What’s up with… 5G, FWA, Meta and Apple

  • Ericsson looks to 5G as the aviation’s saviour
  • FWA to come to the rescue in rural US areas
  • Zuckerberg sees “deep philosophical” rivalry with Apple for the metaverse

With the British holiday season in full swing, airports are bursting at the seams, and flight cancellations and delays are now the norm. The queues both on departure and arrival are horrendous. There are too few staff to provide the necessary service at check-in, security, baggage handling, hospitality and so on. There aren’t enough ground staff, cabin staff or flight deck crews. Systems are stretched to the maximum and are falling over. It’s such an appalling mess that a ceiling of 100,000 passengers per day has been imposed at London’s massive Heathrow Airport until 11 September. The airport authorities are also calling on their airline partners to stop selling summer tickets until further notice. Some are complying, others are not. Now, step forward and take a bow, Ericsson of Sweden. According to the manufacturer’s rather rose-tinted Connected Aviation report, most of the problems hitting airports around the world, not just in the UK, could be solved more or less instantly by installing private 5G networks. The report claims that performance gains in the order of between 20% and 40% can quickly be achieved with the help of “secure and reliable connectivity”. The Ericsson report identifies five areas that are affecting the smooth and efficient operation of airports. First up is turnaround delay, which hits on-time-departure-time performance, and is costing the sector some $33bn a year. Next is financial sustainability because operational inefficiency is driving an increase in operational costs. The total cost per passenger of getting them through an airport is now $14.10, while the industry return on invested capital is 6.6% and the net profit is 3.1%. Both are declining year on year. Then there’s the high cost of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO). There are not enough skilled mechanical and electronic engineers to fill jobs now and they command very high salaries. To make matters worse, it is forecast the global industry will need some 630,000 MRO technicians by 2030, as the worldwide fleet of aircraft grows by 40%. Then there’s the matter of the customer experience which, in more than 90% of cases, is abysmal. Passengers complain that they are treated like cattle and are enduring increasingly long waiting times while being ripped-off by the very high prices of poor airside facilities and services. And down at the bottom of the list, of course, (we are talking aviation here) comes protection of the environment. CO2 emissions are increasing by 2% per annum and the industry is aiming to reduce carbon footprints from utilities (airports) and fuel burn (airlines). Apparently, the universal nostrum to these problems is 5G. The report details four use cases, each of which, Ericsson says, shows how 5G “brings instant pay back by connecting assets, providing instant communication, digital load control and shifting data. With tons more information being processed it is vital to upload and offload remote data much more efficiently. Each flight needs to offload between 500GB and 1TB of data related to sensors, which is critical to providing reliable information for aircraft-predictive mechanisms and enhancements.” The report concludes: “The airport ecosystem can keep up with heightened data demand and increase operational efficiency without compromising safety and security. After years of testing, private 5G networks are ready to be deployed commercially at airports and within the broader aviation industry.” If only it were that simple.

It’s going to be a multi-technology broadband market in the US. According to projections from Counterpoint Research, fixed wireless access (FWA) technology will play a large part in filling the rural broadband access gap that disadvantaged nearly a quarter of US households when the pandemic struck in 2020. As a result, the percentage of households without access will have fallen to just 1% by 2027 as operators scramble to deploy FWA and mop up the stragglers. “T-Mobile will lead the 5G FWA market by the end of 2022, with an estimated 67% share. It will be followed by Verizon with a 29% share,” said Counterpoint principal analyst Tina Lu. “There will be other broadband migrations to make up the numbers. More than half of the households that currently use VDSL and cable technology will have migrated to fibre or FWA by 2025 and the US will have almost 26 million 4G, 5G and non-cellular FWA subscriptions, less than half that of fibre. 4G/LTE technology will take the bulk of FWA subscriptions to 2024, but by 2025, most will be 5G,” added Lu.

Mark Zuckerberg apparently believes that his company, Meta (formerly Facebook, lest we forget), is in “very deep philosophical competition” with Apple over the construction of the “metaverse”. Not ordinary competition you’ll note, but something so very much more. He seems to be suggesting that the rivalry between the two companies is something intellectually and spiritually far more challenging than a scrabble to develop augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), and then sell the hardware and corner a market. But it isn’t really. Speaking last month at an all-hands-must-attend virtual meeting, a copy of which found its way to The Verge, the influential technology news website operated by Vox Media, Zuckerberg said that where his nascent metaverse is concerned, it will be a more open and less expensive alternative to whatever Apple comes top with. Well, that’s a philosophy of a sort, I suppose, not sure how deep it is though. “This is a competition of philosophies and ideas,” he added, “where they [Apple] believe that by doing everything themselves and tightly integrating that they build a better consumer experience… and we believe that there is a lot to be done in specialisation across different companies, and will allow a much larger ecosystem to exist.” So, this is the nub of the philosophy – Zuckerberg wants the metaverse to be interoperable, hence his pushing of the Metaverse Open Standards Group to Microsoft and other big companies to devise and use open protocols that will allow users to slide their avatars easily through the immersive 3D virtual worlds of the future. At the moment, the early versions of such environments seem to consist of some Johnny (or Jilly) No-Mates marooned on a badly rendered tropical isle, dressed like a banana or the back end of a pantomime horse, looking vaguely around for someone to talk to. Unsurprisingly, Apple will not become a member of the group. Mark Zuckerberg has always been jealous of Apple’s iOS and the company’s strength in mobile. It looks like he’s going to try to make Meta the Android-ish equivalent to iOS. “We’re trying to make more stuff interoperable with Android,” he said. “We’re trying to develop the metaverse in a way where you can bring your virtual goods from one world to another.” (And still dress like a mongoose or an aardvark if that’s what floats your boat). Meanwhile, the race is on to have greatly improved VR with AR headsets available to consumers before the Christmas present-giving season. Apple is known to have one more or less ready now, while Meta has a plan to do the same in the form of Project Cambria. The company is also hoping to launch a pair of working AR glasses to the same year-end timetable. Zuckerberg has told his staff to prepare for an intense period. Perhaps the Aristotle of the early 21st century could do worse than to look back to the work of an early- and mid-20th century philosopher: In his work Culture and Value, Lugwig Wittgenstein wrote: “Our civilisation is characterised by the word 'progress'. Progress is its form rather than making progress being one of its features. Typically it constructs. It is occupied with building an ever more complicated structure. And even clarity is sought only as a means to this end, not as an end in itself.”

In the US, the White House has published an update to President Joe Biden’s enormous Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (aka the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act), which the administration calls “a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s infrastructure and competitiveness”. And that’s exactly what it is. The deal which, despite some big difficulties along the way to being passed, is now turning out to be a triumph for the president, has been negotiated with both Democrat and Republican members of Congress and will finance the rebuilding of crumbling roads, bridges and railways across the US, expand access to clean drinking water, help ameliorate the effects of the climate crisis and ensure that every American has high-speed internet access. More than 30 million people across the US live in areas (mainly but not exclusively rural) where there is still no high-speed internet connectivity or broadband infrastructure. What’s more, a recent study of data from 35 countries published by the international, intergovernmental Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) confirmed that the US has the second-highest broadband tariffs. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will provide $65bn to help ensure that “every American has access to reliable high-speed internet through a historic investment in broadband infrastructure deployment”. A further aim of the legislation is to help lower prices for internet services and to further bridge the lessening but still far too wide digital divide. The new update on the progress of the initiative includes a new and sensible metric that records those residents in each of the 50 states that “do not have an internet subscription”. Thus, for example, the section of the report on Alabama shows that 32% of citizens do not have the internet. In Virginia, that figure is 21% and in California it is 15%, and so on, state by state. Hitherto, the sole metric covered was the number of Americans that have high-speed internet service from at least one ISP. High-speed is defined as 25Mbit/s upstream and 3Mbit/s downstream and is in dire need of updating. The current administration has also introduced the Affordable Connectivity Program, via which low-income residents can get a $30-per-month subsidy. Residents of tribal lands get up to $75.

- The staff, TelecomTV

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