The Spread of Unlimited Data Ignites Cellular Competition

It pays to shop around for cell service, now that Verizon has joined AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint with all-you-can-eat unlimited data plans. Verizon’s move comes as T-Mobile siphons off more and more customers through aggressive marketing and price cuts. “This was actually the first time that Verizon reacted to T-Mobile,” says Roger Entner, telecom analyst and founder of Recon Analytics. The action led to another round of price cuts, too.

Unlimited data plans come with a catch, though. Speeds slow after users hit a monthly data limit. When Verizon’s network is bogged down, its unlimited speeds are ratcheted back for users who have burned up 22 gigabytes in a given month. Other carriers’ plans come with similar fine print. Continue reading “The Spread of Unlimited Data Ignites Cellular Competition”

The Challenge and Promise of Next-Generation Nuclear Reactors

U.S. start-ups are making headway on next-generation nuclear reactors. But companies worry about the big challenges they face to get new designs up and running in the U.S. That’s the message I heard after spending the better part of a day with nuclear industry insiders in Washington, D.C., at the Advanced Nuclear Summit and Showcase, an event for top nuclear players to tout recent developments and make their pleas to lawmakers. The mood was a mixture of guarded optimism and deep concern over government inaction.

Designs in the works are smaller, cheaper and safer than the current crop of reactors, which account for 20% of America’s electricity mix. Small modular reactors, for instance, can be manufactured at a factory and pieced together at the power plant site. Some novel reactor designs turn trash into treasure by running on spent fuel from conventional reactors in operation today. Other reactors in the works are so small and cheap they could replace diesel generators in off-the-grid areas such as small islands. Continue reading “The Challenge and Promise of Next-Generation Nuclear Reactors”

Battles Loom Between Tech Companies and Trump

A long series of battles between tech companies and President Trump is getting started. Expect flare ups soon over issues that have been on the back burner, including encryption, net neutrality and surveillance. But it was Trump’s early move on immigration that set off an industry with many immigrant workers, including prominent immigrant leaders such as Google founder Sergey Brin, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

The now-halted executive order banning travel from seven countries sparked swift opposition from the American tech industry. Amazon, Microsoft and Expedia backed the Washington state lawsuit that led to the travel ban being halted by federal judges. More than 120 technology companies, including Google, Apple, Intel and Facebook, joined a friend-of-the-court filing calling the executive order “unlawful” and “harmful to businesses.” No matter what happens to the travel ban in the future, tech companies are in for a long fight over immigration. Continue reading “Battles Loom Between Tech Companies and Trump”

U.S. Tech Firms Brace for a Tougher Road Ahead

It’s going to get tougher for high-tech firms to do business overseas as protectionist policies increase across the globe. U.S. tech firms are being forced to divulge source code, store data locally, weaken security, reveal data and more to appease foreign countries trying to prop up their own domestic technology sectors. Some nations are blocking U.S. tech firms outright. Alphabet, Microsoft, Apple, Intel, Dell, Amazon, IBM and other American tech companies, large and small, face the problem.

China is especially challenging, imposing rules that hinder U.S. firms in cloud computing, cybersecurity, semiconductors, e-commerce and social media. The nation is dead set on boosting its own high-tech economy, from social media to semiconductors, and is squeezing out more concessions from companies. The longtime concern that China’s policies lead to intellectual property theft will only intensify. Continue reading “U.S. Tech Firms Brace for a Tougher Road Ahead”

The Growing Risk to Uncle Sam’s Outdated Computer Network

One challenge president-elect Donald Trump must confront when he takes office: Upgrading the world’s largest IT system. The state of much of the federal government’s information technology is dismal, with huge swaths of IT in dire need of modernization. A survey commissioned by Dell last summer noted that the federal government had an “alarming” reliance on legacy hardware and software. “We have to stop kicking the can down the road regarding modernization,” says Cameron Chehreh, chief technology officer of Dell EMC Federal.

How bad are things? Our nuclear arsenal still uses floppy discs and tax information runs on top of 1950s computer code. Many agencies have no plans for upgrading outdated systems. Continue reading “The Growing Risk to Uncle Sam’s Outdated Computer Network”

Cyberattacks Threaten the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is giving cybercriminals millions of new vulnerable targets. Internet-enabled devices are plagued by shoddy security and lax regulation. Everything from baby monitors to the electric grid is susceptible to attack as millions more things get connected to the web—20 billion by 2020, up from 6 billion today, according to market research firm Gartner.

The number of connections will continue to soar as it gets cheaper and easier to slap a wireless chip and microprocessor on virtually any product. The ever-growing list of objects that have Wi-Fi includes drones, dolls, teakettles, televisions, lights, locks, refrigerators, thermostats, speakers, virtual reality goggles and bathroom scales. Continue reading “Cyberattacks Threaten the Internet of Things”

What to Expect From the Trump Administration on Four Key Tech Issues

A Farewell to Net Neutrality

Look for federal telecom regulators to take a hands-off approach to regulating the internet after Trump appoints a Republican chairman to the Federal Communications Commission. The appointment will give Republican commissioners the majority vote for the first time since 2009. Though the FCC operates as an independent agency of the government, its decisions will surely be shaped by Trump’s choice for chairman. The pick is likely to be a pro-business Republican who supports a light regulatory touch.

To recap: Net neutrality regulations, which call for all lawful web traffic to be treated equally by web providers, took effect in June 2015. Most contentiously, the rules reclassified consumer broadband as a utility, so it faces new red tape on everything from pricing to privacy. (I wrote about the impact of the FCC’s net neutrality rule back in March 2015.) Continue reading “What to Expect From the Trump Administration on Four Key Tech Issues”

What’s Next for the Internet of Things

Businesses of all stripes are ramping up efforts to profit from the budding Internet of Things. But cashing in won’t be easy. The Internet of Things, also known as IoT, is the growing phenomena of cars, drones, street lights, machines and a myriad of other things that can be connected to the web via a network of small sensors. The potential benefits aren’t hard to imagine. Just think of sensor-laden factories that spot malfunctions before they occur or “smart cities” that rapidly collect and analyze traffic data to shorten commuting times. But coming up with a surefire business model keeps telecom providers up at night.

To see where things stand, I stopped by an event last week in Washington, D.C., where technology company representatives, government officials and industry analysts mulled the different ways IoT could lead to smart cities and other services. Here are some of the key takeaways:

Continue reading “What’s Next for the Internet of Things”

The Impact of the AT&T-Time Warner Deal

AT&T’s plan to acquire Time Warner underscores the seismic shifts rippling through the media landscape. The $85 billion deal would pair the Dallas-based telecom giant with the fourth-largest media company in the country, giving AT&T a stable of high-quality TV channels and movies, including HBO, CNN, TNT, TBS, Cartoon Network and film company Warner Bros. AT&T’s wired broadband service and nationwide mobile network, tied with its recent acquisition of satellite television operator DirecTV, would give AT&T national distribution of all of Time Warner’s media properties. AT&T expects to finalize the deal by the end of 2017.

AT&T sees the deal as a way to jumpstart growth and fend off emerging competition. Vertical integration — owning the pipes along with the content that travels through them — is AT&T’s vision of making money in the shifting media landscape over the next decade or so. AT&T plans to incorporate advanced ad targeting of its 100 million-plus customers while gaining more subscriber dollars to video content. Advertising and media businesses spell faster growth and higher profit margins, with lower capital investment, compared to the business of building wired and wireless networks. AT&T envisions a future where it more closely resembles Facebook rather than a telephone company.

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Would You Feel Safe in a Driverless Car?

I’m in Boston this week for MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. The yearly event draws technology experts from around the globe, and I’m having a blast picking their brains. Here are some thoughts on riding in driverless cars and Facebook’s plan to make internet connectivity available everywhere.

If you fret about riding in a driverless car — or are quick to say you never will — note that people who have had the opportunity have been relatively quick to overcome their anxiety. So says Karl Iagnemma, CEO and cofounder of nuTonomy, an autonomous car startup in Singapore. His stance is based on surveys NuTonomy has run as it tests cars with a popular drive-hailing app. The company plans to have 100 vehicles on the road by next year. (Uber has started similar tests in Pittsburgh.) One of the key findings: Riders seem comfortable enough to turn their attention to surfing the web on their phones.

Continue reading “Would You Feel Safe in a Driverless Car?”