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.

UK Transport Committee questions safety of hands-free

A UK Department of Transport Committee has released a report demanding the use of mobile phones, including hands-free features, be banned while driving.

Quoting research which suggests traffic collisions where mobile phones contributed resulted in 773 casualties, including 43 deaths, in 2017, the Committee is calling for tighter rules and regulations for mobile devices while driving. Hands-free features have also been targeted, with the Committee claiming the safety benefits are misleading.

“Despite the real risk of catastrophic consequences for themselves, their passengers and other road users, far too many drivers continue to break the law by using hand-held mobile phones,” said Chair of the Transport Select Committee, Lilian Greenwood.

“There is also a misleading impression that hands-free use is safe. The reality is that any use of a phone distracts from a driver’s ability to pay full attention and the Government should consider extending the ban to reflect this.”

Although it is quite clearly more dangerous to use a mobile device while driving, a bit of common sense needs to be applied here. If a driver is using the full hands-free capabilities of the phone, in the sense said driver only interacts with the device using the voice interface, exceptions should be written into any rule changes.

Looking at the hands-free features of the phone, is this anymore distracting that listening to the radio or having a conversation with the person in the passenger seat? Perhaps an enforceable screen-lock should be introduced to ensure the driver is not tempted to make use of other features while in the car, but banning voice interactions with the device should surely mean the driver should be banned from having a conversation with passengers?

This is perhaps what the misleading nature of hands-free is; users are not making use of the entire suite of features. If the user has to tap the screen to accept a call or scroll through contacts to make a phone call, if is clearly distracting. However, there is no reason the user would have to take their eyes off the road if all hands-free features are being used.

Interestingly enough, your correspondent did a quite test to see how easy it was to do to operate hands-free.

Davies: OK Google, send a text to Dad

Google Assistant: For that, you’ll need to unlock your phone

Davies: OK Google, search for directions to Cardiff Castle

Google Assistant: The best way to Cardiff Castle is…

This is where the issue might lie. If unlocking the phone is a requirement to make use of hands-free features, it pretty much undermines the benefits. It’s not every feature which requires the device to be unlocked, however these are communication devices. This is quite an oversight, and while there will be changes to the settings which can be made, it is not the promise which has been relayed to the consumer through advertising.

The Committee is absolutely correct that rules have to be tightened up. Two weeks ago, a White Van Man managed to argue against a traffic violation as he was reportedly using the video function on the phone while driving. To break the rules today, data has to be sent or received from the phone while driving. This is a grey area which of course should be corrected.

However, an outright ban on smartphone usage, which is being called for here, is an incorrect approach to future-proofing rules and regulations for the digital economy.

Speaking to BBC Radio Two, Greenwood has suggested the best approach would be to put a mobile phone in the boot prior to beginning driving. However, this would be incredibly difficult for those who rely on a smartphone for work. Take delivery drivers, for example, who need to find out about the next job, or taxi drivers who need accurate navigation applications. What about paramedics or police who have to be engaged with a radio constantly?

A spokesperson from the RAC has countered Greenwood’s point, suggesting police should focus on enforcing current laws instead of creating new ones. Research suggests enforcement of laws focused on using mobile devices has dropped by two-thirds since 2017. The RAC spokesperson suggests these new laws are going too far.

In reality both are correct. Greenwood is right in suggesting current laws are not stringent enough, they were largely written in 2003 when a mobile device was a completely different product, though banning devices completely is unreasonable. There are considerable benefits to using a smartphone while driving, assuming the user is making proper use of hands-free features and engaged with the road.

What you have to consider here, and we suspect Greenwood has not, is the ‘law of unintended consequences’. Mobile nurses won’t be able to do their jobs properly and surely if talking to someone on the phone using hands-free is dangerous, singing along to the radio or talking to a passenger is exactly the same? The law has to be consistent. It is still a distraction, but no-one is considering banning having children in the backseat.

If people use the hands-free features correctly, there is no difference from the distractions people face today. Perhaps the focus should be on tackling misleading claims, introducing screen locks while driving, forcing drivers to make use of built-in Bluetooth features and improving the application of the voice interface.

Regulation for the sake of regulation is always a dangerous game to play, but it is often the outcome when technology-illiterate individuals, with little understanding or consideration of the future, are in-charge of making the rules.

Google Maps to start predicting crowdedness on public transport

Google Maps is already one of the most popular ways to plan the comings and goings of daily life, but a new update makes it just a little bit better.

Launched at the end of last week, Google Maps will now tell users how busy public transport is likely to be and whether users should anticipate delays on a journey. It’s a simple upgrade, but this extra little bit of information is an example of why Google Maps is such a popular application around the world.

“On days when everything runs smoothly, taking public transit is one of the best ways to get around town,” Google stated in a blog post. “Not only is it cost-effective and efficient, but it also lets you stay hands-free, so you can sit back, relax and maybe even read a few chapters of your favourite book.

“But unexpected delays or overcrowded vehicles can quickly turn your ride from enjoyable to stressful. Starting today, Google Maps is rolling out two new features to help you better plan for your transit ride and stay more comfortable along the way.”

There are two new snippets of information which are being introduced here. Firstly, users will be told whether there are any delays on the bus to be aware of. Many estimates on time of arrival are based on the average time in which it takes the bus to get from point A to point B, not taking into account the conditions at that time. To counter this problem, Google will introduce live traffic updates.

Secondly, the Maps application will begin to tell users whether they are likely to snag a seat on an up-coming bus, train or underground journey. This section is more guesswork than anything else, using data collected on journeys through the last two years to figure out the current situation. That said, these guesses are usually correct and might be useful for anyone who gets a bit fidgety during the busy periods of travel.

These two features will be rolled out in 200 cities across the world, including numerous locations in the UK such as Cardiff, London, Nottingham and Reading.

Google Maps is turning into a wonderful money maker for the team, and this is perhaps the very reason why. Numerous features are being introduced without necessarily tying them to the bottom line. Google is not necessarily going to make money from these updates, but more people might use the product. It’s the built it and they will come attitude, focusing on nailing experience before turning to profits.

Three UK shows off its new Nokia cloud core

Mobile operator Three UK has upgraded its network with a fully cloud-based 5G-ready core and has started internal trials of the service. It plans to launch 5G later this year.

Three announced that it is testing the world’s first fully cloud-based core network, delivered by Nokia. The software-based core network is 5G ready and is already carrying the ongoing trial for Three’s own staff. The trial is on the 3.4-3.8GHz spectrum Three bought with over £164 million in the auction concluded in April 2018.

The readiness is also achieved on the edge. Three announced that by December 2018, all its mast sites were already connected to the new cloud-based core networks, meaning when 5G is switched on all Three customers would be able to access 5G services, provided they have the 5G-enabled user devices (fixed wireless access modems, or smartphones and tablets).

Another infrastructure update Three announced is the expansion of its datacentre network. The operator used to have three datacentres in London and the Midlands. After the latest upgrade, it now has “21 data centres spread from as far North as Edinburgh to Portsmouth in the South” which are all live and “have been connected up with fibre”, said the statement. In practical terms, the more distributed datacentre network would reduce latency experienced by the users faraway from southern England, giving customers more or less equal user experience.

Indeed, “enhancing its market-leading customer experience and becoming the best loved brand in the UK by its people and customers” is the explicit target of Three’s latest network upgrading. The company reiterated its target to launch commercial 5G service later this year, after committing to invest over £2bn into 5G. “We have been planning our approach to 5G for many years and we are well positioned to lead on this next generation of technology.  These investments are the latest in a series of important building blocks to deliver the best end to end data experience for our customers,” Dave Dyson, Three UK’s CEO, said late last year.

According to the latest telecoms complaints numbers released by Ofcom in January, Three received 4 complaints per 100,000 customers, narrowly behind its mobile competitors EE and O2 (3 complaints each) but way ahead of Vodafone (8).

ETSI publishes new spec and reports on 5G tech

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute, ETSI, has released new specifications on packet formatting and forwarding, as well as two reports on transport and network slicing respectively.

The new specification, called Flexilink, focusing on packet formats and forwarding mechanisms to allow core and access networks to support the new services proposed for 5G. The objective of the new specification is to achieve efficient deterministic packet forwarding in user plane for next generation protocols (NGP). In the conventional IP networks, built on the Internet Protocols defined in the 1980s, every packet carries all the information needed to route it to its destination. This is undergoing fundamental changes with new technologies like Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Control and User Plane Separation (CUPS), where most packets are part of a “flow” such as a TCP session or a video stream. As a result, there is increasingly a separation between the processes of deciding the route packets will follow and of forwarding the packets.

“Current IP protocols for core and access networks need to evolve and offer a much better service to mobile traffic than the current TCP/IP-based technology,” said John Grant, chairman of the ETSI Next Generation Protocol Industry Specification Group (ISG). “Our specifications offer solutions that are compatible with both IPv4 and IPv6, providing an upgrade path to the more efficient and responsive system that is needed to support 5G.”

The new specification defines two separate services, a “basic” service suitable for traditional statistically multiplexed packet data, and a “guaranteed” service providing the lowest possible latency for continuous media, such as audio, video, tactile internet, or vehicle position. It is worth noting that Flexilink only specifies user plane packet formats and routing mechanisms. Specifications for the control plane to manage flows have already been defined in an earlier NGP document “Packet Routing Technologies” published in 2017.

The report “Recommendation for New Transport Technologies” analyses the current transport technologies such as TCP and their limitations, whilst also providing high-level guidance on architectural features required in a transport technology to support the new applications proposed for 5G. The report also includes a framework where there is a clear separation between control and data planes. A proof-of-concept implementation was conducted to experiment the recommended technologies, and to demonstrate that each TCP session can obtain bandwidth guaranteed service or minimum latency guaranteed service. The report states:

“With traditional transport technology, for all TCP traffic passes through DIP router, each TCP session can only obtain a fraction of bandwidth. It is related to the total number of TCP sessions and the egress bandwidth (100 M).

“With new transport technology, new TCP session (DIP flows) could obtain its expected bandwidth or the minimum latency. And most [sic.] important thing is that the new service is not impacted by the state that router is congested, and this can prove that new service by new transport technology is guaranteed.”

Importantly, the PoC experiment showed that the current hardware technology is able to support the proposed new transport technology and provide satisfactory scalability and performance.

The report “E2E Network Slicing Reference Framework and Information Model” looks into the design principles behind network slicing. The topic of network slices encompasses the combination of virtualisation, cloud centric, and SDN technologies. But there is gap in normalized resource information flow over a plurality of provider administration planes (or domains). The report aims to “provide a simple manageable and operable network through a common interface while hiding infrastructure complexities. The present document defines how several of those technologies may be used in coordination to offer description and monitoring of services in a network slice.” It describes the high level functions and mechanisms for implementing network slicing, as well as addresses security considerations.

Uber introduces taxis for patients in the US

Uber has unveiled its latest initiative which will be known as Uber Health in a bid to bring mobility to the health sector.

The theory is relatively simple. The team claims 3.6 million Americans miss doctor appointments each year due to unreliable transportation, while no-show rates in some corners of the US could be up to 30%. Healthcare organizations will be able to order rides for patients going to and from the care they need.

“We’re unveiling a new service focused on an issue vital to all of us: health,” said Chris Weber, GM of Uber Health on the company’s blog.

“Every year, 3.6 million Americans miss doctor appointments due to a lack of reliable transportation. No-show rates are as high as 30% nationwide. And while transportation barriers are common across the general population, these barriers are greatest for vulnerable populations, including patients with the highest burden of chronic disease.”

Coordinators working for the healthcare organizations will be able to schedule individual appointments for patients, caregivers and staff, or repeat rides for those who need it. All the tasks can be managed from a centralized platform, while there is also the option for patients to communicate via text. This is an important note, as it is not guaranteed older patients will have a smartphone.

While this is certainly an interesting idea, it might have limited success. Firstly, it would be limited to markets where the healthcare is driven by insurance. Any healthcare organization will order the rides and will most likely include it in the customer’s bill at the end of the procedure or treatment. It is tough to imagine organizations like the NHS, which is already pretty cash-strapped, forking out for Uber rides for its patients, unless there were exceptional circumstances.

Secondly, if one of the basic ideas for the service is that public transport is rubbish, this might be a bit of an oversight. How many of those in the US who can afford healthcare insurance are reliant on public transport? They will have their own vehicles, or able to order their own. This might be a service reserved for the caregivers or as a value add service, as opposed to becoming a standard and integral part of the healthcare experience.

It is an interesting idea which might make Uber a bit of money, but we can’t see this having more than a very minor impact on the healthcare space.