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28 March 2023

Round-up of highlights from the week’s news

FCC updates national broadband map in preparation for BEAD

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel last week revealed an update to the commission’s national broadband map, with 2.96m new locations added, while 1.92m locations were removed.

The map was launched November 2022 when 113m locations were identified for potential broadband installations, although it was initially criticized for some inaccuracies. The new additions are concentrated mostly in Alaska and on tribal lands.

In pursuit of greater granularity and accuracy, the FCC hired broadband consulting firm CostQuest, which identified most of the new locations, with only around 122,000 added following challenges to the map by state governments.

The map is highly relevant, as it will be used by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to determine states’ funding under the $42.45bn Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.

Indian Government launches 6G R&D drive

The Indian government last week affirmed its 6G ambitions when Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the Bharat 6 Vision Document strategy paper outlining the country’s journey towards 6G deployment by 2030.

The first step will see the establishment of a 6G R&D testbed to explore use cases such as remote-controlled factories and connected autonomous vehicles, but also to enable the Indian government to take a greater part in 6G standards developments than it did for previous generations.

Already during the 5G era the Indian government has been seeking to make its mark on international standards with its homegrown 5Gi initiative. Though that failed, the government is now back to ensure 6G standards will be suited to India’s unique needs.


UK regulator puts brakes on $60bn Broadcom VMWare merger.

The UK Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) has imposed a temporary halt on a potential merger between Broadcom and VMWare and launched a Phase 2 inquiry.

Having first scrutinized the deal in November 2022, it launched a Phase 1 superficial merger inquiry in late January 2023. CMA has now expanded that to conduct an in-depth review over concerns that UK consumers may suffer higher prices and reduced choice in the server market, if the merger went ahead.

A Phase 2 investigation does not necessarily spell disaster for a merger deal. In early March, the CMA approved the Viasat and Inmarsat merger following a phase 2 investigation over in-flight connectivity competition concerns.

Volvo Groups deploys private LoRa network

Volvo Group is deploying a private LoRaWAN IoT network at its Lyon manufacturing facility, to be used primarily for predictive maintenance with the aim of cutting production downtimes that result from battery failures in its electric autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs).

The LoRaWAN sensors will periodically transmit readings of an AGVs battery voltage to raise an alarm in the event that drops low enough to trigger shutdown of the vehicle with disruption of production. Sensors have also been installed to measure humidity, temperature, and pressure differences.

LoRaWAN is one of four primary low power WAN (LPWAN) technology options, developed to operate in unlicensed, shared spectrum bands, as opposed to its licensed cellular alternatives NB-IoT and LTE-M.

Intel quits cellular WAN market for PCs

Intel has exited the LTE and 5G wireless wide area network (WWAN) connected PC chip business, but insisted it is working with partners to ensure customers can still access related products. This comes almost four years after Intel similarly quit the 5G smartphone modem market in April 2019 just after Apple had settled a long running patent dispute with Qualcomm, clearing the way for the former to use the latter’s chips in its smartphones.

This time round the exit seems motivated by impatience waiting for demand for 5G connectivity from tablets and PCs to grow, which appears at last to be happening but too slowly for Intel to justify maintaining its investment.

Intel confirmed this latest decision does not affect its WiFi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, Thunderbolt or network and edge businesses (see longer analysis this week).


Telia and AWS automate warehouse inventory checking using AI

Swedish telco Telia has developed machine vision software for inventory management in warehouses running on a semi-private 5G network. With assistance from AWS for edge development, the project also involved Finnish logistics group Transval, tracking and reporting automatically on movement of inventory, removing need for manual inventory counts and reconciliations.

The proof-of-concept involved installation of HD cameras on a virtual private network connected to Telia’s data center in Helsinki. Amazon’s SageMaker cloud ML (Machine Learning) platform was used to build, train and deploy a model to recognize and track pallets.

AAA picks T-Mobile US for 5G and IoT roadside assistance

The AAA (formerly American Automobile Association) has chosen T-Mobile US as exclusive partner for communicating with technicians and vehicles across the country. T-Mobile will provide 5G smartphones and IoT telematics equipment for AAA-owned roadside assistance fleets, having already issued “thousands” of 5G handsets to AAA technicians, according to the operator.

AAA has around 63 million members and takes about 30 million calls a year for roadside assistance. T-Mobile is supplying in-vehicle tablets to give roadside assistance technicians access to applications and utilities, including integrated maps for wayfinding and location detection of members calling for help.

The tablets will also enable voice applications for dispatch and communications, while T-Mobile will supply IoT fleet equipment from telematics hardware supplier Geotab connected on its LTE-M network. The latter will furnish “actionable data and reports” on driver behavior, route optimization, fuel economy, vehicle health, diagnostics, and maintenance.


EU campaign to repair rather than replace smartphones and tablets

The European Commission (EC), executive body of the EU, has elaborated on moves requiring suppliers to repair rather than replace smartphones and tablets sold within the bloc. This will include a provision that manufacturers must offer fixes for up to ten years, even if in practice it will rarely be for that long given technological obsolescence.

Also, the EC has agreed in its 30-page document setting out reasons and objectives for the proposal that devices can be replaced whenever that is cheaper than repair. The main objective is to ensure that devices are repaired more frequently during their legal guarantee period, rather than being replaced with a new model just because that appears more convenient.

Other proposals include a requirement to inform consumers which products fall under the scheme, and possibly a European standard to help identify repairers that qualify on grounds of quality.

Some manufacturers, including Samsung and Apple, as well as a few operators like Vodafone, have pre-empted such measures by starting to offer repairs when this does appear cost effective.