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Huawei Ousted From Heart of EU as Nokia Wins Belgian 5G Contracts

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By Reuters | Updated: 9 October 2020

Orange and Proximus have picked Nokia to help build 5G networks in Belgium as they drop Huawei amid US pressure to exclude the Chinese firm from supplying key telecoms equipment.

The moves are among the first by commercial operators in Europe to drop Huawei from next-generation networks and come after months of diplomatic pressure from Washington, which alleges Huawei equipment could be used by Beijing for spying.

The Belgian capital Brussels is home to the European Union’s executive body and parliament, making it a matter of particular concern for US intelligence agencies.

“Belgium has been 100 percent reliant on Chinese vendors for its radio networks, and people working at NATO and the EU were making mobile phone calls on these networks,” said John Strand, an independent Danish telecoms consultant.

“The operators are sending a signal that it’s important to have access to safe networks.”

Huawei, the world’s biggest telecoms equipment supplier, strongly denies the US allegations and has been highly critical of calls to ban it from 5G contracts.

However, the company said on Friday it accepted the decisions by Orange Belgium and Proximus, which confirm a Reuters report.

“This is the outcome of a tender organised by operators and the result of the free market,” a Huawei spokesman said.

“We embrace fair competition, the more diversified a supply chain the more competitive it becomes,” he said, adding Huawei had been supplying equipment in Belgium for more than a decade and its commitment remained unchanged.

The deals to supply radio gear to Orange Belgium and Proximus are a boost for Nokia, which struggled to make headway in the 5G market earlier this year even as Huawei was under pressure.

“I have tried to become RAN (radio access network) supplier to Orange Belgium since 2003 when the company was still Mobistar. Here we are, finally,” tweeted Tommi Uitto, president of Nokia Mobile Networks.

The companies did not disclose a value for the contracts.

Nokia shares were up nearly 3 percent in early trading.

Orange Belgium and Proximus said Ericsson would supply the core of their 5G networks, a smaller slice of business.

EU members have been stepping up scrutiny of so-called high-risk vendors. This subjects Huawei’s governance and technology to critical examination and is likely to lead other European operators to strip it from their networks, analysts say.

Nokia and Ericsson have been the main beneficiaries of the challenges facing Huawei. From Bell Canada and Telus in Canada to BT in Britain, the Nordic companies have been grabbing market share from the Chinese firm.

Separately, Nokia said it had won a contract to provide data management software to Telefonica UK, replacing an unidentified existing vendor.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Science

Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory Telescope Collapses Ahead of Planned Demolition

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By Reuters | Updated: 2 December 2020

A massive radio telescope at Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory, one of the world’s largest, collapsed on Tuesday after sustaining severe damage since August, officials said, following 57 years of astronomical discoveries.

The deteriorating telescope’s 900-ton instrument platform, suspended by cables 450 feet (137 metres) above a 1,000-foot-wide (305 metres) bowl-shaped reflector dish, fell on Tuesday morning, the US National Science Foundation said. No injuries were reported, it added.

The telescope, which received radio waves from space, had been used by scientists around the world to hunt for possible signatures of extraterrestrial life, study distant planets and find potentially hazardous asteroids. It also gained fame after pivotal scenes in the 1995 James Bond film “GoldenEye” starring Pierce Brosnan were shot there.

Two cables supporting the reflector dish had broken since August, causing damage and forcing officials to close the observatory as engineering firms retained by the University of Central Florida, which manages the observatory, studied ways to repair the damage.

In November, the engineering reviews led the NSF and the university to conclude that efforts to repair the structure would be too dangerous and that it would have to be demolished.

The NSF said that initial findings indicated that the top section of all three of the telescope’s support towers broke off and that as the instrument platform fell, the telescope’s support cables also plummeted.

The observatory also includes other scientific assets such as a 40-foot (12-metre) telescope used for radio astronomy research and a facility used to study the Earth’s upper atmosphere and ionosphere. The observatory’s learning center, located next to the telescope, sustained significant damage from falling cables, the NSF said.

“We are saddened by this situation but thankful that no one was hurt,” NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in a statement. “Our focus is now on assessing the damage, finding ways to restore operations at other parts of the observatory, and working to continue supporting the scientific community, and the people of Puerto Rico.”

The NSF said it will authorise the university to continue paying Arecibo staff and to come up with a plan to continue research at the observatory. The agency said it has not determined the cause of the initial cable failure in August.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Facebook News to Launch in UK in 2021

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 2 December 2020

Facebook said Tuesday it will launch its news tab feature in Britain from next year, paying publishers for stories delivered through the world’s leading social network.

The arrival of Facebook News in January comes after the service was rolled out in the United States in late 2019 and is part of plans to extend it worldwide, the US company said.

“With Facebook News, we will pay publishers for content that is not already on the platform, help drive new audiences, and bring publishers greater monetisation opportunities,” it added.

Titles covered in the first wave of deals include The Economist, The Guardian, The Independent and the Mirror, and local newspapers the London Evening Standard, Manchester Evening News and the Scotsman.

Lifestyle magazines such as Cosmopolitan, GQ, Vogue and Tatler have also signed up, while there is a video partnership with Channel 4 News.

Facebook’s director of news partnerships Jesper Doub said the company was “in active negotiations” to bring the feature to France and Germany.

“We will continue to work with publishers in countries where market conditions and regulatory environments invite this kind of investment and innovation,” he added.

Media companies have struggled with dwindling advertising revenue and print sales as content has moved online and become available for free, forcing a host of titles to close.

In April, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said the coronavirus pandemic has made the situation worse and called on the British government to impose a windfall tax on global tech giants to help shore up struggling publishers.

NUJ assistant general secretary Seamus Dooley said foreign-based platforms including Facebook generate huge ad revenues in Britain on the back of free news content but pay little domestic tax.

“There’s very much common cause between employers and owners that effectively these are platform providers that are eating our lunch,” he told AFP.

“They’re reliant on the work of media organisations — of journalists, photographers and videographers.”

Last week, Google said it had signed individual agreements on copyright payments with several French newspapers and magazines, after months of wrangling over the sharing of revenues from the display of news in search results.

Agence France-Presse, which along with other media groups has lodged complaints against Google with France’s competition regulator, did not sign the accord.

But AFP chief executive Fabrice Fries said he was “optimistic” about improved relations with Google, Facebook and Apple, which also sells a news feature.

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Google Sister Firm DeepMind’s AI Cracks Protein-Folding Problem, Heralds New Age of Bioengineering, Medicine

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 2 December 2020

For decades scientists have been trying to figure out how to swiftly predict the twisting, tangled shape of proteins, and from there unravel a greater understanding of the machinery of life itself.

This week an Artificial Intelligence programme created by Google sister firm DeepMind was shown to have virtually cracked the challenge, forecasting the way in which proteins contort into three dimensional structures in the results of a biannual competition that judges hailed as a game changer.

“In some sense the problem is solved,” said John Moult, a computational biologist at the University of Maryland who co-founded the Critical Assessment of Techniques for Protein Structure Prediction (CASP) competition in 1994, quoted by the journal Nature.

Janet Thornton of the European Bioinformatics Institute said in a statement from the competition organisers on Monday that the work to solve the problem was a “triumph of human curiosity, endeavour and intelligence”.

“A better understanding of protein structures and the ability to predict them using a computer means a better understanding of life, evolution and, of course, human health and disease,” said Thornton, who is not affiliated with CASP or DeepMind.

The cells of all living beings contain thousands of proteins, workhorses that catalyse most chemical reactions in the body.

They are essential to life, from muscle function to carrying oxygen in the blood, and are also the key to diseases like cancer and even COVID-19.

A protein begins as a strand of amino acids, which then crumples into a unique three-dimensional tangle.

It is this shape that directly relates to its function.

Scientists have puzzled for half a century over how to accurately and quickly predict which formation, out of an unfathomably large number of possibilities, a protein might take by looking at its amino acid chain, a process that may take years in the laboratory.

The CASP contest involved around 100 teams who were given the amino acid sequences for dozens of proteins and tasked with estimating their final shapes, which were known to the organisers.

DeepMind, whose programme AlphaGo stunned the world in 2016 by beating an elite human player in the complex strategy game “Go,” was already at the top of the field in the last contest in 2018.

This time its AlphaFold programme determined the shape of many of the proteins “to a level of accuracy comparable to that achieved with expensive and time-consuming lab experiments”, according to the CASP organisers.

‘This changes medicine’

Andrei Lupas, an evolutionary biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology who was part of the assessment team, told Nature that AlphaFold had helped him determine the structure of a protein that his lab had been trying to pin down for a decade.

“This will change medicine. It will change research. It will change bioengineering. It will change everything,” he told Nature.

Derek Lowe, who writes about drug discovery and the pharma industry for Science Translational Medicine, described protein folding as like “watching piles of hinged lumber spontaneously restack themselves into functional boats, wagons and treehouses”.

He said the AlphaFold results did not mean the programme would consistently come up with the right protein structure.

“But getting that level of structural accuracy on that many varied proteins is something that has just never been done before.”

DeepMind said it was looking at how the programme might help increase knowledge of certain diseases, for example to identify whether a protein has malfunctioned.

“These insights could enable more precise work on drug development, complementing existing experimental methods to find promising treatments faster,” it said in a statement.

The firm added that it was working to produce a peer-reviewed paper and was “exploring how best to provide broader access to the system”.

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China’s Chang’e 5 Spacecraft Lands on Moon to Bring Rocks Back to Earth for the First Time Since 1970s

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By Associated Press | Updated: 2 December 2020

A Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced.

The China National Space Administration said Chang’e 5 “successfully landed” at its designated site shortly after 11pm (8:30pm Tuesday IST) Tuesday after making a powered descent from its orbiter. It published images of the barren scene at the landing site, including where the lander’s shadow can be seen.

The lander was launched November 24 from the tropical southern island of Hainan. It is the latest venture by a Chinese space programme that sent its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, has a spacecraft en route to Mars and aims eventually to land a human on the moon.

Plans call for the lander to spend about two days drilling into the lunar surface and collecting 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rocks and debris. The sample will be lifted up into orbit and transferred to a return capsule for the trip to Earth, setting down on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia around the middle of the month.

If it succeeds, it will be the first time scientists have obtained fresh samples of lunar rocks since a Soviet probe in the 1970s. Those samples are expected to be made available to scientists from other nations, although its unclear how much access NASA will have, given tight US government restrictions on space cooperation with China.

From the rocks and debris, scientists hope to learn more about the moon, including its precise age, as well as increased knowledge about other bodies in our solar system. Collecting samples, including from asteroids, is an increasing focus of many space programmes and China’s mastery of the technology once again places it among the leading nations operating in space.

US astronauts with NASA’s Apollo space programme brought back 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of lunar samples from 1969 to 1972, some of which is still being analysed and experimented on.

The Chang’e 5 flight is China’s third successful lunar landing. Its predecessor, Chang’e 4, was the first probe to land on the moon’s little-explored far side. Chinese space program officials have said they envision future crewed missions along with robotic ones, including possibly building some sort of permanent space base for conducting research. No timeline or other details have been announced.

The latest flight includes collaboration with the European Space Agency, which is helping to monitor the mission.

China’s space programme has proceeded more cautiously than the US-Soviet space race of the 1960s, which was marked by fatalities and launch failures.

In 2003, China became the third country to send an astronaut into orbit on its own after the Soviet Union and the United States. It also launched a crewed space station.

China, along with neighbors Japan and India, also has joined the growing race to explore Mars. The Tianwen 1 probe launched in July is on its way to the red planet carrying a lander and a rover to search for water.

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Amazon, Blackberry Team Up to Create Cloud-Based Vehicle Software Platform IVY

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 2 December 2020

BlackBerry and Amazon on Tuesday announced an alliance to create a cloud computing platform that cars could link to for services and insights based on data from vehicles and users..

Word of plans for an Intelligent Vehicle Data Platform called IVY synching cars wirelessly to computing power at Amazon Web Services caused shares in Canada-based company to rev more than 50 percent to nearly nine dollars.

“BlackBerry and AWS share a common vision to provide automakers and developers with better insights so that they can deliver new services to consumers,” BlackBerry chief executive John Chen said in a joint release.

IVY is intended to be a cloud-connected software platform that could be used by any car maker to analyze sensor data in real-time and give drivers useful information.

Modern cars and trucks are built with thousands of parts from an array of suppliers, typically with proprietary hardware and software involved, the companies noted.

The vision is for the platform to quickly make sense of all that data for drivers, while also serving as a platform for additional apps or services from developers.

Car makers have “almost zero software skills,” and IVY promises to be a secure, cost-effective platform for them to tap into cloud computing power, Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry said in a note to investors.

The jointly operated software will run on car or truck systems, but will be managed remotely from the cloud, according to Amazon.

Examples of potential capabilities included IVY spotting dangerous road conditions such as ice or heavy traffic and prompt drivers to take safety measures.

Drivers of electric vehicles could share battery information with charging networks to reserve charging slots along routes, and parents could get sensor data regarding their teen-agers’ driving, the companies said,

“AWS and BlackBerry are making it possible for any automaker to continuously reinvent the customer experience and transform vehicles from fixed pieces of technology into systems that can grow and adapt with a user’s needs and preferences,” said AWS chief executive Andy Jassy.

BlackBerry has shifted gears to concentrate on software and services since being dethroned in the mobile phone market more than a decade ago by touchscreen phones powered by Apple or Android software.

The BlackBerry keyboard is to live on in a new 5G smartphone planned for release next year from Texas-based OnwardMobility.

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Amazon Web Services Taps Own Arm-Based Chips for New Supercomputing Offering

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By Reuters | Updated: 2 December 2020

Amazon’s cloud unit on Tuesday offered a new supercomputing service based on its self-designed processors, a further sign of how chips based on Arm’s technology are encroaching on Intel and Advanced Micro Devices turf.

Amazon Web Services, or AWS, sells its computing services based on the customer’s choice of an underlying central processor chip. Software developers have traditionally chosen between Intel or AMD products, but since 2018 Amazon has also offered its own Graviton chips designed with technology from Arm, which is in the midst of a $40 billion (roughly Rs. 2,93,600 crores) takeover by Nvidia.

Arm-based chips have long powered mobile phones because they can operate on very low power levels, but they are increasingly used in data centers where their power efficiency helps control costs. The world’s fastest computing system, the Fugaku supercomputer in Japan, is based on Arm chips.

Supercomputing helps with tasks such as weather forecasting, medical research and modeling aerodynamics for cars without a wind tunnel. But systems remain expensive and mostly operated by governments and research centers.

AWS is hoping to slash costs, saying the new service will get 40 percent better price-to-performance than its similar offerings from AMD and Intel. AWS’s own technology will quickly pass data through multiple Graviton processors, a key supercomputing process in which many chips act as a hive mind to tackle a large task. AWS will rent the service out so that researchers need not build or manage a system.

Supercomputing “is no longer this thing that only governments do,” Dave Brown, vice president of Elastic Compute Cloud at AWS, said in an interview. “You can decrease the cost – you don’t need a supercomputer any more. You can spin them up in the cloud and then spin them down.”

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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