EE 5G hits the ground running

Sneaking in-front of Vodafone to debut on May 30, EE’s 5G proposition will be launched across six cities in the UK with a range of different devices and interesting bundling options.

While the launch of the network was announced last week, BT Consumer CEO Marc Allera gave much needed colour to the deployment plans at a media event in London and to be fair to BT and EE, it does look pretty impressive.

From today, customers will be able to pre-order bundles from EE as well as choose from multiple devices. The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G will of course be one of the options, though customers will also be privy to exclusive deals with the Samsung Fold, Oppo Reno 5G and the LG V50 ThinkQ, as well as Huawei’s FWA device and the HTC 5G Smart Hub.

While all of the devices certainly promise a lot, the LG approach is perhaps the most interesting. The device itself is pretty much as you would expect, though a separate module is also included, allowing the device to be clipped in to add an extra screen (as you can see below). Head of LG Mobile UK Andrew Coughlin said the product has been designed with multi-taskers in mind, with each screen working independently of the other.

The device also has the potential to open up entirely new experiences when it comes to gaming.

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What you will not see over the next few months is a Huawei device launched in partnership with EE. Allera suggested the pause button has been hit on this relationship, due to the difficulties the firm is facing with its Android licence. If EE cannot guarantee performance of the device throughout the customers mobile contract, it will not partner with Huawei.

But onto the launch itself, six cities will experience the 5G euphoria on Day One, with another 10 added to the mix over the remainder of 2019. Building on the already completed work, EE plans to upgrade 100 base stations to 5G a month, taking the total to 1500 by the end of 2019.

“Today is Day One of our 5G journey, we are going to be the first in the UK and one of the first in Europe to bring our customers 5G,” said Allera.

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Always connected is not a new concept from EE, though it would not be a surprise to see the message ramped up over the next couple of months. With 4G, broadband, wifi and, soon enough, 5G, EE has a lot of connectivity assets to shout about. When you combine these different segments with the largest geographical 4G coverage of all the UK MNOs, this is a selling point which would genuinely interest our internet-obsessed society.

That said, advertisements will need a bit of ‘sexing up’ if they are to catch the attention of the mass market.

On the speeds side, it does look like EE will be launching its 5G network with the ambition of reaching 200 Mbps. However, the message will be more focused on reliability and consistent experience as opposed to peak speeds.

“Peak speed might be the headline, but it is not the story,” said Allera.

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Creative tariffs and bundling are where EE might be able to attract the most attention. 5G customers will not only gain access to faster download speeds and more reliable connections but will get the option to choose from various different zero-rating options to make the most of the connectivity euphoria. These options can be swapped out as the customer desires.

Finally, EE will be also be the exclusive partner of Niantec for the highly-anticipated follow-up to Pokemon Go; Harry Potter, Wizards Unite. Although Pokemon Go was a bit of a sham when it came to delivering on a genuine augment reality experience, the Harry Potter game looks much more immersive and truer to the definitions of AR. Considering the popularity of Pokemon Go, Niantec could certainly be onto another winner should it be able to nail the AR experience with this new title.

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What is worth noting, is this is only the first phase of the EE 5G strategy. The aim will be to have 5G present in 50 cities across the UK by this time next year, though in the first phase it will only be in the busiest areas. Although the geographical rollout will be quite limited, 8% of base stations will be 5G, these assets will deliver 25% of the total traffic running across the EE network.

The second phase of the deployment, starting in 2022, will see the rollout of EE’s brand new 5G core, as well as the introduction of new spectrum. This will be when the UK will be able to experience a genuine 5G network, with the prospect of cloud gaming, AR and immersive content living up to the promise. The final phase, 2023, will see the introduction of mission critical applications focusing on the low-latency angle of 5G.

Interestingly enough, despite all the criticism faced by Huawei in the press, EE will be launching its 5G proposition with Huawei at the core of the network. This is unavoidable and will only be temporary, EE will gradually phase out Huawei from the core, but it is a fact which has seemingly been overlooked or cleverly managed out of the public domain by the BT PR team.

5G is about to become very real for the consumer and soon enough there will be a battle between the MNOs to fight for attention. EE and Vodafone might be scrapping for the 5G lead right now, but this approach from EE looks very promising.

Microsoft and Sony join up on AI and cloud gaming

Microsoft and Sony have signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly develop cloud systems for game and content streaming, and to integrate Microsoft’s AI with Sony’s image sensors.

This is another step on Sony’s journey to transform from a console and title seller to a game streaming service platform. Microsoft’s leadership in both cloud computing, its Azure cloud platform, and the global footsteps of its datacentres makes it an ideal partner to Sony.

The collaboration will also cover semiconductors and AI. Sony has been a leader in image sensors (among its clients is the iPhone including the latest XS Max model), and the integration of Microsoft Azure AI will help improve both the imaging processing in the cloud and on device, what the companies called “a hybrid manner”. Microsoft’s AI will also be incorporated in Sony’s other consumer products to “provide highly intuitive and user-friendly AI experiences”, the companies said.

“Sony has always been a leader in both entertainment and technology, and the collaboration we announced today builds on this history of innovation,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, in a statement. “Our partnership brings the power of Azure and Azure AI to Sony to deliver new gaming and entertainment experiences for customers.”

Kenichiro Yoshida, president and CEO of Sony agreed. “I hope that in the areas of semiconductors and AI, leveraging each company’s cutting-edge technology in a mutually complementary way will lead to the creation of new value for society,” he said.

Looking to the future of the PlayStation platform, Yoshida said, “Our mission is to seamlessly evolve this platform as one that continues to deliver the best and most immersive entertainment experiences, together with a cloud environment that ensures the best possible experience, anytime, anywhere.”

Gaming is following the trend of video and music from one-off ownership selling to access streaming. But gamers are more sensitive to the visual quality and, above everything else, lagging. So to provide good experience to convert gamers to long-term streaming subscribers, the platform needs to guarantee superb connection. This is where Microsoft’s datacentre footsteps and the upcoming 5G networks will fit well with the “game” plan.

Another key success factor, similar to video streaming market, is the content. Gamers’ taste can be fast changing and frivolous. That is why the companies also stressed the importance to “collaborate closely with a multitude of content creators that capture the imagination of people around the world, and through our cutting-edge technology, we provide the tools to bring their dreams and vision to reality.”

No information on the size of investment or the number of staff involved in the collaboration is disclosed, but the companies promised to “share additional information when available”.

Apple recognised as ‘Privacy Champion’ by techies

An anonymous survey of people working in the technology industry has crowned Apple as the privacy champion of FANG, while 78% believe it is a top priority at their own organization.

The survey was run by Blind, an anonymous social network for the workplace​, which has a userbase in the hundreds of thousands, many of whom work at the world’s largest technology companies. Asking whether they believed their own organization prioritised user privacy, the results might shock a few.

Employees of technology companies were given a simple statement and offered the opportunity to add an explanation. The statement was “My company believes customer data protection is a top priority”.

Sitting at the top of the table was Apple with 73.6% and 19.8% answering the statement they strongly agreed or agreed respectively. LinkedIn and Salesforce also featured highly on the list, while Google and Amazon were also above the industry average. Facebook was below the industry average while Adobe, Intuit and SAP fell way below the average with only 44.6%, 40% and 39% respectively stating they strongly agree with the statement.

Such low numbers should be a major concern, especially with lawmakers and regulators attempting to reconfigure rules to take a stronger tone with data privacy. Irrelevant whether the likes of Apple is taking privacy seriously, rules will be written for the industry as a whole; the laggards will ensure everyone has to face the sharp stick of the law.

On the FANG front, Blind users were asked whether Apple should be considered the privacy champion. 67.9% agreed with the statement, with some suggesting the business model is not based on the transfer of personal information therefore it is more secure or less of a threat. That said, Apple is fast evolving with the software and services business becoming more of a focus. It might well evolve to include some of these practises in the future.

That said, while Apple is seemingly keeping its hands clean, one person feels the company is nothing more than an enabler for the more nefarious.

“I feel Apple is no better for creating the technology that enables companies like Facebook to become no more than spying tools,” said one Intuit employee.

Although scores in the 70s could be viewed as positive, this means 20-30% of an organization’s own employees do not believe the privacy rhetoric which is being reeled off in the press by executives of the tech giants. If a company is unable to create an internal belief in privacy, it might be viewed as a worrying sign.

The edge takes centre stage (again)

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the edge was one of the most prominent topics and the same can be said in Denver at Light Reading’s Big 5G Event.

The edge itself is a relatively easy concept to understand, but in reality, the deployment and evolution are much more complicated facets. It is usually the case that the biggest potential or most promising developments are the most difficult to achieve, but it does seem there is resistance continued resistance to change.

“I don’t think we are doing 5G right, we are too obsessed by being faster,” said Telus CTO Ibrahim Gedeon.

This is a message which is becoming increasingly frequent, and while the frequency is encouraging, an some point the walk is going to have to follow the talk. At this event, Telus, Equinix, AT&T, T-Mobile US and Verizon have all preached the benefits of moving beyond a ‘bigger, faster, meaner’ business model which is focused on speeds, but soon enough some might assume these are simply statements to appease the masses.

In terms of the future of the telco world, those telcos who maintain the status quo, focusing on speeds, will march down the path of commoditisation. Those who challenge themselves, taking on the incredibly difficult challenge of evolving the business, will find additional value and redefine themselves as a ‘Digital Service Provider’. And the edge is a very important component of that.

“Does 5G need edge, yes,” said Jim Poole, VP of Ecosystem Business Development at Equinix. “But does edge need 5G, no.”

This is a tricky position and a conundrum often faced in the telco and technology world. For some, the path forward does often look like a solution in search of a problem. It might not sound like the most attractive path, especially when there is the simplistic and more instantly gratifying pursuit of increased speeds.

It all depends on what the telco actually wants. As Mitch Wagner of Light Reading pointed out, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the utility business model, these are companies which do make money and are often much safer bets, but this is not what the majority of telcos want in the future.

The answer is relatively plain if utilitisation is to be avoided; add more value to the ecosystem. This is where the likes of Google, Amazon and Microsoft have been successful. They have embraced the idea of a solution looking for a problem, demonstrated the value in disrupting the status quo and proved to the world new is better. For the telcos, this means embracing the unknown.

The edge is that unknown for the moment. Yes, the edge exists in the 4G world, but there is much more value in the 5G era. It is a case of putting the cart before the horse, but as it was pointed out today, creating a proposition which is defined by the edge offers a new dynamic, encourages the imaginations of a new type of developer and creates new services. Telcos can be fundamental in delivering the foundations of these new businesses, products and services, but they need to disrupt themselves and create a new organization.

This again is a statement which is not new. This week and countless other conferences have seen executives preach the promise of evolution, but sooner or later the telcos are going to have to replace talking with walking.

The time of rhetoric is coming to an end, we need to see progress in these transformation initiatives.

The private power of the edge

One of conundrums which has been quietly emerging over the last couple of months concerns how to maintain privacy when attempting to improve customer experience, but the power of the edge might save the day.

If telcos want to be able to improve customer experience, data needs to be collected and analysed. This might sound like a very obvious statement to make, but the growing privacy movement across the world, and the potential of new regulatory restraints, might make this more difficult.

This is where the edge could play a more significant role. One of the more prominent discussions from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year was the role of the edge, and it does appear this conversation has continued through to Light Reading’s Big 5G Event in Denver.

Some might say artificial intelligence and data analytics are solutions looking for a problem, but in this instance, there is a very real issue to address. Improving customer experience though analytics will only be successful if implemented quickly, some might suggest in real-time, therefore the models used to improve performance should be hosted on the edge. This is an example of where the latency business model can directly impact operations.

It also addresses another few issues, firstly, the cost of sending data back to a central data centre. As it was pointed out today, telcos cannot afford to send all customer data back to be analysed today, it is simply an unreasonable quantity, therefore the more insight which can be actioned on the edge, with only the genuinely important insight being sent back to train models, the more palatable customer experience management becomes.

Secondly, the privacy issue is partly addressed. The more which is actioned on the edge, as close to the customer as possible, the lesser the concerns of the privacy advocates. Yes, data is still being collected, analysed and (potentially) actioned upon, but as soon as the insight is realised the sooner it can be deleted.

There are still sceptics when it comes to the edge, the latency business case, artificial intelligence and data analytics, but slowly more cases are starting to emerge to add credibility.

Facebook’s privacy conundrum

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has to do something about his firm’s reputation for data privacy, but it could it require destroying its own core business model.

At the F8 developer conference this week, Zuckerberg has been making claims no-one is surprised to hear. Facebook is all about user privacy, its not about making money anymore, just about offering a service its users care about. The PR machine is shifting through the gears, Facebook has to save its reputation before it’s too late.

This is perhaps the worst kept secret in Silicon Valley; Facebook does not care about data privacy, or at least it hasn’t cared in the past. It cares it was caught flamboyantly prancing around, above and all over the concept, but few will be surprised executives prioritized profits over privacy.

But here is the crossroads the firm faces; be disrupted or destroyed.

This of course sounds very dramatic, and perhaps we are taking poetic licence, but there is at least an element of accuracy to the statement. Zuckerberg needs to fundamentally redefine the business, moving away from the tried and tested business model, before regulators and legislators take Facebook out at the knees.

At the conference, Zuckerberg has been outlining Facebook’s journey forward. Updates will focus on creating a more ‘private’ experience, ushering users towards groups and chat locations which, theoretically, will prevent Facebook from fuelling its data machine. It seems the new business will be focused around two of the companies most popular applications, Messenger and WhatsApp, though this could potentially kill the tried and tested Facebook business model; hyper-targeted advertising.

One example of this is an update which will allow users to invite connections to watch videos in a private message or group. In years gone, this would be sacrilege to Facebook executives. If it is private, how can it be used to tune the advertising machine? Where is the opportunity to make money?

This is the risk Facebook is facing up to; its traditional business model is under threat. Its reputation for handling privacy is in tatters and the world is turning against Facebook. If it continues on the path of collecting and harvesting data in this manner, someone will eventually step in and stop it. Governments and regulators are cracking down on the data sharing economy, and Facebook has been made enemy number one.

But all is not lost. Facebook still has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. Firstly, the core social media platform is salvageable. It might look like a digital Yellow Pages today, but it by-gone years, it was a genuinely engaging platform. Somewhere along the line executives got grabby and started prioritising advertising over engagement, and the platform suffered as a result. If Facebook can rediscover the magic of old, all will be forgiven, such is the short-term memory of many consumers.

This might mean having to sacrifice the hyper-targeted advertising model, but if Zuckerberg’s claims on privacy are to be believed, Facebook might be moving away from it anyway.

Fortunately, with a reinvigorated platform, which people trust and enjoy, Facebook can bolt services on and beside it, as opposed to through it. This is perfectly feasible business model; running the platform as a loss-leader, maintaining a more transparent advertising business and also using the credibility to monetize premium services. And it might be a sensible direction for Facebook to go. It has worked before and will work again.

To make this idea work, Facebook will need a few things. Firstly, the ambition to explore news ideas. Secondly, smart people. And finally, R&D funds. Facebook has all these things in abundance.

Facebook has already shown its ambition with the launch of AR/VR, video platforms, online market places, dating applications and enterprise services (just to name a few). It has and will continue to attract some of the worlds most intelligent engineers and business people. And finally, Facebook has bags of cash.

This of course is taking Zuckerberg at his word. This might be nothing more than a ploy to generate positive PR. The hyper-targeting advertising model might simply be evolving with the help of small print and clever distractions. But, Zuckerberg surely is smarter than this. Another case of misleading the general public would surely be a step too far.

Zuckerberg might be waking up to the fact he cannot hide from this horrid and distasteful reputation he and his firm has developed. Perhaps Facebook has realised it needs to fundamentally change its business model. Maybe Zuckerberg wants to disrupt his own business before governments and regulators try to destroy it.

Apple investors hope short-term pain will lead to long-term gain

16% growth in the steadily growing software and services business seems to be enough to rally investor confidence in the face of declining revenues.

Perhaps this is another lesson Apple can teach the world; how to effectively manage investor expectations. Total revenues are declining faster than the service division is growing, but with a 5.4% jump in share price in overnight trading, Apple investors seem to be buying into the short-term pain, long-term gain message from the technology giant.

For some the earning call might have been a shock to the system, explaining the immediate 1.93% drop in share price before markets closed. Total revenues for the quarter ending March 30 declined to $58 billion, down 5.2% year-on-year, while iPhone revenues dropped to $31 billion, a 17.8% dent in the same shipment figures from 2018. But the services division is the glimmer of hope.

“We had great results in a number of areas across our business,” said CEO Tim Cook during the earnings call. “It was our best quarter ever for Services with revenue reaching $11.5 billion.

“Subscriptions are a powerful driver of our Services business. We reached a new high of over 390 million paid subscriptions at the end of March, an increase of 30 million in the last quarter alone. This was also an incredibly important quarter for our Services moving forward.

“In March, we previewed a game-changing array of new services each of them rooted in principles that are fundamentally Apple. They’re easy to use. They feature unmatched attention to detail. They put a premium on user privacy and security. They’re expertly curated personalized and ready to be shared by everyone in your family.”

Although the Apple DNA is not rooted in the software and services world, this has to be the future. Overarching trends are indicating hardware is becoming increasingly commoditized, refreshment cycles are growing, and consumers are less likely to pay a premium for trusted brands. Apple is a company which defied these trends for a period, though not even the iLeader could deny the inevitable.

This is the critical importance of the software and services division; renewed, recurring and new revenues to replace the increasingly difficult, demanding and diversified hardware world, which is epitomised by the dreary global smartphone market.

Although Apple recently decided against releasing shipment figures during its earnings calls, it is still breaking out the revenues associated with products. The iPhone, the segment which drove growth in recent years, declined by 17.8% year-on-year. Part of this can be pinned on changing consumer behaviour, though you also have to look at the individual markets.

In China, Apple has been struggling. Canalys estimate smartphone shipments in the market have declined 3% year-on-year for Q1, though the locals are turning towards domestic brands. In years gone, Apple was a brand seen as somewhat of a status symbol, though it appears this is a concept which is quickly dissipating as the firm only collected 7.4% of market share over the first three months of 2019, a year-on-year decline of 30%.

Total revenues for China have not declined quite as dramatically, a 21.6% year-on-on-year dip to $10.2 billion, though Apple is not alone. OPPO, Xiaomi and Vivo also saw their year-on-year sales dip, with only Huawei coming out on the up. Here, Huawei managed to grow its shipments by 41%, taking 34% of the Chinese market share for Q1.

Another challenging market for Apple has been India. The story here is more forgiving however, as this is a much more cash-conscious market. Apple will of course want to maintain it position as a premium brand, therefore India, despite all the promise it offers, is not tailor made for its ambitions. Until consumer attitudes shift towards more premium devices, Apple will struggle.

Globally the smartphone market has not been helping either. According to Strategy Analytics, shipments decreased 4% year-on-year for the first quarter, with Apple slipping to third place overall.

Market share Q1 2019 Market share Q1 2018
Samsung 21.7% 22.6%
Huawei 17.9% 11.4%
Apple 13% 15.1%
Xiaomi 8.3% 8.2%
OPPO 7.7% 7%

These figures are not the end of the world, but it is a demonstration of consumer trends. There might still be an appetite for purchasing new devices, though there is seemingly a preference for those brands which might are cheaper. Such is the minimal differentiation between brands these days, why spend a premium when there is little need?

However, there is hope for Apple. Consumers might be getting frustrated over a lack of innovation in the hardware space, leading to longer refreshment cycles and a preference towards cheaper or refurbished devices, but the introduction of 5G might well change this.

With 5G devices being launched consumers will have something different to think about. Although 5G-capable devices are certainly not a necessity, and won’t be for a considerable amount of time, the ability to shout about something genuinely new might reinvigorate consumer appetite for purchasing new, and premium, devices. This could work in Apple’s favour.

That said, with Apple unlikely to release a 5G-capable device until 2020, the next few quarters could also demonstrate similar year-on-year declines. Apple seem to be happy to swallow this decline, sacrificing the ‘first to market’ accolade, but this how Apple traditionally approaches the market; it doesn’t aim to be first, but best.

For the moment, and the long-term health of the company, this does not seem to be the central point however. Apple is seemingly attempting to slightly shift the focus of the business, becoming more reliant on software and services, and it does seem to be working. As you can see from the table below, the ratio is shifting.

Product revenue Services Revenue Ratio
Q2 2019 46,565 11,450 81.3/19.7
Q1 2019 73,435 10,875 88.2/12.8
Q4 2018 52,919 9,981 84.1/15.9
Q3 2018 43,717 9,548 82.1/17.9
Q2 2018 51,947 9,190 85/15
Q1 2018 79,768 8,471 90.4/9.6
Q4 2017 44,078 8,501 85.9/16.1

The results in the table above do look quite confusing, though you have to consider that Q4 is usually the period for Apple’s flagship launch, skewing the figures towards the product segment, while Q1 accounts for Christmas, again tilting the figures. The general trend is looking favourable for the software and services division.

The last couple of months have seen Apple release several new services which will continue to bolster this division also. Whether it’s the content streaming service, news subscriptions, credit cards, iTunes or the App Store, the business is driving more investment and attention to this strange new world of software and recurring revenues. The ratio should continue to balance out, though we strongly suspect it will never get close to parity.

Another factor which you have to consider when it comes to the investors is the monetary gain. Yes, the long-term picture is looking healthier, but the firm has also announced it is increasing the dividend by 5%. This will keep cash-conscious and short-term investors happier, encouraging more to hold onto shares despite the downturn in revenues. The team has also announced a share buy-back scheme, up to $75 billion, which could be viewed as another move to protect share price. Although these could be viewed as short-term measures to cool the market, the overall business is looking healthier.

Apple is recentring the business, with more of a focus on software and services. The firm has defied the global hardware trends for some time, but they do seem to be catching up. What is important however is the management team recognising hardware will not be a suitable floatation device for Apple in the long-run. To continue dominating the technology world, Apple will have to spread its wing further into software, just as it is doing.

And perhaps the most critical factor of this transformation; investors seem to have confidence in the team’s ability to evolve.

Cloud gaming could account for half of 5G traffic

Video traffic management outfit Openwave Mobility chatted to some operators and they reckon cloud gaming will account for 25-50% of 5G traffic.

The anecdotal finding was arrived at during a livecast hosted by Openwave, which was apparently attended by a bunch of operators. Most of them, we’re told, believe cloud gaming could represent 25% to 50% of 5G data traffic by 2022. This assumption was heavily influenced by observing the trajectory of the cloud gaming industry in general.

“The recent emergence of cloud gaming platforms including Google Stadia, Apple Arcade, Microsoft xCloud and Snap Games has not escaped the attention of the operator community,” said John Giere, CEO of Openwave Mobility. “OTT players have ambitious plans to become the ‘Netflix for gaming’, hosting libraries of thousands of instantly accessible games that, ultimately, will consume three to four times the amount of bandwidth on 5G networks, compared to standard definition video traffic. Needless to say this will impact mobile operator data strategies.

“While 5G network rollouts are still in their infancy, OTTs are already planning Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality services, in addition to cloud gaming. Combined with the expected continued growth of streaming video, these services will rapidly eat into the additional bandwidth provisions of 5G.”

While still in its early stages, the potential for cloud gaming does seem huge. At the very least, being able to offload the processing of gaming to the cloud will open up a new generation of thin client devices. On top of that there are things like mobile MMOs, augmented reality and virtual reality, all of which will rely not just on the increase bandwidth of 5G but crucially the low latency characteristics. So while this straw poll is hardly definitive, it’s easy to imagine cloud gaming exploding in the 5G era.

Uber sheds light on operations ahead of IPO

Uber is not a company which shares huge insights into its business traditionally, but a filing ahead of a planned IPO has unveiled some very interesting details.

In chasing its long-awaiting debut on the New York Stock Exchange, the curtain has been pulled aside and the cogs laid bare. $11.27 billion in revenue across 2018, 42% growth on 2017, net income of $997 million and 91 million active users around the world. This is a company which will attract some interest from the market, though an adjusted EBITDA loss of $1.85 billion might concern some.

“Building this platform has required a willingness to challenge orthodoxies and reinvent – sometimes even disrupt – ourselves,” said CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. “Over the last decade, as the needs and preferences of our customers have changed, we changed too. Now, we’re becoming different once again; a public company.”

With an IPO comes a lot more information on a company as executives attempt to woo potential shareholders. The S1 form filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission has unveiled some very interesting details.

Starting with the customer base. Uber currently has 91 million active users across 700 cities around the world, though this number also include Uber Eats. This is a 33% increase compared to the previous year as the numbers show increasing momentum over the last three years.

With a presence in 63 countries, Uber estimates it serves roughly 2% of the population across this footprint, clocking up 26 billion miles in journeys across the year. This might sound like a monstrous number, though it is in fact less than 1% of the total, with the team pointing to significant headroom for growth. In fact, Uber estimates the total addressable market is a $5.7 trillion opportunity in 175 countries.

On the R&D front, Uber has been very aggressive, investing $1.5 billion across 2018 in autonomous vehicles, flying cars, which is known as Uber Elevate, and other ‘technology programs’. The autonomous and flying cars portion of the pie was $457 million. Future tech will clearly play a significant role in the future of the business, with some suggesting the firm will not make a profit until autonomous vehicles have been integrated into operations.

At the end of the final quarter of 2018, Uber estimates there are roughly 3.9 million drivers on the platform, earning $78.2 billion since 2015. In 2018, Gross Bookings grew to $49.8 billion, up 45% from $34.4 billion in 2017, while revenues grew 42% to $11.3 billion. Clearly the drivers are the biggest expense of the business, though with autonomous vehicles there will major challenges alongside the profit gain.

“Along the way to a potential future autonomous vehicle world, we believe that there will be a long period of hybrid autonomy, in which autonomous vehicles will be deployed gradually against specific use cases while Drivers continue to serve most consumer demand,” Uber stated in the filing. “As we solve specific autonomous use cases, we will deploy autonomous vehicles against them.

“Such situations may include trips along a standard, well-mapped route in a predictable environment in good weather. In other situations, such as those that involve substantial traffic, complex routes, or unusual weather conditions, we will continue to rely on Drivers.”

The future might be autonomous, but that dream is likely to be a very long-time away. For drivers that might be worried about becoming redundant, there are some glimmers of hope. Autonomous vehicles will take a long-time to be accepted across the mass market, some customers will refuse to use them in the first instance, while certain situations will continue to demand human intervention; the technology simply isn’t there yet.

While there are rumours about the total valuation of the company, some are suggesting a $100 billion target while others point closer to $120 billion, Uber executives are remaining quiet.

Qualcomm moves to the edge with Cloud AI 100 chip

Mobile chip-maker Qualcomm reckons all the stuff it has learned about processing AI in smartphones will come in handy in datacentres too.

The Qualcomm Cloud AI 100 Accelerator is a special chip designed to process artificial intelligence in the cloud. Specifically Qualcomm seems to think it has an advantage when it comes to ‘AI inference’ processing – i.e. using algorithms that have been trained with loads of data. This stands to reason as it has its chips in millions of smart devices, all of which will have been asked to do some inference processing of their own from time to time.

“Today, Qualcomm Snapdragon mobile platforms bring leading AI acceleration to over a billion client devices,” said Qualcomm Product Management SVP Keith Kressin. “Our all new Qualcomm Cloud AI 100 accelerator will significantly raise the bar for the AI inference processing relative to any combination of CPUs, GPUs, and/or FPGAs used in today’s datacentres. Furthermore, Qualcomm Technologies is now well positioned to support complete cloud-to-edge AI solutions all connected with high-speed and low-latency 5G connectivity.”

The datacentre chips in question will largely be provided by Intel, although Nvidia has done a great job of converting its struggling mobile chip efforts into a successful AI processing operation. Qualcomm claims a 10x performance per watt advantage over incumbent AI inference chips and, while it didn’t call out any competitors in its press release, the predominance of their names in the headlines of other stories covering this launch makes it likely that has been the angle behind the scenes.