Jun 10, 2021

Facebook is making a smartwatch (with detachable cameras)

3 min
The new smartwatch from Facebook, expected to hit the market next Summer, will be the social media giant’s first commercial release in the wearables market

Facebook’s aspirations of being a wearables company could be on the verge of becoming a reality. The social media giant (which also owns Instagram) has been sinking huge amounts of money into wearable technology with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) capabilities for years now - ever since the $2bn purchase of VR headset firm Oculus back in 2014. 

Since then, Facebook Reality Labs, the company’s mixed reality and wearables division has trotted out some exciting prototypes, including a wrist-mounted controller for its AR software. Facebook Reality Labs shouted about its successes so far back in March of this year, laying out a “10-year vision of a contextually-aware, AI-powered interface for AR glasses that can use the information you choose to share, to infer what you want to do, when you want to do it.” 

While rumours surrounding Facebook’s development of a pair of AR glasses have yet to materialise into anything more concrete, the Californian tech giant looks like it might finally be ready to hit the market with something wearable that’s more than a prototype. 

The Verge reported on Wednesday that Facebook is getting ready to bring its first piece of commercial hardware to market sometime next Summer. The device, a smartwatch, looks set to bring about a bit of a stir in the somewhat stagnant world of smartwatch design. 

The device will feature a display with two fully detachable camera modules for taking pictures and video. The front camera looks like it will be used most for video calling, and the rear-mounted 1080p camera will have autofocus and be mainly used for capturing footage when detached from the wrist. According to two people who work at Facebook (but requested that The Verge preserve their anonymity in order to discuss the project - which is very much still under wraps) the company is also partnering with third parties to make a wide range of accessories for the watch (including things like backpacks) to be ready alongside launch. 

Not Just a Smartphone Accessory 

The really exciting thing about Facebook’s proposed smartwatch is that it won’t need to be paired with a smartphone (something that pretty much every other smartwatch on the market, including the Apple tech that dominates the industry, needs). Facebook is reportedly working with several of the US’ major carriers to support LTE connectivity in the device. Rather than force users to tie their watch to a smartphone, Facebook clearly hopes its watch will become a smartphone-lite in its own right. 

If the company can pull off that impressive feat, it lays the groundwork for Facebook’s smart watch to become the focal control point for its upcoming AR and VR tech - something that sheds a whole new light on the wrist-mounted AR controller tech being explored by Facebook Reality Labs. 

Facebook is, again, aiming for a release sometime next year and is reportedly targeting modest initial sales in the “low six figures” - which pale in comparison to the 34mn smartwatches Apple sold in 2020. The social media giant looks like it’s continuing to play the long game - slowly building up its smartwatch brand in preparation for the real thing: the total dominance of AR through some truly science-fiction neural input technology. 

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Jun 11, 2021

Verizon switches on private enterprise 5G in the US 

3 min
Verizon Business has launched the US’ first commercially available private 5G network, targeting public and private sector clients. 

While a great deal of the pomp, circumstance and hype surrounding 5G tends to focus on public networks and consumer adoption, private 5G is likely where we’ll begin to see the earliest and most transformational impact from the new communications technology. Private 5G trials have been cropping up all over the US in the past two years, supporting new use cases in verticals ranging from smart manufacturing and logistics solutions to drone fleet control and smart city monitoring. 

So far, private 5G has been a, well, private affair. US carriers, as well as the infrastructure companies supporting these trials - Nokia and Ericsson to be specific - have been partnering directly with enterprises and government organisations to run private 5G trials very much in private. 

Verizon itself has already built a number of custom 5G solutions for co-innovation and testing with a diverse roster of partner firms, including glass manufacturer Corning, a US Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, a smart city startup at the University of Michigan, WeWork and others. Earlier in 2021, Verizon also began exploring private 5G deployments at Tyndall Air Force Base as part of a broader network deployment initiative with the US Air Force.

Private 5G for the Public 

Now, however, Verizon is moving beyond private 5G trials. The company announced today that is bringing the US’ first commercially available private 5G network solution to market, putting ultra-fast, ultra-low latency private network connectivity in the hands of enterprises and government organisations throughout the country. 

“On Site 5G opens the commercial floodgates for the promises of 5G Ultra Wideband, allowing large enterprises and public sector organizations to custom tailor a 5G experience for any premises that demands it,” said Sampath Sowmyanarayan, Chief Revenue Officer of Verizon Business. “It’s the bespoke business service for what we do better than anyone else: build 5G networks that enable even the most advanced wireless, MEC, and IoT capabilities for customers on the cutting edge.”

By connecting to a private 5G network, enterprises running mission critical operations - be it a network of autonomous vehicles in an industrial setting, or a powerful network of highly sensitive IoT environmental monitoring devices - no longer have to jostle with other users on the network. The technology provides a level of consistency, predictability and speed to a single user that has yet to materialise on public networks. 

"You can go up to four or five gigabit (per second) speed easily today, but what is interesting is that you have four or five gigabits consistently," Sowmyanarayan added. 

According to a report from Reuters, Verizon has already seen interest from a number of different verticals, from financial institutions - which are looking to to increase speed of trading flows using 5G - to warehousing and logistics firms wanting to implement everything from site-wide analytics and monitoring solutions to fleets of robots. 

Verizon's 5G Business Internet is now available in parts of 24 US cities, with more to be announced on a rolling basis.

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