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Will the Digital Power Brokers Be the Governments of the 22nd Century?

Editorial Perspective By Ernest Worthman

As the digital age evolved, the techno-purists envisioned that this brave new world would be one to make our lives easier. Having unbridled access to information and online activities would create an ecosystem where simple clicks of a mouse or taps of a payment app would greatly enhance our everyday work and leisure.

Certainly, the digital revolution has enhanced our lives. Everything from work to dating has benefited from technology. But there also evolved a darker side. And part of that darker side has nothing to do with technology. It is the political and economic fallout that is looming in the upcoming years. Today, internet giants are moving as fast as they can to define this digital space to their benefit.

It has been a good 40 years and a much different world than the visionaries, geeks and forward thinkers of the early years predicted. Although they saw the march of technology, few saw the emergence of an economic ecosystem where digital giants such as Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook, and players like Elon Musk, would wield the type of power they have.

Even fewer foresaw the present face-off between big tech and governments.

For a few years now, governments — and although this is global, this missive refers mostly to our and other western governments — have been trying to rein in the power that these organizations have amassed; so far, with little success. Therefore, the question arises, “Does the government have now, or will it have in the future, the ability to continue this governance of today?” I believe that is questionable.

Capitalistic societies, such as ours, lack what countries with autocratic governments have: the ability to use extraordinary means to control organizations – period. We must exercise control via a complex and often clumsy legal process — even if the organizations act on the fringe of lawfulness. Countries such as China, Russia, Korea, the Middle East and other nations can simply take over the company, throw people in jail and force the company to comply.

Simply put, autocratic countries can deal with the Amazons and Googles any way they wish. We cannot. And thus, we begin the long slog to attempt to control how these mega-monopolies operate.

Some believe our government is unlikely to succeed, for a number of reasons. First, these organizations have huge war chests. They can hire the best and brightest legal eagles to go against often much less experienced government lawyers — even if legislation is passed to manage them.

Next, they have a huge economic effect on society and a global presence, not just national. One can only imagine the chaos and rebellion that would occur if suddenly Facebook were cut off at the knees, not to mention the financial crisis that would develop.

Third, technology would take a hit. These organizations are at the forefront of so many platforms and technologies — AI, applications and algorithms, virtual reality and so much more. In addition, they can go where the government stumbles, nowadays. A grand example of that is the privatization of the space program.

Truth be told, trying to bind these companies may do some good in certain areas, but the collateral damage would be significant.

On the other hand, having control and power over information has some upsides. Take the insurrection of the Capitol last spring. None of their actions in the immediate aftermath of the insurrection came at the behest of the government or law enforcement. These were private decisions made by for-profit companies exercising power over code, servers and regulations under their control.

They were the ones that went to work mitigating the information by doing things such as shutting down former President Donald Trump on social media, removing inciteful messages and information for quislings. They succeeded where governments failed.

Although big tech certainly serves itself, unlike the government, that self survives on satisfying the masses. They need to behave in such a way that their customers and users are not alienated. They have an internal mechanism that applies constraints on their power to act. They maintain global foreign relations and answer to constituencies, including shareholders, employees, users and advertisers.

So, perhaps the government’s sledgehammer approach to breaking up these corporate behemoths may not be the best vector to pursue. Perhaps it is more of a time for collaboration.

While it may seem absurd to some, I believe there is the possibility that big tech may become bigger than the government. It has already wrested control of digital space from governments, freeing itself from national boundaries and emerging as a truly global force. Is it possible that elite nation-state dominance is coming to an end, supplanted by an elite techno circle of organizations that assumes responsibility for offering the public goods once provided by governments? Certainly, that is a ponderable precognition.

We no longer live in an era where smoke-filled rooms of political power brokers decide the fates of companies, as was the case with the breakup of the old Bell Telephone, Standard Oil, U.S. Steel and others. Today’s mega-technology firms have two critical advantages that have allowed them to carve out independent geopolitical influence. First, they operate and wield power almost exclusively in the digital space. Second, their influence in the digital space is global and difficult to corral. They exercise primary influence in a vast territory, which governments do not and cannot fully control — as well as fully understand.

This brave new world is rapidly outpacing governments’ abilities to manage global prosperity and has created a digital economy that disintermediates the political ecosystem of services. The rise of digital currency is proof of that. Cryptocurrencies are proving too much for regulators to control, and they are gaining wide acceptance, undermining governments’ sway over the financial world.

The single most enabling force of these digital organizations’ rise to power is location irrelevance. Governments exercise power over physical assets. Digital companies have no such impediment. Facebook substitutes for the public square, civil society and the social safety net, creating a blockchain-based currency that gains widespread use. Musk plays an ever-greater role in deciding how space is explored. The signs are certainly there.

Does this sound like the antithesis of Orwell’s 1984? Or did I just smoke a little too much pot? Already there are signs of the techno-elite’s power as attempts by governments to reel them in have largely failed.

Perhaps it is time for all sides to sit down at the table and find a solution that does not pit one side against the other. The digital society is here to stay. Governments better figure that one out.

Ernest Worthman is the executive editor of AGL’s Media Group.

Is the End Coming for Social Media, as We Know it?

By Ernest Worthman, Executive Editor, AWT Magazine; Sr. Member, IEEE

There is a rumbling in the European Union, and in a global society, especially with high-tech, what happens elsewhere does not necessarily stay elsewhere, and vice versa.

The interesting developments in the EU surround social media, in particular around the region’s “right to be forgotten” (RTBF) part within the new EU privacy regulations. For those of us who may not know exactly what that law is, in a nutshell, it compels engines, like Google, to remove search listings about people if they get the appropriate court orders.  While this has been in and out of the courts, so far, it has stood. And it is beginning to expand delisting, globally.

And, it is not just across Europe. China has viewed Google as a threat to its government almost from the beginning. As well, there are similar sentiments in America’s political ecosystem although the movement is mostly noise so far.

That has Google and others sweating. So much, in fact, that Larry Page, Alphabet and Google’s co-founder was absent at the call to testify on Capitol Hill recently. The other gangsters, CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, where trying to save their bacon about how such social media giants have exploited their platforms.

All of this is with good reason. Recently, the EU fined Google $5.1 billion in an antitrust case over the dominance of Google’s Android mobile operating system. This is several times the amount that Microsoft was fined when Google, Sun, and Oracle went to the EU to whine that Microsoft should open its OS to competing browsers. And this was not the first time Google was fined. Back in 2016, France fined Google €100,000 for delisting non-compliance.

In the United States, lawmakers, given Russian-backed manipulation of Google’s platforms in the 2016 presidential election, are exploring avenues to regulate YouTube and examine Google’s practices.

This raises an interesting issue. Is it possible that Google, and other social media companies, may be cut off at the knees? There is much talk about that within the Trump administration. As well, the EU will continue to levy fines for what they see a non-compliance with rules and regulations. There is even the possibility that it will be taken over by the government, mainly under the guise of national security.

Staring down the barrels of these shotguns, bleeding edge companies, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Intel, Uber, Tesla and others, are looking to radically alter their business. Not because of competition, but because of avoidable arrogance and stupid behavior.

In the end, there is the argument (from Google) that no single country should be able to impose its rules on the citizens of another country, especially when it comes to linking to lawful content. That was Google’s defense in 2015, shortly after the EU’s ruling that search engines must honor European’s privacy rights. The battle, since then has not been over delisting but if it should be global and not just geographic.

However, German member of Parliament Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger noted “The Internet is global; the protection of the user’s rights must also be global.”

This is an issue that will take some time to resolve. There is also the option to remove reference to any sensitive personal information about individuals. That is still in the process. However, if this were granted, that would affect a much wider demographic.

While I made this sound as if governments are looking to stifle legitimate free speech practices, this is not the case. Current right to delist is not absolute in the regulations and laws. The RTBF only applies to private individuals, not to public figures (e.g. politicians and journalists); and also only applies where the information in question is outdated or irrelevant. So, it is bounded and balanced and absolutely does not apply to every individual and every piece of sensitive personal data.

I have long been an advocate of having my data removed, if I ask for it, as long as it is legitimate. It should not require a lawsuit! I am, also, not in favor of people such as convicted molesters being able to remove their data. Same for politicians, criminals, in general, public companies or organizations and any other entity or person that has “need to know” status.

I am glad to see the EU taking a strong stance on this. I wish the same zeal to protect people had higher priority here in the states. In the end, both social media and individuals share the blame. Both sides of this aisle need to get it together. If not, higher powers will do it for them, which is the current path.

I think the time has come for me to develop an algorithm that scours the web and whenever it finds data of mine, lets me know where and what, and I can send a spike to the data miner to strike my data. That would be so cool. Who is with me?

Privacy Has Fallen Victim to Social Media and No One Seems to Care

By Ernest Worthman, AWT Exec. Editor, IEEE Sr. Member

Let’s talk about the state of your privacy on the internet. In the Aug. 11th AGL eDigest, I started down the privacy path a bit. With the recent Google news, I thought I would add to that with this missive.

It appears there is no end to which social media companies will go to get into your business. This latest transgression is over Google tracking you regardless of whether location was on or off, or if you told them not to.

Expecting them to change becomes an exercise in futility. It is absurd the hoops one, still, has to jump through to protect one’s privacy – even after the Facebook debacle. Frankly, there should be a “one button” option to turn off all tracking and kill your data…period. This should be the default and if you want to share your data, it should be made painfully obvious that is going to happen.

After the Facebook fiasco, it is becoming increasingly obvious, IMHO, that the current government is, woefully, old guard and mostly unaware of what is really happening in technology.

That was made obvious with the Zuckerberg hearings in Congress. Add to that the current administration’s drive to seemingly let just about every business run unregulated, either axing or diluting what regulations already exists (aka, Net Neutrality). Subsequently, this scenario makes the outlook for putting any kind of legislation in place, to protect us lowly citizens against such invasive actions, close to nil.

Now, there is a segment of the population that really does not care, or does not understand the implications of such invasive tactics – at least until they are victims of such obliviousness. However, there are a couple of arguments around this that should be considered, preemptively. One is, that if you do have your head buried in the sand and do not take privacy seriously, you pose a risk to any number of scenarios. Malfeasants can use your data to perpetrate a boatload of nefarious activities – from compromising public safety to invading your connected individuals’ privacy.

What is most irritating about all of this is that very little has emerged, in the way of moving forward to rein in data miners, since the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica fiasco. Facebook took a bit of a stock hit from it, which cost the company a couple of billion, but I am sure it did not worry Zuckerberg all the much. Moreover, nothing, what so ever, happened to Cambridge.

We have seen this scenario over and over in the past few years. Google’s actions are typical of just about every internet presence out there. It is beginning to appear that user data is becoming more valuable than gold and bringing out the “best of greed” in organizations.

Going forward, the Internet of Everything/Everyone (IoX), smart “X,” social media, and other platforms connected wirelessly, pose a monumental opportunity for malfeasants to capitalize on lack of control over one’s data. That will just increase, by orders of magnitude, breach potential.

At this stage of the game, it has been proven over and over that social media and other organizations cannot be trusted to adhere to the users’ wishes, or act responsibly with user data. As much as I am not a fan of regulation as the norm, I do feel that it is time for governments, around the world and not just here, to make organizations toe the line. If they do not, make them hurt.

Along with that comes the mission to make the user both responsible, and protected. They should be responsible if they are negligent, but they should also protected by making it easy for them to be responsible.

In closing, I am going back to what I said earlier, if I do not want to be part of your game, I want to be able to push a single button and be guaranteed that my actions, and subsequent wishes, will be respected.

Testing of SAS for CBRS Kicks into High Gear

Earlier this month, companies and vendors from across the wireless industry came together at Verizon’s facility in Irving, Texas to test 4G LTE technology over the CBRS (Citizen Band Radio Spectrum) spectrum.  After the successful initial trials last year, Corning, Ericsson, Federated Wireless, Google, Nokia and Qualcomm Technologies are all collaborating in end-to-end system testing.

The CBRS band is made up of 150 MHz of 3.5 GHz shared spectrum, which until now has been primarily used by the federal government for radar systems.  The FCC authorized shared use of the spectrum with wireless small cells in 2016.  By using LTE Advanced technology, carrier aggregation and the spectrum access system (SAS), Verizon will be able to use this shared spectrum to add capacity to its network.

The end-to-end system tests are designed to accomplish several goals on the path to widespread commercial deployment:

  • To test and verify the Spectrum Access System algorithms from Google and Federated Wireless are consistently providing the best channel match from the SAS database.
  • To test data rates, modulations and the customer experience using CBRS spectrum.
  • To test interoperability between infrastructure providers to ensure seamless handoffs between CBRS spectrum and licensed spectrum for customers.
  • To test mobility handoffs on the CBRS spectrum.
  • To evaluate performance and data from LTE over CBRS spectrum.
  • For the end-to-end system testing, Federated Wireless and Google are providing prioritization through the SAS, which dynamically prioritizes traffic within the FCC’s spectrum sharing framework for this band.
  • Qualcomm Technologies is providing the Qualcomm Snapdragon LTE modem needed to access LTE on CBRS on mobile devices. Corning, Ericsson and Nokia have provided indoor and outdoor radio solutions which can run on the CBRS Spectrum.

Corning provided a SpiderCloud Enterprise RAN composed of a Services Node and SCRN-330 Radio Nodes. Ericsson’s Radio System solution is comprised of 4×4 MIMO, 4x20MHz Carrier Aggregation, including CBRS spectrum delivered over infrastructure aggregating Ericsson’s outdoor micro base station (Radio 2208 units) with the indoor B48 Radio Dot System in the same baseband (5216 units). Nokia provided FlexiZone Multiband Indoor BTS, FlexiZone Multiband Outdoor BTS and FlexiZone Controller.

In addition, participants in this ecosystem have set up private LTE sites which are using CBRS spectrum.  Private LTE networks are being engineered to meet the needs of enterprise customers who want greater control over their LTE solutions including private on-site servers, control over access to their designated LTE network, as well as increased throughput and reduced latency through dedicated backhaul.

The end-to-end system testing, which began in February and will continue over the next several weeks, has provided actionable insights and have significantly advanced CBRS spectrum deployment feasibility.

“The promise of the CBRS band and enabling the use of wider swaths of spectrum will make a big impact on carrying wireless data in the future.  These trials are critical to stress test the full system,” said Bill Stone, VP technology development and planning for Verizon.  “There are many players in the CBRS ecosystem and these successful trials ensure all the various parts perform together as an end-to-end system for our customers’ benefit.  We want to ensure devices efficiently use CBRS spectrum and that the new components effectively interact with the rest of the network.”

At the conclusion of this testing, equipment will be submitted for certification through the FCC.  Following that deployment can then begin.  Both commercial deployment of LTE on CBRS spectrum and devices that can access the CBRS spectrum are expected to begin in 2018.

CommScope, Ericsson Complete SAS Interoperability Testing for CBRS

To help ensure their readiness for commercial deployment in the CBRS wireless spectrum, CommScope and Ericsson have successfully completed interoperability testing of their equipment. The testing is one of the first successful interoperability tests using the Wireless Innovation Forum’s release 1.2 specifications.

“CommScope’s team of architects, developers and engineers have been building an industry-leading SAS for nearly two years,” said Tom Gravely, vice president of research and development, Network Solutions, CommScope. “Completion of interoperability testing with a major radio equipment provider such as Ericsson validates our SAS design and readies us for commercial deployment.”

The interoperability test confirmed that CommScope’s Spectrum Access System (SAS) and Ericsson’s radio infrastructure with CBRS spectrum support will work together as part of a CBRS network. The rigorous SAS–Citizens Broadband Radio Service Device (CBSD) interoperability testing used a battery of scenarios to verify that both products meet governmental requirements and industry protocols, as well as CommScope’s and Ericsson’s respective quality standards.

“Ericsson offers a comprehensive portfolio of CBRS network solutions that will help operators of all sizes deploy in this spectrum quickly and successfully,” said Paul Challoner, vice president of Network Product Solutions, Ericsson. “Additional milestones need to be reached for CBRS to become a reality, but we are pleased to complete interoperability testing with CommScope as part of the developmental process.”

In a CBRS network, a SAS and CBSD work together to ensure that the appropriate wireless signals are transmitted and received between the core network and end-user devices, while managing interference. An Environmental Sensing Capability (ESC) works with the SAS to identify the wireless signals of incumbent users to avoid interference from CBSDs. CommScope is one of four ESC operators conditionally approved by the FCC to provide SAS and ESC services.



Google Shoots for Moon with Balloons Hovering Earth

March 9, 2017

By Ernest Worthman

Executive Editor, Applied Wireless Technology

Courtesy Google

Courtesy Google

Google’s Project Loon (floating wireless transmitters on balloons) is back in the news. Alphabet, Google’s holding company, is really a bit of a Disneyland for inventors. For example, it’s latest propaganda move is to talk about “moonshots” – various schemes that may seem a bit, well, loony, like their balloon ideas. Some are doomed to failure from the get-go, but if you have as much money as Google, you can afford to be a bit eclectic.

In fact, there is a bit of humor in this. the person in charge has the title of “Captain of Moonshots” and his name is Astro Teller – for real! And he has an interesting philosophy; failure is a necessary condition of moonshot-taking, ergo the more speculative a venture the greater the risk of failure.

Interesting position. Now the concept of failure becomes a key component of success. That may be why Teller is trying float the notion that using balloons to deliver wireless connectivity is going really well.

project-loonI haven’t seen any Google balloons yet, but Teller says that it all comes down to clever algorithms, in this case ones that can control these balloons such that they form geostationary clusters rather than just floating around at the mercy of air currents. This kind of model is much closer to being a viable commercial service and there are a few up in the air, so to speak, over Peru. Perhaps this is their beta test.

Google has more than its share of off-the-wall ideas. So far, none of them have hit it big so it’s hard to draw any conclusions about Project Loon, or any of the other variants, being anything other than just another moonshot. But it must be a blast working for that company.