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BT shows off Isles of Scilly fibre cable deployment

23 Jul 2014

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.

The beach was off limits as the internet arrived

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.

Cranes await the arrival of the fibre cable

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 Dibble and Grub cafe on Porthcressa Beach

 

The deployment even drew a small crowd of onlookers, who watched the operation to bring fibre broadband to their island unfold.

Onlookers watching the fibre cable deployment on the Isles of Scilly

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.

BT's Superfast Cornwall project reaches one of its most challenging moments

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.

Isles of Scilly taken from above The islands are to receive broadband from BT via an undersea cable

BT remembers historic role in D-Day landings

06 Jun 2014

omaha-beach-landing-craft

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.

Colossus code breaking machine at The National Museum of Computing

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.

Mobile networks body GSMA thinks EU milk comparisons are whey too unfair

08 Aug 2013

two-cows-ii

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

Government uses 12-year-old Britannica diagram to illustrate cutting edge mobile tech

30 Jul 2013

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.

Government wireless spectrum diagram makes brings out extreme feelings of nostalgia

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

British Gas sees mobile apps as key to energy saving future

05 Jul 2013

British Gas Remote Control Heating app in use

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.

British Gas Remote Control Heating app in use on an iPad

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.

EU seeks to avoid ‘consumer disaster’ with roaming price caps

03 Jul 2013

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

OCP makes its move with networking push

09 May 2013

A number of network cablesNot long ago, a few engineers from Facebook hatched a plan to rethink the way the company built its hardware.

Rather than buy pre-fabricated servers from vendors and plug them directly into a datacentre, they took a close look at close look at their own usage case and began to log what they did and didn't need in server hardware. Eventually, they were able to design a server that eliminated a number of unnecessary components and fashion a design perfectly suited for web applications.

Seeing how well this apporach worked, Facebook opted to make the idea public and the open compute project was born. The idea soon gained steam and before long OCP was being backed by some of the biggest names in the business.

Now, it seems that the idea is making the jump into the networking field. The OCP has unveiled its plans to launch a brainstorming session aimed at creating the blueprints for a no-frills networking switch that could compliment the OCP server platform.

If you're not sure as to the impact of this idea, just take a look at the early backers of the project. In addition to the likes of Intel and Facebook, networking firms such as Brocade and Netronome have signed on to support the project.

One of the big factors in spreading the OCP message is the rise of cloud computing services and the need for larger datacentres as providers scramble to accommodate demand. When under such pressure to scale, often commercial networking, storage and compute products are ill-suited for the job and contain a number of unwanted pieces.

This could be why the OCP has gained such traction, and could gain even further sway in the coming years as virtualisation and cloud computing make hardware setups less and less of a factor for the major buyers.

Natwest banking outage hits UK

06 Mar 2013

natwest-sign

An outage appears to have stricken customers of the Natwest banking network.

V3 staff have confirmed that the UK banking network is accessible as of Wednesday evening, locking customers out of the system and preventing transactions.

While Natwest and parent company RBS have yet to provide comment on the outage, reports have suggested that the issue is impacting users throughout the UK.

Natwest is no stranger to IT problems. In 2012 the company suffered a technical glitch which forced many of its branch offices to open late in order to compensate for a failed systems update. The issue lingered for several days and was later the subject of phishing scams.

V3 will provide further updates on the matter as information becomes available.

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