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Mobile industry has stifled eSIM—and the DOJ is demanding change

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The US Department of Justice has given its tentative approval to a wireless-industry plan to revise eSIM standards, saying that new safeguards should prevent carriers from colluding against competitors in the standards-setting process. But the DOJ warned the industry that it must eliminate anti-competitive provisions from the current eSIM standard or face possible antitrust enforcement.

The DOJ last year began investigating AT&T, Verizon, and the GSMA, a trade group that represents mobile carriers worldwide. The antitrust enforcer found that incumbent carriers stacked the deck against competitors while developing an industry standard for eSIM, the embedded SIM technology that is used instead of removable SIM cards in new smartphones and other devices.

In theory, eSIM technology should make it easier to switch carriers or use multiple carriers because the technology doesn’t require swapping between physical SIM cards. But how it works in practice depends heavily on whether big carriers dominate the standard-setting process.

The DOJ investigation found that “the GSMA and its mobile network operator members used an unbalanced standard-setting process, with procedures that stacked the deck in their favor, to enact an RSP (Remote SIM Provisioning) Specification that included provisions designed to limit competition among networks,” the agency said last week.

That flawed process resulted in RSPv2, which makes it easy for a carrier to lock eSIM-equipped smartphones to its network, the DOJ said. The standard has so-called “profile policy rules” that require smartphones to “contain the capability for operator-controlled locking in order to be considered compliant with the RSP Specification,” the DOJ said. These provisions “may restrict the pro-competitive potential of eSIMs without being necessary to achieve remote provisioning or to solve an interoperability problem,” the DOJ said.

The current standard also has provisions that make it harder for phones to automatically switch between networks when the phone “detects stronger network coverage or a lower-cost network,” the DOJ said. The standard also “prevents an eSIM from actively using profiles from multiple carriers simultaneously.”

DOJ will watch and wait

Despite that, the DOJ said it won’t file an antitrust lawsuit. That’s because the GSMA agreed to a new standard-setting process that addressed DOJ concerns and will use that process to develop a new standard that will replace RSPv2. The DOJ said it is satisfied by the GSMA’s process changes but that it will monitor the implementation of the new standard and may take action if the GSMA doesn’t remove anti-competitive provisions in the next version of RSP.

The GSMA described its new process—called AA.35—in a letter to the DOJ in July, and DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim provided an update on the agency’s “present enforcement intentions regarding GSMA’s proposal” in a letter to the GSMA last week. The DOJ said it “presently has no intention to challenge AA.35, if it goes into effect,” because the new process “includes sufficient protections to minimize the chances of anticompetitive self-dealing inside the GSMA if it is applied as contemplated.”

However, the DOJ said it “will closely observe how AA.35 is applied and whether it succeeds in promoting interoperability.” The DOJ also warned the GSMA that if carriers form separate agreements to limit competition, “such agreements are always subject to independent antitrust scrutiny.”

What the industry agreed to

Originally, the GSMA let non-carriers such as smartphone manufacturers participate in the standard-development process but made sure that all final decisions were controlled by mobile carriers. The DOJ said it was “concerned that the GSMA’s operator-dominated process was used with the purpose and effect of altering what would otherwise have been competitive negotiations between the operators and smartphone manufacturers (‘OEMs’) over the design and implementation of eSIMs.”

But after the DOJ began investigating, the GSMA came up with the alternative AA.35 process. As the DOJ noted, “AA.35 creates a two-stage process, with an Industry Specification Issuing Group (‘ISIG’) that creates the standards and an Industry Specification Approving Group (‘ISAG’) that approves the standards.”

ISIG membership is open “to all members, ensuring that there will not be operator-exclusive committees driving the process,” the DOJ continued. Non-carriers can become members of the ISAG, which “eliminates the complete control that operators previously had and instead gives all parts of the industry an opportunity to be represented,” the DOJ said.

Another safeguard prevents standards from being approved without the consent of smartphone makers. “At the ISAG level, [AA.35] requires approval of standards by separate majorities of the ISAG operator- and non-operator members,” the DOJ said. “Both bodies require an explanation of negative votes, another improvement that increases transparency and indicates meaningful attempts to reach consensus.”

Another new provision allows for appeals to be heard by an independent panel. Finally, operators can’t bypass or change this process “without the support of non-operator members” because the dual-majority voting structure requires consent of both groups, the DOJ said.

Getting rid of anti-competitive provisions

The current version of the eSIM standard, which was passed under the old, flawed process, has “several key features that have restricted the disruptive potential of eSIMs to date,” the DOJ said. That’s a reference to the phone-locking provision described earlier in this article and “provisions that restrict the number of active profiles on an eSIM or impede the user’s ability to consent to dynamic profile switching,” the DOJ said.

For example, RSPv2 requires consumers to give their approval each time an eSIM “toggles between profiles or networks,” preventing the scenario where a phone automatically switches between networks “if it detects stronger network coverage or a lower-cost network,” the DOJ said.

A RSPv2 prohibition on using profiles from multiple carriers simultaneously could prevent scenarios where users have their phone divided into work-related and personal profiles or multiple “profiles optimized for different coverage areas or for international travel,” the DOJ said. Incumbent carriers apparently wanted that restriction to undercut “a potential competitive threat [that] would allow a user to divide usage across operators,” the DOJ said.

When the GSMA uses its new AA.35 process to create a new standard, the DOJ said it expects the group to reconsider those anti-competitive rules.

“The Department will take a special interest in whether RSPv3 includes provisions that are motivated only by the incumbent operators’ interest in gaining a competitive advantage or stifling new sources of competition,” Delrahim warned the GSMA. The DOJ “reserves the right to bring an enforcement action in the future” if the GSMA’s implementation of AA.35 “proves to be anticompetitive in purpose or effect,” he wrote.



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The growth of cognitive search in the enterprise, and why it matters

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Enterprises typically have countless data buckets to wrangle (upwards of 93% say they’re storing data in more than one place), and some of those buckets invariably become underused or forgotten. A Forrester survey found that between 60% and 73% of all data within corporations is never analyzed for insights or larger trends, while a separate Veritas report found that 52% of all information stored by organizations is of unknown value. The opportunity cost of this unused data is substantial — the Veritas report pegs it as a cumulative $3.3 trillion by the year 2020, if the current trend holds.

That’s perhaps why this year saw renewed interest from the corporate sector in AI-powered software-as-a-service (SaaS) products that ingest, understand, organize, and query digital content from multiple sources. “Keyword-based enterprise search engines of the past are obsolete. Cognitive search is the new generation of enterprise search that uses [AI] to return results that are more relevant to the user or embedded in an application issuing the search query,” wrote Forrester analysts Mike Gualtieri, Srividya Sridharan, and Emily Miller in a comprehensive survey of the industry published in 2017.

Emerging products

Microsoft kicked the segment into overdrive in early November by launching Project Cortex, a service that taps AI to automatically classify and analyze an organization’s documents, conversations, meetings, and videos. It’s in some ways a direct response to Google Cloud Search, which launched July 2018. Like Project Cortex, Cloud Search pulls in data from a range of third-party products and services running both on-premises and in the cloud, relying on machine learning to deliver query suggestions and surface the most relevant results. Not to be outdone, Amazon last week unveiled AWS Kendra, which taps a library of connectors to unify data sources, including file systems, websites, Box, DropBox, Salesforce, SharePoint, relational databases, and more.

Of course, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft aren’t the only cognitive search vendors on the block. There’s IBM, which offers a data indexing and query processing service dubbed Watson Explorer, and Coveo, which uses AI to learn users’ behaviors and return results that are most relevant to them. Hewlett-Packard Enterprise’s IDOL platform supports analytics for speech, images, and video, in addition to unstructured text. And both Lucidworks and Squirro leverage open source projects like Apache Solr and Elasticsearch to make sense of disparate data sets.

The cognitive search market is exploding — it’s anticipated to be worth $15.28 billion by 2023, up from $2.59 billion in 2018, according to Markets and Markets — and it coincides with an upswing in the adoption of AI and machine learning in the enterprise. But it’s perhaps more directly attributable to the wealth of telemetry afforded by modern corporate digital environments.

AI under the hood

AI models like those at the heart of AWS Kendra, Project Cortex, and Cloud Search learn from signals, or behavioral data derived from various inputs. These come from the web pages that employees visit or the videos they watch online, or their online chats with support agents and public databases of support tickets. That’s not to mention detailed information about users, including job titles, locations, departments, coworkers, and potentially all of the documents, emails, and other correspondences they author.

Each signal informs an AI system’s decision-making such that it self-improves practically continuously, automatically learning how various resources are relevant to each person and ranking those resources accordingly. Plus, because enterprises have far fewer data sources to contend with than, say, a web search engine, the models are less expensive and computationally time-consuming to train.

The other piece of the puzzle is natural language processing (NLP), which enables platforms like AWS Kendra to understand not only the document minutiae, but the search queries that employees across an organization might pose — like “How do I invest in our company’s 401k?” versus “What are the best options for my 401k plan?”

Not every platform is equally capable in this regard, but most incorporate emerging techniques in NLP, as well as the adjacent field of natural language search (NLS). NLS is a specialized application of AI and statistical reasoning that creates a “word mesh” from free-flowing text, akin to a knowledge graph, to connect similar concepts that are related to larger ideas. NLS systems understand context in this way, meaning they’ll return the same answer regardless of how a query is phrased and will take users to the exact spot in a record where that answer is likely to be found.

Cognitive search: the new normal

In short order, cognitive search stands to become table stakes in the enterprise. It’s estimated that 54% of knowledge workers are already interrupted a few times or more per month when trying to get access to answers, insights, and information. And the volume of unstructured data organizations produce is projected to increase in the years to come, exacerbating the findability problem.

“Productivity isn’t just about being more efficient. It’s also about aggregating and applying the collective knowledge of your organization so that together you can achieve more,” wrote Microsoft 365 corporate vice president Jared Spataro in a recent blog post. “[Cognitive search systems enable] business process efficiency by turning your content into an interactive knowledge repository … to analyze documents and extract metadata to create sophisticated content models … [and to] make it easy for people to access the valuable knowledge that’s so often locked away in documents, conversations, meetings, and videos.”



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Amazing Free Energy Generator Using Speaker Magnet 100% New Technology Science 2019

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Amazing Free Energy Generator Using Speaker Magnet 100% New Technology Science 2019

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Best board games in 2019: Mansions of Madness, Lord of the Rings and more

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This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2019, your source for the season’s best gifts and deals, hand-picked by the experts at CNET.

brand-new generation of video game consoles are expected to arrive next year, but that’s not much help when it comes to the 2019 holiday shopping season. 

Board games have undergone somewhat of a creative renaissance over the past couple of years, and while holiday season might be the time to blow the dust off classic games like chess, checkers, Clue or Monopoly, tabletop games have come a long way since the 20th century. Many games now involve intricate problem-solving skills, hand-eye coordination or complex strategy. Others leave room for additional card expansion packs opening up new variations of rules and play styles. But the best board games aren’t just fun for children, they also present an exciting challenge for serious gamers.

The themes are, not surprisingly, often focused on Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy, sci-fi battles, zombie attacks and Lovecraftian supernatural high jinks. Some popular board games, such as the recent Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-Earth, combine miniature figures, map tiles and a highly polished tablet app that handles some of the card and combat management for you. 

Read more: Best tech toys for kids in 2019

So here are some of the best board games for 2019, any one of which can turn game night into an epic adventure with real competition to win. Feel ambitious and want to make your own extra accessories, game pieces or card holders with a 3D printer? We’ve got that covered, too.

Got your own suggestions? Let me know your board game picks in the comments or on Twitter.

CMON

The latest version of this zombie-filled game series takes the action of a far-off mining colony, where zombie-like aliens team up with big boss monsters straight out of Doom. One to six players fight back, usually by using their problem-solving skills to collect some McGuffins and make for the exit as swarms of xenos flood the map. This party game is great fun that’s easy to pick up and learn. 

Read more: Best gifts for 10-year-old girls in 2019

Dan Ackerman/CNET

The cult classic comic gets a great game packed with comic-style art, great miniatures and lots of storytelling. The more-expensive collector’s edition ups the number of minis past 100, and includes a great idea I’d love to see more often: a random mission generator for endless mix-and-match scenarios.

Ravensburger

There have been a handful of Minecraft card and board games before, but this new one — revealed at Minecon 2019 — feels like the most ambitious yet. You actually mine for resources with tiny wooden blocks, and combine building with fighting mobs. 

Read more: Best gifts for dad in 2019

Fantasy Flight Games

It’s time to get the fellowship back together. This is a great game for joining up with four other players (or just as a solo player) to go tromping across Middle-Earth by moving cool-looking sculpted miniatures around map tiles. There’s a free, but mandatory, app available on iOS, Android and via Steam, which tells you how to lay out the map tiles and which monsters to fight. It also provides for a certain amount of randomization. It also provides for a certain amount of randomization to challenge even the most thought-through strategies and skills. Built from the ground up as an app-based board game, it makes it easy to get set up and learn the ropes. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Another giant-box game. This is one of my favorites because it includes tons of floor tiles you can use to create a haunted mansion, plus dozens of plastic miniatures for investigators and monsters. The vibe is definitely classic Lovecraft, and this board game actually requires you to use its companion app, which creates the layout, spawns monsters and even adds sound effects. 

Dan Ackerman

I’ve been playing an early version of this Universal Monsters-inspired game, which hit stores at the beginning of August. It’s a fun mix of nostalgia and modern tabletop games, pitting players against all the classic Universal movie monsters of the 1940s and ’50s, from the Wolf Man to Dracula. Just don’t accidentally call Frankenstein’s Monster “Frankenstein,” or I’ll subtweet you. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

The best Star Wars game I’ve played in years isn’t a video game — it’s this fun and challenging tabletop strategy game, where rebel heroes fight through various skirmishes with Imperial forces. There’s a fantastic companion app that not only teaches you how to play, but handles the storytelling and enemy placement, too, so you don’t have to guess. The miniatures are fantastic, and include a giant AT-S. Add-ons and expansions are on sale separately and can add dozens of new figures. Fun fact — this is actually a remixed version of a game called Descent: Journeys in the Dark, so check that out if you want a game that plays like Imperial Assault, but with a Dungeons & Dragons or Game of Thrones-style fantasy theme. 

Read more: Best gifts for Star Wars fans

Dan Ackerman

Get those “gonna need a bigger boat” jokes out of your system now. This clever new two-part strategy game is asymmetrical, which means one player is the overpowered super shark, and the other players are hapless humans, who need to combine their strategic thinking, skills and resources with the goal to survive and win. The best feature is the game board, which flips from the beaches of Amity Island in the first half, to Quint’s boat in the second half. (It gradually gets eaten by the shark.)

Steamforged Games

As a long-time Resident Evil fan, I had to snatch this up immediately. Like many big box board games, it started as a Kickstarter project, but is now available from Amazon and other retailers. Unlike arcade-y zombie games like Zombicide, the vibe here is much closer to the survival horror feel of the Resident Evil video games. If you have a 3D printer, there are a ton of accessories, including 3D walls, doors and typewriters, which you can download and print to replace the cardboard tokens that come with the game. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

A stripped-down version of the Lovecraftian game subgenre. This is strictly a card-based game, so there are no map tiles or plastic game pieces. Even so, it has amazing narrative storytelling, which involves laying out location cards on the table to give each player a clear picture of what’s going on and where. If you like this, it’s a “living card game,” which means new packs of cards are released on a regular basis. 

Read more: Best gifts under $25

Originally published earlier this month.





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