October 16, 2018

Hi from London.

1 big thing: Facebook's big bet on telecom gear

Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

Facing both saturation and user fatigue in its core base, Facebook has based a big part of its growth strategy on getting the next billion users online.

Facebook's approach historically has involved partnering with telecom providers to offer users access to certain mobile data for free.

But, amid mixed results and some criticism, Facebook has shifted to a new focus: Helping telecom providers build networks at lower cost. Facebook believes this will lead to lower prices for consumers and have the same effect of bringing new people online.

The nearly three-year-old effort, known as the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), is spearheaded by Facebook but has the backing of a number of global telecom providers —Telefónica, Deutsche Telekom, SK Telecom, among others — along with big name hardware makers, including Intel, Cisco and Broadcom.

What's new: At its TIP summit in London, Facebook announced Terragraph trials have started with its partners in Hungary, Malaysia and Indonesia.

  • Terragraph uses the same components as a high-speed, high-frequency wireless protocol known as WiGig to deliver gigabit speeds to dense underserved urban areas at a fraction of the cost of fiber.
  • 3 of the operators that are part of the effort, Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica and Vodafone, are shifting into early testing — they are launching a "request for information" from would-be partners to see how they can use TIP technologies in their network infrastructure.
  • Facebook will also start new field trials in Brazil with Vivo.

The big picture: Bringing together things that work from both a technological and business perspective is the big challenge, Facebook VP Jay Parikh told me in an on-stage interview.

  • "You can solve the technology-side problems, but not make it in a way that closes the business side models for the operators," he said.
  • Parikh also reassured the carriers in the crowd that Facebook isn't looking to get into their business. "There’s no interest in us being an operator," he said. "We really want to help the operator community solve these problems."

The context: Facebook did something like this in the server space with its Open Compute Project. It hopes to similarly drive costs down in telecom, offering alternative approaches to traditional cellular gear from Ericsson, Nokia and in particular from the current low-cost leader, Huawei.

Strange bedfellows: Also on Tuesday, in the same London conference center, Huawei is launching its latest smartphones. The relationship between Huawei and TIP has been contentious to say the least, given that the Chinese manufacturer basically owns the low end of the carrier equipment market.

2. In Memoriam: Paul Allen 1953–2018

A young Paul Allen and Bill Gates at Seattle's Lakeside School. Photo: Vulcan

Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder who went on to become a major tech investor, philanthropist and civic leader, died Monday after a recurrence of cancer.

Though Allen was personally low key, he made a major mark on the world, especially in his hometown of Seattle, where he helped cement the city's role.

He established a number of key institutions including the MoPop museum of pop culture and the Living Computers Museum, a gem of a place where you can try out many of the early devices that helped create the tech industry.

He also ran tech investor Vulcan, established the Allen Institute for Brain Science, owned the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers, and did way more than Axios' format could allow me to list. Oh yeah, and he was one heck of a guitarist.

What they're saying:

  • His Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates: "I am heartbroken by the passing of one of my oldest and dearest friends. Paul was a true partner and dear friend. Personal computing would not have existed without him.” (per Bloomberg)
  • The Information's Nick Wingfield: "Paul Allen led the kind of life I think a lot of people would if they acquired unimaginable wealth. A combo of good deeds, bad investments, good investments, ridiculous toys and having somewhat obscene amounts of fun."
  • Amazon's Jeff Bezos: "Very sad to hear of Paul Allen’s passing. His passion for invention and pushing forward inspired so many. He was relentless to the end. My heart goes out to Paul’s family and friends."
  • Singer David Crosby: "damn...lost a friend we needed ...Paul Allen ...smart , decent man , ..good guitar player...funder of science ...saver of elephants ... A fine man."

Go deeper: Listen to this rare public interview from Seattle's GeekWire, recorded in 2011.

3. Palm hopes a comeback is in hand

Stef Curry holding the new Palm phone
Steph Curry showing off the new Palm phone. Photo: Palm

Palm is back, just not as you remember it.

What's new: The venerable tech brand, which has been dormant since HP shuttered its phone effort several years back, is relaunching itself with new owners and a curious little device.

  • While the 3.3-inch Android device can be a standalone smartphone, it's largely designed and marketed to be a second phone or companion product that can share a phone number with a traditional phone.
  • At $349, it's not significantly cheaper than a decent, mid-range Android phone.

The backstory: HP sold the brand to China's TCL, which also sells phones under the Alcatel and BlackBerry brands. TCL, meanwhile, licensed Palm to a startup led by two former Samsung employees.

  • The tiny Palm phone also has a big endorsement via Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry helping launch the device, in an exclusive deal with Verizon in the U.S.

Our thought bubble: If you think that sounds a bit like the Apple Watch, you aren't alone. And, while it's capable of running full apps, it also doesn't strap to your wrist — meaning you are still carrying a phone, albeit a smaller one, if you choose to leave home with this device instead of a standard smartphone.

What they're saying: Reaction was mixed, with some disappointment from longtime fans who were hoping to see Palm's WebOS resurrected along with the name.

  • Business Insider's Kif Leswing: "got excited this morning for the revival of palm os only to click and read about an android phone for your android phone."
  • Freelance UX writer Owen Williams: "take an apple watch, remove the strap, tell people it's about 'focus' and then make it verizon exclusive for no good reason and you've got the new Palm."

4. Facebook cracks down on voter misinformation

Facebook has banned from its platform a broad variety of false statements about voting in the U.S. ahead of the midterm elections, Axios' David McCabe reports.

Why it matters: The social network has long held that it should not be the arbiter of truth on its platform. Yet as the midterms approach, Facebook is under extraordinary pressure, with executives trying to avoid a repeat of the misinformation campaigns that mired the 2016 election.

Details: Last month, Facebook started banning "misrepresentations about how to vote, such as claims that you can vote by text message, and statements about whether a vote will be counted (e.g. 'If you voted in the primary, your vote in the general election won’t count')," public policy manager Jessica Leinwand wrote in a blog post.

  • Potentially inaccurate claims about polling place conditions will be referred to the third-party fact checkers the company has partnered with as it looks to stem the tide of misinformation in its news feed.
  • The company also has banned "offers to buy or sell votes as well as misrepresentations about the dates, locations, times and qualifications for casting a ballot" for years, per Leinwand.
  • Reuters' Joseph Menn first reported the changes.

5. Google CEO discusses China search engine effort

Google CEO Sundar Pichai at the Google I/O 2018 Conference. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has, for the first time, publicly acknowledged that Google has considered relaunching its search engine in China.

Driving the news: Pichai said the company's mission "is to provide information to everyone" while at Wired's 25th anniversary conference in San Francisco Monday.

Why it matters: Since leaks of Google's Project Dragonfly, an internal project prototyping a potential search engine for China, the company has faced criticism for wanting to enter a market that would require it to play by the government's censorship rules.

"The reason we did the internal project — it's been years, we've been out of the market ... We wanted to learn what it would be like if Google was in China ... We'll be able to serve well over 99% of queries and there are many many areas in where we would provide information better than what's available."
Sundar Pichai

Go deeper: Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva has more here.

6. Take Note

On Tap

  • Adobe Max continues in Los Angeles.
  • TIP Summit begins in London (see above).
  • Arm's TechCon kicks off in San Jose.
  • Netflix and IBM report earnings after the markets close.

Trading Places

  • Palo Alto Networks named former Google executive Amit Singh as president. He'll report to CEO Nikesh Arora, also a former Google exec. Singh helped establish Google Cloud and, most recently, was working on AR and VR efforts at Google. Singh also spent 20 years at Oracle. Palo Alto Networks' current president, Mark Anderson, will step down at the end of the month and serve as an adviser until May.


  • An interesting look at Anthony Levandowski, the man at the center of Waymo's suit against Uber, plus what led the ride-sharing company to settle. (The New Yorker)
  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says his companies will continue to work with the U.S. government. (Wired)
  • Twilio is buying email marketing firm SendGrid for $2 billion. (CNBC)
  • Amazon is introducing a new version of its Kindle Paperwhite that adds a thinner design, more storage, waterproofing and support for Audible audiobooks. The new Kindle Paperwhite also comes with six months of Kindle Unlimited service and starts at $129. (Amazon)
  • Following criticism, Apple has improved the bagel emoji in iOS 12. (The Verge)
  • Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley submitted proposals to Uber last month that would value a potential IPO for the ride-sharing giant as high as $120 billion, nearly double the company's valuation from a fundraising round 2 months ago, WSJ first reported. (Axios)

7. After you Login

Tim Hortons brought Kenya's only hockey team to Canada for a game

Kenya has only one ice hockey team, making it tough to schedule games. Enter Canadian coffee and donut chain Tim Hortons, which flew them to Canada for some competition, and brought along an extra player or two. You can — and should — watch the video here.