Jul 8, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Hello all. I'm headed to D.C. this week for our semi-annual gathering of Axios folks.

Meanwhile, congrats to both the inspiring U.S. National Team as well as to Axios reader Eric Judka who made the right picks to win our Women's World Cup bracket.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,351 words, ~5 minute read

1 big thing: Former FCC chair debunks 5G myths

Former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

There is a lot of misinformation out there about 5G. In a new report to be published later this week, former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler knocks down some popular misconceptions around the next generation of wireless network service.

Why it matters: The advent of 5G has been sold to the public as a global race, but that framing oversimplifies the issue and opens the door to nationalist pandering and special-interest promotions.

  • "5G has morphed from a stepwise logical progression of technology to a meme used for political goals," Wheeler told Axios.

The big picture: As we have been noting for a while, the so-called race to 5G is actually many competitions in one:

  • Which countries get to set the standards.
  • Who ends up building the equipment.
  • Where the first gear is placed.
  • Who has the first nationwide network.
  • Who develops the key apps that depend on 5G and drive its wide adoption, which is perhaps the most important race.

"The 5G discussion, with all its permutations and combinations, has grown to resemble an elementary school soccer game where everyone chases the ball, first in one direction, then another," Wheeler writes in the report, first seen by Axios.

Some of Wheeler's myth-busting arguments:

  • Security is about more than Huawei. Heavy focus on fears of skulduggery by Chinese vendors obscures the larger dangers inherent in 5G's design. "5G is a cybersecurity risk because the network is software-based," Wheeler writes. "Earlier networks’ reliance on centralized hardware-based functions offered a security-enhancing choke point. Distributed software-based systems, per se, are more vulnerable."
  • The race isn't the whole game. As is often the case with a new "G," there's a lot of hype driven by competitors' drive to win "firsts." But for the moment, Wheeler reminds us, 5G is only here in a few places and with only part of the eventual benefits 5G will deliver. Some of its biggest advantages, such as ultra-low latency or battery efficient support for "internet of things" devices, will have to wait for later versions of the 5G standard.
  • Evolution vs. revolution. 5G actually represents both, according to Wheeler. One could build a network from scratch with all of the benefits of 5G, but that's not the approach that will dominate. Instead, most of the networks around the world will build on top of existing 4G networks, making the improvements more gradual but vastly more cost-efficient than starting from scratch.

Between the lines: Spectrum is a key, though rarely mentioned, differentiator among the international competitors.

  • Early deployments by U.S. carriers have largely focused on the "millimeter wave" band, with good reason: It's fast and plentiful. But such signals also travel only very short distances, making them practical mainly for densely populated cities.
  • Full 5G will also demand plenty of midband spectrum, and only Sprint has a big nationwide supply of that, thanks to its acquisition of Clearwire years ago.
  • While other countries have made lots of midband spectrum available, the U.S. has been slow to clear space. Wheeler cites wireless trade group CTIA as saying that on average, other countries have made 4 times as much midband spectrum available, with China offering up to 7 times as much as the U.S.

The bottom line: 5G is important, but it will be a marathon, not a dash, and everyone — consumers, regulators and the industry — would do well to heed its complexities without succumbing to politicization and marketing hype.

2. Meanwhile, Ajit Pai talks up U.S. plan for 5G

FCC chairman Ajit Pai testifies before a Senate subcommittee in 2018. Photo: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Speaking of 5G, current FCC chairman Ajit Pai was in Argentina Sunday talking up the U.S. plan. In a speech, Pai said the government is looking to free up more of that aforementioned midband spectrum.

"That means studying the spectrum chart closely and asking whether spectrum allocations from long ago still make sense as we enter the 5G era," Pai said.

Details:

  • The FCC will vote next week on opening up spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band for 5G. Pai said airwaves originally set aside for educational TV are "dramatically underused, with much of this spectrum lying fallow." Under his plan, rural Native American tribes will be given a chance to get spectrum to serve tribal lands, and the remainder of the band will be made commercially available in an auction.
  • Later in the summer, the agency hopes to approve the first commercial deployments in the 3.5 GHz band, with an auction in that band slated for next year.
  • Pai said the agency is also "working on the complicated task of freeing up spectrum for 5G in the 3.7–4.2 GHz band, commonly called the C-Band." And, he said, the FCC is also working with other federal agencies in hopes of reallocating some spectrum in the 3.1–3.55 GHz band for commercial use. 

Beyond the spectrum issues, Pai also sounded off on other areas, including the need to minimize local red tape for the construction of small cells and the need for more fiber to carry data from cell towers to central equipment.

Why it matters: The millimeter wave spectrum that has been the focus of most carriers' early 5G efforts has the possibility of ultra-high speeds, but the signals carry only short distances, making it cost effective only for dense urban areas. Midband frequencies hold out the prospect of fast speeds and broader coverage.

3. GOP lawmaker says Snapchat is "a child predator’s dream"

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) is taking aim at Snapchat, Axios' David McCabe reports. The senator is pushing Snap to "take action to prevent more children from being exposed to sexual predators and explicit adult content while using Snapchat" in a letter seen by Axios and due to be sent to Snap CEO Evan Spiegel today.

Why it matters: Blackburn's complaint suggests that message services that offer users more privacy and make messages more fleeting — as Snap does now, and Facebook is promising — will not be immune to policymakers' scrutiny and regulatory efforts.

Details:

  • Blackburn's letter says that the messaging service's "disappearing videos are a child predator’s dream," citing cases in which predators allegedly used the application.
  • The letter also raises issues with Snap's map feature, which shows the locations of some users.
  • The lawmaker, who is one of several conservative critics of major tech companies, says in the letter that she is "concerned that Snapchat’s age ratings in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store fail to adequately warn parents and unsuspecting minors of the material they will encounter."

The big picture: Children's online privacy is one area of tech policy that members of both parties frequently agree on.

4. A bad month for internet outages

As noted by TechCrunch, the internet seems to be having a rough few weeks: A Google Cloud outage on June 2 was followed later in June by an outage at Cloudflare. The first week of July capped off with a Facebook outage, a second Cloudflare outage and July 4 issues with Apple's iCloud.

Why it matters: Today's internet service is far more reliable and robust than in the early days of commercial internet service, but there are still all kinds of things that can bring major services down.

  • Very few of them are malicious, however, and almost none of them last more than a handful of hours more than once a year.
  • Problems are caused by everything from simple programming errors in system updates to external issues impacting the internet as a whole, like typos at internet providers in a traffic routing protocol that can cause outages half a world away.

The bottom line: We've become increasingly reliant on the internet, but its reliability still has limits.

5. Take Note

On tap

  • IAC-owned spam call-blocking app RoboKiller is hosting New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. to discuss H.R. 3375, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, which is currently under consideration by the Energy & Commerce Committee. The event is scheduled to be streamed here.
  • The RISE conference takes place today through Thursday in Hong Kong.

Trading places

  • Streaming sports network DAZN has hired Nancy Elder as chief corporate communications officer and a member of the organization’s executive committee, reporting to DAZN Group executive chairman John Skipper. 

ICYMI

  • The FBI and ICE have been using facial recognition systems to scan state driver's license records, highlighting the real and present concerns over how the technology is used. (Washington Post)
  • Samsung quarterly earnings beat expectations, but profits were still less than half that of a year earlier. (Bloomberg)
  • A U.S. committee that approves foreign investments that could raise national security concerns gave the OK for Japan's SoftBank to invest in GM's Cruise self-driving car unit. (Reuters)
  • In a CNN interview, Bill Gates touted Steve Jobs' ability to "cast spells" that kept Apple from dying and allowed the company to become the world's most valuable company. (Bloomberg)
6. After you Login

Over the July 4 break, I went bowling with the family. I had my best game in years — a 189. I was feeling pretty good, but then I saw this video and got depressed about how far ahead the robots are (until I learned the video isn't real).

Ina Fried