US bolsters AI ambitions with Open Government Data Act

President Trump has signed the Open Government Data Act into law, potentially unleashing a tsunami of data for AI applications to be trained with.

The bill itself has been bouncing around Washington for some time now, though it has officially been signed into law. Within one year, all government agencies will have to ensure data sets are open and accessible to the general public and businesses, as well as being presented in a format that can be easily processed by a computer without human intervention. The act also hopes to make the data more accessible through smartphones.

“The government-wide law will transform the way the government collects, publishes, and uses non-sensitive public information,” said Sarah Joy Hays, Acting Executive Director of the Data Coalition, a public interest group which promotes transparency in government and business.

“Title II, the Open Government Data Act, which our organization has been working on for over three and a half years, sets a presumption that all government information should be open data by default: machine-readable and freely-reusable.”

For the digital ecosystem, such a bill should be welcomed with open arms. For any AI application to work effectively it needs to be trained. For years, many have claimed data is the new oil, although we suspect they did not mean in this manner. If the US is to create a leadership position in the developing AI ecosystem, its applications will need to be the best around and therefore will have to have the appropriate data sets to improve performance and accuracy.

Open data is of course not a new idea however. Back in September during Broadband World Forum in Berlin, we sat through several entertaining presentations from individual cities laying out their smart city ambitions. There was one common theme throughout the session; open data. These local governments realise the potential of empowering local digital ecosystems through open data, and the initiatives are proving to be successful.

This new law will force all federal agencies to make all non-sensitive data public in a machine-readable format and catalogue it online. New individuals must be appointed as Chief Data Officers to oversee the process, and new procedures will be introduced. While it seems incredibly obvious, when proposing new laws or regulations agencies will now have to justify the changes with supporting data. As it stands, only a handful of agencies are required to do this, the FCC is one of them, though this law ensures the validation and justification of new rules through data is rolled out across the board.

As with everything to do with data, there are of course privacy concerns. The text of the bill does seem to take this into account, one clause states any data released to the public will have to adhere to the Privacy Act of 1974, though there is bound to be a few blunders. Such a tangent should compound the importance of hiring a Chief Data Officer and a team of individuals who are appropriately trained. We suspect there will be few current employees in the agencies who could ensure compliance here.

Of course, this is not a law which will make an immediate impact. With any fundamental changes, such as this, procedures and systems will have to be updated. The procurement process is most likely, or at least we hope, underway and there will certainly be growing pains.

That said, if the US wants to make a meaningful dent on the AI world, the right tools and data need to be put in the hands of the right people. This is a step in the right direction.

Deloitte predicts 50k 5G smartphone in the UK by 2019-end

While the vast majority will have to wait some time before experiencing the euphoria of an extra ‘G’ Deloitte is predicting there will 50,000 early adopters in the UK.

After several years of slugging, the glorious 5G world is upon us. First in the US and South Korea, though pockets are starting to emerge everywhere else as well. San Marino is live while it won’t be long before countries like China and Japan start hitting the green button.

“The introduction of 5G handsets expected this year will look a lot like 2010, when 4G phones first entered the market,” said Dan Adams, Head of Telecommunications at Deloitte.

“There will be a lot of noise in the first year from vendors vying to be first to market, and relatively little action from consumers. We’re not talking about an overnight switch to faster connectivity with lower latency, we will see 5G used by consumers in hotspot locations in the next two to three years, with mass adoption by 2025.”

The first devices are likely to be with us in Q2, though this year’s Mobile World Congress will almost certainly be a shouting contest between the main smartphone manufacturers. It’s already rumoured Samsung will be launching a foldable-phone (albeit not 5G) prior to the event, while LG and Motorola are also in the running to produce a 5G compatible phone.

In total, Deloitte predicts roughly 20 handset brands will launch 5G-ready handsets across 2019, with shipments totalling one million. This is still a tiny fraction of the 1.5 billion smartphones which will be sold through the year, though 50,000 of them could be heading to the UK.

Looking at the networks, there might not be much to choose from across the UK. EE has confirmed it will launch 5G across 16 cities in 2019, though these will only be in the busiest locations. Vodafone will also launch this year, though it is being coy as to when. Three is telling the same story, while O2 has confirmed its customers will have to wait until 2020. One thing is clear, these will be incredibly limited deployments and it will be years until coverage reaches what the demanding user would consider adequate.

Whether this justifies the hype, or the extortionate amount handset manufacturers will inevitably charge the glory-seekers for the new devices, we’ll leave you to decide, but it will take years for the devices to be considered mainstream. Deloitte expects worldwide 5G smartphone sales to represent 1% of the total smartphone sales by the end of 2020, with 2-3 million Brits getting their hands on the devices. As Adams points out above, 2025 is when the team expect 5G devices to hit mass adoption.

Another interesting growth area the Deloitte team is keeping an eye on is the smart speakers segment.

“Smart speaker adoption has seen phenomenal growth in recent years,” said Paul Lee, Global Head of Research for TMT at Deloitte

“With improvements continuing to be made, demand for smart speakers could be in the many billions of units, possibly even higher than for smartphones. In the future, smart speakers have the potential to be installed in every room in a house, hotel, office, school and even beside every hospital bed.”

Smart speakers are the flashy product which will attract a lot of the consumer market, but the power of the virtual assistants is what could take the segment to the next level. We’ve long anticipated the breakthrough of artificial intelligence in the workplace, but perhaps the slightly sluggish resistance has been down to the delivery model of the applications.

Should smart speakers be adopted in hotel rooms, hospitals and offices in the way which Deloitte anticipates, the world is opened up for industry specific applications of virtual assistants. One area which might help this adoption is the price point.

While smart speakers were initially an expensive appliance for the home, the normalisation of the product in the eyes of the consumer has peaked the interest of traditional consumer electronics manufacturers. With more manufacturers, including those with the ability to produce goods at greater scale, entering the fray competition will increase, bringing prices down, while advertising will also grow, fuelling interest in the bellies of the consumer.

Deloitte anticipates the marker for internet-connected speakers with integrated digital assistants will be increase to £5.6 billion in 2019, selling 164 million units at an average selling price of £34. This would represent a 63% growth rate, making smart speakers the fastest-growing connected device category worldwide, leading to an installation base of more than 250 million units by the end of the year.

This is a price point which would make enterprise adoption of the devices more interesting, and as time moves on, it will get cheaper. The increased introduction of industry-specific virtual assistant and AI applications will certainly help this segment also.

After years of promises and false-dawns, 2019 might prove to be a blockbuster year after all. There’s still a lot which could go wrong, but here’s to hoping.

Orange steps further into the convergence game

Orange has announced a new partnership with Groupama, adding another branch to the convergence strategy with a home telesurveillance service.

Everyone in the industry is talking about convergence as a means to improve revenues, but few have created quite a splash in the deep-end as the cannon-balling French telco. This latest partnership with Groupama will see the creation of Protectline, a joint platform for the operation and management of home telesurveillance services.

“The upcoming launch of our home telesurveillance service is an important part of Orange’s multi-service operator strategy,” said Stéphane Richard, CEO of Orange. “To deliver the best product possible, we have again chosen to work with Groupama to pool our skills and resources, following on from our Orange Bank partnership.”

With Orange owning 51% of the new venture, it’s a very clever way for the telco to diversify revenue streams. Groupama is already a well-established player in this segment, but Orange has something which every business wants; a humongous subscriber base to potentially sell added-value services into. This is where this partnership is a stroke of genius and an excellent foundation for future convergence growth.

Orange has built a successful business and large customer base through doing what it does very well. Until recently it has focused exclusively on markets which it has a pedigree in; connectivity. Recently it has explored banking, cyber-security, entertainment and smart home services, though each has relevant-industry partners under-pinning the venture, as well as a direct tie back to the core business.

Protectline is another example of how the Orange business is embracing convergence in a low-risk, high-reward manner. Groupama has the expertise while Orange has the sales and marketing capabilities. Each is supplemented the other, leaning on the skills which are brought to the table. Its sounds incredibly simple, because it is, but it is effective. Of course, you have to wonder why there aren’t more in the industry doing this and the answer is relatively simple.

When splitting the risk, you have to split the spoils. If Protectline becomes a roaring success, Orange can only collect 51% of the riches. This might not sound attractive to other telcos, some of which have chosen to go solo on diversification to varying success; just have a look at BT’s attempt to rock Sky’s dominance in the premium TV segment.

Sky is another which has proven to be successful in the convergence and diversification game, branching out from the core TV services to offer broadband and mobile connectivity offerings. However, similar to the Orange example, the risk has been somewhat removed as the broadband offering runs over Openreach infrastructure and the Sky Mobile is a MVNO. The high-risk elements of these diversification ambitions, the CAPEX heavy infrastructure, has been removed from the equation. Sky focuses on what it does best, maintaining a relationship with its customers.

The buzz around convergence has been dying down a bit recently, as while it is an effective strategy few has realised the bonanza which was initially promised. Orange is one of those few who are reaping the considerable benefit, but only because it is not going alone.

The question which remains is whether Orange can nail the customer experience element. This would have been the big hurdle for the banking product, though it seems to have passed with flying colours. Groupama can take the operational risk away from the telco, but customer experience is slightly different in every vertical; Orange will have to prove its worth by being engaging and intuitive if this is to be a success.

Orange has realised where its strengths are and by offering this massive subscriber base as leverage is any future partnerships, it is proving the low-risk convergence game can be a very profitable one.

58% of UK business can’t detect IoT security breach – study

Digital security vendor Gemalto claims the IoT euphoria might be hitting the UK before its ready, as research shows 58% of businesses are not able to detect a breach.

First and foremost, we need to put a disclaimer on this report. Gemalto is a security company and is thus incentivised do its best scaremongering to drive revenues. The more scared companies are about potential data breaches, and the punishments which follow the incidents, the more likely they are to buy security software. Making the world a big, bad, horrible place is an effective marketing strategy for security vendors.

That said, considering the lax approach most of the industry takes towards security and data protection, we suspect many of the statistics being discussed are pretty accurate.

“The push for digital transformation by organisations has a lot to answer for when it comes to security and bad practices,” said Jason Hart, CTO of Data Protection at Gemalto. “At times it feels organisations are trying to run before they can walk, implementing technology without really understanding what impact it could have on their security.”

The most shocking figure from the report is the 42% of UK companies who are capable of detecting an IoT breach, with only France worse off at 36%. Considering the role IoT has been touted to play over the next few years as 5G hits the streets, this is an incredibly worrying statistic.

While spending on IoT security has increased from 11% of the overall IoT budget to 13%, you have to wonder what direction this money is heading. Perhaps even more concerning for those companies involved, is that 90% of them accept this will be a major buying motivator for customers. At least they are aware that security can have a direct impact on the revenues of the business now, a concept which has taken years to hammer home.

“Given the increase in the number of IoT-enabled devices, it’s extremely worrying to see that businesses still can’t detect if they have been breached,” said Hart. “With no consistent regulation guiding the industry, it’s no surprise the threats – and, in turn, vulnerability of businesses – are increasing. This will only continue unless governments step in now to help industry avoid losing control.”

IoT is set to be one of the biggest winner of the 5G bonanza, while the segment is also predicted to be the major catalyst of 6G. If predictions are anywhere near accurate, 5G networks will soon not be able to cope with the strain of IoT, driving the case for 6G due to the sheer number of ‘things’ connected to the network.

Looking at the predictions, IDC believes the IoT market will grow to be worth more than $1.2 trillion by 2022, with consumer devices expected to account for the largest share at 19%. Ericsson has forecasted the number of cellular IoT connections to reach 3.5 billion in 2023, increasing at a CAGR of 30%.

Security remains a major challenge for the industry, though the buzz around blockchain could provide a suitable means to meet the expectations of the consumer. In the absence of regulation, Gemalto notes the adoption of blockchain technologies has doubled from 9% to 19% in the last 12 months, with 23% of the respondents to this survey believe the technology would be an ideal solution to use for securing IoT devices. 91% who are not using blockchain are considering it for the future.

“Businesses are clearly feeling the pressure of protecting the growing amount of data they collect and store,” said Hart.

“But while it’s positive they are attempting to address that by investing in more security, such as blockchain, they need direct guidance to ensure they’re not leaving themselves exposed. In order to get this, businesses need to be putting more pressure on the government to act, as it is them that will be hit if they suffer a breach.”

While research like this does indicate security is becoming a more serious topic in the world of telecoms and technology, it also confirms there is a very wide gap to close. Security has long been the ugly duckling of the industry, many seemingly choosing to ignore the challenges because they are too difficult to solve, though new regulations such as GDPR has perhaps forced the issue up the agenda.

Interestingly enough, should the telcos get serious about security there would certainly be a revenue generating opportunity to capitalise on. With cyber security incidents and data breaches becoming more prominent in the news, consumers are gradually becoming more aware of the risks of the internet and the emerging digital society. While the industry has played down the risk in recent years, the incidents speak for themselves.

An excellent example of turning this scenario into a business opportunity lies with Orange, the master of the convergence strategy. Here, the team have invested heavily in cyber security capabilities and are now offering security services to customers as a bolt on to other connectivity packages. The move has proven to be a success as while it is generally becoming accepted that 100% secure is impossible nowadays, more people are willing to do something about it.

Security is a topic which has always been in and around the news, but few want to do anything proactive about it. Unfortunately, with the perimeter expanding so rapidly as IoT penetration grows, these statistics are incredibly worrying. Perhaps regulators will get the chance to swing the GDPR stick before too long after all.

Xiaomi unveils new strategy stressing AI, IoT and smartphones

The Chinese device maker Xiaomi has announced its new strategy will be built around two core areas: smartphone and AI+IoT.

At the company’s annual party, Lei Jun, Xiaomi’s founder and CEO, pledged an investment of CNY 10 billion ($1.5 billion) over the next five years, in a strategy it calls AIoT (meaning both “AI+IoT” and “All in IoT”). The objective is to develop this part of the business into a second core of the company’s strategy, to dovetail with its current core business: smartphones.

Xiaomi is no stranger to artificial intelligence. AI has been in the centre of Xiaomi’s marketing messages for its photo technologies on the new smartphones and the smart speakers. Nor has it been a novice in IoT. In fact, Xiaomi claims to be the world’s largest IoT company, “connecting more than 132 million smart devices (excluding mobile phones and laptops), including more than 20 million daily active devices as of September 30 (2018).” This mainly comes in its smart home category including products ranging from smart suitcases to smart scooters and everything in between.

Smartphone, on the other hand, has always been the linchpin in Xiaomi’s ecosystem. After its fast growth in China and the rapid market share gain in emerging markets like India, Xiaomi recently expanded into Europe, including choosing to debut its latest flagship smartphone in London. Additionally, Xiaomi sees in Latin America new growth opportunites. It is also one of the smartphone OEMs to endorse Qualcomm’s 5G chipset. However, as Lei recognised, “Before the proliferation of 5G technology, Xiaomi’s success in smartphone business segment lies in striving to consolidate its leading position in the smartphone markets across the world.”

As a means to continue strengthening its smartphone positions, Xiaomi also announced a dual-brand strategy. Its flagship and other high-end products will continue to come under the “Mi” brand, while the mid-range value-for-money products will carry the “Redmi” brand. Here Xiaomi may have taken a page from Huawei’s brand strategy, which has used “Honor” to address the mid-range segment while its flagship products have been branded “Huawei” and come in Mate or Pro series.

Google unveils Assistant delights at CES

It wasn’t going to be long before Google stole the show with a horde of updates to the virtual assistant. And in fairness, some of them look pretty useful.

Who is leading the smart assistant battle varies depending on who you are talking to, but the importance of this segment is consistent throughout. With more users becoming comfortable with the voice UI, buying power will gradually shift away from the smartphone screen and onto connected devices. Whoever has the best and most prominent virtual assistant will control the relationship with the consumer.

Google might dominant search revenues for the moment, but the smart home and the connected economy are changing the status quo; the Google Assistant is one of the ways the firm will stay relevant. So, what is new?

To kick things off, the team has launched Google Assistant Connect, a platform for device manufacturers to bring the Google Assistant into their products in an affordable and easy-to-implement way. This is an important step for the Google team to take, as it allows for scale. Google’s speakers and smart products will not dominate the smart home forever. Sooner or later, traditional brands will take the lion’s share of spend as the mass market will be more comfortable buying from the trusted, specialised brands. But the ambition for Google in the smart home should be in the software not the products.

Google needs to make it as easy as possible for appliance and device manufacturers to incorporate the virtual assistant. Just as it is with the search engine, scale is everything. The more users Google is interacting with, the more accurate its algorithms become and more money its advertising models can generate.

As it stands, the Google Assistant currently works with over 1,600 home automation brands and more than 10,000 devices. This number will only accelerate as the mass market acceptance of smart home devices and applications becomes more apparent.

Another area which has been targeted by the firm in recent months has been automotive. Back in September, Google was named as the technology partner of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, allowing it to embed the Android operating system directly in vehicles. Last year, the alliance sold a combined 10.6 million vehicles in 200 markets across the world. At CES, Google announced a number of new features which would increase the usability of its applications in the car.

One of the updates is to bring the Assistant to Google Maps. Not only will the Assistant help with navigation, but users will be able to use voice commands to send messages to friends, such as estimated time of arrival. The Assistant can also be commanded to search for points of interest or stop-off points along the designated route. It’s a useful little update.

The final update which we like to draw attention to is focused on travel. Before too long, users will be able to instruct the Google Assistant to check them into flights (starting with US domestic flights), and also book hotel rooms at the destination. How effectively this will work remains to be seen, and it will be interesting to see how many hotels the Assistant has to choose from (as well as the price ranges), but again, it is a useful update.

Virtual assistants are not new, but they are becoming increasingly normalised in the eyes of the consumer. The voice UI is starting to make a genuine impact on the technology landscape the sci-fi image of tomorrow might not be as ridiculous as once though. Perhaps if someone nails AR glasses the smartphone screen might become redundant sooner rather than later.

75% of the telecoms industry think 2019 will be a great year

Three quarters of the respondents to the latest Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey feel positive or fantastic about the industry’s prospects in the new year.

There is hardly a better way to usher in the new year with a reality check on the industry we are in, and an informed look into the era we are entering. The recently-published Telecoms.com Annual Industry Survey report can very well serve such purposes. Thanks to the enthusiastic responses by well over 1,000 telecoms professionals, the majority of whom having more than a decade’s experience in the industry, we are provided with plenty of optimism as well as sober assessment.

A strong contributor to the optimism towards 2019 is the fast rollout of 5G. Not only will the long-awaited 5G networks be switched on in different parts of the world, consumer mobile devices are so close to hitting the market. In addition to eMBB that has been offered on limited scale in the US and South Korea, more ambitious services will be launched to fulfil the 5G’s promises. But at the same time, 62% of the respondents believe the benefits of 5G have not been properly communicated to consumers.

“Only time will tell what a future 5G truly holds, but it’s safe to say there’s a healthy dose of reality within the carrier market. While the promise of 5G and all its intended benefits are still on the horizon, it seems the industry is still identifying which industries can be best served with 5G,” said Sigal Biran-Nagar, Senior Director for Corporate Marketing at ECI. “It’s likely that confidence in the technology, and the willingness for consumers to pay for it, will only grow after its reliability can be assured, and it’s been implemented for a long time, which would also give critical industries and others the confidence they need that it won’t fail.”

All of 5G’s promises are supported by key technology advancements. One of the most frequently discussed areas is virtualisation. The industry continues to show strong belief in virtualisation, with close to 80% of the respondents recognising the significance of NFV for the success of their business. But it does not mean it would be an easy ride for the enthusiasts.

“We are seeing NFV gathering momentum to ‘cross the chasm’. Most respondents think that NFV is important or critical, and their spending in 2019 will be maintained or will increase.” said F5 Networks. “But challenges clearly remain. Only 8% of respondents think NFV is easy to implement. And two thirds thought that the process could be simplified and that automated systems for purchasing could help.”

All the new technologies that make 5G possible also pose new demands for the capability of testing, measuring, and monitoring. More than ever they should already be extensively implemented at the pre-commercial stage due to the new lead use cases, the complexity of its air interface, as well as the central roles played by software and virtualisation.

“5G is on the horizon bringing new opportunities for business growth. CSPs need to tightly control their ecosystem and ensure 5G is done right to deliver on promises for a whole range of new smart applications,” commented EXFO. “Partnering closely with 95%+ of the top CSPs worldwide, EXFO provides next generation test, monitoring and analytics solutions to support operators end-to-end, from lab to live and from the subscriber to the core. EXFO solutions feature real-time network, service and customer insights, process automation, NFV service assurance, prescriptive analytics as well as troubleshooting embedding machine learning and AI.”

Meanwhile, the industry also recognises that 5G is much more than a technology. For the CSPs, it is a significant step on the journey towards digital transformation. Many operators are seeing 5G as a watershed moment to seriously expand beyond the connectivity utility. One third of respondents believe 50% of revenues could be generated by new digital products and services in four years’ time. Opportunities abound.

“The survey provided an industry viewpoint on how much revenue operators will generate from services enabled by digital transformation. This is the foundation for why transformation is needed in the first place,” said Martin Morgan, VP Marketing, Openet. “The survey also provided a health check on how far the industry is advanced in its digital transformation journey and how far it needs to progress to be able to meet their digital services revenue goals. What this means for vendors is that they can set out realistic transformation roadmaps with their customers using the survey results as an industry benchmark.”

One of these growth areas is IoT. 56% of respondents saw IoT as an important driver to expand their service portfolio, while 46% saw it as significant channel to deliver new revenues. Both the short-range IoT, the largest part of the total number of connections, and wide-range including cellular-based IoT, are expected to grow very fast in the coming years, with the latter registering a much faster pace of growth.

“Never before has the digital world impacted the physical world as it does today. IoT drives autonomously driven cars, turns on lights, controls the quality of water, and lets you know who is standing at your front door,” said Ronen Priel, VP Product and Strategy at Allot. “This requires ubiquitous connectivity and security. With 5G mobility, wireless technology, and Fiber to the X (FTTx), connectivity is sorted. But, security is lagging far behind.”

Security is indeed one of the biggest threats to the industry, and that goes beyond IoT. 74% of companies responding to the survey have seen an increase in cyberattacks to their customers over the past year. Businesses are busy shoring up their defence, but they need to recognise that as attacking techniques constantly evolve, so should the defending technologies and business processes.

“We are privileged to contribute to the Telecoms.com 2018 survey report. The survey revealed that end-users and network operators still rely on legacy technology: 63% of network operators use DNS blacklisting for end-user protection. Also, 45% operators are not confident that they are ready to manage IoT security requirements for their customers. It’s crucial to use next-gen technology and start protecting users proactively,” explained Einaras von Gravrock, CEO of CUJO AI.

Now that this report is in front us to provide a panoramic view of the industry today and tomorrow, it will be fascinating to observe how our fellow professionals are turning those promises into reality. You can download your copy of it here. Happy 2019, everyone!

The connected car takes pole position at CES

With the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, it perhaps shouldn’t come as much of a surprise the connected car is stealing the headlines at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Starting with Audi, pairing up with Disney the team has unveiled an in-car VR entertainment system which adapts the content to the movements of the car. The game itself is called ‘Marvel’s Avengers: Rocket’s Rescue Run’ and is based on the journey itself. If the car turns right or accelerates the spaceship in the experience does the same.

While Audi is the parent company, the open platform has been brought to the market through subsidy Holoride. Audi will license the technology to the start-up, which will be made available to all carmakers and content developers in the future.

“Creative minds will use our platform to come up with fascinating worlds that turn the journey from A to B into a real adventure,” said Nils Wollny, Head of Digital Business at Audi, and future the CEO of Holoride. “We can only develop this new entertainment segment by adopting a cooperative, open approach for vehicle, device and content producers.”

Moving across to the mapping side of the connected vehicle, Intel’s Mobileye announced a new agreement with UK mapping agency Ordnance Survey. Although this might not be the most exciting aspect of the connected car space, it is perhaps the most crucial; without the relevant location data, the OS is pretty much useless.

While this data will certainly supplement the Intel offering for the connected car space, Mobileye and Ordnance Survey will use the data to create new customized solutions derived from the location intelligence, to help companies realise the riches promised through the city segment.

“One key, and common, learning is that detailed and accurate geospatial data is a must for the success of these projects,” said Neil Ackroyd, Ordnance Survey CEO. “We envisage this new rich data to be key to how vehicles, infrastructure, people and more will communicate in the digital age. Our partnership with Mobileye further enhances our commitment to supporting Britain as a world-leading center for digital and tech excellence.”

For chipmaker Qualcomm there’s been no rest to check out the shows. While Audi, Ducati and Ford have all been using its tech to run various demos across the show, the team has also teamed up with Amazon’s Alexa to demonstrate in-car artificial intelligence.

“The vision behind Qualcomm Technologies’ automotive solutions is to continuously improve and expand the realm of possibilities for in-car experiences while delivering unparalleled safety-conscious solutions,” said Nakul Duggal, SVP of Product Management, Qualcomm.

“Leveraging Amazon’s natural language processing technology, along with services like Amazon Music, Prime Video, Fire TV and Audible, allows us to offer an exclusive, interactive in-car experience for both the drivers and passengers to leverage the latest innovations in a natural, intuitive way.”

The demonstration makes use of Qualcomm’s Smart Audio Platform to include immersive natural language instructions involving in-vehicle navigation, points of interest outside the car and multimedia services which users will use every day at home with Alexa.

“Our vision is for Alexa to be available anywhere customers want to interact with her, whether they’re at home, in the office or on the go,” said Ned Curic, VP of Alexa Auto at Amazon.

This is of course not the only bit of news featuring Amazon this week, as the team announced a partnership with navigation firm Here yesterday. The tie in gives the Here platform a smarter, voice UI and gives Alexa a useful little foray into the connected car segment, an area Google’s virtual assistant has got a little bit of a head-start in.

Finally, AT&T and Toyota Motor North America announced they will enable 4G LTE connectivity for various Toyota and Lexus cars and trucks across the US, starting at the end of the year. As part of the deal, owners of the relevant vehicles will also receive unlimited data plans from AT&T, while the vehicle will also become a wifi hotspot.

“Cars are the ultimate mobile device. Working with Toyota and KDDI we will bring the benefits of connectivity to millions of consumers,” said Chris Penrose, President of IoT Solutions at AT&T.

“This new technology deepens our relationship with Toyota. And we couldn’t be happier to continue working with them. We’re both founding members of the American Center for Mobility testing facility for connected and automated vehicles, where we will help deliver the future of connectivity.”

Garmin has a go at reigniting smart watch enthusiasm

To date, it seems only the fitness brands can make the smart watch segment work for them, and while attention might have been diverted elsewhere recently, Garmin is having another crack.

Despite the fact revenues are increasing, shipments are increasing, and the usability of the devices are constantly improving, this segment has never really taken off. All positive steps forward have been small rather than industry shaking. Perhaps this was a product which was just ahead of its time, waiting for other technological advancements to catch up. One of these advancements is featuring prominently in the new Garmin launch.

“The vívoactive 3 Music with 4G LTE connectivity gives you everything you need from your phone – safety features, text messaging and the ability to download and listen to music – now on your watch, so customers can leave their phones behind with confidence,” said Dan Bartel, Garmin VP of Global Consumer Sales.

“Designed for customers who lead an active lifestyle, we’re excited to introduce these new safety and communication features to the Verizon-connected vívoactive 3 Music to give added peace of mind on the go, so leaving your phone at home can be a choice instead of a cause for panic.”

This new device, the vívoactive 3 Music, will be priced at $299.99 (the north-end of affordability for mass market) and will run on Verizon’s 4G network. The device will feature the same fitness and tracking capabilities as previous generations, as well as a contactless payment solution enabled by FitPay and the ability to download playlists from from third-party music services like Deezer and Spotify. Battery life is up to five days in smart watch mode or four hours when running the GPS.

While it has now been addressed, standalone connectivity was the first barrier to adoption for the smart watch segment. Why would you bother having a smart watch when you had to carry your phone around with you? It tells you the time, so does your phone. It plays music, so does your phone. It took phone calls and replied to messages, so does your phone. If the watch is tethered to your phone, what was the point in it?

In years gone, the fitness niche found success. Fitness tracking, both geographical and health monitoring, was an area of success allowing companies such as Garmin and Fitbit to make profits while others who focused on communications features or attempting to appeal to the fashion conscious struggled to make any notable progress. What Garmin and Fitbit did was not to compete with traditional watchmakers or smartphone manufacturers but create an additional segment. It might have been niche but has been growing steadily over the last couple of years, alongside the much slower (but increasingly more prominent) mass market acceptance of smart watches on the whole.

When you look at the smart watch segment, there certainly has been growth. IDC forecast the worldwide wearables market to ship 122.6 million units in 2018, up 6.2% from the 115.4 million units in 2017, and estimates growth in this segment to hit total shipment volumes of 190.4 million units by 2022. While this is progress, these are not revolutionary sales numbers or even growth which suggests the segment is about to take off.

Nowadays standalone connectivity is not a new thing, however Garmin has an established (and successful) brand in the smart watch segment, as well as a loyal customer base to push the new features onto. Whether this is enough of a pull to take smart watches to the next level remains to be seen, but if experience is anything to go by, the niche players will certainly help validate the smart watch in today’s society.

Alexa turns to HERE to crack the car market

Amazon is collaborating with navigation platform HERE in order to get its Alexa voice UI into the car of the future.

The announcement was made at CES 2019 and involves the integration of Alexa into the HERE navigation and location platform, thus giving it a voice UI dimension. This seems pretty sensible as in-car infotainment systems are already too complex to be safely operated via a touch screen, meaning cars are the perfect setting for enhanced voice interactions.

“The in-vehicle user experience is rapidly changing, and automakers today have the opportunity to deliver the next generation of services that maximize the vehicle’s utility as the ultimate connected device and providing consumers with the user experience they expect,” said Edzard Overbeek, CEO of HERE Technologies, before pausing for breath. “Our work with Amazon will drive a truly differentiated and delightful user experience, from the home to the car, to where you want to go, and what you need to know.”

In a parallel announcement HERE launched a new version of its platform called HERE Navigation On Demand, which is positioned as ‘The world’s first SaaS navigation and connected service solution for vehicles’. It seems to use the core SaaS concept of allowing OEMs and their customers to easily cherry-pick the aspects of the suite their individual needs dictate.

“HERE Navigation On Demand is the reinvention of in-car navigation for the era of the connected vehicle,” said Overbeek. “Our solution gives automakers the agility and flexibility they need to deliver the most competitive navigation experiences on the market. Moreover, it provides them the freedom to create their own business models that support their unique strategies.”

“We’re thrilled to be working with HERE to integrate Alexa with its in-vehicle navigation software,” added Ned Curic, VP of Alexa Auto at Amazon. “Because Alexa is integrated directly into the experience, automakers using HERE Navigation On-Demand can easily provide customers with an intuitive, voice-first experience in the car, and provide richer, more useful voice interactions at home and on the go.”

The in-car infotainment platform was has been fermenting for some time but it could be set to escalate. Google announced a big partnership back in September of last year and presumably isn’t keen to share the dashboard with HERE and Alexa. Forcing OEMs to make a long-term commitment to one platform probably isn’t a good idea however, which is why HERE may have been clever to adopt the SaaS model.