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The 5G iPhone 12 Spurs Super-cycle Hopes

By Ernest Worthman, Executive Editor, AWT magazine, Senior Member, IEEE

Ern’s Perspective


As is now common knowledge, a couple of days ago Apple launched what was deemed “the most significant iPhone event since the iPhone 6,” according to Morgan Stanley. Other analysts have hopped on that bandwagon as well and they are all trumpeting that this phone will create another “super-cycle.”

The “super-cycle” was coined from a unique sales cycle of the Apple iPhone 6, released in 2014. In the following four quarters, there were more than 220 million sold. Analysts and Wall Street are looking back to that in anticipation of the release of the 5G iPhone 12. They predict Apple will sell a similar quantity of the 5G iPhone 12 as they did back in 2014. Hence, have another super-cycle.

However, much of what Wall Street, and the analysts, are predicting is with their fingers crossed.

Most analysts and certainly Wall Street get their prognostications from history and what they are told by the industry. When it comes to Black Friday, they can be pretty successful at crystal-balling. This, even with major disruptions such as the current pandemic.

However, when it comes to technology, they have less of a track record. This is, basically, due to a couple of primary reasons. The first being that most of them do not understand tech – the business end of tech, yes, but not tech itself. Therefore, they have to rely on what the industry tells them.

The second reason is the tech industry is notorious for spewing hype. Just look at 5G if you need a model.

And not all analysts are on board with another super-cycle. Just for the record, neither am I. I do not, generally, get my data from the heads of the telecom players, analysts (other than those I know well), or Wall Street watchers.  I get most of it from the typical user (and my GF). If the professional pollsters can call a trend with a few hundred to a few thousand surveys, I figure I can do the same with a few dozen.

So, I do not think a super-cycle is going to happen. Here is why.

The pandemic, of course. There is not much to say about it that has not already been said. The metrics around smartphones are no different than most other consumer items.

In normal times one of the variables that can create such an event is device age. Analysts estimate that at least 30 percent of iPhone users have a device three years old or older. That is an unusual metric in a segment with a typical one-year upgrade cycle. Therefore, in normal times that may have been a good metric to create a super-cycle. However, in these times, people are holding on to their money and unsure of the immediate future. That is a substantial change due to the pandemic and has a significant effect on consumer spending.

As well, there has not been a real impetus to upgrade. The slope of technology in phones, other than gee-whiz cameras, has flattened with few real improvements over the past few years.

For the model 12, it is not a real departure from the last couple of year’s models. In fact, other than 5G, it seems be a lot like the model X (10).

Now, on to the real issue, 5G. First of all, I got a good laugh out of Verizon comment at the Apple release party, “5G just got real.” Really? Does Verizon really think that Apple is, single-handedly, going to change the 5G landscape? Well, OK, then! Like everything on the internet, if it says it, it must be true.

I have often penned that 5G has been more hype than reality. In spite of the “rah-rah” coming from Verizon at the event, 5G has been slow to deploy here. And what deployments are happening are limited in coverage and far from the improvements promised in the hype.

The most avant-garde network is T-Mobile’s low- and mid-band. Their claim to fame is coverage, particularly in low-band. But their 5G in these bands trades off performance for coverage. While performance is often better, it is not better everywhere. Generally, your results may vary.

That will improve with time. For now, if users think they are going to see significant speed improvements they will be disappointed.

Mid-band fares a bit better in the performance vectors. But there are other challenges exist such as contiguous spectrum.

And of course, there is the perception of 5G. The latest figures show that around half of all the mobile users believe they already have 5G (nearly all of my informal poll subjects, do). If that is really the case, the logical assumption is that 5G is no better than 4G, since nothing has changed for them.

And to be fully transparent, 5G is so fledgling that it will be, at least, another year or two before there is a decent 5G infrastructure at 6 GHz and below. And remember, the real magic of 5G happens at mmWave, where there is a bounty of contiguous spectrum. However, because of mmWave’s propagation issues, the 5G densification required at mmWave frequencies to have a ubiquitous network, will take much longer.

The carriers need to figure this one out, and fast, same for the hardware vendors. 5G is such a convoluted topic in most consumer minds that it creates more confusion, than interest, at present.

As far as the Apple event feeding a super-cycle, as I said, my gut feeling is no. However, it appears that Apple, as well as the carriers, may sense the consumers’ reticence. There is a huge push by all of them to parlay the model 12 with all kinds of deals and spiffs. That tells me that they might be fighting an uphill battle with the circling pandemic and poor 5G reception thus far and the need to feed the consumer machine. Will it be successful? We should know shortly.

In the end, I might be wrong. I have been in the past. It would be nice if I were since the industry could use a shot in the arm.

If I am right, then, obviously, it is simply a matter of riding all this out and eventually, 5G will catch on and the phone manufacturers will see better times.

With Great Technology Comes Great Responsibility

By Ernest Worthman, AWT Executive Editor and IEEE Senior Member

While I am not a fan of the kind of tech reporting pubs like the New York Times does, once in a while they actually produce a story worth reading. Such was the case, recently, when they penned a piece about Australia enacting a law that empowers the authorities to compel tech giants to create ways around the encryption built into their products.

This has been a touchy subject for some time. We all know that the issue of privacy versus individual rights has been around since the beginning of modern civilization and has been run though all kinds of trials and tribulations. We think we have a handle on it, when, all of a sudden, a new scenario emerges.

Perhaps what made a big mark on this was the issue, a couple of years ago between Apple and the FBI, around potential evidence in a suspect’s locked phone. I will not go into the details because there was a plethora of coverage around this. Just search on Apple vs. the FBI if you want to know more.

Since then, we have seen a widening of the debate as to, exactly, who should be able to access private data, and under what circumstances. And, if phone manufacturers can, or should, be compelled to use their “backdoor” access capabilities to assist legal and proper recovery of such data.

There are two distinct camps here. One says that law enforcement, with adequate safeguards, should have the right to access private data that can have a bearing on criminal investigations. The other side says that this should never be allowed because of the potential for abuse.

In the Apple/FBI case, Apple claimed that they did not have the ability to access a user’s phone data. Even if they could, Apple noted that such a move had the potential to compromise millions of other users’ phones.

I called nonsense on that then, and I still do today. I do not know of any chip or device manufacturers who do not build some type of OEM access port or system into hardware for backdoor access (even Intel does this with processors). It is a valid design criterion that serves multiple purposes, from patching to upgrading. And, it will (and should) continue. But that is not the issue. The issue is, who has a right to use it and when.

Things change in the progression of the human race. To wit, the many translations of the original constitutional amendments. A classic case is the second amendment. It was NEVER intended to enable citizens to own 50 caliber machines guns mounted on jeeps. There are those who would argue that the amendments should be translated, periodically, to take into account advances in civilization and be interpreted to fit those advances. That is one of the most used arguments for the expansion of firearm ownership for better, or worse.

OK, back to technology. If that argument is considered valid, it should support that the march of technology has presented many new issues never envisioned even a couple of decades, certainly centuries, ago. One of those revolves around privacy and its effect on safety and security. Hence, the argument over the right to access private data in today’s environment.

Before I go on, I am of the position that, with adequate safeguards, law enforcement, and bona fide security agencies, should have the right to retrieve potential evidence or other critical data from electronic devices deemed related to security issues. Now, before everybody goes off on me, I reiterate, the adequate safeguards. What that means to me is that there has to be indisputable justification for such actions.

Therefore, I am glad to see a country move in that direction. The Australian government has just enacted a law that allows law enforcement authorities to compel tech-industry giants to develop methodologies to circumvent the encryption built into their products. While this applies only to Australia it has the potential to set a precedent with global impact.

Now the battle begins. Tech companies have argued for decades that unbreakable encryption is an imperative part of protecting the private communications of their customers. There is no doubt that such safeguards are necessary and warranted. But the extent to which these tech companies argue the issue is too broad.

This is no longer the era of only physical evidence. Much evidence is virtual — computers, phones, digital assistants, digital video/audio, etc. And having to struggle to obtain such evidence or data makes it difficult, or even impossible, for them to gain access to things such as online discussions of crime suspects, particularly in time-sensitive or terror investigations.

There are protections within the Australian law. For example, authorities cannot demand universal decryption capabilities or introduce system-wide weaknesses. Apple replied that it is impossible, for example, to create a workaround for one iPhone’s encryption without potentially introducing something that could work for all of them.

That is nonsense. My experts tell me it is not that difficult to develop a back door that, if properly implemented, can be unique to individual devices. Compromising one device will not create a system-wide breach potential.

Immediately, of course, the hand-wringers weighed in. Apple officials called the law “dangerously ambiguous” and “alarming.” Mike Cannon-Brookes, one of the founders of Atlassian, a business software company that is among Australia’s biggest tech companies said, “All of Australian technology is tarnished by it.” And Sarah Moran, whose Girl Geek Academy teaches young women to code in Australia  said, “Why would I tell young girls to go build tech here if there’s not going to be any tech industry.” Huh? How does this law instantly dissolve the tech industry?

Australia is not the first to do this. Great Britain has something similar, but it is not as comprehensive.

For a long time now, tech companies, fearing something like this was on the horizon, argued that they cannot be compelled to create tools for breaking the encryption in their products. Their argument is based in their belief that code should be considered a form of “free speech” and protected under the First Amendment – seriously?

There are some far-reaching implications here and lots of unknowns such as to whom it will apply. For example, will it apply to anyone in the chain who touches the data such as communication providers, websites, any service that supplies or forwards data to an end user?

Initially, the thought was to target smartphones, digital assistants and social media. But the implications go much wider when one drills down.

The law has teeth, as well. Non-compliance can result in asset seizure as well as the possibility of executives being jailed for contempt if they refuse to comply.

There are myriad lower tier issues, as well.  For example, what would be the bounds for disclosure with unwitting individuals around subversive or other criminal data outside of the intended participants?

While this is a slippery slope for all to tread, it is a step in the right direction. It is not fair to the innocent to tip the scales so far in the name of privacy that the nefarious elements are allowed to conduct illicit and criminal behavior knowing what they do and say cannot be uncovered. Privacy is not all inclusive! We have a right to protect the innocent by using any and all legal means to do so. Sometimes laws just have to change to keep up with the times.

Privacy in the Public Spotlight Again

January 10, 2016

By Ernest Worthman

Executive Editor, Applied Wireless Technology

    Once again, the question of privacy rights rears its ugly head.

I’m sure you remember the infamous fiasco between Apple and the FBI over Apple’s refusal to unlock the mobile phone of a suspected terrorist. I took a strong position that Apple was wrong in their reluctance to provide an unlock code for the iPhone. In a nutshell, it revolved around evidence.

Just recently, a similar situation occurred when an Amazon Echo device was believed to contain some incriminating evidence about a murder case that occurred in Arkansas. Basically, the authorities believe that there may be some audio on that particular device that might be considered evidence, or at least provide some idea of what transpired around the time of the murder.

Amazon, like Apple, is taking the stand that such data is private and is resisting the authorities’ demands to provide it. Amazon said in a statement that, as a matter of course, it “objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands.” By who’s definition? Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is coming up with the same weak arguments Apple CEO Tim Cook came up with – none of which address the real issue – evidence.

Well, the authorities should be able to demand the right to garner evidence. Amazon is the one claiming that wanting the Echo is an “overbroad or otherwise inappropriate” demand. Not everyone necessarily agrees with that and I think that is a reach by Amazon, which has no real valid reason to deny the request. What great channel is this going to breach? Is everyone’s Echo now open for snooping? I think not!

This isn’t anything more than a simple recording device at that level. And even if it does contain confidential data, I really doubt that the authorities are going to sit around a put it up there on Facebook, or tweet it out to the world. And, I’m sure Amazon has the ability to retrieve only the critical audio to provide to the authorities.

Listening to some audio from an Echo device hardly constitutes “broad” demands. Unlike the iPhone, listening to a single Echo audio file isn’t going to compromise an entire family of other Echo devices, as Apple had claimed would happen in they gave the FBI the unlock code to the terrorist iPhone.

And, frankly, I doubt the authorities would care if some of the audio was about disciplining children or arguing over who should make dinner. Or even which nude beach they were planning to go to on vacation. They simply want to dig up evidence that will clarify the occurrences around the murder.

I’m sure if one of Bezos’ family members were murdered; he would be the first to give up his Echo if it would help solve the case.

In the days before digital data, the telephone companies would give up subpoenaed data. Video surveillance tapes were also used as evidence. Why can’t the same rules apply to digital data, or cell phone data today?

Frankly, there is little in my life that matters much to anyone. And I doubt that most of us do or have stuff that anyone else cares about. I’m not talking about hacking. Just day to day activities like those recorded by the Echo.

If the authorities want to look at my phone records, or my security videos, or my bank accounts, have at it. with the advancement in technology comes some compromises. The rules of privacy haven’t changed just because we now have the ability to access just about everything we do and say. Evidence should be available to authorities no matter what the state – especially in today’s world of terrorism and elevated crime states.

Protecting our privacy is just as important today as it was yesterday. So is the charge to use what is private in a responsible way that both protects what we want while not compromising the rights of the aggrieved.

Apple, Amazon, and whomever else, you are not in charge of my privacy – I am. And if I’m not around to make the call, I’m sure any of my charges would love to find out who off-ed me and give the authorities whatever it takes to find the perpetrator.

Wearables Will Control Health Care Costs, but What Else?

By Ernest Worthman

Well, I guess Apple isn’t happy just being a wearables contender. It has just filed a patent for a watch that can provide health “event detection” and medical alerts. We all knew this was coming. And I guess we all should have known that, soon or later, it would affect our health care status.

Apple claims that such devices are the perfect tool for corporate wellness programs, as well as affecting health care premiums. Apple claims their watches would detect a health occurrence or event through its sensors and feed that information to an iPhone. At the smartphone, alerts are sent to appropriate parties. This could save lives and lower premiums.

Sounds like a grand scheme. It could detect a heart attack, or an automobile accident, or a fall, for example, and start the first responder activity immediately. It could also send a variety of bio data to the appropriate agencies as they are responding so they have a much better picture of what the incident is and what condition the wearer is in.

All this sounds so grand, and a life-safety windfall…but. If anyone thinks that is all such watches will be used for, better think again. Corporations could use them to track employee’s health status. So much for feigning a temperature on opening day of baseball season. But then again, if you really are coming down with the flu at work, there is no doubt it is real.

However, my mind comes up with the dark side. Insurance companies now have a 24/7 picture of your health. (And don’t think they won’t be able to get that). Say this watch is detecting some signs that you are likely to have a heart attack shortly – blood pressure, heart rate, maybe even cholesterol down the road. And, all of sudden your health insurance is cancelled. The same scenario can happen with life insurance. Don’t wear it you say. OK, then the insurance companies simply refuse to insure you.

It could also be used as a condition of employment so the employer can control health premiums by hiring only marathon runners. Or even a screening device of potential employees. The list of potential abuses goes on. It is a bit early to opine where this may go. There is no doubt that it is a good thing, as long as it gets pigeon-holed as an optional device, if it comes to fruition.

After the Hack: Apple Should Shed its Arrogance


By Ernest Worthman

April 5, 2016 — It appears that the FBI has found a way to retrieve data from the iPhone of the deceased terrorist, Syed Farook, without the cooperation of Apple.

I have penned a missive about this in a recent post, stating my position. My belief is that Apple should have cooperated with the FBI. I reiterate that only so the reader knows where I am coming from.

I am not surprised that the FBI found other resources to accomplish opening up the phone. The company rumored to do that is called Cellebrite, in conjunction with another company, Rook Security, which had come up with a way to copy the flash memory of the cellphone, supposedly even after it has been erased. Then Cellebrite is supposed to be able to unlock it without fear of destroying the critical data.

But what is interesting is that, as it turns out, Cellebrite supplies the machines that are inside Apple’s retail stores. These devices are used by Apple sales reps who use it to transfer contact lists and other content from an old phone to a just purchased iPhone.

So, that really got my ire up against Apple and Tim Cook. Originally, I took the positon that the data should have been uncovered since it might be crucial evidence in a very heinous crime. Their argument that this would, forever, open the door to all kinds of maleficent players; that such players can unleash all kinds of debauchery because millions of phone’s security will be breached, was nonsense. The fact that is was done by a third party, and only for that phone, speaks for itself.

If all this is true, this slugfest between Apple and the FBI was just a big con game on Apples part. Apple could have, very easily, cooperated with the FBI. And one has to assume that the Cellebrite machines don’t invalidate any universal Apple security protocols. So, was Apple afraid that if the pubic found out about this, their security posturing would be just one big farce?

To be perfectly honest, I have never been a big fan of Apple. And I used to teach Mac troubleshooting classes and do Mac training. They have always been an arrogant company, doing what they want, with little regard for the common advancement of computer technology. Perhaps that is why they barely have six percent of the PC market, and perhaps that is why they play so strongly in the smartphone market – it is the only market they can compete in.

Anyway, Apple got served. Now they are crying to the FBI to find out how they did it. Well, Tim Cook, you got arrogant again and it backfired on you. Perhaps it is time for Apple to drop its pretension and eat a piece of humble pie – and do what the rest of the players do.