ETSI gets to work on new contact tracing app standard

With countries across Europe all trying to reinvent the wheel with their own contact tracing apps, standardization is long overdue.

The responsibility for this has been taken by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, which has created a special group dedicated to developing a ‘standardization framework for secure smartphone-based proximity tracing systems’. It’s called the Industry Specification Group “Europe for Privacy-Preserving Pandemic Protection,” which is mercifully abbreviated to ISG E4P.

“By their nature smartphones are highly personal devices, carrying large amounts of data about individuals,” said ETSI Director-General Luis Jorge Romero. “In ETSI we are committed to support an international development community with a robust standardization framework that allows rapid, accurate and reliable solutions while winning the trust of the population at large.”

Point well made about trust Luis. The UK, for example, currently seems determined to give its National Health Service access to the data created by the national contact tracing app. Not only would this alienate Google and Apple, thus making the app a lot less effective, but it would almost certainly lead to far fewer people using it.

“A primary challenge is collecting, processing and acting on information about citizens’ proximity at scale, potentially representing tens or hundreds of millions of people,” says the ETSI announcement. “This must also be achieved without compromising users’ anonymity and privacy, and while safeguarding them against exposure to potential cyber-attacks.”

Again, Google and Apple seem to have this more or less covered, but there’s no way a mega public bureaucracy like the EU would ever concede the private sector might have the answer to a public problem. So ETSI will probably take weeks to come up with something very similar, at which time the EC will order all its members to use it regardless of any progress they’ve made independently.

Arm unveils the new Autonomous Vehicle Computing Consortium

Embedded chip giant Arm has announced a new industry consortium designed to coordinate industry collaboration over autonomous vehicles.

As well as Arm the AVCC also counts Bosch, Continental, Denso, General Motors, Nvidia, NXP and Toyota among its founding members. Its initial work will involve developing a set of recommendations of a system architecture and a computing platform to promote scalable deployment of automated and autonomous vehicles.

“The future of mobility and the safe, scalable deployment of advanced driver assistance systems to fully autonomous vehicles for mass production requires unprecedented industry collaboration,” said Dipti Vachani, GM of Automotive and IoT Business at Arm.  “The AVCC brings together leaders from across the automotive industry landscape to tackle complex foundational technological and computing challenges to accelerate our path to a truly autonomous future.”

“The massive amount of technological innovation required to power fully self-driving vehicles at scale requires collaboration at an industry level,” said Massimo Osella, AVCC Chairman and lab group manager at General Motors. “We are delighted to join this group of key leaders in the automotive industry. As the AVCC, we are working together to create the ’go to‘ organization for autonomous computing expertise to help bring this technology to market.”

“The AVCC understands the technological complexities and obstacles that need to be overcome for the deployment of autonomous vehicles,” said Satoru Taniguchi, AVCC board member, and Project General Manager at Toyota.  “Toyota aims to work with the other AVCC members to deliver a conceptual computing platform that addresses these challenges.”

Before regulators and general society are prepared to let driverless vehicles share the road with actual people. There clearly needs to be a lot of coordination to ensure things like software interoperability, standardised vehicle-to-vehicle communication and that sort of thing. This consortium seems to have a lot of the right companies involved, but will need to attract many more before it can be considered the default authority on this sort of thing.

ZTE moves to prove its own security credentials

Taking a page from the Huawei playbook, ZTE is opening its own European cybersecurity lab to demonstrate its own security credentials and appeal to customers.

Although Huawei is taking a battering on the US side of the Atlantic, European nations have stubbornly stood by the side of reason and reasonable behaviour, asking for evidence before signing an execution order. One of the reasons for this will be the apparent transparency to security through its cybersecurity centres in the UK and Belgium, and it seems ZTE is following suit.

“The security lab is an open and cooperative platform for the industry,” said Zhong Hong, ZTE Chief Security Officer.

“ZTE plans to gradually achieve the cybersecurity goals through three steps: first, meeting the requirements of cybersecurity laws, regulations and industry standards as well as certification schemes; second, conducting an open dialogue to enhance transparency and establishing cooperation with customers as well as regulatory agencies; and third, sustaining the open cooperation mechanism to contribute to cybersecurity standardization.”

Opening in Rome, the cybersecurity lab will enable telcos to contribute ideas to improve the security credentials of ZTE products, while customers will also be able to conduct audits of all products and services in the labs. This approach is seemingly working for Huawei, and ZTE is recognising the opportunity to get in on the action as 5G ramps up across the continent.

For ZTE this is a perfectly sensible move to mitigate against future risks. As Huawei is largely a proxy for Chinese aggression, it would be reasonable to assume any action taken against Huawei would be replicated against ZTE. Anything which can be done to get into the good graces of potential European customers should be seen as a priority.

Although it is for selfish reasons, the cybersecurity centre also adds more credibility to the standardisation approach which seems to be forming across the European continent. The more vendors who agree to the higher barriers to entry, the closer the continent comes to standardising security credentials. This approach to risk mitigation, an acceptance that 100% secure is an impossible objective, manages threats while also preserving competition.

Until there is concrete proof of collusion with the Chinese government for nefarious aims, this is the most sensible approach, taking the argument out of the political arena.

Africa is our biggest headache, and we aren’t getting much help – Orange SVP

With the technology world constantly focusing on bigger, faster and better, it is easy to forget there are challenges outside aside from satisfying the demanding appetite of the digital natives.

This is one of the biggest headaches for Emmanuel Lugagne Delpon, Senior Vice President Orange Labs. The African market doesn’t need bigger, better or faster connectivity, it just needs basic internet. In light of the challenges faced by the telco world, it might seem like a simple one, but right now Delpon isn’t receiving the assistance he needs.

“So far we do not have a solution,” said Delpon. “We have standardized equipment, which allows for economies of scale, but we use the same solutions for rich countries as we do Africa. These countries have ARPU of $30 a month, compared to $1 in Africa. We simply cannot afford that.”

Standardization has been wonderful for the developed nations in Europe or North America, were densely populated communities benefit from mobile equipment which is designed for high download speeds and high bandwidth. But to achieve these aims, broad coverage has had to be sacrificed. Delpon highlighted that today many of the radio antenna solutions cover 5-10km, which is fantastic for central London, but wholly unsuitable for rural Africa.

Considering the vast expanse of the African continent, the number of underserved areas of connectivity and the low ROI through ARPU, the economics of equipment which cover 5-10km do not make sense. Antennas need to be able support 100km or more to be suitable to meet the demands of the African continent, as Delpon commented the demands are not for exciting content or ridiculous download speeds, just basic connectivity. Unfortunately, no-one is providing a suitable local solution as it stands.

While rural coverage in Africa is an on-going challenge, only specific to a small proportion of operators around the world, the next one is one which should be universal; virtualisation.

It’s another topic which not be new to the telco world, but the standardisation of Network Function Virtualisation Infrastructure (NFVI) is one of the most important hurdles being faced by Delpon right now. Standardization might not be the most exciting topic in the industry, but it is critical. Delpon has 20% of R&D workforce focusing explicitly on standards, trying to avoid the dreaded divergence trend which is starting to appear.

“For 3G the industry failed,” said Delpon. “Operators made progress for 4G and the adoption of 4G was very quick. For 5G there is a chance of divergence, but we are working hard to maintain the one standard.”

This is the threat which the industry is facing. NFVI is not standardized, potentially meaning every operator will be reinventing network architecture on their own terms. This is not a new topic, but seems to have been brushed aside recently. A telco driving forward with its own imagination is great for the short-term, but ultimately it will destroy the concept of economy of scale, which is imperative for the development of cost-effective and high-performance networks.

Unfortunately, some of the major contributors to standardization, the vendors, can act more like a devil on the shoulder than the angel. Ultimately, the idea of decoupling hardware and software is not the most sensible business decision, you are after all then losing a guaranteed customer, and lower the barrier for entry to a horde of new software competitors. The vendors aren’t wholly ‘enthusiastic’ about this idea according to Delpon, which has been causing problems. Operator pushing their own version of 5G network architecture are not being discouraged by the vendors because why would they?

Economy of scale is critical for Delpon and his army of R&D engineers in creating the networks of tomorrow. Unfortunately, the industry is not exactly supporting his ambitions for the moment. Change is coming, but change is always difficult.

ETSI has AR in its standardization sights

ETSI has waded into the murky waters of AR, creating a new Industry Specification Group called Augmented Reality Framework (ISG ARF).

As with most other ETSI working groups, the aim here will be synchronize efforts and identify key use cases and scenarios for developing an AR framework. While working groups at standards bodies are not the most exciting aspect of the industry, it is a crucial one. The group will work to create AR specifications in order to ensure interoperable implementations that will benefit both technology providers and end-users.

“There are huge differences in AR applications but mapping digital information with the real world implies the use of a set of common components offering functionalities such as tracking, registration, pose estimation, localization, 3D reconstruction or data injection,” said b<>com’s Muriel Deschanel, who will act as chair of the group.

“The development of such a framework will allow components from different providers to interoperate through the defined interfaces. This will in turn avoid the creation of vertical siloes and market fragmentation and enable players in the eco-system to offer parts of an overall AR solution.”

Although the first meeting of the group has not taken place yet, Industry 4.0, smart cities and smart homes are three areas which have been prioritized, while an eye will also be cast over applications for mobility, retail, healthcare, education and public safety.

These are all possible ideas, but for any new technology to become a reality, there needs to be a solid business case for the guys at the top of the value chain. And to do that, a transparent and reliable interworking between different AR components is key; in short, interoperability is good. ETSI is the enemy of vendor lock-in situations, and this is just the first step to bringing the technology under its protective wing.