has shared some more and the first at . The company has been working on a cloud game streaming service for a while. Microsoft is preparing the future of gaming platforms with a device-agnostic service that lets you stream games made for the Xbox One. And the first demo is Forza Horizon 4 running in a data center and then streamed to an Android phone attached to an Xbox One controller via bluetooth. "Anywhere we have a good network connection, we'll be able to participate in Project xCloud,” Microsoft head of gaming cloud Kareem Choudhry said in the video. While Forza Horizon 4 is a demanding game and an Android phone is a tiny device, it won’t be limited to extreme scenarios like that. Choudhry compared Project xCloud to a music streaming or video streaming service. When you have a Spotify account, you can log in from any device, such as your phone, your computer or your work laptop, and find the same music library and your personal music playlists. You can imagine an Xbox-branded service that you could access from any device. Even if your computer has an integrated Intel GPU, you could log in and play a demanding game from that computer. Everything would run in a data center near you. It’s easy to see how Project xCloud would work with Microsoft’s existing gaming services. The company promises the same games with no extra work for developers. You’ll access your cloud saves, your friends and everything you’re already familiar with if you’re using an Xbox or the Xbox app on your PC. If you’ve bought an Xbox, an Xbox 360 and an Xbox One, there will be more Xbox consoles in the future. “It's not a replacement for consoles, we're not getting out of the console business,” Choudhry said. Other companies have been working on cloud gaming. French startup Blade has been working on , the most promising service currently available. Shadow lets you access a Windows 10 instance running in a data center. Microsoft wants to associate technology with content. The company already sells a subscription service. With the , you can play Xbox One and Xbox 360 games for $10 per month. Let’s see how Project xCloud and the Xbox Game Pass work together when Microsoft starts public trials later this year.
Last month I wrote about , which promised, through undisclosed means, it was on the verge of providing a sort of global satellite-based roaming service. But how, I asked? (Wait, they told me.) Turns out our phones are capable of a lot more than we think: they can reach satellites acting as cell towers in orbit just fine, and the company just proved it. Utilizing a constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit, Ubiquitilink claimed during a briefing at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that pretty much any phone from the last decade should be able to text and do other low-bandwidth tasks from anywhere, even in the middle of the ocean or deep in the Himalayas. Literally (though eventually) anywhere and any time. Surely not, I hear you saying. My phone, that can barely get a signal on some blocks of my neighborhood, or in that one corner of the living room, can’t possibly send and receive data from space… can it? “That’s the great thing — everybody’s instinct indicates that’s the case,” said Ubiquitilink founder Charles Miller. “But if you look at the fundamentals of the RF [radio frequency] link, it’s easier than you think.” The issue, he explained, isn’t really that the phone lacks power. The limits of reception and wireless networks are defined much more by architecture and geology than plain physics. When an RF transmitter, even a small one, has a clear shot straight up, it can travel very far indeed. Space towers It’s not quite as easy as that, however; there are changes that need to be made, just not anything complex or expensive like special satellite antennas or base stations. If you know that modifying the phone is a non-starter, you have to work with the hardware you’ve got. But everything else can be shaped accordingly, Miller said – three things in particular. Lower the orbit. There are limits to what’s practical as far as the distance involved and the complications it brings. The orbit neds to be under 500 kilometers, or about 310 miles. That’s definitely low — geosynchronous is ten times higher — but it’s not crazy either. Some of SpaceX’s Starlink communications satellites . Narrow the beam. The low orbit and other limitations mean that a given satellite can only cover a small area at a time. This isn’t just blasting out data like a GPS satellite, or communicating with a specialized ground system like a dish that can reorient itself. So on the ground you’ll be looking at a 45 degree arc, meaning you can use a satellite that’s within a 45-degree-wide cone above you. Lengthen the wavelength. Here simple physics come into play: generally, the shorter the wavelength, the less transparent the atmosphere is to it. So you want to use bands on the long (lower Hz) side of the radio spectrum to make sure you maximize propagation. Having adjusted for these things, an ordinary phone can contact and trade information with a satellite with its standard wireless chip and power budget. But there’s one more obstacle, one Ubiquitilink spent a great deal of time figuring out. Although a phone and satellite can reach one another reliably, a delay and doppler shift in the signal due to the speeds and distances involved are inescapable. Turns out the software that runs towers and wireless chips isn’t suited for this; the timings built into the code assume the distance will be less than 30 km, since the curvature of the Earth generally prevents transmitting further than that. So Ubiquitilink modified the standard wireless stacks to account for this, something Miller said no one else had done. “After my guys came back and told me they’d done this, I said, well let’s go validate it,” he told me. “We went to NASA and JPL and asked what they thought. Everybody’s gut reaction was ‘well, this won’t work,’ but then afterwards they just said ‘well, it works.’ ” The theory became a reality earlier this year after Ubiquitilink launched their prototype satellites. They successfully made a two-way 2G connection between an ordinary ground device and the satellite, proving that the signal not only gets there and back, but that its doppler and delay distortions can be rectified on the fly. “Our first tests demonstrated that we offset the doppler shift and time delay. Everything else is leveraging commercial software,” Miller said, though he quickly added: “To be clear, there’s plenty more work to be done, but it isn’t anything that’s new technology. It’s good solid hardcore engineering, building nanosats and that sort of thing.” Since his previous company was and he’s been in the business for decades, he’s qualified to be confident on this part. It’ll be a lot of work and a lot of money, but they should be launching their first real satellites this summer. (And it’s all patented, he noted.) Global roaming The way the business will work is remarkably simple given the complexity of the product. Because the satellites operate on modified but mostly ordinary off-the-shelf software and connect to phones with no modifications necessary, Ubiquitilink will essentially work as a worldwide roaming operator that mobile networks will pay for access to. (Disclosure: Verizon, obviously a mobile network, owns TechCrunch, and for all I know will use this tech eventually. It’s not involved with any editorial decisions.) Normally, if you’re a subscriber of network X, and you’re visiting a country where X has no coverage, X will have an agreement with network Y, which connects you for a fee. There are hundreds of these deals in play at any given time, and Ubiquitilink would just be one more — except its coverage will eventually be global. Maybe you can’t reach X or Y, you’ll always be able to reach U. The speeds and services available will depend on what mobile networks want. Not everyone wants or needs the same thing, of course, and a 3G fallback might be practical where an LTE connection is less so. But the common denominator will be data enough to send and receive text at the least. It’s worth noting also that this connection will be in some crucial ways indistinguishable from other connections: it won’t affect encryption, for instance. This will of course necessitate at least a thousand satellites, by Miller’s count. But in the meantime limited service will also be available in the form of timed passes — you’ll have no signal for 55 minutes, then signal for five, during which you can send and receive what may be a critical text or location. This is envisioned as a specialty service at first, then as more satellites join the constellation, that window expands until it’s 24/7 and across the whole face of the planet, and it becomes a normal consumer good. Emergency fallback While your network provider will probably charge you the usual arm and leg for global roaming on demand (it’s their prerogative), there are some services Ubiquitilink will provide for free; the value of a global communication system is not lost on Miller. “Nobody should ever die because the phone in their pocket doesn’t have signal,” he said. “If you break down in the middle of Death Valley you should be able to text 911. Our vision is this is a universal service for emergency responders and global E-911 texting. We’re not going to charge for that.” An emergency broadcast system when networks are down is also being planned — power outages following disasters are times when people are likely to panic or be struck by a follow-up disaster like a tsunami or flooding, and reliable communications at those times could save thousands and vastly improve recovery efforts. “We don’t want to make money off saving people’s lives, that’s just a benefit of implementing this system, and the way it should be,” Miller said. It’s a whole lot of promises, but the team and the tech seem capable of backing them up. Initial testing is complete and birds are in the air — now it’s a matter of launching the next thousand or so.
doesn’t want to miss the 5G bandwagon — the company just unveiled its first smartphone that comes with a 5G modem at a press conference in Barcelona. The Mi Mix 3 5G is a new variant of the Mi Mix 3, a phone that Xiaomi originally released in . The company is trying to create a bezel-less phone with the Mi Mix line. Instead of a notch or a punch-hole display, Xiaomi has opted for a sliding front-facing camera. The result is a 93.4 percent screen-to-body ratio. You can find two cameras on the back of the device, which give you the ability to shoot slow-motion videos at 960 frames per second. The handset body is made of ceramic. There are a few changes in the new device. First, Xiaomi has swapped the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 system-on-a-chip with a Snapdragon 855 system-on-a-chip — the same chipset you can find on the Samsung Galaxy S10. When it comes to the modem, the company is using Qualcomm’s X50 5G modem. It’s always hard to grasp the advantages of 5G. That’s why Xiaomi’s Director of Product Management Donovan Sung started a video call with one of its telecom partner, Orange Spain. There was some latency and it wasn’t that convincing. At launch, Xiaomi is partnering with Orange, 3, Sunrise, Telefonica, Tim and Vodafone. The device will be available in May for €599 ($680) in two colors — Onyx Black and Sapphire Blue. Let’s see if any 5G network will be ready by then. Chipmaker Qualcomm’s president, Cristiano Amon, stole a little of Xiaomi’s thunder by naming the Mi Mix 3 5G first during a turn on stage at the press conference as a Xiaomi partner. Amon took the opportunity to give a muscular sales pitch for 5G, claiming the next-gen cellular tech would come faster than the transition from 3G to 4G/LTE and bring transformative benefits for consumers — touting the likes of premium gaming on mobile to replace game consoles. That’s because 5G should greatly lower latency and improve online gaming. “5G is here. Not in 2020, not in late 2020 – it’s here right now in 2019. 2019 is the year of 5G,” he claimed, suggesting 5G device launches would be fast-followed by commercial 5G services as early as the second half of this year. On device AI will also get a boost from 5G, Amon suggested, arguing that “every” app will be able to leverage machine learning thanks to reduced latency. “You can unleash the power of the cloud for every app and service,” he said. “5G will improve substantially how we think about our phones,” he added. “Everything will get better.” Xiaomi also used its first MWC new product launch event opportunity to announce the Mi 9 once again. The company has already unveiled its new flagship device . It’s a more traditional phone with a waterdrop-shaped notch, a Snapdragon 855 chipset and a triple camera system. You can find a 48-megapixel camera, a 16-megapixel wide-angle camera and a 12-megapixel telephoto camera on the back of the device. The Mi 9 will be priced at €449 ($510) for 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, €499 ($565) for 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Pre-orders start from today in select European markets — devices should ship by February 28. There are now 224 million monthly active Xiaomi smartphone users globally. While Xiaomi phones aren’t available in the U.S., you can now buy Xiaomi phones in Spain, the U.K., France and Italy in addition to many Asian markets. Xiaomi also talked up its wider product portfolio, saying it has more than 2,000 Xiaomi-branded products in all, working with more than 200 partners. The company reiterated that it’s committed to having a dual strategy of smartphones plus A-IoT It singled out electric scooters to say it’s shipped more than 560,000 Mi scooters to date. The Mi scooter was “probably the best selling personal transportation device in the world in 2018”, it added. At the event it also announced the launch of another new product: The Mi LED Smart Bulb — a connected light bulb that lets users control light color and brightness via their phone. It’s priced at €19.90. The company tried to demo its smart home ecosystem but failed to turn off the air purifier using Google Assistant. Xiaomi didn’t say a word on its foldable smartphone. It looks like there’s still some more work to do on the device.