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Innovation

Open RAN Technology Could Play Key Role in Narrowing Digital Divide

Generic radio components could provide the flexibility and versatility needed to bring broadband access to those in need.

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BT Global Service's Neil McRae

WASHINGTON, December 20, 2021 – Some experts believe that open radio access network efforts will play a critical role in ensuring the bridging of the digital divide.

Open radio access network, or open RAN, is an ongoing effort to make generic the various proprietary components involved in the production of radio systems.

Proponents of the open RAN movement argue that the propriety nature of these vital components bottlenecks their production, contributing to supply chain issues, and stunting competition in the industry.

On Wednesday, Managing Director and Chief Architect for BT Global Service Neil McRae sat down for a virtual fireside chat as part of Fierce Telecom’s Digital Divide Summit. “We look at filling the digital divide with literally any technology or any tool that allows us to connect people,” McRae said. “That can be fiber, that can be Wi-Fi, it can be open RAN – it can be whatever we feel is the right solution.”

But McRae said he does not think efforts to bridge the digital divide should also pigeonhole providers into only using generic technologies. “I’m a realist: if I’ve got something that is proprietary, but it gives me an edge, why wouldn’t I use it?” he said.

“[However, I definitely think] that we can gain a competitive advantage – we strongly believe at BT that open RAN will give us a competitive advantage in a world where customers are demanding more and more, particularly on the service quality,” he said.

“We are very much looking at open RAN as another tool in that Swiss army knife of connectivity solutions.”

The utility of open RAN is significant, McRae said, in both low-density and urban regions alike. “We are looking at things like neutral hubs, where can we build a solution that allows multiple operators to connect in rural locations,” he said.

“We are also looking at it in some dense urban locations,” he said. “These are these tend to be kind of high-rise tower blocks where the normal connectivity for fiber is difficult to penetrate the building or build in a tall building.

“Sometimes a radio solution can be the right solution.”

McRae said that these techniques could be employed to enable more efficient precision agriculture techniques and other profitable sectors of the economy, providing operators with a sufficient return on their investments, and allowing this technology to fund itself in the pursuit of bridging the digital divide.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Broadband Breakfast, Washington Jewish Week, and The Center Square, among other publications. He primarily covers Big Tech and spectrum policy.

Innovation

ITIF’s Atkinson Urges Strategic Policies for U.S. Technological Superiority

Panelists argued that the federal government needs to institute policies for growth in strategic technology industries.

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Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

WASHINGTON, January 12, 2022 — Panelists on an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event warned Tuesday about China’s rise as a technological superpower that requires the U.S. to step up or get usurped.

Rob Atkinson, president of the ITIF said as other countries like China advance in technology, America becomes more susceptible to falling behind. What’s required, he said, are policies that make space for adequate production and innovation for key industries, like chip manufacturing, inside the country.  “Policymakers need to accept that while market forces should continue to guide non-strategic industries, for strategic industries government needs explicit sector-based strategies implemented through industry-led public-private partnerships,” according to a January 3 article by Atkinson on the ITIF website.

Past are the days that the federal government focused almost solely on defense and weapons and now is the time for it to focus on leading in sectors including drones, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotechnology, energy storage systems, lasers, optical equipment, space technology, machine tools, shipbuilding, and advanced wireless systems. The article notes the Senate did pass the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which provides money for technology research over five years, but it now awaits House votes.

Atkinson’s thesis became a point of discussion at an ITIF event on Tuesday.

“We need to make sure these industries are competitive,” said Mike Brown, director of the Defense Innovation Unit under the Department of Defense. “The US is in the position to have breakthroughs in technology that are going to allow prosperity both economically as well as national security.

“China is using all instruments of national power to allocate capital, determine what industries are strategic and replace us as the technology superpower,” said Brown.

When Erica Fuchs, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, suggested possible collaboration between America’s technology industry and China’s, Atkinson said he was “skeptical of the fact that we ever learn much from China. I think it’s 95% the other way.”

A majority of the panelists agreed that China aims to displace America in the race to technological advancements, and that there will be consequences if they do. “If China does displace us, our standard of living is going down,” Brown said.

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Innovation

CES 2022: More Multi-Dwelling Units Adopting Smart Home Devices

The smart home industry is seeing continued growth, smart home experts said.

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Samantha Fein Osborne, vice president of businesses development for Samsung’s SmartThings

LAS VEGAS, January 11, 2022 — A smart home analyst said at the Consumer Electronics Show last week that more families living in multi-dwelling units are increasingly purchasing smart home devices, providing a boost to connectivity devices.

“Old trends are continuing,” said Parks Associates analyst Chris White. “Single family home residents own more smart home devices, but MDUs are more likely to buy.”

The top reason for this shift in consumer behavior is falling prices, White said. White presented data from his firm showing that the average price of networked cameras, smart thermostats, and smart door locks have sharply declined between 2017 and 2020.

To facilitate wider adoption of smart devices, companies employ strategies such as including “value-tier” and “premium-tier” devices across their product portfolio and, in the case of home monitoring, offering professional monitoring across all product lines.

“We need to have a bigger range of smart home devices,” added Samantha Fein Osborne, vice president of businesses development for Samsung’s SmartThings. “You can buy a smart device for $9 and $300. We need to run the gamut because the real priority is personalization and choice,” she said.

Companies should also think about ways to connect their products with critical services that customers use every day, the conference heard.

Blake Miller, founder of Homebase.ai, said that its important to connect residents with critical services in the community with technology. Homebase.ai offers a “connected building solution” for multifamily housing, enabling apartment buildings the ability to offer smart access control, community Wi-Fi, device automation, and internet-connected appliances.

“We work with Walmart to do remote grocery delivery,” Miller said. “It provides value to the resident and to the property owner,” he said.

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Blockchain

CES 2022: Cryptocurrency Leaders Press Benefits as Uncertain Over Regional Clampdowns Looms

Regional crackdowns raise questions about the stability of cryptocurrencies.

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From left: Michael Terpin, Tushar Nadkarni, Kristin Smith, and Clara Tsao

LAS VEGAS, January 11, 2022 – Cryptocurrency advocates at the Consumer Electronics Show last week tried calming fears that growing global uncertainty and clampdowns on coin mining would cast a shadow over the nascent space.

“Everybody talks about the volatility [of Bitcoin], but it has tended to go up,” said Michael Terpin, CEO of Transform Group, a company that does public relations for blockchain, on a panel Wednesday. “[2021] has been one of the least volatile years.”

Clara Tsao, founding officer and director at Filecoin Foundation, an organization that deals with certain cryptocurrency governance, added that “there are so many people from around the world who have benefited from blockchain. [Blockchain] touches everything today.”

And Tushar Nadkarni, chief growth officer at Celsius Network, a cryptocurrency earning and borrowing platform, said “this is not the first time that a technology has come in and essentially just railroaded through inefficiencies that were in the [pre-existing] system.

“We have seen this movie before,” Nadkarni added.

Experts argue that one of the most significant benefits to cryptocurrencies is that they decentralize finance. This means that “miners” and consumers from anywhere in the world, in theory, can mine and use Bitcoin regardless of their location, and they do not need to operate through a regulatable intermediary.

But the comments come against a backdrop of global events that are adding to concerns that the state of cryptocurrencies is too volatile.

Beginning on January 4, the government of Kazakhstan, which has been quelling protests in recent days, began implementing internet blackouts that led to a national blackout on January 5. Kazakhstan is the second largest miner of Bitcoin – after the U.S. – and accounts for approximately 18 percent of the mining power in the world.

The value of Bitcoin plummeted in the following days, and though it has since begun to stabilize, questions remain about how truly decentralized the currency is, given how drastically its value can be impacted by the goings-on in a single country.

At the same time, Kosovo joined the growing list of countries that has made cryptocurrency mining illegal, seizing mining devices. Cryptocurrency mining is a notoriously power-intensive process; as the network of miners grows, so to does the complexity of the cryptographic equations required to mine a coin. To combat this, miners rig matrices of graphics processing units, thereby reducing the time it takes to solve algorithms.

Kosovo, much like the rest of Europe, is in the midst of an energy crisis as Russia continues to withhold its glut of natural gas as leverage over European Union and NATO aligned countries, some of whom are largely dependent on Russia to meet their energy needs.

Because of this fuel scarcity, Kosovo, a small country with just under 2 million people, announced a ban on cryptocurrency mining on January 4. On January 6, police forces in Kosovo announced their first arrests for those who refused to comply with the new law.

Kosovo is only the most recent country to outlaw cryptocurrency mining. In September of 2021, China announced a complete ban on cryptocurrency after nearly a decade of cracking down on it. Cryptocurrency is even facing challenges from non-state actors, as it was declared haram – or forbidden – by the national council of Islamic scholars in Indonesia, home to the largest population of Muslims in the world.

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