Dec 5, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

I would have written a clever intro, but BBC America was showing "WarGames" last night, so of course I had to watch that instead.

"Shall we play a game of chess?"

Today's Login is 1,449 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: 5G is coming in 2020, whether you want it or not

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

While 5G started to arrive this year, you really had to seek out the next-generation experience: First, you had to find a carrier that covered part of your city, and then you had to buy one of the handful of phones that supported the new network technology.

But next year, the script will flip, as 5G support will be baked into a wide range of devices and networks expand to cover more of the country.

Why it matters: Every new generation of cellular technology has an awkward initial phase, but 5G is actually poised to arrive more smoothly than its predecessors.

Driving the news:

  • Qualcomm announced Tuesday that its next high-end and mid-range chips will have standard 5G support. That guarantees that many of next year's devices — and nearly all flagship phones — will support 5G.
  • T-Mobile announced the launch of its nationwide 5G network Monday, albeit using lower frequency spectrum that allows for broad coverage at the expense of the high speeds possible with millimeter-wave technology. (T-Mobile, like other carriers, is also slowly launching millimeter-wave 5G in parts of large cities.)
  • Even those whose 5G networks rely entirely on short-range millimeter wave will be offering service in more cities next year. Verizon's 5G, for example, is in parts of 18 cities now, with plans to have 30 by year's end and a steady stream through 2020.

"2020 is a pivotal year," AT&T senior VP Kevin Petersen said in an interview, noting the company expects to launch around 15 devices stretching from high-end phones to mid-range devices.

Wild card: Apple is the big question mark. It's generally assumed that it settled a long-running legal fight with Qualcomm earlier this year in part to ensure next year's iPhone lineup can offer 5G, but nothing is certain. Comments from Qualcomm's president, though, seem to suggest Apple is on track to have 5G in 2020

The big picture: The onus will still be on the industry to persuade consumers that they need 5G. The early case will probably focus on faster speeds, especially for video streaming and downloading movies.

  • It's worth noting that people are keeping their phones longer — providing incentive for consumers in the market for a phone next year to buy a 5G device even if their preferred carrier doesn't yet offer service.
  • 5G is also not just about phones. Other uses will also start rolling out next year, including laptops and VR devices with 5G, as well as 5G-based private networks for corporations.
  • "If we fast forward three years and the big application for 5G is faster internet on smartphones we will have missed the boat," Verizon chief product development officer Nicki Palmer told Axios.

Disclosure: Reporting for this and the following item took place at Qualcomm's Snapdragon Summit in Maui, where I moderated a session on Wednesday. Qualcomm paid for my travel-related expenses.

2. The 5G food fight in Maui

T-Mobile offered reporters a cake illustrating its post-merger 5G spectrum approach, with Sprint's midband in the yellow layer. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

While all the carriers are in agreement that next year will be the year of 5G, they each have very different ideas of how best to create their networks.

Why it matters: They may all bear the name "5G," but each carrier's network will offer considerably different speeds and availability, due in large part to the different types of airwaves each of the companies has licensed.

Verizon is focused on high-speed millimeter wave spectrum, offering it for both phones and for homes, using fixed wireless service as an alternative to traditional home broadband.

  • At the Qualcomm event in Maui, Verizon set up a 5G network around the Grand Wailea hotel so reporters and analysts could see the speed of its network.

T-Mobile is also launching millimeter wave service in a few cities this year, but is supplementing that with the nationwide 600 MHz network that went live this week.

  • That means its service is available over a much broader area, albeit at lower speeds.
  • To drive the point home, T-Mobile whisked reporters and analysts over to Wailea's world-famous golf course to demonstrate that, just a few miles away, its network was up and running, while Verizon 5G was nowhere to be found.
  • The speeds weren't all that impressive (though more impressive than my nonexistent golf game), but it was a real, live 5G network. In general, phones using it should outperform comparable 4G devices.

Sprint and AT&T executives were on hand in Maui as well, though without a 5G network to show off.

Sprint, which launched service in nine cities earlier this year, is using its 2.5 GHz spectrum, which allows it further propagation than millimeter wave, meaning it covers the entire downtown areas and beyond in the cities where it has 5G coverage.

  • "You are going to get a signal for 5G and you are going to hold it," said Sprint VP Ryan Sullivan. "Not everybody can say that."
  • However, Sprint is in somewhat of a tough spot as it awaits the fate of its deal to be acquired by T-Mobile and has yet to announce plans for cities beyond the launch markets. Even still, it expects most of the high-end devices it sells to be 5G-capable next year.

AT&T, meanwhile, is using an approach more similar to T-Mobile, using millimeter wave in a small but growing list of cities and augmenting that with a nationwide 850 MHz network it hopes to have complete by next year.

Meanwhile: The FCC is launching a $9 billion fund aimed at helping ensure 5G reaches rural areas, scrapping an earlier program focused on 4G LTE service. Speaking of LTE, the FCC also noted that it has found several major carriers exaggerated their 4G coverage.

3. Advocates call for FTC probe of "kidtech"

A collection of 31 advocacy groups is pressing the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday to dig into how digital media companies advertise to children and collect their data, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

The big picture: The request for the FTC to use its subpoena authority to probe so-called kidtech companies comes as the agency considers updates to how it implements a children's online privacy law.

Driving the news: The coalition, which includes the Center for Digital Democracy and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, argues the FTC must examine data collection and digital marketing practices before it changes how it enforces the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

  • Possible targets for the FTC study include Google, Disney, Viacom, Adobe, TikTok, Twitch and AT&T's Warner Media.
  • "As kids are spending more time than ever on digital devices, we need the full power of the law to protect them from predatory data collection — but we can't protect children from Big Tech business models if we don't know how those models truly work," Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, said in a statement.

Context: The FTC made changes to its COPPA rule in 2013 to take into account how children were using the internet, and expanded the definition of children's personal information to include cookies that track activity online.

  • The commission usually reviews its rules every 10 years, but this summer it announced it was launching an early review of COPPA because of rapid changes in technology.
  • Child advocates have expressed concern the early review might lead to weakened rules.
4. Robocall limit passes House near-unanimously

Photo: Maciej Luczniewski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A bill to crack down on robocalls passed in the House by a 417-3 vote on Wednesday, in a rare display of bipartisanship, as Axios' Ursula Perano reports.

The big picture: The Pallone-Thune TRACED Act would combat robocalls by requiring phone providers to verify the source of calls and allowing users to block those sources for no additional cost. It would also strengthen the Federal Communications Commission's ability to order the Justice Department to organize a working group to ensure robocall violations are prosecuted, Politico notes.

  • The measure tackles so-called one-ring scams, wherein companies call an individual, but hang up after one ring in the hopes that consumers will be impelled to call back.
  • Those callbacks often dump international calling fees on unsuspecting users.

Where it stands: Americans received more than 5 billion robocalls in November, and a record 5.7 billion in October, according to YouMail.

My thought bubble: Who in their right mind is pro-robocall? (The no votes were libertarian-minded members of Congress.)

What to watch: The bill will now head to the Senate, with hopes to deliver the proposal to President Trump by Christmas.

Go deeper: Where all the robocalls are coming from

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Expedia replaced CEO Mark Okerstrom and CFO Alan Pickerill after a strategic dispute with Chairman Barry Diller, CNBC reports.
  • Slack added former Flex CEO Michael McNamara to its board of directors.
  • Tim Ritchie is leaving as CEO of The Tech museum in San Jose to lead Boston's science museum.

ICYMI

  • The FTC, already looking into Amazon's e-commerce practices, has begun asking questions about the company's Web services business. (Bloomberg)
  • Huawei has filed a federal suit challenging the FCC ruling prohibiting carriers from using government funds to buy its equipment. (Huawei)
  • 20 women have joined a California lawsuit accusing Lyft of failing to take action on a "sexual predator crisis." (Axios)
  • More than two decades after its launch, there is now an official Cragislist app. In beta. (Gizmodo)
  • The techlash zeroes in on Amazon. (Axios)
  • As Congress negotiates compromises over the new USMCA trade pact with Mexico and Canada, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing to remove provisions that would extend liability protections for big tech platforms to those countries. (Axios)
6. After you Login

Who doesn't do a little traveling over the holidays?

Ina Fried