KDDI catches the Lime bug as scooter revolution drives forward

KDDI has announced an investment in Neutron Holdings, the company which owns the Lime scooter sharing service which is becoming increasingly popular around the world.

With more people living in cities than ever before, new solutions to move said people around cities are needed. Most urban centres do not have the most helpful public transit systems and it is becoming increasingly impractical for everyone to drive. Transport sharing initiatives are one way to fix the problem and Lime is presenting a popular solution.

Some might not be familiar with the business, but they might well have spotted a stray electric scooter on the pavement. These are just obstacles for pedestrians to navigate, but an alternative means for anyone to speed up the commute. Beating Connie home to ensure the linens are fresh and clean could be so much easier.

By downloading the Lime app, users can locate the nearest free electronic scooter through an embedded mapping feature, before paying for the service through a QR code or entering a six-digit code located on the scooter. Each ride costs $1 (roughly) irrelevant of the length.

After being founded in San Francisco in 2017, the Lime bug has been catching worldwide. The main footprint is in the US, though the scooters can be found all over Europe, as well as in South America (Uruguay and Mexico), Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. The idea of ‘mobility as a service’ is certainly catching on.

As part of this investment, Lime will also join the newly-developed Smart EAST project in the city of Fukuoka. The city is often referred to as the most innovative in Japan and will be the first in the country to host a Lime scooter ride. Alongside fellow project sponsors Digital Garage Co. and KDDI, the aim is to ‘create a model city with comfortable, high quality lifestyle options and intelligent use of urban space through the introduction of cutting-edge technological innovation’.

“We’re thrilled to be working with the Smart EAST project to bring our electric scooters to Japan for the very first time,” said Mitchell Price, Lime’s GR and Policy lead in Asia Pacific. “Fukuoka is a city focused on the future, and with Lime electric scooters riders will be able to unlock sustainable urban mobility like never before.”

What is worth noting is that the firm might come under some criticism before too long. Although it is a creative way to answer the mobility challenge in increasingly congested urban environments, they are proving to be a nuisance occasionally. In some cities it is illegal to ride scooters on the pavements, tickets for the offence in Los Angeles increased by 1815% between January and July 2018, while some are also frustrated by the scooters being discarded willy-nilly with no consideration to others.

This is not necessarily surprising as there are no rules to dictate the practice of riding a scooter. City officials might well have ignored these ‘vehicles’ in by-gone years, simply because there weren’t enough to justify any serious consideration. However, should trends continue on the same trajectory, a conversation will certainly need to take place.

Arguably Uber kicked-off this revolution, though KDDI is looking to cash-in on a trend which is spreading to all forms of transport very quickly.

Funded through the KDDI Open Innovation Fund (KOIF), the aim of this venture is to invest in start-ups both domestically and internationally which are using connectivity in a way outside the norm. KOIF Number 3. was first launched in April 2018 alongside Japanese venture capitalist firm Global Brain looking into firms in fields such as AI and IoT, areas where 5G can compound growth potential.

KOIF Number 3. will run through to 2028 with 20 billion Japanese yen to play around with, focusing primarily on the Japanese, US and South Korean markets. Of course, this is an investment opportunity, though the investment will also present collaboration opportunities with KDDI and the other start-ups which the fund has invested in.

All four operators are awarded 5G licences in Japan, with security conditions attached

NTT DoCoMo, KDDI, Softbank, and Rakuten have all received the 5G licences they applied for, but they come with coverage obligations and security commitment.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications announced on 10 April (in Japanese) that all the four applicants have been awarded radio frequencies and licences to rollout 5G services. Each licensee is awarded 400MHz spectrum on the 28GHz frequency, while three of them are awarded 200MHz on 3.7GHz except Rakuten, which has requested 100MHz.

All the operators are going to roll out 5G services starting in 2020. NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and Softbank will launch the service in spring time, with Rakuten planning to open its service in June. The total investment planned by the operators to the end of 2024 amounted to Yen 1.6 trillion ($14.4 billion).

While both NTT DoCoMo and KDDI have pledged to cover over 90% of the country within five years, Softbank only plans to cover 64% of the country and Rakuten 56%. The minimum requirement from the government is serving every prefecture within two years, and at least 50% of the whole country within five years, calculated by the number of geographical blocks the networks will cover out of the total 4,500 blocks the Ministry divides the country into.

In addition to coverage requirement, the Ministry has also attached a dozen granting conditions (pp.16-17 of the summary, in Japanese), including commitments to expand optical fibre networks (#2), to improve safety measures to minimise outage during natural disasters (#3), to prevent interference of existing radio licensees (#7) etc.

The item that may raise eyebrows is Item 4 on the list, which requires the operators to “take appropriate cyber security measures including measures to respond to supply chain risks” (unofficial translation). It refers to earlier regulations including the “”Information and telecommunications network safety and reliability standards” published by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications in 1987, “Common Standards Group for Information Security Measures for Government Agencies and Related Agencies” issued by the National Information Security Center (NISC) in 2018, and the cross-departmental “Agreement on IT procurement policy and procedures for goods and services” published on 10 December 2018.

The last two documents, though neither of them names any particular countries or brands to be excluded, have been broadly recognised as the Japanese government’s decision to ban companies like Huawei and ZTE from public sector procurements. By invoking these regulations, it may not be too much of a stretch to read it as a message to the operators to stop using equipment supplied by the Chinese vendors. This may not cause serious disruptions to the operators’ business though, as Softbank, the only operator that has Huawei equipment on its network, is already planning to swap for Ericsson and Nokia, Nikkei reported earlier.

Japanese 5G licensees

Nokia and KDDI demonstrate 4G can be used for connected car

Autonomous vehicles and the connected car have been one of the front-runners for 5G investments, but in demonstrating 4G can be used as low-latency connectivity for vehicles, has Nokia undermined its 5G mission?

This is part of the issue for the telcos when it comes to investments for 5G; the messaging is very messy. It will be an expensive mission to upgrade the world to the fifth generation of mobile networks, therefore sound business cases for ROI are needed, with autonomous vehicles and the connected car near the top of the list. But if this usecase can be delivered over 4G, does this undermine the desperation for the superfast, low latency networks?

5G will of course be better, but we don’t live in a perfect world and sometimes sacrifices have to be made. This isn’t exactly a press release which encourages the telcos to go all in on the new networks.

The pair now claim to have successfully demonstrated the use of LTE in Japan to deliver cost-efficient, low-latency connectivity for vehicles, using the evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service standard in two connected car applications, and demonstrating the potential of cellular technology to enable fully automated driving in the future.

The Nokia evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast service (eMBMS) hotspot solution, allows data to be sent once to many users simultaneously, which in this trial, allowed real-time information to be shared with multiple vehicles to cost-effectively enable awareness and road safety. In this example, Vehicle-to-network-to-vehicle (V2N2V) and Network Real-Time Kinematic (network RTK), were the applications demonstrated.

“We are pleased to work with Nokia to demonstrate our leadership in the delivery of mobile networks for IoT and connected car communications,” said Munefumi Tsurusawa, GM for Connected Vehicle Technology Department, Technical Planning Division at KDDI Corporation. “This is an important trial showing how the automotive industry can leverage cellular technology to enhance safety of connect vehicles on the roads.”

“Nokia has a comprehensive solution package for V2X based on its MEC platform and eMBMS hotspot solution aiming to cost-effectively accelerate the adoption of vehicle-to-everything communication,” said Uwe Puetzschler, Head of Car2X at Nokia. “While manual intervention was used in the proof-of-concept trials, a clear evolution path to 5G will enable operators such as KDDI to support the widespread adoption of automated vehicles.”

It is no secret 4G and 5G networks will live alongside each other in harmony for at least the first few years of deployment, however you have to wonder whether Nokia has shot itself in the foot here. Huawei took the 4G world by storm, with Ericsson and Nokia both waiting on the 5G revolution to recoup lost fortunes, it is certainly a brave move to send out press releases which potentially undermine one of the leading 5G usecases.

Samsung and KDDI break 5G speed record

On the day the latest issue of the Guinness Book of Records is released, one of the most obscure is broken in Korea.

The 5G speed record in this case is not data throughput but the ability of 5G to work with a fast-moving vehicle. Samsung and Japanese telco KDDI conducted a demo at Everland Speedway in South Korea in which a vehicle accelerated from 0 to 205 km/h and they still managed to zap it with lovely, high capacity mmWaves, apparently for the first time. They even managed to hand over between base stations and everything.

“It is becoming increasingly important that we accelerate our focus on 5G’s ability to meet a growing number of performance metrics,” said Woojune Kim, Head of Next Generation Strategy at Samsung’s Networks Business. “Until now, peak bandwidth has been the common refrain, and certainly a big component of the future of 5G. However, the test we conducted with KDDI will help us build a more diverse portfolio of future 5G use cases.”

“The trial successfully showcased stable performance under high-speed mobility conditions which will dramatically increase the service experience of users in vehicles,” said Akira Matsunaga, Senior Director of Mobile Network Technical Development at KDDI. “We will continue our joint efforts with Samsung to test next generation technology to unprecedented levels and discover new service cases.”

The reason all this is a big deal, we’re told, is the potential offered by new and highly specialised service scenarios enabled by 5G. In this case we’re looking at connected cars, of course, but also public transport in smart cities and presumably things like drones. If you don’t believe they broke the record then here’s a vid that proves it.