Niantic’s Harry Potter might take AR into the world of reality

Augmented Reality is a technology which has promised a lot but hasn’t delivered to date. Niantic will be hoping the hype converts into gain with the launch of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.

Aside from being a title which taps into the nostalgic cravings of millennials, this is one of the first products which promises to genuinely make use of AR. Of course, we will reserve judgments until the product has been launched on Friday (June 21), but there will always be doubts in the build-up.

The doubts tie back to Pokemon Go. This was an incredibly successful app for Niantic and still brings in the profits. But, from an AR perspective, it wasn’t that genuine. This was an app which laid static images onto reality through the camera. For some, this might be AR, but realistically, AR has to interact with the environment. It was a half-way solution, but commercially it was incredibly successful.

There are perhaps two major reasons it was a massive money-maker for the firm. Firstly, it was a game which offered a new twist to users. Little could be compared to Pokemon Go at the time, and it captured the interest of millions. Secondly, nostalgia.

Nostalgia is a powerful draw for many, and in Pokemon Go, Niantic engaged numerous generations. The same could be said about Harry Potter. Spreading through the books and the movie franchise, this is a title which could attract interest from today’s generation through to those in the 40s. If the game is any good, it could make a ridiculous amount of cash.

The promise is this game will actually deliver on the AR expectations. Users will be able to explore the Muggle world through the app, encountering various characters, challenges and missions in different physical locations. Users will be asked to assume the character of a new recruit in the Statute of Secrecy Task Force to investigate The Calamity.

We’re not too sure what to expect, but we are pretty sure the downloads with soar over the first couple of days. The depth of the experience and the effectiveness of the new technology will drive popularity once the initial excitement has dipped.

One of the areas which is worth keeping an eye on is whether they can prevent the servers from crashing.

This was one of the issues which Pokemon Go faced. It would appear Niantic did not anticipate the popularity of the app, resulting in the service crashing constantly for weeks on end. We dread to think how much revenue was lost due to the fact users couldn’t actually log on, and we hope lessons have been learned. Surely the right amount of resource has been allocated but the same issue persists; predicting demand is a very difficult task.

The next couple of weeks could prove to be very interesting. Firstly, whether Niantic is finally embracing AR properly, and secondly, whether this opens the door for everyone else. If this app proves to be successful, consumers might have their eyes opened to the promise of AR. This app might be a very important factor in validating the technology for the general public.

The doors could be blown off the hinges, or at least if you are watching the doors on the screen of your smartphone.

Huawei saga is no good for anyone – Nokia UK CEO

Some might assume the suspicion which is being placed on Huawei might work out well for its competitors, but that is certainly not the case.

In certain markets, there are clear benefits to having Huawei as the political punching bag of the technology world, the US is a prime example. Huawei is banned in the US, but it has never really made a profitable charge in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave and look at Ericsson’s wins with Verizon in the pre-standard 5G world. But it can also be a negative.

“It’s bad for us as well,” said Nokia UK CEO Cormac Whelan. “It throws a cloud over technology, networks rollout and security.”

Whelan’s example to demonstrate this point is an effective one. When Volkswagen got caught red-handed in the emissions scandal, it wasn’t too long before questions were asked about others in the automotive industry. The Huawei security issue is not directly comparable, but Nokia and Ericsson are certainly being caught in the wake of this scandal, especially in the UK.

Who is benefitting from the increased scrutiny and uncertainty which is building in the UK? No-one. Without any end in sight for the on-going Supply Chain Review, telcos do not want to spend money on 5G infrastructure. They don’t want to spend on Huawei in case they have to rip and replace, and they do not want to spend on anyone else as they might be able to buy Huawei. The uncertainty is holding the UK telco industry to ransom.

And of course, you have to wonder what the impact might be on consumer adoption of 5G.

“The impact is starting to trickle down onto the high-street,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight. “This could have a negative impact on the consumer adoption of 5G.”

The more security propaganda which is pumped into the news by the US, the more of a shadow which is cast on 5G. Everyone in the industry is being dragged into the storm of security sceptics; this is what uncertainty and pro-longed umming and erring does. How long will it be before consumers start paying attention? Will this prevent users from upgrading to 5G contracts if all the messaging is drawing attention to security inadequacies?

This is not to say the UK should rush a decision however.

“We don’t want the Government to rush a decision,” said BT Chief Architect Neil McRae at the Connected Britain event in London. “We want them to get it right.”

However, there is going to be a point where it becomes frustrating and causes more damage than good. The longer the review takes, the longer the telcos have to wait before networks can be rolled out and the more controversy which is created around the topic of 5G.

Looking at Ericsson and Nokia, they might well be dragged further into the chaos than they would want to be. During a Science and Technology Committee investigation recently, Nokia’s Steve Sampson and Ericsson’s Mikko Karikyto were asked whether they would be happy to fund a security initiative on par with the Huawei Cybersecurity Evaluation Centre. This is an expense neither would want to make unless forced, but it is a possibility.

This session between the Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia executives and the Committee also demonstrate the point of putting the fear into consumers. During the meeting, Labour MP Graham Stringer compared Huawei to IG Farben, the German firm which manufactured the gas used in Nazi concentration camps. Huawei might well be proven a threat before too long, but this is an exaggerated and unreasonable comparison which achieves nothing more than pompous PR points for the MP in question and further fuels the security myths surrounding 5G.

Huawei might be copping the biggest punches when it comes to security sceptics, but no-one is benefitting in this current state of purgatory.

US politicians alarmed by Facebook’s cryptocurrency masterplan

The announcement of a new currency led by Facebook has caught the attention of US law-makers and not in a good way.

The Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, Maxine Waters, is alarmed by the prospect of a massive company with a patchy track record when it comes to data protection and censorship having control of a global currency. She published the following statement on the matter soon after the unveiling of Libra.

“Facebook has data on billions of people and has repeatedly shown a disregard for the protection and careful use of this data,” said Waters. “It has also exposed Americans to malicious and fake accounts from bad actors, including Russian intelligence and transnational traffickers. Facebook has also been fined large sums and remains under a FTC consent order for deceiving consumers and failing to keep consumer data private, and has also been sued by the government for violating fair housing laws on its advertising platform.

“With the announcement that it plans to create a cryptocurrency, Facebook is continuing its unchecked expansion and extending its reach into the lives of its users. The cryptocurrency market currently lacks a clear regulatory framework to provide strong protections for investors, consumers, and the economy. Regulators should see this as a wake-up call to get serious about the privacy and national security concerns, cybersecurity risks, and trading risks that are posed by cryptocurrencies.

“Given the company’s troubled past, I am requesting that Facebook agree to a moratorium on any movement forward on developing a cryptocurrency until Congress and regulators have the opportunity to examine these issues and take action. Facebook executives should also come before the Committee to provide testimony on these issues.”

Waters isn’t the only representative to express concern and at least one Senator has joined the party, as you can see in the tweet below. Regulators are going through a period of realising they were very slow to acknowledge the magnitude of social media and they should be keen to show they’ll be less complacent about money than they were information. It seems likely that Facebook will have to jump through a lot more hoops to launch this product than it has had to previously.

Industry says Government should focus on outcomes not specific tech

Being forward looking is an excellent quality to have in a national government, but when objectives are focused on technology not the desired outcome, it is a risky approach.

In this instance, it seems the UK Government can do nothing right. For years, the focus of the fixed industry was G.Fast not fibre, believing that the connectivity half-way house was a sensible strategy. There might have been adequate arguments made at the time, but with hindsight they do seem underwhelming.

Now the position is to drive towards a full-fibre, connected nation, with targets to connect every household with the future-proofed lines by 2033. However, some are now questioning whether this is an over-correction.

The issue seems to be that the UK Government is focused on technology, not delivering the desired outcome.

“We will cover the overwhelming majority of the UK with fibre, but there are also other technology developments which will contribute to a connected Britain,” said Clive Selley, CEO at Openreach. “These include FWA [Fixed Wireless Access] and low-orbit satellites, and we have mentioned balloons, we should be open-minded.”

Fibre should be the objective but doesn’t mean you have to deliver it to everyone and everywhere tomorrow. As Selly pointed out during his time on stage at the Connected Britain event, connecting the first 80% of premises to fibre is not an issue. It is expensive, it is time consuming, but its not complicated. The next 10% is going to be much more difficult, and the final 10% is where they haven’t worked it out yet.

Another interesting point is whether customers actually need fibre connectivity right now. In the desire to go end-to-end, you have to wonder whether fibre is needed for the last-mile. Long-term, of course it will be necessary, but it is about addressing the desire not the technology.

“In my opinion, government has been focusing too much on full-fibre,” said Three CEO Dave Dyson. “I would like the government to take a step back and understand what people actually need. Full-fibre is an answer, but it is not the only answer.”

Again, we would like to emphasise fibre should be the long-term aim. But, you have to ask what the actual objective of the UK Government is. In this case, it is to deliver faster connectivity to citizens across the entire country, irrelevant to the local environment.

Understanding fibre is the long-term objective, but the mid-term objective is accessibility to faster and more reliable connectivity is an outcome-focused strategy. This is where fixed-wireless access can play a role, as can low-orbit satellites and even balloons. The last mile can be delivered through a variety of options, as long as the foundation of the network is fibre, giving the option to extend in future years.

Unfortunately, it seems the UK is in a difficult position of its own making. In not embracing fibre earlier, it is behind the trends. A commitment to full-fibre might have been the right call 6-7 years ago, but the situation has changed. The current strategy does not necessarily present the UK with the best route towards the full-fibre nation; the plan should be evolved to consider context.

Here is pragmatic example, how many people actually need speeds north of 150 Mbps right now? Not many. Fibre is the best option for the long-term, but focusing on developing the foundations, delivering the experience which customers need and expect, while also creating a more sustainable approach to ROI should be the mid-term objective.

As Dyson pointed out, FWA offers the team a more readily available opportunity to drive revenue on a per-user basis. It allows them to react to customer demand as opposed to forecasts. However, for the proposition to work as promised fibre needs to be rolled at least to the cabinets everywhere.

This is a divisive topic. Some believe the telcos should bite the bullet and simply pay to get fibre everywhere. Holding them accountable is perfectly reasonable, but you have to also take into account the telcos have to make money as well.

When you consider context, financial demands and future-proofing the network, the equation is a very difficult one to balance. Fibre should be the long-term objective, but right now the demands are for faster broadband while also addressing the appetites of those in the rural communities. The other options to satisfy the connectivity demands of today should not be ignored, which is perhaps what is being done with the Government’s hardcore focus on full-fibre.

Strategies should be outcome focused not technology defined. This is perhaps the problem the UK is facing today.

HMD moves Nokia phone user data storage to Finland

HMD Global, the maker of Nokia-branded smartphones, announced that it is moving the storage of user data to Google Cloud servers located in Finland, to ease concerns about data security.

The phone maker announced the move in the context of its new partnership with CGI, a consulting firm that specialises in data collection and analytics, and Google Cloud, which will provide HMD Global with its machine learning technologies. The new models, Nokia 4.2, Nokia 3.2 and the Nokia 2.2, will be the first ones to have the user data stored in the Google Cloud servers in Hamina, southern Finland. Older models that will be eligible for upgrading to Android Q will move the storage to Finland at the upgrade, expected to take place from late 2019 to early 2020. HMD Global commits to two years’ OS upgrades and three years’ security upgrades to its products.

HMD Global claims the move will support its target to be the first Android OEMs to bring OS updates to its users, and to improve its compliance with European security measures and legislation, including GDPR. “We want to remain open and transparent about how we collect and store device activation data and want to ensure people understand why and how it improves their phone experience,” said Juho Sarvikas, HMD Global’s Chief Product Officer. “This change aims to further reinforce our promise to our fans for a pure, secure and up to date Android, with an emphasis on security and privacy through our data servers in Finland.”

Sarvikas denied to the Finnish news outlet Ilta-Sanomat that the move was a direct response to privacy concerns triggered by the controversy earlier this year when Nokia-branded phones sold in Norway were sending activation data to servers in China. At that time HMD Global told Telecoms.com that user data of phones purchased outside of China is stored in AWS servers in Singapore, which, the company said, “follows very strict privacy laws.” However, according to GDPR, to take user data outside of the EU, the company would have had to obtain explicit consent from its EU-based users.

Sarvikas claimed that the latest decision to move storage to Finland has been a year in the making and is part of the company’s overall cloud service vendor swap from Amazon to Google. “Staying true to our Finnish heritage, we’ve decided to partner with CGI and Google Cloud platform for our growing data storage needs and increasing investment in our European home,” Sarvikas added in the press release.

Francisco Jeronimo, Associate VP at IDC, saw this move a positive action by HMD Global, calling it a good move “to address concerns about data privacy” on Twitter.

Dish said to be close to buying Boost from Sprint

The disposal of assets required to sugar the pill of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger looks likely to be completed by US cableco Dish.

The latest goss comes from Bloomberg, which has been chatting to people who reckon they know what they’re talking about. These mysterious oracles say Dish is ready to drop $6 billion on prepaid operator brand Boost as well as a bunch of other unspecified stuff.

Since Boost has been valued at around $3 billion that’s quite a lot of unaccounted for expenditure. Since US regulators would ideally like a new national operator to be created before it will allow two of them to marge, this probably means some spectrum and whatever else Dish needs to become a viable MNO.

Apparently the WSJ had written a similar story last week so these telecoms Deep Throats are being nice and busy. Presumably they’re affiliated to the interested parties in some way and are floating trial balloons to see gauge broader sentiment on such a deal. None of the share prices of the companies concerned did much in response to the revelations.

Light Reading has reported on commentary from an Analyst who doesn’t think this is a great idea. He notes that it looks like a lose/lose since it takes spectrum away from TMUS/Sprint and cash away from Dish, in both cases depriving them of commodities they’re already short of. But big M&A usually ends up being about the egos of the big shots involved and if all those concerned fancy the idea they’ll probably go ahead regardless.

Nokia UK CEO: Where are the bodies to build the networks coming from?

Cormac Whelan, Nokia’s UK CEO raised an interesting point in a recent conversation with Telecoms.com. Where are the employees to implement ambitious rollout plans?

As it currently stands, the UK is rapidly upgrading its nationwide broadband network. Virgin Media is expanding its fibre footprint by more than 100,000 premises a quarter, while Openreach is doing the same number each month. CityFibre has got approval to expand its fibre footprint to 70 cities across the UK, and various different alt-nets are scaling as well. Toob is growing in Southampton, Gigaclear is growing in the South-West and HyperOptic is scaling in London.

Arguably, the UK has one of the fastest growing fibre initiatives across Europe. Yes, it missed the memo which was sent to everyone else years ago, but it is finally arriving to the fibre feast. There are calls to increase the pace further, see BoJo’s ridiculous comments, but you have to wonder how much quicker the industry can actually go.

“Where are the bodies going to come from?” Whelan asked during a conversation at the Connected Britain conference in London. It’s a simple question, but one few have actually asked.

Last year, Openreach recruited 3,000 staff to help with its fibre plans, and it plans to add another 3,000 across 2019. Virgin Media’s Project Lightning is continuing to progress, and it is recruiting. If the alt-nets want to continue to scale, they will also need more bodies. But, finding these individuals is not simply a case of slapping a hard-hat on Joe Bloggs. These are specialised careers with a lot of training, soon enough the candidates are going to start drying up.

One of the big issues facing the industry, as Whelan points out, is the attractiveness of working elsewhere. The UK is a cosmopolitan society, but that is changing. With Brexit on the horizon, the UK is becoming less appealing to EU workers. There are more EU citizens arriving on UK shores than leaving, but immigration is at its lowest levels since 2013.

The big question which will need to be asked is whether it is more prosperous for workers who have the skills attractive to telcos to work in the UK or in the country of their birth? This is not suggesting that all field engineers are of EU dissent, but due to education trends over the last couple of decades there are less UK citizens suited to these professions than in previous generations.

The millennials were a generation ushered towards university. The percentage of UK citizens who are now in their 20s, 30s and early 40s have a higher proportion of degrees than previous generations. It is becoming less attractive to go to university nowadays, such is the horrendous price of tuition fees, but that does not fix the problem. Attracting workers from the EU was one way to fill the gaps in these fields of expertise.

As Whelan pointed out, Poland has an on-going broadband initiative running nationwide, while so do Hungary and Germany. Soon enough, the Czech Republic will be kicking off their own projects and so will numerous other EU nations. The UK is not the only place in Europe running large scale broadband schemes, but with Brexit on the horizon it is becoming increasingly unattractive as a place of work for EU citizens. Just as the UK telco industry needs to hire more field engineers, the availability of candidates might just start drying up.

Addressing BoJo’s preposterous claims 100% FTTH could be delivered by 2025, Robert Kenny, co-founder of Communications Chambers, suggested Brexit would be his downfall. Fortunately, the point Kenny is making also supports the argument being made here.

“Brexit has resulted in a large number of continental European engineers and construction workers returning home from the UK, meaning that telcos are having a nightmare recruiting the staff necessary even for the current pace of deployment,” Kenny wrote on LinkedIn. “Quite how they would radically accelerate is not clear.”

Some might suggest technology can take over and plug the gaps. Yes, the likes of Openreach and Virgin Media are getting better and faster at rolling out fibre networks. However, Whelan believes the technological gains will only help these companies maintain the current rate, to increase the pace of deployment there is only one solution; hire more people.

The UK is making progress. After years of ignoring the benefits of a fibre diet, the penny seems to have dropped. However, as with everything in life, some people will never be happy. It doesn’t matter is the UK is adding 3-4 million fibre premises to the network a year, more is always better. But more might not be possible before too long.

US moves to protect Verizon from Huawei patent claim – report

Apparently Huawei thinks Verizon owes it a billion bucks in unpaid patent licence fees, but a US Senator want to block its ability to sue.

The Senator in question is Marco Rubio, who has form with Huawei as you can see from the tweet below. According to Reuters Rubio filed legislation yesterday designed to block Huawei from seeking damages in US patent courts. The move was an apparent reaction to Huawei getting in touch with Verizon to demand the US operator cough up for 230 of its patents that it used without paying for the privilege.

If this legislation goes through it would set an alarming precedent. The US has made three main claims against Huawei: flouting US sanctions, industrial espionage against US companies and assisting the Chinese government in its own espionage efforts. Rubio seems to be saying that some or all of these allegations also disqualify the company from basic legal rights in the US.

It’s not unreasonable to view Huawei’s alleged claim against Verizon as an escalation, but if it’s without merit then what does the US have to fear from letting the legal process run its course? Talking of escalation, if the US starts suspending the rule of law for Chinese companies, what’s to stop China returning the favour? We can only assume US companies with interests in China, especially those with patent claims such as Qualcomm, are watching this story nervously.

Google stops waiting on lazy carriers, starts RCS rollout on Android

Google has stopped waiting for lazy carriers to support RCS (Rich Communication Services) and is now rolling it out for Android smartphones regardless.

The RCS standard promises an iMessage-like experience for all supporting devices, regardless of platform. That means typing notifications, no archaic character limits, group messaging, rich media, location sharing, the works.

Industry body the GSM Association created a universal profile which sets out rules to enable RCS for consumers. The profile has quite a bit of support:

universal-profile

Perhaps it goes without saying given the company’s typical walled approach, but Apple is not included. That’s fine, non-iOS users have been left out from the iMessage party, but there are still many operators that don’t support RCS – and that is a problem.

Rather than wait for new operators to join the action, Google is now rolling out RCS support for all Android devices… in limited countries, of course.

The UK and France are first to get in on the fun with users set to receive a prompt to upgrade to RCS Chat when they open their default Android messaging app. A label saying ‘Chat’ will appear when speaking to someone whose device also supports RCS, else it will fall back on SMS.

Aside from the currently limited rollout, there are some other downsides to RCS over iMessage. The main two disadvantages are no cross-device sync and lack of end-to-end encryption.

Sanaz Ahari, Product Director for Android Messages at Google, told The Verge that Google is working on the privacy issue:

“We fundamentally believe that communication, especially messaging, is highly personal and users have a right to privacy for their communications. And we’re fully committed to finding a solution for our users.”

For now, the privacy-conscious may want to steer clear of RCS on Android. However, it’s great to see Google taking proactive action in making RCS more widely available for those who want it.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo, and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.

Facebook leads corporate cryptocurrency initiative Libra

Social media giant Facebook has announced the launch of Libra, a ‘stablecoin’ apparently designed to revolutionise the digital payments market.

Such ambition would be highly questionable if it weren’t for the fact that Facebook has managed to get loads of other blue-chip companies involved, including Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and Coinbase. This gives the project a sense of scale and legitimacy that it wouldn’t have if this was just another gimmick to help Facebook exploit its users once more.

“Libra’s mission is to create a simple global financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people around the world,” blogged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It’s powered by blockchain technology and the plan is to launch it in 2020. This is especially important for people who don’t have access to traditional banks or financial services. Right now, there are around a billion people who don’t have a bank account but do have a mobile phone.”

Blockchain is a pretty complicated business, so to get how this works we recommend you go to the Libra site, read the Libra white paper and watch the videos below. Libra is described as a ‘stablecoin’, which means its value is pegged to regular currencies and thus won’t fluctuate like Bitcoin famously does. There’s also talk of almost no fees, so it will be interesting to see what incentive all the members of the Libra consortium have to participate.

Facebook’s own interests will be represented by a subsidiary called Colibra, which will produce a digital wallet that will be available in Facebook’s messaging apps as well as its own standalone one. “From the beginning, Calibra will let you send Libra to almost anyone with a smartphone, as easily and instantly as you might send a text message and at low to no cost,” said the announcement. “And, in time, we hope to offer additional services for people and businesses.”

This seems like a very ambitious project, the motives for which are still somewhat unclear. The narrative is all about extending financial services to the unbanked, but you have to assume Facebook expects to monetise this service eventually. The prospect of a company that unilaterally excludes any users it disapproves of being in control of a global currency is chilling.