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Hello from Las Vegas where Sara Fischer, Mike Allen and I will be bringing you all the latest from CES. You can keep up to date on all the big news here.

1 big thing: The next smart home battle

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

As in past years, CES, the consumer electronics trade show in Las Vegas this week, will be a launching pad for all manner of "smart" devices. We'll be watching a battle play out to connect everything from refrigerators and cameras to toilets and showers.

Yes, but: Just connecting devices to the internet doesn't make them smart. To be sensible and practical, such devices also have to be secure and easy to use, which means more than just adding some wireless technology. We also need to set standards to protect consumers.

What's happening: HS Kim, CEO of Samsung's consumer electronics business, has been working on the "smart home" notion since he was an engineer at the Korean tech giant 20 years ago.

  • "At the time, smart home wasn’t gaining a lot of traction because products and ecosystems weren't working together," he tells Axios. "But today, devices are talking to each other, and multiple ecosystems are connected. You’re even seeing meaningful collaboration between companies."
  • Already, Samsung has announced plans for its TVs to work with assistants from Amazon and Google and content from Apple. And more rivals are expected to embrace one another.
  • What was once the rare "smart" fridge or speaker will soon be the norm. Samsung has pledged to make all of its devices intelligent and connected by 2020.

Standards need to be set — not just the technical and legal ones that let these devices interact but the social ones that dictate what is and isn’t appropriate, so that consumers have an altered, but intact, sense of privacy. 

  • But regulators are still struggling to manage privacy on the internet even as microphones and cameras are added to more devices.
  • "Just as the internet was not built with security as a guiding principle, and cybersecurity is now trying to address an imperfect architecture, we are on track to face a similar dilemma on smart homes," says Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy and a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

The big picture: Today's consumers have a choice on whether to allow voice assistants like those from Google and Amazon into their home — a choice that may vanish as more devices gain internet connections and incorporate built-in voice assistants as routine add-ons. This means the time is now to set technical, legal and social standards.

2. Gee, we're getting ahead of ourselves

Tech people like to use "G"s to signify the next generation of technology, especially in the wireless world. There was 2G and 3G, today's 4G LTE and we are on the brink of 5G.

Yes, but: Marketing people are always getting ahead of the technology people, jumping the gun to get an edge on rivals. It happened with 4G as T-Mobile and AT&T started putting the 4G label on what was essentially a speedier flavor of 3G.

  • The same thing is happening with 5G, as AT&T is slapping the label "5G E" on existing devices that run on its latest 4G network, which it calls "5G Evolution."

Reality check: True 5G will require new devices to run on the new networks that are only just beginning to show up. The first true 5G smartphones are still a couple months away and will only support 5G in a handful of cities that carriers have picked for their first deployments.

But wait, it gets worse. Today, the research arm of the cable industry, known as CableLabs, is announcing a technology called 10G.

  • No, it has nothing to do with strapping two 5G ph0nes together.
  • Rather it's the industry's term for 10-gigabit networks, the next generation of cable broadband due to start field trials in 2020.

Full disclosure: I'm part of the problem. Later this week I'm moderating a panel on 6G, exploring the use cases and technologies that will eventually prompt the industry to look beyond 5G, which we've barely started implementing.

3. CES off to a quirky start

The LG HomeBrew craft beer machine at CES 2019. Photo: David Becker/Getty Images

There's never a shortage of weird and wacky products at CES. It's just that you usually have to look a little harder to find them.

What's new: This year, such efforts have moved front and center. At Sunday's CES Unveiled event, there seemed to be even more odd and impractical gadgets than ever. Here's a sampling...

4. Rural ISPs join opposition to T-Mobile-Sprint deal

Rural internet service providers and the progressive group Demand Progress Education Fund have joined a coalition trying to quash T-Mobile's proposed purchase of Sprint, Axios' David McCabe reports.

Where it stands: The deal is under review by the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice.

Details:

  • New members of the 4Competition Coalition include: United Wireless Communications in Kansas, Indigo Wireless in Pennsylvania, the American Antitrust Institute, Demand Progress Education Fund, and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association.
  • The coalition launched earlier this year with members from progressive politics as well as competitors to T-Mobile and Sprint, like Dish Network and
    rural carriers.
  • Critics of the deal say that going from 4 to 3 national wireless carriers will hurt consumers. The companies say it will help them better roll out next-generation wireless technology.

What's next: The deal remains under review but it’s unclear whether there’s any momentum among regulators to stop it.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • CES officially starts Tuesday, but the announcements have already begun and today is full of press conferences.
  • FTC's antitrust action against Qualcomm began Friday in federal court in San Jose and continues this week.

Trading Places

ICYMI

  • Marc Benioff talked to CNBC about buying Time magazine, taking a break from tech and more. It's worth a read.
  • BlackBerry announced plans to license the technologies it uses to secure smartphones to those making internet-connected devices. (CNET)
  • Google says its Assistant should be available on more than a billion devices by the end of the month, up from 500 million as of last May. It also said that it sold millions of Google Home devices over the holidays, of which one in seven were its Google Home Hub smart display version. (Ars Technica)
6. After you Login

This model of a Boeing 777 is made entirely out of manila folders, glue (and a LOT of patience).