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What to expect from Mobile World Congress 2019

Posted by | 5g, events, foldables, hardware, LG, Mobile, mwc, mwc 2019, OnePlus, Samsung, Sony | No Comments

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: 2019 just might be the year that smartphones get fun again. After years of similar form factors and slight upgrades, the mobile industry’s back is against the wall.

For the first time ever, sales are down, owning to economic factors and slower upgrade cycles. Most people who want good phones have had access to them for a while, and smartphone makers are providing fewer compelling reasons to buy new ones.

With their backs against the wall, handset makers are getting creative. We’ve already seen some early fruits from companies late last year and last month at CES. But MWC is really going to be their time to shine. It’s a much larger mobile show, and all parties know that everyone’s bringing the big guns.

Here’s what we expect to see in Barcelona February 24-28.

Huawei: The company looks to have a lot on tap for the event — in part because the North America-based CES is kind of a non-starter. CEO Richard Yu has hinted at a foldable and a 5G handset — which could well be the same phone. More mainstream are the P30 and P30 Pro. The company’s done a good job keeping it under wraps, but rumors about three or four rear-lenses have made the rounds.

LG: As is its move, LG has already announced the G8 ThinQ. We know that the new flagship will feature a front-facing camera with Time of Flight sensor that brings potential tricks like face unlock, along with AR applications. The V50 is also reportedly on tap, potentially bringing 5G along for the ride.

Microsoft: A surprise addition to this year’s show, Microsoft’s already announced an event for February 24, where we expect the company will show off the HoloLens 2. The next-gen version of the headset will arrive as the rest of the hardware and software world is finally ready to embrace augmented reality in earnest.

Motorola: The recent launch of the G7 may have taken the wind out of MWC’s sails, but rumors of a foldable Razr reboot are making the rounds.

OnePlus: We know that a 5G handset and the OnePlus 7 are both in the pipeline — and, perhaps, one and the same? There’s also tell of a closed-door event at the show, but most aren’t expecting any big unveils from the company.

Samsung: Don’t expect a ton out of Samsung this year. The company (inconveniently) is holding its big event a mere days before. Expect the S10 and all its iterations to get a big unveil that week in San Francisco, along with a preview of the company’s upcoming foldable. That doesn’t leave a heck of a lot for MWC, but perhaps we’ll get a peek into the world of wearables or PCs.

Sony: While Xperia phones have long felt like a bit of a loss leader, the electronics giant has always made a big show of launching flagship devices. Those, in turn, have long been a launchpad for some exciting camera tricks. This year, the Xperia XZ4 appears to be on tap for the event. The handset looks to be an interesting one, with a reported 21:9 aspect ratio display and a beefy 4,400 mAh battery.

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Sprint calls AT&T’s 5G E label ‘false advertising’ in new lawsuit

Posted by | 5g, AT&T, lawsuit, Mobile, sprint | No Comments

While it’s true that it’s going to take some time before most of us will actually be able to enjoy the benefits of 5G, that doesn’t mean you can’t sit back and enjoy the fireworks right now. AT&T’s adoption of the “5G Evolution” label has already been controversial among industry followers and fellow carriers alike for watering down the meaning of next-gen connectivity — and now Sprint is looking to do something about it.

The carrier filed suit against what it called “false advertising and deceptive acts” relating to AT&T’s 5G E. The suit notes, rightly, that Sprint, AT&T and other major carriers are all jostling to be first to market, “but calling its network 5G E […] does not make it a 5G network.” In fact, the network is more akin to advanced LTE.

AT&T called itself “[the] first U.S. mobile company to introduce mobile 5G service in a dozen markets by late 2018” courtesy of the label, in a much-maligned attempt to plant its flag. It’s similar to tactics used by the carrier ahead of the rollout of LTE. AT&T has largely waved away criticism, stating that it’s happy that such moves have gotten it into the heads of the competition.

That may be true, but anyone who has watched the industry with even passing interest knows that real network advances take time, and this sort of branding goes a ways toward muddying up consumer understanding. The suit goes on to claim that the 5GE label violates state and federal false advertising laws and does damage to competitors like Sprint, which is invested in the slower rollout of true 5G.

Update: AT&T is standing defiant on this one. Here’s their statement:

We understand why our competitors don’t like what we are doing, but our customers love it. We introduced 5G Evolution more than two years ago, clearly defining it as an evolutionary step to standards-based 5G. 5G Evolution and the 5GE indicator simply let customers know when their device is in an area where speeds up to twice as fast as standard LTE are available. That’s what 5G Evolution is, and we are delighted to deliver it to our customers.

We will fight this lawsuit while continuing to deploy 5G Evolution in addition to standards-based mobile 5G. Customers want and deserve to know when they are getting better speeds. Sprint will have to reconcile its arguments to the FCC that it cannot deploy a widespread 5G network without T-Mobile while simultaneously claiming in this suit to be launching ‘legitimate 5G technology imminently.’

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Verizon and T-Mobile call out AT&T over fake 5G labels

Posted by | 4G, 5g, 5g network, AT&T, deutsche telekom, Gadgets, Internet of Things, Mobile, mobile technology, T-Mobile, technology, Verizon, Verizon Communications, wireless industry, wireless networks | No Comments

AT&T recently started a shady marketing tactic that labeled its 4G network as a 5G network. Now, rivals Verizon and T-Mobile are not having any of it.

In an open letter, in which AT&T is not named directly, Verizon says in part “the potential to over-hype and under-deliver on the 5G promise is a temptation that the wireless industry must resist.” TechCrunch agrees. The advantages of 5G networks are profound. The next generation of wireless networks will bring more than just increased speeds, and AT&T’s current campaign of calling a 4G network a 5G network clouds the water.

T-Mobile is more direct in its criticism of AT&T. Because that’s how T-Mobile rolls. Watch.

didn’t realize it was this easy, brb updating pic.twitter.com/dCmnd6lspH

— T-Mobile (@TMobile) January 7, 2019

This isn’t the first time AT&T has employed this mislabeling campaign. The wireless carrier did something similar prior to launching its LTE network; it was shady then and it’s shady now.

Disclosure: TechCrunch is a Verizon Media company.

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D-Link thinks 5G will cut your cords forever

Posted by | 5g, Best-Buy, CES 2019, computing, D Link, DSP, Gadgets, Internet of Things, Router, TC, technology, wi-fi, wireless | No Comments

Network gear maker D-Link just announced a 5G router that sends high-speed Wi-Fi through your house without cables. The router, called the DWR-2010, should allow users to get massive speeds over 5G networks without running cable. Don’t expect to pick this up at the local Best Buy, however, as the 5G router will probably ship from wireless service providers.

The DWR-2010 also offers customization options for service providers, making it suitable for deployment on a range of network configurations. The gateway features an embedded 5G NR (New Radio) NSA module and can operate on the sub-6 GHz or mmWave frequencies in 200 MHz (2 x 100 MHz) or 800 MHz (8 x 100 MHz) configurations. Complete with remote management (TR-069) and FOTA, the DWR-2010 provides hassle-free operation and a better customer experience.

D-Link also announced some new Exo mesh routers as well as a cute little mydlink devices including a smart switch and a weird little water sensor that will warn you when your water heater explodes. The Indoor Wi-Fi Smart Plug (DSP-W118) and Outdoor Wi-Fi Smart Plug (DSP-W320) will control your lights and appliances both indoors and out.

Expect these cool tools to hit stores in Q2 2019.

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AT&T is lying to customers with 5G marketing

Posted by | 4G, 5g, AT&T, CES 2019, Gadgets, Internet of Things, LTE, Mobile, mobile technology, technology, Verizon, wireless | No Comments

After a recent update some AT&T phones now have a 5G E icon. This icon replaces the one indicated the phone is running on a 4G network. But here’s the thing: The phone is still on a 4G network. AT&T has played these games before, too.

This nonsense is a marketing ploy by AT&T. The so-called 5G E (5G Evolution) network is just a beefed-up 4G network and not true 5G, which is still far from being ready for general consumption. AT&T used the same deceptive tactics before launching its LTE network.

Right now only select phones in a few markets will see the change. The wireless carrier intends to roll out this madness to even more phones and even more markets throughout the year.

Disclosure: TechCrunch is a Verizon Media company.

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The top smartphone trends to watch in 2019

Posted by | 2018 Roundup, 5g, 5g network, Android, Apple, artificial intelligence, AT&T, Google, HTC, huawei, LG, Mobile, mobile phones, Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics, smartphone, smartphones, sprint, TC, Verizon | No Comments

This was a bad year for the smartphone. For the first time, its seemingly unstoppable growth began to slow.

Things started off on a bad note in February, when Gartner recorded its first year-over-year decline since it began tracking the category. Not even the mighty Apple was immune from the trend. Last week, stocks took a hit as influential analyst Ming-Chi Kuo downgraded sales expectations for 2019.

People simply aren’t upgrading as fast as they used to. This is due in part to the fact that flagship phones are pretty good across the board. Manufacturers have painted themselves into a corner as they’ve battled it out over specs. There just aren’t as many compelling reasons to continually upgrade.

Of course, that’s not going to stop them from trying. Along with the standard upgrades to things like cameras, you can expect some radical rethinks of smartphone form factors, along with the first few pushes into 5G in the next calendar year.

If we’re lucky, there will be a few surprises along the way as well, but the following trends all look like no-brainers for 2019.

5G

Attendees look at 5G mobile phones at the Qualcomm stand during China Mobile Global Partner Conference 2018 at Poly World Trade Center Exhibition Hall on December 6, 2018 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China.

GUANGZHOU, CHINA – DECEMBER 06: Attendees look at 5G mobile phones at the Qualcomm stand during China Mobile Global Partner Conference 2018 at Poly World Trade Center Exhibition Hall on December 6, 2018 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China. The three-day conference opened on Thursday, with the theme of 5G network. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Let’s get this one out of the way, shall we? It’s a bit tricky — after all, plenty of publications are going to claim 2019 as “The Year of 5G,” but they’re all jumping the gun. It’s true that we’re going to see the first wave of 5G handsets appearing next year.

OnePlus and LG have committed to a handset and Samsung, being Samsung, has since committed to two. We’ve also seen promises of a Verizon 5G MiFi and whatever the hell this thing is from HTC and Sprint.

Others, most notably Apple, are absent from the list. The company is not expected to release a 5G handset until 2020. While that’s going to put it behind the curve, the truth of the matter is that 5G will arrive into this world as a marketing gimmick. When it does fully roll out, 5G has the potential to be a great, gaming-changing technology for smartphones and beyond. And while carriers have promised to begin rolling out the technology in the States early next year (AT&T even got a jump start), the fact of the matter is that your handset will likely spend a lot more time using 4G.

That is to say, until 5G becomes more ubiquitous, you’re going to be paying a hefty premium for a feature you barely use. Of course, that’s not going to stop hardware makers, component manufacturers and their carrier partners from rushing these devices to market as quickly as possible. Just be aware of your chosen carrier’s coverage map before shelling out that extra cash.

Foldables

We’ve already seen two — well, one-and-a-half, really. And you can be sure we’ll see even more as smartphone manufacturers scramble to figure out the next big thing. After years of waiting, we’ve been pretty unimpressed with the foldable smartphone we’ve seen so far.

The Royole is fascinating, but its execution leaves something to be desired. Samsung’s prototype, meanwhile, is just that. The company made it the centerpiece of its recent developer conference, but didn’t really step out of the shadows with the product — almost certainly because they’re not ready to show off the full product.

Now that the long-promised technology is ready in consumer form, it’s a safe bet we’ll be seeing a number of companies exploring the form factor. That will no doubt be helped along by the fact that Google partnered with Samsung to create a version of Android tailored to the form factor — similar to its embrace of the top notch with Android Pie.

Of course, like 5G, these designs are going to come at a major premium. Once the initial novelty has worn off, the hardest task of all will be convincing consumers they need one in their life.

Pinholes

Bezels be damned. For better or worse, the notch has been a mainstay of flagship smartphones. Practically everyone (save for Samsung) has embraced the cutout in an attempt to go edge to edge. Even Google made it a part of Android (while giving the world a notch you can see from space with the Pixel 3 XL).

We’ve already seen (and will continue to see) a number of clever workarounds like Oppo’s pop-up. The pin hole/hole punch design found on the Huawei Nova 4 seems like a more reasonable route for a majority of camera manufacturers.

Embedded Fingerprint Readers

The flip side of the race to infinite displays is what to do with the fingerprint reader. Some moved it to the rear, while others, like Apple, did away with it in favor of face scanning. Of course, for those unable to register a full 3D face scan, that tech is pretty easy to spoof. For that reason, fingerprint scanners aren’t going away any time soon.

OnePlus’ 6T was among the first to bring the in-display fingerprint scanner to market, and it works like a charm. Here’s how the tech works (quoting from my own writeup from a few months ago):

When the screen is locked, a fingerprint icon pops up, showing you where to press. When the finger is in the right spot, the AMOLED display flashes a bright light to capture a scan of the surface from the reflected light. The company says it takes around a third of a second, though in my own testing, that number was closer to one second or sometimes longer as I negotiated my thumb into the right spot.

Samsung’s S10 is expected to bring that technology when it arrives around the February time frame, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of other manufacturers follow suit.

Cameras, cameras, cameras (also, cameras)

What’s the reasonable limit for rear-facing cameras? Two? Three? What about the five cameras on that leaked Nokia from a few months back? When does it stop being a phone back and start being a camera front? These are the sorts of existential crises we’ll have to grapple with as manufacturers continue to attempt differentiation through imagining.

Smartphone cameras are pretty good across the board these days, so one of the simple solutions has been simply adding more to the equation. LG’s latest offers a pretty reasonable example of how this will play out for many. The V40 ThinQ has two front and three rear-facing cameras. The three on the back are standard, super wide-angle and 2x optical zoom, offering a way to capture different types of images when a smartphone camera isn’t really capable of that kind of optical zoom in a thin form factor.

On the flip side, companies will also be investing a fair deal in software to help bring better shots to existing components. Apple and Google both demonstrated how a little AI and ML can go a long way toward improving image capture on their last handsets. Expect much of that to be focused on ultra-low light and zoom.

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The 5G wars have entered the petty stage

Posted by | 5g, AT&T, Mobile, TC, Verizon | No Comments

If you’re reading this the year it was written, you’re almost certainly not getting it over 5G. If you’re reading this in the future, congrats, you made it. And hey, remember polar bears?

5G is the latest buzzword to send the mobile industry into a tizzy. This one’s got a particular weight to it, too, given that smartphone sales have started flagging for the first time ever. The fact is that 5G has the power to be a truly transformational technology for smartphones and beyond — assuming we’re not all sick of talking about it by the time it gets here.

The first buds have finally begun to show. This morning, AT&T announced that it’s flipping the 5G switch this Friday. And you can take advantage of it if you live in parts of Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio or Waco. And if you pick up the compatible mobile hotspot.

That’s already a lot of very important caveats, but Verizon was quick to “clarify” things. The carrier (which, for the record, owns TechCrunch), sent me the following unsolicited statement from Verizon spokesperson Kevin King, upon reading our story. “Welcome to the 5G party, begun by Verizon on October 1, 2018.”

Hey, cool, dude.

I cannot begin to explain how important 5G is going to be for this country, so I have to say congrats to Verizon on delivering its 5G* Home Service today. It doesn’t use global industry standards or cover whole blocks and will never scale… but hey, it is first, right?! 🤷‍♂️

— John Legere (@JohnLegere) October 1, 2018

Now Verizon’s sweet party guy announcement brings to mind this tweet from foul-mouthed T-Mobile CEO John Legere, “I cannot begin to explain how important 5G is going to be for this country, so I have to say congrats to Verizon on delivering its 5G* Home Service today. It doesn’t use global industry standards or cover whole blocks and will never scale… but hey, it is first, right?!”

The fact is that standards can be a tricky thing. Verizon launched something called 5G TF, not to be confused with 5G NR, more commonly accepted as the industry’s 5G standard. That’s led many to label VZW’s as something other than “true 5G.” AT&T, meanwhile, is using NR, but an early version of the spec, which will eventually be upgraded via firmware. Verizon, meanwhile, has been transitioning toward the standard.

Being first accounts for a lot in this industry, especially with the backdrop of slowing device sales. But the reality for most consumers is that ubiquitous 5G is still a ways off here in the States. And while hardware makers like OnePlus, LG and Samsung have been falling all over themselves to announce a 5G smartphone or two, many consumers who shell out that extra premium are going to be spending a fair amount of time on LTE.

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AT&T is turning on 5G access for its new mobile hotspot this week

Posted by | 5g, AT&T, Mobile, Netgear | No Comments

A little taste of 5G is coming early, courtesy of AT&T’s new mobile hotspot. The carrier announced this morning that it will be firing up limited 5G service in a dozen cities across the U.S. this Friday, currently only accessible via the Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot.

Those who pick up the router will be able to access the new network speeds in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio and Waco. Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose are all coming early next year.

The first batch of 5G smartphones are also coming at some point next year, with Samsung notably having already announced two handsets for 2019. In the spring, the carrier will offer the router for a $499 upfront fee, plus $70 a month for 15GB of data, with no-long term commitment — a price, it notes, is around the same as the current 4G hot spots. Pricing for phone plans is still unannounced.

It’s all pretty limited, but in the current 5G land grab, every inch counts.

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Qualcomm announces the Snapdragon 855 and its new under-display fingerprint sensor

Posted by | 5g, artificial intelligence, Gadgets, gigabit, hardware, Mobile, Qualcomm, snapdragon, system on a chip | No Comments

This week, Qualcomm is hosting press and analysts on Maui for its annual Snapdragon Summit. Sadly, we’re not there, but a couple of weeks ago, Qualcomm gave us a preview of the news. There’ll be three days of news and the company decided to start with a focus on 5G, as well as a preview of its new Snapdragon 855 mobile platform. In addition, the company announced its new ultrasonic fingerprint solution for sensors that can sit under the display.

It’ll probably still be a while before there’ll be a 5G tower in your neighborhood, but after years of buzz, it’s fair to say that we’re now getting to the point where 5G is becoming real. Indeed, AT&T and Verizon are showing off live 5G networks on Maui this week. Qualcomm described its event as the “coming out party for 5G,” though I’m sure we’ll hear from plenty of other players who will claim the same in the coming months.

In the short term, what’s maybe more interesting is that Qualcomm also announced its new flagship 855 mobile platform today. While the company didn’t release all of the details yet, it stressed that the 855 is “the world’s first commercial mobile platform supporting multi-gigabit 5G.”

The 855 also features a new multi-core AI engine that promises up to 3x better AI performance compared to its previous mobile platform, as well as specialized computer vision silicon for enhanced computational photography (think something akin to Google’s Night Light) and video capture.

The company also briefly noted that the new platform has been optimized for gaming. The product name for this is “Snapdragon Elite Gaming,” but details remain sparse. Qualcomm also continues to bet on AR (or “extended reality” as the company brands it).

The last piece of news is likely the most interesting here. Fingerprint sensors are now standard, even on mid-market phones. With its new 3D Sonic Sensors, Qualcomm promises an enhanced ultrasonic fingerprint solution that can sit under the display. In part, this is a rebranding of Qualcomm’s existing under-display sensor, but there’s some new technology here, too. The promise here is that the scanner will work, even if the display is very dirty or if the user installs a screen protector. Chances are, we’ll see quite a few new flagship phones in the next few months (Mobile World Congress is coming up quickly, after all) that will feature these new fingerprint scanners.

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AT&T says it’s getting that 5G Samsung phone, too

Posted by | 5g, AT&T, Mobile, Samsung | No Comments

Samsung announced yesterday that it’s set to bring a 5G phone to market in the first half of next year, name-checking Verizon in the promise. This morning, however, AT&T was quick to note that it will also be getting its hand on the still-unnamed handset in the first half of 2019.

The carrier issued a next-day press release which, like Verizon’s, is less focused on information about the handset than self-congratulatory statements about the two companies involved. AT&T promises “unforeseen possibilities for the tech,” while pledging to “bring the best in technology and innovation to our customers.”

The company’s also quick to note that the untitled Samsung isn’t its first planned 5G device. That title belongs to a mobile hotspot the company announced back in October. The company hasn’t offered up a release date on that one, but the first half of 2019 seems like a pretty safe bet for that product, too.

As noted yesterday, companies like OnePlus and Motorola have already promised to release 5G handsets at some point next year. Apple, on the other hand, isn’t expected to go 5G with the iPhone until 2020.

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