Microsoft is betting on LTE to disrupt portable PC market
Photo Credit: Reuters

Microsoft is betting big on cellular coverage. In a tie-up with wireless-chip maker Qualcomm, the tech giant plans to integrate LTE services via its Windows 10 operating system for ultra-thin PCs - called Always Connected PCs (ACPCs) - with battery life of up to 20 hours.

LTE is a 4G mobile communications standard which offers data speeds that are up to 10 times higher than 3G speeds.

"The network is moving to the cloud, just like storage and computing has," Terry Myerson, executive vice-president of Microsoft's windows and devices unit, told Business Insider on the sidelines of the Consumer Electronics Show 2018 in Las Vegas.

He compared it to the rise of cloud services offered by Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services.

According to Myerson, cellular speeds are increasing so quickly that they may soon surpass WiFi speeds. In addition, most of the world now has access to cellular coverage.

"[Always Connected PCs] bring together the best of mobile and the best of the Windows PC," said Matt Barlow, Microsoft's corporate vice-president for windows and devices.

Barlow said that all APCP's need to have at least 13 hours of battery life and an in-built LTE cellular modem. He said the Surface Pro with LTE announced last week was the first step towards a new future for the PC.

Many users are reluctant to carry their laptops around because of battery life concerns and the risk of not finding WiFi hotspots. Microsoft thinks a portable PC with an LTE modem would solve this problem.

Many hardware manufacturers have already joined the APCP bandwagon. While HP and Asus announced their APCPs late last year, Lenovo announced its own $799 device at the Consumer Electronics Show 2018 in Las Vegas earlier this month.

Experts see these devices facing competition from Apple LTE devices such as the iPad Pro.

This is Microsoft's second attempt to disrupt the portable PC market. In 2012, it had released a Surface RT tablet that promised better battery life and solid performance.

However, the device wasn't a popular choice because it operated on a custom Windows OS that could only run limited apps from the Windows Store. In 2013, Microsoft took a $900 million write-down on the Surface RT. The company has subsequently released upgrades of the Surface tablet.

Microsoft's 'predictable' IoT cloud

In a separate development, Microsoft has said enterprise customers can now use its Azure IoT Hub platform to manage and auto-scale their IoT (internet-of-things) solutions as they deploy IoT projects.

Azure IoT Hub is a fully-managed service that enables reliable and secure bidirectional communications between millions of IoT devices and a solution back-end.

"The flexibility of Azure IoT Hub to enable customers to start small, paying only for the amount of IoT Hub capacity needed at any point along the device deployment curve, helps drive predictability in the cost of an IoT solution," Steve Busby, an Azure IoT Global expert, wrote in a blog post.

Busby noted, however, that the potentially irregular rate of device and message growth in an IoT solution does pose a unique challenge for operations.

"When the number of messages ingested from devices in a given day exceeds the limit of the chosen IoT Hub capacity, the IoT Hub will begin to reject messages until either the IoT Hub is scaled up, or the time rolls over into the next day (UTC time)," the expert explained.

Microsoft has built a sample solution for this problem that automatically scales up the Hub after reaching a specific threshold, said Busby.

The sample is published on the Azure-Samples website.

Microsoft leverages what Busby calls the "Singleton Orchestrator pattern of the Azure Durable Functions framework" for the scaling solution.

The key benefit of this pattern is the ability to ensure that exactly one instance of the scaling solution for a given IoT Hub is running at a time, he said.

"That frees us from having to worry about the possible race conditions of multiple instances of our scaling function running concurrently," Busby said.

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