Massive US Wireless-Spectrum Auction Opens with Huge Bids

After 32 rounds of bidding, offers by mobile-service providers in what is shaping up to be a massive auction of US wireless spectrum licenses have reached $36.4 billion. This far surpasses the minimum $10.07 billion the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said it will accept before distributing licenses. The ongoing auction is for licenses to use the AWS-3 spectrum band—frequencies between 2155 and 2175 MHz—in various parts of the US. The spectrum is typically utilized for cellular-telephone and Internet services and other types of fixed and mobile communications. Carriers have expressed particular interest in using the available spectrum to bolster high-speed LTE networks in major cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The FCC doesn’t release the identity of bidders until the auction ends in a few weeks, but participants reportedly include most of the major national and some regional telecommunications providers. Notably, though, national carrier Sprint isn’t taking part. Some of the auction proceeds will be used to create the $7 billion FirstNet (First Responder Network Authority), a national broadband network for first responders to disasters and emergencies. The US government will use other proceeds to decrease its budget deficit. Industry observers note that the high bids in the current auction may be a sign of things to come in future similar events. (re/Code)(Fierce Wireless)(CTIA-The Wireless Association Blog)(The United States Federal Communications Commission)

Chinese Supercomputer Remains the World’s most Powerful

The Tianhe-2 supercomputer—based at China’s National University of Defense Technology—remains in first place in the Top500 list of the world’s most powerful high-performance machines. This is the fourth consecutive time the Tianhe-2—which performs 33.86 petaflops—has topped the semiannual list. Also for the fourth consecutive time, Titan, a Cray supercomputer housed at the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory, remained in second place with a performance of 17.59 petaflops; and IBM’s 17.17-petaflops Sequoia, at the US Lawrence Livermore National Lab, was in third place. The only new computer in the top 10 was an unnamed US government Cray machine in tenth place that runs 3.58 petaflops. Researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; the University of Tennessee; and Prometeus, a German company that runs high-performance computing conferences, update the Top500 list in June and November of each year. (re/Code)(HPC Wire)(Top500 Blog)(Top500)

Starbucks Rolls Out Wireless-Charging Mats

Starbucks customers can now power up while getting caffeinated. The coffee chain introduced 1,500 wireless charging spots in 200 San Francisco Bay area locations, the beginning of a chain-wide rollout next year. The company is using Powermat Technologies mats, which utilize the Power Matters Alliance standard for wireless charging. Starbucks stores will also sell adapters for different devices for $9.99 but are offering loaners during the rollout. The company first tested the technology in Boston and San Jose, California. In a statement, it said it undertook the project “after years of watching customers get on their hands and knees searching for outlets.” (Geek Wire)(re/Code)(Market Watch)

Microsoft Azure Problems Create Ripple of Outages

Recent problems with the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform, which allows customers to store and manage data remotely, took down several third-party sites on 18 November 2014. The problems were global in scope, affecting, the Microsoft Office 365 suite, Sharepoint, email, and Xbox Live services. Customers—including social media activity tracking firm SocialSafe and Dutch healthcare organization Viva Zorggroep—reported problems with their websites and were not able to access storage or analytic tools. Some observers expect the issue may undermine Azure’s attempts to compete with rivals such as Amazon Web Services, particularly as Microsoft says Azure offers a 99.9 percent availability. No details about the origin of the problem were offered once service was restored. (BBC)(Gigaom)(Reuters @ The Economic Times)

Finnish Firm Developing Crowdfunded Tablet Computer

Jolla, a Finnish start-up created by ex-Nokia software developers, announced plans to create a crowdfunded tablet computer. The company was founded by Nokia’s former MeeGo software team, jettisoned by Nokia in 2011 when it moved to Microsoft Windows Phone software. Jolla launched its first smartphone last year. The new tablet’s open operating system is based on Meego technologies, and is now named Sailfish. It works via swipe and enables users to see multiple live apps simultaneously. Within hours of the announcement, Jolla raised more than $500,000 for the tablet on Indiegogo, though its goal was only $380,000. The company is using crowdfunding as a means to get user feedback for additional tablet features and other improvements. Early investors were able to able to purchase a tablet for $189. The tablets—available in Europe, the US, India, China, Hong Kong, and Russia—should be shipped in Spring 2015. (Reuters)(CNET)(Jolla @ Indiegogo)

IBM Wins Billion-Dollar Outsourcing Contract with Lufthansa

IBM won a seven-year outsourcing contract valued at €1 billion (US $1.25 billion) with Germany’s Lufthansa airline. IBM will be responsible for the airline’s data center operations, help desk, and printer services along with infrastructure services. IBM will initially be working to make the airline’s information technology processes operate more efficiently, which may include adopting technologies such as cloud computing, big data analysis, or cognitive computing systems. Roughly 1,400 Lufthansa Systems employees will transfer to IBM under the terms of the deal. Lufthansa expects the move to save about €70 million annually, but that it should also result in better efficiency and customer service. The deal is pending approval from the airline’s supervisory board and antitrust regulators. (Reuters)(ZDNet)(PR Newswire @ MarketWatch)

Google Teams up with Telstra to Test Internet Balloon Project in Australia

Google announced that it and Australian telecommunications company Telstra will be coordinating a test flight of 20 balloons above western Queensland in December. The trial is part of Google X’s Project Loon, intended to provide internet to remote parts of the world using helium balloons that can beam 4G-like signals to homes and phones below. Telstra will provide base stations to send signals to the nearest balloon, which relays signals to neighboring balloons out of range of the base station. Google’s ultimate goal is to bring internet to the estimated two-thirds of the world’s population who are currently without. Such a network could also eventually be deployed in areas damaged by natural disasters, and could allow developing countries to avoid laying expensive underground fiber cabling. Google X, the lab also working on Google Glass and driverless cars, previously tested the network above Christchurch, New Zealand. (ZD Net)(Engadget)


Experimental Virtual Reality App Offers Investors 3D Portfolio View

A new, experimental application created by Fidelity Investments’ Fidelity Labs uses 3D visualization in a video-game-like environment, which allows users to see their investment portfolio without numbers or charts. In “StockCity,” each skyscraper represents a stock, and the architecture changes with Wall Street. Building height is determined by the prices of stocks, and width is based on the number of shares. Buildings are placed in neighborhoods corresponding to the industry sector (technology, consumer stocks, and so on) so the user can see how their portfolio is diversified. The sky changes from day to night based on the market’s trading hours and sunny to rainy based on current overall market conditions. The “city” can be viewed on a desktop computer or in 3D using an Oculus Rift headset, which hasn’t been released on the mass market yet. The developers are considering other visualization options, such as flocks of birds over buildings to indicate mentions on Twitter. The software is being developed in a bid to attract younger consumers, a play that’s been unsuccessful for more than a decade, according to analyst Brian Blau. To its credit, Fidelity was among the first financial services companies to have a presence on the Internet and to have an iPhone application. It also created apps for Google Glass and the Pebble smartwatch. StockCity is still in development with the possibility of other investments such as mutual funds, exchange traded funds, and securities. StockCity is available at, and the 3D version will be released along with the Oculus Rift headset. (The Associated Press)(San Francisco Chronicle)(Stock City)

Video Game Seeks to Preserve Native Alaskan Culture

Technology has been blamed for eroding tradition and culture, but a new video game seeks to preserve some of the stories and language of the Iñupiat people of Alaska. The Iñupiat use stories to define and preserve their identity, but their oral tradition is at risk since advances in technology have created new ways for stories to be told. To help share its culture with the younger generation, the Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC), a nonprofit group that serves the Iñupiat and other Alaska Natives, teamed up with E-Line Media, a publisher of educational video games, to form Upper One Games, the first indigenous-owned video game company in the US. The development team worked with Iñupiat elders, storytellers, and artists of all ages to produce Never Alone, which is available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Narration for the game features voiceover from Iñupiat elders, and players take on the roles of a girl named Nuna and her pet arctic fox in a journey based on the story of Kunuuksaayuka, in which a child must identify the source of a blizzard to save the community. The developers relied heavily on collaboration with the community to create the game so that it would reflect the culture. James (Mumiġan) Nageak, who provided translation and voiceover for the game, stated: “I believe that through this game, somebody might get interested in the language. It could give them a spark of the possibilities in the Iñupiat language—in any language.” (The New Yorker)(Never Alone)

Nokia Surprises with New Tablet Launch

Nokia, which sold its handset division to Microsoft in April 2014, is introducing a new Android-based tablet. The 7.9-inch N1 Tablet, which is planned to retail at $249, will initially be sold in China in early 2015 and will then be available in other markets. It has an aluminum body and is powered with an Intel processor running Android Lollipop. The device will be made by Foxconn, which will also handle distribution and sales for Nokia. The announcement was made during the Slush technology conference in Helsinki on 18 November 2014. Some market watchers were surprised at the announcement as Nokia, under the terms of its handset division sale, was unable to license its brand for mobile device sales for 30 months and was prohibited from using the Nokia brand on its own mobile devices until the end of 2015. (Associated Press @ The Charlotte Observer)(The Sydney Morning Herald)

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