Weekly output: Huawei and ZTE network-gear security, Ericsson’s 5G forecast, 5G explained

I hope you all haven’t gotten bored of me writing about 5G wireless, because there’s a lot more of that coming over the next two weeks.

12/3/2019: Don’t obsess over the security of Chinese wireless gear. Do this instead, Fast Company

I wrote about the Federal Communications Commission’s recent move to ban wireless carriers that receive Universal Service Fund subsidies from using any of those government dollars to buy network gear from the Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE.

12/4/2019: Get ready for 5G to make your phone even more addictive, Fast Company

Remember the Ericsson study about the future of mobile broadband worldwide that I briefly wrote about for FierceVideo last week? Fast Company also thought that worthy of a post, allowing me to cover it in more detail. As my old editor Craig Stoltz used to say: “Sell everything twice.”

12/4/2019: 5G on the horizon: Here’s what it is and what’s coming, Ars Technica

This 2,000-word post–the first of three I’m doing for Ars about the possibilities of 5G wireless–allowed me to synthesize a lot of the research and reporting I’ve been doing over the last few months. One thought I had after writing this: The carriers are setting their customers up for an enormous amount of disappointment by hyping up the potential of the one form of 5G least likely to reach most Americans, millimeter-wave 5G. Another thought: Even with all the skepticism I tried to bring to the topic at the time, my first coverage of 5G still exhibited too much trust in the sales pitches of carriers and hardware vendors.

 

 

 

 

Happy 10th birthday, iMac

A decade ago today, I set up the computer on which I’m typing this post. That is an absurdly long lifespan for any computer, much less one that’s seen near-daily use over that many years.

But here we–meaning me and the late 2009 iMac that’s now graced the same desk for 10 years–are. Three things made this longevity possible.

One is my working mainly in text and non-moving images. If I had to do any serious video editing, this model’s processor would have forced its retirement long ago. As is, there’s not that much computational labor involved in polishing prose–and while working with high-resolution photos can require a few CPU cycles, I do most of that editing online anyway.

Another is the relative repairability of this model. In the previous decade, Apple still designed desktops that allowed memory upgrades, so I took advantage of that option to double this iMac’s RAM early on. Apple didn’t intend for owners of this model to replace the hard drive, but its design left that possible with fairly simple tools–as in, no need to cut through adhesive holding the screen in place. I didn’t exploit that opportunity until a couple of years later than I should have, but the SSD upgrade I performed last spring now looks like some of the best $200 I’ve spent.

I could have replaced the optical drive that stopped reading CDs and DVDs in the same manner, but instead I bought a cheap Samsung DVD burner and plugged that into a free USB port–so much for the all-in-one concept!

(My second-longest-tenured daily-use computer, the Mac clone I kept from 1996 to 2002, was far more tolerant of tinkering, since Power Computing designed it along the lines of any PC desktop. That box ended its service to me after two processor upgrades, one hard drive replacement, an internal power-supply transplant, a memory upgrade and the addition of two USB ports.)

Last comes Apple’s baffling inability to keep its desktops current over any sustained stretch of time. The company formerly known as “Apple Computer, Inc.” spent several years not updating the iMac or Mac mini at all. By the time it finally refreshed the iMac, buying a new all-in-one desktop would have meant buying a 4K monitor inseparable from a computer would grow obsolete well before the display. But when Apple finally updated the moribund Mac mini last year, it shipped it with a joke of a 128 GB SSD and then listed insultingly high prices for adequate storage.

It’s since slightly moderated the storage rip-off, but the Mac mini has now gone over a year without an update, so I’d feel like a chump paying new-Mac pricing for that old design now. Even though my legacy Mac is now living two editions of macOS in the past–Apple dropped support for this model with macOS Mojave, leaving macOS Catalina completely out of the question. If Apple weren’t still shipping security updates for macOS High Sierra, I’d be in a real pickle.

Okay, I guess there’s a fourth factor behind this iMac’s longevity: I can be really cheap, stubborn or both sometimes.

Updated 12/3/2019 to note my OS-support issues and better crop a photo.

Weekly output: Comcast broadcast-TV fee hike, Starz app, Disney+ downloads, Ericsson mobile-broadband study, Opensignal video-quality study, Black Friday media-player deals, inactive Twitter accounts

Hello, December–as in, the month in which the only uncertainty left about my income for the year concerns which clients will not pay an outstanding invoice until after Dec. 31.

11/25/2019: Comcast readies another round of rate hikes, FierceVideo

I spent the first three mornings of the week filling in at this trade-pub client to write up breaking news. Comcast obliged me by prepping its latest in a long series of rate hikes–one topped by a nearly 50 percent increase in the broadcast-TV fee that didn’t even exist before 2015.

11/25/2019: Starz takes streaming-TV app overseas, FierceVideo

Monday didn’t have much else in the way of breaking video news, so I wrote up this international expansion of Starz’ streaming app.

11/26/2019: Disney+ mobile apps hit 15.5 million downloads: Report, FierceVideo

My editor at Fierce flagged the New York Post’s writeup of the news, which extrapolated from the app-download estimates of Apptopia to conclude that almost a million people were signing up for Disney+ a day. I’m glad I asked Apptopia for comment, because they declined to associate themselves with the Post’s assumptions.

11/26/2019: Ericsson study: video will eat 76% of mobile bandwidth in 2025, FierceVideo

I wrote up a new Ericsson forecast calling for a boom in streaming video–fueled by rapid adoption of 5G broadband.

11/27/2019: Opensignal study slams U.S. carriers’ streaming-video quality, FierceVideo

My first item Wednesday morning was an Opensignal study that gave streaming-video quality in the U.S. the equivalent of an F- and ranked us between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

11/27/2019: Streaming video players spotted less at early Black Friday sales, FierceVideo

The headline on this was supposed to read “Streaming video plays spotted for less.” I was also supposed to have Wednesday afternoon free after filing this, but I didn’t finish writing another post for a separate client (not yet posted) until 5 p.m.

11/28/2019: Inactive Twitter accounts, Al Jazeera

I took a short break from Thanksgiving cooking to pop in via Skype and discuss Twitter’s quickly-walked-back plans to start culling inactive accounts. Most of the questions from AJ’s host involved what Twitter should do for the accounts of deceased members, and I had to admit that it crazy for Twitter still not to have any policy for that.

Is it even Thanksgiving if you don’t travel?

For the first time more than three decades, I didn’t have to travel anywhere for Thanksgiving–my brother and his family and my mom came to our house this year. So what did I do with all the time I didn’t have to spend traveling up and down the Northeast Corridor?

I worked until about 5 p.m. Wednesday. Of course that was going to happen. And then I got dinner on the table stupidly late because I thought I’d try a new Instant Pot recipe that wound up introducing me to that device’s dreaded “burn” error condition.

Fortunately, the really important dinner came together fine Thursday, with an enormous amount of help from my extended family. With my sister in law taking charge of the turkey, I didn’t have that much more work to do than I would have in an away-from-home Thanksgiving. My two Thanksgiving standbys, almost-no-work bread and pumpkin pie, were outright easier because I didn’t have to think about where to find utensils and ingredients.

In the bargain, we finally got to break out the good china (after washing it to remove years of accumulated dust), and now we have all the leftovers. I am thankful for that.

But the downside of having people come to you for Thanksgiving is that they’re spending their own money, miles or points to travel and may decide to compromise their schedule to reduce that hit. For my brother and his family and my mom, that meant flying here Tuesday and going home today. So after three days of having five extra people bouncing around our house, the place now feels too empty and too quiet.

Weekly output: 5G in buildings, online security, Qualcomm’s 5G vision, AncestryDNA, 23andMe, smartphone location privacy, 5G meets the Washington Post

Don’t expect any tweetstorms from me this week about the joys of spending time on a plane, a train, a bus or a car: For the first time since 1988, I’m not traveling for Thanksgiving. Instead, my mom and my brother and his family are coming to us. Since I have somehow never cooked a turkey before, Thursday promises to be its own little culinary adventure.

11/18/2019: Expect 5G to Slow Its Roll as It Enters Buildings, Urban Land

You may have read my first piece in the Urban Land Institute’s magazine since 2014 earlier if you got a print copy of the mag, but I don’t know when they started showing up.

11/18/2019: You’re not crazy to feel some insecurity about your security online, Riderwood Computer Club

I gave a talk about computer security–with slides and everything!–to the user group at this Maryland retirement community. My hosts asked some great questions and gave me at least one story idea I need to sell somewhere.

11/20/2019: Qualcomm is talking a big game about 5G—in 2020 and beyond, Fast Company

I wrote up Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon’s presentation at that firm’s analyst day, calling out some inconsistencies in his sales pitch for 5G wireless.

11/21/2019: AncestryDNA Review: DNA Test Kit, Tom’s Guide

I reviewed this DNA-test service and did come away quite as impressed with it as some other reviewers.

11/21/2019: 23andMe Review, Tom’s Guide

The prospect of having this DNA-test service warn me that I had a genetic predisposition for some incurable disease left me a little nervous. But 23andMe found no such red flags, allowing me to complete this review without lingering feelings of existential dread.

11/23/2019: Apple and Google remind you about location privacy, but don’t forget your wireless carrier, USA Today

My editor asked if I could do a recap of the location-privacy features in Android 10 and iOS 13, and I realized that this topic would let me revisit my earlier reporting for TechCrunch about the location data-retention policies of the big four wireless carriers.

11/24/2019: 5G is going to save journalism! Maybe! (Don’t hold your breath), Fast Company

I wrote about a deal between AT&T and the Washington Post to put 5G to work in journalism–which, given the extreme coverage limits of the millimeter-wave 5G that figures so prominently in their announcement, seems a reach. I couldn’t resist reminding readers of a past collaboration between my old shop and AT&T: the doomed Digital Ink online service running on AT&T’s Interchange platform.

Six updates in, iPadOS still needs work

It hasn’t even been two months since Apple shipped iPadOS, but in that time the tablet offshoot of iOS 13 has seen six maintenance updates–from iPadOS 13.1.1 to 13.2.3.

That plethora of patches has squashed some obvious bugs, like the ones that made Dock shortcuts to recently-opened non-Apple apps inert. They have not, however, cured other trying aspects of iPadOS:

• The new QuickPath gesture-typing option is, for some reason, confined to the floating keyboard you can invoke, not the standard-sized one. Has nobody at Apple tried using Google’s Gboard?

• The new multiple-windows option for an app is buried beneath a long-press of a Dock icon–sufficiently hidden that I did not realize that feature existed until reading Ars Technica’s iPadOS review.

• I appreciate Apple’s attempts to make me aware when apps request my location in the background, but after being nagged 10 times about my choice to let the Dark Sky weather app check my coordinates in the background, I’d appreciate having an option to the effect of “I know what I’m doing and you can stop asking about this.”

• Seeing which apps have updates or have been recently updated takes more steps than in iOS 12–presumably, so that Apple could use that spot at the bottom of the App Store app to promote its Apple Arcade subscription gaming service.

• The process of moving app icons around feels even more maddening than before, especially if I happen to drop an app inside a folder by mistake. Meanwhile, the OS still affords no relief from its inflexible app grid; I can’t leave a row or a column blank as negative space to set off particular icons.

• AirDrop remains as enabling of anonymous harassment as ever.

• I still see display glitches like the charming overlap of portrait and landscape screen modes shown in the screengrab above.

It’s not that I regret installing iPadOS–some of the new features, like the privacy-preserving Sign in with Apple option, are only starting to reveal their promise. Others, such as the Sidecar Mac screen-mirroring option, require newer hardware than the aging iMac on which I’m typing this. But seeing these obscure, illogical or insensitive bits of user experience, I can’t help thinking of all the times I’ve taken a whack at Windows for the same sort of design stumbles.

Weekly output: AT&T “unlimited” plans, Helium’s peer-to-peer IoT network

I spent Friday attending a tech-policy event at the Newseum’s conference space. That’s something I’ve done a great many times, but Friday’s visit looks like it might be my last ever, or at best my last for the next four years. The Newseum is closing at the end of the year before Johns Hopkins University starts a lengthy renovation of the building it bought in January, and I have no further events there on my calendar.

11/15/2019: AT&T’s latest smartphone plans offer new ways to limit ‘unlimited’ data, USA Today

My latest in an ongoing series of “here’s what’s up with your wireless carrier’s new sort-of-unlimited plans” columns unpacked recent changes at AT&T. My advice this time: When assessing unlimited-esque plans, the most important limit to assess is the threshold at which your data speeds can be “deprioritized,” followed by the cap on your use of the phone’s mobile-hotspot function.

11/15/2019: This startup wants to pay you—in cryptocurrency—to help build its network, Fast Company

It took a while for me to wrap my head around the cryptocurrency framework meant to underwrite Helium’s peer-to-peer Internet-of-Things wireless network. And then soon after the story went up, I got an e-mail from a Lime publicist asking that we remove the mention of them, because they hadn’t worked with Helium–even though Helium has repeatedly cited Lime as a partner, including a prominent mention on their site’s business page that vanished after I’d filed the post. Helium later responded that Lime had tested their tech before deciding not to pursue it… which still doesn’t square with Lime’s denial of any relationship. One thing I know for sure: I’m glad I thought to e-mail Lime while reporting the story to check up on Helium’s positioning of them. And if Lime’s reply to that message had arrived Thursday instead of Friday, this story would not have read the same.