The top news in tech – the February digest
There’s no denying that live events such as the Mobile World Congress (MWC) have had a tough couple of years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and we’re still not completely out of the woods yet, as demonstrated by no-shows from the likes of Sony and others.
In 2020, the show was cancelled and in 2021, it was a very quiet affair so there were high hopes for the hybrid virtual-live event planned for 2022. There was still a noticeable reduction in crowd numbers from previous years and sadly, events in the real world also intruded badly on 24 February when the Russian invasion of Ukraine led the organisers GSMA to ban the Russian delegation altogether. However, there was still just enough going on to make us feel optimistic for the future. (See our look at the highlights below).
In other news, climate change is forcing governments and telcos to examine whether their infrastructures are robust enough when disaster strikes, and governments and law firms are puzzling over whether existing employment laws on harassment, discrimination, and privacy are fit for purpose in the new virtual world of the metaverse. And 6G connectivity is already under development even while 5G is still being rolled out.
On a more positive note, Amazon Prime Video has announced a record-breaking deal to lease space at Shepperton Studios for the next ten years or more. The boom in UK production facilities looks set to continue.
THE MOST INTRIGUING LAUNCHES AT MWC 2022 WEREN’T PHONES
As Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2022 in Barcelona drew to a close on 3 March, we’ve been reflecting on what has been the first non-virtual MWC since 2019 (this year it was a hybrid live-virtual event). MWC is one of the biggest events of the year when it comes to smartphones and other mobile devices but this year, surprisingly phones weren’t the main attraction. Instead, laptops and 2-in-1 devices were out in force and stole the show.
As we mentioned in an earlier blog MWC is an opportunity to see new digital-first players, OTT brands, and hyperscalers stealing the limelight from traditional telcos. At Samsung’s MWC 2022 event, Samsung – undoubtedly Android’s biggest player – revealed the Galaxy Book 2 Pro and Galaxy Book 2 Pro 360, a pair of premium laptops that bring upgrades like new CPUs and better webcams. OnePlus announced that the OnePlus 10 Pro is coming to the global market in March (with OxygenOS rather than a new unfamiliar OS); and a new kind of foldable phone was also revealed in the form of the TCL Fold and Roll, a book-style folding phone that can extend its display after opening.
HOW WIRELESS OPERATORS ARE PREPARING THEIR NETWORK FOR CLIMATE CHANGE
In February the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) reported that the US experienced 20 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in 2021, making it the second-highest year for disasters after 2020 when there were 22 different billion-dollar weather and climate-related events. To put all that into context, the 1980–2021 annual average is 7.4 events.
The rise in severe weather events is a concern for everyone, not least wireless operators. Not only do they have to keep their networks running during disasters as a lifeline to those affected, but they have also invested billions in building these networks and want to protect their investments. One way in which wireless companies are trying to get on top of climate change is by using predictive modelling tools to tell them where climate change might most impact their networks. For example, AT&T has worked with the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory to develop a Climate Change Analysis Tool (CCAT) that projects flooding and winds in the South Eastern US over the next 30 years. Verizon too is using Artificial Intelligence to help it determine where to put its 5G network wireless transmitters for the best performance.
An article in Light Reading explained how the US’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering how to strengthen the (up until now) voluntary Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework code along with mandating, by law, the use of backup power generators at all cell sites. The code says that operators should work together and share information both during and after disasters.
Both AT&T and Verizon have pushed back against this type of mandate, and so have organisations like the Wireless Infrastructure Association, but it remains to be seen how far governments will go to secure national infrastructures in the wake of the ‘new normal’ of climate change weather extremes. The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (JCNSS) in the UK also launched a survey in February to support its inquiry into critical national infrastructure (CNI) and climate adaptation.
METAVERSE VS EMPLOYMENT LAW: THE REALITY OF THE VIRTUAL WORKPLACE
Elsewhere in the Financial Times (paywall), the metaverse – the immersive virtual world accessed via wearable technology – came under the spotlight and not in a good way. Stories of people entering the metaverse and being assaulted, yelled at, and photographed without permission have posed the question: who governs the metaverse? What counts as harassment in the virtual world and can an avatar – the electronic image that represents a user – be discriminated against or sued?
When users interact with others through their avatars, situations may arise where some kind of altercation takes place that would equate in real life to breaking the law. But to hold an avatar responsible for their actions in the metaverse would mean giving that avatar a legal persona with rights and duties. Worryingly, sexual predators are already emerging, masking their identity behind an avatar that may not easily be traced back to a person in the real world. There are no national boundaries in the metaverse so no obvious laws that apply. Will national laws protect users or does working in the metaverse require a new rule book altogether?
DO WE REALLY NEED 6G?
The Financial Times Special Report on 5G and Connectivity looked beyond the potential of 5G to 6G and asked frankly ‘do we really need it?’. At a time when some consumers are asking what real-world benefits does 5G offer, there is a feeling among some in the telecoms industry that it might be time to move beyond the “Gs” and towards more organic change, which is less likely to lead to disappointments.
Trying to predict how people will live and what they will want in the future is never easy, but the feeling is that it might be better to improve existing services and applications instead of adding new functions. For now, though, much of the work being done to develop the next generation network is happening behind closed doors. There is, after all, a risk that the industry will lose its credibility by talking about 6G before 5G has truly delivered.
AMAZON’S PRIME VIDEO SIGNS RECORD DEAL TO FILM IN SURREY STUDIOS FOR NEXT DECADE
Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service has struck a record-breaking pound multi-million-pound deal to lease space at Shepperton Studios in the company’s first long-term commitment to making TV programmes and films in the UK. It joins its rival Netflix who signed up in 2019 in having an exclusive contract at the Surrey studio. Amazon is continuing to expand its slate of UK-originated productions that began with The Grand Tour in 2016. Major production increases will take place in 2022 and 2023 with the largest number of UK original series launching to date. The long-term commitment, believed to be for at least ten years, is seen as an endorsement of not just Pinewood, but also the UK film and TV industry in general.