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Obama Pledges More Than $400 Million for 5G Research

Obama Pledges More Than $400 Million for 5G Research

The Obama administration today pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade on research to develop technology for 5G mobile networks.

The bulk of the funds will come from the National Science Foundation, which will begin building four “city-scale advanced wireless testing platforms” in 2017. The cities will be chosen via competition, and each winner will get city-wide radio antennas that will allow public and private researchers to test 5G technologies in a real-world setting. NSF plans to spend $50 million on the program over the next five years.

The agency also committed more than $350 million to fund prizes, workshops, and international collaborations to test and develop networks, devices, and protocols for the Internet of Things. They include everything from a challenge to restore critical communications in the aftermath of a natural disaster to a workshop focused on reducing latency, or the time it takes for data to arrive after a device requests it.

Ultra-low latency networks are required for emergency response and self-driving cars. With today’s announcement, the NSF will join many companies, from T-Mobile to Intel, which are already studying ways to reduce latency in 5G networks.

Other federal agencies committing themselves to 5G research as part of today’s announcement include the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which plans to use 5G test platforms in the new Spectrum Challenge component of its decade-old competition for teams building robotic vehicles.

Multiple tech companies, including HTC, Intel, Nokia, Samsung, Qualcomm, and AT&T, also pledged their support for the government’s research projects. The firms are already working on their own 5G efforts, and will offer financial support as well as engineering equipment and guidance.

The announcement comes one day after the FCC voted to dedicate vast amounts of high-frequency spectrum for 5G. Federal agencies currently use some of that spectrum for their own communications, and Obama pledged to share 500 MHz of that spectrum by 2020.

Create a Netflix Playlist With ‘Flixtape’

Create a Netflix Playlist With 'Flixtape'

Too hot to go outside this weekend? You can always sit in the air conditioning and binge on Netflix. Just call it research for your next Flixtape.

What’s a Flixtape, you ask? It’s like an old-school mixtape, but just for Netflix. The streaming service on Friday launched a new site which lets you create Flixtapes, or playlists of your favorite shows and movies that you can share with friends.

Here’s how it works: Just head over to the site and enter a name for your Flixtape. This part is important, so you’ll want to think long and hard about something that captures the feeling you’re trying to convey. Flixtapes can be based around a theme, mood, or message, so your title can, for instance, be a nod to a specific genre or something super basic like “my favorite shows.”

Netflix will then suggest three titles to add to your Flixtape to help you get started, but you get the ultimate say about what makes the cut. You can search for and add up to six titles per playlist.

Once you get that sorted out, you can customize your cover and share your Flixtape with friends via Facebook, Twitter, email, or text.

Your Flixtape is meant to be personal,” Netflix said. “Feel free to personalize it by adding the name of a friend, loved one, or whoever else is lucky enough to get your awesome Flixtape.

The site also lets you browse Flixtapes like “besties or frenemies,” “family reunion,” and “couch university” for inspiration.

Microsoft: So, We Might Not Hit 1B Windows 10 Installations

Microsoft: So, We Might Not Hit 1B Windows 10 Installations

A billion is a pretty big number. You probably didn’t need us to tell you that, but someone might want to tip Microsoft off the next time it starts planning its projections for new operating systems. Because Redmond isn’t going to hit its (ambitious) goal of one billion Windows 10 installations by the middle of 2018.

Microsoft: So, We Might Not Hit 1B Windows 10 InstallationsFor those counting at home, Microsoft last year gave itself a three-year window to hit that number. And yes, Microsoft’s figure includes more than just desktop and laptop computers. Also qualifing are smartphones, tablets, Windows Phones, gaming consoles, and crazier gear like VR headsets, augmented reality glasses, or smart home devices that could run some variant of Windows 10.

“Windows 10 is off to the hottest start in history with over 350m monthly active devices, with record customer satisfaction and engagement. We’re pleased with our progress to date, but due to the focusing of our phone hardware business, it will take longer than FY18 for us to reach our goal of 1 billion monthly active devices. In the year ahead, we are excited about usage growth coming from commercial deployments and new devices—and increasing customer delight with Windows,” Microsoft tells ZDNet.

Microsoft’s statement is a bit coy about the specific changes in its business strategy that affect this big, billion figure. The effective death of Windows Phone has likely contributed more to the pushback of Microsoft’s Windows 10 projections than its statement implies. Windows Phone, in general, had a not-so-commanding market share of less than 1 percent as of May, according to figures from Gartner. And even Microsoft executives have noted that Windows Phone isn’t really on the company’s radar right now.

“We’re fully committed to that 4-inch screen, there will be a time for it to be our focus, but right now it’s part of the family but it’s not the core of where I hope to generate developer interest over the next year. There’s no lack of recognition to realize how important that form factor is, but for Microsoft with Windows and for our platform it’s the wrong place for us to lead,” said Microsoft executive vice president Terry Myerson in an interview with The Verge earlier this year.

Though it’s possible that Microsoft might introduce some kind of Surface Phone next year, perhaps Microsoft even realizes that it might be too little, and too late, to contribute very much toward its big Windows 10 installation goal. And with the deadline for free Windows 10 upgrades fast approaching, that installation rate is likely going to slow. Windows 10 will surely hit a billion devices some day, just not soon.

US Judge Invalidates Warrant for Microsoft’s Irish Data Center

US Judge Invalidates Warrant for Microsoft's Irish Data Center

Microsoft does not have to comply with a US search warrant for an email stored in its Irish data center, according to a federal appellate court decision handed down today.

In her decision, Judge Susan Carney of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit explained that the warrant, which directed Microsoft to produce the contents of an email account and associated customer data stored in Ireland, is invalid.

“Interpreting ‘warrant’ to require a service provider to retrieve material from beyond the borders of the United States,” Carney wrote, would violate the “presumption against extraterritoriality” established by the Supreme Court.

The case began in late 2013, when a US district court ordered Microsoft to turn over customer email data stored in a Dublin data center. The company refused and appealed the decision, sparking a court battle that was backed by several other tech companies, including Verizon, Apple, Amazon, HP, eBay, and AT&T.

“We obviously welcome today’s decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals,” Microsoft’s Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said in a statement. “The decision is important for three reasons: it ensures that people’s privacy rights are protected by the laws of their own countries; it helps ensure that the legal protections of the physical world apply in the digital domain; and it paves the way for better solutions to address both privacy and law enforcement needs.”

Industry representatives also celebrated Microsoft’s victory, including the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which called it an important decision for privacy protections and the rule of law.

“As Congress considers reforming the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and Stored Communications Act, this ruling demonstrates the importance of clear statutory language that anticipates and facilitates cloud privacy and security,” CCIA director of external affairs Maggie Brenan said in a statement.

Senators Push FTC to Investigate Airbnb Rental Practices

Senators Push FTC to Investigate Airbnb Rental Practices

The federal government added its voice this week to the numerous state and local leaders who have been calling for more oversight of Airbnb and similar property rental websites.

Senators Push FTC to Investigate Airbnb Rental PracticesIn a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, a group of US senators said they were concerned about the rapidly expanding short-term rental market and asked the agency to determine how much of the market consists of people “acting in a commercial manner” by renting out entire homes or multiple homes simultaneously.

That category of listing has been ruled illegal in many cities worldwide in recent months, from Berlin to Airbnb’s hometown of San Francisco, over concerns that they are pricing locals out of the rental market.

The letter, signed by Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz, Dianne Feinstein, and Elizabeth Warren, mentions Airbnb specifically, in addition to HomeAway, VRBO, and FlipKey.

“On one hand, these firms have sparked innovation, increased competition, and have provided new means by which our constituents can earn extra income,” the senators wrote. “On the other hand, we are concerned that short-term rentals may be exacerbating housing shortages and driving up the cost of housing in our communities.

“In order to asses of the use and impact of the short-term rental market, we need reliable data on the commercial use of online platforms,” they continued. “We believe the FTC is best positioned to address this data gap in an unbiased manner and we urge the Commission to conduct a review of commercial operators on short-term rental platforms.”

In April, Airbnb pledged unlicensed commercial listings in San Francisco, where they are illegal. But at the same time, the company is also suing the city over its requirement that short-term rental listing owners complete a registration process.

The senators all represent states that have tangled with Airbnb. Warren is from Massachusetts, where lawmakers are considering a bill that would tax Airbnb like hotels. Schatz represents Hawaii, where Honolulu officials have been cracking down on illegal rentals and clashing over Airbnb tax legislation. Feinstein is from California.

Google Wants to Help You Register to Vote

Google Wants to Help You Register to Vote

Still haven’t registered to vote? You still have time, and now you have a new ally: Google.

The Web giant, taking it upon itself to ensure as many voices as possible are accounted for during the presidential election this November, just introduced a new tool aimed at demystifying the voter registration process. Beginning on Monday, when you search “register to vote” or run another similar query, Google will display a detailed state-by-state guide offering information about how to register, general requirements, and deadlines.

“No matter which state you’re in or how you plan to cast your ballot, you can find the information you need to register correctly and on time — right at the top of your Search page and in the Google app,” Product Manager Jacob Schonberg wrote in a blog post.

Schonberg acknowledged that states’ varied deadlines and methods can make the voter-registration process tricky, but said this new tool should help.

Meanwhile, just in time for the Republican National Convention next week and Democratic National Convention the following week, Google is adding information about these events to its search results page to help you stay informed. When you search for these events via the Google app, you’ll see a list of nominees and the lineup of speakers along with a live-stream video from YouTube and related social media posts.

We hope these new features in Search will help keep you informed this election season and make it easier for you to make it to the ballot box in November,” Schonberg wrote.

T-Mobile Exempts ‘Pokemon Go’ From Data Caps

T-Mobile Exempts 'Pokemon Go' From Data Caps

There are many things to worry about before you head outside wielding a Pokemon Go app: Is your phone’s battery at 100 percent? Will the app crash? Are you nearing your data limit for the month?

If you’re a T-Mobile customer, your carrier just solved that last problem for you. Starting Tuesday, T-Mobile subscribers get unlimited data while using the country’s most popular app through August 2017. That’s right: whether or not the Pokemon craze lasts that long is anyone’s guess, but free data will be there either way.

The promotion is part of the “T-Mobile Tuesdays” marketing stunt, whose launch last month made headlines when it broke Domino’s by giving away too much free pizza. If there’s anything that Americans love more than pizza right now, it’s Pokemon Go, so T-Mobile had better be ready this time.

Along with the unlimited data (which, like new Pokemon, you have to “claim” in order for it to be added to your account), next Tuesday’s offers include a free Frosty from Wendy’s, a free Lyft ride up to $15, and a 50 percent discount on select phone accessories, presumably intended to be used for external chargers to sidestep Pokemon Go’s notorious battery drain.

There are also some Pokemon-related prizes next week: 250 people will win $100 to spend on PokeCoins, and five people will win trips anywhere in the US to hunt new Pokemon with a guest.

That T-Mobile would capitalize on the Pokemon Go craze by offering free data isn’t surprising. Its Binge On and Music Freedom offerings already give subscribers unlimited streaming video and audio streaming from many companies, from Spotify to NBC, without counting against their data plans.

For more, check out 12 Completely Inappropriate Places to Play Pokemon Go and The Weird World of Pokemon Oddities.

Watching Netflix on Windows 10? Stick With IE, Edge, Microsoft Says

Watching Netflix on Windows 10? Stick With IE, Edge, Microsoft Says

Bad news for Netflix fans on Windows. Unless you also love Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge, you aren’t going to get the best resolution for your browser-based Netflix binge.

Microsoft mentioned this little tibdit in a bigger blog post it recently published about video quality and the Microsoft Edge browser. The company’s post starts off talking about how Edge is great for battery life—better than the other “Big Four” browsers (Firefox, Chrome, and Opera) since Edge and Windows work together to keep your CPU in a low-power state during video playback, among other features.

“CPU management in the Windows 10 media stack keeps the CPU running in the lowest power states possible, without compromising UI responsiveness. It is also able to run the display at lower refresh rates during full screen playback of film based content. This saves power by reducing memory bandwidth and improves the quality of film playback by reducing video judder caused by the conversion of the film frame rate (24 Hz, for example) on displays running at 60 Hz. And Microsoft Edge also takes advantage of a feature of the Windows 10 audio stack to offload audio stream processing from the main CPU to dedicated power-efficient audio processing hardware,” Microsoft wrote.

Even more interesting, though, is the fact that Netflix seems to only stream 1080p content to Edge and Internet Explorer. Use another browser, and you’ll be stuck with 720p as the maximum streamed resolution. That’s what Microsoft found on its tests. Of course, Microsoft notes that Edge allowed its test laptops to achieve the best battery performance even though the streams themselves were using a much higher bitrate than you’d find in competing browsers.

Netflix’s documentation also appears to support Microsoft’s claims. In its “System Requirements for HTML5 Player and Silverlight” webpage, Netflix notes that its HTML5 player only gives you 1080p video on Edge or Internet Explorer. (Don’t worry, Mac owners: Safari gets 1080p as well, so long as you’re running OS X 10.10.3 or later.)

That said, Netflix leaves out the helpful advice that the Netflix app in the Windows store will also render your content in 1080p, so you don’t necessarily have to switch to a new browser if you don’t want to.

Autonomous Cars Will Usher in Things We Never Saw Coming

Autonomous Cars Will Usher in Things We Never Saw Coming

Despite all the hysteria around the recent Tesla Autopilot crash, there’s no doubt that full self-driving cars are coming. We just have no idea what a future world of autonomous vehicles will look like.

Autonomous Cars Will Usher in Things We Never Saw ComingWe know that they’ll reduce car accidents, time wasted in traffic, parking hassles, and probably road rage. But there are also big unknowns, and not just about mundane aspects of self-driving technology such as insurance, liability, and vehicle ownership. It will be things we never saw coming.

To help people—at least those my age, give or take a decade—understand the unforseen impact of self-driving cars, I ask you to think back 20 years, to when the Internet was still in its dial-up infancy.

Just think if, in 1996, you told someone that in 20 years we would use the Internet to post pictures of food online so that our family and friends could view and comment on them. That people would post their observations and thoughts on the Web 140 characters at a time—and it would help overthrow governments. Or that you would be able to view cute cat videos 24/7.

Of course, no one can predict the future or exactly how self-driving cars will remake our means of moving around in metal containers with wheels. But I recently ran across a blog post by Jan Chipchase, the founder of the research and design consultancy firm Studio D Radiodurans, which is an interesting—and at time scary—take on what to expect.

Whether Chipchase’s forecasts, which are “inspired by a session with an automotive client,” are accurate or not, his insights further confirm that we have no idea what’s down the road.

Carbaiting, ConvoyAds, and Dringers
I’m sure that some of Chipchase’s predictions are already occurring as Google’s autonomous vehicles (AV) are tested in California. Car baiting, for example, is “an action by a human to trigger a response from an autonomous vehicle.”

Chipchase adds that “motivations include … the very human enjoyment of being mischievous,” such as stopping suddenly in front of an AV or seeking “financial rewards from an insurance claim.”

I can also see ConvoyAds, or self-driving cars plastered with ads driving around a city, occurring sooner than later. Modesty windows, which “will sense when the vehicle’s occupants are asleep and/or engaged in a highly personal activity,” are also totally foreseeable.

But others give us a glimpse of what an autonomous vehicle future may hold. Closely related to car baiting, “drone-car baiting” employs “UAVs to trigger a response from an autonomous vehicle, from the annoyance of setting off a car alarm by landing on its roof to flying close to its sensors to force [a] non-avoidable accident event.” Chipchase foresees this leading to autonomous vehicles “adopting anti-drone defenses.”

For various reasons (to deter ConvoyAds, for example), Chipcase suggests municipalities may restrict self-driving cars in certain areas, like requiring that someone be in the vehicle at all times. That where a “dringer” comes in, or someone hired to function as the car’s babysitter. “The legal boundaries between jurisdictions will be marked by clusters of hired-on-demand humans waiting to dring,” Chipcase writes.

Perhaps most disturbing (and unfortunately not farfetched) is AVBIED, or “autonomous vehicle borne improvised explosive devices.” Chipchase notes that “as anyone who has spent time in a city where VBIEDs are common will attest, you’ll never look the same at a vehicle again.”

Luddite hardcore car enthusiasts who fear that the pleasure of human driving will be taken away will be forced to “go vinyl” and drive “Full manual.” But let’s hope that in 20 years that won’t be illegal.

Dell Brings Deep Discounts With Black Friday in July Sale

Dell Brings Deep Discounts With Black Friday in July Sale

Dell simply can’t wait for November to roll around, so it’s celebrating a few months early with the Black Friday in July sale. Gaming equipment, UHDTVs, laptops, desktops, backpacks, and more are getting substantial discounts, so now’s a good time to do a little splurging.

During today’s sale, we’ll see some outstanding doorbuster deals, but you’ll need to act fast because the best bargains will likely end up selling out. And since Dell offers free shipping with no minimum purchase, there’s no reason to hesitate.

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