Explainers

LTE-A Explained

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A few weeks ago, I was lounging on a beach chair in Boracay Island in the Philippines, sipping on a mojito and enjoying crazy fast mobile internet speeds of about 200 megabits per second.

For the uninitiated, at 200 Mbps, you can download the original Iron Man movie in high def, or the popular racing game Need For Speed in well under 2 minutes.

Not that the average joe constantly needs to download large apps or movies while out and about. But the promise of LTE-A is an internet experience that’s free from waiting – YouTube videos that don’t buffer, web pages that load in a snap, and hiccup-free FaceTime calls.

It’s almost cruel that this alternate reality, this internet utopia, exists on this tiny little island. But that’s the point; because it is both a relatively small land mass and one that’s heavily frequented by local and foreign tourists, the paradise island of Boracay is the perfect test case for what eventually should roll out to the entire archipelago.

If all goes according to plan (and promise) the wait won’t be too long. Smart Communications, the telco behind the Boracay experiment says LTE-A will become a reality for Filipinos within a year and a few months. Users in Australia, the US, South Korea and Turkey already enjoy LTE-A speeds.

A few years back, while living in Seoul for a few months, I would get faster data speeds on my smartphone than I did in my apartment. And that’s saying a lot considering, South Korea enjoys some of the fastest internet speeds in the world.

So what does LTE-A mean? How does it work? And how is it able to deliver super fast mobile internet speeds

The secret sauce behind LTE-A is technology called carrier aggregation. But for you to understand this better, it’s important to first understand how data is transferred from the internet through cell towers to your phones.

Every time you access the internet to download a new instant message, stream a Spotify track, song or watch a video on Facebook data – it’s like transferring cargo from point A to point B. Trucks pick up the cargo and drive them down a single lane highway to their destination.

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Imagine each truck carried 100 megabytes of data. You’d need 30 trucks to make up 3GB, the average size of a Full HD movie.

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It will take a while for 30 trucks travel from point A to point B on a single lane highway.

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But imagine if there were 5 lanes –  more trucks could travel at the same time, and at a faster speed, allowing all 30 trucks to get to the destination sooner.

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That’s exactly how carrier aggregation on LTE-A works. Using multiple LTE bands (up to 5 in theory, 3 on Smart’s LTE-A network) data is transferred to your smartphone simultaneously. Smartphones that support LTE-A have multiple antennas for receiving multiple data streams from multiple signals.

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LTE-A promises theoretical speeds of up to 1Gbps. That’s insanely fast. Here’s to hoping that soon it will become a reality for everyone.

Editor’s Note: As is always the case, I expect a bit of backlash from the consumer public – why tease the next big thing in mobile internet when LTE speeds aren’t even that great yet, and let’s not get started on the data capping debate. Both are important issues that deserve attention and discussion –  but it should not distract from the fact that the technology exists, and if implemented properly is something that can improve lives.

[irp posts=”7566" name=”Singapore, S. Korea dominate 4G LTE rankings, Philippines struggles”]

Automotive

Stranger Things 3: What exactly is an ignition cable?

Possessed Billy knew what he was doing

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By now, you’ve probably seen the third and newest season of Stranger Things on Netflix. If you still haven’t, it goes without saying that there are spoilers ahead and you should stay away from this article.

Seeing a pop culture reference such as Stranger Things together with the seemingly unrelated world of automotive in one writeup such as this could be strange (pun intended) for some. We really don’t mind and thought it would be a fun and unique way to talk about the show and learn a few things from it, as well.

So we ask the question: What exactly is an ignition cable?

The ignition cable is part of a vehicle’s ignition system. In simplest terms, it’s a mechanism that starts the engine. By generating a high voltage from the car’s battery to the spark plugs in its engine, it causes them to ignite the engine’s combustion chambers and get it up and running.

And in order to transfer that voltage from the source to the engine, you’ll need an ignition cable as it’s like a subway system that acts as pathways for the voltage to pass through. So if the ignition cable is not present, there’s no way to start the car.

Back to Stranger Things, Billy (although already possessed by the Mind Flayer) obviously still had his knowledge on cars so he took away the ignition cable trapping our favorite gang at Starcourt Mall’s parking lot.

Just to further stress the importance of an ignition cable and the whole ignition system for that matter, we’d like to visit other possibilities and ask, “What if Billy didn’t take it away?”

Well, the plan was for Eleven and her group to go to Bauman’s secret place and stay safe while Joyce, Hopper, and the rest try to close the portal and render the Mind Flayer powerless. If their ignition cable was intact, they’d be a lot safer away from the Mind Flayer although we wouldn’t be able to see that amazing fireworks scene inside the mall.

Through this, we see the importance of that one small part under the hood of the car. In real life, it really pays to make sure that everything is in good working condition and that one faulty cable could mean trouble for you if remained unaddressed — unless there’s a car on display inside a mall somewhere that you can take spare parts from!

SEE ALSO: Netflix launches AR Trailer with Stranger Things 3

 

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Explainers

A phone’s water protection plan: IP ratings explained

It doesn’t give you the right to dunk it in water, though

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Illustration by MJ Jucutan

If you plan to bring your phone to a beach trip with your friends, you normally bring a pouch with you. The main function of that pouch is to protect your phone from contact with any liquid while you enjoy the waves. Of course, it doesn’t fully guarantee that water won’t seep through it — especially when a big wave crashes on you and opens the pouch. But, it does give a sense of safety and security for your beloved smartphone.

That’s the whole concept behind an IP rating that’s given to most smartphones today. Nowadays, you hear a lot about these smartphones being advertised with IP68 ratings. But, what does an IP68 rating actually mean? Is it worth something to consider when buying a new smartphone?

What is an IP rating?

IP ratings are not new in the tech world. In fact, a lot of the electrical appliances and technologies you have at home come with it. An IP rating, or ingress protection rating basically tells you the level of protection any electrical device has against solid and liquid objects. It acts as a security measure to determine what objects the device can handle without malfunctioning.

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) gives out these ratings to manufacturers as a safety measure for production. It consists of two numbers that describe its protection against a vast number of objects, even human touch. The first number denotes a device’s protection against common solid objects and dust. Meanwhile, the second number denotes a device’s protection against liquids, even steam-jet liquids. The higher the number, the more protection it gets!

IP ratings are not just present in most recent smartphones. Things like electrical sockets, cameras, even phone cases come with IP ratings, as well. 

The reason it exists

Manufacturers and consumers see an IP rating quite differently. Those two numbers ultimately stand for how well your device can stand against, well anything. For manufacturers, an IP rating basically gives them a standard to follow when producing more devices. Before shipping their latest smartphones, they subject their devices to numerous tests to validate their IP ratings.

Also, it gives a more concrete way of stating that their devices are resistant to such objects. When you come across smartphones that claim to be water resistant, oftentimes you tend to ask just how resistant it is. With manufacturers, the IP rating gives a more definitive measure to that claim. For example, a smartphone with an IP68 rating is heavily protected against dust, and you can submerge it in waters deeper than a meter — perfect for beach trips.

Las Cabanas Beach Resort, Maramegmeg Beach, El Nido

For consumers, the IP rating just provides a peace of mind when buying a new smartphone. It’s basically placed there to tell you that your phone can still be used even if you subject it to too much dust or water that’s too deep. You see this in most YouTube videos or channels that basically bend, scratch, and dunk phones in buckets of water. In the end, you won’t have to worry about destroying your phone that much when you go on that beach trip without a pouch.

Some manufacturers simply don’t need the rating

However, there are manufacturers that simply found the rating unnecessary or simply just a marketing tool. Companies like OnePlus even did an entire ad that showed off their new flagship devices, the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro without an IP rating. The whole issue sparked debates on whether or not IP ratings do make sense, or companies could simply do without them.

OnePlus argues that one reason their new smartphones don’t have an IP rating is because of the cost to get one. Even simply requesting for a phone for consideration costs a lot on the manufacturing side, which ultimately bumps up the phone’s price. Pete Lau, one of the co-founders of the company estimated the cost for getting an IP rating is at US$ 30. Of course, it is entirely up to the consumer’s view of its value to the overall product.

The other reason is because of the coverage of the device’s warranty, particularly towards water damage. OnePlus claims that even if smartphones have IP ratings that show how resistant they are to water, water damage isn’t fully covered by its warranty. This also furthers their argument on why they wouldn’t want to spend on getting one in the first place. An IP rating is not a legitimate reason for people to have their phones fixed for free after dunking them in buckets of water.

To them, it does not make sense to simply attach an IP rating onto a phone even as a marketing tool. It gives off the wrong impression that the device is waterproof when the rating basically leans towards phones being water resistant.

Do we really need to know the IP rating? 

The IEC created IP ratings for everyone’s protection — from manufacturers to consumers. The whole purpose of having an IP rating is to provide a level of protection for anything electrical, smartphones included. It ensures the safety of everyone, but it’s not a way to bail anyone out when they dunk their phones in water.

While some may argue that it helps to know what your device’s IP rating is for better care, others just see it as a marketing ploy. It only seeks to sell a device perceived to be waterproof according to a standard. However, IP ratings were not meant to waterproof your phone by any means. It’s there to tell you that your phone can handle water, just possibly not too much.

At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves whether we truly see the value in having these IP ratings. Whether or not your preferred device has an IP rating, just remember: it’s not a reason for you to exploit your phone.

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Enterprise

Huawei vs the US: A timeline

An FAQ on Huawei’s problems

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Who’s afraid of Huawei? Right now, everyone is. Does anyone really know why?

Since 2017, the US has dealt continuous blows against the Chinese company. More than two years later, the war is still in full swing. Both sides have fired multiple salvos against the other. Still, despite the conflict’s longevity, most people are not really sure what’s happening.

Why are they fighting? Should we stay away from Huawei? Is it time to get rid of our Huawei devices as soon as possible? Should we really fear for our cybersecurity?

For ordinary consumers, the entire Huawei debacle is mired in political lingo and endless controversy. It’s time to clear the air. What’s up, Huawei?

How did this all begin?

Let’s go back to where it all started. In late 2017, American lawmakers reviewed the businesses of ZTE, another Chinese tech company. Soon after, the investigation unveiled a flurry of shady business deals involving Iran. By law, companies operating in the US are not allowed to communicate with blacklisted countries including North Korea and Iran. Naturally, the violation caused monumental sanctions against ZTE. The US banned ZTE from American soil — effectively, the same ban on Huawei today.

At this time, Huawei was just a moderately innocent passerby stuck between two fighting giants. At most, Huawei was accused of spying on its customers. American lawmakers proposed a boycott of Huawei’s products. The proposal drew from the emerging rise of Sinophobia. Still, at the time, the US government’s eyes were firmly on ZTE.

Current restrictions prevent Huawei from providing 5G technologies to American consumers

In its infancy, the Huawei-ZTE issue was a product of a small fear. It still hadn’t affected everyone. In fact, US President Donald Trump even tried to save both companies from utter destruction. Both companies enjoyed a reprieve from America’s ire. However, this was short-lived.

In a surprising about-face, Trump started his controversial trade war against China. The American leader abandoned his salvific efforts. Instead, he adopted an incredibly aggressive push against Chinese companies. Unsurprisingly, ZTE already crumbled from the initial push, leaving Trump without a company to make an example out of.

Trump set his sights on Huawei, the world’s second largest smartphone maker. His weapon: the same ban meant for ZTE. His motive: potential cybersecurity issues. This time, America means business. Recently, Trump finally pulled the trigger, enacting a total ban against Huawei on American soil. However, instead of just the US, Trump has been lobbying for a similar ban on other countries. Since then, Huawei has suffered a world of hurt.

What does the ban mean?

Naturally, a “total ban” sounds daunting. Banning Huawei smells like certain doom for the tech giant but what does the ban really mean?

When enforced, Huawei can no longer deal with American companies. To Huawei’s dismay, the tech maker uses a fair number of American components in its products. Most notably, Huawei’s smartphones come with Google’s Android. The ban will prevent Huawei from using the operating system going forward. On paper, this is a huge deal. Android remains the world’s biggest operating system. A lot of consumers trust Android. Huawei is losing a massive chunk of its package with the loss.

As if that wasn’t enough, Facebook — and its slew of apps — have withdrawn from Huawei’s products. The company’s smartphones will no longer have Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, or WhatsApp installed out of the box. The threat is becoming real.

Huawei makes its own chipsets but relies on several American companies for other components

Additionally, Intel, Broadcom, and Qualcomm have blacklisted Huawei after Google’s announcement. Huawei has also lost the support of the ubiquitous ARM chip architecture.

It’s not looking good for the Chinese company. Huawei is slowly being dismembered. Faced with an army of bans, it’s natural to worry about Huawei. Worst case scenario, Huawei will become a mere shadow of its former self, devoid of the components that helped its recent success.

Should we really worry, though?

Not just yet. Right now, Huawei is enjoying a temporary reprieve. Soon after the initial ban, the American government granted the company a three-month extension. Until around the end of August, Huawei can still operate with its current partnerships. Except Facebook, its devices will still ship with the same components we love. At least for the near future, Huawei is safe.

In the meantime, Huawei is hunting for adequate alternatives for its failing parts. This means a new operating system, new chips, and likely an entirely new package. To its credit, Huawei’s development team is working around the clock. Only a month removed from ground zero, they are already promising optimistic developments for the future. Huawei remains confident in their future, launching a bevy of new phones amidst the controversy.

Likewise, some American companies are also lamenting the loss of business. Before the ban, Huawei was a loyal customer, delivering American components to a massive global audience. They aren’t happy with Trump’s ban. For one, Google has publicly defended Huawei. According to them, Huawei’s — and subsequently, the world’s — cybersecurity standards will collapse without a collaboration between international companies. With Android, Google can act as Huawei’s checks and balances against potential cybersecurity threats from malicious forces. If anything, Huawei still has its share of public defenders.

The US ban will prevent Huawei from using Android as its operating system moving forward

Most importantly, Trump still has the power to reverse the ban before the 90-day extension runs out. If China and the US reach a meeting point, all might go back to normal. Though uncertain, it’s too early to give up on Huawei just yet.

What will Huawei 2.0 look like?

Unfortunately, Huawei’s future is muddled with uncertainty. This includes any potential iterations in the future. As far as we know, Huawei isn’t bleeding from the multitude of losses. The company has reinforced its Kirin chipsets. Further, they are developing their own dedicated operating system codenamed Ark OS.

Other than that, there’s not much to go on. Speculatively, the biggest changes will come from its app supports. If Google leaves, Huawei will be left without the Play Store’s support and security. The Chinese company will have to rely on its own native software to power their phones. Unfortunately, an all-Chinese ecosystem is less than ideal for most. In fact, having one might even justify the American Sinophobia. But again, it’s all up in the air.

I have a Huawei phone. Should I just sell it?

No, you still shouldn’t. The grey market is already doubling down against the onslaught of Huawei returns. If you don’t know a willing contact, finding a buyer will be difficult. If you do find one, you’ll receive only a mere fraction of what you paid for.

At its current iteration, Huawei’s phones are still on top. They are a delight to hold and use, and if anything, have challenged its competitors to offer better value to consumers over the years. Right now, it’s best to play the long game. Wait and see what happens. If anything, Huawei — and its official partners — already has an insurance policy in place. Several retailers have declared a 100 percent refund policy in countries like Singapore. If Google cuts the cord, Huawei users can get their money back.

Similarly, Google has promised Android Q support for existing Huawei handsets. Just this week Huawei also announced the rollout of Android-based EMUI 9.1 to older models. If you already own one, a Huawei phone shouldn’t be an immediate cause for panic.

So, should we really be worried about Huawei?

Understandably, uncertainty isn’t an ideal for everyone. Huawei’s troubles are an excruciating thorn for both businesses and consumers alike. Switching to another brand is a natural solution against the company’s shaky future. However, if you’re looking at the silver lining, worrying is likely a premature reaction. If you’re not a Huawei user, the controversies shouldn’t affect you. If you’re already a Huawei user or looking to buy a Huawei device, it will likely pay off to play a longer strategy. After all, Huawei devices are still some of the best smartphones you can buy on the market.

Editor’s Note: Looks like we really shouldn’t worry after all. Not even an entire day has passed since this article was originally published but Huawei no longer banned in the US. Rejoice, Huawei users!

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