Telia toys with facial recognition for ice cream payments

In the ever-lasting search for 5G usecases, Telia has teamed-up with Finnish bank OP to trial facial recognition payment solutions.

While facial recognition technologies are taking a bit of a reputational beating at the moment, there are promising usecases in the pipeline. The issue which is not being discussed here, though certainly warrants more attention in the public domain, is the ethical, responsible and transparent application of the technology.

However, this example, authenticating payments, would appear to be a very logical application of the technology.

Firstly, biometrics are becoming increasingly normalised in payments and financial services authentication through fingerprints or vocal recognition, this is just one step further. Secondly, it is theoretically more secure than current identification and authentication techniques. And finally, banks already have trusted relationships with the consumer, and are yet to be caught up with a privacy scandal.

“Facial payment is a good example of a service that benefits from the capacity increase and lower latency of 5G,” said Janne Koistinen, Head of Telia Finland’s 5G programme. “5G will also take the security of mobile connections to the next level, which is interesting for example for payment and other financial services.”

Using the biometric template uploaded through a camera prior to the purchase with the customers bank, a connected device is used by the merchant to authenticate the individual. The customer then authorises the purchase with a simple click once their face has been recognised.

However, 5G would appear to be key here, largely thanks to the advances in lower latency which can be experienced. Slow service could certainly hinder experience and the commercial benefits promised.

“Besides security, a smooth user experience is important for customers,” said Kristian Luoma, Head of OP Lab. “5G makes the service faster and is therefore the perfect partner for Pivo Face Payment. We believe that the trial with Telia opens a new window to the future.”

Although fingerprints and vocal patterns are theoretically unique to each person, there are environmental factors which might hinder authentication. For example, dirt or grease stop the fingerprint reader from worker, or background noise could impact performance for vocal readers.

Facial recognition is also cheaper. Most smartphones or tablets already have a camera, so no specialist equipment needs to be built into the devices. The camera does not need to be high-end, just functional, therefore the expense is mainly on the software side. It is also a lot more accessible, in that everyone has a face and rarely covers it up when in a store.

For the moment, this trial has been limited to an ice-cream van in Vallila, though it is easy to see the wider applications in numerous different settings.

The challenge which such initiatives might face is the increasingly negative perception of facial recognition. This reputation the technology is working up is largely down to the unethical or secretive application in surveillance. This is a much larger topic which needs to be discussed in the public domain, however this initiative does demonstrate the benefits of facial recognition.

5G reaches an anticlimax at MWC 2019

After years of fooling around 5G finally arrived at this year’s big telecoms coming-together, but now a lot of people just feel disappointed and used, and are left asking “is that it?”

The hype cycle for 5G seems to have been especially prolonged and intense, arguably exceeding even the utopian fervour of the build up to 3G, which left the operator industry so over-committed and under-rewarded. 4G was mainly about doing mobile broadband properly, but 5G was supposed to revolutionise the telecoms industry. At this early stage, however, there is little sign of that.

In hindsight the build up to the show offered a strong indicator of the anticlimax to follow. The big kit vendor announcements were all about fine-tuning their 5G propositions and playing it safe. That was certainly the case with Ericsson and Huawei, while Nokia didn’t even have a pre-show event, contenting itself with just a webcast.

Nokia does have a major event in Barcelona on the Sunday of the show and, while it went big on 5G, the most it had to show for it commercially at this early stage was fixed wireless access. 5G offers the opportunity to provide high speed broadband to locations that can’t get a decent fixed-line service, for whatever reason, but even Nokia’s own forecasts aren’t especially bullish about the FWA total available market. So it feels more like an early way for operator CTOs to show some ROI from their 5G capex.

With the exception of a juicy bit of M&A action, Ericsson’s MWC event felt a bit flat. Meanwhile Huawei can’t escape the backdrop of the geopolitical spat it has found itself in the middle of, and almost seems ready to give up on some western markets entirely. At least one operator CEO reckons it would be disastrous for the industry if it did. A major theme of the show has been hacks trying in vain to get juicy quotes from anyone on the Huawei situation.

Aside from a bit of light FWA most of the 5G buzz has been generated by the arrival of 5G phones. The fact that some of them also come in a novel new foldable format just adds to the intrigue but those are far too expensive to be considered anything more than public prototypes and, anyway, where are the 5G networks for them to connect to?

To investigate why the arrival of 5G has elicited such a collective ‘meh’ from the industry we need to look at the three main technological subsets that are generally considered to comprise it. They are: Enhanced Mobile Broadband, Massive Machine-type Communications and Ultra-Reliable/Low-Latency Communications. These are illustrated in the slide below from a recent presentation given by Interdigital, which is already wondering what’s next for 5G, as is Qualcomm if the the photo taken of its stand above is anything to go by.

Interdigital 5G slide

EMBB is essentially more 4G, in so much as it’s essentially a fatter pipe, enabling faster data transfer rates. The problem is there is currently little need for 1 Gbps+ mobile broadband data rates and 5G cheerleaders are reduced to banging on about streaming 4K video, which is completely pointless on a mobile device anyway since the screens are too small to make use of it.

MMTC is otherwise known as IoT and, while it has massive potential, it’s debatable how accurate it is to describe it as a 5G technology. IoT has been progressing just fine without 5G and the standardisation process is largely independent of it. Furthermore some IoT applications can even be satisfied by 2G, so it’s not plausible to position IoT as the killer app for 5G.

The really novel, disruptive technology promised by 5G is the low-latency/ultra-reliable play. At first, talk of latency and reliability seems very technical and dry, but when you start to see some of the opportunities offered by removing the delay in transmitting a signal from one point to another, no matter how far apart they are, you get a sense of the full potential of this aspect of 5G.

On the Ericsson stand we bumped into our old friend Professor Mischa Dohler, who at MWC 2017 felt moved to defend the potential of 5G-enabled remote surgery, after we had used it as an illustration of how ahead of itself the industry had become over 5G. Dohler confirmed our suspicion that low-latency is where the real action is going to be, and pointed us towards the very cool video below of him duetting with his daughter over 5G while they were 1,000 kilometres apart.

 

Another cool low-latency use-case was provided by Javier Polo, Luis Fernando Fernandez and Juancho Carillo of Spanish cloud gaming specialist PlayGiga. They had a demo showing how cloud virtual reality is made possible by the low-latency capability of 5G and spoke about its importance for mobile cloud gaming in general.

playgiga vr demo

In fact once you eliminate the delay you can bring the cloud into play in all sorts of new ways. Speaking to Alan Carlton of Interdigital, who delivered the aforementioned presentation, we explored a future in which every screen is effectively a thin client that anyone can log into and use as their own device, with all their stuff accessed instantly from the cloud. That could be truly disruptive, while at the same time massively commoditising the devices market.

So we have to concede that the 5G low-latency angle is exciting, but before you think we’ve completely contradicted ourselves over the course of this piece bear in mind that we’re nowhere near seeing it in a commercial environment. Meanwhile we’re even further away from the kind of 5G base station ubiquity you would need to make this low-latency driven all-encompassing cloud into existence.

The sense of antixclimax this year is a product of the telecoms industry’s usual vice of over-promising. Yes, 5G is finally here in its earliest form, but we’re probably still five years from having the kind of infrastructure that can support any of these utopian scenarios. So this year we have FWA and the first devices, but unless each subsequent MWC is accompanied by at least one major new 5G-enabled use-case they risk feeling as anticlimactic as this one. If we’re not careful, everyone will get bored and move onto 6G instead.

Lastly we should also give a special shout out to Nokia, who provide great facilities for us hacks at the show regardless of how much trouble we cause them, and from whose stand this piece was written, fuelled by excellent connectivity and miniature multi-coloured sandwiches. They give good press room.

‘Best effort’ should be considered as critical for the telco of tomorrow

Many in the industry shudder at the concept of ‘best effort’, but this should change in future when latency can be billed as a business case.

The concept of ‘best effort’ is perceived in different ways partly reliant on whether you consider the glass to be half-full or half-empty. Those of a pessimistic nature will hear the term ‘best effort’ and decide those sitting on the other side of the table are unreliable. The more positive side of the population will consider their partner as a person who will try their utmost to provide the best possible service.

This conflict is unavoidable as it is embedded in the personality of the individual, but according to Crystal Web Founder Paul Hjul (pictured) embracing the concept of ‘best effort’ is critical for success in tomorrow’s digital economy.

Crystal Web is much more of a South African challenger ISP than anything else, having only launched commercial services in 2014. It bills itself as a business which operates differently and Hjul certainly lives up to that reputation in his public appearances and thoughts on the industry. With Crystal Web being free from many of legacy restraints which plague traditional telcos, and Hjul’s differentiating mindset, the company is free to operate in a unique manner. This is partly where Hjul’s thoughts on ‘best effort’ are derived from.

To validate the best effort approach, telcos have to appreciate there are two ways to deliver connectivity in the future. There is the commoditized delivery of the internet, and value added services with enhanced connectivity. One has a dumb pipe, while the other has a smart one which can be glorified with the network slicing euphoria. This is where ‘best effort’ should be applied, and is built on the demand for latency.

Many telcos want to avoid the dumb pipe, but why should they? A dumb pipe can effectively deliver on data demands for the vast majority of consumer cases, many of which are not reliant on latency. If it takes an extra five seconds for a WhatsApp message to be delivered, or an extra two seconds for a website to load, it’s not the end of the world. These are scenarios which can be tolerated, and the business case for the dumb pipe and ‘best effort’ can be realised. Building this dumb pipe and effectively utilizing the internet for this segment is perfectly acceptable, and allows telcos to concentrate on other aspects of the business.

The smart pipe is where money can be made. Telcos can work with enterprise organizations who cannot use the public internet for a variety of reasons, or on consumer usecases which require low latency, through the smart pipe to ensure enhanced connectivity. This is where latency plays a factor, but for every nine which is added onto the reliability and resiliency, more money will have to be charged. The usecases here are relatively obvious, autonomous cars for instance or transmission of sensitive data, but each have additional demands on latency, security and reliability.

According to Hjul, there is nothing wrong with a dumb pipe, as long as it is built smartly, but the business case for tomorrow’s telcos has to be established through separating the various usecases. Dumb is only as dumb as the business case which underpins it.

Cutting through the hype of 5G’s promises

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece R. Ezhirpavai, VP of Technology at Aricent, looks at the myths around 5G use cases, including ultra-low latency – something both vendors and operators have been keen to promote. 

The 5G rollout is gathering momentum. Big names in the telco space are confidently demonstrating their nascent next-generation technology, with Qualcomm, for example, recently teasing its first 5G mobile platform, and LG and Sprint revealing plans to deliver the first 5G handset in the first half of 2019. As the number of announcements grow, so too does the level of discussion around what 5G entails.

Ultra-low latency is often heralded as a key benefit by both vendors and operators, particularly in enabling connected cars and automation technology, with scalability and cost-effectiveness regularly cited as additional advantages. Before we get too excited, however, let’s take a step back and view these claims with an objective eye, and examine the truth behind the hype.

Shiny connected cars

Much has been written about how the future of connected cars will depend on 5G connectivity. These vehicles rely on a number of applications and they all require ongoing maintenance. For example, applications to collect telemetry data, gather Software-Over-The-Air (SOTA) and Firmware-Over-The-Air (FOTA) updates. While it is possible to run these applications over existing 4G networks, 5G will be of course be more effective due to the larger capacity it offers at higher speeds.

5G millimetre wave antennae with multi-path beam forming can be embedded in car windows, for example, invisible to the naked eye, and enabling high broadband connectivity. Enabling connected cars in this way is, therefore, a clear use case for 5G.

The misconception with connected cars

The idea that ultra-low latency can be applied to all cars on the road is, however, a misconception. For one thing, 5G’s ultra-low latency works on the principle of prioritising some users over others. If all cars on the road required the same level of latency, it would be impossible to apply this principle.

Secondly, there’s currently no way of enforcing a rule that requires every car on the road to be 5G-enabled. In that instance, cars with 5G may not receive information from vehicles that do not have 5G. Then, of course, there are the many other obstacles including humans and animals that wander into and across the road and do not – and cannot – have 5G connectivity!

Thirdly 5G will, initially at least, be overlaid over existing 4G networks. It is worth remembering that this does mean one hundred percent connectivity as there are, notoriously, black spots on a number of 4G networks. It’s highly therefore unlikely that automated cars will rely entirely on a form of connectivity that may not be available in certain places. That’s a challenge the automotive industry must confront.

Robotics and the low-latency myth

The advent of Industry 4.0, or the industrial internet of things (IIoT), in which industrial manufacturing devices, equipment and computers are connected for greater efficiency, has seen an increase in the deployment of automation technology and robotics. As with connected cars, the ultra-low latency promised by 5G has been seen by many as an enabler for robots to receive and analyse data in real time, and act and react accordingly.

In the main, however, robots tend to have both processors and memory on board and, while low latency computation – the actual movement of a robotic arm, hand or digit – is important to a robot’s functionality, it is already achievable through fast broadband connectivity. This same broadband connectivity is also required for analysing data in the cloud, or for any software upgrades that might be necessary.

5G will provide the consistent, reliable broadband connectivity required for robotics. Its ultra-low latency capabilities, though, may not be as critical in this case as the hype from many vendors might want you to believe.

Virtualisation and scalability myths

Virtualisation will, of course, offer operators further flexibility and cost benefits. Despite what many vendors may claim, 5G technology is by no means ‘plug and play’. While it can be deployed on Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) hardware, thus reducing costs, operators will still need to invest in integrating certain pieces of multivendor solutions, for a successful interoperable deployment.

Another common misconception is that, due to the high data bandwidth provided by 5G, the core network and its component functions such as Accessibility and Mobility Management (AMF), Session Management (SMF), and Policy Control (UPF), will scale up and down to a greater degree than in its 4G counterpart. While 5G core network virtualisation will certainly help operators to maintain their network, these are control plane elements, and the scaling of these components will not be affected by a higher level of data traffic, unlike with user plane functions.

5G: Are we nearly there yet?

5G is the future, and all the signs suggest that it is very nearly here. It will undoubtedly change the way that networks operate, and the way in which mobile connectivity is delivered. The opportunities it opens up for new and advanced technologies such as connected cars and automated industrial processes are certainly exciting. When it comes to anticipating its potential, however, the industry must be sure to measure what is hyperbole against what is actually real.

 

R.Ezhirpavai_PotraitPrior to joining Aricent, Ezhirpavai worked at the government aided telecommunication organization C-DoT. At Aricent, she has played a key role in development of software framework for solutions like SS7/Sigtran stacks, VoIP stacks and has contributed to IETF specs for SCTP (RFC 4960). Pavai has lad various projects and led driven product conception for clients, while working closely with engineering and business teams. As part of her previous role in Aricent Innovation team, Ezhirpavai was instrumental in enabling some of Aricent’s most successful software frameworks and solutions. Most recently, she has been involved in creating virtualized solutions and creating stateless solutions for a truly NFV based solutions at Aricent. She is also spearheading 5G solutions in Aricent.

Ericsson, Intel and Telstra deliver 5G low-latency to gamers FTW

As 5G demos move into their practical phase, Ericsson, Intel and Telstra decided to show how 5G will enable gamers to compete over mobile with no performance penalty.

A lot of professional gaming relies on quick movements and reflexes to get one step ahead of your opponent, a characteristic it shares with physical combat sports. So any technological factors that delay a gamer’s actions, even by a fraction of a second, can prove virtually fatal. The latency experienced by mobile networks has, thus far, made them impractical for use by pro gamers and this demo was designed to show that, with 5G, those dark days are behind us.

It returned data transfer latency rates of 5-6 milliseconds, four times lower than current average 4G latency speeds. The demo was conducted in Telstra’s 5G Innovation Centre in Australia’s Gold Coast, using Ericsson and Intel kit over mmWave spectrum, and professional Australian gamers The Chiefs were drafted in to provide extra authenticity

“This gaming demonstration is a real-life example of how 5G might be used in the future,” said Telstra Executive Director Network and Infrastructure Engineering, Channa Seneviratne. “Latency is the time it takes for data to be sent between two points, so it is crucial in the world of gaming when milliseconds can literally mean the difference between winning and losing. eSports demonstrates how that is possible over 5G, a benefit of the new technology that will underpin a host of use cases.”

Ericsson and Intel spokespeople said pretty much the same. While this is a nice demo it’s not clear how much demand there is for competitive gaming over mobile networks. If it’s that important then its presumably not something people will do on their phones on the way to the shops. But as an illustration of a cool new use-case that may capture the imagination of a broader audience then just those of us who obsess about this sort of thing for a living then it has some value.

Deutsche Telekom is living on the edge

The Living Edge Lab testbed, conducted by DT, Crown Castle and Altiostar, claims to be pushing the edge computing envelope.

As we get closer to 5G actually being a thing, as opposed to a flood of PowerPoint presentations and hastily arranged partnerships, the emphasis is on ‘real world’ testing, as evidenced by Huawei’s efforts in Canada. This initiative took the form of ‘an ultra-low latency mobile testbed to three sites centered on Carnegie Mellon University in the US’.

Edge computing will be a key component of 5G, especially from a low-latency perspective, as the best way to reduce the amount of time it takes a mobile signal to get from A to B is to reduce the distance it has to travel. The more stuff you can do on the edge of the network, as opposed to the core, the lower the latency, says the prevailing wisdom.

“The Living Edge Lab testbed is a major technology milestone towards use-case centric Edge Computing and will provide application developers with an early experience of the benefits of 5G technology,” said Alex Jinsung Choi, SVP Research and Technology Innovation at Deutsche Telekom. “It is a unique Edge Computing platform that leverages a fully virtualized end-to-end solution and the implementation of user-tracing beamforming antennas for the first time in a live environment.”

There you have it. They are trying out all the latest radio technologies there, are currently working with latencies down to 15ms, and seem to be focused on the 3.5 GHz band. It should be noted that Aerosmith have been calling for this kind of thing since the early 1990s and they will no doubt be gratified to see the telecoms industry finally take note.