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Ofcom announces shock communications discovery

23 Jul 2014

Who would have thought that both mobile and internet services are now considered essential by UK consumers?

While Ofcom drew the line at revealing that grass is indeed green, the organisation did disclose that its latest study shows UK consumers believe they can't forgo the comforts of the web or a shiny smartphone.

The study is part of Ofcom's continued work to ensure that consumers receive good value for money from various communications services.

While the term ‘essential' is banded around a fair amount – describing anything from desserts to hair products – the study reached a consensus that essential refers to the need to contact the emergency services, or just keep in touch with family and friends.

More than 60 percent of consumers rated voice services as the most essential, while 59 percent said mobile voice or text services were just as important. Fifty-seven percent of consumers claimed internet access was their most important communication service.

Ofcom also explored the adoption of essential communications services. Unsurprisingly, the research found that 95 percent of UK households have at least one mobile phone, while more than 80 percent have a landline and internet access.

Given that these communications services are considered essential, it is reasonably positive that only 14 percent of consumers claim to have difficulties paying for them. Although 45 percent of the people surveyed have admitted to cutting back on luxuries to ensure they can afford mobile and internet payments.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom's Consumer Group director, declared that it was encouraging that the majority of people do not struggle to pay for various communications services. But added: "It's important that help is available for those who do."

Google Fiber UK plans dismissed by solid statement

21 Jul 2014

While the US is benefitting from Google's 1Gbps fibre service, called Fiber, UK citizens will sadly be left behind as the search giant confirms that it has no serious plans to bring its Fiber service to British shores.

Last week, a (clearly unreliable) source informed The Telegraph that Google was in talks with British fibre specialist CityFibre, with the intention of extending the Google Fiber project beyond the US and over to Blighty.

Unfortunately, this discussion broke down as concerns were voiced that CityFibre's existing partnership with BSkyB would be threatened. Despite this curveball, optimistic fibre fans held out hope that Google would lavish the UK with its full-fibre network.

Rumours remained in circulation until a Google spokesperson shot them down telling Engadget: "We have informal conversations with other telecom companies all the time. But we've never had any serious planning discussions about bringing Google Fiber to Britain."

This is a shame as Google Fiber, currently operating in four US cities and with plans to extended it to cover another 34, is a service that could well appeal to those stuck with slow broadband.

What makes the Google Fiber networks so coveted is that they use fibre-optic cabling for the entire network to deliver speeds of 1000Mbps. Comparatively, most of BT's fibre network delivers a 'mere' 76Mbps and rely on old copper wires to connect homes to the street-based cabinets.

Nevertheless there are some fibre projects in the works. In a bid to reduce their dependency on BT Openreach networks, a joint venture between BSkyB, TalkTalk and CityFibre aims to establish a 1Gbps city-wide fibre networking in York.

While the three companies have a vision to roll out the service to other UK cities, for the immediate future Britain has no alternative except to mourn the lack of Google Fiber.

 

Germany breaks Brazilian hearts and Twitter records to boot

09 Jul 2014

While Germany’s stupefying 7-1 destruction of Brazil in the World Cup semi-final in their own back yard sent footballing records tumbling, it also helped break two fairly notable Twitter records, which show how big the social network has now become.

As users around the world watched agog as the goals flew in, Twitter exploded. A truly staggering 35.6 million tweets about the company were posted, making it the single most discussed sporting event of all time on the platform.

This easily beat the 24.9m tweets sent about the Super Bowl earlier in 2014. Not only that, but the moment the fifth goal nestled in the back of the net Twitter exploded once again, helping smash the tweet per minute (TPM) record with more than half a million posts.

As the Guardian notes this is by far and away the largest ever number of tweets about one event to be sent in a minute, surpassing numerous events such as Usain Bolt's gold-medal 200m sprint peaked at 80,000 tweets per minute, and Beyoncé's Super Bowl half-time show in 2013 at 268,000 tweets per minute.

A real-time map of messages on Twitter as they were posted also gives some indication of where in the world the result left the biggest impact: unsurprisingly Brazilians were rather vocal about the result.

Samsung Brazil lost $36m worth of phones and devices in armed robbery

08 Jul 2014

A sophisticated gang of criminals have taken around $36m worth of hardware, smartphones and other devices from Samsung in Brazil.

Samsung confirmed the theft in a statement to V3 and reported that there were no casualties. "It is regrettable the incident took place," it said. "However, it is fortunate that there were no casualties. The police are currently investigating the incident, and we will fully co-operate with the police authorities and will make utmost efforts to resolve this issue."

According to a detailed report from Reuters, a group of around twenty people took part in a sophisticated armed robbery that began with the criminals the taking over a staff bus. Hostages were taken and around 100 or so workers were restrained while a group of people drove vans onto the Samsung site, filled them with hardware and then drove off. Around 40,000 Samsung products were taken away in seven trucks.

Reuters said that the police report reads like the plot of a Hollywood movie. Local media has CCTV that shows people in dark clothing and balaclavas moving the stolen hardware into trucks.

"After stopping the shuttle on its way to the factory, seven armed assailants took over the vehicle while colleagues took all but two of the eight employees originally on board to a remote location, where they were set free," it reports.

"With the coast clear, the attackers then allowed 13 other culprits, driving the getaway trucks, into the factory. The robbers, communicating with one another by radio and cell phones, then proceeded to load the vehicles with the loot."

Samsung hardware includes a Find my Mobile feature, but we do not yet know if the firm will use it itself. 

Technology hardware robberies are increasing, as are the scale and scope of virtual robberies and data heists. Virtual assaults affected 552 million web users in 2013, including 40 million at retailer Target alone.

EU Right to be Forgotten mess sees Google censoring BBC, Guardian

03 Jul 2014

gavel-keyboard

The moment the European Court of Justice ruled that the people of Europe do have a right to be forgotten, the warning bells sounded. What on earth would such a woolly, hard-to-define ruling actually mean in the digital age?

It turns out, as many warned, it’s effectively creating a strange, quasi-censorship system that is forcing Google to remove links to news articles that almost certainly deserve to be in the public domain.

Google protested hard against the ruling but ultimately it must comply with the law. So it has chosen to start removing articles from its indexes, and letting the firms involved know. So far the BBC and The Guardian have reported that pieces have been removed from Google, such as a column by Robert Peston commenting on  bankers' woes during the 2007 financial crisis.

It is not clear who made the requests, or why, but Google has decided that it must remove them. It could have possibly deferred the decisions to a legal authority, but instead has chosen to become the judge and jury of the requests it receives.

In many ways this isn’t Google’s fault. With over 50,000 requests piling up, it probably felt compelled to start making some decisions. However, the precedent is worrying.

Like it or loathe it, Google’s reach is huge, and removing a result from the index is a very good way of ensuring bad news is hidden away. While for some there may well be a legitimate reason to want a result removed, for most cases the motives could well be more questionable.

It's already been reported that some have asked for links regarding stories of tax dodgers, paedophiles and dodgy doctors to be removed from the Google search index. Again, the motives for this could come from an honest, understandable stance, but the outcome is worrying.

In effect, the European courts seem to have ended up creating a system of censorship, but rather than being the state that controls it, it is the people that have the right to try and hide themselves, with Google seemingly happy to process requests without question.

There are two points to consider though: firstly, the pressure this situation is creating for the EU could force it to amend its ruling. Secondly, with so many online outlets writing about the articles that are taken down, we could well see the Streisand effect come into play.

Perhaps Google is hoping for both outcomes, in order to show the EU courts how absurd the decision is proving.

US says no to warrantless mobile phone snooping, while UK court finds Andy Coulson guilty of hacking

26 Jun 2014

Mobile phone users can expect a little more privacy, perhaps, thanks to legal moves in the US and UK.

Across the Atlantic the Supreme Court has found that an automatic search of an arrested person's mobile phone is against the Fourth Amendment. It said, rather than search a phone like they would a pocket, the authorities should apply for a warrant [PDF].

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr said the arguments put forward by the US government in favour of warrantless searches could not match the right to privacy.

"The US asserts that a search of all data stored on a cellphone is ‘materially indistinguishable' from searches of these sorts of physical items," he wrote.

"That is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon. Both are ways of getting from point A to point B, but little else justifies lumping them together."

Meanwhile former News of the World editor Andy Coulson has been found guilty of conspiracy to hack phones in court. While his predecessor Rebekah Brooks was spared a guilty verdict, Coulson, who was a close advisor to the prime minister, could receive a prison sentence of two years.

Coulson was found guilty of a charge of conspiracy to intercept voicemails. News UK, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, apologised in a statement.

"We said long ago, and repeat today, that wrongdoing occurred, and we apologised for it. We have been paying compensation to those affected and have co-operated with investigations," it said in a statement. "We made changes in the way we do business to help ensure wrongdoing like this does not occur again."

The move is good news for privacy this side of the pond, as a message has been sent out that accessing private phone records and data is not acceptable.

EE lifts the lid on hidden testing labs: in pictures

20 Jun 2014

A short train ride from London lies the commuter town of Borehamwood. Tucked away among the numerous trading estates, high-streets shops and Wetherspoons pubs that are worryingly busy for a Thursday morning, lies a nondescript building with no outwardly obvious role.

But step inside and the familiar aqua and yellow branding of operator EE is immediately visible, for this is one of the firm's two network service delivery department (NSDD) testing labs (the other is in Bristol).

V3 joined a small gathering at the facility on Thursday in a rare chance to peek inside such an environment and to hear from EE about what goes on behind such innocuous-looking doors.

The labs are where EE carries out much of the testing on its network and the devices and services that it will host, to ensure everything is hunky dory before it goes live. This means manufacturers are often to be found lurking inside with never-before-seen devices, as they work with EE to ensure the phone and its components will work on the EE network when its released to the public.

Sadly we didn't see any iPhone 6 devices lying around, but we did spot a few other interesting things that we snapped as we had a look around.

Blast from the past
As you may expect, testing labs are not the sexiest of places, with most of the floors covered in various boxes filled with kit from firms ranging from Sun Microsystems to Nokia and Huawei. However, the below box from long-defunct Canadian telecoms firm Nortel did catch our eye.

Kit from the long-defunct Nortel Networks is still in use to test all kit in use

EE explained that it has to keep such old kit around to test devices and services on all possible technology that they could come into contact with, as while they may be old they still serve their purpose.

A waterfall of wires
Another common sight at any testing facility, or data centre, is wires. Lots of them. Even so, V3 was quite impressed to see a waterfall of wires running through the facility. Quite beautiful in a way.

A waterfall of wires at the EE testing labs

Moore's law in the base station
One other thing that caught our eye was just how much the telecoms kit that powers the mobile world has changed over the past 20 years. We all know that phones have reduced from great bricks to svelte, pocket-sized things, but the same is true of base stations.

The image below shows the unbelievable size that base stations used to be, and getting them installed to deliver nothing more than a 2G services was no easy task, as EE director of Network Services Tom Bennett explained. "You used to have to close the roads and get cranes in and hoist them into position, it was fairly demanding stuff," he explained.

Old base stations that were needed for 2G services

Now, as the Huawei base stations below demonstrate, far smaller units that provide both 2G and 4G coverage, are available. "These are light enough for engineers to carry up onto the roof themselves for installation," added Bennett.

New Huawei base stations providing 2G and 4G services

Tech industry shines in 2014 Honours list

16 Jun 2014

A number of UK tech heroes have been recognised in the Queen's honours list and rewarded for their work in the industry.

The Honours were announced last week and saw a decent number of industry types given gongs. Knighted and commended were games developers and pioneers, industry figureheads and entrepreneurs.

David Braben, of the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the creator of classic PC game Elite, was awarded an OBE.

"Heartfelt thanks to all those that have sent congratulations on my OBE. This award is for all of us at Frontier that have worked very hard," he said on Twitter.

Braben is one of Raspberry Pi's founding trustees. Earlier in June, during an event at Buckingham Palace, the Foundation was able to reveal that it had shipped three million Raspberry Pi units.

Also awarded the OBE is Dr Paul Hawkins, the sports technology pioneer whose work led to the creation of ball-tracking kit Hawk-Eye. The technology will be used at the tennis championships in Wimbledon this summer.

Belinda Parmar, campaigner and founder of the Lady Geek group, also received an OBE, and was commended for her services to women in technology.

"Thank you so much for all your OBE congratulations," she commented. "This award is for all of you who tirelessly work to get more women in tech."

Prosthetic limb pioneer Dr David Gow was awarded the CBE, his work on the I-Limb hand and his services to upper-limb prosthetics. Alastair Lukies, founder of Monitise, was also appointed a CBE.

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