Are we going to have 5G in the US soon?

First of all, what is 5G? 5G is generally seen as the fifth generation cellular network technology that provides broadband access (Wikipedia). The technology, in theory, allows for support for many more devices in the same area and much faster speed than the current 4G technology. It has been touted as one of the core components in our future society and received a lot of hype in the past few years. Here is what Loup Ventures has to say about when 5G is going to be commonly available:

On June 28th, T-Mobile will be the 4th US carrier to “launch” 5G in the US with 6 initial cities. While encouraging, we’re still in the buildup phase, likely two years away from the average consumer using 5G. To put this into perspective, we believe, by the end of 2022, about 75% of the US population will have access to 5G, essentially 2 years behind AT&T’s recent estimate of roughly 66% by the end of 2020. 

Loup Ventures Newsletter 29th June 2019 Issue

But are we though?

Wired has a great article on the different approach the US chose for 5G adoption, compared to other countries. Here is a quote that summarizes well such a difference (a bit long)

“…The traditional sweet spot for wireless service has been in what we call low-band or mid-band spectrum. This is between 600 MHz and 3 GHz. For a long time, these airwaves were considered beachfront property because they send signals far. In other words, they cover wide areas but require little power to do so. This makes them especially attractive for service in rural areas, where technology that can reach more people with less infrastructure makes greater economic sense.

For 5G, however, the United States has focused on making high-band spectrum the core of its early 5G approach. These airwaves, known as “millimeter wave,” are way, way up there—above 24 GHz. They have never been used in cellular networks before, and for good reason—they don’t send signals very far and are easily blocked by walls. That means they are very expensive to build out. On the flip side, these airwaves offer a lot more capacity, which translates into ultrafast speeds.

The United States is alone in this mission to make millimeter wave the core of its domestic 5G networks. The rest of the world is taking a different approach. Other nations vying for wireless leadership are not putting high-band airwaves front and center now. Instead, they are focusing on building 5G networks with mid-band spectrum, because it will support faster, cheaper, and more ubiquitous 5G deployment. Take China, which allocated large swaths of mid-band spectrum for its carriers last year, clearing the way for deployment in a country that is also home to Huawei, the largest telecommunications equipment supplier worldwide. South Korea and Australia wrapped up an auction of key mid-band spectrum last year. At roughly the same time, Spain and Italy held their own auctions for mid-band airwaves. Austria did the same earlier this year. Switzerland, Germany, and Japan also auctioned a range of mid-band spectrum just a few months ago. The United States, however, has made zero mid-band spectrum available at auction for the 5G economy. Moreover, it has zero mid-band auctions scheduled.” –

Wired – Choosing the wrong lane to race to 5G

In short, to access the very high-speed 5G in the US, you need to live close to the towers. The farther you live from them, the worse the connection will be. All would be OK if it were easy and cheap to build those towers everywhere. But it’s not.

Per Wall Streets Journal:

This is the paradox of 5G, the collection of technologies behind next-generation wireless networks: They require a gargantuan quantity of wires. This is because 5G requires many more small towers, all of which must be wired to the internet. The consequences of this unavoidable reality are myriad. The 5G build-out, which could take more than a decade, could disrupt our commutes, festoon nearly every city block with antennas, limit what cities can charge for renting spots on their infrastructure to carriers on which to place their antennas, and result in an unequal distribution of access to high-speed wireless, at least at first.

In a 2017 report, Deloitte Consulting LLP principal Dan Littmann estimated that it will take combined carrier spending of between $130 billion and $150 billion in order for most Americans—including those in rural areas—to have a choice of providers of high-speed broadband and 5G wireless. Marachel Knight, the senior vice president in charge of rolling out 5G at AT&T, says her company estimates it will take a decade to completely build out its 5G network.

The driving force behind this enormous build-out is that 5G networks don’t work like previous wireless cellular networks. Where 2G, 3G and even 4G rely on large towers with powerful antennas that can cover many square miles, the shorter-range, higher-frequency radio waves used by 5G networks—essential to their ability to deliver the 10- to 100-times faster speeds they promise—mean that 5G networks must have small cells placed much closer together.

Typically these small cells must be placed about 800 to 1,000 feet apart, says AT&T’s Ms. Knight. Small-cell antennas are typically the size of a pizza box, but can be much larger, and require both a fiber-optic connection to the internet and access to power. They go wherever there’s space: on buildings, new 5G-ready telephone poles and, often, retrofitted lampposts. In 2018, the U.S. had 349,344 cell sites, according to CTIA, a wireless industry trade organization. The organization estimates that—to achieve full 5G coverage—carriers will have to roll out an additional 769,000 small cells by 2026.

In a nutshell, I don’t think we are going to have 5G for the majority of Americans soon. There may be a portion of the population who fortunately will have access to the technology. The rest will have to wait till the infrastructure is amply built.

When it comes to hyped technology, I think it’s always a good idea to be vigilant, avoid the hype, go into more details and take a more conservative stance. We don’t lack examples of techs that have been hyped for years but are nowhere near to being common: AI, autonomous vehicles, 5G…

Heck, a lot of Americans don’t have access to Internet

I’ll take Heartland B-Cycle over E-Scooters

E-scooters have been taking over for the past couple of years. Brands such as Lime or Bird have received millions of dollars in funding and expanded to countries all over the world. Names like Lyft also ventured into this area. In big cities and even smaller ones such as Omaha, folks, mostly younger ones, can be seen riding scooters pleasurably.

Personally, I; however, prefer riding the rentable bikes from Heartland B-cycle. They are bikes available for rent for $10/month or $80/year at stations throughout an area of Omaha. Riders can use the bikes for one hour before having to return them to a station to avoid additional charges. There are a few reasons that can explain my preference for the rentable bikes.

Cost

My last ride with Lime was 0.7 mile long and it cost me $2.45. With $10/month, I can have unlimited rides with B-Cycle

Health issues

There is virtually no health benefit that can be gained from e-scooter. You hop on the scooter, turn it on and go. With B-Cycle, at least it’s going to be a nice cardio workout.

Maintenance

Already in Omaha have I seen many e-scooters left carelessly everywhere downtown. Folks have no regard in where they should leave the devices after use. On the other hand, you have to return B-cycle to its stations, unless you want to pay a significant fee afterwards.

According to Quartz, an e-scooter’s lifespan is 28 days. The Information reported that two of Lime’s models can last a bit longer, up to 17 weeks. In addition to expensive marketing and promotions, e-scooter companies burn a lot of cash in maintenance their fleet. Each Bird scooter costs $550. Imagine having to replace hundreds of them every 3 months. Bird has raised $415 million to date with the latest round announced just 5 months ago, but it is said to have around $100 million left in the bank and to have reduced its fleet.

The unit economics for e-scooters doesn’t look very appealing and there is no clear path to profitability. I do think more good would be done from having all that money invested in public transportation or alternative such as B-Cycle.

Some may argue that e-scooters are more flexible and can get riders to more places. Nonetheless, within 2-3 miles, a well-planned network of B-Cycle can get us into walking distance to anywhere. For a reasonably long distance, it would be much more expensive to ride e-scooters. And for a long distance, it’d be best to use other alternatives such as buses, cars or services like Uber of Lyft.

For your imagination, take a look at what Germany has for bikers

Technology at La Guardia

Today is my first time at La Guardia airport in New York. I am pleasantly surprised by the fact that there are an iPad and a credit card reader at every table, next to a separate electricity outlet.

The devices have every information that a passenger may possibly need while at the airport. More importantly, it makes orders more accurate, self-serving and efficient. No waiters need to take orders and dispense bills. There is no difficulty in locating the customers who placed orders as I am sure that every iPad comes with a unique ID. Moreover, there will be no argument over the accuracy of orders as everything is recorded digitally.

Because the iPad and credit card reader combo sit next to an outlet, passengers can order some food and spend hours with ample electricity. The wifi is reasonably fast enough that I can stream videos. It’s more difficult than you would think to build a network big and fast enough to accommodate thousands of Internet users with heavy demand at the same time. The bandwidth, reliability and consistency have to be maintained well enough to make waiting a pleasant experience. Plus, the network has to handle numerous transactions at a time by passengers. I am intrigued to know the infrastructure like the one at La Guardia.

I may not be as experienced as other fliers, but I know that what is offered at La Guardia isn’t available at every airport. Technology, when used properly, can benefit human beings greatly. This is one of those cases. I am glad to be alive in this era. At this moment.

How Apple’s Find My feature works

Wired published details on how Find My feature on Apple devices will work. the feature allows Apple users to find lost or stolen devices even when the devices are offline. Below are my understanding of the process and attempt to illustrate how it works with visuals for easier interpretation

Here’s how the new system works, as Apple describes it, step by step:

When you first set up Find My on your Apple devices—and Apple confirmed you do need at least two devices for this feature to work—it generates an unguessable private key that’s shared on all those devices via end-to-end encrypted communication, so that only those machines possess the key.

Each device also generates a public key. As in other public key encryption setups, this public key can be used to encrypt data such that no one can decrypt it without the corresponding private key, in this case the one stored on all your Apple devices. This is the “beacon” that your devices will broadcast out via Bluetooth to nearby devices.

That public key frequently changes, “rotating” periodically to a new number. Thanks to some mathematical magic, that new number doesn’t correlate with previous versions of the public key, but it still retains its ability to encrypt data such that only your devices can decrypt it. Apple refused to say just how often the key rotates. But every time it does, the change makes it that much harder for anyone to use your Bluetooth beacons to track your movements.

Say someone steals your MacBook. Even if the thief carries it around closed and disconnected from the internet, your laptop will emit its rotating public key via Bluetooth. A nearby stranger’s iPhone, with no interaction from its owner, will pick up the signal, check its own location, and encrypt that location data using the public key it picked up from the laptop. The public key doesn’t contain any identifying information, and since it frequently rotates, the stranger’s iPhone can’t link the laptop to its prior locations either.

The stranger’s iPhone then uploads two things to Apple’s server: The encrypted location, and a hash of the laptop’s public key, which will serve as an identifier. Since Apple doesn’t have the private key, it can’t decrypt the location.

When you want to find your stolen laptop, you turn to your second Apple device—let’s say an iPad—which contains both the same private key as the laptop and has generated the same series of rotating public keys. When you tap a button to find your laptop, the iPad uploads the same hash of the public key to Apple as an identifier, so that Apple can search through its millions upon millions of stored encrypted locations, and find the matching hash. One complicating factor is that iPad’s hash of the public key won’t be the same as the one from your stolen laptop, since the public key has likely rotated many times since the stranger’s iPhone picked it up. Apple didn’t quite explain how this works. But Johns Hopkins’ Green points out that the iPad could upload a series of hashes of all its previous public keys, so that Apple could sort through them to pull out the previous location where the laptop was spotted.

Apple returns the encrypted location of the laptop to your iPad, which can use its private key to decrypt it and tell you the laptop’s last known location. Meanwhile, Apple has never seen the decrypted location, and since hashing functions are designed to be irreversible, it can’t even use the hashed public keys to collect any information about where the device has been.

THE CLEVER CRYPTOGRAPHY BEHIND APPLE’S ‘FIND MY’ FEATURE
Exhibit 1 – Two devices have its own public key and a shared private key
Exhibit 2 – A step-by-step illustration of the process, from top to bottom

If you think there are any errors in my understanding of the how this works, please leave me a comment and share your thoughts.

Weekly readings – 8th June 2019

Uber’s Path of Destruction. A critical great read on the challenges that Uber faces due to its business model.

Life hacks from Marcus Aurelius: How Stoicism can help us

Underwater Drones Nearly Triple Data From the Ocean Floor. Fascinating use of drones to explore what is still largely a mystery to us.

An interesting conversation with Naval on various topics such as AI, reading, how to be happy and so on. I do agree with him on AI, yet disagree with him on the way he gave an example of socialism. Nonetheless, it is a conversation worth listening to while driving, on a bus or in a gym

The NBA Finals Have Never Seen a Coach Like Nick Nurse. I find it interesting since I never knew about Nick Nurse, yet he has done a marvelous job guiding Toronto Raptors to one win away from the NBA championship. The team has played really well against the defending champions. His journey in England and learning his crafts in a country where basketball isn’t remotely popular is captivating.

Weekly readings – 31st May 2019

The Future Of Fashion: From Design To Merchandising, How Tech Is Reshaping The Industry. How technology is affecting the fashion and retail industry.

Investing in the Podcast Ecosystem in 2019. A lot of great findings on the podcast ecosystem

Want a great deal on a house? Find one where someone was murdered.

Grab vs. Go-Jek: Inside Asia’s Battle of the ‘Super Apps’. An interesting story about the heavyweights in Southeast Asia in a race to become the dominant Super App

Hollywood Studios Say They’re Quitting Netflix, But the Truth Is More Complicated. Though it’s true that most of Netflix’s popular shows are titles owned by others, Netflix already has the titled tied up to its platform for a foreseeable future.

Sprint’s 5G network is here, and it’s completely different from what Verizon and AT&T are doing. Top speed/spotty coverage vs reasonably fast speed/better coverage. It’s an important point to know about the 5G battle between AT&T, Sprint and Verizon.

Apple’s Billion Users. A very interesting analysis into Apple’s subscription base and its importance to Apple’s future.

Automated farming in China

I came across a video clip showing how farming is automated in China. It’s not widely adopted yet, but I don’t think the day when that happens is too far away from now.

This is how farming is done in Vietnam

Source: Wharton University

Admittedly, even though there must be innovation in agriculture in Vietnam and technology is used to some extent, the photo above illustrates the current inferior technique adopted in my hometown.

Imagine the difference in efficiency and value created between the automated method and the manual laborious one.

If you are one of the workers who don’t own land and who is hired to work others’ land, automation isn’t good news for you. Your job is threatened. Nonetheless, if you are in the agriculture business, automation is a boon improving efficiency and lowering costs. If you are an end user consuming agricultural goods, automation can bring the prices down.

If we look at it from a collective standpoint, technology or automation in particular, in the majority of cases, should bring net benefits to the society. Innovation and advancements come from standards continuously being raised, I believe.