24 Sep 2014
Wembley Stadium has seen it all: from England's sole World Cup triumph in 1966 to Live Aid in 1985 and FA Cup finals that have seen giants toppled and records broken. The stadium has just won the right to host the Euro 2020 final, so there's plenty more history to be made as well.
V3 was at Wembley on Tuesday to hear from EE about how it is working with the stadium to boost numerous aspects of its tech, from the rollout of 300Mbps 4G in 2015 to new contactless payment and mobile-ticketing systems.
While there, we snapped a few shots that give a glimpse into the technology behind the stadium that keeps everything ticking.
Wembley and EE are working to bring mobile ticketing and contactless payments to the stadium to reduce queues and improve the experience for fans.
The control centre for Wembley is used on match days by a raft of organisations including the police and fire services, as well as the stadium's own support staff, with a raft of machines ready for action.
The rise of social media means Wembley now monitors and displays messages from those at events, carefully screened of course. Also, if you look closely you can see the mouse pointer from the system between the two graphics.
The image below on the left shows the antennas used to broadcast mobile signal over the crowds at the stadium. The smaller white ones are used within the stadium corridors and crowd areas.
The picture on the right shows the inside of the base station rooms at the stadium where all four operators – Vodafone, EE, Three and O2 – have their kit. As with all server and base station rooms they're not very eye-catching locations, but they are fundamental to the running of Wembley.
What is perhaps more eye-catching is the news from EE that it has installed almost 300 LED sensors in the Wembley arch that, from 2015, will change colour based on social media sentiment or crowd noise, helping transform the iconic Wembley arch.
22 Sep 2014
For many years mobile operators have complained that their ability to make money has been curtailed. This has come from a combination of factors, chiefly falling revenues from phone, text and data services, and, conversely, the need to spend billions upgrading networks.
As such, the rollout of new services, such as 4G around the UK over recent years, has been seen as a chance for operators to finally start recouping some of these losses by charging consumers more for data.
However, there is one issue with this. Consumers still don't spend huge amounts of money. Well, not the amounts operators need to start turning over serious profits.
But, as businesses become increasingly mobile, there is a silver lining on the horizon in the form of 5G, which will take capacity, speed and coverage and improve them all massively. This could open a whole new possibility for telecoms operators to sell enhanced mobile services to businesses as a key part of their IT and communications needs.
This idea was espoused by Mischa Dohler, the chair professor in Wireless Communications at King's College London, while speaking at the 5G Huddle event in London on Monday, attended by V3.
His argument was that because the speeds and capacity of 5G are likely to be so far beyond the needs of consumers, many operators will gain more financial joy by focusing on B2B industries, such as oil and gas, construction, nuclear energy or transportation.
“The good news is that these sectors have lots of cash,” he added. "They all complain about a shortage of cash but really they have huge revenues and margins."
Dohler said the downside of pushing mobile services to businesses would be the high cost of entry to a new market, but he said that any incumbent or new players who do become established should be able to make good money.
"With a high entry barrier comes a high exit barrier, so unless you screw it up you shouldn't make a loss on this [5G]."
This will be music to the ears of telecoms operators, if it comes true.
V3 headed into the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday morning to witness one of the more challenging parts of BT's Superfast Cornwall project, bringing fibre to the Isles of Scilly. Situated miles off the shore of Cornwall, the islands needed an undersea cable to provide fibre internet.
The cable marks the first time fixed internet will be available on the islands, having relied on a radio link access service for many years, which offered just 2-3Mbps speeds. Once the fibre is up and running – likely before the end of the year – speeds of 60-80Mbps should be available.
While watching the deployment in progress, we snapped some pics as it unfolded, as the £3.7m project reached a milestone moment.
The deployment meant Porthcressa Beach was closed, but no doubt those on the islands were happy to forgo one day of sunbathing to let the internet come ashore.
Once the cable is on the beach it will be hooked into the network that is being built around the islands and then buried underground, to keep it safe and secure.
The Dibble & Grub café on the seafront of Porthcressa Beach is just one of many businesses to welcome the arrival of the fibre services. Gaz O’Neill, owner and vice chair of the Isles of Scilly council, said it would transform the lives of residents, and improve things for visitors, by finally offering fast, reliable internet access.
The deployment even drew a small crowd of onlookers, who watched the operation to bring fibre broadband to their island unfold.
For BT the rollout marked a major moment in its multi-year project to bring fibre to 95 percent of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, having spent three years planning the deployment, which involved dodging numerous shipwrecks around the islands.
Services should be online before the end of the year, as the residents of the five islands that make up the remote archipelago – St Mary's, St Agnes, Tresco, St Martin's and Bryher – can enjoy fixed internet access for the first time.
06 Jun 2014
As the world commemorates the bravery and sacrifices made by the Allied soldiers and airborne troops who took part in Operation Overlord 70 years ago today, the technology that made much of the invasion possible has also been celebrated.
BT, then the Post Office and a public organisation, was instrumental in laying a telecoms network right along the south coast of the UK and then over the Channel and on into Europe as the Allied forces marched towards victory.
BT head of heritage and archives David Hay explained more: “Preparations for the Normandy invasion required the laying of a new network of hundreds of miles of cable as well as the installation of switchboards, telephones and teleprinters at numerous points along the south coast of England.
“Once the invasion was under way, new cross-Channel cables were laid and, by VE-Day, Post Office engineers had made direct communication possible by telephone or teleprinter to all allied forces in north-west Europe.”
These efforts even earned the praise of General Eisenhower, supreme commander of allied forces in Europe, who wrote:
The build up of the necessary forces for the current operations has involved the construction of a vast network of communications radiating from key centers of vital importance in the United Kingdom. The greater part of this work has been undertaken by the engineers and staff of the General Post Office.
As well as this vital work, the Post Office also played an instrumental role in helping the Allied forces gather knowledge of the Nazi’s plans, thanks to the Colossus computer.
It was developed by telecoms research engineer Tommy Flowers, working at the Dollis Hill research station, now BT’s Adastral Park research laboratories. The computer first sprang to life on 5 February 1944 when it was let loose on messages that had been sent by German units and encrypted using the Lorenz machine.
The Colossus could read 5,000 characters a second, far in advance of anything else available at that time, and this meant it could take just four hours for it to find the first key in a code, the most important part in any code-breaking.
By the end of the war, it is estimated that Colossus had deciphered 63 million characters of German messages, helping shorten the war and save countless lives. Despite this, its existence was kept secret for 30 years after the war.
The organisation that represents the concerns of mobile network providers has lashed out at EC commissioner Neelie Kroes' comparisons between the dairy industry and mobile network operators.
Tom Phillips, chief government and regulatory affairs officer for the GSMA, said Ms Kroes' comments were "beyond the pail". He was referring to a press release published by the European Commission earlier this week, which inferred that the prices consumers pay for mobile services differ far too much throughout the EU.
"There are much smaller price differentials in other categories of basic goods and services in the European single market. For example a litre of milk can be bought for between €0.69 and €0.99 wherever they are in the EU, a price difference of 43 percent," it said.
Philips was intolerant to this comparison, striking back with some dairy comparisons: "Dairy producers are not rolling out 'next-generation' milk infrastructure that is central to European economic competitiveness," he stated.
He then continued to milk the issue: "Nor are they meeting consumer demands by offering people 'all you can drink' contracts."
Kroes wants EU consumers to have free choice over where they make calls, and suggests that the pastures in the US are much greener, with a single market policy for mobile network providers. After poring over the press release, Philips decided it curd not be a fair comparison, adding that that instead of moo-ving forward with even stricter regulation, the EC should consider "co-ordinating the release of spectrum made available through the digital dividend".
Also, after (semi-)skimming over the data the EC presented to make the point about price differences, we found that the information was also a couple of years past its sell-by date; only statistics from 2011 were available to make the point. We contacted the EC to see if any fresher data was ready for market, but there was none.
All we can say is that this issue has turned rather sour.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who thinks the EU is in a glass of its own
While flicking through today's government document concerning Britain's digital platform for growth, we spotted something that amused us.
In order to demonstrate the usage of the wireless spectrum, the report referred to an image produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica in 2001 (below). We forgot that Britannica existed, which wasn't helped by the fact that the company stopped publishing its physical editions last year.
It's nice to see such colourful imagery in what is otherwise a standard government report, but eagle-eyed V3 staffers spotted a few things that were missing from this formerly cutting-edge diagram.
For starters, as this diagram is intended to show the common uses of the wireless spectrum in the UK, the mention of VHF television was quite a surprise given that the UK stopped broadcasting VHF TV signals in 1985. DAB – which has been broadcasting for the best part of two decades on the VHF frequency alongside FM (this, thankfully, receives a mention) – is also notably absent. Perhaps it is a statement about the format's sluggish uptake.
Elsewhere, we see no sign of WiFi, which we would hesitantly say play a reasonably important role in the UK's wireless offering. It would be found somewhere in the SHF range, in case you were wondering. And while we do see reference to mobile phones through the use of the long-forgotten phrase "cellular phone", there is no talk of 4G in this particular visual demonstration.
Finally, it's good to see an old-fashioned cathode ray tube (CRT) TV getting its time in the spotlight; there's nothing quite like the glow of a CRT to bring out wistful thoughts of screen burn and square eyes.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who loves his cellular phone
While we enjoy a lovely, balmy summer (Is this right? – Ed) it's easy to forget that, as they say in Game of Thrones, Winter is Coming.
Ah, the crackle of a crisp winter’s night, eating hearty food, sitting in front of the telly without feeling guilty, running up astronomical heating bills…it’s part and parcel of the Great British Winter.
Of course, most people would rather do away with the huge bills we have to fork out to keep ourselves warm, especially when we’re often wasting energy on heating when we’re not even in, or it’s coming on too early or going off too late.
While this may be good news for the energy companies in theory, they’re actually making moves to simplify and improve our use of their services, both through smart metering technology, but also apps that allow us to run our heating more efficiently.
One such intiative that’s growing in size and awareness is the British Gas Connected Homes project run (obviously) by British Gas, which is centred around a mobile application called Remote Heating Control (RHC) that works on Android and iOS devices.
The app allows you to both control the timer for the heating in your home, and simply turn your heating on and off, from any location, so can ensure you’re not wasting money by pumping out heat when you’re not at home, or don’t really need it on.
Speaking with Kassir Hussain, the technology director of the British Gas Connected Homes project, it’s clear the firm is keen to end the issues seen by its customers around heating management, and it sees mobile technology as a key to this conundrum.
“How many times do you really look at your boiler interface? Most people just set it once and leave it and it’s the last thing on their mind to keep changing it, as they’re rushing around in and out of the house,” said Hussain.
“About £142 is wasted per year this way, and that’s a huge sum of money, so the RHC app should help reduce this: it doesn’t require any training and is easy to use, like most mobile apps.”
Installing the necessary kit on your boiler isn't cheap - a fully qualified engineer installation and the kit costs £229, although existing British Gas customers get a £30 discount. As this implies, the service is open to all homes, not just those with British Gas. The apps are free, though.
So far the firm has got about 20,000 units into people’s homes, but is hoping to increase this in the coming months and years by making people more aware of the capabilities on offer.
“We actually find people use it more when they’re just at home to adjust the temperature, whether in bed or in the living room, and this helps them better manage what they’re using. For some people the boiler is in an awkward place, under the stairs or in a cupboard, and they just can’t be bothered to alter it,” added Hussain.
While the idea of controlling your heating from your phone or tablet is a bit far out for most people, it’s clear British Gas is determined that it can revolutionse this, and Hussain makes a valid point as to the future of the project.
“In the future we’ll wonder how we did without connected home technologies, just like we can’t imagine the world without lightbulbs now. We need to get out there and make people understand why this technology is so important to them.”
Come the winter, perhaps there will be a few more home owners able to use technology to save themselves a few pounds, while they curl up on the sofa with a plate of sausage and mash and the Game of Thrones boxset on the TV.
On Monday we wrote a blog post looking at the EU roaming price cap from the mobile networks' standpoint and from the perspective of competition.
European Commission vice president Neelie Kroes' spokesperson Ryan Heath weighed in on the debate, commenting on our post and offering the EU's opinion on the matter and explaining where exactly they stand in regards to competition and a loss of income for the providers. Much of what Heath wrote reflects speeches made by Kroes in the past, but his thoughts succinctly sum up the EU's attitude towards roaming fees.
Heath said that the EU is interested in more than just the consumers, who will see 36 percent reductions in roaming charges in the EU, and maintained it was more about arbitrary charges which simply shouldn't exist:
"Roaming data still costs 45 times as much as domestic data- despite the 90 percent price cuts from EU regulation - I don't know any other business that gets to arbitrarily charge a 4500 percent mark-up for something that doesn't exist (the borders are 99.9 percent artificial), he wrote. "Companies need to charge for real value and they need to shift to data income."
"The only ways to avoid consumer disaster are to create a real single market where roaming doesn't exist as a concept (so the price caps are irrelevant) or have price caps," he continued.
He was willing to accept that there are some costs involved with creating agreements between carriers to service roaming customers, but he would not go as far to say that they account for extra roaming costs. "I have the sense that many companies like the idea of roaming charges because it allows them to either artificially reduce the prices of other services, or avoid tough internal reforms by padding their income," he wrote.
In September, the EU will outline several proposals for a digital single market, including an "EU passport" in which an EU-based carrier would be recognised in all other countries.
"We don't want to demonise the companies, but they can also assist in avoiding the impression of rip-offs by shifting to value-based pricing [such as charging extra for high-speed mobile broadband] and innovating with discounts to encourage people to use roaming services," Heath explained.
He said that having to intervene in this way is not ideal, but appears to be the only option: "We'd all prefer if the market just worked better on its own, but history shows that it doesn't," he said.
It will be fascinating to see how mobile operators respond to what could be seen as a hard reset on their pricing strategies; with potentially innovative new products competing for European consumers' cash.
Written by V3's Michael Passingham