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Main article: Wireless networking

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Apple reportedly working on satellite technology for direct wireless iPhone data transmission

14:58 | 20 December

Apple is said to be working on satellite technology, having hired a number of aerospace engineers to form team along with satellite and antenna designers, according to a new report from Bloomberg. The report notes that this is an early-stage secret project that could still be scrapped, but that the purpose of the team and its work is to potentially develop communications satellite technology that can send and receive data directly to user devices, including the iPhone, in a bid to make it possible to connect Apple devices without the need of a third-party network.

Bloomberg says that Apple won’t necessarily be building its own satellite hardware – it could instead be developing just th re transmission devices or ground-based equipment to make use of data transmissions for orbital communications equipment. The tech could be used for actually delivering data directly to Apple devices, or it could just connect them to each other independent of a cellphone carrier data network. It could also be used to provide more accurate location services for better maps and guidance, the report says.

Apple is said to have hired both executives and engineers from the aerospace and satellite industry, including Skybox Imaging alumni Michael Trela and John Fenwick who are leading the team. These two formerly headed up Google’s satellite and spacecraft divines. New hired include former Aerospace Corporation executive Ashley Moore Williams, as well as key personnel from the wireless networking and content delivery network industries.

The idea of providing a data network from space direct to devices seems preposterous on its face – most data communications satellites require communication with ground stations that then relay information with end-point devices. But it’s not an unheard of concept, and in fact we wrote earlier this year about Ubiquitlink, a company that’s focused on building a new kinds of low-Earth orbit communications satellite constellation that can communicate directly with phones.

Ubiquitlink’s initial goals spell out what a supplemental direct satellite communication network could provide on top of regular iPhone carrier service: The startup company hopes to essentially provide global roaming with a connection level that probably isn’t anywhere near as fast as you’d get from a ground-based network, but is usable for communication at least – and not dependent on local infrastructure. It could also act as a redundant fallback that ensures no matter what your main network status, you’ll always be able to do less data-intensive operations, like texting and calling.

While there’s obviously a lot of unknowns remaining in what Apple is working on or what it will eventually amount to, if anything, it’s very interesting to consider the possibility that it could offer a level of always-on connectivity that’s bundled with iPhones and available even when your primary network is not, that offers persistent access to features like iMessage, voice calls and navigation – leaving streaming and other data-intensive applications to your standard carrier rate plan.

 


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Amazon Ring doorbells exposed home Wi-Fi passwords to hackers

17:43 | 7 November

Security researchers have discovered a vulnerability in Ring doorbells that exposed the password for the Wi-Fi network it was connected to.

Bitdefender said the Amazon-owned doorbell was sending its owner’s Wi-Fi password in cleartext over the internet, allowing for nearby hackers to intercept the Wi-Fi password and gain access to the network to launch larger attacks or conduct surveillance.

Amazon fixed the vulnerability in all Ring devices in September, but the vulnerability was only disclosed today.

It’s another example of smart home technology suffering from security issues. As much as smart home devices are designed to make our lives easier and homes more secure, researchers keep finding vulnerabilities that allow them to get access to the very thing they’re trying to protect.

Earlier this year, flaws in a popular smart home hub allowed researchers to break into a person’s home by triggering a smart lock to unbolt the door.

Amazon has faced intense scrutiny in recent months for Ring’s work with law enforcement. Several news outlets, including Gizmodo, have detailed the close relationship Ring has with police departments, including their Ring-related messaging.

It was reported this week that Ring had bragged on Instagram about tracking millions of trick-or-treaters this Halloween.

 


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Amazon Sidewalk is a new long-range wireless network for your stuff

21:25 | 25 September

At its annual hardware event in Seattle, Amazon today announced Sidewalk, a new low-bandwidth, long-distance wireless protocol the company is developing to connect all of the IoT devices in and around your house.

Amazon argues that Bluetooth and WiFi don’t have enough range, while 5F takes too much power and is too complex.

“We came up with something that we call Amazon Sidewalk,” Amazon’s device chief Dave Limp said at the event today. “Amazon Sidewalk is a brand new low bandwidth network that uses the already existing free over the air 900 megahertz spectrum. We think it will be great for keeping track of things, keeping things up to date — but first and foremost, it will extend in the distance at which you can control these kinds of simple, low-cost, easy-to-use devices.

The details here remain a bit vague, but Amazon says that you may be able to use Sidewalk to connect to devices that can be up to a mile away, depending on how the base station and devices are positioned.

Image from iOS 3 1

Amazon already sent out 700 test devices to households in L.A. to test the access points — and once you have a lot of access points, you create a network with some pretty broad coverage.

Amazon says it’ll publish the protocol so that other device makers can also integrate it into their devices.

The first product that uses Sidewalk? A dog tag, so that you’ll hopefully see fewer lost dogs on your local Nextdoor in the near future because if your dog now leaves the perimeter, you’ll get an alert. This new tag, the Ring Fetch, will launch next year.

download

 


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Amazon introduces new $99 Eero mesh Wifi routers

21:00 | 25 September

Amazon is launching a new generation of Eero router, the first new iteration of Eero hardware since it acquired the company earlier this year. The new router is $99 for one, or available in a three-pack for $249, and is available in the U.S. today and in Europe later this year.

Alongside the new hardware, Amazon has added even more specific voice commands for its routers, including the ability to turn on and off guest Wifi via voice, as well as pause Wifi access for specific devices on the network (Amazon showed off turning off the PlayStation Wifi as one example). These features go above and beyond what’s currently available for third-party devices, but Amazon says it’s also making an API available and that routers from TP-Link, Asus, Linksys and Arris will able to take advantage, as well.
Image from iOS 5

Amazon’s intent with the revised Eero and Alexa commands is to make the whole process of setting up and managing a secure Wifi network super easy for everyone.

The price point on the new Eero is certainly attractive, and more competitive than the previous version, which started at $149 for just a beacon alone, and $199 for the hub. No word yet on specifications for the type of Wifi on board (Amazon didn’t mention Wifi 6, for instance) but we’ll have more info once it’s available.

 


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With warshipping, hackers ship their exploits directly to their target’s mail room

07:01 | 7 August

Why break into a company’s network when you can just walk right in — literally?

Gone could be the days of having to find a zero-day vulnerability in a target’s website, or having to scramble for breached usernames and passwords to break through a company’s login pages. And certainly there will be no need to park outside a building and brute-force the Wi-Fi network password.

Just drop your exploit in the mail and let your friendly postal worker deliver it to your target’s door.

This newly named technique — dubbed “warshipping” — is not a new concept. Just think of the traditional Trojan horse rolling into the city of Troy, or when hackers drove up to TJX stores and stole customer data by breaking into the store’s Wi-Fi network. But security researchers at IBM’s X-Force Red say it’s a novel and effective way for an attacker to gain an initial foothold on a target’s network.

“It uses disposable, low cost and low power computers to remotely perform close-proximity attacks, regardless of the cyber criminal’s location,” wrote Charles Henderson, who heads up the IBM offensive operations unit.

IBMXFR Warship 2

A warshipping device. (Image: IBM/supplied)

The researchers developed a proof-of-concept device — the warship — which has a similar size to a small phone, into a package and dropped it off in the mail. The device, which cost about $100 to build, was equipped with a 3G-enabled modem, allowing it to be remote controlled so long as it had cell service. With its onboard wireless chip, the device would periodically scan for nearby networks — like most laptops do when they’re switched on — to track the location of the device in its parcel.

“Once we see that a warship has arrived at the target destination’s front door, mailroom or loading dock, we are able to remotely control the system and run tools to either passively, or actively, attack the target’s wireless access,” wrote Henderson.

Once the warship locates a Wi-Fi network from the mailroom or the recipient’s desk, it listens for wireless data packets it can use to break into the network. The warship listens for a handshake — the process of authorizing a user to log onto the Wi-Fi network — then sends that scrambled data back over the cellular network back to the attacker’s servers, which has far more processing power to crack the hash into a readable Wi-Fi password.

With access to the Wi-Fi network, the attacker can navigate through the company’s network, seeking out vulnerable systems and exposed data, and steal sensitive data or user passwords.

All of this done could be done covertly without anyone noticing — so long as nobody opens the parcel.

“Warshipping has all the characteristics to become a stealthy, effective insider threat — it’s cheap, disposable, and slides right under a targets’ nose –all while the attacker can be orchestrating their attack from the other side of the country,” said Henderson. “With the volume of packages that flow through a mailroom daily — whether it be supplies, gifts or employees’ personal purchases — and in certain seasons those numbers soar dramatically, no one ever thinks to second guess what a package is doing here.”

The team isn’t releasing proof-of-concept code as to not help attackers, but uses the technique as part of its customer penetration testing services — which help companies discover weak spots in their security posture.

“If we can educate a company about an attack vector like this, it dramatically reduces the likelihood of the success of it by criminals,” Henderson said.

 


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American Airlines now offers satellite-based Wi-Fi access across its mainline fleet

23:00 | 16 June

American Airlines, the world’s largest airline by fleet size and passenger traffic, has finished rolling out satellite-based broadband Wi-Fi to its entire mainline narrowbody fleet of over 700 aircraft (that is, the Boing 737s and Airbus A319 and 320 that typically fly the company’s domestic routes). All of these satellite-equipped planes also offer access to 12 free channels of live TV that you can stream to your personal device, including on international flights where this hasn’t traditionally been an option.

Unless you are comfortably sitting in business class and sipping on your pre-departure champagne, modern air travel isn’t exactly a fun or relaxing experience, no matter the reason for your travel. If you need to get work done on a flight, though, having access to fast and reliable Wi-Fi can often make a huge difference.

Today’s announcement from American follows a similar announcement from last year, after the airline finishing bringing the same system to all of its widebody fleet. At this time last year, though, American had only brought this same system to a meager 13 percent of its narrowbody planes.

One thing worth noting is that it’s my understanding is that American isn’t counting some of its oldest MD-83s in this count. These will never get a Wi-Fi upgrade because they are currently being phased out for more modern jets.

As for the technology that powers all of this, American Airlines is betting on satellite-based systems that use either Gogo 2Ku or ViaSat Ka. Unlike some of the earlier ground-based systems, satellite systems have the obvious advantage of offering a larger coverage area (including over oceans) and more consistent connectivity. These new satellite-based systems also allow for significantly faster connections. Among American’s competitors, Delta is currently in the process of updating most of its fleet to satellite-based systems, too, while the situation at United remains a bit complicated.

“Elevating the travel experience is one of our top goals at American and we’ve been working hard to provide our customers with the same level of entertainment and connectivity options they enjoy in their own living rooms,” said Kurt Stache, Senior Vice President for Marketing, Loyalty and Sales for American. “In less than two years, we completed broadband internet installation on our entire mainline fleet and we will continue setting new standards in the industry to show our customers we value the time they spend with us.”

Soon, American will also bring power outlets to every seat in its mainline fleet, as well as its two-class regional fleet. Since American, just like most of its competitors, is also removing most of its in-seat entertainment systems in favor of personal device entertainment that is streamed to your phone or tablet, it is also now bringing tablet holders to most of its narrowbody fleet as well.

Unlike some of its competitors, American doesn’t offer free Wi-Fi access to chat apps — or even free Wi-Fi in general. Still, if you are an American loyalist, you’ll be happy to see that the airline now offers a consistent Wi-Fi product that is clearly a step up from some of the legacy systems that are still in use by some of the other carriers.

 


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London’s Tube network to switch on wi-fi tracking by default in July

15:00 | 22 May

Transport for London will roll out default wi-fi device tracking on the London Underground this summer, following a trial back in 2016.

In a press release announcing the move, TfL writes that “secure, privacy-protected data collection will begin on July 8” — while touting additional services, such as improved alerts about delays and congestion, which it frames as “customer benefits”, as expected to launch “later in the year”.

As well as offering additional alerts-based services to passengers via its own website/apps, TfL says it could incorporate crowding data into its free open-data API — to allow app developers, academics and businesses to expand the utility of the data by baking it into their own products and services.

It’s not all just added utility though; TfL says it will also use the information to enhance its in-station marketing analytics — and, it hopes, top up its revenues — by tracking footfall around ad units and billboards.

Commuters using the UK capital’s publicly funded transport network who do not want their movements being tracked will have to switch off their wi-fi, or else put their phone in airplane mode when using the network.

To deliver data of the required detail, TfL says detailed digital mapping of all London Underground stations was undertaken to identify where wi-fi routers are located so it can understand how commuters move across the network and through stations.

It says it will erect signs at stations informing passengers that using the wi-fi will result in connection data being collected “to better understand journey patterns and improve our services” — and explaining that to opt out they have to switch off their device’s wi-fi.

Attempts in recent years by smartphone OSes to use MAC address randomization to try to defeat persistent device tracking have been shown to be vulnerable to reverse engineering via flaws in wi-fi set-up protocols. So, er, switch off to be sure.

We covered TfL’s wi-fi tracking beta back in 2017, when we reported that despite claiming the harvested wi-fi data was “de-personalised”, and claiming individuals using the Tube network could not be identified, TfL nonetheless declined to release the “anonymized” data-set after a Freedom of Information request — saying there remains a risk of individuals being re-identified.

As has been shown many times before, reversing ‘anonymization’ of personal data can be frighteningly easy.

It’s not immediately clear from the press release or TfL’s website exactly how it will be encrypting the location data gathered from devices that authenticate to use the free wi-fi at the circa 260 wi-fi enabled London Underground stations.

Its explainer about the data collection does not go into any real detail about the encryption and security being used. (We’ve asked for more technical details.)

“If the device has been signed up for free Wi-Fi on the London Underground network, the device will disclose its genuine MAC address. This is known as an authenticated device,” TfL writes generally of how the tracking will work.

“We process authenticated device MAC address connections (along with the date and time the device authenticated with the Wi-Fi network and the location of each router the device connected to). This helps us to better understand how customers move through and between stations — we look at how long it took for a device to travel between stations, the routes the device took and waiting times at busy periods.”

“We do not collect any other data generated by your device. This includes web browsing data and data from website cookies,” it adds, saying also that “individual customer data will never be shared and customers will not be personally identified from the data collected by TfL”.

In a section entitled “keeping information secure” TfL further writes: “Each MAC address is automatically depersonalised (pseudonymised) and encrypted to prevent the identification of the original MAC address and associated device. The data is stored in a restricted area of a secure location and it will not be linked to any other data at a device level.  At no time does TfL store a device’s original MAC address.”

Privacy and security concerns were raised about the location tracking around the time of the 2016 trial — such as why TfL had used a monthly salt key to encrypt the data rather than daily salts, which would have decreased the risk of data being re-identifiable should it leak out.

Such concerns persist — and security experts are now calling for full technical details to be released, given TfL is going full steam ahead with a rollout.

 

A report in Wired suggests TfL has switched from hashing to a system of tokenisation – “fully replacing the MAC address with an identifier that cannot be tied back to any personal information”, which TfL billed as as a “more sophisticated mechanism” than it had used before. We’ll update as and when we get more from TfL.

Another question over the deployment at the time of the trial was what legal basis it would use for pervasively collecting people’s location data — since the system requires an active opt-out by commuters a consent-based legal basis would not be appropriate.

In a section on the legal basis for processing the Wi-Fi connection data, TfL writes now that its ‘legal ground’ is two-fold:

  • Our statutory and public functions
  • to undertake activities to promote and encourage safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities and services, and to deliver the Mayor’s Transport Strategy

So, presumably, you can file ‘increasing revenue around adverts in stations by being able to track nearby footfall’ under ‘helping to deliver (read: fund) the mayor’s transport strategy’.

(Or as TfL puts it: “[T]he data will also allow TfL to better understand customer flows throughout stations, highlighting the effectiveness and accountability of its advertising estate based on actual customer volumes. Being able to reliably demonstrate this should improve commercial revenue, which can then be reinvested back into the transport network.”)

On data retention it specifies that it will hold “depersonalised Wi-Fi connection data” for two years — after which it will aggregate the data and retain those non-individual insights (presumably indefinitely, or per its standard data retention policies).

“The exact parameters of the aggregation are still to be confirmed, but will result in the individual Wi-Fi connection data being removed. Instead, we will retain counts of activities grouped into specific time periods and locations,” it writes on that.

It further notes that aggregated data “developed by combining depersonalised data from many devices” may also be shared with other TfL departments and external bodies. So that processed data could certainly travel.

Of the “individual depersonalised device Wi-Fi connection data”, TfL claims it is accessible only to “a controlled group of TfL employees” — without specifying how large this group of staff is; and what sort of controls and processes will be in place to prevent the risk of A) data being hacked and/or leaking out or B) data being re-identified by a staff member.

A TfL employee with intimate knowledge of a partner’s daily travel routine might, for example, have access to enough information via the system to be able to reverse the depersonalization.

Without more technical details we just don’t know. Though TfL says it worked with the UK’s data protection watchdog in designing the data collection with privacy front of mind.

“We take the privacy of our customers very seriously. A range of policies, processes and technical measures are in place to control and safeguard access to, and use of, Wi-Fi connection data. Anyone with access to this data must complete TfL’s privacy and data protection training every year,” it also notes elsewhere.

Despite holding individual level location data for two years, TfL is also claiming that it will not respond to requests from individuals to delete or rectify any personal location data it holds, i.e. if people seek to exercise their information rights under EU law.

“We use a one-way pseudonymisation process to depersonalise the data immediately after it is collected. This means we will not be able to single out a specific person’s device, or identify you and the data generated by your device,” it claims.

“This means that we are unable to respond to any requests to access the Wi-Fi data generated by your device, or for data to be deleted, rectified or restricted from further processing.”

Again, the distinctions it is making there are raising some eyebrows.

What’s amply clear is that the volume of data that will be generated as a result of a full rollout of wi-fi tracking across the lion’s share of the London Underground will be staggeringly massive.

More than 509 million “depersonalised” pieces of data, were collected from 5.6 million mobile devices during the four-week 2016 trial alone — comprising some 42 million journeys. And that was a very brief trial which covered a much smaller sub-set of the network.

As big data giants go, TfL is clearly gunning to be right up there.

 


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Ford will slash 7,000 salaried jobs by August

18:13 | 20 May

Ford Motor is laying off 7,000 salaried employees as part of CEO Jim Hackett’s restructuring plan to reduce bureaucracy, cut costs and turn the automaker into a more agile company prepared for a future that extends beyond its traditional business of producing and selling cars and trucks.

The cuts represent about 10 percent of the automaker’s salaried employees. Some buyouts and layoffs have already occurred, according to an email sent to employees by Hackett. The contents of the email were initially reported by the WSJ. TechCrunch has since reviewed the email.

Some 1,500 employees opted for voluntary buyouts, which occurred in November 2018, according to a spokesperson. Ford expects to complete the restructuring efforts expect by August globally. Cuts affecting Ford’s North American workforce will be complete by June, a Ford spokesperson told TechCrunch.

This cuts will result in annual savings of about $600 million, Hackett said in the email. “We also made significant progress in eliminating bureaucracy, speeding up decision making and driving empowerment as part of this redesign,” he wrote.

The layoffs were anticipated by employees. Ford informed employees last October that it would be restructuring the company, a move that would likely result in layoffs and voluntary buyouts.

The reorganization is part of a broader strategy to prepare for a future with autonomous vehicle technology, electrification and unconventional ownership models.

The restructuring plan is focused on making the company more agile and less bureaucratic. Each business went through a “Smart Redesign” process, according to Hackett’s email, which notes that 1,000 employees were involved in this activity.

Ford previously announced it would spend $11 billion to add 16 all-electric vehicles within its global portfolio of 40 electrified vehicles through 2022. At the heart of the company’s electrification effort is its Corktown project, a massive 1.2 million-square-foot space dedicated to its electric and autonomous vehicles businesses.

The goal of Corktown is to create a “mobility corridor” — Ford’s version of its own Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley — that ties hubs of research, testing and development in the academic hub of Ann Arbor to Ford’s Dearborn headquarters, and finally to Detroit.

Last year, Hackett revealed several other techcentric plans for the automaker that included the introduction of an open cloud-based platform for cities to use, a partnership with Qualcomm for Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything, or C-V2X, a term that means two-way communication with stoplights, signs and other city infrastructure. The company 

 


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A hotspot finder app exposed 2 million Wi-Fi network passwords

16:43 | 22 April

A popular hotspot finder app for Android exposed the Wi-Fi network passwords for more than two million networks.

The app, downloaded by thousands of users, allowed anyone to search for Wi-Fi networks in their nearby area. The app allows the user to upload Wi-Fi network passwords from their devices to its database for others to use.

But that database of more than two million network passwords, however, was left exposed and unprotected, allowing anyone to access and download the contents in bulk.

Sanyam Jain, a security researcher and a member of the GDI Foundation, found the database and reported the findings to TechCrunch.

We spent more than two weeks trying to contact the developer, believed to be based in China, to no avail. Eventually we contacted the host, DigitalOcean, which took the database down within a day of reaching out.

“We notified the user and have taken the hosting the exposed database offline,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Each record contained the Wi-Fi network name, its precise geolocation, its basic service set identifier (BSSID), and network password stored in plaintext.

Although the app developer claims the app only provides passwords for public hotspots, a review of the data showed countless home Wi-Fi networks. The exposed data didn’t include contact information for any of the Wi-Fi network owners, but the geolocation of each Wi-Fi network correlated on a map often included networks in wholly residential areas or where no discernible businesses exist.

The app doesn’t require users to obtain the permission from the network owner, exposing Wi-Fi networks to unauthorized access. With access to a network, an attacker may be able to modify router settings to point unsuspecting users to malicious websites by changing the DNS server, a vital system used to convert web addresses into the IP addresses used to locate web servers on the internet. When on a network, an attacker can also read the unencrypted traffic that goes across the wireless network, allowing them to steal passwords and secrets.

Tens of thousands of the exposed Wi-Fi passwords are for networks based in the U.S.

 


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China continues 5G push despite economic slowdown and Huawei setbacks

12:21 | 30 January

China will fast-track the issuance of commercial licenses for 5G as part of a national plan to boost consumer spending, said a notice published this week by the National Development and Reform Commission. The move appears to be multifaceted, for 5G plays a key role in China’s bid to lead the global technology race and one of its biggest 5G champions, Huawei, has been facing troubles on a global scale.

In its statement, the economic regulator calls on local governments to support the promotion and showcase of services utilizing the super-fast network technology. Ultra-high definition TVs, virtual/augmented reality handsets and other futuristic products will be eligible for government subsidies, though the regulator didn’t outline the detailed criteria.

The acceleration of 5G licenses comes as Beijing copes with a weakening national economy, a move that will “drum up demand with upgraded technology experiences across devices, automotive and manufacturing leveraging 5G technology,” said Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint Research, to TechCrunch. 5G is on course to generate 6.3 trillion yuan ($947 billion) worth of economic output and 8 million jobs for China by 2030, according to estimates from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.

Beijing has been gearing up to be the world leader in the next-generation network tech, pouring resources into 5G research and infrastructure. But it has been hit with a speed bump overseas as western countries grow increasingly wary of spy threat posed by Chinese 5G equipments. A souped-up domestic drive, therefore, could help neutralize some of the global setbacks faced by its 5G crown jewels like Huawei.

The U.S. and Australia have banned local firms from procuring equipment from Huawei, and Canada and the U.K. are currently reviewing whether to continue using 5G parts made by the Chinese telecom equipment giant. Meanwhile, Huawei is facing a list of criminal charges from the U.S. for stealing state secrets and its financial chief Meng is accused of bank fraud.

“Aaccelerating 5G licenses should indirectly help Huawei gain competitive edge for 5G considering it will be supplying solutions to the world’s largest mobile cellular market, China,” observes Counterpoint’s Shah. “This also gives Huawei an early platform to showcase its technology to the world and attract more global business.”

Huawei has continued with its 5G push despite being dogged by a string of global woes. Last week, the Shenzhen-based conglomerate unviled a 5G chipset for multiple commercial uses across smartphones, home and work. The chip, dubbed the Balong 5000, will be launching in February at a Barcelona tech trade show.

 


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