Monthly Archives: June 2016

How to Streaming Faster

download-18A decade ago, streaming video on a mobile phone was wishful thinking at best. Today, a video chat app invented by a college student is positioning itself for an IPO.

The mobile internet has advanced at a staggering pace, and the world is already preparing for the next major phase in its evolution: 5G. Many people have little concept of the communications infrastructure already in place, let alone what might be next, but it’s important to note that many of the technologies on the horizon — self-driving cars, the Internet of Things, 360-degree-video-capturing drones — will require faster wireless networks. And all of this new tech will require a slew of new businesses to power it.

“Offering ‘perceived infinite capacity,’ 5G will provide the basis for the emergence of ubiquitous new wireless platforms that, in turn, will support the creation of an array of new services and businesses,” wrote Richard Adler, a distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future, in a Recode essay on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Adler held a telephone press conference on the subject of 5G in advance of the inaugural White House Frontiers Conference on science and technology, which takes place today in Pittsburgh. The conference will highlight burgeoning fields such as machine learning and on-demand services — and their potential to connect the world and shape the future on personal, local, national, global and interplanetary levels, or “frontiers.” Representatives from Pfizer, Fitbit, NASA and more are convening today to discuss what’s on the horizon for U.S. innovation, and Adler asserts that 5G will be a key driver of what’s to come.

Adler makes comparisons to the advent of the telephone, cable TV and even the iTunes App Store as comparable “platforms” for innovation throughout history. Several industries developed atop each of these, and 5G will unlock further opportunities. Consider cybersecurity: New networks will mean new entry points for hackers, and in turn, innovation on the part of those who protect against them. This is just one example, though “imaginative entrepreneurs,” as Adler describes, will create new services and capabilities beyond what is forecasted today.

The federal government has recognized the potential of 5G, and in July, the National Science Foundation pledged to invest $400 million in 5G research. The FCC has taken steps as well. But in order for 5G to be fully realized, state and local governments are going to have to get on board with private enterprises and research institutions. They will have to ensure that the necessary infrastructure can be installed quickly and cost-effectively, Adler explains.

The high frequency of 5G waves means they will not be able to travel as far as current 4G frequencies. This will require more infrastructure in places beyond just cell towers — think utility poles and inside buildings.

Not Just for Millennials

Late last month, Snapchat revealed its first hardware product, a pair of camera-equipped smart glasses known as Spectacles.

Many will compare Spectacles to Google Glass, but I encourage you to resist the urge. While a healthy bit of skepticism is warranted, Spectacles are quite different from Google’s high-tech specs; if anything, they are more akin to a GoPro. Spectacles will also only set you back $130 whereas Google Glass cost $1,500.

Most importantly, in the eyes of its target demographic, Snapchat — now known as Snap Inc. as it moves beyond its core app — is much cooler than Google.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel recounted using an early Spectacles prototype during a 2015 hike. “When I got the footage back and watched it, I could see my own memory, through my own eyes — it was unbelievable,” he told the paper. “It’s one thing to see images of an experience you had, but it’s another thing to have an experience of the experience. It was the closest I’d ever come to feeling like I was there again.”

Anyone who has used a GoPro understands the value of this statement. Kids record themselves skateboarding, bike riding, hiking, skiing, snowbarding, swimming and more. We may as well rename them The Capture Generation. It’s the demographic that Snap understands and, as this chart shows, courts.

Highlight Explosive Limits of Lithium

Lithium-based batteries have been powering our portable devices for 25 years.

But consumer demand for smaller, longer lasting devices is forcing manufacturers to push the technology, battery experts say, testing the limits of how much energy they can safely pack into smaller spaces.

“A battery is really a bomb that releases its energy in a controlled way,” says Qichao Hu, a former researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of SolidEnergy Systems, a battery startup.

“There are fundamental safety issues to all batteries, and as you get to higher energy density and faster charge, the barrier to explosion is less and less.”

On Tuesday, Samsung Electronics scrapped its flagship Note 7 smartphone and told customers return their devices after weeks of bruising reports of phones igniting and images of scorched handsets.

In early September, the world’s largest smartphone maker blamed “a very rare manufacturing process error” for the problems. It has said it is still investigating reports of fires in a second, supposedly safe, batch of phones.

Exactly what caused the problems will be the subject of detailed studies by regulators, the company and its suppliers.

Experts are baffled by what could be causing the overheating in the replacement phones, if not the batteries. Samsung says it would be “premature to speculate” on the outcome of its investigations.

“We are reviewing every step of our engineering, manufacturing and quality control processes,” Samsung said in an emailed response toReuters.

An official at the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards, which is also investigating, said the fault in the replacement devices might not be the same as the problem in the original product.

Both Samsung SDI and Amperex Technology Ltd., which supply batteries to Samsung Electronics, declined to comment.

Samsung’s Note 7 crisis may be its biggest, but the problems with lithium-ion are not new.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued recalls for battery packs, snow blowers, hoverboards, flashlights and power recliners in the past year, all because of fires caused by lithium-ion batteries.

In 2013, Boeing was forced to ground its entire fleet of advanced 787 jetliners after some lithium-ion batteries caught fire. The fleet was allowed to resume flights after changes were made to the battery and charger, and to better contain battery fires.

“We remain confident in the comprehensive improvements made to the 787 battery system following this event, and in the overall performance of the battery system and the safety of the airplane,” Boeing said in 2014 after an investigation into one incident.

Light-weight, high energy

Lithium is the lightest of all metals, and can pack a lot of energy into a small volume — making it perfect for batteries.

The market has grown from a few hundred million cells in 2000 to 8 billion last year, according to Albemarle, a U.S. chemical company.

But for the same reason, lithium-ion batteries need safety mechanisms built in, adding to production costs.

And with prices falling 14 percent per year for the past 15 years, according to Albemarle, smaller scale players have scrimped on safety, says Lewis Larsen, CEO of Lattice Energy, a consultancy.

There is no evidence Samsung or its battery suppliers cut corners with the Note 7, and Tony Olson, CEO of consultancy D2 Worldwide, said the problem was not limited to cheaper products.

He ran tests on batteries in laptops a decade ago, highlighting the dangers of them catching fire. Some 9.6 million Sony Corp. laptop batteries were subsequently recalled.

But when Olsen repeated the tests on other laptop batteries seven years later he found that “very little had changed in battery safety design, despite being under tremendous scrutiny.”

Sony, HP Inc., Toshiba Corp. and Panasonic Corp. have all recalled laptop battery packs this year over fire hazards, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Panasonic, which supplied the batteries, said the problem was caused by manufacturing issues which it had now resolved.

Asked about Samsung’s woes last week, Panasonic CEO Kazuhiro Tsuga told reporters lithium ion batteries could become prone to fires when density was raised and fast charging was applied.

“It’s a trade-off between that [risk] and benefits. We place the biggest priority on safety,” Tsuga said. “With current technologies, it’s extremely difficult to make it zero chance of such incidents.”

Ways the Internet Has Changed Entrepreneurship

images-35Technology has been changing the way people do business ever since the invention of the wheel around 3500 B.C. revolutionized how Mesopotamian farmers and tradesmen moved goods to and from market. Likewise, today’s internet is changing how entrepreneurs start businesses, connect with customers, compete more effectively and grow to scale.

How is the internet changing the world of entrepreneurship? Start with the following three ways.

The gig economy and online entrepreneurs

As many as 15 percent of American workers are currently employed full-time in the “gig economy”: as contract workers, freelancers, and temps. By 2020, this number is expected to grow to as many as 40 percent of American workers. The internet is a significant factor making this possible, as sites like Craigslist and Upwork make it easier for workers to find clients in need of their services.

But internet entrepreneurship isn’t all about freelancers. The internet has given rise to a whole new class of online entrepreneurs and content creators who develop and host games, operate online stores, run affiliate link sites, host ecommerce businesses and more.

Whether it’s a side-hustle or full-time gig, what the internet can provide entrepreneurs connects them to the markets they serve. Yet until recently, slow internet connections, data transfer caps and unreliable service hampered many entrepreneurs’ efforts to get established online.

Most start-up businesses are created from the home — whether that be the basement of a single-family residence in the suburbs or a high-rise apartment building in a downtown metropolitan area. And unfortunately, the internet is not a mobile commodity that can be picked up and delivered to the consumer.

Instead, it’s a utility that is delivered over an integrated, continuous physical or part-physical, part-wireless infrastructure. Historically, internet service companies owned and maintained a completely wired infrastructure, but even Google Fiber has recently realized that it’s expensive to bring wired fiber all the way to that house in a suburban cul de sac.

As a result, more beginning entrepreneurs are realizing that they can get super-fast internet in apartments and condominiums in downtown areas, at a fraction of what is available in suburban and rural areas. This fixed wireless, also referred to as microwave technology, is leading the way for increased competition, which is driving prices down and increasing speed expectations.

“It’s absolutely true; we have changed the market here in Chicago. In less than two years, the expectation of speed has increased by nearly tenfold and price points have dropped substantially as a result of our technology,” says Keegan Bonebrake of Everywhere Wireless. “We’re delivering up to 1,000 megabits per second in residential units, for $99 a month.

“We’re seeing the consumer demand skyrocket for ‘big bandwidth’ in residential buildings, and we’re seeing that consumer demand is driving changes in building owners’ thinking.”

Ryan Folger, the president and founder of Anexis Development, says he refused to move into an apartment building at 500 North Lake Shore Drive in Chicago unless he could gain access to Everywhere Wireless and its gigabit speeds. “The building has AT&T internet included in the rent, but it’s only six Mbps, which is simply unusable at this point,” Folger says.