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Chinese officials declare intention to become network superpower, tout glorious 5G rollout that’s smaller than local carriers’ claims • The Register

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China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology had a busy Monday as it declared the country’s intention to be both a manufacturing and a network superpower, and claimed progress towards the latter goal is illustrated with some seemingly odd statistics.

Liu Liehong, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, told reporters that China’s 13th Five-Year Plan, enacted in 2015, delivered a great leap forward in networking capabilities.

The minister claimed the Middle Kingdom has already “built the world’s largest information and communication network.” Under the last plan, Liehong stated that China’s fibre-optic broadband users increased from 56 per cent of connections to 94 per cent since 2015, while gigabit capable passive optical networks now cover more than 120 million households. The minister said the digital gap between rural and urban areas is significantly reduced, by an unspecified amount.

4G base stations in China account for more than half of the global total, he claimed, while the combined reach of 4G and optical fiber means 99 per cent of China’s administrative villages are connected to the ‘net.

As for 5G, Leihong said 792,000 5G base stations have opened and the country boasts 260 million 5G mobile terminal connections.

The minister’s 5G numbers are smaller than those reported late last month by three of China’s big telcos. China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom said they added more than 300 million 5G subscriptions in 2020 (compared to Leihong’s figure of 260 million in total) and more than a million new 5G-enabled base transceiver stations (Leihong offered a figure of 792,000).

More claims abound. End-to-end user experience speed of fixed broadband and mobile networks reached 51.2Mbps and 22.8Mbps respectively, a seven-fold increase compared to 2015, it’s claimed.

When compared to an unnamed international speed testing agency, Liehong said China’s fixed broadband ranked 18th among 176 countries and regions and the mobile speed ranked 4th among 139 countries and regions.

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Leihong also trumpeted falling connectivity prices in the Middle Kingdom, claiming that in the second half of 2020 average mobile network traffic tariffs dropped by more than 10 per cent, thanks to 5G. He also quoted Global Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) data reporting that average monthly expenditure of mobile communication in China is less than US$6, compared to a global average of US$11.36.

Earlier that day, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued the declaration positioning China toward a role as a dual networking and manufacturing power. Xiao Yaqing, Minister and Secretary of the Party Leadership Group and Minister said in the document that under the 14th five-year plan China “strives to write a new chapter in the construction of a manufacturing and network power.”

Yaqing justified the claim to rise in power by pointing to China’s 30 per cent of global manufacturing share and calling the country’s optical fiber and 4G networks as “the world’s largest.” Yaqing said China continues to keep ahead in global tech by building on toward 5G commercialization. ®

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2021 iPhone photography awards – in pictures | Technology

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The 14th annual iPhone photography awards offer glimpses of beauty, hope and the endurance of the human spirit. Out of thousands of submissions, photojournalist Istvan Kerekes of Hungary was named the grand prize winner for his image Transylvanian Shepherds. In it, two rugged shepherds traverse an equally rugged industrial landscape, bearing a pair of lambs in their arms.

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With Alphabet’s legendary commitment to products, we can’t wait to see what its robotics biz Intrinsic achieves • The Register

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Alphabet today launched its latest tech startup, Intrinsic, which aims to build commercial software that will power industrial robots.

Intrinsic will focus on developing software control tools for industrial robots used in manufacturing, we’re told. Its pitch is that the days of humans having to manually program and adjust a robot’s every move are over, and that mechanical bots should be more autonomous and smart, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and leaps in training techniques.

This could make robots easier to direct – give them a task, and they’ll figure out the specifics – and more efficient – the AI can work out the best way to achieve its goal.

“Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications,” said CEO Wendy Tan White.

“Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”

Tan White – a British entrepreneur and investor who was made an MBE by the Queen in 2016 for her services to the tech industry – will leave her role as vice president of X, Alphabet’s moonshot R&D lab, to concentrate on Intrinsic.

She earlier co-founded and was CEO of website-building biz Moonfruit, and helped multiple early-stage companies get up and running as a general partner at Entrepreneur First, a tech accelerator. She is also a board trustee of the UK’s Alan Turing Institute, and member of Blighty’s Digital Economic Council.

“I loved the role I played in creating platforms that inspired the imagination and entrepreneurship of people all over the world, and I’ve recently stepped into a similar opportunity: I’m delighted to share that I’m now leading Intrinsic, a new Alphabet company,” she said.

The new outfit is another venture to emerge from Google-parent Alphabet’s X labs, along with Waymo, the self-driving car startup; and Verily, a biotech biz. ®

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Charles River to create 90 new jobs at Ballina biologics site

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Charles River is expanding its testing capabilities in Ballina as part of its partnership with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca.

Contract research organisation Charles River Laboratories is planning an €8m site expansion in Ballina to facilitate batch release testing for Covid-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca.

The expansion at the Mayo site will create an additional 1,500 sq m of lab space and 90 highly skilled jobs in the area over the next three years.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

The company provides longstanding partners AstraZeneca with outsourced regulated safety and development support on a range of treatments and vaccines, including testing and facilitating the deployment of Vaxzevria for Covid-19 and Fluenz for seasonal infleunza.

The latest investment follows earlier expansions at the Ballina site and Charles River recently announced plans to establish a dedicated laboratory space to handle testing of SARS-CoV-2 and other similar pathogens that cause human disease.

“We are incredibly proud of the transformational changes we have implemented on site and the role that Charles River has played in supporting the safe and timely roll-out of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine,” said Liam McHale, site director for Charles River Ballina.

“Throughout the pandemic, our site remained fully operational while keeping our employees safe and having a positive impact on human health. Our expanded facility will provide us with the increased capacity needed to continue the essential services we provide to our clients.”

Charles River acquired the Ballina facility, which focuses on biologics testing, in 2002. The company employs 230 people at its two facilities in Ireland, including the Mayo site and a site in Dublin, established in 2017, which serves as the EMEA and APAC headquarters for the company’s microbial solutions division.

IDA Ireland is supporting the expansion. Mary Buckley, executive director of the agency, said Charles River is an “employer of long standing” in Co Mayo.

“The enhancement of its product lines and the development of additional capability at the Ballina facility is most welcome,” she added. “Today’s announcement is strongly aligned to IDA Ireland’s regional pillar and its continued commitment to winning jobs and investment in regional locations.”

Dan Wygal, country president for AstraZeneca Ireland, added: “Our Covid-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, undergoes extremely robust safety and quality testing prior to becoming available for patients. We are committed to bringing safe, effective vaccines to Ireland and other markets as quickly as possible, and Charles River will continue to be an important partner in this regard.”

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