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The True Cost of Real 5G Service

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Apple fans are about to get their feet wet with 5G tomorrow when the iPhone 12 goes up for preorder. For some, this might be the closest they ever get to ultrafast 5G: plunking down cash for a device that supports the new ultra-fast wireless standard. I’ve talked a bit about why 5G coverage is still way, way too sporadic for it to be the single most important reason you upgrade to any iPhone 12 variant. But if you don’t want to hear my thoughts about coverage, let’s talk about costs.

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It would be foolish to think that you can just upgrade to a new iPhone 5G and get instant access to faster speeds on your wireless plan. That may be true for some people who are already enrolled in 5G-friendly wireless plans. For many more, however, upgrading to a 5G phone also means upgrading to a potentially more expensive plan to access those faster speeds—if you even can. (OK, OK, I’ll stop.)

Here’s a quick look at what these extra costs look like across the Big Three carriers:

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The true cost of 5G on Verizon: $80/mo

Prepaid plans: This is a bit confusing. If you’re looking directly at Verizon’s listings for prepaid plans, you won’t see 5G mentioned anywhere—unlike its postpaid unlimited plans, which we’ll get to in a bit.

Elsewhere on Verizon’s site, a FAQ confirms that prepaid plan users will get access to “5G,” but not the 5G you’re probably thinking of. Remember, Verizon is working on two 5G technologies: “Nationwide” and “5G Ultra Wideband.” The former is basically just low-band 5G that gives you 4G performance under the 5G icon. The latter is true 5G—all those fancy gigabit-plus speeds you’re seeing referenced in every smartphone manufacturer’s recent press events.

As Verizon notes:

“5G Ultra Wideband is not available for prepaid plans at this time. 5G Ultra Wideband is coming to Prepaid in early 2021. Those with prepaid plans can access 5G Nationwide* with a 5G Nationwide-capable device.”

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So, theoretically, you can access “5G” without needing to upgrade your prepaid plan—unless you’re on the very basic $35/month “Talk & text” plan. If you are, you’ll only get 2G speeds, no matter what kind of a 5G phone you have.

Otherwise, if you want 5G Ultra Wideband—assuming you can access Verizon’s high-speed network where you are—you’ll have to upgrade to one of the company’s prepaid unlimited plans. And that’ll be quite a jump, seeing as its postpaid plans cost anywhere from $40-$65.

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Data plans: You might not use a lot of data on-the-go, so it makes sense that you’d want to save money with one of Verizon’s data plans—as in, you get a certain amount of gigabytes per month before you’re billed outrageous overage fees ($15/1GB, with any data use rounded up.) As before, you’ll only get access to “Nationwide 5G,” though I don’t see any language from Verizon about access to its 5G Ultra Wideband network being delayed. My suspicion is that those on capped data plans won’t be able to access that network, which seems silly, but I don’t make the billing rules.

Verizon’s data plans hover between $65-$75 (before discounts).

Postpaid plans: If you want access to Verizon’s “5G Ultra Wideband” network on your smartphone—the fastest 5G speeds you can get—you’ll need to cough up at least $80/month to Verizon. That’s the least you’ll pay when you add the $10 5G Ultra Wideband upgrade to your $70/month “Start Unlimited” plan, or pick up the $80/mo “Play More Unlimited” plan that includes 5G Ultra Wideband access.

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The true cost of 5G on AT&T: $75/mo

Prepaid plans: Like Verizon, AT&T describes its 5G services in two ways: ”5G,” which is its own version of just “really fast LTE,” and 5G+, which is its “super-fast gigabit speeds using mmWave technology” implementation. Only one of AT&T’s prepaid wireless plans can access anything 5G, and that’s the $75/mo “Unlimited Data Plus” plan.

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I haven’t seen anything to suggest that you can only access “5G,”and not “5G+”—AT&T doesn’t split the two terms in the descriptions for any of its plans—so I believe this is the way to go if you want the latter and a souped-up version of the 4G LTE you already have. That’s assuming, of course, that you don’t actually get slower speeds on 5G.

Data plans: This one’s easy. You can’t access 5G if you subscribe to AT&T’s “4GB” data plan for $50/mo.

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Postpaid plans: Every one of AT&T’s postpaid “unlimited” plans can access its 5G network(s). Prices range from $65/month for AT&T Unlimited Starter to $85/month for AT&T Unlimited Elite (which gets you +30GB of mobile hotspot data, HD streaming, HBO Max, and more mobile security features). Note, those prices include AT&T’s “Autopay” and “Paperless billing” discounts. So, really, these plans all cost $10 more normally.

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The true cost of 5G on T-Mobile: $40/mo (really, $50/mo)

Before we begin, a word about T-Mobile’s 5G implementation: The “Uncarrier” doesn’t differentiate between high- or lower-speed 5G (mmWave versus the “Nationwide” lower-band 5G that you should be used to hearing by now). It’s also building out 5G in its mid-band spectrum, which splits the difference between wild speeds-plus-low coverage and 4G LTE-like speeds-plus-higher coverage.

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All plans: You get access to T-Mobile’s 5G network—in whatever capacity it’s offered where you are—on any plan.

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This includes all prepaid plans, data plans, and postpaid plans. The cheapest you’ll be able to get 5G connectivity is through T-Mobile’s prepaid 10GB plan ($40/mo), and the cheapest “Unlimited” plan is its prepaid plan of the same name for $50/mo. Its postpaid plans start at $60/mo.

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VidCon is planning to return in summer 2021, and will allow people to attend digitally

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VidCon, an annual convention focused on digital creators, is tentatively planning to return to Anaheim, California next summer if conditions allow, but organizers are preparing to let people attend digitally for the first time.

The new digital option will allow people to purchase tickets for a number of live-streaming and “key fan-focused sessions” for those who don’t or can’t travel to the actual convention. The move comes after VidCon saw success in many of the digital sessions the convention held this year (referred to as VidCon Now) after the COVID-19 pandemic led to organizers deciding to cancel the actual in-person event.

Nearly 1 million people tuned into digital events held by VidCon over the last few months, according to general manager Jim Louderback, adding that nearly half of that audience was streaming from outside the United States.

“We’ve clearly demonstrated that VidCon transcends borders — more than 180 of them to be exact. Our new hybrid digital and IRL model will extend VidCon’s global reach with more new ways to be informed, entertained, and inspired than ever before.”

In order to reach a more international audience, VidCon’s digital portion will also program different panels and sessions in partnership with VidCon Mexico and VidCon Asia. These panels will be created in a country’s native language and will be scheduled for the appropriate time zones, according to a press release.

Alongside VidCon’s new digital plans, the organization is also introducing a rebrand that is meant to focus on all digital creators instead of honing in on YouTubers. This includes making VidCon Now events — those digital panels and sessions that took the place of a physical VidCon this past summer — year-round. VidCon Now, which includes speakers and experts from YouTube, Instagram, Twitch, TikTok, and more, will pick up again on October 27th.

“We started VidCon more than a decade ago to help strengthen and promote the explosion of creativity that was happening online,” co-founder Hank Green said in a press release. “We did that by bringing together the entire ecosystem: the creators who make amazing things, the fans who love them, and the industry that supports them.”

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Snapchat’s anime lens was a huge hit, Snap confirms

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Snapchat’s anime filter was used more than 3 billion times in the first week after it was released, Snap said today, confirming what we already knew: it was a huge hit.

The filter, which morphs its subject into an anime character, is just the latest in a line of fun AR lenses from Snapchat that have gone viral and helped drive usage on the platform. During its third quarter, Snapchat had 249 million daily users, up from 238 million last quarter. The company’s revenue was also up to $679 million, a 52 percent increase even as the pandemic chilled ad spending elsewhere.

There are signs that Snap’s growth is more robust than drive-by filter users. The average number of Snaps created each day is up 25 percent year over year, the company said (though it didn’t say exactly how many that is). Time spent watching shows on Snapchat also grew by 50 percent.

Snap called out the success of its AR features, in particular, when highlighting where it saw growth in the longer term. “The adoption of augmented reality is happening faster than we had previously anticipated, and we are working together as a team to execute on the many opportunities in front of us,” Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said in remarks alongside the company’s earnings release for the third quarter of 2020.

Though Snapchat tends to get less attention than other social networks, it’s among the bigger apps out there. Twitter reported having 186 million daily users last quarter, and TikTok reported in August that it had 100 million daily users in the US. (Snapchat has 90 million daily users in all of North America.) It’s still tiny compared to Facebook and its suite of apps, though. Instagram had 500 million daily users when it last provided an updated number in 2018.

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Synthetaic raises $3.5M to train AI with synthetic data

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Synthetaic is a startup workign to create data — specifically images — that can be used to train artificial intelligence.

Founder and CEO Corey Jaskolski’s past experience includes work with both National Geographic (where he was recently named Explorer of the Year) and a 3D media startup. In fact, he told me that his time with National Geographic made him aware of the need for more data sets in conservation.

Sound like an odd match? Well, Jaskolski said that he was working on a project that could automatically identify poachers and endangered animals from camera footage, and one of the major obstacles was the fact that there simply aren’t enough existing images of either poachers (who don’t generally appreciate being photographed) or certain endangered animals in the wild to train AI to detect them.

He added that other companies are trying to create synthetic AI training data through 3D worldbuilding (in other words, “building a replica of the world that you want to have an AI learn in”), but in many cases, this approach is prohibitively expensive.

In contrast, the Synthetaic (pronounced “synthetic”) approach combines the work of 3D artists and modelers with technology based on generative adversarial networks, making it far more affordable and scalable, according to Jaskolski.

Synthetaic elephants

Image Credits: Synthetaic

To illustrate the “interplay” between the two halves of Synthetaic’s model, he returned to the example of identifying poachers — the startup’s 3D team could create photorealistic models of an AK 47 (and other weapons), then use adversarial networks to generate hundreds of thousands of images or more showing that model against different backgrounds.

The startup also validates its results after an AI has been trained on Synthetaic’s synthesized images, by testing that AI on real data.

For Synthetaic’s initial projects, Jaskolski said he wanted to partner with organizations doing work that makes the world a better place, including Save the Elephants (which is using the technology to track animal populations) and the University of Michigan (which is developing an AI that can identify different types of brain tumors).

Jaskolski added that Synthetaic customers don’t need any AI expertise of their own, because the company provides an “end-to-end” solution.

The startup announced today that it has raised $3.5 million in seed funding led by Lupa Systems, with participation from Betaworks Ventures and TitletownTech (a partnership between Microsoft and the Green Bay Packers). The startup, which has now raised a total of $4.5 million, is also part of Lupa and Betaworks’ Betalab program of startups doing work that could help “fix the internet.”

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