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Shanghai’s lockdown is giving China’s online grocery apps a second chance

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Shanghai’s lockdown is giving China’s online grocery apps a second chance


But things started to take a downturn last year. Despite the hype and money, these companies struggled to make a profit as lockdowns eased and people simply went back to shopping in person. What’s worse, they were caught in China’s new fight against antitrust behavior. The Chinese government was quick to impose fines and pen editorials questioning the value of the industry.

As a result, the once-promising startups and big tech companies decided to cut back on their expansion plans, implement massive layoffs, or outright file for bankruptcy. DiDi and Ele.me, two successful tech companies that bet on online grocery as their new growth driver, decided to shut down those services. At least two more online grocery startups have closed their businesses in the last year. 

The latest lockdowns are giving the industry a second chance. With other Chinese cities like Beijing and Hangzhou also facing imminent lockdowns, millions of people are once again downloading these apps and relying on them on a daily basis. In fact, Dingdong’s app rose to third place in the App Store’s free app chart in China in the beginning of April.

The daily battle

While the luckier Shanghai residents may receive one-off free grocery packages from their employers or local governments, most people, like Song, needed to figure out a way to buy their own groceries. Some residents formed neighborhood groups through messaging apps, collecting everyone’s order and bulk-buying directly from nearby farms or food factories. 

But Song soon realized that buying groceries with all her neighbors means she didn’t get to make her own choices. She lives in an older residential neighborhood where over three-fourths of the people are seniors or families with children. While her neighbors are placing family-size orders for things like five pounds of pork, such purchases would take her forever to consume. 

The only other option for her, then, is the grocery apps. She frantically refreshes Dingdong, Hema, and Meituan Maicai every day to get a slot.

But with the lockdown interrupting the supply chain for many goods, including groceries, even placing an order on those apps requires luck and dedication. Like Black Friday shoppers waiting to bust the store doors open, Shanghai residents are swarming onto the apps at the designated time to try to buy as much as they can before the stocks run out in seconds. It can be stressful and frustrating. 

Li, a consultant in Shanghai who’s only using her surname because she wishes to stay anonymous, also got up early every morning for a week to try her luck with half a dozen different apps. But during the lockdown, she didn’t secure one successful order, while her mother, living under the same roof, managed to get three. There was one time when Li put hundreds of RMB worth of groceries into the shopping cart—yet when she came to the payment stage, the only thing left in stock was a bag of candies. 

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5G private networks enable business everywhere

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stock art of secure network


The manufacturing industry is exploring 5G technology at an accelerated pace, largely to enable AI-driven use cases such as closed-loop manufacturing, adaptive manufacturing, predictive analytics for maintenance, and extended reality (XR)-based worker training and safety, says Jagadeesh Dantuluri, general manager for private and dedicated networks at Keysight Technologies. “It’s not about a static assembly line performing the same action time and time again, but one that can change based on their needs,” he says. “Private networks essentially enable new business models in manufacturing.”

Yet, the benefits of 5G private networks extend beyond manufacturing. Because the technology offers more reliable connectivity, faster data rates and lower latency, and greater scalability, security, and network control than previous communications technologies, 5G private networks will drive innovations in many industrial and enterprise sectors.

The benefits of 5G private networks

A private cellular network is built on 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP)-defined standards (such as LTE or 5G), but it offers dedicated on-premise coverage. This is important for remote facilities where public networks do not exist, or where indoor coverage is not robust. A private network also makes exclusive use of the available capacity; there is no contention from other network users, as on a public network. Private operators can also deploy their own security policies to authorize users, prioritize traffic, and, most importantly, to ensure that sensitive data does not leave the premises without authorization.

​​The dedicated nature of 5G private networks coupled with a customized service, intrinsic control, and URLLC capabilities provides more reliable industrial wireless communication for a wide variety of use cases, Dantuluri says “Applications include wireless, real-time, closed-loop control and process automation, and AI-based production and AR/VR-based design for onsite and remote workers,” he explains. “In addition, low-cost connectivity allows sensors to become easily deployed in a wider variety of scenarios, allowing businesses to create innovative applications and collect real-time data.”

​The industrial sector is driving toward a massive digital transformation, and the integration of information-technology (IT) systems with operational-technology (OT) systems will speed up this process.  Digital technologies will also enable many new use cases, such as automated manufacturing.  

A 5G private network enables a facility to synchronize and integrate tracking data into its workflow, allowing production lines to be configured in real time, says Dantuluri. “Since the factory’s assembly lines and infrastructure, such as robotic arms, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs), and sensors, are wirelessly connected, configuring or moving assembly elements on demand is much easier. This use case demands highly reliable, low-latency wireless connectivity and coverage, and potentially high data rates in both the uplink and downlink, and maybe support for Time Sensitive Networks (TSN) in the future. This use case application can only be achieved with 5G private networks.”

Outside the industrial sector, 5G private networks enable mobile augmented-reality (AR) and virtual-reality (VR) applications, allowing, for example, engineers to view superimposed blueprints, soldiers to have heads-up displays, and businesses to have virtual meetings in the field or working remotely. “If a machine has to be repaired, and a technician or a factory worker has AR goggles, they can have technical information superimposed on the real-world device to see what is wrong,” says Dantuluri. “And the data center can send instructions about how to do the repairs, step by step.”

As enterprises realize the benefits of pervasive, low-latency, high-bandwidth, and secure connectivity, the applications of 5G private networks will expand. By the end of 2024, analysts expect investment in 5G private networks will add up to tens of billions of dollars. A separate analysis by the research arm of investment firm JP Morgan predicts that the global enterprise opportunity for 5G will exceed $700 billion by 2030.

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Why China is still obsessed with disinfecting everything

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Why China is still obsessed with disinfecting everything


As China grapples with its biggest-ever spike of covid cases, the government’s decision to keep pushing the narrative that surfaces pose a significant infection risk means time and money are being poured into the wrong things during a crisis, scientists say. Measures to stop airborne transmission are far more effective. 

The policy of prioritizing disinfection is part of a wider state-controlled narrative that’s politicizing the health crisis and is designed to legitimize the government’s response. It also plays into China’s favored narrative about covid’s origins: that it could have been imported into Wuhan through frozen food.

Diverging pandemic paths

The scientific debate about how much surfaces contribute to covid’s spread is pretty much over internationally. For example, a study from the University of Michigan, published in April 2022 in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, estimated that the chance of catching covid from a contaminated surface is 1 in 100,000—well below the benchmark researchers suggested as a tolerable risk. 

And while the risk isn’t zero, the vast majority of public health bodies, including the World Health Organization, have judged that it’s too low to warrant active measures except recommending hand-washing. Outside China, most countries long ago gave up encouraging people to disinfect things as a way to avoid covid. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance a full two years ago, in May 2020, to reflect the fact that it’s mostly unnecessary. 

Instead, the overwhelming consensus is that aerosols and droplets transmit the virus much more readily than surfaces. Indeed, the same April 2022 Michigan study found that airborne transmission is 1,000 times more likely than surface transmission.

“People only have the bandwidth to do so many protective health behaviors. It’s ideal for them to be focusing on the things that are going to have the biggest impact on reducing their risks,” says Amy Pickering, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. “And that would be mask-wearing, social distancing, avoiding crowded indoor spaces.”

The media and government in China often point to research to justify the continued fear of surface transmission. Studies carried out by researchers in Hong Kong, Japan, and Australia have found that covid viruses can survive days or weeks on various surfaces. 

But many have not been peer-reviewed, and anyway, these lab results don’t reflect real life, says Ana K. Pitol, a postdoctoral researcher at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the UK. “If you put a huge droplet inside a medium that protects the virus, and you put it inside a container, and you put it in an incubator, of course, it will survive many days, sometimes even weeks,” she says. “But the question we should be asking is how long it survives in a realistic situation.”

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I tried to buy an Olive Garden NFT. All I got was heartburn.

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I tried to buy an Olive Garden NFT. All I got was heartburn.


I wanted to plunk down my $20, but OpenSea didn’t accept credit cards. I would need to buy some of the cryptocurrency Ether to complete the transaction. Okay! I’m game. Ether in hand (or wallet, more precisely), I went back to OpenSea and tried to make a purchase. Except by the time I was ready, those initial drops had already seemingly sold out. The price had gone up. Way up. Secondary sellers, who perhaps saw the same Twitter threads I’d seen, were now trying to flip their OG NFTs. With grim resignation, I bought some more Ether and tried again.

That’s when I discovered gas fees, a service fee charged by miners to verify transactions. Being cheap, I lowballed. My transaction never went through. The price of Olive Gardens was still going up. I tried again, paying market rate this time. Success! Katie was going to be so happy.

Except … have you ever tried giving someone an NFT? I needed to pay even more in gas fees to make the transfer. All in, the jokey purchase I had initially thought would cost me $20, and later reassessed to maybe $75, ultimately set me back nearly 300 bucks.

But hey, my friend Katie was now the owner, kind of, of a JPEG of a photo of an Olive Garden in a mall in Louisville, Kentucky, on the Ethereum blockchain. What a great gift!

That is, it was a great gift until just over a week later, when the real Olive Garden’s attorneys sent OpenSea a takedown notice, and all those non-fungible Olive Gardens vanished into the, uh, ether. Poof.

Like I said, money is weird now. And so this issue dives into the way technology is shaping our financial future.

Whether it’s a biometric-based universal cryptocurrency meant to underpin Web3, cities built by Bitcoin, digital currencies that are replacing cash, or the way iBuying is transforming the housing market, technology is fundamentally changing the ways we buy, spend, and save money. Even the way we gamble.

We hope you enjoy this issue, and that it reveals something new to you about the present that helps you better understand and prepare for the future. Even if that’s just budgeting in your gas fees in advance.

Correction: An earlier version of this story cited a copyright notice, it was actually a trademark infringement notice.

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