Amazon joining Zigbee Alliance is a significant moment

We have news from Amazon and Google which could be significant for the smart home – and a host of smart home deals as well. If you’re looking to save money on smart home devices, scroll down for some top picks.

Sometimes it’s the smallest snippets of news that can prove to be the most interesting, and news that Amazon is joining the board at the Zigbee Alliance is evidence of that. Zigbee is a technology that helps smart home devices communicate – faster, more stable and using lower energy than Wi-Fi.

Amazon adopted it for the Echo Plus and 2018 Echo Show, which is a Zigbee hub that can connect compliant products automatically. And now Amazon has a seat at the table, shaping the priorities and future decisions of Zigbee.

Now, it’s not that difficult to get a seat at that table. You just have to be one of Zigbee’s biggest customers – reports The Verge – and that only requires sending around $75,000 its way annually, which is nothing. But with Amazon essentially driving the smart home market right now, it’s now going to be a highly influential voice.

So in real terms, what does this mean? Well, we’d dare to suggest that Amazon could double down on Zigbee integration, which could mean integrating hub technology into more devices – which would essentially finish off the idea of the smart home hub.

This would likely swing the smart home market the way of Zigbee, away from Z-Wave which is the rival standard.

Other companies on the Zigbee board are SmartThings (which Amazon is currently rendering increasingly irrelevant) Signify (Philips Hue) and Comcast – so there’s plenty of dollar behind the standard.

The 5G revolution is coming. Here’s everything you need to know

The next generation of wireless technology, fittingly known as 5G, is just around the corner. And it promises to change our lives forever.

At least, that’s what the wireless industry is saying. It really wants 5G to be a thing.

Ever since Verizon said it would be the first major telecom company to deploy 5G field tests three years ago, the hype for the technology has been building. It’s been referred to as a foundational tech that will supercharge areas like self-driving cars, streaming virtual and augmented reality and telemedicine like remote surgery.

But what exactly is 5G? Why are people so excited? The following is a breakdown of why the next generation of wireless technology is more than just a boost in speed, and why you should be excited yourself.

What is 5G?

It’s the next (fifth) generation of cellular technology which promises to greatly enhance the speed, coverage and responsiveness of wireless networks. How fast are we talking about? Think 10 to 100 times speedier than your typical cellular connection, and even faster than anything you can get with a physical fiber-optic cable going into your house. (You’ll be able to download a season’s worth of “Stranger Things” in seconds.)

Is it just about speed?

No! One of the key benefits is something called low latency. You’ll hear this word mentioned A LOT. Latency is the response time between when you click on a link or start streaming a video on your phone, sending the request up to the network, and when the network responds and gives you your website or starts playing your video.

That lag time can last around 20 milliseconds with current networks. It doesn’t seem like much, but with 5G, that latency gets reduced to 1 millisecond, or about the time it takes for a flash in a normal camera to finish.

That responsiveness is critical for things like playing an intense video game in virtual reality or for a surgeon in New York to control a pair of robotic arms performing a procedure in San Francisco.

How does it work?

5G initially used super high-frequency spectrum, which has shorter range but higher capacity, to deliver a massive pipe for online access. But given the range and interference issues, the carriers are starting to explore lower frequency spectrum — the type used in today’s networks, to help ferry 5G across greater distances and through walls and other obstructions.

Are there other benefits?

Yes! The 5G network is designed to connect a far greater number of devices than traditional cellular network. That Internet of Things trend you keep hearing about? 5G can power multiple devices around you, whether it’s a dog collar or a refrigerator.

The 5G network was also specifically built to handle equipment used by businesses, such as farm equipment or ATM machines. Beyond speed, it’s also designed to work different on connected products that don’t need a constant connection, like a sensor for fertilizer. Those kinds of low-power scanners are designed to work on the same battery for 10 years and still be able to periodically send over data.

Sounds great, but when does 5G get here?

Verizon will launch the first “5G” service in the world in October, but it’s a bit of a technicality.

The service isn’t mobile service, but a fixed broadband replacement. An installer will need to put in special equipment that can pick up the 5G signals and turn it into a Wi-Fi connection in the home so your other devices can access it.

There’s also some debate about whether the service even qualifies for 5G because it doesn’t use the standards that the industry has agreed upon. The company wanted to jump out ahead, and used its own proprietary technology. Verizon argues that the speeds, which range from 300 megabits per second to 1 gigabit per second, qualify the service for 5G designation. Its rivals and even experts from chipmaker Qualcomm disputes the claim.

Okay, but what about mobile 5G?

Verizon says it will launch its mobile 5G next year. AT&T is looking like the first company to launch a true mobile 5G service. It plans to launch 5G this year in 12 markets.

Like the Verizon deployment, expect the roll out of 5G in these cities to be extremely limited.

Also, there won’t be any 5G phones available yet, so you’ll initially get hockey puck-like wireless hotspot devices that can tap into those networks.

No 5G phones? Can’t I just pick up 5G with my existing smartphone?

Sorry, no. 5G technology requires a specific set of antennas which aren’t available yet. Sprint says it plans to release the first US smartphone next year, which will be built by LG.

5G smartphones are expected to come out in the first half of next year.

How broadly will 5G be available next year?

There’s a stronger possibility that you’ll be able to pick up 5G service (once you get a compatible phone), but it’s still going to be limited.

T-Mobile says it’s launching 30 cities next year, while Sprint will launch in six cities.

But don’t feel like you need to rush out to buy that first 5G smartphone. Chances are, service won’t be widely available until 2020 or beyond.

Our 5G glossary

Do you want to show off your 5G knowledge to your friends? Or seem like the smartest person at a party? Check out our 5G glossary below.


The 5G bit is pretty obvious, but the NR stands for New Radio. You don’t have to know a lot about this beyond the fact that it’s the name of the standard that the entire wireless industry is rallying behind, and it just came out in December.

That’s important because it means everyone is on the same page when it comes to their mobile 5G networks. Carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile are following 5G NR as they build their networks. But Verizon, which began testing 5G as a broadband replacement service before the standard was approved, isn’t using the standard — yet. The company says it will eventually adopt 5G NR for its broadband service, and intends to use NR for its 5G mobile network.

Millimeter wave

All cellular networks use airwaves to ferry data over the air, with standard networks using spectrum in lower frequency bands like 700 megahertz. Generally, the higher the band or frequency, the higher the speed you can achieve. The consequence of higher frequency, however, is shorter range.

In order to achieve those crazy-high 5G speeds, you need really, really high frequency spectrum. The millimeter wave range falls between 24 gigahertz and 100 gigahertz.

The problem with super-high frequency spectrum, besides the short range, is it’s pretty finicky — a leaf blows the wrong way and you get interference. Forget about obstacles like walls. Companies like Verizon are working on using software and broadcasting tricks to get around these problems and ensure stable connections.


Given how troublesome really high-band spectrum can be (see the “Millimeter wave” section), there’s a movement to embrace spectrum at a much lower frequency, or anything lower than 6GHz. The additional benefit is that carriers can use spectrum they already own to get going on 5G networks. T-Mobile, for instance, has a swath of 600MHz spectrum it plans to use to power its 5G deployment. Prior to sub-6GHz, that would’ve been impossible.

That’s why you’re seeing more carriers embrace lower frequency spectrum.

But lower frequency spectrum has the opposite problem: while it reaches great distance, it doesn’t have the same speed and capacity as millimeter wave spectrum.

The ideal down the line will be for carriers to use a blend of the two.

Gigabit LTE

You’re hearing more about Gigabit LTE as a precursor to 5G. Ultimately it’s about much higher speeds on the existing LTE network. But the work going toward building a Gigabit LTE network provides the foundation for 5G.

For more on Gigabit LTE, read our explainer here.


An acronym for multiple input, multiple output. Basically, it’s the idea of shoving more antennas into our phones and on cellular towers. And you can always have more antennas. They feed into the faster Gigabit LTE network, and companies are deploying what’s known as 4×4 MIMO, in which four antennas are installed in a phone.

Carrier aggregation

Wireless carriers can take different bands of radio frequencies and bind them together so phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 can pick and choose the speediest and least congested one available. Think of it as a three-lane highway so cars can weave in and out depending on which lane has less traffic.


This is a term that’s so highly technical, I don’t even bother to explain the nuance. It stands for quadrature amplitude modulation. See? Don’t even worry about it.

What you need to know is that it allows traffic to move quickly in a different way than carrier aggregation or MIMO. Remember that highway analogy? Well, with 256 QAM, you’ll have big tractor trailers carrying data instead of tiny cars. MIMO, carrier aggregation and QAM are already going into 4G networks, but play an important role in 5G too.

Beam forming

This is a way to direct 5G signals in specific direction, potentially giving you your own specific connection. Verizon has been using beam forming for millimeter wave spectrum, getting around obstructions like walls or trees.

Unlicensed spectrum

Cellular networks all rely on what’s known as licensed spectrum, which they own and purchased from the government.

But the move to 5G comes with the recognition that there just isn’t enough spectrum when it comes to maintaining wide coverage. So the carriers are moving to unlicensed spectrum, similar to the kind of free airwaves that our Wi-Fi networks ride on.

Network slicing

This is the ability to carve out individual slivers of spectrum to offer specific devices the kind of connection they need. For instance, the same cellular tower can offer a lower-power, slower connection to a sensor for a connected water meter in your home, while at the same time offering a faster, lower-latency connection to a self-driving car that’s navigating in real time.

Article originally posted on CNET.

Massive small cell investment needed to support 5G

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission meets later today to, among other things, vote on a proposal that will streamline small cell deployment rules and, if adopted, make it easier for carriers to build out small cell sites needed to deliver on 5G.

The meat of the proposed order would:

  • Ban local regulations designed to prohibit wireless infrastructure deployment;
  • Standardize the fee structure cities can charge for reviewing small cell projects;
  • Establish a 60-day shot clock for attaching small cells to existing structures and 90 days for new builds;
  • And sets “modest guardrails on other municipal rules that may prohibit service.”

Ahead of the vote, Commissioner Brendan Carr worked to gain consensus from municipal-level leaders. “More than several dozen mayors, local officials, and state lawmakers have called on the FCC to streamline the rules governing small cell buildout,” Carr said in a statement. “They want the FCC to build on the commonsense reforms adopted in state legislatures and town councils across the country so that every community—from big city to small town—gets a fair shot at next-generation connectivity. As they put it, FCC action will help spur investment and infrastructure buildout in their communities, while helping the U.S. win the race to 5G. I am glad to see the support from this diverse group of state and local officials.”

The proposal got another boost this week when the Wall Street Journal editorial board came out strongly in favor of the potential rule changes. The authors characterized the current level of local approval as pushed by “self-serving behavior from local politicians has become so egregious that it’s prompting welcome intervention” from regulators.


Update: The FCC today approved the small cell order outlined above. Carr said in a statement: “In the global race to 5G, the stakes are high—it is about economic leadership for the next decade. The smart infrastructure policies we adopt today strengthen America’s role as a tech and economic leader while ensuring that every community benefits from 5G. Wireless providers are projected to spend $275 billion in the U.S. to build 5G, which represents a massive private sector investment in American infrastructure and jobs—without a penny of new taxes. Today’s order streamlines the approval process for 5G small cells and helps ensure that our country will continue to be the innovation hub of the world.”

The move was applauded by Jonathan Adelstein, a former FCC commissioner and president of the Wireless Infrastructure Association. Adelstein said in a statement, “As promising as 5G is, it’s only as good as the infrastructure on which it’s deployed. And 5G will require all manner of infrastructure, including macro towers and small cells. As Commissioner O’Rielly said, macro towers play a key role in wireless networks. That role will expand in 5G. I commend Chairman Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly for their plans to address all types of wireless infrastructure in a future proceeding. WIA looks forward to working with them and the entire Commission to build on the amazing progress the FCC made today.”


article originally posted on rcrwireless.

How to sell your old Amazon devices.

Amazon’s new Echo speakers for 2018 are impressive. New cloth designs and upgraded sound quality (especially on the Echo Dot) are all welcome upgrades.

Splurging on one, or more, is tempting. But what if you already own multiple, older Echo speakers that you paid good money for a few years ago? Don’t just kiss all that cash goodbye. Trade them in to Amazon, and get credit toward your next Echo device. Here’s how it works.

The trade-off with Amazon trade-in

Amazon’s trade-in program is definitely convenient, though it isn’t perfect. It has drawbacks; the biggest is that Amazon sets the price, not you. Unfortunately, Amazon’s price is often much lower than what you originally paid.

There are many upsides to using Amazon trade-in. First, you get the appraised value of your device as an Amazon gift card, which you can use on a new Echo speaker or literally anything else in shopping giant’s vast online catalog.

Second, if you do decide to buy a new Echo product, Amazon says it will shave 25 percent off the list price of “qualifying” new Echo gadget. An added bonus is that Amazon won’t charge any extra fees to do the trade-in and shipping your old Echo back is free.

Amazon trade-in tips

  • You’ll get the most for your money if your Echo units are functional, with minimal damage.
  • If there is damage, you might get less money after Amazon appraises the item.
  • It’s free to ship trade-in devices back.
  • Only select Echo products are eligible for trade-in.

How much will I get?

Here’s a list of Echo devices that currently are part of Amazon’s trade-in program, and how much you’ll get for them.


NOT TO BE outdone by Amazon’s deluge of hardware announcements last week, set-top box maker Roku is readying two new, low-cost streaming video boxes. Along with the new hardware, Roku is going to work with Google Assistant voice control to make it easier for users to find all the streaming content available for bingeing.

Roku said in a briefing last week that it’s adding two new 4K streaming boxes: the Roku Premiere and Roku Premiere+. These boxes have a similar form factor to Roku’s Expressline; they’re tiny pieces of hardware, much smaller than the remote they ship with, and are so lightweight they come with a strip of tape so you can stick them to your entertainment console. But these tiny Rokus stream 4K HDR video, pack quad-core processors, and come with updated firmware that the company says contributes to a smoother streaming experience.

Both of these new streaming boxes will ship early next month, at $40 for the Premiere box and $50 for the Premiere+. The difference between the Premiere and the Premiere+ is the remote: one comes with a standard IR remote, and the more expensive one is Wi-Fi-connected, which enables voice control.

Roku is essentially re-using the Premiere name, or, updating the earlier Premiere boxes with a new form factor, depending on how you look at it. Previously, a Roku Premiere was a flat sandwich of a box with 4K streaming and a price tag of $70. These two new options are much smaller and cheaper. The company is also updating the Roku Ultra, its top-of-the-line streaming player, to include an “enhanced” voice remote and a $40 pair of JBL headphones at no additional cost. (You can plug those headphones into the remote for private or late-night TV-watching.) The Roku Ultra has the fastest processor of any Roku product, has a handy find-my-remote feature, and supports dual-band wireless. That whole package costs $100.

Stacked Boxes

Including the new Premiere boxes, Roku now sells nearly half a dozen different categories of streaming devices, ranging from an HDMI stick to these new boxes to Roku-branded TV sets. It also said last month that it plans to ship wireless TV speakers later this fall, for a relatively low price of $180. (The speakers only work with Roku-branded TVs, and not stand-alone Roku boxes.) Those speakers will come with a puck-like gadget that offers remote control for TV and music content coming from a Roku TV, and will include other features that Roku declined to share at this point. Lloyd Clarke, director of product management, said that Roku OS TVs are the fastest-growing hardware segment for the company.

But it’s obvious that Roku is feeling the heat from Amazon’s aggressive push in the TV streaming (and smart TV) market. According to research from Parks Associates, Roku had the lead in streaming media market share in the US as of May 2018, but Amazon’s share has been increasing.

Roku, like Amazon, has kept its streaming gadgets at low prices, relative to competitors like Apple. Its Roku-branded TVs, which are made by manufacturers like TCL, Hisense, and Haier, are also aimed at cost-conscious consumers, ranging in price from $180 up to $1,500. And the new Premiere+ streaming box will be sold exclusively at the budget-minded retailer Walmart.

But unlike Amazon, Roku doesn’t have its own virtual assistant to lure people into its devices, though it does offer basic voice search for finding programs to watch. So as part of an operating system update that starts rolling out today, Roku is launching a skill that lets people use Google Assistant devices to control their Rokus. You can now bark orders at your Assistant to pause and search for videos, and to launch Roku channels.

Free TV

With Roku OS 9, you can also use voice to search for free stuff to watch on Roku, just by attaching the word “free” to your initial search query; i.e., “action movies free.” Roku’s focus on free and ad-supported TV shows started last year, when it first launched a free-content channel, but the system-wide voice search is new. And Spotify will return to the platform with the rollout of Roku OS 9, along with Pandora Premium. (Spotify removed its app from the Roku store in December of last year, saying the overall experience needed to be improved.)

Roku has an absurd number of “channels” on its platform—more than 5,000. The company used to tout that number a lot, along with unit sales, but now it’s much more focused on user engagement and streaming hours. At the end of the second fiscal quarter of this year, Roku reported 22 million active accounts, a 46 percent year-over-year increase. The company also said that streaming hours were up 57 percent from a year ago, to 5.5 billion streaming hours per quarter. That’s some phenomenal growth that Roku is eager to maintain.

Article originally posted on