Internet News (March 2018)

5G Internet Is On The Horizon And It’s Pretty Awesome

The latest giant leap in wireless internet technology is now on its way. Though 5G phones won’t be arriving until at least 2019 if not later, there have already been a few big demonstrations of the capabilities of a 5G network, not least of which have been at the recent Winter Olympics in South Korea, and the American Football Super Bowl that was held in Minneapolis.

Korean Telecom (KT) partnered with Samsung and Intel at the Winter Olympics 2018 to demonstrate automated vehicles, and over 100 cameras were set up around the main ice rink that wirelessly streamed video to nearby servers which then broadcast over the 5G network that Korean Telecom had set up.

Although losing their exclusivity deal for streaming the super bowl, Verizon, provided a strong showing at Super Bowl LII, streaming the game live in 4K VR over the 5G network they had set up for the occasion, going straight to VR headsets in New York City.

So if all these fancy high bandwidth demos are being thrown around for big events, just how much juice does 5G have, and if so, what will be required at the very minimum to be classed as 5G at all? The International Telecommunication Union, the UN’s division for global telecommunications technologies, created the IMT-2020 program, and defines the performance requirements thus:

♦ Peak minimum download speeds of 20Gb/s, translating to 100Mb/s “user experienced rate”.
♦ Peak minimum upload speeds of 10Gb/s, translating to 50Mb/s “user experienced rate”.
♦ Mere milliseconds of latency.
♦ Support for 100+ devices per square meter.

Comparatively speaking, 4G’s standards are 100Mb/s and 50Mb/s for download and upload respectively, except some of the current reports around find that the fastest 4G LTE network has download speeds nearer the 19Mb/s range, with the next best competitor averaging 17Mb/s.

The new chips coming from Qualcomm for the 5G modems in their Snapdragon X50s are reportedly capable of up to 5Gb/s, which, if they even come close to this rating, would actually exceed the data rate that many wire fibre connections are even capable of.

It’s a huge leap in speeds, probably not all that dissimilar from the relative speed increase seen between traditional 3G that came out in 2001, and the average 4G connection speeds of today. 3G connections in 2001 attained speeds of roughly 192Kb/s at their maximum, while 4G can get up to speeds of around 75Mb/s on average – to then compare that to roughly 3.2Gb/s that could be coming out of a 5G connection, you could download the data of an entire Netflix video stream in a second or two, which is frankly mind-blowing.

While the infrastructure required to make 5G a reality is certainly no small feat, companies around the world are working on just that. Once realised, there will be a definite shift in the ways and means that people connect to the internet as a whole.

With the speeds and connection strength that come with 5G, there will be practically no need to ever use a public wi-fi hotspot again unless there is no other way to get a signal, like the London Underground for example. It will also likely mean that many personal computers and laptops around the world will not always require a local wireless network or wired hardline connection in order to function online.

Of course, the speeds your mobile phone will receive in the 5G era will certainly be a sight to behold as well, blazingly fast speeds combined with infrastructure upgrades capable of supporting a likely surge in utilisation numbers as well as the internet connections they bring with them.

The Mobile World Congress this year, currently in full swing this week, will also be providing some 5G demonstrations, with events scheduled such as “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”, applied Artificial Intelligence, and various content delivery demos.

Intel will be attending, and are expected to show the live video streaming capabilities of their XMM 8000 series of 5G modems, they have partnered with the likes of Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Microsoft to distribute their modems in laptops commencing in late 2019.

An Intel spokesperson has been quoted as stating: “The PC is a central hub for processing incredible amounts of data. 5G is coming. Not only will it bring a substantial amount of data needing processing but also new experiences for PC owners. Imagine immersing in untethered VR from anywhere in the world, or downloading a 250 megabyte file in seconds from a parking lot. Or imagine being able to continue participating in a multiplayer game as you ride in an autonomous vehicle on the way to class. Radically different. This is just a sampling of the experiences 5G will reimagine for the mobile PC. As this transformation of data continues, it’s critical for PCs to be ready with 5G.”

There is certainly much work to be done before 5G becomes a reality, but many companies are pushing forward, striving for a 2019 launch, with Ericsson quoted as saying it is likely 5G will reach roughly 20% of the global population coverage within a few years.

The IRS Wants Your Cryptocurrency Earning Data

With seemingly endless waves of news regarding cryptocurrencies, both good and not so good, this one certainly treads uncertain ground. America’s IRS (Internal Revenue Service) issued Coinbase, currently one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges, a summons demanding they produce data on their entire userbase: over 500,000 of them. The company fought the summons, and while being relatively successful overall, still had to cave and hand over data on some 13,000 user accounts. These 13,000 are users who had completed transactions totalling more than $20,000 in a single year.

Coinbase, naturally, notified this group of users about this divulgence of information to the IRS. The information the IRS required from Coinbase included taxpayer ID, name, date of birth, address, and their accompanying transaction records between the years 2013 and 2015. The company has been given 21 days to produce the information required.

Many users, even the ones not affected by this summons, are understandably concerned. One such prominent figure that shares this concern is the Director of Research at Coin Center, Peter Van Valkenburgh, who stated in an interview with The Verge in late November last year that “We remain deeply unsatisfied with the lack of justification provided by the IRS. Without better rationale for why these specific transactions were suspect, a similarly sweeping request could be made for customer data from any financial institution. It sets a bad precedent for financial privacy.”

Cryptocurrencies up until this point have mostly gone under the radar, but now their colossal climb into the limelight and their relative ubiquity means that many governments have taken note. We can almost certainly expect these uncharted waters to be sailed many more times in the future.

The ESRB Creates New Label Following Loot Box Controversy

The American video game classification organisation, The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), has announced that they will begin including an ‘In-Game Purchases’ label to games that contain such functionality.

“The video game industry is evolving and innovating continually, as is the ESRB rating system. ESRB’s goal is to ensure that parents have the most up-to-date and comprehensive tools at their disposal to help them decide which games are appropriate for their children,” said ESRB President Patricia Vance.

“With the new In-Game Purchases interactive element coming to physical games, parents will know when a game contains offers for players to purchase additional content. Moreover, we will be expanding our efforts to educate parents about the controls currently at their disposal to manage in-game spending before their kids press ‘Start’.”

While this labelling certainly aids parents in their decision making with regards to games that may need more supervision, especially around online purchase prompts, it ultimately is seen aby many as a rather tepid response to the issue that does little overall to warn of the issues at hand, and is mostly too broad to be of any practical use. The guidelines the ESRB will be using in the labelling of such games is so broad in fact, that it encompasses practically any game that allows an online purchase to occur from within the game, completely disregarding what those purchases may be, and also the nature of the systems behind them.

“The new In-Game Purchases label will be applied to games with in-game offers to purchase digital goods or premiums with real-world currency, including but not limited to bonus levels, skins, surprise items (such as item packs, loot boxes, mystery awards), music, virtual coins and other forms of in-game currency, subscriptions, season passes and upgrades (e.g: to disable ads).”

Based on the modern video game market, this sweeping generalisation for the labelling would likely encompass a large portion of modern games, thus being about as practical as a chocolate teapot. Vance, had an answer to this though, while in a Round Table call with “I’m sure you’re all asking why we aren’t doing something more specific to Loot Boxes. A large majority of parents don’t know what a Loot Box is, and even those who claim they do don’t really understand what a Loot Box is. So it’s very important for us to not harp on about Loot Boxes per se, but to make sure we’re capturing Loot Boxes but also other in-game transactions.”

And while yes, this line of logic does make a legitimate argument for a more generalised approach to this type of marketing, because let’s face it, not all parents are going to really care to learn or understand what specifically Loot Boxes are and why some types of them and their systems are red flags to watch out for. Formany, it is still far too much of a blanket label that encompasses entirely too many games to possibly make an informed decision from.

It seems that legislators will likely have to take further steps of their own if this is all the commitment that the ESRB is willing to put in.  Watch this space.

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Internet News – February 2018

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