Jun 18, 2018

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1 big thing: 5G one step closer to reality
Group photo from last week's 5G meeting in La Jolla, Calif. Photo: AT&T

As mobile providers prepare to sink billions of dollars into the next generation of wireless networking, called 5G, engineers are still scrambling to nail down its technical details but were able to take key steps needed to start rolling out the network by the end of this year.

Why it matters: The industry wants to have networks up and running by the end of this year and early next year, with mainstream 5G phones on sale by the spring.

What's happening: At a meeting last week in La Jolla, Calif., engineers from the world's biggest networking companies gathered to work out remaining issues and plan for the releases that will follow the first one that consumers will start using early next year.

The key issues: The groups were working against a deadline to finalize the first version of 5G that will power mobile networks starting in early 2019, known as Release 15.

  • In addition, a lot of focus was on Release 16, the next version of 5G that will cover a broader range of devices. Release 16 will build on the initial version and deal with specific-use cases like Internet of Things and broader applications like telemedicine and virtual reality that call for a system with very minimal delay.

Who was there: It was a global group, including representatives from networking vendors like Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei, chipmakers including Qualcomm and Intel, and device makers such as Apple, LG and Oppo. It also included carriers like AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile plus global counterparts such as Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, China Unicom and China Mobile.

Highs and lows: The emotional peak came Wednesday night as the group members voted to freeze changes to Release 15. Yet things got testy by Thursday morning as debate bogged down over how a particular roaming feature is being implemented in Release 16.

  • Some felt this was a business issue that should be handled outside of the standards group, while others said there were technical issues that needed to be addressed.

The bottom line: The group left La Jolla with the features for the standards of its first version frozen and a solid start on the standards for the follow-on release, albeit with technical work yet to be done on all fronts.

Go deeper: Read my full story, which includes comments from some of the big players.

2. Apple to improve 911 location sharing in iOS 12

Photo: Apple

With the next release of iOS, Apple plans to automatically share detailed location information with 911 providers.

What's new: Apple isn't sharing information that 911 providers don't already get — it's just making the information faster and more accurate. Today's system relies on an approximated location using cell towers and other network information sent via a complicated process.

  • The location sharing only takes place on 911 calls, and only emergency call operators have access to the information, which is encrypted.

How Apple is doing this: Apple is contracting with RapidSOS, whose IP-based system will power the new feature.

Quick take: Roughly 80% of 911 calls in the U.S. are made from a mobile phone, but the system was built for an era of voice calls over landlines. Sharing accurate location info is one step in modernizing an outdated system.

3. Exclusive: BetterDoctor being acquired

Screenshot via BetterDoctor

BetterDoctor, an online site that helps health care networks keep track of data on providers, is being acquired by Quest Analytics (no, not the people you go to for your blood work — that's Quest Diagnostics).

Why it matters: While much is made over the role of AI and machine learning in cutting costs for health care, those techniques are only effective if the underlying data is good. The deal brings together two companies that work behind the scenes to help health care systems keep accurate information on doctors in their networks.

The details: Terms of the all-stock deal were not disclosed, though the two companies are of similar size (about 50 employees each). BetterDoctor CEO Ari Tulla will run the combined company.

BetterDoctor began life as a referral site for consumers, but pivoted in 2015 after finding that a good chunk of the data was inaccurate. For the last three years it has worked on helping provide better information to doctors.

  • "Almost half of the doctor information on the web and in health care directories is inaccurate," Tulla told Axios. "We got so many complaints it was impossible to run a service like that."
  • In many cases that leads to patients being given a wrong phone number or address. Worse, though, is when customers are told a particular provider is in their network but later learn that was wrong — via a giant surprise bill.
4. Microsoft buys social learning platform

Microsoft just announced it is buying Minnesota-based Flipgrid and making its social learning platform free to teachers.

Why it matters: Schools are not only where students learn their ABCs, but also where they pick up computing habits. Microsoft, Google and Apple all want to make their platforms the ones used by students and teachers.

The details: Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but Flipgrid has about 30 employees. Existing Flipgrid subscribers will get a prorated refund.

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6. After you Login

A number of tech industry dads spent Father's Day calling attention to the issue of parents being separated from their children at the border. Above is one particularly poignant post tweeted by Occipital co-founder Vikas Reddy.