Month: August 2020

Virtual Reality goggles against red background

The Coming Age of Digital Reality

Source: Axios

The next decade of technological advances — in virtual reality and AI — is poised to move more of human life into the digital realm.

The big picture: Moments of great upheaval are often followed by major technological and social innovations. Prompted in part by the pandemic, the 2020s could see the development of a new reality that captures the best of the analogue and virtual worlds.

What’s happening: In a recent report, L’Atelier, a foresight company that is part of the French banking giant BNP Paribas, mapped the development of more than 80 current technologies in an effort to predict how they’ll change life by the next decade.

  • The technologies were evaluated with NASA’s Technology Readiness Level method, which charts them on a scale of 1 (basic principles in the process of being tested) to 9 (already being incorporated into daily life).
  • The advances were broadly grouped into major areas like immersive reality, human enhancement and artificial intelligence.
  • The bigger challenge to prediction isn’t forecasting technological change, “but understanding societal change,” L’Atelier CEO John Egan says.

Egan sees the pandemic — which has made the physical environment outright dangerous — accelerating the penetration of businesses and technologies that “develop and maintain in virtual space.”

  • That includes what L’Atelier classifies as “immersive technology” — virtual reality (VR) that departs physical space for one that exists entirely online, augmented reality (AR) that adds virtual overlays to the bricks-and-mortar environment, and mixed reality that allows a user to jump between the two.

Take Fortnite: The tens of millions of users who regularly play it aren’t just shooting each other in between dance moves — they’re taking part in a virtual space where they can socialize and even watch films and concerts.

  • By the 2030s, says Egan, “tech will facilitate a new digital infrastructure that sits on top of the physical infrastructure, one that will be unique to individuals through AR glassware and eventually through contact lens and even neural implants.”

Details: Apple is said to be developing an AR headset, while Google recently bought the smart glasses company North.

  • Holoride, a spinoff of the German car company Audi, has developed in-car VR technology for passengers that matches the speed and moves of the vehicle, eliminating the motion sickness that often accompanies virtual reality.
  • Nils Wollny, Holoride’s CEO, notes that non-driving passengers take more than 1.5 billion rides a day, and that technology like theirs opens up a huge potential audience to new ways of virtually experiencing games, media and more.

Yes, but: The pandemic has yet to lead to the takeoff of virtual reality that many experts expected.

  • While lockdowns may have provided the perfect environment to try VR, the tech is still trapped in what my Axios colleague Ina Fried called “the trough of disillusionment” — not good enough to meet the expectations of consumers raised watching “The Matrix.”
  • Still, VR and AR wouldn’t be the first technologies to initially fail to meet expectations before eventually changing the world when both the tech and the world were ultimately right for each other.

The bottom line: Both the path of technological development and the societal changes accelerated by the pandemic point toward a world where the virtual will make a desert of the real.

vehicle to infrastructure, vehicle to pedestrian concept, graphic of red car being driven autonomously, wi-fi signal above car, pedestrians, and street light

Starting with Michigan, Sidewalk Infrastructure is Looking to Build Roads Specifically for Autonomous Cars

Source: TechCrunch

Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, which spun out of Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs to fund and develop the next generation of infrastructure, has taken the covers off its first big project — the launch of a subsidiary called Cavnue to develop roadways for connected and autonomous vehicles.

Starting in Michigan, Cavnue  will be working with partners including Ford, GM, Argo AI, Arrival, BMW, Honda, Toyota, TuSimple and Waymo  on standards to develop the physical and digital infrastructure needed to move connected and autonomous cars out of pilot projects and onto America’s highways, freeways, interstates and city streets.

The starting point for Cavnue is a 40-mile corridor between downtown Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan that will be dedicated to autonomous vehicles. Ultimately, Cavnue envisions numerous corridors designed for autonomous shuttles and buses, as well as trucks and personal vehicles.

Cavnue will be the master developer of the 40-mile roadway, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday in a joint announcement with Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners .

“The action we’re taking today is good for our families, our businesses, and our economy as a whole. Here in Michigan, the state that put the world on wheels, we are taking the initial steps to build the infrastructure to help us test and deploy the cars of the future,” Whitmer said in a statement. “As we rebuild our roads to ensure every Michigander can drive to work and drop their kids at school safely, we will also continue working to build smart infrastructure to help prepare us for the roads of tomorrow.”

The Detroit-to-Ann Arbor corridor will include communities along Michigan Avenue and Interstate 94 in Wayne County and Washtenaw County, like the University of Michigan, the Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Michigan Central Station. The corridor will also include up to 12 “Opportunity Zones” where communities and small businesses will be able to connect to the industrial, technological and academic hubs of the region, according to the company’s statement.

For the first phase of the project, Cavnue will work with a slew of Michigan state agencies, including the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification and the Michigan Department of Transportation, on a feasibility and design study that is expected to last about two years.

Initial work during the project’s first phase will look at the commercial and technological viability of the roadway’s design. Connected buses and shared mobility vehicles like vans and shuttles will be the first users of the roadway before it is eventually expanded to other types of connected autonomous vehicles, including freight and personal vehicles, according to a statement from Cavnue.

Key partners

In 2018, Bill Ford envisioned a connected corridor similar to the one that Cavnue is proposing to build — envisioning the company’s Corktown innovation hub as an east end node in a circuit that would run along the Ann Arbor to Detroit corridor. Now Ford is a key partner in Cavnue’s project.

However, there are numerous others that Cavnue is also leaning on, including the University of Michigan with its CAV research center and Mcity Test Facility, Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) and facilities along the proposed corridor, as well as the testing facility American Center for Mobility.

“My vision for Michigan Central is to create an open mobility innovation district that solves tomorrow’s transportation challenges and improves mobility access for everyone,” said Ford, the executive chairman of his eponymous car company, in a statement. “Building out a connected corridor cements Michigan as a leader in creating a more connected, autonomous and electrified future. We thank the state for recognizing the community and economic benefits and the importance of creating smart infrastructure across southeast Michigan.”   

Human error behind the wheel of cars is a leading cause of death around the country; in Michigan, 10,000 people have died in fatal automobile crashes over the last decade. Companies like Cavnue’s partners including Ford, GM, Argo AI, Arrival, BMW, Honda, Toyota, TuSimple and Waymo argue that connected and autonomous vehicles can reduce those fatalities while also cutting the hours commuters spend in traffic.

The sweeping nature of Cavnue’s mission is also an admission of sorts that the commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles is further away than this nascent industry initially thought. Born of an innovation event at Google’s headquarters, the seed for Cavnue comes from the realization that level five autonomy (the fully autonomous vehicles that require no human intervention) are still a concept for futurists, rather than a near-term opportunity.

To justify the billions of dollars of investment required to continue research and development around autonomy, companies need near-term applications. And those applications will require physical infrastructure to work.

The Michigan startup scene is growing, and venture capitalists see several key areas of opportunities. Read more on Extra Crunch here.

For municipalities worried about congestion and the abandonment of light rail systems and other mass transit solutions in the age of COVID-19, these dedicated lanes may provide new sources of revenue for autonomous public transit and a way for companies to test their autonomous systems safely in the context of a much larger pilot project.

One thing that some of the planners envisioned was the use of autonomous shuttles as a replacement for light rail and the potential for a far more dynamic solution. Vehicles could be scaled up and down according to demand, and shared routes could speed efficiency and reduce the time it takes to get to a destination, these planners said.

Financing could come from the manufacturers of autonomous systems who would get new testing grounds for their technology and eventually individuals who owned cars with advanced driving systems could pay for access to the lanes using the dead space between public transit vehicles.

Ostensibly, someone could pay $10 to access the road and then put their vehicle into autonomous mode. Public transit and private delivery fleets would be prioritized, and a vehicle would have to demonstrate it has autonomous capabilities to even access the roadways.

The new service would depend on a new type of public-private partnership based on outcomes that could be measured by the number of public fare rates the new lanes generate. Companies like Cavnue would source the vehicles and build the infrastructure. It would provide the capital expenditures for the roadway and retain the rights to sell access to the autonomous-enabled cars when use permits.

If it works in Michigan, some of the state’s congressional leadership intends to push for the expansion of the plan across the country.

“Michigan is at the forefront of this new frontier in mobility. Our state is home to a dense nexus of automakers, suppliers, engineers, universities and testing facilities that are pioneering advances in transportation that will transform how we get around,” said Michigan Senator Gary Peters. “This announcement is a major step forward towards ensuring Michigan continues to be the center of self-driving car research and development. I’m going to continue working at the federal level to develop a federal framework for the safe deployment of these revolutionary — and live-saving — technologies.”

Not everyone is convinced that the investment makes sense, though. 

“That’s an enormous investment in grey infrastructure. That’s a major infrastructure project,” said one infrastructure expert who declined to be identified because she was not authorized to speak about the project. “That’s something that you’re locking into. You’re locking into that design and locking in to that use case… The dedicated lanes are not something that’s being put forward by transportation advocates. I’ve only heard it from people who work with autonomous vehicles and have a vested interest in seeing their adoption.”

Graphic of planet earth as a blue grid, with blue lines circling it

Data Centres: Enablers of the Digital Economy

Author: Derek Webster

Source: Techerati

Data centres are critical utilities, the almost invisible heart, lungs and nerve cells of the digital revolution, facilitating increasing general economic activity for the good of citizens – nationally and internationally. By Derek Webster, CEO at Andget.

A 100 years ago a person could intimately know no more than 50 books in a lifetime, today we can access information from over 600,000 books. When I went to school, I had books and access to a library. My children went to school with laptops and access to the Internet. That is a revolution from new digital products to digital services providing an economic change and impact.

Digitalization is transforming the value chain with increased efficiency, productivity, quality and competitiveness. The digital infrastructure underpinning digitalization, including the Internet’s backbone — data centres, the cloud and network infrastructure — is closing a global social-economical gap, in business and for those on the right side of the digital divide.

Time and again I hear Government agencies asking Data Centre Foreign Direct Investors “How many onsite Jobs will this investment create?”. In the age of the Digital Economy, a more pertinent question is “What will the wider economic impact be?” The answer? Enormous.

Measuring the size of the Digital Economy

Measuring the Digital Economy is difficult yet the IMF ‘Measuring the Digital Economy 2018’ report stated that the Digital Economy in most nations is less than 10 percent of total economic activity if measured by value-added, income or employment.

And according to the UNCTAG 2019 report, the Digital Economy ranges from 4.5% GDP in developed countries (circa 12%+ for Nordic nations and the UK) to 15.5% of global GDP in developing countries. For most of the G-20, that makes the Digital Economy larger than Mining, Utilities, Agriculture, Education and Transportation.

34% of investors questioned in the ‘2018 EY Attractiveness Survey Europe’ regard the Digital Economy as the leading investment class. As for 2020, IT Data Centre spending is expected to reach $191bn, while $100bn will be pumped into Cloud IT Infrastructure between now and 2023.

It’s worth comparing the digital age to previous revolutions. On average, the Internet, over its initial 15 years, contributed to a $500 increase per capita in developed countries. The industrial revolution took about 50 years to achieve a similar impact.

What are data centres anyway and how many are there?

While Wikipedia offers a perfectly fine definition of a data centre, a more all-inclusive understanding of what data centres are and what they enable helps us to form a better sense of their global economic impact. In short, a data centre(s) is or are:

  • Data Driven Critical Infrastructure
  • A Data Factory that processes digital workloads
  • Moving photons & electrons processing Applications & Services
  • Engines of a digital outsourcing revolution
  • Heart, lungs and nerve cells of ‘digital driven delivery’
  • Physical enabler to new business and social models
  • An ‘A$$et Cla$$’ (the smart money knows it even if it is not recognised by institutions!)

As for how many: Emerson in 2011 stated there where 509,147 data centres worldwide, IDC estimated this peaked in 2017 which dipped to circa 8,400,000 globally. Likely due to more enterprises migrating to more efficient facilities with lower OPEX and into the cloud which include 562 hyperscale data centres.

Data centres supporting the Digital Economy

Data centre critical infrastructure as the heart, lungs and nerve cells of ‘digital driven delivery’ contributes to stock market values of the web giants, large cloud providers and enterprises.

AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and the like are known in the finance world as FAANG stocks, comprising Facebook (FB), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Netflix (NFLX) and Alphabet (GOOG) formally Google. In January 2020, these combined companies had a market capitalization of over USD $4.1 trillion (January 2020). FAANG stocks trade on the NASDAQ and are part of the S&P 500, representing approximately 15 percent of the index.

National examples of data centre economic impact also serve up some impressive figures.

Germany’s $36bn ‘National Broadband Strategy’ investment, launched in 2010, contributed €170.9bn to GDP (0.60 % GDP growth). According to the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics, multi-tenant data centres (excluding telecoms) in the Netherlands directly contributed €462m to its economy. The total GDP impact of these facilities is estimated at €1bn, equal to 7.7% of Netherlands’ GDP. And Oxford Research estimates the economic impact of the Finnish data centre cluster to be €7-11 bn (in a country with a population of only 5.5 million).

The impact of data centres in the two towns of Luleå, Northern Sweden and Quincy, Washington State USA is also striking.

Facebook’s Luleå site, the company’s first data centre outside of the USA, contributed 9bn SEK ($992m) of full economic impact. It created 4,500 full-time jobs over 10 years (direct, indirect, and induced impacts), including 1,450 direct impact jobs (yet it is not clear how many remain employed inside the facility). According to BCG, in 2012 Facebook contributed 1.5% to the region’s economy.

Quincy has enjoyed significant data centre initial investment from Microsoft, Yahoo! and, which together hired 180 facility workers by 2008. Then Sabey, Intuit, Dell, and Vantage landed. The impact of the town’s $1.3bn data centre investment between 2005-07 saw the population grow 13 percent, while salaries rose by 8 percent, and house prices by around 30 percent. This created 220 new construction jobs (and 500 workers for the Microsoft site).

Direct and indirect job numbers at data centres

Despite these localised examples, data centre job creation is not a fertile ground of research in a sector still steeped in confidentiality. But the data we do have paints a compelling picture.

USA Jobs and Investment: The USA’s open home market data (which represents 43% of global data centre businesses) provides some interesting averages for a typical data centre: 1,688 local workers employed during construction, $244m output generated and $9.9m in revenue for the state and local governments. 157 local jobs were created on average per data centre. And between 2010-2016 data processing, internet publishing and other information services were responsible for an annual of $87bn in GDP per year.

Google in the USA: In 2016, Google provided $1.3bn of economic activity, $750m job income and 11,000 jobs in total across the USA, of which 1,900 were direct data centre workers. There were 1,140 construction workers across six data centre campuses with additional supply chain jobs at 3,500 and 70 direct jobs working on future renewable projects.

The job multiplier (1 direct job supports x additional non-Google Jobs) is 5.9 with a GDP multiplier of 6.6 (adding value to the wider economy). According to Oxford Economics, Google invested more than $10.5bn equipping their data centres, yet manufacturing jobs of equipment is not included in these numbers. Google’s own USA figures from 2018 across nine facilities provide some data centre indicators: Total investment $11.95 billion; contribution to local GDP $717 million; total related jobs around 7,565.

Facebook in the USA: As of March 2018, Facebook had spent $4.2bn on four data centres with a total workforce of over 800. After five years of operation the average direct job per data centre is 196. For each data centre worker an extra five jobs were needed elsewhere (5x job multiplier). RTI International claim Facebook created 60,100 jobs (including total multiplier effect) between 2010-2016 from its $5.8bn GDP impact. For every $1m spent on data centre operations 13.1 jobs were supported elsewhere in the economy and 14.5 for capital expenditure.

Netherlands/Germany: As of 2015, in the Netherlands, multi-tenant data centres alone (excluding telecoms) provided 2,300 direct full-time jobs and 1300 indirect full-time jobs. As of 2015, 200,000 employees worked for the German data centre industry of which 120,000 were operational staff. To put that into a context that represents 0.5 percent of the total number employed in the economy.

Wider job and GDP creation from ICT/Broadband/Internet

McKinsey’s Global SME Survey (2012) found that for every job lost to ICT 2.6 new jobs were created, in line with a separate French study which showed 500,000 jobs lost over a 15 year period created 1.2 million others. It has been estimated that 4 to 5 jobs are created in the economy for each new ICT job (European Commission, 2016Moretti, 2012).

The ‘Employment and Social Development in Europe’ 2016 report looked at employment in ICT and occupations between 2003 and 2013 and found it grew between 16% and 30% in 25 European countries. Over the last decade, an extra two million ICT specialist jobs have been created, a million of which were created in the last three years.

Looking just at the role of the Internet, China attributed 2.5% growth in GBP to a 10% increase in broadband deployment. While Thailand attributed 1% and Latin America/Caribbean 1.7% growth for the same percentage broadband penetration. As a University of Munich study concluded: “a clear path can be found from introducing broadband and its increased penetration to per capita GDP.”

Environmental concerns

The direct and indirect economic benefits of data centre construction and operations are profound, but we can’t get away from the fact that the industry is power-intensive. The power demands of the sector are being increasingly scrutinised, but careful analysis of the trends reveals an industry that is leading the charge to a more energy-efficient world.

According to International Energy Agency, data centres consumed 1% of global electricity demand in 2020. Data transmission networks were also responsible for 1% of energy consumed globally. But even though digital workloads have increased 550% since 2010, power demand has levelled, as facilities leverage more efficient infrastructure and source power from increasingly greener energy sources.

While from the standpoint of sustainability data centres are not perfect, the sector has consistently exhibited self-regulating continual improvement. Between 2011-2017, data centre PUE dropped from around PUE 1.6 to PUE 1.2 (and on average CPU processing per watt has increased 200% every 2 years).

The efficiency changes have been dramatic. In the Dot.Com boom era I built many data centres across Europe and thought a 1MW 300 rack circa PUE 2.0+ site was substantial. Yet 25 years later, a 100MW PUE 1.08 site processing exponentially more CPU per watt from more sustainable energy sources is not unusual.

Organisations are increasingly moving workloads from less efficient on-premises data centres to more efficient colocation and cloud data centres in more sustainable locations and operations.

New cooling technology and re-use of energy developments are gaining traction, further reducing overall energy use and carbon impact per watt of processing demand. It’s worth comparing data centres to alternatives than studying them in isolation: An internet news search requires 0.2g of CO2 yet one page of newsprint requires 350x more energy.

Data centres as Critical Utilities

Digital Infrastructure should be seen as a critical utility. In the same way as roads, transport systems, energy provision and water are normally viewed and measured.

They increase general economic activity for the wider good of citizens, nationally and internationally. And they enable governments to increase competitiveness, the ease of doing business, add significant GDP impact and make countries more attractive to Foreign Direct Investors (FDI).

Since the first industrial revolution we have seen an emerging pattern: that of labour and cost reductions driving commoditisation, in turn demanding new skill sets, creating job diversity and new employment types that counter older technologies.

This digital revolution is still in its infancy and ongoing, and our current crop of graduates with their ‘What IF’ algorithms can see the world in more digital terms – a wider macro perspective where digital impacts are not just about jobs, but include human enrichment. Yet never forget that data centres are critical infrastructure, the almost invisible heart, lungs and nerve cells of a ‘digitally driven revolution’.

Bluebird logo

Bluebird Network Fulfills Commitment to Expanding Fiber Infrastructure in Columbia, MO, Fortifying Mid-Missouri’s 5G Wireless Infrastructure

Source: BusinessWire

COLUMBIA, Mo.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Bluebird Network—a high capacity fiber internet and transport services provider and underground data center owner—is strengthening its fiber backbone in Columbia, MO, with one of the single largest fiber build outs in the city’s history. This exciting densification project will add approximately 60 miles of fiber to the company’s existing infrastructure within the city, giving the network a near all-encompassing reach of the area to businesses and allowing Bluebird to nurture the city’s 5G capabilities with stronger support for new and existing cell towers in the area.

“Our wireless customers—the largest cell service providers in the nation—trusted us for their large-scale 5G wireless deployment,” says Michael Morey, President and CEO of Bluebird Network. “They chose us because when Bluebird makes a promise, we deliver. We not only meet expectations, we exceed them. Our customer care and employee work ethic has resulted in Bluebird’s successful growth, and builds like this demonstrate we don’t plan to stop our trajectory any time soon.”

In addition to supporting the wireless carriers new tower deployments, Bluebird’s increased fiber count will bolster the company’s fiber offerings to businesses in and around Columbia, enabling the company to offer higher bandwidth options to support growing enterprise demands.

“There have been a number of requests from healthcare, finance and education customers in the area, and this build will help us serve those needs,” Morey said. “As we continue to realize a more digital world, Bluebird continues to improve businesses’ bandwidth and connectivity across a variety of sectors.”

Bluebird continues its mission of expanding its footprint and service capabilities across the Midwest with expansions and builds being completed in Springfield, MOJefferson City, MO, and Joplin, MO, as well as another expansion in Strafford, MO, wrapping up this month. The company has seen substantial growth after acquiring PEG Bandwidth Illinois and the Illinois Network Alliance (INA) over the last year, strengthening its fiber infrastructure.

About Bluebird Network

Since 1999, Bluebird Network, headquartered in Columbia, Missouri, has provided internet and fiber transport services to Carriers and Enterprises in Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Iowa and the surrounding states. In 2014, an underground data center was acquired, adding the Bluebird Underground Data Center to the Bluebird suite of services. Bluebird now operates over 9,800 fiber route miles of high-speed broadband and fiber-optic connections. The Bluebird fiber network has more than 54,000 on-net and near-net buildings and over 151 Points of Presence (POP) sites spanning the Midwest, including the major cities of Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield (MO and IL), Tulsa, Peoria, Rockford, Bloomington, Normal and the Quad Cities. To learn more, please visit and follow us on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter.

Cumulus Media logo

Cumulus to Sell Towers to Vertical Bridge

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Cumulus Media agreed to sell nearly all of its towers in a bid to increase its liquidity and help pay down debt. The broadcast company told the SEC the buyer is Vertical Bridge REIT, LLC and VB Nimbus, LLC, each an affiliate of Vertical Bridge Holdings, LLC, for the sale of “substantially all” of its tower sites “and certain other related assets.”  Cumulus pegged the value of the deal at approximately $213 million.

In the deal signed last Friday, and announced yesterday, Cumulus said the transaction may occur in one or more closings. At each closing, Cumulus would sign lease agreements for the continued use of the towers. The broadcaster would also sign lease agreements “for certain other assets being sold, including excess land and certain intangible rights,” it told the SEC.

Vertical Bridge is required to acquire at least 85 percent of the tower sites. The broadcaster is not required to consummate the transaction unless the buyer agrees to acquire at least 92.5 percent of the tower sites (based on value) at the first closing.

The initial term of each lease would be 10 years, followed by five option periods of five five years each. If Vertical Bridge acquires all of the tower sites that are subject to the transaction, the broadcaster will have annual lease payment obligations of approximately $13.5 million. That figure would be subject to customary escalators, which would be accounted for as a reduction of the financial lease liability and interest expense, a loss of annual tenant revenues of approximately $2.3 million and an approximate $2.3 million annual operating expense reduction of which approximately $1.5 million is non-cash intangible amortization. 

Cumulus will also record non-cash imputed rental income for certain tower sites where it will continue to use a portion of the tower along with other existing and future tenants. The first closing is anticipated in Q4 2020 following a 45-day diligence period in which the buyer and the seller may exclude certain sites from the transaction.

Cumulus on Monday reported that for the three months ended June 30, its revenue fell almost 48 percent from the same period in 2019, and reported a net loss for the 2020 quarter of $36 million. The company owns and operates 424 radio stations across 87 markets. Cumulus completed a bankruptcy reorganization in 2018. 

“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s material impact on revenue, the company generated over $90 million of cash in the quarter through quick and decisive expense actions, strong working capital management and the completion of the sale of land in Bethesda, MD, stated Cumulus Media President/CEO Mary Berner. She’s referring to the former WMAL-AM tower site. The broadcaster closed on the sale of a 75-acre tract to home builder Toll Brothers in June that generated gross proceeds of $74.1 million, Inside Towers reported.