Weekly output: a 5G reality check, sports network fees without sports

Yesterday afforded us the rare privilege of several hours spent in a different part of the greater Washington area–Harpers Ferry. That historic town at the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah is as picturesque they say, and it’s close enough that I have zero excuse not to have visited it before. On the other hand, it’s good that after 30-plus years around here I’m still discovering new places.

9/4/2020: Two promising 5G trends: $200 5G phones and unlimited home broadband, Fast Company

My coverage of the scaled-back IFA tech show got an unexpected boost when Qualcomm offered Fast Company a chance to quiz their president Cristiano Amon about their announcements at that event. I enjoyed my conversation with the executive I’d met IRL at an IFA reception last year, and I also appreciated getting some realistic talk about which parts of the 5G formula actually look to be mass-market material on a global scale.

9/6/2020: NBA, NHL, MLB fans sidelined: Will TV subscribers ever get money back after coronavirus shortened seasons?, USA Today

I wrote an update to the column I did in April that didn’t break an enormous amount of news–AT&T’s reply almost matched the one they provided then word-for-word. But I did get some more specific assurances from Comcast about when subscribers might get compensation for months of paying sports-network fees that have not brought anywhere near the usual quota of live sports.

Weekly output: password managers, exposure-notification apps, talking tech with Mark Vena

Six months ago, I expected to be busy tonight packing for the IFA tech trade show. But although that conference in Berlin is proceeding on a drastically-scaled-down basis, I’m not flying to Germany tomorrow because of the European Union’s ban on Americans traveling to the EU. Given how thoroughly we’ve botched this pandemic, I can’t blame them for imposing that restriction.

8/24/2020: Extra security or extra risk? Pros and cons of password managers, TechRepublic

I shared my experience with password managers–mainly LastPass and 1Password–with TechRepublic’s Veronica Combs for this overview of the advantages and disadvantages of these services.

8/25/2020: COVID-19 tracking apps, supported by Apple and Google, begin showing up in app stores, USA Today

Writing a lengthy report for O’Reilly about contact-tracing apps did not mean I could write this much shorter piece from memory and my existing notes. In addition to getting useful adoption data from Virginia’s Department of Public Health about its COVIDWISE app, I also reported that VDH plans to support a national key-server project from the Association of Public Health Laboratories that will let these state-developed apps relay and receive warnings of potential COVID-19 exposure across state lines.

8/28/2020: SmartTechCheck Podcast (8-28-20), Mark Vena

I talked about exposure-notification apps, the future of tech events like IFA, 5G wireless and Apple silicon with my analyst pal at Moor Insights & Strategy–another tech type who would have been packing for Berlin tonight but is instead grounded. You may notice a break in the recording about halfway through, when I had to get a glass of water so I could resume speaking normally. Note to self: Before sitting down to record a 45-minute podcast, make sure a glass of water is on the desk.

Weekly output: Sprint + T-Mobile, WhatsApp vs. NSO Group

This week put me in the unusual position of unwinding travel arrangements that I’d made months ago–then figuring out what to do with the time I would not be spending at the now-canceled MWC trade show. At least I’m getting out of that debacle with almost no money lost (United offered to waive the change fee I’d otherwise owe when applying the credit from my scratched booking), unlike some people I know.

Speaking of trade shows, subscribers at Patreon got to read yesterday about the thought process I put into deciding which company or companies to put on my badge for an event. The answer isn’t always obvious; sometimes, I prefer to go with a more obscure affiliation.

2/12/2020: The Sprint/T-Mobile merger has some real upsides—and plenty of unknowns, Fast Company

Here’s an example of where reporting has led me to change my mind. Several years ago, I didn’t see much upside in combining the networks of those two wireless carriers. But as I’ve spent more time immersing myself in the finer points of 5G, I’ve come around to the idea that lighting up Sprint’s 5G spectrum across T-Mo’s 5G coverage will yield a serious improvement. Other potential upsides of this merger, however, remain less clear to me.

2/13/2020: WhatsApp vs. NSO Group, Al Jazeera

I was on the Arabic-language news network (overdubbed live into Arabic, as usual) to talk about WhatsApp’s lawsuit against the Israeli cybersecurity surveillance firm NSO Group for allegedly hacking into the encrypted communications of journalists and activists using the Facebook-owned messaging application.

Weekly output: Google’s RCS messaging, PBS comes to YouTube TV (x2), 5G and IoT, Telaria + Rubicon, pay-TV fee transparency, Dish boxes + Nest Hello video doorbells, car2go gone, best DNA tests

My last full work week of the year and the decade had me busy, which is another way of saying this was a real bag of stress. I am looking forward to enjoying a few more tranquil days, and I hope you all also get some downtime in the rest of the December.

12/16/2019: Google’s new RCS text messaging: Will it work with my wireless carrier?, USA Today

I explained this upgrade to SMS that Google has taken to calling “chat features,” and which continues to see apathetic support from carriers.

12/17/2019: Cord cutters, you can finally stream your PBS stations online – on YouTube TV, USA Today

The reporting I did in January for a FierceVideo piece about PBS’s digital strategy paid off when I got a heads-up from public television’s Boston station WGBH about their impending arrival on YouTube TV. That allowed me to get this post on USAT’s site right after the news that cord cutters could finally watch many local PBS affiliates without needing either reliable over-the-air reception or a cable or satellite TV subscription.

12/18/2019: 5G deployment stands ready to supercharge the Internet of Things, Ars Technica

My last feature-length explainer covered the potential of 5G’s network-slicing and edge-computing capabilities in IoT markets. Like the earlier two, this was sponsored by a company that I assume was Verizon, going by the presence of their ads atop each one in the series. But Ars has yet to confirm that, and they certainly didn’t tell me in advance–which is exactly how this sort of arrangement should work.

12/19/2019: PBS lands on YouTube TV, FierceVideo

I spent the last two days of the week filling in at this trade-pub client to cover breaking news. My first post provided some more context about PBS’s debut on a streaming-TV service, including more details about participating stations than I had for the USA Today piece.

12/19/2019: Adtech firms Telaria and Rubicon to merge, FierceVideo

Thursday’s other post was a writeup of this merger of two adtech companies that I must admit I didn’t know much about prior to Thursday.

12/20/2019: New law mandates pay-TV fee transparency, FierceVideo

Friday morning, I wrote up the Television Viewer Protection Act, a just-passed measure mandating a little more disclosure of such tacked-on pay-TV expenses as the surcharge for local broadcasts and equipment-rental fees.

12/20/2019: Dish Network says hello to Google’s video doorbell, FierceVideo

Some Dish DVRs and receivers can now show a Nest Hello video doorbell’s view of who’s at your front door.

12/21/2019: An elegy for Car2Go, the smarter Zipcar rival that lost its way, Fast Company

The demise of D.C.’s leading point-to-point car-sharing service made me and many other transportation geeks sad.

12/21/2019: The best DNA test kit of 2019, Tom’s Guide

The fourth big story I wrote about DNA tests for this reviews site offers a ranking of the two I tested myself, 23andMe and AncestryDNA, plus an assessment of three others that have ranked high in other reviews: MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA and Living DNA.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Weekly output: e-scooter privacy, whither Vudu, World Series viewership, Vint Cerf on 5G, Firefox Web-privacy reporting

LISBON–Getting here the day before the start of Web Summit meant having to miss the Nationals’ victory parade downtown and then catch up with video highlights afterwards. Yes, there I go talking about this weird interest of mine. But just watch the clip of Ryan Zimmerman speaking at the parade, his voice cracking, about what it was like to win it all with the only MLB team he’s ever known–“There’s not a team that I would have wanted to do that with more than these guys”–and see if it doesn’t get dusty in the room.

Fast Company Uber-vs.-L.A. post10/31/2019: L.A. wants to know where you ride your scooter, and Uber isn’t happy, Fast Company

This post started with a talk at The Atlantic’s CityLab DC conference in which the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation expressed her optimism that all the e-scooter firms operating in the city would comply with its requests for location data. That same day, Uber said they’d see the city in court.

11/1/2019: Walmart seeks to unload Vudu: report, FierceVideo

I spent Friday morning pinch-hitting for my occasional client FierceVideo, covering recent news items. This one folded in some analyst quotes about the possibility that Walmart might sell its Vudu video-on-demand service and who might want to buy it.

11/1/2019: World Series game 7 draws almost 23 million viewers, FierceVideo

I told my editors upfront that one my reasons for covering this was the chance to use the phrase “world champion Washington Nationals” in a story.

11/2/2019: This ‘father of the internet’ still isn’t completely sold on 5G, Fast Company

I got a pitch to cover a conference at which TCP/IP co-author Vint Cerf would talk about ways to get America better broadband, and then that turned into a chance to sit down with Cerf and quiz him for a few minutes. Our 12-minute talk yielded almost 2,000 words of transcript (via the Otter service), so I had to edit it aggressively to get the piece down to a three-digit word count.

11/3/2019: Here’s how to see who’s tracking you across the Web right now, USA Today

I decided to test the upgraded tracking-protection features in Mozilla Firefox by seeing what they’d report about my client USA Today’s own site.

Updated 11/4/2019 to add an image that didn’t publish the first time, plus a link to the USAT column.

Weekly output: 5G hype vs. reality, customer-experience optimization, East Coast startups, customer support, digital marketing

TOKYO–It’s been an interesting 36 hours of travel. Saturday morning, I was supposed to fly to Tokyo for the CEATEC tech trade show*, but Typhoon Hagibis led United to cancel every Tokyo-bound flight from the U.S.–the last one being a San Francisco departure that went off the board after I’d flown halfway across the U.S. An exceptionally resourceful United Club agent at SFO grabbed the last Economy Plus seat on the next flight to Shanghai, and further rebooking turned a Tuesday-morning redeye from there to Tokyo into connecting flights Monday afternoon that got me here in time for dinner, more or less.

* CEATEC’s organizers are covering travel costs for me and a handful of other U.S. tech journalists, a first-time effort to get more international attention for that event. I will note that in anything I write about this trip.

10/7/2019: 5G is mostly hype so far, Yahoo Finance

I wrote up my mostly-unimpressive experiences with a Sprint 5G hotspot and phone (something Patreon subscribers got an early look at last month), then observed that the 5G rollouts at AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are far more vaporous so far.

10/8/2019: Building an Optimization Strategy with Personalization and Experimentation, Ascent

In the first of four panels I did at this New York startup conference, I interviewed Optimizely chief marketing officer Carl Tsukahara about how companies try and sometimes fail to tweak their customer experiences to keep customers around for the long term.

10/8/2019: How to Leverage the East Coast Startup Ecosystem, Ascent

I led a panel with Google Cloud startup lead Tejpaul Bhatia and Hubspot corporate-development manager Brandon Greer about what makes the Right Coast different from the Bay Area. One thing that came up often: We’re more likely to run into each other on sidewalks and subways.

10/8/2019: Walking the Tightrope of Rising Customer Expectations, Ascent

I expected an interview at a startup conference with a guy who works for a customer-support company–Zendesk CMO Jeff Titterton–would lead to a lot of support questions from Zendesk customers in the audience. Instead, we only got one.

10/8/2019: Customer Experience in Digital Marketing, Ascent

My last panel featured iFolio president and CEO Jean Marie Richardson, Chargify marketing v.p. Gary Amaral, and Babbel U.S. CEO Julie Hansen. We got a little loopy, which seems only fair for the penultimate panel before the reception that closes the conference.

Updated 1/17/2020 with a link to video of one of my Ascent panels

Weekly output: 5G in rural areas, Twitter dissent in Egypt, Twitter account suspensions

My second-shortest business trip of this year let me add yet another airport to the list of 90-plus that I’ve used. At some point, I should post that avgeek list here, because some of those airports are a tad unusual.

9/17/2019: Don’t You 4G About Me: 5G’s Prospects in Rural Areas, CCA Annual Convention

This breakfast panel, sponsored by FierceWireless, featured T-Mobile senior director for engineering and technology policy John Hunter, C Spire chief innovation officer Craig Sparks, Ericsson vice president and chief technology officer for regional carriers GS Sickand, and Strategy Analytics director of service provider strategies Susan Welsh de Grimaldo. Fierce picked up my travel costs, which was especially appreciated after a week after I’d paid to attend and travel to the Online News Association’s rewarding but notoriously monetization-resistant conference.

Speaking of, Patreon backers got an extra post from me there that covered some of my ONA takeaways on issues of disinformation and rebuilding trust in journalism.

9/17/2019: Twitter dissent in Egypt, Al Jazeera

This was not my finest 10 minutes, because I got a question I wasn’t expecting about the alleged erasure of a trending hashtag attacking Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Coverage I’ve seen of Egyptian Twitter users denouncing their dictatorial leader, including AJ’s English-language reporting, has not mentioned any such erasure, so I had to limit myself to saying that did not make an enormous amount of sense given my understanding of how Twitter works and how Twitter has dealt with authoritarian regimes.

9/20/2019: Twitter suspends thousands of accounts, Alhurra

Another day, another appearance on an Arabic-language news channel. But this time, instead of Qatar’s government supporting the channel it was my own: Alhurra, Arabic for “the free one,” is backed by the U.S. Agency for Global Media, the same government agency behind Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other news services set up to bring quality reporting to people in unfree countries. They had me on to discuss Twitter booting a new batch of disinformation-minded accounts across the Middle East but also elsewhere. I couldn’t find video of my appearance on their site, but I did find their writeup of this situation.