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5G is here. What does it mean for you?

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 By now, you’ve probably heard about the coming launch of 5G. Rolling into the marketplace for the first time this year, it’s the next (fifth) generation of cellular technology, and promises to significantly enhance the speed, coverage and responsiveness of wireless networks.

It’s a major upgrade, and has wireless carriers excitedly rushing to promote the arrivals of their 5G networks and compatible products. As a result, the average cellphone user may well be wondering: How and when will 5G really make an impact on me?

Well, before you feel compelled to rush out and upgrade your phone, consider the following.

A limited rollout

Ever since the first field tests of 5G were deployed in 2015, hype for the technology has been building. Tests have delivered responses 10 to 100 times speedier than current 4G cellular connections. The arrival of 5G is predicted to bring phenomenal advancements to the digital landscape, supercharging marvels like self-driving cars, virtual and augmented reality, and even newly emerging medical services like remote surgery.

But that magnificent future is just that: the future. Initially, 5G is only being made available in a small number of launch cities, and even there only to those who’ve already laid out upwards of $1,200 for the first generation of 5G-compatible phones.

The rest of us will still be connected to the reliable 4G service we’ve grown used to — and 4G won’t be going away anytime soon.

Check the expiration date

It’s estimated that most wireless networks won’t be providing widespread 5G coverage until the end of 2020, at the very earliest. And even when they do, you can expect the technology supporting 4G to remain in place indefinitely. In fact, unless you’re actively seeking to change, you may not even notice that 5G has been turned on in your area for a long time.

How long? Let’s use history as a guide. Just this year, major network providers have begun the final phase-out of 3G technology, which launched in 2001, meaning it’s had a productive lifespan of almost 20 years. 4G launched in 2010, so it will likely still be supported for as much as another decade.

The bottom line is, if you’re comfortable with your current network speeds and performance, you won’t need to change a thing for a long time to come.

Going down a familiar road

The best approach for upgrading to 5G may very well be: Wait and see. If you trust your wireless provider, remember that they’ve been through these changes for each successive generation, and have plans in place to make sure customers stay “up to speed,” so to speak.

A good example is Consumer Cellular. Focusing largely on customers ages 50 and up, the company recognizes that its users may be less tech-savvy than other segments of the market. As a result, they’ve helped steer them through transitions all the way from 2G by proactively reaching out to alert customers as to what changes to expect, and when, with each succeeding upgrade. The result has been millions of customers making seamless transitions, whether that required simply changing a setting on a cellphone or upgrading to an entirely new device.

5G offers a bright future for wireless, and opens an almost unlimited range of technological possibilities. Yet for the average user, and for the foreseeable future, it will be a “nice to have” rather than a “need to have” upgrade, meaning there’s really no rush to decide.

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Battery-free smart devices to harvest ambient energy for IoT

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By  MICHAEL ALLEN

Tiny internet-connected electronic devices are becoming ubiquitous. The so-called Internet of Things (IoT) allows our smart gadgets in the home and wearable technologies like our smart watches to communicate and operate together. IoT devices are increasingly used across all sorts of industries to drive interconnectivity and smart automation as part of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

The fourth industrial revolution builds on already widespread digital technology such as connected devices, artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing. It is expected to be a significant factor in revolutionising society, the economy and culture.

These small, autonomous, interconnected and often wireless devices are already playing a key role in our everyday lives by helping to make us more resource and energy-efficient, organised, safe, secure and healthy.

There is a key challenge, however – how to power these tiny devices. The obvious answer is “batteries”. But it is not quite that simple.

Small devices

Many of these devices are too small to use a long-life battery and they are located in remote or hard-to-access locations – for instance in the middle of the ocean tracking a shipping container or at the top of a grain silo, monitoring levels of cereal. These types of locations make servicing some IoT devices extremely challenging and commercially and logistically infeasible.

Mike Hayes, head of ICT for energy efficiency at the Tyndall National Institute in Ireland, summarises the marketplace. ‘It’s projected that we are going to have one trillion sensors in the world by 2025,’ he said, ‘That is one thousand billion sensors.’

That number is not as crazy as it first seems, according to Hayes, who is the coordinator of the Horizon-funded EnABLES project (European Infrastructure Powering the Internet of Things).

If you think about the sensors in the technology someone might carry on their person or have in their car, home, office plus the sensors embedded in the infrastructure around them such as roads and railways, you can see where that number comes from, he explained.

‘In the trillion IoT sensor world predicted for 2025, we are going to be throwing over 100 million batteries everyday into landfills unless we significantly extend battery life,’ Hayes said.

Battery life

Landfill is not the only environmental concern. We also need to consider where all the material to make the batteries is going to come from. The EnABLES project is calling on the EU and industry leaders to think about battery life from the outset when designing IoT devices to ensure that batteries are not limiting the lifespan of devices.

‘We don’t need the device to last forever,’ said Hayes. ‘The trick is that you need to outlive the application that you’re serving. For example, if you want to monitor a piece of industrial equipment, you probably want it to last for five to 10 years. And in some cases, if you do a regular service every three years anyway, once the battery lasts more than three or four years that’s probably good enough.’

Although many devices have an operational life of more than 10 years, the battery life of wireless sensors is typically only one to two years.

The first step to longer battery life is increasing the energy supplied by batteries. Also, reducing the power consumption of devices will prolong the battery. But EnABLES is going even further.

The project brings together 11 leading European research institutes. With other stakeholders, EnABLES is working to develop innovative ways to harvest tiny ambient energies such as light, heat and vibration.

Harvesting such energies will further extend battery life. The goal is to create self-charging batteries that last longer or ultimately run autonomously.

Energy harvesters

Ambient energy harvesters, such as a small vibrational harvester or indoor solar panel, that produce low amounts of power (in the milliwatt range) could significantly extend the battery life of many devices, according to Hayes. These include everyday items like watches, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, hearing aids, carbon dioxide detectors, and temperature, light and humidity sensors.

EnABLES is also designing the other key technologies needed for tiny IoT devices. Not content with improving energy efficiency, the project is also trying to develop a framework and standardised and interoperable technologies for these devices.

One of the key challenges with autonomously powered IoT tools is power management. The energy source may be intermittent and at very low levels (microwatts), and different methods of harvesting supply different forms of power that require different techniques to convert to electricity.

Steady trickle

Huw Davies, is chief executive officer of Trameto, a company which is developing power management for piezo electric applications. He points out that energy from photovoltaic devices tends to come in a steady trickle, while that from piezoelectric devices, which convert ambient energy from movements (vibrations) into electrical energy, generally comes in bursts.

‘You need a way of storing that energy locally in a store before it is delivered into a load, so you need to have ways of managing that,’ Davies said.

He is the project coordinator of the Horizon-funded HarvestAll project, which has developed an energy management system for ambient energy dubbed OptiJoule.

OptiJoule works with piezoelectric materials, photovoltaics and thermal electric generators. It can function with any of these sources on their own, or with multiple energy harvesting sources at the same time.

The goal is to enable autonomous sensors to be self-sustaining. In principle, it’s quite simple. ‘What we are talking about is ultra-low powered sensors taking some digital measurement,’ said Davies. ‘Temperature, humidity, pressure, whatever it is, with the data from that being delivered into the internet.’

Integrated circuits

The HarvestAll energy management integrated circuit device adjusts to match the different energy harvesters. It takes the different and intermittent energy created by these harvesters and stores it, for instance in a battery or capacitor, and then manages the delivery of a steady output of energy to the sensor.

Similarly to the EnABLES project, the idea is to create standardised technology that will enable the rapid development of long battery life/autonomous IoT devices in Europe and the world.

Davies said that the energy management circuit works completely autonomously and automatically. It is designed so that it can just be plugged into an energy harvester, or combination of harvesters, and a sensor. As a replacement for the battery it has a significant advantage, according to Davies, because ‘It will just work.’

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine. 

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Crypto Sustainability Coalition to Investigate Potential of Web3 Technologies in Fighting Climate Change

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The World Economic Forum launched the Crypto Sustainability Coalition, which will investigate how web3 and blockchain tools can be leveraged to achieve positive climate action.

Web3, which includes technologies like blockchains, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs, has become a catch-all term for the vision of a new, better internet. Members of the coalition will explore the potential positive impacts these technologies can bring to environmental and social agendas.

The coalition launch is timely as there is an urgent need to support the decarbonization of cryptocurrency and ensuring the industry is part of the climate solution. Furthermore, there needs to be regulatory clarity that promotes web3 innovation, protects consumers, and improves financial inclusion.

“I am excited about the work we are expecting from the Crypto Sustainability Coalition. An important and unique aspect of web3 is that it uses technology to support and reward direct community engagement and action. This means we can coordinate the work of many individuals directly with one another, enabling collective action without centralized control – a powerful accelerator for grass roots action,” said Brynly Llyr, Head of Blockchain and Digital Assets, World Economic Forum.

The Crypto Sustainability Coalition is a public-private initiative hosted by the World Economic Forum and comprises 30 partners. It is convening working groups to tackle three specific issues:

  • Energy usage – this working group will analyse the crypto industry’s consumption of energy and materials to build a clearer picture of its impacts on climate and nature.
  • Web3’s potential for climate action – this working group will investigate ways in which web3 innovations could tackle challenges facing the low-carbon transition at the pace required to hit the Paris Agreement’s targets. For example, the decentralized nature of crypto-mining and its ability to operate at off-peak times may provide a new business model for utilities and investors looking to develop renewable energy microgrids.
  • “On-chain” carbon credits – members of the coalition believe blockchain-based carbon credits could address current flaws in global carbon markets, including: the lack of transparency around carbon offsets for either providers or buyers; the failure of markets to remove carbon emissions at the scale and pace required; and the inability of millions of the world’s smallholder farmers, forest stewards and Indigenous communities to participate in or benefit from carbon credit markets.

The Crypto Sustainability Coalition will investigate, collate and highlight industry standards, best practices and examples of tangible action that attest to how web3 technologies can support communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The coalition’s wider aim is to foster a broad education campaign on what web3’s potential and capacity look like, to better inform governments on how they regulate these technologies and incentivize investment and research into their development.

The coalition’s partners include Accenture, Avalanche, Avatree, CC Token, Circle, Climate Collective, Crypto Council for Innovation, Emerge, Energy Web Foundation, eToro, EY, Flowcarbon, Heifer International, KlimaDAO, Lukka, NEAR Foundation, Nori, PlanetWatch, Plastiks, Rainforest Partnership, Recykal, ReSeed, Ripple, Solana, Stellar Development Foundation, STEWARD, Sustainable Bitcoin Standard, The Global Brain, Toucan Protocol, University of Lisbon, and Zero Labs.

The new coalition is part of the Crypto Impact and Sustainability Accelerator (CISA), a grant-funded initiative launched by the Forum in January 2022 with a mission to encourage a greater understanding of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) impacts of crypto technologies.

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Quantum Technologies Can Help Tackle Climate, Hunger, Disease

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Quantum technologies offer huge potential for finding solutions to complex global challenges. But the focus on cybersecurity risks, which are solvable if decision-makers act now, is obscuring their application to the threats of climate, hunger and disease.

Moreover, demand for experts is outpacing available talent and companies are struggling to recruit people in this increasingly competitive and strategic industry. The World Economic Forum’s State of Quantum Computing report and Transitioning to a Quantum-Secure Economy white paper show how business and government leaders can take action.

The report and the white paper draw on insights from global experts and decision-makers among the Forum’s Quantum Economy Network. As investments in quantum technologies by businesses and governments worldwide totalled $35.5 billion by 2022, they show that while private investment is growing rapidly and shifting from venture capital to initial public offerings, companies and organizations are facing a serious shortage of talent.

The only people trained in quantum technologies are highly academic and businesses are struggling to upskill and find qualified individuals with experience in business or engineering. This skills gap means quantum computers, which are based on harnessing the properties of quantum states, will miss the promise of solving vastly complex problems exponentially faster than traditional machines.

Although the technology is nascent, the report and the white paper show how leaders can act now to secure their digital infrastructure from potential quantum computing attacks in the future. Three specific domains of research and industry, with significant economic, environmental and societal opportunities, are highlighted:

  • Atomic, sub-atomic and molecular simulation leading to possible breakthroughs in materials science and biology
  • Optimization and risk management in complex systems
  • Impacts on existing technology areas such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity security and blockchain

Taken together, they show how businesses can assess quantum readiness and formulate a quantum strategy, build internal capabilities and align with top management and policy-makers on critical focus areas.

“Quantum computing is a fundamentally new way of computing and could dramatically recast our ability to tackle climate change, hunger and disease,” said Derek O’Halloran, Head of the Forum’s platform, Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and New Value Creation. “Its economic promise and potential to render common cryptographic technologies obsolete make it geopolitically strategic. But the knowledge gap and uncertainties that come with an emerging technology make it difficult for decision-makers to act. The report and the white paper aim to demystify quantum computing and give business executives and policy-makers worldwide informed opinion for fact-based decision-making.”

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