Weekly output: mm-wave 5G, broadband and pay-TV subscriptions, Apple product events (x2), Firefox add-ons, White House cryptocurrency policy, Charter CEO, Paramount CEO, YouTube vs. Russia, Mark Vena podcast, public diplomacy via TikTok, Lifekey

AUSTIN–I’m clearly out of practice at keeping one foot in the conference reality-distortion field that is SXSW here and one foot in my real-world schedule, as I completely spaced on writing this post yesterday. I’m going to blame that on the Daylight Saving Time switch.

3/7/2022: mmWave 5G advocates try to refocus their sales pitch at MWC, Light Reading

My final bit of MWC coverage came in this recap of a two-hour session covering the possibilities of millimeter-wave 5G broadband.

3/7/2022: 2.95M Americans Added Broadband in 2021, and Almost All of Them Got Cable, PCMag

I wrote up a summary of 2021’s trends in broadband subscriptions from Leichtman Research Group that once again showed cable running away with most of the growth there.

Screenshot of the column as seen in USAT's iPad app3/8/2022: To time your Apple purchases wisely, shop to the rhythm of Apple’s events, USA Today

I wrote this reminder about Apple’s product-introduction patterns as a curtain-raiser for the Tuesday event at which it introduced the updated iPhone SE and iPad Air as well as the new Mac Studio.

3/8/2022: Still Got Cable? Pay TV Providers See Subscriber Exodus in 2021, PCMag

A day later, Leichtman released their 2021 report on pay-TV subscriptions.

3/9/2022: Mozilla: The Pandemic Expanded Our Appetite for These Browser Extensions, PCMag

Mozilla released a study of which browser add-ons saw the most downloads at the start of the pandemic two years earlier, and of course a Zoom extension topped that list.

3/9/2022: White House Executive Order Starts Wheels Turning on Cryptocurrency Policy, PCMag

The Biden administration’s executive order on cryptocurrency policy directs the Federal Reserve to consider issuing a government-backed digital currency.

3/10/2022: Charter CEO: The new bundle is broadband and mobile, FierceVideo

I filled in at my trade-pub client this week, the first such piece being a writeup of a cable exec’s talk at a Morgan Stanley conference.

3/10/2022: Paramount CEO touts two-fer strategy at Morgan Stanley, FierceVideo

I then wrote up a second interview streamed from this Morgan Stanley event, this one with much better audio quality.

3/10/2022: YouTube ices out Russian subscribers, joining other U.S. video services in boycotting the country over Ukraine invasion, FierceVideo

I was lucky enough to have an analyst I quizzed on short notice have some useful stats about the Russian streaming-video market.

3/11/2022: S02 E10 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

This edition of the weekly podcast (also available in video form) focused on one issue: Apple’s product introductions.

3/11/2022: White House courts TikTok influencers, Al Jazeera

Right after I did this Skype interview from the house I’m renting here about the Biden administration’s understandable extension of public-diplomacy efforts to social media, I got a Facebook message from a friend with a picture of a TV showing my appearance–he was visiting family in Morocco and was surprised/amused to see me on the news.

3/13/2022: For Wearables, Doing a Thing Well Beats Trying to Do It All, Grit Daily House

I interviewed Lifekey CEO Jason Kintzler onstage at the media house set up offsite by my conference pal Jordan French’s startup-news publication.

Updated 3/23/2022 to fix formatting glitches and correct a site misidentification.

Weekly output: FCC chair at MWC, Rocket Lab in Virginia, Verizon’s fixed-wireless 5G ambitions, Russia bans Facebook, U.S. tech companies fire Russia

I got home from MWC Thursday afternoon and finally got a Flickr album uploaded Sunday night. I’m blaming not just jet lag and a busy schedule, but a weird bug in the Flickr Android app that strips out geotags from photos automatically backed up. My workaround for this has been to select the pictures I want to share in Google Photos, download them to my Mac, and then upload them to Flickr. I would very much like to see this bug get fixed already.

Screenshot of the story as I viewed it in my Android phone's copy of Chrome on the way to MWC3/1/2022: Rosenworcel’s MWC appearance hints at shifting spectrum policy, Light Reading

My first MWC dateline came from me covering a speech by somebody whose office sits less than five miles from my house–Federal Communications Commission chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who came to Barcelona to suggest two changes in the FCC’s spectrum-policy priorities.

3/1/2022: Rocket Lab to Build, Launch, and Land Reusable Rockets in Virginia, PCMag

The second story I filed from Barcelona also had a back-home component–the news that Rocket Lab USA would build a factory for its partially-reusable Neutron rocket on Wallops Island, Va.

3/3/2022: Verizon’s Sowmyanarayan on how FWA supports edge computing, private wireless, Light Reading

Story number three from Barcelona involved me interviewing a Verizon executive who works 200+ miles northeast of me.

3/4/2022: Russia Blocks Facebook for Not Giving State Media Free Rein, PCMag

The day after I got back from Barcelona, I covered Russia’s latest temper tantrum over American social networks not obliging its authoritarian streak.

3/5/2022: American tech sanctions against Russia, Al Jazeera

Saturday, I joined the Arabic-language news network (overdubbed live) to talk about the trend of U.S. tech companies cutting off Russia. As I noted, the likes of Apple and Intel can afford to fire Russia as a customer–it’s not a Japan, a U.K. or even a Canada.

A long-distance tech-nerd reunion

WAIMEA, Hawaii–One major upside of flying almost 4,800 miles to attend a tech event here was finally catching up with a lot of tech-journalism friends I hadn’t seen in almost two years… many of whom live only 235 miles north of my home.

Two torches lit on a beach, with the ocean and a post-sunset sky in shades of coral beyond it.

But for whatever reason, New York has yet to host any high-profile tech events that would have given all of us an excuse to meet somewhere in NYC. Instead, Qualcomm staged its Snapdragon Tech Summit at a resort here and covered lodging and airfare for invited journalists and analysts (me included, something I discussed in more length in a post for Patreon readers). And so in between keynotes and demos, I’ve had versions of the following conversations:

  • remembering how much work it was to get vaccinated early in this year and the continued frustration of having friends or family members who still refuse to get vaxxed;
  • testimony about surviving COVID-19 infections; one friend recalled being barely able to breathe at the worst moments, something that sounds utterly horrifying;
  • shared sighs over the psychic damage a year of pandemic-enforced isolation has done to our kids (usually followed by me feeling guilty over leaving my wife alone to deal with that);
  • recaps of what it was like reunite with distant family members after months of living a coronavirus-cloistered existence;
  • comparing when we started traveling for work again, to where, and for what purposes;
  • discussions of who will be at CES and MWC, and if those events will happen at all given the rapid spread and unclear risk of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus..

That last question felt somewhat safe to contemplate on an island that requires either a negative test or proof of vaccination if visitors want to avoid a mandatory quarantine–see, who says a vaccination mandate for air travel is impossible here?–but now we’re going home to uncertain futures.

My next travel will be for Christmas, after which I’ve got flights and lodging booked for Las Vegas and Barcelona, all refundable. I would like to be able to proceed with those plans and see at least some of my tech-nerd friends in those cities, but it’s not up to me.

Weekly output: Gmail storage management, ShowStoppers TV, Starlink reality check, ClearStory Connects

Happy Fourth! This year’s Independence Day is so much better than last year’s.

Screenshot of column as seen in USAT's iPad app6/28/2021: With Google’s new limit on free data storage, don’t forget your Gmail inbox. It could be stuffed, USA Today

This column started, as many do, with tech support for a relative: My mom was nearing the 15-gigabyte cap on her Google account, and almost all of that was the fault of various e-mail marketers unwilling to shut up.

6/28/2021: MWC 2021, ShowStoppers

I emceed this virtual demo event for companies looking to get some publicity out of this year’s mostly-virtual Mobile World Congress trade show. It was fun, but I would have rather been in Barcelona.

6/30/2021: Elon Musk says Starlink’s satellite internet is probably not for you, Fast Company

My own MWC coverage consisted of this writeup of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s reality-check interview at MWC (he also appeared remotely), in which he splashed cold water on some Starlink hopes while also not addressing a few concerns about that low-Earth-orbit satellite-broadband network.

7/2/2021: ClearStory Connects, ClearStory International

This Dublin-based PR firm had me on a video call to talk about my work and what I find works and doesn’t work in tech marketing. Spoiler alert: The “any interest?” follow-up remains unlikely to close any deals for me.

MWC malaise: why a canceled conference has me feeling crushed

For the first time since 2012, my winter won’t involve me spending a week soaking in the wireless industry at MWC. I wish I weren’t overstating things to say that I feel gutted about this.

GSMA, the organization behind the trade show earlier known as Mobile World Congress, canceled the conference that drew 109,000-plus people last year–a week and a half in advance, and because of fear instead of evidence. The novel coronavirus afflicting China is a real threat, but it’s also remained almost completely confined to that country. And two weeks ago, GSMA announced security measures that essentially blackballed everybody from mainland China who hadn’t already left the country.

FCB logo Camp NouBut then a sequence of companies with the resources to know better decided to pull out of the show anyway: Ericsson, LG, Sony, Cisco, Facebook, Nokia, Amazon, Intel, AT&T… and on and on. After enough bold-face names had self-ejected from MWC, the only suspense left was when GSMA would take the loss and the likely scorn of the Barcelona and Catalan governments that had rightly stated no health emergency existed.

I won’t eat too much of a financial loss. I got half of my Airbnb payment back, while my airfare will be good for a future United flight (spoiler alert: likely). Friends of mine who booked refund-proof flights and lodging are harder up (one’s out at least $2,000). Some of them have already said they’ll proceed with that week in Barcelona and get in meetings with industry types who also stuck with their travel arrangements.

I can’t justify that business proposition but do feel a little jealous of those people after my happy history in Barcelona. MWC 2013 was the first international business trip I self-financed, and that trip cemented BCN as one of my favorite airport codes to have on my calendar. The show provided a sweeping overview of phones, networks and apps around the world that I couldn’t get at CES. And its logistics–from the moving walkways connecting the halls of the Fira Gran Via to Barcelona’s extensive and efficient metro and commuter-rail network–made CES look even more inadequate in that department.

MWC opened my eyes to all the different ways the wireless industry works outside the U.S.–as in, I would have covered the market better at the Post if I’d made this trip sooner, except the paper was too cheap to spring for that. At first, I didn’t sell enough stories from MWC to recoup my own travel costs (granted, I was also getting paid a lot more then), but after a few years of practice I got a better grip on my MWC business model and started clearing a decent profit. Making this a successful business venture ranks as one of my prouder achievements as a full-time freelancer.

I also improved my travel-hacking skills from that first year, in which booking flights in January left me with a seven-hour layover in Brussels on the way there and a two-stop itinerary home with a tight connection in Zurich that shrank to 20 minutes when my flight left BCN late. MWC 2017, in which I was able to leverage a United upgrade certificate to ensconce myself in seat 2A on a Lufthansa A330 home to Dulles, may be my most comfortable business trip ever.

Barcelona sculptureThe time-zone gap between Spain and any possible editor in the States also allowed me to explore my new favorite Spanish city. I carved out hours to visit all of Antonio Gaudí’s landmarks–yes, you should visit Casa Milà and Sagrada Familia–and spent not enough time getting lost in streets that sometimes weren’t wide enough to allow my phone to get a solid GPS location.

Barcelona has its issues, like seemingly annual transit strikes and the elevated risk of pickpocketing. But getting to go there for work has been an immense privilege.

This year was supposed to extend this recent tradition, but instead it will represent an interruption–at best. As my friend and MWC co-conspirator Sascha Segan explains in this essay at PCMag, knifing this year’s installment could easily lead to MWC going to another city in Europe. Or not happening at all again.

That makes me sad. Seeing the world retreat in unreasoning fear makes me angry.

MWC 2020 brings a novel conference concern

I haven’t finished putting together my schedule for MWC Barcelona later this month, but my calendar for that trade show is already getting culled.

Three major tech firms–Ericsson, LG and Nvidia–have pulled out of the wireless industry’s global gathering, citing fears of the novel coronavirus. Nvidia is no key player in the industry, but LG remains significant to smartphones. And Ericsson not only has a major 5G-infrastructure business, its MWC exhibit has been a reliable source of a free lunch.

The rest of the show appears set to go on as usual, although with unusual precautions. ZTE announced last week that it will have senior executives attending the show quarantine themselves in Europe for two weeks beforehand and require all Barcelona-bound employees to have been symptom-free for 14 days prior. GSMA, the organization that runs MWC, said two weeks ago it will disinfect public areas frequently and advise everybody at the show to stick to a no-handshake rule and wash their hands frequently.

My calendar still has MWC on it, and that remains the case with other tech journalists I know–and whose judgment I trust. The show is still on and news and networking will still happen there, while the actual risk appears quite low in the context of MWC’s distance from China and the health screenings now imposed on the dwindling number of passengers from there.

But the risk is not zero, not with that many Chinese companies set to exhibit at MWC. I would like to think that they will all exercise the same care as ZTE. But I suppose prudence may require me to avoid an entire country’s exhibits… which, considering that China’s smartphone industry is already walled off from the West thanks to Google being a non-participant there, was already part of my MWC coverage plans.

And I will, of course, wash my hands frequently and not shake anybody else’s. I’m thinking that bowing slightly to strangers and exchanging fist-bumps with friends will be reasonable alternatives.

Weekly output: 5G reality check, Business Access Media, 5G coverage maps

My last business trip of the year–at least, the last one I have on my schedule as of now–starts Saturday when I fly to Lisbon for the Web Summit conference. That’ll be my fifth trip to that event, my fourth as a panel moderator. In the meantime, I need the Washington Nationals to win two baseball games. Not one, not three, exactly two.

10/23/2019: What will 5G mean for you? A reality check on the hype, Fast Company

My first post in a series of twice-a-week “Connected World” posts that’s set to run through the rest of this year covered how the opening keynote at the MWC Los Angeles trade show wound up undermining some of the hype about 5G wireless I’ve seen at previous MWC conventions. No, I was not in L.A. for this; I thought about going but didn’t see how I’d sell enough stories to recoup my travel costs, so I watched the conference livestream instead.

10/24/2019: Business Access Media, Wynne Events

With this panel of journalists–including my fellow ex-Postie Neil Irwin–I spoke to a roomful of business-school PR types about where I look for stories, what kind of information from them might help me do my job and how to reach me. After a brief round of audience Q&A, the organizers of this event hosted at Georgetown University’s business school left the balance of this hour to one-on-one pitching from these publicists. I may have picked up a story idea or two from that.

10/25/2019: Where does your carrier offer 5G? That’s an excellent question!, Fast Company

My second Connected World post for FC covered how three of the four nationwide wireless carriers have yet to put their 5G service into their regular coverage maps. That’s kind of crazy, considering all the time these companies spend talking about how great their 5G is. That’s also yet another reason not to buy a 5G phone just yet.

Weekly output: value-priced Android phones, Star Alliance lounges, Howard Schultz, bots and bias

AUSTIN–I’m here for my eighth SXSW conference, but only my second with a speaking role. And this one, unlike the tech-policy panel I moderated here in 2012, came together much later in the game.

3/4/2019: MWC highlights include affordable smartphones, not just foldable ones, USA Today

This MWC recap covers a few phones coming to the U.S. market, plus one that’s not–but whenever Xiaomi does bring its budget-priced Android phones here, a lot of other vendors will find themselves in serious trouble.

3/6/2019: The Lounges You Didn’t Know You Could Use on Domestic Flights, The Points Guy

I’ve had this how-to post in my head ever since the first time a United 1K elite told me he had no idea he could use the Lufthansa lounge at Dulles.

3/10/2019: Howard Schultz just showed he doesn’t have a grasp of the issues, Yahoo Finance

I saw not one but two talks by the former Starbucks CEO–his morning SXSW talk and a later appearance before an entrepreneurs’ group. They left me convinced of Schultz’s ethical-capitalist aspirations and of his fundamental unseriousness in talking about such issues as health care and the definition of “socialism.”

SXSW 2019 mic

3/10/2019: On Bots and Bias: When What Machines Learn Is Wrong, SXSW

I basically vultured my way into moderating this panel. Speakers Anamita Guha, with IBM Watson, Pandorabots’ Lauren Kunze, and Dashbot’s Justina Nguyen had gotten their topic approved months ago but needed a moderator, and when my friend Mike Masnick asked in a Feb. 20 tweet if any journalists he knew wanted that gig, I replied almost immediately that I did. Fortunately, the short-notice panel prep did not turn out to be a problem. My fellow panelists were all aces and capably explained this complicated subject.

Weekly output: EU digital copyright, MWC (x4), USB-C headphone-jack adapters, HoloLens 2, tech’s privacy gap, 5G phones, good affordable phones

I came home from Barcelona Thursday, then further trashed my jet-lagged, MWC-damaged sleep cycle Friday night by staying up until 3 a.m. to watch the liftoff of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule on its debut, unmanned flight to the International Space Station. I assure you that was worth the multiple naps I needed Saturday afternoon.

For more from MWC 2019, see my Flickr album after the jump.

2/25/2019: How Europe could cement American online dominance, Yahoo Finance

The proposed changes to copyright law nearing a final vote in the European Parliament are criminally stupid.

2/25/2019: U.S.-Huawei fight becomes focus of Barcelona’s trade show, Yahoo Finance

I talked to host Alexis Christoforous via Skype over a bad connection about Huawei’s role in the industry. For a second Yahoo video hit that day–I haven’t been able to find a link to that–I switched to a spot in the press center that not only had much better WiFi but also had a good backdrop: the MWC hashtag on a wall visible behind me.

2/26/2019: Foldable phones are taking over the Mobile World Congress, Yahoo Finance

I made another appearance on Yahoo’s morning show, once again in the press center. The prop for my laptop each time? A trash bin dragged into position in front of my chair.

2/27/2019: Why a USB-C headphone adapter can’t amount to jack, USA Today

A friend’s report last October that a third-party USB-to-3.5-mm adapter didn’t work with his phone led me to realize I didn’t hate the removal of headphone jacks from phones quite enough.

2/27/2019: How Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 is bringing augmented reality to your job, Yahoo Finance

Before heading out to MWC, I e-mailed a couple of friends who have been developing on HoloLens for a while, then followed up to get their impressions of the new version.

2/28/2019: Why tech still can’t explain its own requests for your data, The Parallax

I wrote this essay after yet another bout of outrage over tech privacy that was made worse an inability to explain things clearly to customers (as opposed to investors and advertisers).

2/28/2019: No, you don’t need a 5G phone yet, Yahoo Finance

I know, I’m usually cranky about the first generation of anything. But in the case of 5G, the limits and likely high costs of the first generation of phones compatible with this new wireless standard make them an especially unwise purchase.

3/1/2019: The best cheap phones from Mobile World Congress, Yahoo Finance

I had meant to file this early in my flight back from Barcelona to Newark, but the already-sluggish WiFi was particularly hostile towards Gmail and Google Docs, leaving me unable to file or e-mail my editor for much of the flight.

3/3/2019: The weirdest gadgets from MWC 2019, Yahoo Finance

I wrote much of this short, fun list of bizarre MWC hardware at Newark and then on the short flight from EWR to DCA, then banged out the rest at National Airport before taking Metro home–some 18 hours after my day had begun on the other side of the Atlantic.

Continue reading

Weekly output: tech talk with Mark Vena

MWC 2019 badgeBARCELONA–I’m now into my seventh Mobile World Congress, and the experience has been reminding me that it’s a treat to come to this city for work. Plus, the WiFi generally works at MWC.

(Minus: I’m typing this from my second morning press event at which there’s no free coffee. What kind of monsters run these things?)

2/21/2019: Moor Insights & Strategy Podcast (2-21-19), What’s Hot in Tech

I talked to analyst Mark Vena, an occasional source, about 8K television, cord cutting, Samsung’s Galaxy S10 announcements, and foldable phones. He also gave me a little grief about my city’s football team, and I can’t blame him for that one bit.