AT&T Jumps Into the 5G Race

AT&T on Friday announced plans to start testing 5G technology, with a possible limited commercial rollout before the end of 2016. 5G offers the promise of besting the speeds of today’s fastest wireless networks by a factor of 10 to 100, through the use of millimeter waves, network function virtualization, and software-defined networking.

 

Through a collaboration with Ericsson and Intel, AT&T will be ramping up its efforts to bring 5G to market starting in the second quarter of this year. The planned tests follow extensive research, patent filings, and the development of software-defined networking, which allows AT&T to update systems without touching the hardware — a faster, more efficient method of introducing new versions of programs and technology, the company said.

Bumps in the 5G Road

The race to 5G isn’t without its challenges, however. It’s no small feat to create a working fixed broadband network that delivers at least a gigabit of speed to consumer and business customers.

“Some of the things AT&T will be testing for are power and performance in rain or other disruptive weather conditions, like cold,” said Fletcher Cook, AVP of global media communications at AT&T.

“If it goes well in the summer, you could start seeing point-to-point limited commercial availability for limited fixed broadband soon after,”.

However, “that isn’t for the wireless phone, wide-area network type 5G,” Cook pointed out. “That’s much longer term, because we have the standards that need to be sorted.”

AT&T is working diligently with IEEE to establish uniform standards, he said. “The standards piece is the biggest hurdle. Identifying how networks between carriers will work and how those standards are set are two things we’ve got to figure out.”

Driving Forces

Advances in new technologies, coupled with the rise in using smartphones for bandwidth-gobbling video consumption, are propelling AT&T and other companies to get 5G networks up and running.

“The combination of connected cars, the Internet of things, speed, and new technology like virtual reality is driving this,” Cook said.

Marketing agencies also are jumping on the new tech bandwagon.

“Ever since CES, especially, the stage has been set for 2016 to be the year virtual reality becomes a household name,” Cook noted. “It’s become a checkbox for marketers and creative directors to have in their marketing strategies. For example, there are a lot of Fortune 500 brands that are making content for YouTube360, Facebook360 and Little Star; this is a new way to get their message out.”

The trick will be finding enough bandwidth to seamlessly deliver all that content. As more and more people are investing in affordable means of watching VR content — like Google Cardboard which requires only a viewer (priced as low as US$6.99) and a smartphone — the demand for faster speeds and more bandwidth is growing exponentially.

“Streaming a lot of virtual reality content requires a lot of bandwidth,” observed Austin Mace, CEO of Subvrsive.

“The introduction of a 5G network would definitely accelerate the mass adoption of virtual reality because it gets content to people faster,” he told TechNewsWorld. “One of the biggest bottlenecks we face in live-streaming VR content is data speeds, so I can see this really alleviating that.”

More Americans Looking for Love Online

pew-research-center-online-dating-survey

Online dating numbers are up in the United States, the Pew Research Center said Thursday, based on the results of a recent survey.

Today, it’s possible for singles from all walks of life to find a date who’s compatible with them — at least virtually — the findings suggest. As the online dating world expands, adding ever more nuanced sites — like The League, which targets affluent, ambitious go-getters who are looking for the same — more people are signing up.

In its national survey of 2,001 adults, conducted between June 10 and July 12, 2015, Pew found that 12 percent had used an online dating site, up slightly from 9 percent in early 2013. Nine percent of the survey participants had used a dating app on their cellphone — three times more than in early 2013, when just 3 percent reported using mobile apps.

Easy and Full Of Options

Why the increase? The answer is clear, said dating coach Patti Feinstein. It’s easy, fast and appeals to people who are used to choosing from a lot of options.

“First of all, everybody’s on social media, so it’s easy. But at the end of the day, it’s a numbers game — and it’s always gonna be a numbers game,” she told TechNewsWorld. “People want to expand their reach. I see people getting [dates] from online dating, from friends, from speed dating. Everything is fair game.”

One issue that has plagued online dating is the stigma that it’s for desperate people, but that’s an old-fashioned notion, Feinstein said. “You’ve got Tinder, the hook-up site, which helped to make online dating cool. On top of that, everybody’s a techie now, so no one bats an eye at online dating. It’s part of the process.”

Another interesting finding in Pew’s survey is the uptick in younger users, specifically 18- to 24-year-olds. That group almost has tripled in just a couple of years, jumping from 10 percent in early 2013 to 27 percent in July of 2015.

Typically, people remain connected socially for at least several years after high school, so why are young adults turning to online dating to meet people?

It’s the same reason as for older adults, Feinstein said. They value the ease of access to people who are appealing and compatible.

“If it’s winter time or in the middle of the night, it’s window shopping in your pajamas. You can look around to see what’s available. There’s no pressure; it’s like talking to someone on the phone,” Feinstein said.

Full of Risks

While online dating sites may have their virtues, there also are legitimate concerns about the trend toward digital dating.

Dating website users should be cautious about whom they’re interacting with from the start, said Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

“You need to start with the premise that the person you’re communicating with online may not be the individual that he or she represents him or herself to be,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“You need to assume that the individual may be a predator, a criminal, someone out to steal your identity — or that they may have an ulterior motive,” Stephens continued, “because there’s no way for you to verify that the picture is theirs, and even what they say about them is true.”

Despite accounts of online dating experiences gone wrong, interest isn’t waning, Pew’s survey results suggest. How can people enjoy the benefits while protecting themselves from potential predators?

The key is to keep your information private until you really know a person, according to Stephens, and to pay attention to your intuition.

“Obviously, choose public, crowded locations to meet your date until you’re really comfortable with him or her,” he advised.

However, “once you’ve established that the face matches up with the online profile, you’re still not in the clear,’ Stephens warned. ‘The first impression you get may not be an accurate one, so until you take the time to get to know them, don’t reveal personal information, like your home address or workplace.”

Amazon Opens Lumberyard to Game Devs

amazon-lumberyard-game-engine

Amazon on Tuesday announced that it has widened its footprint in the game industry, complementing its development studio with the Lumberyard 3D game engine.

Based on core components of Crytek’s CryEngine, Lumberyard will support development for PCs and consoles (Xbox One and PlayStation 4). Amazon plans to add support for mobile devices and virtual reality gear soon.

The game engine, which is available in a beta build, is free of charge, and there is neither a subscription fee nor revenue-sharing model to bar entry to small development teams.

Lumberyard also will grant developers access to its source code and allow them to redistribute it to modders. However, Amazon is reserving its rights to Lumberyard’s core, so it isn’t open source.

The Worksite

Amazon has been active at this worksite for years. That movement included abillion-dollar buyout of video game streaming service Twitch, the formation of Amazon Game Studios, and a reported US$50 million to $70 million to the troubled Crytek in exchange for licensing rights to its CryEngine technology.

There’s also Amazon Web Services, which spokesperson Rena Lunak said has been serving some of the world’s biggest games and studios for years.

“When we talked to these customers, they asked for a powerful game engine that is inexpensive, helps them connect their games to the AWS cloud and to a large and growing community of broadcasters and fans on Twitch,” she told TechNewsWorld. “With Lumberyard, this is what we did. Cloud and community are important aspects of making games.”

To help developers tap into AWS, which is optional, Amazon launched GameLift alongside Lumberyard. GameLift will facilitate the deployment of servers across AWS for multiplayer play.

Amazon is charging its standard fees for AWS and is offering GameLift by the seat, which is priced at $1.50 per every 1,000 active daily users.

“With Amazon Lumberyard, we aim to help developers spend more and more of their time creating differentiated gameplay and building communities of fans, and less time on the undifferentiated heavy lifting of building game engine components and managing server infrastructure,” Lunak said.

Workers Wanted

With more support inbound, Lumberyard could rival go-to game engine Unity, said Christine Arrington, senior analyst of games at IHS. With Amazon’s industry-leading AWS at the back end, Lumberyard could be “extremely attractive to new developers.”

For developers, Amazon’s top two objectives for Lumberyard appear to be making it easy for them to integrate AWS and just as easy for them to optimize games for e-sports through Twitch.

“This makes two of Amazon’s services indispensable to games developed on Lumberyard,” Arrington said. “It also allows Amazon to monetize its game engine in ways that other engine makers cannot.”

For Amazon’s part, it gets an in-house engine, she noted. That’s typical for developers and technology companies.

“Everyone from EA with its Frostbite engine to Rock Star with RAGE seem to have their own proprietary engine,” Arrington said. “Many developers see it as a competitive advantage. So having an in-house engine for any games that Amazon develops serves that function.”

As far as its impact on the industry, Lumberyard may make bigger waves in the e-sports sector than the broader game industry, she noted.

“Many developers are already using Amazon Web Services, and that part simply makes using those services more streamlined,” said Arrington. “If Amazon can attract more developers to its services and bring new titles in to e-sports, the competition gets tougher for other publishers trying to expand the spectator market.”

Mattel’s 3D Printer Will Let Kids Do More Than Play With Toys

Mattel's 3D Printer Will Let Kids Do More Than Play With Toys

Mattel last week announced that it is giving its ThingMaker a high-tech makeover by equipping it with 3D capabilities.

 

Using the original 1960s iteration, children could create small toys, such as dragons and flowers, by pouring liquid plastic into molds, which were heated and cooled.

The updated ThingMaker was designed in partnership with Autodesk, which created the 3D app that works in tandem with the printer. The app and printer will let children design, create and print their own toys.

“We initially announced our collaboration with Mattel back in April 2015 to provide an experience for kids and families where they could combine physical toys with a digital making adventure,” said Jennifer Gentrup, spokesperson for Autodesk consumer and 3D printing.

“So, Autodesk helped develop the ThingMaker design app for Mattel, and the app was launched with Mattel’s printer,” she told TechNewsWorld.

Mattel ThingMaker 3D Printer and ThingMaker Design App Eco-System

The printers, slated to hit shelves in the fall, can be preordered from Amazon. The price is expected to be US$299.99, Mattel said.

How It Works

The app will provide kids with a couple of ways to make their own 3D-printed objects. For example, they can choose one of the templates included in the app, or they can come up with something unique, using hundreds of parts available.

The parts, or 3D files, then are sent to the printer where they are printed in batches and ultimately assembled using ball and socket joints, Mattel said.

The 3D ecosystem for kids is a response to a quickly growing 3D printer market. Companies like Barnes & Noble are selling relatively inexpensive models, priced at about $350 to $400, in stores and online.

What Can Parents and Kids Expect?

How do the toys to measure up in comparison with other 3D printers?

Most desktop models, like the kind available in stores today, are inferior to their industrial or business-oriented counterparts.

The most common type of desktop printer is a fused deposition modeling printer, or FDM, according to Max Mittler, an executive assistant at Solid Prototype.

“There are so many different types of printers out there, but if you print using a desktop printer, then you’re going to get FDM printing,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“For those types of printers, you’re going to see the little build lines. It won’t be smooth. That’s because of the method the 3D printer uses. Ours uses a liquid resin, which lays down full layers at a time which creates solid models. FDM printers, on the other hand, will create a 2D with a support built inside,” Mittler said.

In addition to the lack of smoothness, desktop models won’t be able to produce the level of detail more sophisticated printers can.

“The biggest difference is going to be in what we call ‘resolution.’ We use PolyJet printers (stereolithography, or SLA), so it looks just like an injection-molded part. It’s got a smooth finish,” Mittler added.

It makes sense that Mattel would create a 3D printer for kids, he noted.

“This is definitely a natural progression for 3D printing,” Mittler said. “It’s become more and more popular. Most of our customers already have their own 3D printers at home.”

Google’s Virtual Reality Tinkering May Get More Real

google-virtual-reality-rumor

Google is developing a standalone virtual reality headset that will be several steps removed from Google’s Cardboard VR. Instead of relying on a user’s smartphone and a lens-fitted cardboard headset, it will have all the necessary components built in.

It also won’t have to rely on a PC or a console for processing power as do Sony’s PlayStation VR, HTC’s Vive and Oculus VR’s Rift headsets, according to the Journal‘s sources. It will have integrated processors, lenses, cameras and sensors.

Chipmaker Movidius will provide the chips for the headset, enabling the device to track the motion of the user’s head based on input from the product’s cameras, according to the WSJ.

Pricing is expected to fall in the mid-tier range.

Supporting Evidence

Google declined to comment on the rumors that it has been working on a standalone VR headset, but evidence suggests that it is.

Last month, the company moved Clay Bavor from his role as vice president of product management and installed him as vice president of virtual reality.

Along with putting one of its best brains on virtual reality, it has offered curiousjob postings calling for talent to develop VR cameras and battery-powered portable products.

Fall Into the Gap

A midtier headset follows the logic of Cardboard. Google has introduced more than 5 million people to VR, and a standalone product could take those followers even deeper down the rabbit hole.

If Google is as serious about VR as it has said it is, it will need to move forward from Cardboard. The tech is limited in the type of experiences it can offer, even when compared to Samsung’s $100 Gear VR, according to Patrick Walker, VP of insights and analytics at EEDAR.

“I would expect this next project to be an evolution of the Google Cardboard that will phase it out, especially because the price point of the Google VR headset will likely be relatively low but will offer so much more VR capability than the Google cardboard,” he told TechNewsWorld.

A standalone Google VR headset would be an interesting play, said Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at Tirias Research. With the Rift set at US$600 and the Vive expected to top that, there’s a gulf between high-end VR experiences and the Cardboard and Gear VR types.

“It’s a very good opportunity for someone to fill in the gap,” he told TechNewsWorld. “There’s a giant hole between the two experiences, and I’m surprised more companies haven’t done something in the price range between $300 and $600.”

Filling that gap could make the Google device priced to sell well, picking up consumers let down by the high cost of the Rift.

“From a price-point point of view, something in the midtier could sell a million or more units, while the higher-end stuff, despite the hype, might only sell tens of thousands of units, not a high volume, at this stage,” said EEDAR’s Walker.

Market Watch

EEDAR sees two primary verticals in the VR market, he noted.

“The high-end VR devices are targeting a consumer who is an early adopter and heavy gamer, whether on console or PC,” said Walker.

That market is in the crosshairs of Facebook’s Oculus Group, HTC and Valve, and Sony. It’s different from the mainstream, more accessible market Google and Samsung have gone after, he said.

“Therefore,” Walker said, “we think that the Google initiatives will have much more impact on the Gear VR than on Oculus, HTC and Sony products.”

Microsoft Invites Devs to Tinker With HoloLens

microsoft-hololens-development-edition

Microsoft on Monday announced that its HoloLens Development Edition was available for preorder, with units set to ship to developers beginning March 30.

The company early last year introduced the holographic computer technology as a feature for Windows 10. It later announced a partnership with Volvo that would allow the application to be applied to the automobile sales floor.

Over the past year, Microsoft has unveiled partnerships with Autodesk Fusion 360, NASA, Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic, highlighting vast real-world possibilities for its virtual reality technology.

Other developer applicants will receive invitations to purchase the Microsoft HoloLens Development Edition.

HoloLens is a fully untethered and self-contained system that enables holographic computing natively with no markers or external cameras. No phone or PC connections are needed.

“HoloLens is a Windows 10 device, and the APIs responsible for holographic computing are already available in Windows 10,” Microsoft said in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by spokesperson Carmen Vasilatos. “Additional development tools that include Visual Studio projects and a HoloLens emulator will be released when HoloLens devices start shipping to customers on March 30.”

HoloLens Development Edition will include a clicker, a carrying case, a charger and cable, a microfiber cloth, nose pads, and an overhead strap. It will be available for developers in the United States and Canada for US$3,000.

Access to HoloStudio and HoloTour

Developers who purchase HoloLens also will receive immediate access to hundreds of Universal Windows Platform apps via the Windows Store. The HoloLens Development Edition will offer developers access to a showcase of holographic app experiences to get started.

Among the first of those apps is HoloStudio, which allows developers to create 3D in 3D at real-world scale, Microsoft said. The application integrates with OneDrive and can be exported to a 3D printer or Sketchfab.

Another application, HoloTour, lets developers transport users to different locations and give them the experience of actually being there, the company said.

The applications could be game changers for business developers — from retail to the travel sector and beyond.

“Given the cost of this device, it is likely we’ll see the most interest initially for business applications,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“The creation of this device was based on the need to explore Mars without having to send people to the planet, and it has a great deal of utility for remote viewing and virtual X-ray vision initially as a result,” he told TechNewsWorld.

VR Gaming

Microsoft highlighted three examples of how HoloLens Development Edition could be utilized in game development. Fragments is a crime drama experience, Young Conker is an action platform game, and RoboRaid in essence allows old-school 2D games such as Space Invaders to play out around the living room.

None of the games is revolutionary in design, but it is still the early days of VR gaming.

“When Windows 95 came out, people weren’t used to a graphical user interface, so to navigate that you had to learn how to use a mouse, which is very basic for us today,” said Joost van Dreunen, CEO at SuperData Research.

“When Windows 95 was launched, it came with two games, includingMinesweeper and Solitaire, which showed how to use the interface,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“It was to showcase the very basic game mechanic to help consumers figure it out,” van Dreunen added. “If they went all in, it would be totally confusing, so this is why Microsoft is showcasing applications that are seemingly familiar. It is a way to help people understand how to use device.”

Competition With Oculus

The dev kit for HoloLens is just $350 more than that of Oculus 2.

Moreover, Microsoft is targeting a wider market of developers and highlighting its all-around potential for augmented reality, van Dreunen noted.

That could be necessary given that VR remains an expensive proposition for gamers and thus has a limited market.

“Its ability to mix the real and the virtual will eventually make it into a very unique gaming system, but costs will need to come down sharply, and that means initial volumes are likely to focus on business and government markets where this cost isn’t an impediment,” said Enderle.

Real-World Applications for VR

In the near term, virtual reality likely will be used in mundane and practical applications.

“Repair technicians, robot drivers, technical schools, interior designers, space planners and telemedicine facilities will likely find this technology critical to their efforts long before we have the price drop we need for gaming,” said Enderle.

“Law enforcement, security and the military will find this a low-cost and fascinating way to set up Hogan’s Alley-like simulations, and that will lead to some impressive first-person shooters using real buildings but simulated attackers,” he added.

“Given how different this technology is,” Enderle said, “it will take a few years before we fully realize the potential.”

Apple Motion Seeks to Block Feds From Acquiring ‘Dangerous Power’

apple-fbi-encryption

Apple last week filed a motion to vacate a federal order requiring the company to create a tool or code to unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino, California, shooters.

The order would set a dangerous precedent and release a powerful means to breach security on potentially millions of phones around the world, Apple argued.

It transcends one phone and would empower government to make private companies compromise the security of all their users whenever it sees fit, the company said.

“This is not a case about one isolated iPhone. Rather, this case is about the Department of Justice and the FBI seeking through the courts a dangerous power that Congress and the American people have withheld: the ability to force companies like Apple to undermine the basic security and privacy interests of hundreds of millions of individuals around the globe,” the motion says.

Signature Required

Apple already has tools that could compromise the security of millions of people, so the implication that this code is any different from similar capabilities the company possesses is baseless, according to Stewart Baker, partner at Steptoe & Johnson.

Furthermore, Apple has security in place to protect itself and its users from data breaches, he told TechNewsWorld.

“The code that they’re so worried will get out is no different than any of the other codes they write, in that if it gets out, then bad things will happen. Apple already protects its code very aggressively because they don’t want that to happen, so there’s no super-burden to protecting this code, Baker noted.

“This is particularly true because in order to install this code on the phone that is the target it is going to be necessary for Apple to sign the code with their super-secret signature,” he added.

“What would happen is that Apple would send this signature to the phone, which will identify itself back to Apple, which means Apple almost certainly has to be right in the middle of any such transaction. It’s not like you can just steal the code and walk off and use it — because you also have to have Apple’s signature, Baker said.

“If Apple’s signature is compromised, it’s the end of security for everyone, and they’re already in a position where they have to protect that aggressively,” he added.

The case is a matter of getting information that’s imperative to an ongoing investigation, according to Paul Charlton, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson.

“What we can say with absolute certainty is that if you think about this as something other than a technology company — if you think about this in terms of Apple being the landlord that holds within its building evidence of terrorist activity — there wouldn’t be any doubt in anyone’s mind that the government should be allowed, with the appropriate court authority, … to go in and take what they need,” he told TechNewsWorld.

FBI director James Comey “has made it very clear that what he’s interested in is not a back door, not a wide open door into this apartment complex, if you will, but entry into a specific apartment … to grab this specific piece of information. That seems narrowly tailored and wholly reasonable to me,” Charlton said.

Uninted Consequences

Creating the code the government is asking for would open a Pandora’s box of unforeseen consequences, according to Christopher Maurer, assistant professor of information technology and management at the University of Tampa.

“We see time and time again that there are really good intentions. There might be a real problem and government is not addressing the underlying issue and instead is creating other issues in the form of loopholes or unintended side effects,” he told TechNewsWorld.

One such side effect would be a precedent allowing other law enforcement agencies to order phones to be unlocked, noted Chris Calabrese, vice president for policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology.

“In terms of the idea that this is no different and that this back door doesn’t create a vulnerability is just not true. What we’re talking about is a precedent that will not just be for the FBI but will almost certainly be for those state and local law enforcement, of which there will be tens of thousands across the country. They’re all going to encounter iPhones. They’re all going to want them to be unlocked,” he told TechNewsWorld.

A back door would be a potentially hazardous tool if it fell into the wrong hands, Calabrese added.

“There’s going to have to be an entire process in place on unlocking iPhones somehow, which is to say subverting their security. That’s a giant process designed to be exploited by bad guys. And you just can’t say somehow that this is a one-off,” he said.

Congressional Action Ahead

Congress eventually will have to answer the larger privacy question, Steptoe & Johnson’s Charlton noted.

“We are constantly weighing our rights to privacy versus our need for security. That’s why we have a Fourth Amendment. That’s why we have to get search warrants before we conduct searches on individual’s homes,” he said.

“Here, that’s exactly what happened. The FBI obtained a valid court order after showing probable cause to believe that there’s evidence of terrorist activity on this phone, and right now that court order is still in place, absent the lawyers from Apple being able to reverse that order they’re going to have to turn that information over,” Charlton added.

However, incentives already are in place to ensure that customer data is secure, the Center for Democracy & Technology’s Calabrese maintained, citing the Sony hack.

“There are a lot of incentives to want to build devices that are private and secure. There are reputational harms, potential liability, the requirement that they do a data breach notice if the information gets out,” he said.

“We’ve all seen, for example, what happened with Sony and the devastating result of not having good security in their systems,” Calabrese said.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has published standards for good security and cryptology, he noted. “There are guidelines in place that help people know what they need to do. There are best practices out there that have nothing to do with legislation.”

On the other hand, rigid mandates might freeze the development of security technology, Calabrese added.

“You don’t want to say you must do the following six things to secure a phone when in three years those things could be totally out of date but you still have a legal requirement to do them,” he said.

“There’s a push pull when it comes to whether you should mandate security,” Calabrese added. “Our view is that you need baseline security standards, and you need to let people know what best practices are and then create incentives to get people to meet those best practices without mandating anything in particular.”