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Telecoms operators in Nigeria yesterday allayed fears over alarm raised by airline operators in the United States of possible disruption in aircraft  operations by the rollout of 5G network.

Recall that Chief Executive Officers of some of the largest airlines in the United States’ had raised the alarm over what they described as potential catastrophic disruption in the aviation industry if telecoms companies rolled out 5G services today in the US.

But the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecom Operators in Nigeria, ALTON, Engr Gbenga Adebayo, said concerns raised by major airlines in US against 5G were not new and still formed part of the conspiracy theories.

However, in a letter sent to senior officials in the Biden administration on Monday, the airline operators warned that thousands of aircraft could be grounded, causing commerce to “grind to a halt” with Americans stranded overseas if 5G is switched on near airport runways.

The airlines urged US officials to delay deployment of the service within two miles of affected airport runways.

AT&T and Verizon have already twice delayed the launch of their new C-Band 5G service due to warnings from airlines and aeroplane manufacturers concerned that the new system might interfere with their ability to gauge altitude.

“We are writing with urgency to request that 5G be implemented everywhere in the country except within the approximate two miles of airport runways as defined by the FAA on January 19, 2022,” the letter reads.

The letter was signed by the chief executives of American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, FedEx Express, UPS Airlines, among others.

It was addressed to Brian Deese, director of national economic council; Jessica Rosenworcel, chairwoman, Federal Communications Commission; Pete Buttigieg, transportation secretary and Steve Dickson, Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, administrator.

The CEOs highlighted the risk of “economic calamity” should Verizon and AT&T proceed as planned with implementing the technology before the necessary upgrades and changes have been made to aviation equipment.

They warned that disruptions to aeroplanes’ instruments could ground “huge swaths” of the US fleet, subjecting more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers to cancellations, diversions or delays.

“The ripple effects across both passenger and cargo operations, our workforce and the broader economy are incalculable. Every one of the passenger and cargo carriers will be struggling to get people, shipments, planes and crews where they need to be. To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt,” they added.

On Sunday, the FAA said it had cleared an estimated 45 percent of the U.S. commercial fleet to perform low-visibility landings at airports where the new 5G service would be deployed.

But the airlines are concerned that remaining limitations at those airports, as well as a large amount of uncertified equipment, could lead to the grounding of thousands of flights.

However, telecom operators in Nigeria are seeing the situation differently, as the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecom Operators in Nigeria, ALTON, Engr Gbenga Adebayo, said such alarms were not new as they formed part of the conspiracy theories against the 5G network.

He said the concerns in US were in conflict with developments in many parts of Europe where 5G was fully operational and might not also hold any effect in Nigeria, where several studies were conducted before licences were given out to operators who will deploy the services.

“I am aware of concerns in US against the effects of 5G deployments within some miles of the airport runways. These are not new developments but similar reports in Europe are in conflict with their position.

”Even in Germany, there has not been any report that the deployment of 5G has any effect to signals in their airports. Of course the World Health Organisation, WHO has repeatedly assured there are no health hazards from 5G to anybody or institutions that come in contact with it.

“For us as operators in Nigeria, we are not expecting any issues because before we were granted licenses, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC carried out several studies and must have had series of collaborations with regulator counterparts in the airline operation before concluding plans on 5G license auctioning,” he said.

All efforts to get the NCC to respond to the development proved abortive as the Director Public Affairs,  Dr Ikechukwu Adinde, neither picked his calls nor responded to the text message sent to him.
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Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) is buying “Call of Duty” maker Activision Blizzard (ATVI.O) for $68.7 billion in the biggest gaming industry deal in history as global technology giants stake their claims to a virtual future.

The all-cash deal announced by Microsoft on Tuesday, its biggest-ever acquisition, will bolster its firepower in the booming videogaming market where it takes on leaders Tencent (0700.HK) and Sony (6758.T).

It also represents the American multinational’s bet on the “metaverse”, virtual online worlds where people can work, play and socialize, as many of its biggest competitors are already doing.

“Gaming is the most dynamic and exciting category in entertainment across all platforms today and will play a key role in the development of metaverse platforms,” Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella said.

Microsoft’s offer of $95 per share represents a premium of 45 per cent to Activision’s Friday close. Its shares were up 27 per cent at $83.35 in early trading, still a steep discount to the offer price, reflecting concerns the deal could get stuck in regulators’ crosshairs.

Microsoft has so far avoided the type of scrutiny faced by Google and Facebook but this deal, which would make it the world’s third largest gaming company, will put them on lawmakers’ radars said Andre Barlow of the law firm Doyle, Barlow & Mazard PLLC.

“Microsoft is already big in gaming,” he said.

The tech major’s shares were down 0.7 per cent in early trading.

The deal comes at a time of weakness for Activision, maker of games such as “Overwatch” and “Candy Crush”. Before the deal was announced, its shares had slumped more than 37 per cent since reaching a record high last year, hit by allegations of sexual harassment of employees and misconduct by several top managers.

The company is still addressing those allegations and said on Monday it had fired or pushed out more than three dozen employees and disciplined another 40 since July.

CEO Bobby Kotick, who said Microsoft reached out to him for a possible buyout, would continue to be the CEO of Activision following the deal.

In a conference call with analysts, Microsoft boss Nadella did not directly refer to the scandal but talked about the importance of culture in the company.

“It’s critical for Activision Blizzard to drive forward on its renewed cultural commitments,” he said, adding “the success of this acquisition will depend on it.”

‘METAVERSE ARMS RACE’

The global gaming market was valued at $173.70 billion in 2021, and is expected to grow to $314.40 billion by 2027, according to research firm Mordor Intelligence.

Microsoft can already claim a significant beachhead in the sector as one of the big three console makers. It has been making investments including buying “Minecraft” maker Mojang Studios and Zenimax in multi-billion dollar deals in recent years.

It has also launched a popular cloud gaming service, which has more than 25 million subscribers.

Executives talked up Activision’s 400 million monthly active users as one major attraction to the deal and how vital these communities could play in Microsoft’s various metaverse plays.

Activision’s library of games could give Microsoft’s Xbox gaming platform an edge over Sony’s Playstation, which has for years enjoyed a more steady stream of exclusive games.

“The likes of Netflix have already said they’d like to foray into gaming themselves, but Microsoft has come out swinging with today’s rather generous offer, which would make Microsoft the third largest gaming company in the world,” said Sophie Lund-Yates, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

Tech companies from Microsoft to Nvidia have placed big bets on the so-called metaverse, with the buzz around it intensifying late last year after Facebook renamed itself as Meta Platforms to reflect its focus on its virtual reality business.

“This is a significant deal for the consumer side of the business and more importantly, Microsoft acquiring Activision really starts the metaverse arms race,” David Wagner, Equity Analyst and Portfolio Manager at Aptus Capital Advisors said.

“We believe the deal will get done,” he said, but cautioned: “This will get a lot of looks from a regulatory standpoint.”

REUTERS
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Elon Musk

Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) shareholders urged a judge on Tuesday to find Elon Musk coerced the company’s board into a 2016 deal for SolarCity and asked that the chief executive be ordered to pay the electric vehicle company one of the largest judgments ever of $13 billion.

“This case has always been about whether the acquisition of SolarCity was a rescue from financial distress, a bailout, orchestrated by Elon Musk,” said Randy Baron, an attorney for shareholders, at the start of his closing arguments.

The closing arguments recounted key findings from a 10-day trial in July when Musk spent two days on the stand defending the deal.

The lawsuit by union pension funds and asset managers alleges that Musk strong-armed the Tesla board into approving the deal for the cash-strapped SolarCity, in which Musk was the top shareholder.

Musk has countered that the deal was part of a decade-old master plan to create a vertically integrated company that would transform energy generation and consumption with SolarCity’s roof panels and Tesla’s cars and batteries.

Evan Chesler, one of the lawyers representing Musk, told the hearing that the deal was not a bailout and SolarCity was far from insolvent and its finances resembled many high-growth tech companies.

“They were building billions of dollars of long-term value,” Chesler said of SolarCity.

The all-stock deal was valued at $2.6 billion in 2016, but since that time Telsa’s stock has soared.

Shareholder attorney Lee Rudy urged Vice Chancellor Joseph Slights of Delaware’s Court of Chancery to order Musk return the Tesla stock he received, which would be worth around $13 billion at its current price.

Musk said in court papers such an award would be at least five times the largest award ever in a comparable shareholder lawsuit and called it a “windfall” for plaintiffs.

Rudy said Slights should consider Musk’s contempt for the deposition and trial process, in which he repeatedly clashed with and insulted shareholder attorneys.

“It would be a windfall for Elon Musk if he got to keep shares he never should have gotten in the first place,” Rudy said.

Chesler called the request to order Musk to return the stock from the deal “preposterous” and said it ignored five years of unprecedented success at Tesla.

Tesla’s stock was flat at around $1,049.

Telsa acquired SolarCity as the electric vehicle maker was approaching the launch of its Model 3, a mass-market sedan that was critical to its strategy. Shareholders allege the deal was a needless distraction and burdened Tesla with SolarCity’s financial woes and debt.

Shareholders claim that despite owning only 22 per cent of Tesla, Musk was a controlling shareholder due to his ties to board members and domineering style. If plaintiffs can prove this, it increases the likelihood that the court will conclude the deal was unfair to shareholders.

Musk has consistently told the court that the Tesla board primarily handled the SolarCity deal and that he recused himself from price negotiations.

Musk repeatedly defended the SolarCity deal by saying the company had to be quickly acquired or find financing to solve its dangerous cash shortage.

Slights said last week he intends to retire in the coming months and a related shareholder lawsuit challenging Musk’s record pay package was transferred from Slights to another judge.

REUTERS
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Microsoft said late Saturday that dozens of computer systems at an unspecified number of Ukrainian government agencies have been infected with destructive malware disguised as ransomware, a disclosure suggesting an attention-grabbing defacement attack on official websites was a diversion. 

The extent of the damage was not immediately clear.

The attack comes as the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine looms and diplomatic talks to resolve the tense stand-off appear stalled.

Microsoft said in a short blog post that amounted to the clanging of an industry alarm that it first detected the malware on Thursday. That would coincide with the attack that simultaneously took some 70 government websites temporarily offline.

The disclosure followed a Reuters report earlier in the day quoting a top Ukrainian security official as saying the defacement was indeed cover for a malicious attack.

Separately, a top private sector cybersecurity executive in Kyiv told The Associated Press how the attack succeeded: The intruders penetrated the government networks through a shared software supplier in a so-called supply-chain attack in the fashion of the 2020 SolarWinds Russian cyberespionage campaign targeting the U.S. government.

Microsoft said in a different, technical post that the affected systems “span multiple government, non-profit, and information technology organizations.” It said it did not know how many more organizations in Ukraine or elsewhere might be affected but said it expected to learn of more infections.

“The malware is disguised as ransomware but, if activated by the attacker, would render the infected computer system inoperable,” Microsoft said. In short, it lacks a ransom recovery mechanism.

Microsoft said the malware “executes when an associated device is powered down,” a typical initial reaction to a ransomware attack.

Microsoft said it was not yet able to assess the intent of the destructive activity or associate the attack with any known threat actors. The Ukrainian security official, Serhiy Demedyuk, was quoted by Reuter s as saying the attackers used malware similar to that used by Russian intelligence. He is deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council.

AP
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Social media giant Facebook (FB.O), now known as Meta Platforms, faces a 2.3 billion pound plus ($3.2 billion plus) class action in Britain over allegations it abused its market dominance by exploiting the personal data of 44 million users.

Liza Lovdahl Gormsen, a senior adviser to Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) watchdog and a competition law academic, said she was bringing the case on behalf of people in Britain who had used Facebook between 2015 and 2019.

The lawsuit, which will be heard by London’s Competition Appeal Tribubal, alleges Facebook made billions of pounds by imposing unfair terms and conditions that demanded consumers surrender valuable personal data to access the network.

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, the law firm representing Lovdahl Gormsen, has notified Facebook of the claim.

Facebook said people used its services because it delivered value for them and “they have meaningful control of what information they share on Meta’s platforms and who with.”

The case comes days after Facebook lost an attempt to strike out an antitrust lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), one of the biggest challenges by the US government against a tech company in decades as Washington attempts to tackle Big Tech’s extensive market power.

“In the 17 years since it was created, Facebook became the sole social network in the UK where you could be sure to connect with friends and family in one place,” Lovdahl Gornsen said.

“Yet, there was a dark side to Facebook; it abused its market dominance to impose unfair terms and conditions on ordinary Britons, giving it the power to exploit their personal data.”

Lovdahl Gormsen alleges Facebook collected data within its platform and through mechanisms like the Facebook Pixel, allowing it to build an “all-seeing picture” of Internet usage and generate valuable, deep data profiles of users.

REUTERS
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Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk walks next to a screen showing an image of Tesla Model 3 car

Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) is “still working through a lot of challenges with the government” in India, its billionaire chief executive Elon Musk said on Twitter on Thursday, responding to a question on when it would launch its electric cars in the country.

Tesla had plans to begin selling imported cars in India last year and has been lobbying the government to slash import taxes on electric vehicles (EVs) before it enters the market. In October, it took its demands to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office.

Musk didn’t identify the “challenges” being worked on in his Twitter post.

The Indian market for premium EVs is still in its infancy and charging infrastructure is scarce. Just 5,000 of the 2.4 million cars sold in India last year were electric, of which a handful were luxury models.

India levies an import duty of as high as 100 per cent on imported cars, including EVs, which Musk has previously said are among the highest in the world. Analysts have said that at these rates Tesla cars would become too costly for many buyers, crimping sales.

Tesla’s demands for tax cuts – first reported by Reuters in July – have prompted objections from several local players, who say such a move would deter investment in domestic manufacturing.

Indian government officials are also divided over the US automaker’s demands. Some officials want the company to commit to local manufacturing before considering any tax breaks, but Tesla has indicated it first wants to experiment with imports.

Even as Tesla is holding out for a cut in import duties, luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz will start assembling the electric version of its flagship S-Class sedan, the EQS, in India later this year.

REUTERS
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Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) vehicle deliveries fell 8.1 per cent in 2021 to just under 4.9 million hurt by supply chain bottlenecks, the carmaker said on Wednesday, adding it expected the situation to remain volatile in the first half of this year.

By contrast, luxury carmaker BMW saw record deliveries of 2.21 million vehicles from the BMW brand, a success attributed in part to its ability to adapt to supply chain shortages.

Volkswagen said deliveries of fully electric or hybrid vehicles rose 73 per cent to over 369,000 vehicles, making up 7.5 per cent of total deliveries.

“Under unusually challenging circumstances, Volkswagen reached a satisfying sales result,” sales and marketing chief Klaus Zellmer said. “However, the huge effects of chips on production were not able to be fully compensated.”

BMW rival Daimler (DAIGn.DE) came out in between, with a smaller sales drop than Volkswagen of 5 per cent, but losing its crown to BMW for the first time in five years as the premium carmaker with most vehicles sold worldwide.

Performance for the premium carmakers was weakest in Europe, with BMW registering just 3.9 per cent growth and Daimler an 11.2 per cent drop.

Volkswagen saw the biggest sales fall in China, down 14.8 per cent.

North America was a strong market for all three carmakers. Daimler registered 0.4 per cent growth in the United States and BMW 19.5 per cent. Volkswagen saw 13 per cent growth in the region.

Sales of hybrid or fully-electric vehicles rose across the industry, particularly in Europe, where they constituted between a fifth and a quarter of deliveries – but remained a small proportion of total global sales.

REUTERS
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California is reevaluating Tesla Inc’s (TSLA.O) Full Self-Driving (FSD) test program, to determine if the electric-car maker’s software should fall under its motor vehicle department’s autonomous vehicle regulations, the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday.

FSD is an advanced driver assistance system that handles some driving tasks, but Tesla says it does not make vehicles completely autonomous. The features “require a fully attentive driver”, according to the company.

If Tesla’s cars are deemed autonomous by California, state laws would require it to disclose all crashes on public roads, even when under manual control. Those reports are made public, as is data on self-driving systems being disengaged.

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) informed Tesla about the regulator’s review last week, the Los Angeles Times said.

“Recent software updates, videos showing dangerous use of that technology, open investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the opinions of other experts in this space prompted the reevaluation,” the DMV said, according to the report.

The DMV and Tesla did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

In October last year, Tesla vehicles with the then latest 10.3 FSD software repeatedly provided forward collision warnings when there was no immediate danger, according to video postings of beta users. However, Tesla fixed the software within a day.
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Japan’s Sony Group Corp (6758.T) plans to launch a company this spring to examine entering the electric vehicle market, looking to harness its strengths in entertainment and sensors to play a bigger role in next-generation mobility.

The new company, Sony Mobility Inc, comes as the Japanese tech giant is “exploring a commercial launch” of electric vehicles, Sony chairman and president Kenichiro Yoshida told a news conference, speaking ahead of the CES technology trade fair in the United States.

“With our imaging and sensing, cloud, 5G and entertainment technologies combined with our contents mastery, we believe Sony is well positioned as a creative entertainment company to redefine mobility,” he said.

Although its once-dominant position in consumer electronics has been eroded by Asian rivals like South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co (005930.KS), Sony still has an arsenal of sophisticated technology in areas such as sensors critical to autonomous driving.

It also remains one of the world’s biggest entertainment companies, home to prominent video game and movie franchises. Audio and entertainment systems are increasingly a focus for next-generation vehicles.

Shares in Sony jumped 4.2 per cent in Tokyo after the electric vehicle plans were announced, easily outpacing a flat Nikkei index (.N225).

Yoshida unveiled a prototype sport utility vehicle (SUV), the VISION-S 02, which uses the same electric vehicle platform as the previously announced VISION-S 01 coupe that began testing on public roads in Europe from December 2020.

REUTERS
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A Porsche Taycan is displayed at a car show in Oslo, Norway.

Electric cars made up nearly two thirds of Norway’s new sales in 2021, with Tesla the top selling automobile brand overall, as the country pursues its goal of becoming the first to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars.

While Norway, with a population of 5.4 million, has the world’s highest proportion of electric vehicles, China with its 1.4 billion people is by far the biggest overall car market.

Oil-producing Norway has encouraged the switch to zero emission cars by exempting battery electric vehicles (BEVs) from taxes imposed on internal combustion engines (ICE).

This tax break is expected to help drive the proportion of overall electric sales as high as 80 per cent in 2022, ahead of a deadline to end petrol and diesel powered car sales by 2025.

Overall new sales in Norway rose by 25 per cent in 2021 to a record 176,276 cars, of which 65 per cent were fully electric. This market share was up from 54 per cent in 2020.

While small, affluent Norway is seen as a key market in which to gain a foothold for new BEV players, including China’s Nio and Swedish Volvo Cars (VOLCARb.ST) affiliate Polestar.

Tesla (TSLA.O) had an 11.6 per cent share of Norway’s overall car market in 2021, making it the number one brand for the first time on a full-year basis ahead of Germany’s Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) with 9.6 per cent, the Norwegian Road Federation (NRF) said on Monday.

The US automaker on Sunday reported quarterly deliveries far exceeding Wall Street estimates, riding out global chip shortages as it ramped up China production, which lifted its shares to a one-month high on Monday.

The Tesla Model 3 was the single most popular model of the year in Norway ahead of Toyota’s (7203.T) hybrid RAV4, the sole car among the top-10 with an internal combustion engine, and Volkswagen’s (VOWG_p.DE) electric ID.4 in third place.

Industry representatives said they expect EV sales to grow to as much as 80 per cent of the total market in Norway in 2022, although supply chain problems could put the brakes on this.

“We believe we will exceed 80 per cent electric cars next year,” said Christina Bu who heads the Norwegian EV Association.

“But there is big uncertainty in that forecast, and it is dependent on the shipping conundrum – many car producers have delivery problems,” she added.

WELCOMING

“Norway is the country with the biggest openness to EVs, the biggest understanding of what it is to drive an EV and the most welcoming for having an alternative,” Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath told Reuters.

Polestar’s luxury sedan was the 10th most popular car model in Norway in 2021 and it will debut its Polestar 3 SUV in 2022.

“To launch this premium SUV … will definitely change the way people will perceive Polestar so I have really big expectations for moving the brand forward,” Ingenlath said.

Chinese EV makers have been looking to push up exports in line with Beijing’s ambition to build a world-class auto industry and compete with traditional auto firms.

Nio launched lavish showrooms in central Oslo in 2021, its first overseas, aiming to sell its ES8 sport-utility vehicles and ET7 sedans as part of plans to expand globally.

It also plans charging and battery swapping stations.

“Our swapping station strategy we will expand quite strongly (in 2022),” Marius Hayler, head of Nio Norway, said, adding that he expects some 75 per cent of overall car sales to be electric in 2022.

While tax exemptions help cut emissions of greenhouse gases, they cost the state 30 billion Norwegian crowns ($3.41 billion) in lost revenue last year, finance ministry estimates show.

So the ruling centre-left coalition plans to gradually start taxing the most expensive BEVs from 2023, while taxes on petrol, diesel and hybrids are rising this year.


REUTERS