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Will India allow Huawei to sell its 5G networking equipment in the country?

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Image: Angela Lang/CNET

2019 has been a perilous year so far for the world’s leading telecom equipment manufacturer, and second largest smartphone maker, China’s Huawei. First, Donald Trump banned the company on May 15 from selling its phone or telecom equipment in the US through a national security order. In June, Trump decided to lift some restrictions to its most popular products but the company remained on the Commerce Department’s blacklist.

Meanwhile, its CFO Meng Wanzhou is still languishing in a Canadian prison awaiting extradition to the US on charges ranging from money laundering to obstruction of justice.

Now, the latest news to give it further worry is that India — on the verge of inviting telecom majors to conduct trials for the upcoming network — is still undecided on whether to invite Huawei or not, as disclosed to Reuters by the telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. This would be a major blow to a company that is keen on solidifying its presence in one of the fastest growing telecom market in the world and is projected to grow to 103.9 billion in 2020.

Not surprisingly, Chinese officials who were called by India’s ambassador in Beijing, Vikram Misri, to discuss this issue suggested that there would be reverse sanctions if New Delhi were to go ahead with its decision. 

Will New Delhi be justified in shutting the door on Huawei? After all, Huawei hardware has already been used in 5G trials in Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore, and the extreme cost competitiveness of its equipment would make it a front runner in these countries. Meanwhile, the UK may have huffed an puffed about Huawei’s notoriety when it comes to security breaches but the fact remains that Vodafone launched its 5G network in the United Kingdom with both Huawei’s hardware and broadband modem. Apparently, even its competitors EE, Three, and O2 are currently using or plan to use Huawei’s equipment.

See also: How 5G network builders are competing with Huawei in Asia

But detractors remain, and strident ones at that, including current arch enemy the US led by Trump’s confusing and contradictory diktat’s as well as New Zealand and Australia — three members of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence community — as well as Japan who have decided to give the Chinese maker a wide berth. Canada, despite detaining CFO Wanzhou on an extradition order, has not enacted a complete ban on Huawei equipment — yet.

For India, the stakes are significantly higher considering it shares a border with China, who is a staunch ally of nemesis Pakistan. China too has had chronic border disputes with India where the two countries went to war in the 1960s over this. Therefore, the fact that Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei is a former member of the People’s Liberation Army will undoubtedly not be very reassuring. 

As the Asia Nikkei article details, security experts feel that companies in China are ultimately subservient to the state and would have to kow-tow to its intelligence and security agency demands, which makes Chinese companies, especially those selling electronic infrastructure equipment, not the safest to go along with. In fact, China’s National Intelligence Law passed in 2017 demands this from its citizens.

To make things worse, Huawei has been accused by India of allegedly hacking into networks several times over the past decade and allowing ‘backdoors’ in its networking hardware for surveillance purposes, according to Venturebeat, something that Huawei denies. The problem for India is Huawei is simply very tough to beat on price. And it is omnipresent. It has 20% of all 5G patents globally which has allowed it to suck up 50 of the world’s commercial 5G contracts. 

A MIDDLE GROUND?

Clearly, considering China’s clout in the world of trade, many countries would wish to appear to appease it while protecting themselves against incidents of hacking. So no surprise that a ‘middle approach’ is apparently being explored in India where Huawei would be blocked from operating in sensitive border areas while relegated to more central geographies. 

Moreover, the UK has already implemented such a plan where its carriers use the Chinese telco’s ‘non-core’ components, such as transmitting radios used in close proximity to homes, rather than equipment used in guiding network traffic, which is more susceptible to breaches such as core servers that house encryption keys.

Read: The winner in the war on Huawei is Samsung

This could possibly be the most pragmatic solution that optimises both security and cost, the latter which is increasingly becoming more important in a beleaguered industry squeezed badly by the entrance of the price gouging Jio. But regardless of how attractive the numbers may look for Indian telecom operators like Vodafone and Airtel sizing up Huawei versus its competition, to put all one’s eggs in the Huawei basket simply for price advantages would simply be foolish.

As a telecom executive in the Economic Times put it: “We don’t want to be caught in a situation where we have deployed Huawei and then a ban comes. It would be such a big gamble to do so and already, given the stress in the sector, looks like nobody is going to take that risk.” 

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2021 Audi RS7 Sportback Review – When you can only choose one

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If your dream garage only has space for one car, you could do a lot worse than fill it with the 2021 Audi RS7 Sportback. Not for nothing has the A7 carved out a space at the top of luxury four-door fastback list. Mercedes’ CLS may have got there first, but Audi’s pared-back styling refined it, and the A7 has arguably come to epitomize the “four-door coupe” category.

The RS7 takes that pretty base and packs it off to Marine bootcamp. With an even crisper body kit, more aggressive wheels, and of course a burly twin-turbo V8, the $114,000 Sportback will still cosset just as neatly as an A7 can, but now you get 591 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque to play with. 0-60 mph arrives in 3.5 seconds, the 4.0-liter engine keeping things going to a top speed of 174 mph or – with the $8,500 ceramic brakes package – 190 mph.

Even among Audi’s handsome line-up, the RS7 stands out. My Tango Red Metallic review car was hardly a surreptitious shade, though the $1,000 sport exhaust’s burble turned heads even before the bright red paint job came into view. It’s wider and sharper in the detailing than the regular A7, trading some of the timeless elegance of that car’s curves and strakes in favor of aggressively gaping grilles and vents.

The $2,750 Black Optic package throws on black exterior trim and gets you the glorious 22-inch V-spoke matte titanium wheels. 21-inchers are standard and would probably help smooth out some of the rumbles over lesser asphalt, though with its standard RS-tuned adaptive air suspension in Comfort mode it’s surprisingly compliant.

Though you could cruise around like that, better to switch to Dynamic mode where the RS7 has the goods to back up its looks. Quattro all-wheel drive is standard, as is a sport rear differential and electromechanical progressive steering. You also get four-wheel steering. The combination of raw power and tech means it’s exceedingly easy to make the RS7 go very, very fast.

Some recent S-badged Audi models have been dinged by virtue of being a little too restrained in their sportiness. The RS7 makes no such stumbles. Wet roads, snow, slush, tight turns or lengthy straights, nothing seems to make a difference to how willing the Sportback is when it comes to throwing itself forward and gripping until it’s your nerves, not the adhesion, that gives.

The 3.5 seconds to sixty sounds, frankly, conservative: the RS7 snarling through its achingly rapid 8-speed Tiptronic transmission. But don’t go thinking this red rocket is a one-trick pony for the straight line: the addition of rear-wheel steering and that trick differential swings the power around predictably and potently. It’s a sweet balance of the reassurance of Quattro and the purist pleasure of rear-wheel drive.

I didn’t have the carbon brakes and I can’t say I felt I needed them. The standard steel versions – comprising ventilated 16.5-inch front discs and 14.6-inch rear discs – don’t lack in bite. As for the 48v mild hybrid system, it’s more there to smooth out the stop/start system and keep the electronics running.

As a result, thirst can be an issue. The 2021 RS7 is rated for 15 mpg in the city, 22 mpg on the highway, and 17 mpg combined. They’re about realistic, if you drive it as you might an A7 but, of course, you won’t.

Inside, the A7’s cabin gets a makeover to leave it feeling suitably special. The core niceties remain: a dual touchscreen infotainment system, with Bang & Olufsen 3D Premium sound, four-zone climate control, power sunroof, and Sirius XM. Audi’s MMI keeps getting refinements: it’s clean and crisp, easy to navigate, and the lower display keeps things like HVAC controls available persistently even if you’re projecting Apple CarPlay or Android Auto up top. Dedicated buttons for the drive modes are joined by an RS button on the wheel, which you can configure to your choice of settings for one-touch access.

The $2,500 Executive Package extends the leather and adds heated rear seats, power soft-closing doors, and a head-up display. There’s a surprising amount of space in the rear, too, even for taller folks, while the 24.9 cu-ft of cargo space is almost the same as you get in an Q5 SUV.

In fact the only frustration, really, is that the Driver Assistance Package is a $2,250 option. That adds adaptive cruise control with lane-assistance, upgrades the active safety tech to include Audi side assist, rear cross traffic, and pre-sense rear, plus intersection assistance. I can’t help but feel like it should come standard, as the parking sensors, 360 camera, forward collision warning and assistance, and lane departure warnings do.

All-in, including $1,045 destination, my review car totaled up to $125,140. Not cheap, certainly, but still less than the starting price of Porsche’s Panamera GTS, and for more power and arguably cleaner looks.

2021 Audi RS7 Sportback Verdict

What drives the RS7 Sportback’s charm is the absence of compromise. Need a luxury ride? Switch to Comfort and waft along. Want to make the most of driver-friendly roads? Hit the RS button on the wheel and get ready for some fun. Need to stock up on a month’s groceries in one go? That big trunk is surprisingly capacious.

For me, that adds up to a worthy candidate for the one-car-dream-garage crown. Indeed if there’s a competitor, it may very well be coming from inside the house. The 2022 Audi RS e-tron GT quattro will have 589 horsepower and 612 pound-feet of torque and do 0-60 in 3.1 seconds; it’s also all-electric so as well as the everyday flexibility you’ll be able to avoid the gas station, too.

Perhaps, then, the EV is the future. For now, though, the 2021 RS7 Sportback is the sports car of choice for all seasons.

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2021 Ford Explorer King Ranch gets brown leather and a Western charm

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For the first time ever, the 2021 Ford Explorer is getting a King Ranch version this spring. The King Ranch name is derived from a ranch in Texas and has been offered in previous generations of the F-series pickup trucks for the past 20 years. As expected from a King Ranch Ford SUV, the newest Explorer is brimming with Western vibes.

“In 1853, Captain Richard King bootstrapped the King Ranch in the harsh landscape of southern Texas until it became a shining example of agricultural and livestock innovation and success, said Lee Newcombe, Ford Explorer marketing manager. “Ford Explorer families can now enjoy a piece of the King Ranch’s renowned craftsmanship and the multigeneration legacy that still thrives 168 years after its founding.”

According to Ford, customers want an Explorer with a more luxurious interior. The newest Explorer King Ranch has standard mahogany Mesa Del Rio leather seats. The front and second-row seats are perforated to add a premium touch, while all seats bear the illustrious ‘Running W’ King Ranch logo. Meanwhile, it also gets a Mesa Del Rio leather armrest with a King Ranch logo insert in the center console.

“Introducing King Ranch’s specialty leather, genuine wood, crafted details, and signature colors to Ford Explorer elevates the SUV’s brand,” said Janet Seymour, Ford color and materials manager. The newest Explorer King Ranch has leather door trim rollovers, a leather-wrapped instrument panel and steering wheel, and various Sapele wood appliques throughout the cabin.

Meanwhile, King Ranch Explorers have a Stone Gray mesh grille insert, bespoke 20-inch aluminum wheels with a Running W center cap, King Ranch badging, quad chrome exhaust tips, and a liftgate scuff plate. The Premium Technology package throws in massaging front seats, a larger 10.1-inch vertical touchscreen infotainment system, and a premium Bang & Olufsen audio system.

The newest 2021 Explorer King Ranch is powered by Ford’s twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 engine pumping out 365 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. Here’s some trivia for you: Explorer King Ranch RWD is the first time a real-wheel drivetrain is available with Ford’s 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6.The engine sends power to the rear wheels (4WD is available) via a standard 10-speed automatic gearbox. The Explorer King Ranch can tow up to 5600 pounds, just right for the segment.

Safety features are aplenty in a King Ranch. Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 is standard on all Explorer trims. Still, King Ranch gets Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+ which comes with adaptive cruise control with lane-centering and Stop-and-Go, evasive steering assist, a voice-activated navigation system, Sirius XM, and speed sign recognition, among many others.

The 2021 Ford Explorer King Ranch arrives at dealerships this spring. Base prices start at $53,595 for RWD and $55,595 for AWD.

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Polestar 2 OTA update improves range & charging and adds V2V safety

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Polestar 2 owners will find an over-the-air software surprise waiting for them over the next few weeks, with the electric car getting one of its first major firmware updates to improve range and upgrade Android Automotive OS, among other changes. The ability to push out OTA updates that affect not only the infotainment system but active safety systems, the powertrain, and more was one of the key selling points for the Polestar 2 when it launched last year.

It means – as Tesla owners have come to enjoy in their EVs – fewer visits to service centers, particularly to install software patches that would previously have required a technician physically plugging a computer into the car to load. Instead, most of the Polestar 2’s systems can be remotely updated.

According to the automaker, the changes with this new software include the addition of Connected Safety. It’s a V2V (or C2C) system, which effectively allows Polestar and Volvo vehicles to collectively pool their data about road conditions. For example, if a connected Volvo reports that its traction control had to weigh in because of ice on the road, or if another Polestar is involved in a crash that could represent a hazard to other vehicles, that data will be uploaded to the cloud and then shared as a dashboard alert with Polestar 2 drivers.

It’s not the only potentially meaningful change which could make a difference in everyday driving. Polestar says the new Polestar 2 software includes “range improvements” along with “incremental speed improvements for DC charging.”

The automaker doesn’t specify just how much range might have improved, or how fast the charging is now; we’ve got a request in for more information on that front. It could be that, though the peak DC charging rate of 150 kW doesn’t change, the EV’s ability to sustain higher charging rates has improved. Currently, the Polestar 2 is rated for 233 miles of EPA range on a full battery.

Other changes include improvements to Bluetooth connectivity, climate timers, and the 360 degree camera. Unspecified changes to Android Automotive OS have been made too, “and a safety-related bug fix.” Finally, the digital owner’s manual – accessed through the large dashboard touchscreen – has also been updated.

The changes are really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what OTA updates could adjust, mind. Future upgrades could cover anything including “stability improvements, charging speed increases, range improvements and new base software,” Polestar suggests, delivered via the 4G LTE modem that also connects the EV to Google’s cloud. They could even enable hardware features currently present on the cars, but not available to US owners, such as the clever adaptive headlamps which the Polestar 2 is fitted with but cannot use due to American regulations.

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