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SoftBank goes with Ericsson and Nokia for 5G network

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Ericsson uses machine learning to automate SoftBank’s radio network in Japan
SoftBank and Ericsson are upgrading radio access networks using a machine learning algorithm that makes it possible for cell overlap and signal strength to be analysed.

Japanese telco SoftBank has announced it is teaming up with both Ericsson and Nokia for the roll out of its 5G network.

Both vendors have existing relationships with the telco.

Ericsson said in a statement that it would “reinforce” the telco’s LTE network while optimising its 5G network, as it provides its Ericsson Radio System to operate in SoftBank’s 3.9-4.0 GHz and 29.1-29.5 GHz spectrum bands.

The pair previously worked together to use machine learning to determine where to place cells to upgrade SoftBank’s network.

For Nokia, the Finnish equipment manufacturer said it would use its AirScale solution for SoftBank’s 5G radio access network.

“We are delighted to continue our long-term relationship with SoftBank and to be working with them as a trusted end to end partner at such an important milestone in the transformation to 5G,” Head of Nokia Japan John Harrington said.

In 2017, SoftBank signed a 5G partnership with Chinese vendor ZTE.

In its most recent earnings announcement, SoftBank Corporation, the telco part of the SoftBank Group conglomerate, earlier this month reported that sales increased by 4% and adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation rose 1% to ¥1.2 trillion. The telco now has 22 million mobile subscribers across its SoftBank, Y!mobile, and Line Mobile brands, and 5.9 million fibre subscribers.

On December 19, SoftBank Corporation listed onto the Tokyo Stock Exchange, which saw SoftBank Group’s indirect ownership fall from 99.99% to 66.5%.

On Monday, the Japanese government tightened the rules for foreign investment in tech and telco companies, with foreign investors needing Tokyo’s approval to take a stake over 10% in a local company.

Last week, SoftBank delayed the sale of new handsets from Huawei so that it could asses whether customers could safely use them.

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2022 Mini John Cooper Works hardtop arrives with fresher styling and interior updates

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The 2022 Mini John Cooper Works hardtop is arriving with a mild facelift and a host of interior upgrades. Mini recently updated its 2022 model range for both the hardtop and convertible, but the JCW version is having a style all its own. It now has a larger hexagonal front grille with a new red crossbar. The grille now extends downwards to highlight a pair of more prominent air vents that provide cooling air to the radiator and brakes.

Meanwhile, the newest Mini JCW has bespoke side scuttles on the front side panels and rear apron for a sportier, race-ready vibe. At the back, it also has a new rear diffuser to improve rear traction and aerodynamics. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Mini without those round LED headlights and circular daytime running lights.

It has the same 2.0-liter twin-turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine with 231 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque as the previous JCW model. And while it wouldn’t hurt to get more horses under the hood, the 2022 Mini John Cooper Works can still rush to 60 mph from a dead stop in 6.3-seconds, pretty nippy for a small hatchback.

It has a standard six-speed manual stick, but you can have an optional eight-speed automatic transmission if you don’t like rowing gears. And if you choose the auto, the performance numbers improve slightly, with zero to 60 mph happening in 6.1-seconds. Also standard is a new sports exhaust system with center-mounted twin three-inch tailpipes that emit an ‘emotionally powerful sound,’ said Mini.

Underneath, the 2022 Mini JCW has a bespoke suspension to improve handling and grip. Adaptive suspension is optional, but it’s part of the John Cooper Works Trim package, including piano black high gloss exterior trim and black leather/Dinamica upholstery. Also standard are Brembo four-piston brakes (with red calipers and vented disks) and 17-inch alloy wheels (18-inch rollers are optional).

Inside, the 2022 Mini John Cooper Works has a new center instrument panel with an 8.8-inch touchscreen display. The operating system offers updated graphics and Live Widgets that you can access by swiping the screen. Other changes include multicolor ambient lighting and updated materials. The new Mini JCW has a bevy of standard safety features park distance control, active cruise control with stop and go, and lane departure warning.

2022 Mini John Cooper Works Gallery

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2021 Honda Ridgeline Review: Looking the part

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Brand identity is a tricky thing to get right. If the second-generation Ridgeline had a problem, it was that it was just too similar, from the front at least, to Honda’s Pilot. That’s not a bad looking SUV, no, but if you weren’t confusing the Ridgeline for its (mechanically similar) sibling, you were probably questioning its softer aesthetics compared to most rival pickups.

There is, for better or worse, a design language we expect from trucks. While practicality is king, they also have to look burly and tough; we expect road presence and a sense of invulnerability, too. The original Ridgeline was odd-looking enough that the conversation instantly shifted to that love-it-or-hate-it appearance, but Honda’s second attempt was just close enough to a family SUV to be an outlier in its segment.

Ironically, of course, a family-minded pickup is just what the Ridgeline always has been, and what it excels at. Driving one is a reminder that trucks don’t need to be lumpy and coarse; they don’t need to wallow and flex across pockmarked asphalt. The Ridgeline’s issue was that it looked a little too much like the SUV it drove like, and so that’s what Honda has changed.

The 2021 Ridgeline gets a brand new front, with everything forward of the A-pillar redesigned. The grille is beefier and more dominant, with wider, scalloped mesh and – on some trims – a chromed strip over the top. It’s more upright, too, between new LED headlamps, while the hood bulges to emphasize the standard V6 engine.

Chunkier plastic cladding for the arches and a new lower bumper add to that visual heft (Honda, ever eager to make maximum use of a change, also uses the functional side vents in that bumper to create aerodynamically-beneficial air curtains around the side of the Ridgeline). New skid plates, a new rear bumper and a 20mm wider track help keep the whole thing looking planted, meaty, and like it’s taking pickup heritage a little more seriously.

My Sport review model came equipped with the $2,800 Honda Performance Development (HPD) Package. That adds 18-inch HPD alloy wheels in a rather fetching gold, plus special fender flares, a unique grille, and – edging on a little too much for my tastes – various HPD decals and emblems. Alternatively there are more practically-minded options packs, like the $1,465 Utility Package with its running boards, roof rails, and crossbars, or the Function+ Package which, for $1,315, adds a hard tonneau cover, cargo nets for the bed and trunk, and cargo dividers.

Pricing starts at $36,490 (plus $1,175 destination) and climbs to $43,920 for the top-spec Black Edition.

The new garb hasn’t diluted the Ridgeline’s core usability, though, and that’s what stands out most. Pickups are a playground for automakers looking to throw in some cunning cubbies and tie-downs, but the Honda arguably got that first with its imaginatively usable extras. The tailgate not only drops down but can swing out sideways, for example, while under half the bed there’s a huge trunk compartment.

You can lock the lid to that, and use it for valuables, or fill it full of ice and treat it as a massive drinks cooler. A drain port on the bottom makes emptying it easier. It’s one of my favorite pickup features, because there are times you just don’t want to have things sliding around the bed.

Speaking of that, the Ridgeline can handle up to 1,589 pounds of payload, and minimal intrusions into the bed mean you can lay 4 foot wide sheets of plywood down flat. For towing, it’s rated for 5,000 pounds: not as high as some rivals, no, but probably sufficient for most drivers’ requirements. RTL-E and Black Edition trims get a 150W/400W power outlet in the bed too, and all trims have bed lighting.

The other big change for the 2021 model year is the drivetrain. Gone is the front-wheel drive Ridgeline option – hence the starting price seemingly jumping up – with all-wheel drive now standard. Not just any AWD, either: it’s Honda’s iVTM-4 system, with torque vectoring. Up to 70-percent of the 3.5-liter V6’s 280 horsepower can be shifted back to the rear axle, and from there up to 100-percent of that power can be funneled to the left or right wheels depending on which has the most traction.

Compared to the AWD systems on rival pickups it’s positively space-age. On the road, it contributes significantly to how SUV-like the Ridgeline feels: planted and steady, with the suspension level and predictable, and none of that unexpected squirming some trucks can suffer when they’re underloaded and you suddenly gas things up. The 9-speed automatic transmission is dependable and shifts with greater urgency if you tap the button-shifter into Sport mode.

The downside, though, is that some of the more mechanically-minded settings four-wheel drive competitors have are absent. There are modes modes for different off-road conditions, yes, but the Honda lacks locking differentials and dedicated low-range gearing.

I’m of a mind that, for the target audience – and, quite frankly, most pickup drivers were they to buy with their head not their heart – this is more than enough. If your motivation to get a truck is for those occasional times you need to haul something obstinate, the Ridgeline will probably be up to the task. The rest of the time you can drive it as comfortably as you would, yes, a Pilot.

According to the EPA you’ll get 18 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway, or 21 mpg combined. That bests Chevrolet’s Silverado 4WD with the 2.7-liter turbo, and Ford’s F-150 4WD with its 3.5L turbo. My own mixed driving clocked in at nearly 22 mpg.

Inside, the changes are a little less dramatic. There’s new cloth seats on this Sport trim, and new accents on the dashboard, center console, and steering wheel; all Ridgeline versions get new contrast stitching on the seats. Cubbies and bins aplenty ape the bed practicality, including a huge lidded central box and big door pockets. The second row gets plenty of legroom and a useful 2.9 cu-ft box under the bench. Everything feels sturdy and reliable, though that’s not to say it’s uncomfortable or spartan.

The 8-inch Display Audio infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard now, and 2021 brings back the physical volume knob and adds a wireless phone charging pad to higher trims. Honda Sensing is standard too, with Collision Mitigation Braking, Road Departure Mitigation, Forward Collision Warnings, and Lane Departure Warnings. You also get a multi-angle reversing camera, lane-keeping assistance, and adaptive cruise control; RTL and above trims have blind spot warnings.

2021 Honda Ridgeline Verdict

Like in the best makeover shows, you’re rooting from the Ridgeline from the start. Honda’s pickup always had most of the practicality required to satisfy everyday truck drivers. What it lacked wasn’t ability but aesthetic, and don’t let anybody tell you pickup buyers are any less swayed by that than those shopping for a sports car.

What stands out in the 2021 Ridgeline is how comprehensively Honda has addressed that while avoiding diluting any of the truck’s underlying charm. It’s eminently drivable, leaves you no more tired when you slip from behind the wheel after a long journey than a Pilot might, and its on-road dynamics are a level above what most rivals bring to the table. Potential pickup buyers who don’t genuinely consider it are doing themselves a disservice, and now they don’t have looks to excuse that oversight.

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750,000 popular GM trucks & SUVs are under NHTSA airbag investigation

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US vehicle safety regulators are investigating almost 750,000 recent vehicles from Chevrolet, GMC, and Cadillac, after reports of faulty airbags that in some cases led to injuries. Fifteen consumer complaints have been raised with the NHTSA, spanning luxury sedans, popular full-sized pickup trucks such as the Silverado, and large SUVs including the Escalade and Suburban.

“The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) has received fifteen consumer complaints on alleged air bag system malfunctions on certain General Motors (GM) vehicles,” the NHTSA said. “Nine of the consumer complaints allege the illumination of an air bag malfunction indicator (MIL). Six crash incidents have significant frontal collision damage where driver frontal air bags failed to deploy.”

The list includes Chevrolet’s Silverado, Sierra, Tahoe, Suburban, along with GMC’s Yukon and Yukon XL. Cadillac’s Escalade and Escalade ESV, and its CT4, CT5, and XT4 models are also included. Both 2020 and 2021 model years are affected in the investigation, the NHTSA confirmed.

A previous GM Technical Service Bulletin, issued in March 2021, focused on potential airbag issues which led to the safety equipment not correctly inflating during a crash. The MIL would light up and the vehicle would report diagnostic trouble codes B0001-1B or B0012-0D, GM explained. In that situation, in a frontal collision, the airbag might not deploy.

GM highlighted rust particles in the driver airbag inflator’s connection terminal interface as the cause of the MIL showing. Rather than a recall of the vehicles, GM instead notified dealers and service centers so that they would be aware of the rust particle issue.

Currently, there are no deaths associated with the airbag failures. However, according to the ODI, of the 15 complaints there have been 6 connected crashes, with 8 injuries recorded. An estimated 749,312 vehicles – many of which are among Chevrolet, GMC, and Cadillac’s most popular – are affected.

“To the extent there are vehicles in the field that experience this condition, those vehicles will be repaired under warranty,” GM told the AP. However, the automaker insisted that its analysis suggested that, even if the malfunction light illuminates, the airbag should still inflate in the case of a crash. It said it was unaware of any incidents where airbags failed to deploy correctly.

The NHTSA’s investigation will explore the extent of the problem, and whether further efforts are required on GM’s part to address it more completely. In November, the agency ruled that GM should recall a further six million pickups and SUVs over potential airbag issues related to the huge Takata recall, which affected much of the auto industry.

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