City of Austin jumps in bed with NTT Data for smart city project

While some of the buzz surrounding smart cities has quietened, NTT Data is boasting of a new initiative with the City of Austin to address traffic-related issues.

Initially focused on easing congestion through the Texan city, the initiative could be expanded to numerous other areas for traffic management. This is a very small trial for the moment, focused on intersections of Cesar Chavez Street and Trinity Street and Neches Street and 8th Street, though additional locations will be added in time.

“We are piloting NTT because these solutions have the potential to help Austin digitally transform how people move safely through the city,” said Jason JonMichael, Assistant Director of Smart Mobility at Austin Transportation. “By better understanding the data and causal effects of problems we see in challenging areas, we can develop effective solutions that meet the community’s needs.

“Evaluating data is key to reaching our Vision Zero goal of eliminating fatalities and serious injuries on Austin roadways. Smart technologies like this one will help us prioritize improvements to make our streets safer.”

Using NTT’s Accelerate Smart data platform, the project will collect traffic-related and mobility data through vehicle counting and classification, as well as wrong way vehicle occurrences. The project will allow for the delivery of real-time alerts and traffic statistics that improve predictions, traffic management and future infrastructure planning.

This initiative ties into the overarching Vision Zero project in the city, to end deaths and serious injuries on Austin roadways. The majority of these projects are civil engineering based, adding a second left-turn lane to Slaughter Lane at South 1st Street for example, but all are underpinned by data collection and analysis.

COVID-19 forces Alphabet to pull plug on Page’s pet project

Alphabet has decided to terminate a smart city project in Toronto’s waterfront, a 2.5-year old project undertaken by its subsidiary Sidewalk Labs and a favourite of Google’s co-founder Larry Page.

Daniel L. Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs, announced the decision to abandon the Quayside project in an article on Medium, blaming primarily on economic difficulties caused by the on-going Covid-19 pandemic. “As unprecedented economic uncertainty has set in around the world and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the 12-acre project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan we had developed together with Waterfront Toronto to build a truly inclusive, sustainable community”, Doctoroff said.

The company has “invested time, people, and resources in Toronto, including opening a 30-person office on the waterfront”, according to Doctoroff, though so far it has not built anything yet. It does not even receive the final development approval by the time of its demise, despite that it has been endorsed by governments at the city, provincial, and national level, including being championed by Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister. The Wall Street Journal cited people familiar with the Toronto situation saying that “Alphabet had poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Sidewalk, with most of that earmarked for the Toronto project, and yet had little to show for it.”

Launched by Larry Page, Sidewalk Labs, a graduate of Alphabet’s Moonshot incubation organisation and now a subsidiary of its Other Bets unit, is one of those wild and weird ideas that cost Alphabet over $26 billion last year but with little returns. In the good old days, the company could afford such luxury, but as the cost of a downward global economy biting in all directions, even Alphabet had to calculate the return on its investment. Since last month the company has practically imposed a hiring freeze on non-essential functions.

Cost aside, there has long been data security and privacy concerns from the community. Sidewalk Labs promised to revolutionise city life with “ubiquitous connectivity, social networks, sensing, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and new design and fabrication technologies”, but these are precisely what concern the very people the Quayside project was meant to appeal to.

Google’s reputation has proceeded Alphabet’s participation in the project, leading Adrian Aoun, Sidewalk’s founder to comment “sometimes it’s easier not to be Google when going after bold ideas.” Prominent opponents to the project include Jim Balsillie, the former CEO of BlackBerry and an Ontario resident. “This is a major victory for the responsible citizens who fought to protect Canada’s democracy, civil and digital rights,” Balsillie said on hearing Alphabet’s decision. “Sidewalk Toronto will go down in history as one of the more disturbing planned experiments in surveillance capitalism.”

In a way this could be seen as a missed opportunity to showcase what smart cities have to offer, which would be encouraging to the flagging flare of IoT. Alphabet would have had the muscle to pull together the end-to-end smart city solutions so many similar trials have failed.

Why is Google so interested in Fitbit?

In early November, Google announced it was acquiring Fitbit for $2.1 billion, a transaction which has polarised opinion. But why is Google interested in a faltering wearables brand?

Acquisitions in the technology world are not unsurprising, especially when it comes to search engine giant Google. This is a company which is constantly pushing the boundaries of normality, testing ideas outside its core competencies and exploring for the next multi-billion-dollar business.

The question which remains in the minds of some is whether Fitbit could be the catalyst for profits, or if this is an unjustified expansion of Google’s ability to pry into the personal lives of users around the world.

$2.1 billion for a failing wearables business

When talking about wearables, it used to be impossible to avoid Fitbit. This appeared to be one of the very few companies who could turn a profit in a segment which flattered to deceive. Until recently that is.

Looking at the financials of Fitbit, the business was heading south very quickly.

Full-year financial results for Fitbit 2015-19 (USD ($), millions)
Year Total revenue Net Income (Loss)
2019 1,434 (320)
2018 1,512 (185)
2017 1,615 (277)
2016 2,169 (102)
2015 1,858 175

Source: Fitbit Investor Relations

In 2015, Fitbit was a rapidly growing wearables brand turning a tidy profit. What made this even more impressive is the failures of almost everyone else to crack the market; wearables was a segment which no-one else seemed to be able to make work, not even Apple.

The trick with Fitbit was simplicity. It didn’t try to take on traditional timepieces with a clunky digital alternative which still had to be tethered to a smartphone, it produced a simple fitness device. It identified a need and fulfilled a purpose, without trying to be too clever.

The issue which it has faced in recent years is two-fold. Firstly, wearables become more mainstream and demanded more functionality. And secondly, mainstream brands were allocating big marketing budgets.

Fitbit attempted to evolve its offering, creating more devices which were more in-line with the smartwatch image of today, but it struggled to compete with the likes of Apple and Samsung when it came to functionality, design, marketing and acquiring new customers who had not previously been interested in wearables. It failed to evolve, adapt and expand.

That said, the barebones of a successful business are still there.

The resurgence of Fitbit as a competitive force

Fitbit is an interesting acquisition for Google. It has a solid and reputable fitness brand, a loyal customer base as well as existing products and IP. The fundamentals of a good business are in place, the reason Fitbit failed is it was not able to advance its business model to the next level of development.

Aside from good products, consumers nowadays are insisting on experiences and an ecosystem of supporting applications. One explanation as to why Fitbit is a failing business is that it was unable to develop the supporting applications, experiences and services to bundle behind the hardware.

This is where Google can help.

With the Fitbit team concentrating on developing new products, the software and services element can be delegated to the Google engineers. With an army of software experts and existing products, Fitbit could certainly emerge as a fighting force on the wearable scene once again.

Aside from the Android operating system which has Google has created for the wearable ecosystem, Wear OS, there are numerous other services which could be more closely linked to the Fitbit products such as Google Maps and YouTube Music. The products could also benefit from the work Google is doing into new areas such as the voice user interface and gesture control.

Bringing together the Fitbit hardware experience, IP and brand, with Google’s OS expertise and software engineering smarts is a very attractive mix.

Why would Google care about the wearable segment?

Firstly, Google is interested in any idea which can make money, and with the right care and attention, as well as patience, you can make money out of just about anything.

Secondly, the wearable ecosystem allows Google to operate in an area where it currently doesn’t.

And finally, wearable products allow it to buildout other investments in areas such as healthcare and smart cities.

Global smartphone market share – 2019
Brand Market share
Apple 31.7%
Xiaomi 12.4%
Samsung 9.2%
Huawei 8.3%
Fitbit 4.7%

Source: Statista

Just like the smart speaker products Google launched in recent years, the greater opportunity is not to profit from product sales, but to build a services ecosystem behind the hardware. Fitbit products with Wear OS allow Google to interact with customers in a new setting, in a new way, while collecting new data.

This data can of course be used to supplement existing advertising models, hyper-targeted messaging is where the money is after all, but it can also offer Google the opportunity to build new services. With a portfolio of fitness related products, Google can collect new data to create new applications as well as buildout the development of existing ideas.

For example, Verily is a research organization devoted to the study of life sciences. Verily works with academia, hospitals and health systems and life sciences companies to improve healthcare. The work is of course technology focused, making best use of data to augment the healthcare industry, and the addition of a portfolio of health and fitness wearable products would improve this proposition.

Another example is Sidewalk Labs, an ‘urban innovation’ investment from Google. The concept of smart cities is quickly gathering steam, and should the right investments be made, software companies could make billions. Wearable devices will be an important element of the smart cities for identification and authentication with public services, payments and interaction with other applications which could emerge.

These are two ideas which already exist in the Alphabet family, but Google does not currently have a venture into fitness and lifestyle. Fitbit it an entry point.

Owning the OS is critical to owning the ecosystem

Google is one of the most successful companies in the world because it manages to position its products and brands in front of people. And perhaps the most important acquisition it made in its history was Android.

The operating system, founded in 2003 by Andy Rubin, ensured Google powered the majority of smartphones across the world. It is free for smartphone manufacturers to use, but this comes with conditions; certain applications have to be installed as default. Aside from these products being very good, accessibility is one of the reasons they are so popular.

Wear OS, the operating system for wearable devices, offers Google the same opportunity. If users are tied into the Wear OS ecosystem, Google can build services and monetize the audience.

However, success for Wear OS has been wayward to date.

Apple devices use WatchOS, Xiaomi have their own as well, Garmin has developed one internally, Tizen is a Linux-based primarily by Samsung, while Fitbit also had their own. No-one was really that interested in Google’s OS when they have proprietary software, as this would mean handing data and the controlling stake in the software ecosystem to Google.

Purchasing Fitbit offers Google the opportunity to get Wear OS into the wild, collecting data to improve its capabilities. Without the Fitbit acquisition, Wear OS would most likely have dwindled and died, but if the Fitbit brand can be reinvigorated, there is every chance Google could be very influential in this segment. Especially as Fitbit already have a health-orientated brand perception.

Data, data, data…

The Google business is built on data. The algorithm powering search engines only works well because it is constantly trained to improve accuracy of results. Google advertising is only successful because it is hyper-targeted. The Maps products constantly need to be fed data to ensure route-planning is most efficient, local businesses are listed and preferences are honed to the user.

Fitbit offers some extraordinary data, which would be very useful for companies like Google.

To make best use of fitness-based products and applications, additional information on the user is often needed. Weight, height, fitness and lifestyle objectives, eating habits are some examples which can be plugged into the application. These devices also track user location, how and when they exercise, heart rate, and sleep patterns. Analysing this information is very useful for fitness-orientated users, but it is also incredibly valuable to advertisers.

It is always worth pointing out that the more people making use of Wear OS, the more data Google is collecting to fuel the advertising machine. Thanks to Deepmind, Google’s AI powerhouse, all of Google’s service make use of user insight to improve the accuracy and profitability.

This is where some of the objections to the Fitbit acquisition have been directed.

How much is too much insight?

There are many in society who are uncomfortable with the amount of information the internet giants, not Google alone, have already and how much additional access they are gaining through acquisitions. There are some who like the idea of Google purchasing Fitbit, but there are also others who question whether this is handing too much power and influence to the search giant.

Some might question how much of a window Google should be given into the personal lives of people around the world.

“The most critical issue is Google’s acquisition of Fitbit’s trove of health and biometric data,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an opponent of the acquisition, said. “Obtaining that data will help Google both improve its advertising business and significantly expand its data empire.

“Google’s acquisition of Fitbit will also deprive users of one simple, meaningful choice they could have made: to track their health and fitness without putting that data into Google’s ecosystem.

“And where users have already made this choice—by buying and using Fitbit devices prior to the acquisition—an acquisition destroys those user choices, retrospectively opting them into Google data collection despite their revealed preference to use a Google competitor.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has two objections to Google’s acquisition of Fitbit. Firstly, Google is getting too much personal information. A single, private organisation should not have such power. And secondly, such an acquisition would restrict competition in an already restrictive segment.

On the competition side of things, there is a valid point.

Not only is the smartwatch and wearable segment pretty small already, competition is the digital advertising space is also limited. Should Google expand further it would become more powerful in the advertising game, potentially killing off rivals.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is not alone with its objections to the deal, and the concerns are not going unheard.

In the US, the Department of Justice is considering the impact of the acquisition in terms of data collection and privacy as well as market competition. Down in Australia, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has launched a similar investigation which is due to conclude on May 21.

The big question of whether Google should be allowed to acquire Fitbit

By acquiring Fitbit, Google gives itself a leapfrog in the wearable OS segment, it builds out investments in healthcare and smart cities, creates additional revenue streams, allows it to drive forward another ecosystem in its own vision and adds more valuable data into the advertising machine.

For Google, this is an incredibly intelligent acquisition, $2.1 billion well spent.

However, if it is to be successful it has to develop this business intelligently. The Wear OS team should focus on the development of the operating system and supporting ecosystem, while the Fitbit engineers should be empowered to create excellent devices, whether they are simplistic fitness trackers or complex smartwatches.

Enough money has to be thrown at the development teams, but Google has to let Fitbit be Fitbit; it is a successful brand and must be allowed to continue its own path. Let Google engineers concentrate on software, and Fitbit engineers concentrate on hardware.

But the question is not whether Google is smart in acquiring Fitbit, more whether it should be allowed to. The acquisition would enable Google access to a treasure trove of very personal information, as well as posing a potential risk to competition. The internet giants have already demonstrated a sluggish attitude to data privacy, and this transaction offers access to some very personal information.

Authorities will have to assess whether Fitbit would have survived on its own, which looking at the financials is unlikely, and whether Google should be allowed to expand its influence and power through the acquisition of more data.

Telecoms had a good 2019 and expects a better 2020 – survey

Our latest industry survey reveals a an optimistic outlook, largely bolstered by the launch of 5G commercial service, but also helped by innovations and progress in other quarters of the industry.

The newly published Telecoms.com 2019 Annual Industry Survey Report, produced based on the responses to the eponymous survey, took an overview of the industry landscape over the last 12 months and projects to 2020 and beyond. There is a perceptible optimism among the respondents. 57% of them think 2019 has either been good or excellent. Meanwhile, more than three quarters of the respondents are looking forward to a positive or very positive 2020.

“The waiting for the commercial launch of 5G finally came to an end this year,” said Scott Bicheno, Editorial Director of Telecoms.com. “Hardly a day would pass without us reporting some kind of 5G news, either new technology breakthrough or new business initiatives. Improved performance of many telecom companies including operators has also helped improve the mood of the industry, so have the exciting continuous innovations both on the technology and business fronts.”

The report also digs deep into the most pertinent topics of the industry, including 5G rollout and its next step prospect, opportunities and challenges of digital transformation, IoT and communication service providers’ role, and the modernisation of operating and business support systems (OSS/BSS).

The single biggest change in the industry landscape over the past year was apparently the launch of commercial 5G service in different parts of the world. Although so far, the most marketed service is high speed internet access, including on mobile and fixed mobile access, B2B services, including 5G serving other vertical industries, will clearly feature much stronger the near future.

“The success of 5G, including end-to-end network slicing, mandates a unified view across layers and domains, built upon understanding network and service topology and relevance to customers and devices,” commented Dr. Konstantinos Stavropoulos, Solution Marketing Lead, EXFO. “5G mandates actionable insights and intelligent automation to detect and resolve or to predict and prevent customer- and device-impacting issues in real time.”

Meanwhile, there is strong consensus among the respondents that telecom companies need to undergo big transformation to unleash the full potential of new technologies, primarily because the old business model, centred on connectivity provision, is losing values.

“The telecoms.com survey has been for several years the annual health check for the industry. It provides the real insight into what the industry really thinks and cuts through any hype and hyperbole. The results show the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly prospects,” said Martin Morgan, VP Marketing, Openet. “Thankfully this year there’s been more good than bad and the outlook is refreshingly positive. As the results showed the industry has turned a corner: digital transformation is well on track, new revenue streams are opening up and 5G is being rolled out.”

IoT is one of those industries that connectivity is only a small piece on the whole value chain, and telecom operators expect, and are expected, to play a much stronger role in the ecosystem.

“The 2019 survey highlights that IoT investments are well advanced today with the majority of respondents having already started to introduce services, and smart cities, utilities and industrial/manufacturing topping the list of prospective verticals,” said Ann Hatchell, CMO of Incognito Software. “Achieving excellent IoT service quality coupled with operational efficiency is clearly top of mind for CSPs and IoT providers. The research reinforced the importance of remote device management in delivering extensive automation in zero-touch provisioning, automated device discovery, and access to data telemetry to improve business intelligence and monetization opportunities,” added Hatchell.

New opportunities, presented by 5G and other new technologies and new business models, require both the network-facing and the customer-facing support networks to catch up with the change. It is encouraging to see that an overwhelming majority of the respondents recognise the demands for modernisation.

“In recent years, B2B enterprise monetisation was overshadowed by the focus on consumer monetisation which demanded digitalisation in a highly price-sensitive and data-focussed market. B2B enterprise monetisation has been allowed to fall behind in terms of service experience, efficiency and personalisation,” commented Gary Bunney, CEO of MDS Global.

“With the advent of 5G, a growing SME market and the exploding IoT market, this has to change. There are increasing requirements for ‘designed-for’ B2B BSS platforms, delivered as a cloud service, which enable cost-efficiencies and dedicated service delivery. Business demands new digital engagement tools designed for efficient and personalised interaction with enterprise markets, resellers and partners.”

China switches on 5G

The world’s largest mobile market has gone live with its 5G networks, and is poised to become the largest 5G market in the world.

Very much in the same way as the South Korean operators did back in April, all three of China’s incumbent telecom operators switched their 5G networks on the same day. The simultaneous inauguration was held in Beijing on Thursday and was graced by the presence of officials of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the government body overseeing telecoms.

“The commercial launch of 5G is an ideal opportunity to quicken the steps to infrastructure development, including AI and IoT,” said Chen Zhaoxiong, the vice minister of MIIT, as was reported by Xinhua, one of China’s major official propaganda outlets. Chen also highlighted the importance of 5G working in collaboration with other vertical industries, including manufacturing, transport, energy, and agriculture. He also sees 5G playing a key role in promoting innovations in education, health care, government service, and smart cities.

Since four licences were awarded in June, over 80,000 5G base stations have been built, half of them belong to China Mobile. The world’s largest mobile operator by subscribers are going to offer 5G services in 50 cities, including all the major cities across the country, according to its press release. The company claimed it has already launched 44 5G devices since it received the licence, 13 of them already in the market (10 smartphones and 3 CPEs).

China Telecom, the world’s largest integrated operator by subscribers, will also start offering 5G services in 50 cities. The names were not spelled out in the press release, but it would be a surprise if they were the same 50 as China Mobile. In addition to talking about new experience offered by 5G in cloud-based gaming and HD video, the operator also stressed 5G+Cloud+AI offers to industry customers, including industrial internet, smart cities, smart medical care, smart education, transport and logistics, and smart energy.

China Unicom does not give a specific number of cities its 5G service will cover, though earlier the company announced that it will share RAN with China Telecom in 15 cities, as well as build its own 5G networks in 14 additional cities as well as extending to 8 other provinces. So, the total number of cities covered by Unicom 5G should be comparable with the other two.

Absent from the launch is China Broadcasting Network Corporation Ltd, the licenced greenfield operator.

South Korea is the largest 5G subscriber market so far, but thanks to the sheer size of the Chinese market, even with lower penetration China is expected to overtake South Korea and the US to become the world’s largest 5G market. GSMA, the industry lobby group, estimates China will have 600 million 5G subscribers by 2025, about 40% of the global 5G market.

Huawei gets Yandex and Booking.com for upcoming mapping service – report

Huawei aims to launch its own business-facing mapping service in October, with Russian internet service company Yandex and Booking.com already embracing the initiative, reports China’s media.

Days after it unveiled its own mobile operating system Harmony OS, Huawei is reportedly preparing to launch its own mapping service, called Map Kit, in October, according to a report by China Daily, one of the key official media outlets in China. The newspaper cited “a source familiar with the matter” (although other sections of the report indicate that source may actually have been the president of cloud services at Huawei’s consumer business group) that Huawei has already recruited as software partners in Yandex, the Russian internet heavyweight sometimes dubbed “Russia’s Google”, and Booking Holdings, the American travel aggregator and parent company of Booking.com, Kayak.com, Cheapflights, etc.

The is a logical move by Huawei when it aims to gain more independence from Google, to prepare for the rainy days if the axe of American ban falls heavy again (there are plenty of signs that it may if the trade war is not solved soon). However not enough details have been disclosed for the observers to evaluate the viability of the initiative.

As its name suggests, the Map Kit is not meant for end users but rather an SDK for application developers to build location-based services on top. Huawei plans to make the software suite available in 40 languages and roll it out in 150 countries. According to the report, the Map Kit will support apps to offer real-time traffic conditions and sophisticated navigation systems as well as support augmented-reality mapping. The report specifically said that the software will be able to recognize a car changing lanes, suggesting extremely high precision of its location data.

The report does not spell out the sources of the location data though. China has launched its own satellite navigation system BeiDou to rival the American owned GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, and the European Union’s Galileo. To couple with the fact that Google services including Google Maps are inaccessible in China, it is safe to bet that in China, Huawei’s Map Kit will gather the location data either directly from the state’s navigation system or through third party, such as AutoNavi (an Alibaba subsidiary).

The partnership with Yandex may indicate that the Russian internet giant will provide location data that is not attainable yet from China’s BeiDou, which aims to provide global coverage by 2020. The line in the China Daily report that “Huawei Map Kit will be connected to local mapping services” suggests that Huawei may also use location data from existing navigation and mapping services in countries it intends to offer the Kit to. This is a common practice in mapping data gathering. Because China’s law bans unofficial navigation and location data gathering, both Google Maps and Apple Maps buy location data from AutoNavi.

Another key missing point in the report is the operating system the SDK will run on. It is highly unlikely that it will operate on Harmony OS, which will not be ready by the targeted time frame of the intended launch of Map Kit: Harmony OS was only introduced on PowerPoint slides at the developer conference when it was unveiled, with no hardware nor user manuals for the developers to try their hands on. Additionally, Harmony OS is meant primarily as an operating system for IoT businesses.

On the other hand, if the Map Kit was to run in the Android environment, it would defeat the very purpose of Huawei becoming more independent of Google.

Large-scale NB-IoT Electric Bike Management in Zhengzhou Wins the GSMA Best Mobile Innovation for Smart Cities in Asia Award

[Shanghai, China, June 27, 2019] The NB-IoT electric bike management system jointly developed by Zhengzhou Public Security Bureau, China Mobile, Huawei and Tendency have won the GSMA Award for ‘Best Mobile Innovation for Smart Cities in Asia’ at Mobile World Congress (MWC) Shanghai 2019.

Huawei smart city PR 20190701

Ritchie (Honghua) Peng(left), Chief Marketing Officer of Huawei’s Wireless Network, accepting the GSMA Award for Best Mobile Innovation for Smart Cities in Asia from John Hoffman(right), CEO, GSMA Ltd

This award is the second award after the Innovative Mobile Service and Application’ award from GTI. The award lends industry-wide prestige and recognition to China Mobile and Huawei’s constant contributions to NB-IoT ecosystem development, and also indicates that the NB-IoT ecosystem has become increasingly mature and will witness an explosive growth in commercial NB-IoT applications.

China is the world’s largest producer and seller of electric bikes. Electric bikes have become an important means of transportation for consumers in China, which has brought great convenience to the daily life of the people. However, electric bikes create urban management, security and safety problems, which are worsening with the widening adoption. According to statistics, 70% of reported theft, 30% of traffic accidents and 9% of fires were caused by electric bikes in Zhengzhou in 2017. There is a strong appeal for a solution that can provide monitoring and positioning service for massive connections in mobility with easy and fast deployment as well as the capabilities in evolution towards 5G, speeding up 2G/3G network refarming.

To address these problems, Zhengzhou Public Security Bureau has been working with China Mobile, Huawei and Tendency for an innovative management system, which is based on NB-IoT E2E solution. Multiple functions can be enabled by equipping existing electric bikes with NB-IoT communications devices and GPS or BeiDou modules, which include: anti-theft tracking, fire warning, power alarms and traffic violation prevention.

The NB-IoT electric bike management system is widely deployed in Zhengzhou of China’s Henan Province, with about 3 million electric bikes connected to the NB-IoT network, with theft and fire protection. NB-IoT electric bikes have become the largest-scale NB-IoT application for a single service in the world and the success of this service created a blueprint for other transportation applications. For operators, the system can reuse LTE network resources to greatly reduce deployment costs, while developing a large number of IoT users, and creating new revenue-generating services in partnership with transportation department and insurance companies. For city management authorities, the system provides a crucial tool to track and defeat theft, reduce the potential fire hazards, and achieve traffic monitoring, and improve urban traffic capacity. For electric bike riders, it provides positioning services that increase the efficiency of riding, increases safety through fire warnings, and provides property security through anti-theft capabilities.

This award not only embodies Large-scale NB-IoT electric bike management in Zhengzhou, but also highlights Huawei NB-IoT end-to-end solution. Huawei will continue to innovate the NB-IoT solution to help operators explore the migration path of IoT services with 2G or 3G and build all business connected LTE networks. At the same time, Huawei will also continue to work closely with partners to promote the NB-IoT industry to flourish and create an intelligent world.

MWC 19 Shanghai runs from June 26 to June 28 in Shanghai, China. Huawei showcases its products and solutions at booth E10 and E70 in Hall N1 and ICA01 in Innovation City Hall N5 in the Shanghai New International Expo Centre. For more information, please visit carrier.huawei.com/en/events/mwcs19

Google’s Sidewalk’s bet is a nightmare for the privacy conscious

If you’re concerned about whether Google is listening to you through your phone or smart speaker, soon enough you’ll have to worry about lampposts having ears, or at least if your live in Toronto.

For those who have not been keeping up-to-date with the Canadian tech scene, Google’s Sidewalk Labs is currently working in partnership with Toronto to demonstrate the vision of tomorrow; the smart city. Plans are still being drawn up, though it looks like two neighbourhoods will be created with a new Google campus bang in the middle.

The Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP) hope to create the city of tomorrow and will be governed by Waterfront Toronto, a publicly-funded organization. In a move to seemingly appease the data concerns of Waterfront Toronto, Google has now stated all the systems would be run by analysing data, but Sidewalk Labs will not disclose personal information to third parties without explicit consent and will not sell personal information.

This is the first bit of insight we’ve had on this initiative for a while. Having secured the project in 2017, Sidewalk Labs has been in R&D mode. The team is attempting to prove the business case and the products, though it won’t be long before work is underway. Assuming of course Google is able to duck and weave through the red-tape which is going to be presented over the next 12-18 months.

The most recent development is a series of white papers which are addressing numerous topics from sustainable production plans, mobility, data protection and privacy and the envisioned usecases. If you have a spare few hours, you can find all the documentation here.

Of course, there are plenty of smart city initiatives around the world but what makes this one interesting is that the concept of ‘smart’ is being built from the foundations. This is a greenfield project not brownfield, which is substantially easier. Buildings, street furniture and infrastructure can be built with connectivity in mind.

This is the challenge which other cities are facing, lets take London as an example. Construction on the London Underground system started in 1863, while the London sewage system was plumbed in between 1859 and 1865. The city itself, and the basic layout, was established in 50 AD. Although there are creative solutions to enhance connectivity, most cities were built in the days before most could even conceive of the internet.

The Quayside and Villiers West neighbourhoods will be home to almost 7,000 residents and offer jobs to even more, anchored by the new Google campus. The buildings will offer ‘adaptable’ spaces, including floor plates and sliding walls panels to accelerate renovations and reduce vacancies. It will also be incredibly energy friendly, featuring a thermal energy grid which could heat and cool homes using the natural temperature of the earth.

But onto the areas which most people in the industry will be interested in; the introduction of new technologies and access to data.

High-speed internet connections will be promised to all residents and businesses, intelligent traffic lights and curbs will be deployed to better regulate traffic, smart awnings will be introduced for those into gimmicky technology and the neighbours will be designed to allow for an army of underground delivery robots to function.

Autonomous driving is one technology area which fits perfectly into the greenfield advantage. The complications of creating a landscape for autonomous vehicles in older cities are great, but by building up the regions with connectivity in mind many of these challenges can be averted. Not only can the introduction of self-driving vehicles be accelerated, but ride-sharing (Zipcar) or hailing (Uber) alternatives can be assisted while other options such as e-scooters are more realistic.

Such is the ambition nurtured in the Google business, if there is a crazy idea which can be applied to the smart city concept, Sidewalk Labs have probably factored it into the design and build process.

And now onto the data. This is where the project has drawn criticism as Google does not necessarily have the most glistening record when it comes to data privacy and protection. Small print littered throughout various applications has ensured Google is never too far away from criticism. In fairness, this is a problem which is industry wide, but a cloud of scepticism has been placed over any initiative which has data as the fuel.

The latest announcement from Google/Sidewalk Labs focuses on this very issue. Sidewalk Labs will not sell any personal information, this data will not be used to fuel the advertising mechanisms and it will not disclose this insight to third-parties. Explicit consent would have to be provided in any of these circumstances.

Whether these conditions will be up to the standards defined by Waterfront Toronto remains to be seen. This body has the final say and may choose to set its own standards at a higher or lower level. Anonymity might be called into play as many activists have been pushing. This is not a scenario which Google would want to see.

While expanding into new services might seem like an attractive idea, if this expansion can be coupled with additional access to data to fuel the Google data machine, it is a massive win for the internet giant. Let’s not forget, everything which Google has done to date (perhaps excluding Loon and the failed Fiber business) has paid homage to the advertising mechanisms.

Fi offers it interesting data on customer locations, the smart speakers are simply an extension of the core advertising business through a new user interface and Android allowed Google to place incredibly profitable products as default on billions of phones and devices. If Google can start to access new data sets it can offer new services, engage new customers and create new revenues for investors.

Let’s say it can start collecting data on traffic flow, this could become important insight for traffic management and city planners when it comes to adding or altering bus routes. This data could also be used to reduce energy consumption on street lights or traffic lights; if there is no-one there, do they actually need to be on? It could also help retailers forecast demand for new stores and aid the police with their work.

These ideas might not sound revolutionary or that they would bring in billions, but always remember, Google never does anything for free. This is a company which seems to see ideas before anyone else and can monetize them like few others. If Google is paying this much attention to an idea or project, there must be money to be made and we bet there is quite a bit.

But this is where Google is facing the greatest opposition. Because it is so good at extracting insight and value from data, it is one of the companies which is facing the fiercest criticism. This will be the most notable the further afield Google spreads its wings. It seems the world is content with Google sucking value out of personal data when it comes to search engines or mobile apps, but pavements, lampposts and bus stops might be a step too far for some.

Of course, criticism might disappear when jealousy emerges. The hardcore privacy advocates will never rest, but most simply don’t care that much. Privacy violations will of course cause uproar, but if there is a fair trade-off, most will accept Google’s role. If Google can prove these neighbourhoods not only improve the quality of life, but also offer advantages to entertainment and business (for example), this initiative could prove to be very popular with the general public, governments and businesses.

Finland’s Uros flies Europe’s flag in Qualcomm smart city program

Qualcomm launched its Smart Cities Accelerator Program with over 40 partners, but fast-growing Finnish company Uros is the only European representative.

Qualcomm recently joined hands with 45 companies that have been using its technologies to set up a community called “Smart Cities Accelerator Program”. The program aims to provide cities, municipalities, government agencies, and enterprises around the world with ecosystem solutions for Smart Cities applications. The member companies included “hardware and software providers, cloud solution providers, system integrators, design and manufacturing companies, as well as companies offering end-to-end solutions with Smart Cities in mind”, the world’s leading chip maker said in a statement.

“The Qualcomm Smart Cities Accelerator Program is a central hub for Smart Cities solution providers,” said Sanjeet Pandit, senior director of business development and head of Smart Cities at Qualcomm. “By working with proven expertise and deployed solutions, cities, municipalities, government agencies and enterprises can speed the realization of their Smart Cities visions. This program aims to foster a rich ecosystem of B2B collaborations that we hope will speed the development and deployment of Smart Cities solutions around the globe.”

Most of the companies are based out of North America and Asia, including familiar names like Compal or Verizon. The sole representative of Europe is Uros, a Finnish private company that has undergone fast growth in recent years. According to the Finnish publication Talouselämä, the company’s turnover grew from €2.7 million in 2015 to €1.3 billion in 2018, an increase of nearly 500 times in three years. Uros is based in Oulu in northern Finland, dubbed the country’s “Radio Valley” which used to be Nokia’s heartland to develop radio technologies and produce base stations. The owner and the current CEO were both Nokia veterans.

Uros unbelievable growth 2015-2018

Uros started its business with a roaming application to help consumers save roaming cost, by which it developed an extensive network with the world’s mobile operators. It then saw the opportunities in IoT, which, though still predominantly short-range, will see wide range, especially cellular IoT gaining share and outpacing the other types of connectivity. Ericsson estimated that over 22.3 billion IoT connections will be on the internet by 2024, including 4.1 billion cellular IoT. The smart city sector will benefit from 5G in a big way.

In addition to smart connectivity solutions, including its industrial products and sensors, Uros will also bring to the table its expertise in data analytics in natural resources management, waste reduction in industrial processes, and turnkey IoT solutions. Its participation in the Qualcomm program must also have to do with its long collaboration with the chip maker, which has been respected by Qualcomm. “Whenever we have a new chip, we will call them about it. They will come up with a new way of using it,” Qualcomm’s Pandit told Talouselämä. “It is not that others can’t develop the same technologies, but they are always the first because they think ‘out of the box’, in their own original way.”

Uros was set up in 2011 and has about 60 employees.

Telefonica and Seat get the MWC wheels turning

Telefonica is fuelling the hype as we motor towards MWC with connected car announcements alongside Spanish automotive giant Seat.

In an early effort to drive traffic towards its stand, Telefonica has carpooled with Seat to give the green light to three new innovations in the connected vehicles race. While there are sceptics who would want to curb autonomous vehicles enthusiasm, the duo is racing towards a happy middle-ground with three assisted driving use cases.

Firstly, the team will introduce pedestrian detection capabilities, which will allow traffic lights to sense the presence of pedestrians with thermal cameras, before relaying this information onto cars in the nearby area. Display panels will be able to inform the driver of potential risks on the road.

Secondly, connected bicycles equipped with a precise geolocation will notify vehicles in the area when the rider decides to turn right. The bikes will be detected by ultra-wideband beacons placed along the road, and should there be a risk of collision, the driver in the car will once again be notified.

While both these ideas will be powered by edge-computing, the final usecase will rely on direct communication interface. Should visibility be particularly low, stationary vehicles would detect moving vehicles, emergency lights would be turned on while the driver would, again, be notified on the display board.

These usecases might not be on the same level as the glories of autonomous vehicles, but there is a satisfactory amount of realism on display. Autonomous vehicles are not going to be on our roads for a long-time, and while that does not mean we should not continue to fine tune the technology, there has to be a focus on improving road safety today. This is exactly what is being done here.

Another similar concept is being developed in MIT. Here, an AI application analyses the way pedestrians are walking to understand whether there might be any risks. This sort of analysis is something we all do subconsciously, but a very useful and important addition to the connected car mix.

Using lidar and stereo camera systems, the AI estimates direction and pace, but also takes pose and gait into consideration. Pose and gait not only inform the pace and direction, but also give clues to future intentions. For instance, if someone is glancing over their shoulder, it could be an indication they are about to step into the road.

Looking further into the future, when autonomous taxis might be a real thing, this could also be incredibly useful. Of course, the simplest way to hail a taxi in this futuristic age will be through an app, but if the vehicle can see and understand an outstretched arm is a signal for a taxi, it would be a useful skill to incorporate into the AI.

All of these ideas are not only relevant for the long-term ambitions of the automotive industry but also very applicable today. Connectivity and AI can be incredibly beneficial for human-operated vehicles, especially with the advancements of edge-computing and leaning on the high bandwidth provided by 5G. Not everything has to be super-futuristic, and it’s nice to see a bit of realism.