Apr 7, 2020

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Wishing you a happy and healthy March 39th.

Today's Login is 1,397 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: 5G marches on despite pandemic's hazards

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Coronavirus-related economic disruption and uncertainty could yet slow the pace of 5G deployment in the U.S. — but for now, the major carriers say they're moving full speed ahead, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill and I report.

Why it matters: The pandemic has highlighted the importance of connectivity as businesses shift to remote work and schools move classes online, making network performance more vital than ever.

What's happening: The major wireless carriers say the coronavirus has not altered the pace of their 5G rollouts, but industry observers and federal officials question how long that will remain true.

  • "As a logical matter, I would expect a slowdown," said former Federal Communications Commission official Blair Levin, now a policy adviser for New Street Research.
  • Levin cited concerns about construction crew members working close to each other; disruptions to supply chains; and consumers' ability and willingness to pay for pricey 5G plans and new phones amid staggering unemployment rates.
  • Companies may say they're moving ahead, Levin said, "but we're really early into it, and the notion that consumers are going to pay a premium in an economic downturn is counterintuitive to me."

There may also be fewer 5G-ready devices as a result of the pandemic.

  • Only a fraction of the phones bought last year supported 5G networks. This year, most new high-end phones were (and still are) expected to support 5G. But with fewer people buying new phones amid the pandemic, that could still mean fewer 5G-ready devices this year.
  • The big wild card is Apple. The company had been gearing up to launch a 5G phone this year, but things could yet change, says industry consultant Chetan Sharma. The largely Chinese-based supply chain should be ready for the usual fall launch, but Sharma said Apple might decide to delay things if it doesn't see a big enough market for a 5G-capable iPhone.

FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said she's pleased that U.S. carriers are moving forward with their 5G plans right now.

  • "But we need to keep in mind that a mix of factors — delayed standards, deferred [airwaves] auctions, and supply chain issues — could slow this in the future," Rosenworcel said in a statement. "Still, for the long haul I'm optimistic because this crisis is accelerating the digitization of everything and we are counting on connectivity for so much more in modern life."
  • The FCC pushed back the start of an upcoming wireless spectrum auction to July due to the pandemic.

What they're saying: The carriers insist it's business as usual for their 5G plans.

  • AT&T noted that federal guidelines have identified telecom workers as essential, and the company is on track with its plans to launch 5G nationwide before July. "We're still marching down the path we've been talking about," AT&T's Scott Mair, president of technology and operations, told Axios.
  • T-Mobile and Verizon both said they are moving ahead with 5G build plans, with Verizon recently projecting that it will spend up to $500 million more on capital expenditures this year than originally anticipated.
  • "They're just plugging along with the deployment schedules," said wireless analyst Roger Entner. "I think this crisis shows how important telecommunications is."

Between the lines: Some carriers may be in a better position than others to keep moving forward. Sharma noted that for T-Mobile, for example, only a software update is required to add support for Sprint's mid-band 2.5 GHz spectrum.

  • Many of the carriers, he said, are trying to get masks and other protection gear to ensure workers can continue installing new equipment where needed.
  • Where things could get slow, Sharma said, is in places where operators need to add new cell sites, given those typically require city approval, which could be harder to get during the shutdown.

Yes, but: The picture is more mixed internationally.

  • China is already home to most of the world's 5G subscribers and remains an early adopter of the technology.
  • Japan and South Korea were also among the first to launch 5G networks, although a Reuters report suggests that the pandemic has dimmed consumer interest in Korea.
  • Europe was already largely behind in 5G adoption and, with a number of countries hard hit by the virus, the crisis could further delay the rollout there.
2. YouTube pulls virus misinformation videos

YouTube's product chief tells Axios that the Google-owned video site has removed thousands of COVID-19 videos — including some from the Brazilian president's channel — for violating policies related to the spread of medical misinformation.

Why it matters: Though criticized in the past for allowing misinformation to flourish, Facebook, Google and Twitter have all been taking a tougher stand when it comes to the coronavirus.

What they're saying: In an interview, chief product officer Neal Mohan said YouTube has been focused on a twofold approach: making authoritative information more prominent and aggressively removing policy-violating content.

  • YouTube has been prominently surfacing videos from news organizations and health officials.
  • It's even been showing an information panel on its home page linking to national health agencies' websites — the first time YouTube has linked to a text site rather than a video. The panel has now been shown more than 9 billion times, Mohan said.
  • It's also worked with creators, including several who interviewed U.S. infectious disease prevention chief Anthony Fauci.

Meanwhile: YouTube is also aggressively enforcing existing medical misinformation policies that prohibit promoting false cures or encouraging people not to see a doctor.

  • And it expanded that policy to bar promoting actions that go against recommendations from national health authorities.
  • It was on that basis that the company took down posts by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the virus and the importance of social distancing and other precautions.

Be smart: In all, Mohan said, YouTube has removed thousands of videos.

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, YouTube's policies are entirely focused on the content of a video and not who is doing the speaking. That means politicians, journalists and entertainers are all held to the same standard, at least in theory.

Mohan was more equivocal when asked if someone could post, say, a video suggesting people try a medicine that had yet to be approved by the FDA for treating the coronavirus.

"That gets at the challenge," Mohan acknowledged. "It's a balancing act.... We are not medical experts ourselves."

Mohan said that he has other product changes on his to-do list, but acknowledges the virus and related issues have occupied most of his attention.

  • "We are heads-down on this challenge," he said. "When we come up for air we will take a look."

Correction: This story originally said that YouTube, unlike Facebook and Google, based its misinformation policy solely on the content rather than who is saying it. That should have said that, unlike Facebook and Twitter, Google and YouTube both base their decisions solely on content, while Twitter and Facebook have some different policies for certain people, such as politicians.

3. Airbnb raises $1B to weather the pandemic

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals

Airbnb has raised $1 billion in debt and equity from Silver Lake and Sixth Street Partners, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

Why it matters: Airbnb, like the rest of the travel industry, has taken a major business hit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The company recently halted all marketing spending and froze hiring. Questions also remain about its plans to go public this year.

  • Though the company didn't share how the deal values the company, Airbnb recently lowered its 409a valuation (an internal appraisal of its value) to $26 billion, down from $31 billion when it last raised funding, Axios has learned.
  • The new deal does not include any ratchets or coercive terms imposing conditions on the company, such as a timeline to go public, a source tells Axios.
  • There was no secondary sale as part of the deal, either.

Go deeper: The gig economy's coronavirus test

4. Intel puts $50 million to coronavirus relief

Photo: Intel

Intel today announced a $50 million COVID-19 relief program designed to support more research, technology for patient care, and help for lower income students' distance-learning needs. Of that amount, $10 million will be set aside to help fund employee-led and community efforts.

Why it matters: Intel's donation comes on top of an earlier $10 million pledge and amid other large donations from Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, Google, Facebook and others.

Details: Among the projects that will be funded is one that taps Intel and Cisco technology to turn hospital beds into "virtual ICU" rooms, Intel senior VP and PC unit head Gregory Bryant told Axios.

Bryant declined to comment on the business impact to Intel's PC unit from COVID-19, citing the company's quiet period before quarterly earnings, but he noted that technology is more important than ever.

"People are physically interacting less. They are connecting more than ever. That’s all based on technology. The technology we deliver is essential to helping people get through this as safely as possible."
— Intel's Gregory Bryant
5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Microsoft has hired former Apple wireless executive Ruben Caballero as a vice president, working on hardware projects, including HoloLens.
  • IBM named Paul Cormier to head its Red Hat unit, as former segment head Jim Whitehurst takes up his new role as IBM's president.

ICYMI

6. After you Login

Poutine delivered on the end of a hockey stick. Now that's social distancing, Canadian-style.

Ina Fried