Apple is working on its own self-driving car technology

MarketWatch - 06/13/2017 10:02:00AM

Apple is building its own self-driving car technology, chief executive Tim Cook told Bloomberg in a recent interview.  Cook says Apple is focusing on making an autonomous car system. Cook told Bloomberg that the company is working on "autonomous systems," meaning the technology underlying a self-driving car, rather than beginning by building the car itself. Cook would not tell Bloomberg whether the company planned to ever manufacture its own car. In the self-driving car space, Apple is up against competitors including Alphabet Inc.'s ( GOOG) NVidia , and self-driving car unit WeMo, Tesla Inc. ( TSLA)

Charter reportedly spurned $100B-plus offer from Verizon

by Dade Hayes

Facing a slowdown in mobile phone sales and looking to keep pace with rival AT&T, Verizon reportedly made an offer for Charter Communications worth more than $100 million, but the bid was rejected, according to an account in the New York Post.

The paper, citing multiple unnamed sources, said Charter turned it down because it was too low, and it also wasn't ready to sell. In recent months, Charter shares have spiked at times when speculation of a Verizon deal mounted—but many analysts have poured cold water on the prospects.

Liberty Media, which owns a large but non-controlling stake in Charter, also fielded interest from Verizon in Sirius XM, the satellite radio company, according to the Post. But that interest didn't progress to a formal offer either.

The operating environment for both Verizon and AT&T has shifted dramatically over the past year. Each giant is getting bigger—Verizon has acquired Yahoo, which it will merge with AOL when the Yahoo deal closes this month, and AT&T is set to add Time Warner to its stable once that $85 billion megadeal closes next year.

MoffettNathanson principal analyst Craig Moffett wrote a blog post (sub. req.)in January that dismissed the possibility of a Verizon-Charter deal. But he also acknowledged the rationale of attempting it.

“To be sure, we understand why Verizon would be interested,” Moffett wrote. “The next generation of wireless will be about small cells with small radii. And every one of those cells needs to be connected to a wire. That means lots and lots of wires. And Cable has the most wires.”

Another hurdle standing in the way of a deal, from Charter's perspective, is the potential tax implications. Liberty's chairman John Malone, the ultimate cable dealmaker, is famously averse to transactions that carry significant tax burdens and has been known to shuffle assets relentlessly in order to optimize his companies' tax obligations.

Cable adds over 1M HSI subscribers in Q1, now controls 63% of the U.S. market

by Daniel Frankel

by Daniel Frankel | May 19, 2017 11:23am

Spearheaded by the explosive growth of Comcast and Charter Communications, cable operators collectively added over 1.003 million high-speed internet (HSI) subscribers in the first quarter, further seizing market share from the telco sector, according to Leichtman Research Group.

Beset by Frontier Communications’ heavy Fios losses (107,000 users), the telco sector collectively lost 44,571 HSI customers in the first quarter. Cable operators finished the quarter controlling 63.2% of the U.S. wireline broadband market, up from 61.5% in the first quarter of 2016.

Telco operators lost nearly 727,000 HSI customers in the 12-month period ending March 31, with subscribers fleeing DSL services. Cable operators have added over 3.11 million broadband users over that same period, attracting customers with DOCSIS 3.0- and 3.1-powered gigabit-speed services, in a growing number of cases.

The U.S. broadband market expanded by 2.38 million users over the one-year period, according to Leichtman.

Charter was the biggest gainer in the first quarter, adding 458,000 HSI customers, followed by Comcast (430,000). On the other side, Verizon follows Frontier with losses of 27,000 users. AT&T added 90,000 U-verse internet customers after losing 14,000 in the first quarter of 2016.

"With the addition of nearly one million subscribers in the quarter, the top cable and telco broadband providers in the U.S. cumulatively now account for over 93.9 million subscribers in the US," said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group. "In the first quarter of 2017, the number of broadband subscribers surpassed the number of pay-TV subscribers in the U.S.”

Wave close to $2B purchase by same private equity group that bought RCN and Grande

by Daniel Frankel | May 19, 2017 11:47am

After buying up RCN Telecom Services and Grande Communications last year, private equity firm TPG Capital is reportedly close to a $2 billion deal for WaveDivision Holdings LLC, parent of Kirkland, Washington-based cable operator Wave Broadband.

Reuters reported the deal citing unnamed sources. Neither TPG or Wave are commenting at this point.

Last month, the news service reported that Oak Hill Capital Management LLC and GI Partners—which jointly own Wave, along with the operator’s top management—hired investment bank UBS Group AG to conduct an auction for the cable company.

In August of 2016, TPG acquired RCN and Grande Communications for $2.25 billion from another buyout firm, ABRY Partners. That deal closed in February.

Should TPG close on Wave, as well, it would form the nation’s sixth largest cable operator.

Wave’s footprint covers the Sacramento and San Francisco areas, as well as Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

Unlike many other cable operators, which have built their networks around DOCSIS technologies, Wave has invested heavily in fiber. The company said last fall that it currently has 1,000 ongoing fiber projects.

Altice set to roll out ‘The Box’ in the U.S., Goei says

by Daniel Frankel

LAS VEGAS—After successfully deploying ‘The Box’ in France, Altice USA plans to roll out the combination DVR, modem and Wi-Fi router to the U.S. later this year.

“It will be something that will drive less clutter in the home,” said Altice USA CEO Dexter Goei, making a rare keynote address by a cable executive Tuesday afternoon at the NAB Show convention here. “It uses power efficiently, and it will provide savings for both the customer and for us over time.”

Developed by Altice at its own laboratory in Portugal, the device includes a 1 gigabit fiber modem, an eight-tuner DVR with a 500 gigabyte hard drive, and a new user interface.

Speaking on a wide range of subjects, Goei also commented on Altice’s recently announced decision to bypass deployment of DOCSIS 3.1 in its acquired Cablevision footprint in the Northeast and proceed directly to fiber deployment.

“Fiber today remains the most robust, efficient, reliable technology,” he said. “For us to invest in our networks in little steps that eventually get to fiber makes no sense… At the minimum, we know we have a competitive advantage relative to many of our peers.”

Goei conceded that Altice USA is in the midst of conducting an IPO in order to raise money for acquisition. “The reason we’re doing an IPO is pretty obvious,” he said. “But it has to be the right combination. The scale has to make sense.”

Also, while calling Ajit Pai a “smart, dynamic person,” Goei said the new FCC chairman has done a good job of “clarifying some of the regulatory overhangs." And in an obvious reference to Google, he said Pai has done a good job of pushing back on “some of those who are tangential to our industry but were being treated differently.”

Goei also commented on IP-based pay-TV competition, which has ramped up significantly in recent months with the introductions of DirecTV Now and YouTube TV.

“We remain in an environment where virtual MVPDs don’t deliver a radically better product at a compelling price,” he said. “But they will certainly evolve.”

Android for STBs: What every pay TV operator should know

Launching a pay TV platform typically requires 2-3 years’ development to create a customized user experience based on proprietary middleware with continuous updates throughout the STB lifetime. It’s slow, expensive and requires specialist developers, but operators get the UX they choose.

Google’s AOSP and Android TV are shaking up this status quo. Android rose from zero to global dominance of mobile markets in under seven years, so it’s little wonder this disruptor is being taken seriously.

But many operators remain confused about the options available for hybrid STBs. So, let’s compare the facts.

AOSP stands for Android Open Source Project. Operators use it for free to create completely custom user experiences. Early examples included Amazon’s Fire devices.

Built-in support for Widevine DRM enables live and on-demand OTT. And because Android’s Java-based source code is so widely used, operators wont struggle to recruit qualified developers.

But it doesn’t come with an App Store or third-party apps like Netflix, so operators must create their own. This means the average AOSP-based service takes 18 months to launch, but the operator has control over every app on their box.

The alternative is Android TV, a smart TV platform with a standard look and feel that operators “paint” with their own brand.

Android TV is also free, but operators must license Google Mobile Services (GMS) for essential features like messaging, location services, and in-app billing. It supports PlayReady DRM in addition to Widevine.

The Google Play Store is included, giving access to thousands of ready-made apps including games, streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu etc.) and Google Apps like maps and YouTube. But, crucially, the operator can’t limit the range of apps to keep direct competitors off their box.

Voice search, PVR and recommendations are built-in. So is Picture-in-Picture, and a TV Input Framework (TIF) that seamlessly combines live feeds from separate sources such as DVB-C*, IPTV and OTT in one UI.

Navigation is via games console controller, the Android TV mobile app or a standard remote.

Direct Carrier Billing allows VOD and apps purchased in the Google Play Store to be added a subscriber’s TV bill, on a revenue share basis.

Like AOSP, there’s a wide pool of developers and operators could realistically launch a new STB in as little as 6-9 months.

They can also rely on Google integrate future developments like Virtual Reality and the Internet of Things.

Fundamentally, the choice between Android TV and AOSP is one of speed and convenience versus customization and control. Neither includes the pay TV stack which the operator must develop.

Most early adopters are telecoms companies familiar with the open Android environment on mobile devices. But analysts OVUM predict Android TV will capture 35% of the Smart TV OS market by 2019.

Will Android kill middleware as we know it?

Google’s Android operating system took just a few years to go from upstart newcomer to dominating the global mobile market. Can it do the same for TV?

Telcos like Swisscom, KDDI and Telecom Italia swiftly adopted AOSP and Android TV, but pay TV operators have been cautious, fearing Google’s influence on their business. What if a future strategic shift sees Google exit the STB market, leaving the operator with an unsupported platform?

Operators seem increasingly willing to overlook such legitimate concerns because Android’s benefits are so great (and because middleware providers can also exit the market).

First among Android TV’s charms is the potential to slash both costs and timescales for developing and launching a new STB UX compared to middleware-based boxes. Off-the-shelf support for voice search, recommendations and an app store stuff with third-party apps are a big attraction.

And although it’s hard to predict what technologies lie ahead, operators expect Google to integrate innovations such as virtual reality as standard, reducing the need for their own technology roadmap.

Android TV’s ready-made app store may be great for time-to-market, but it means operators can’t limit the choice of apps on their box. Subscribers are free to download a direct competitor’s app on an operator’s subsidized STB.

This concern leads many operators to favor AOSP, but others have simply accepted that consumers are now in control. If a subscriber wants Netflix, they will get it. Even if it means buying a separate OTT device which could eventually supplant the pay TV box altogether. Operators tell us it’s safer to allow rival apps on their managed STBs and retain control of the subscriber’s HDMI1 port. Some are even willing to accept cord-cutting in the short term because it’s easier to re-connect a subscriber that’s still using your box.

Of course, UX development isn’t the only cost consideration for a STB platform. Android TV has typically required a pretty high-end chipset to achieve the necessary graphics performance. But Google has halted incremental rises in chipset specs and leading manufacturers have already responded with middle-priced chips to support Android TV. Much cheaper compatible chips will surely follow, adding to the appeal of Android.

So here is my prediction: within five to 10 years, no newly developed STB platform will use proprietary middleware. Operators launching hybrid STBs will choose Android or another open source middleware. Examples include RDK, developed by Comcast and friends, which requires more UX development effort than AOSP, and Frog by French company WyPlay. Low-cost markets without reliable or widespread broadband access will stick with middleware-free zapper boxes without PVR or hybrid features.

Elon Musk Drops a Bomb on The Auto Industry And Big Oil

Apr 19, 2017 3:27pm CDT by Lawrence604253

Tesla is already causing ulcers amongst auto industry executives and Big Oil sheikhs, executives, and oligarchs with the coming production of the Tesla Model 3 in less than three months from now, which has an estimated 400k or more pre-orders. Those ulcers just multiplied and grew worse with Elon Musk’s latest announcements on Twitter:

He started off by stating that Tesla would be unveiling an electric Semi-Truck in September. This is a segment where there is currently no mass production of electric vehicles. Not only would this be a big fuel saver in metro zone and regional trucking, it would also start the electrification of a transportation segment that is responsible for a major chunk of global oil use.

That alone would have created a big splash, but Musk was not done. He followed up with a tweet stating that Tesla would be unveiling a pick-up truck in 18 to 24 months. Since this has become an ever more important segment of vehicle sales and auto industry profits and is a segment currently devoid of production electric vehicles, this could have a huge impact and would, once again, place Tesla far ahead of the competition.

When one considers that the future of transport is going to be electric and that Tesla will be offering vehicles in almost every segment of vehicles, it is little wonder that Tesla recently became the most valuable auto manufacturer in America.

The best thing about this for consumers is that they will soon be able to greatly contribute to reducing pollution while simultaneously withdrawing financial support from Big Oil and preventing future wars over, and because of, oil. And it won’t involve making a big sacrifice anymore, which should make wide-spread adoption feasible on a global scale.

Wednesday, Apr 19, 2017 · 5:43:05 PM CDT · Lawrence

Since a majority of readers are answering the poll with “yeah, as soon as I can afford one”, I am going to link to some diaries by Assaf that show how an electric car can be acquired for little money and how there also are numerous options for new(and affordable) electric vehicles:

Are you ready for an electric vehicle?

  • Ready, schmeady. I already own one! 10%
  • Yeah, as soon as I can afford one. 51%
  • Sure thing, as soon as the model that covers my needs comes out. 25%
  • Yeah, as soon as my place of residence offers electric charging. 7%
  • I already have one and am soon installing a solar power system to juice it up with the sun. 1%
  • Are you kidding? I like the greasy oil stinkers! 1%
  • Only if it can deliver pie to my house. 1%

Delphi 48-volt technology will be in new cars by 2017

Greg Gardner , Detroit Free Press 

Published 12:01 a.m. ET April 13, 2016 | Updated 3:50 p.m. ET April 14, 2016

Delphi Automotive says it has commitments from 2 automakers to use new system.

Delphi Automotive has commitments from two automakers to use a new 48-volt battery system on vehicles that will go into production in late 2017, the London-based supplier said.

The company didn't name the automakers but it has already shown the system in a Honda Civic 1.6-liter diesel. The high-voltage battery system, which offers considerably more power than standard 12-volt batteries, is also expected to be used to enhance the fuel economy of mild hybrid powertrains by taking away the strain of running accessories, such as air conditioning.

Delphi officials have said its 48-volt system, which is an electrical architecture not a battery alone, can offer 70% of the fuel-economy benefit of higher-voltage mild-hybrid systems at 30% of the cost. The supplier showcased the 48-volt mild-hybrid system in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

ATS Earns Growing Share of Telecom Equipment Company’s Repair Business

To enhance customer satisfaction, Eltek, a world leader in high-efficiency power electronics and energy conversion, wanted to improve their repair cycle time on rectifier products for customers in North America without further adding staff or expanding facilities.  When the company reached its capacity to repair the rectifier products in a timely way with its existing staff and facilities, it turned to Advanced Technical Services (ATS).

After an initial pilot project was successful, Eltek challenged ATS to reduce the repair cycle times and component scrap rate of another third-party repair firm Eltek was using that was not meeting expectations, according to Jeff Carlson, Eltek Director of Service Support, North America.

“Compared to another third-party repair firm we were using at the time, ATS was able to reduce repair cycle time from 45 days to 10 days,” says Carlson.  “It was also able to reduce the component scrap rate from 60% to 10%, which reduced our cost under warranty and our customer’s cost out-of-warranty.  Their repair processes identified the failed part down to the component level, instead of merely swapping circuit boards. Their willingness to work with us throughout the process helped to make this possible.”

“They have earned more business from us as they’ve proven themselves capable,” says Carlson.  “They have, since 1999, become a trusted partner for repairs in the Eltek North American market, handling a significant portion of our total returns.  ATS handles both current and legacy product models for us and helps ensure we achieve our service targets.”

According to Carlson, ATS has taken on more responsibility for repairs and they have stocked more Eltek product at their facility to help expedite the process.

“To support our customers, they’ll often do advanced product exchanges with our customers from our consignment inventory,” says Carlson.  “Upon our request, they will;

receive, repair, and warehouse the returned product.  They track modules by part and serial number and transmit repair data to us daily, so we can track reliability and improve quality.  They’ll test the product under environmental loads experienced in the field.  Then they’ll repackage the product and ship it directly to our customer.”

ATS is very responsive, and repaired product is rarely returned, which speaks to the quality of repair, according to Carlson.

“They’ve come through for us and have become a valued partner in ensuring the quality of our customers’ experience,” says Carlson.  “Recently, when I asked them to complete a job by next week, they finished the job in two days,” says Carlson.  “That’s the kind of response you want from a partner who supports your end customers.”