premium Package.

Helping garner me trucker attention was the AT4’s 2-inch lift and X31 suspension; there’s also an auto-locking rear differential and a two-speed Autotrac transfer case that works with the optional 4WD. 18-inch machined aluminum wheels wear beefy Goodyear Wrangler Territory all-terrain rubber. Denali models can be had with adaptive suspension, but such niceties aren’t offered on the AT4.

$995 adds the Duramax 3.0-liter inline-6 turbo-diesel engine. Its 277 horsepower falls short of even the smallest 2.7-liter turbo gas engine, but its 460 lb-ft of torque matches that of the biggest 6.2-liter V8 but arrives at a rewardingly-low 1,500 rpm. The V8 gas engine makes you wait for its max twist until 4,100 rpm. A 10-speed automatic transmission is standard, slurring nicely and neatly in the background and worthy of no complaints.

The diesel is a gem, not least because it’ll give you the best economy of the Sierra 1500 bunch. 22 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined aren’t going to give true environmentalists much to sing about, but when the rest of GMC’s pickups fall somewhere in the teens it’s worth noting. In my predominantly city driving, mostly in 4WD mode with nary a thought to the weight of my right foot, I still managed 21.6 mpg.

You can tow 8,900 pounds, while the payload clocks in at 2,233 pounds. Forget rattly diesels of old: there’s a little more noise than some gas engines, but it’s actually a fairly pleasant mechanical thrum with a little growl when pushed, while bounce is kept to a minimum on all but the worst asphalt. It’s that surfeit of low-end torque that’s the gift which keeps on giving, however, sending the Sierra surging forward from stop lights and helping bely its general heft.

With the Midwest’s lake effect snow playing its havoc, that 4WD system and the AT4’s lift paid dividends. Navigating through yet-to-be-plowed side roads proved to be a non-issue, the Wrangler tires proving to have more than enough grip even when the going got icy.

Inside, there’s plenty of space and decent standard equipment. Keyless entry and remote-start, dual zone climate control, 10-way power front bucket seats with heating and ventilation, heated outer rear seats, a heated steering wheel with leather, and a flexible storage bin under the easily-raised rear 60/40 folding bench. You also get a 120V outlet in the dashboard (and a second in the bed).

The AT4 Premium Package adds a rear sliding power window, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless charging, front and rear parking assistance, blind-spot warnings and rear cross traffic alerts, and an 8-inch touchscreen. The $2,075 Technology Package brings a 360-degree camera which can also accommodate a trailer, a rear camera mirror, bed camera, multicolor head-up display, and an 8-inch digital display in the driver’s cluster.

Finally, the $1,095 Driver Alert Package II adds forward collision alert, lane-keep assistance, automatic emergency braking and front pedestrian braking, and adaptive cruise control. As standard you get hill descent control, trailer sway control and hill-start assist, a trailer brake controller, and tire pressure monitors.

It’s all fairly comprehensive – even if, with the various packages, it took the $53,800 (plus $1,595 destination) pickup to $64,400 all-in – and spacious front and rear, though the cabin doesn’t feel as special as the spec sheet might suggest. Even at 8-inches the touchscreen feels small in the slab-like dash, and there are a whole lot of buttons and knobs that start to feel a lot alike (and a lot like what you’d find in the cheaper Silverado, too).

That’s a problem, because rivals are pushing truck cabin aesthetics as much as capabilities. The latest Ram 1500 and Ford F-150 have big displays and more ergonomically-pleasing dashboards; the Sierra 1500 AT4 is fine inside, but I’m not sure “fine” cuts it these days. Especially not when you’re paying near-$65k for the privilege.

2021 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 4WD Duramax Turbo-Diesel Verdict

A general recognition that pickup buyers are looking for more than just cargo capabilities and shouldn’t be left out of the tech cycle is good for everyone, even if GMC feels like it’s lagging a little behind Ford and Ram on that front. In the end, it’s the 2021 Sierra 1500 AT4’s sure-footedness and that burly, lovable turbo diesel which shine, while I happen to think the AT4 trim looks the best of the bunch – including what Chevy will sell you.

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2022 Land Rover Defender pricing confirmed – The cost of a V8

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Land Rover has priced up the 2022 Defender, including the new V8 version of the SUV announced earlier this week. The MY22 will kick off at $47,700 (plus destination) for the Defender 90, the distinctive three-door version of the truck, when it arrives in US dealerships come summer 2021. Expect, however, to pay considerably more if you want that supercharged V8 under the hood.

For the 2022 Defender 90, the entry engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4. That delivers 296 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, and is shared by the five-door 2022 Defender 110 which starts at $50,500 plus $1,350 destination. The 2022 Defender 90 S will be $51,100 plus destination, while the Defender 110 S will be $54,000.

Stepping up a powertrain, the 2022 Defender 90 X-Dynamic S and the 2022 Defender 110 SE get the 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 mild-hybrid we tested in the Defender 110. That’s good for 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. Pricing starts at $59,500 for the three-door and $65,100 for the five-door.

If you won’t settle for anything other than the V8 – and we can’t really argue with you – then prepare to open your wallet much wider. The 2022 Defender 90 V8 starts at $97,200 plus destination, while the 2022 Defender 110 V8 hits six figures, starting at $100,400. Land Rover will also have a Carpathian Edition of both, priced at $104,000 for the three-door and $107,200 for the five-door.

All four variants get the same 5.0-liter supercharged V8. It’s packing 518 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque, and Land Rover says to expect 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds from the Defender 90 V8, and a top speed of 149 mph. Air suspension and an electronic active rear differential are standard, as is a new Dynamic drive mode in the SUV’s Terrain Response system. That prioritizes performance on asphalt and loose surfaces like gravel.

Replacing the old Defender 110 First Edition, meanwhile, is the 2022 Defender 110 XS Edition. Only offered on the five-door version of the SUV, and with the 3.0-liter mild-hybrid six cylinder engine, it’s priced at $71,900 plus destination.

Compared to the regular 110, it comes with special body-color lower cladding and lower wheel arches, around 20-inch, contrast diamond-turned alloy wheels finished in Satin Grey. Inside, there are 12-way heated and ventilated seats in Ebony Grained leather and Robust Woven Textile; Land Rover also throws in the extended leather package, illuminated metal tread plates, and finishes the Cross Car Beam running across the dashboard with a Light Grey powder coat brushed finish.

All 2022 Defender trims get wireless phone charging with a signal booster, and can be optioned with a larger, 11.4-inch curved touchscreen for the Pivi Pro infotainment system. There are also three new exterior design packs – the Bright Pack, Extended Bright Pack, and Extended Black Pack – available on select models.

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Fisker Ocean electric SUV gets a range and power boost promise

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Fisker is promising more range and more power for its Ocean electric SUV than first expected, though the new EV is still a long way from production kicking off. The announcement, part of Fisker’s Q4 2020 financial results, comes on the heels of a new partnership between the automaker and Foxconn to produce the EV that will follow the Ocean.

Announced in early 2019, the Ocean aims to take on cars like Tesla’s Model Y with an affordable price tag and family practicality. Also taking a note out of Elon Musk’s playbook is the reservations process: they opened for the Ocean EV all the way back in November 2019, even though Fisker didn’t confirm pricing for the sub-$38k car until the following January.

If you put down a reservation, meanwhile, you’ll still have some time to wait. Fisker expects initial production to kick off in Q4 2022, with automotive industry heavyweight Magna handling building the Ocean in Europe. However full production isn’t expected to ramp up until sometime in 2023.

At least you’ll know you’re getting a more capable electric SUV than Fisker first promised. The automaker now expects the EV to be able to drive 350+ miles on a charge, at least for the Ultra Long Range version of Ocean. That’s up from the 300+ mile estimate initially shared.

0-60 mph performance, meanwhile, is expected to now be in the ballpark of sub-4.0 seconds, for all but the base version of the SUV. “These specifications are meaningfully above our initial targets and are expected to support overall vehicle performance consistent with the segment leaders at launch,” Fisker said today.

The Magna partnership will also involve co-developing the Ocean’s active driver assistance systems (ADAS), which have been dubbed Fisker-Intelligent Pilot ADAS / AV. They’ll include cameras and radar which will be fitted to every Ocean trim, and serve “as a platform to deliver unique software-based safety, anti-annoyance, and entertainment features.”

Reservations currently stand at 12,467, Fisker says. Of those, more than 70-percent of would-be Ocean buyers apparently drive an internal combustion engine vehicle, Fisker says.

As for the Foxconn partnership, details there are still scant. The vehicle is expected to go into production as soon as Q4 2023, with the two companies suggesting a highly-aggressive 24 month development process. There’s no word on how much it may cost, nor what sort of vehicle it may be – though a design sketch suggested a smaller crossover to slot in underneath the Ocean in size – but sales ambitions are high, with Fisker projecting 250,000 annual volumes when the EV reaches full production.

Still, building up a car company is expensive. In Q4 2020, Fisker says, net losses totaled $12 million.

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