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You probably remember mobile operators raving about the promise of 5G several years ago. Now, they’re getting excited about a new upgrade: 5G Advanced.

Angel Garcia | Bloomberg | Getty Images

BARCELONA, Spain — Telecom operators haven’t yet finished rolling out 5G wireless mobile networks. And yet bosses of major carriers are already talking about building something called “5.5G,” or “5G Advanced.”

There was a lot of chatter about 5.5G at the Mobile World Congress tech trade show in Barcelona, Spain.

MWC brought together thousands of people in the mobile industry, including from leading telecom companies like Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica, BT, and Vodafone.

At the show, executives from some of these companies that they were working toward rolling out a new generation of mobile internet.

That would enable even more advanced applications than the data-intensive apps we’ve all come to use today, such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Netflix, and TikTok.

These apps are already well served by the current mobile internet, but in the future 5.5G is expected to power more advanced applications.

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That includes mixed reality headsets, which are getting more and more powerful with tech giants like Apple launching its Apple Vision Pro and Meta upgrading with its Meta Quest Pro headset last year.

But it also means some of the things that 5G promised us years ago, such as self-driving cars, unpiloted air taxis, and smart manufacturing enabled via the so-called internet of things (IoT), will start to become a reality, too.

What is 5G?

5G is the next generation of mobile internet after 4G, which promises superfast data speeds and better coverage.

You probably remember mobile network operators raving about the promise of 5G several years ago. Carriers in China, South Korea, the United States, and Europe, properly got underway with launches of 5G networks in 2019.

Now, nearly five years on, penetration of 5G among consumers remains low.

The number of consumers with a 5G connection is increasing. But it’s still well below “mainstream” levels.

5G has been the fastest mobile generation rollout to date, surpassing 1 billion connections by the end of 2022, rising to 1.6 billion connections at the end of 2023 and 5.5 billion by 2030.

5G connections are expected to represent more than half (51%) of mobile connections by 2029, though, and that is forecast to then rise 56% by 2030. Those numbers are up to date as of January 2024, GSMAi said.

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5G has been positioned by the telecoms industry not just as a consumer product for faster download speeds, but as a network that could underpin new technologies like driverless cars or unpiloted air taxis.

That’s because it has lower latency than 4G. That means the time it takes for devices to talk to each other is significantly reduced, a feature important in scenarios where data needs to be delivered quickly.

However, after hundreds of billions of dollars of investment into 5G networks, carriers have struggled to see the return. Analysts say that the real potential to monetize 5G might be on the horizon.

What’s ‘5.5G,’ and why are telcos talking about it?

5G Advanced, or the name for the next stage of 5G, is the next evolution of mobile networks.

Telecommunications networks require standards. These are globally accepted technical rules that define how a technology works and its interoperability around the world — interoperability is the ability for two or more systems to work together.

These standards take several years to come up with and finalize and involve several players from companies to academics and industry bodies.

The standards-setting body 3GPP, which contributed to 5G, uses a system of parallel “releases” to provide developers with a platform to implement new features at a given point and then allow more functionality to come in further releases.

In the 3GPP releases system, 5G is considered release 17. That means 5.5G is dubbed “release 18” by the industry.

Release 19 is what will effectively be 6G, another major network upgrade. Work is also underway on 6G standards, but it’s still in the early stages.

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“Main priorities for developing 5G Advanced standards are to increase commercial relevance of 5G by expanding vertical markets, resolve deployment issues, and continue technology evolution to build a bridge towards 6G,” Milind Kulkarni, vice president and head of InterDigital’s wireless labs, told CNBC.

“Research in standards have introduced, improved, and finalized several new enterprise-specific features for 5G Advanced, including network slicing, the integration of private and public networks, enhanced positioning, and even applications specific to each enterprise vertical.”

Howard Watson, the chief technology officer of British telco giant BT, said that 5.5G will promise faster uplink speeds, meaning you’ll be able to stream video, post things online, and play multiplayer games, much faster than before.

“My children’s generation, or even dare I say it, my grandchild’s generation … that generation, they share a lot. And clearly, sharing requires quite a lot of upstream,” Watson told CNBC on the sidelines of MWC. “There will probably be a doubling of upstream capacities coming in release 18.”

Further benefits to 5G Advanced over current 5G, telco execs say, is that it will make the networks themselves more “intelligent” through the application of AI and machine learning, while also boosting performance and reducing overall power consumption.

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Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, told CNBC he hopes the industry can continue focusing on staying in a 5G environment for years to come, as there’s still plenty of work to be done on monetization.

“I hope that we can stay in 5G territory for long, because normally in the 4G environment, you and I were the consumers. And it’s quite quick for us to just say, change a SIM card,” Granryd told CNBC’s Karen Tso. “In 5G, 5G is a technology standard that is predominantly towards business to business. And it takes a longer time for businesses to convert and use new technology.”

“This normal of 10 years between standards, I wonder if that’s going to be enough,” Granryd added. “We hope that we can stay in a 5G environment. 5G advanced — 5G standalone, that’s absolutely fine. But push out the time and make sure that we have enough mileage to capitalize and monetize and show the world that 5G is a fantastic technology.”

With 5G Advanced, telecoms firms could start to make more money from their 5G rollouts by charging higher prices. And, with a key focus of 5G being enterprise applications, that could be a much more significant money maker for network operators than consumers.

Telcos haven’t yet revealed how much more a 5G Advanced data plan will cost compared with 5G. But analysts expect they’ll look to make money from 5G Advanced by getting clever about subscriptions and using AI and other technologies to operate their networks more efficiently.

With a key focus of 5G being enterprise applications, that could be a much more significant money maker for network operators than consumers.

The telco industry has been awash with talk about so-called “private 5G” networks, nonpublic mobile networks that are installed on-premise at companies’ work sites for example, in a smart factory, or remote surgery operation.

When will 5G Advanced be here?

Chinese telecommunications equipment supplier Huawei expects 2024 to be the year that commercial deployments of 5G Advanced officially begin. For Huawei, 5.5G is a network that will be capable of 10 Gbps downlink speeds — and in case you’re wondering, yes, that is very fast.

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Huawei revealed eight 5.5G “innovation practices” last week which it says will help operators build 5.5G networks across all frequency bands. The company is working with carriers in the Middle East, Europe, Asia Pacific, and Latin America to deploy 5.5G.

It’s going to take some convincing for consumers to go from 5G to 5G Advanced, given the little noticeable improvement they’ve seen from their phones upgrading to 5G in the past five years. But Philip Song, Huawei’s chief marketing officer of the carrier business group, said that it’s important telcos convey the use cases of 5G Advanced to consumers well.

“The most important thing for us is how can we support the customers,” he said at a press briefing last Tuesday, in response to a CNBC question. The “biggest success” for 5.5G will only arrive if carriers “acknowledge solutions” and bring that across to customers sufficiently.

In some markets, operators are still working on deploying 4G, Song said — but he doesn’t think that matters because different parts of the world “are at different stages.”

Watson told CNBC that he thinks 5G Advanced will arrive on the EE network later this year. That’s because the 3GPP standard release 18, or 5.5G, is already open for experimentation and telcos have been working on trials. It is expected to conclude by June 2024, by which time the protocols that enable 5.5G should be stable.

“Release 18 we will start to roll out this year,” Watson told CNBC. “We also plan to launch 5G standalone this year as well.”

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5G standalone is different from 5G Advanced. Sometimes referred to as “true” 5G, it refers to the development of a 5G network that uses technology independent of 4G and comes with the promise of realizing 5G’s full potential.

5G Advanced, on the other hand, is a complete evolution of the network.

There’s no definitive date for when 5G Advanced will start to be rolled out, though. And telcos are on the clock to get it up and running.

“I hope that we will be at the bandwidth, the latency, the capability needs to be sufficient,” Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, told CNBC’s Karen Tso at MWC last week.

“That’s what we’re struggling with to see in Europe. In five years, we’re going to have a quadrupling of data usage. And I am really concerned about what’s going to happen at that stage.”

“Will we have cut-offs? Will we have congestions?” he added. “Will we have a much much worse situation, a much worse landscape? By having that worse landscape, the competitiveness of Europe will go down.”

— CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report

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How the U.S. government is regulating artificial intelligence

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How the U.S. government is regulating artificial intelligence

The U.S. government is considering laws to help society adapt to the introduction of artificial intelligence.

Early users of the technology are already seeing labor productivity gains. For example, Klarna, a buy now, pay later financial services provider, estimates that its AI assistant tool will increase its profit outcome by $40 million by the end of 2024.

“It basically does the job of 700 full-time agents,” Klarna CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski said in an interview with CNBC. “It basically was capable of taking care of two-thirds of all the incoming errands that we have over chat.”

Klarna’s AI assistant tool is built on OpenAI’s systems, which power both ChatGPT and Sora — two products that have captured the attention of both the general public and Congress.

In 2023, members of Congress convened panels, private dinners, and learning sessions with high-profile tech executives including Sam Altman, CEO at OpenAI. The White House followed up by seeking commitment from 15 private industry leaders to help lawmakers understand the best way to identify risks and make use of the new technologies. The list includes some of the biggest players in the tech sector, alongside newcomers such as Anthropic and OpenAI.

The Senate Task Force on AI, established in 2019, has passed at least 15 bills into law that focus on research and risk assessment. But when compared with measures passed by the European Union in 2024, the U.S. regulatory environment appears to be relatively relaxed.

“The folks in Brussels, they come up with a lot of bureaucratic rules that make it harder for companies to innovate,” Erik Brynjolfsson, a senior fellow at Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI, said in an interview with CNBC. “The entrepreneurial environment isn’t there the way it is in the United States.”

Economists have worried for years that artificial intelligence could sink job prospects for white-collar workers, similar to the effects globalization has had on blue-collar workers in the past. A study from the International Monetary Fund suggests that at least 60% of work in advanced economies would be exposed to changes that stem from the wide adoption of artificial intelligence.

In 2023, lawmakers in the New York State Assembly put forward a measure to limit the expected impact of tech-driven layoffs with robot taxes. The idea is to introduce a cost for companies that use technology to displace workers within the state. As of April 2024, the bill remains in committee with an uncertain future.

Many economists have said that robot taxes, if used at all, should be set at a relatively low level. In the U.S. both employers and employees face payroll taxes of 7.65% of income. But the optimal rate for a robot tax would be between 1% and 3.7%, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“It’s good for us to have output and productivity. And so I’m not sure we want to tax those,” said Brynjolfsson. “Robots are part of what boost technological growth and give us that higher productivity.”

“There will be a time in the future where robots can do most of what humans currently do,” Brynjolfsson said. “We’re not there yet.”

Watch the video above to learn more about the U.S. government’s plan to regulate artificial intelligence. 

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Tesla slashes price of its premium driver assistance option by half in U.S.

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Tesla slashes price of its premium driver assistance option by half in U.S.

Drivers charge their Teslas in Fountain Valley, CA, on Wednesday, March 20, 2024.

Jeff Gritchen | Medianews Group | Getty Images

Tesla said on Friday that it’s cutting the subscription price of its premium driver assistance system for customers in the U.S.

Marketed as its Full Self-Driving, or FSD, package, Tesla customers will now pay $99 per month, down from $199 previously.

The price cut is at odds with previous promises from CEO Elon Musk, who has repeatedly said that the cost of FSD would only go up as Tesla adds features and functionality to the system.

“The FSD price will continue to rise as the software gets closer to full self-driving capability with regulatory approval,” Musk wrote on Twitter, now known as X, on May 18, 2020. He said at that point “the value of FSD is probably somewhere in excess of $100,000” per car.

Despite its brand name, the company’s FSD option today doesn’t make Tesla vehicles autonomous or functional as robotaxis.

Musk has promised shareholders and customers a robotaxi for years, and has said their existing vehicles would soon become self driving after an over-the-air software update.

He told investors on a call in 2019 that autonomous driving would transform Tesla into a company with a $500 billion market cap, up from around $42 billion at that time. (The company is worth over $500 billion today even without having developed an autonomous car.) Tesla raised over $2 billion through debt and equity after the call.

In a notice that’s now shown to some drivers through the touchscreen displays in their cars, Tesla says:

“Full Self-Driving (Supervised) can drive your Tesla almost anywhere. It will make lane changes, select forks to follow your navigation route, navigate around other vehicles and objects, and make left and right turns. It must be used with additional caution and an attentive driver. It does not make your vehicle autonomous. Do not become complacent.”

The company uses sensors in the steering wheel and cabin cameras, positioned above the rearview mirror, to determine if a driver is attentive or not, and will audibly alert drivers to keep their eyes on the road or hands on the wheel.

In 2022, the California Department of Motor Vehicles formally accused Tesla of engaging in deceptive practices around the marketing of its driver assistance systems, including its standard package Autopilot and FSD in the U.S., according to filings with a state administrative agency.

Meanwhile, Alphabet-owned Waymo is now operating commercial robotaxi services in several U.S. cities. The company also recently struck a partnership with Uber Eats for driverless food delivery. In China, Didi’s autonomous unit operates commercially in markets including Guangzhou. Companies including Bill Gates-backed Wayve in the U.K. and Amazon’s Zoox in the U.S. are testing robotaxis as well.

In a push for end-of-quarter sales last month, Musk mandated that all sales and service staff install and demo FSD for customers before handing over the keys. He wrote in an email to employees, “Almost no one actually realizes how well (supervised) FSD actually works. I know this will slow down the delivery process, but it is nonetheless a hard requirement.”

After that, Tesla also announced it would give away a one-month free trial of FSD to all customers in North America. Owners’ responses to the latest version of FSD have been mixed with some fans impressed, and many safety-conscious drivers switching off the free FSD trial, viewing it as inconsistent and unsafe.

Musk also recently promised to “unveil” a new dedicated robotaxi on Aug. 8. Tesla unveilings are marketing events, and don’t indicate a date for the start of production and deliveries. For example, Tesla unveiled a new version of the Roadster, and a fully electric heavy-duty truck called the Semi in 2017 and didn’t begin Semi deliveries until December 2022. It still hasn’t produced the new version of the Roadster.

Tesla didn’t respond to a request for more information, including whether the price cut announced Friday is permanent or temporary.

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Health records giant Epic cracks down on startup for unauthorized sharing of patient data

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Health records giant Epic cracks down on startup for unauthorized sharing of patient data

The eponymous sign outside Epic headquarters in Verona, Wisconsin.

Source: Yiem via Wikipedia CC

Epic Systems, the largest provider of software for managing medical records, says a venture-backed startup called Particle Health is using patient data in unauthorized and unethical ways that have nothing to do with treatment.

Epic told customers in a notice on Thursday that it cut off its connection to Particle, hindering the company’s ability to tap a system with more than 300 million patient records. Particle is one of several companies that acts as a sort of middleman between Epic and the organizations — typically hospitals and clinics — that need the data.

Patient data is inherently sensitive and valuable, and it’s protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, a federal law that requires a patient’s consent or knowledge for third-party access. One way Epic’s electronic health records (EHR) are accessed is through an interoperability network called Carequality, which facilitates the exchange of more than 400,000 documents a month, according to its website. Particle is a member of the Carequality network.

To join the network, organizations are vetted and have to agree to abide by clear “Permitted Purposes” for the exchange of patient data. Epic responds to requests for data that fall under the “Treatment” permitted purpose, which means the recipient is providing care to the person whose records they are requesting. 

Epic said in its notice on Thursday that it filed a formal dispute with Carequality on March 21, over concerns that Particle and its participant organizations “might be inaccurately representing the purpose associated with their record retrievals.” The company suspended its connection with Particle that day.

“This poses potential security and privacy risks, including the potential for HIPAA Privacy Rule violations,” Epic said in the notice, which was obtained by CNBC. 

In a blog post late Friday, Carequality said it takes disputes “very seriously and is committed to maintaining the integrity of the dispute resolution process as well as trusted exchange within the framework.” The organization said it can’t comment about the existence of any disputes or member activities.

Representatives from Epic and Particle didn’t respond to requests for comment. However, Particle published a blog post Friday evening and said it began “addressing this issue immediately” after Epic “stopped responding to data requests from a subset of customers” on March 21. Particle said in the post that a big challenge in such matters is that there is “no standard reference to assess the definition of Treatment.”

“These definitions have become more difficult to delineate as care becomes more complicated with providers, payers, and payviders all merging in various large healthcare conglomerates,” Particle wrote.

Epic, a 45-year-old privately held company based in Wisconsin, is the largest EHR vendor by hospital market share in the U.S., with 36% of the market, according to a May report from KLAS Research. Oracle is second at 25%, following the software company’s $28 billion purchase of Cerner in 2022.

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As of July 2022, Particle had raised a total of $39.3 million from investors including Menlo Ventures, Story Ventures and Pruven Capital, according to a release. The New York-based startup said at the time that its technology “uniquely combines data from 270 million plus patients’ medical records by aggregating and unifying healthcare records from thousands of sources.”

Epic said Particle introduced thousands of new participant connections to Carequality in October, and asserted that they fell under the treatment use case. In the following months, all of Particle’s participant organizations claimed a permitted purpose of treatment for their requests, Epic said. 

‘Non-treatment use case’

However, Epic began to notice some red flags. The company said it observed anomalies in the patient record exchange patterns, like requests for large numbers of records within a certain geographical region. Additionally, Epic said that the companies connected to Particle weren’t sending new data back from patients, which “suggests a non-treatment use case.” 

Epic and its Care Everywhere Governing Council, consisting of 15 industry representatives, evaluated Particle’s new participant connections and determined that organizations like Integritort, MDPortals and Reveleer, which acquired MDPortals last year, “likely didn’t conform to a Treatment Permitted Purpose,” the notice said.

Epic said it learned that another Carequality member was planning to file a dispute, alleging that Integritort was using the patient data to try and identify potential class action lawsuit participants. On March 28, Epic said it discovered that a participant called Novellia claimed it was requesting records under treatment, despite publicly advertising its product as a “personal health tool.”

Integritort, Reveleer and Novellia didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Epic said it filed a formal dispute with Carequality at the Governing Council’s recommendation. On April 4, Epic asked Particle to provide additional information to illustrate how its participants qualify for the treatment use case, according to the notice. 

Michael Marchant, director of interoperability and innovation at University of California Davis Health, serves as the chair of Epic’s Governing Council. He said it’s hard to know exactly why Particle might have provided these organizations with records, or whether it intentionally engaged in wrongdoing. But, he said, companies have to act responsibly even if pressured to deliver financial results.

“If they were selling to things that they knew were not treatment-related organizations in an effort to match VC funding or profit margins or revenue targets or what have you, then that would be really bad,” Marchant told CNBC in an interview.

In a statement on LinkedIn Wednesday, Particle founder Troy Bannister said Epic acted unilaterally, and that Particle has not seen “rationale, justification or official claims” surrounding these issues.

Bannister wrote that, to the company’s knowledge, “all of the affected partners directly support treatment.” He said these organizations pull data for care providers and share data back with the Carequality network. 

“While we continue maintaining our connection with Carequality, the ability for one implementor to decide, without evidence or even so much as a warning, to disconnect providers at massive scale, jeopardizes clinical operations for hundreds of thousands of patients as well as the trust that is so critical to a trust-based exchange,” Bannister wrote.

Bannister didn’t address Epic’s April 4 request for additional information.

The formal dispute process is still ongoing. Marchant, who also serves as the co-chair of an advisory council at Carequality, said it’s the first time in the network’s history that a complaint has gotten this far.

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