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WW1 centenary: Communications technology that rose from World War One

04 Aug 2014

With 4 August marking the centenary of Britain joining the First World War and remembering those that gave their lives in the conflict, V3 looks at some of the early technology used during the Great War.

Telephones
In order for troops to communicate across the battlefield, early telephones were used with long wires linking telephones via switchboards. Unfortunately, these phones were only as reliable as the wires that connected them.

The wires were often broken by shell fire or the boots of soldiers rushing around in the mud of the trenches. To compensate for the lack of reliability, everything from visual signals, semaphore and written messages carried by dogs and carrier pigeons, were used to ensure that communication was maintained between commanding officers and their men.

Radio
Developed from the telegraph, radio was widely used on land, sea and in the air during WWI. However, the longwave wireless sets were fragile, heavy and expensive.

Crucially, radio transmissions were vulnerable to interception by the enemy, meaning codes had to be used which slowed the speed of communication during chaotic exchanges of fire with enemy forces.

When the British government acquired the Marconi Company telecommunications and engineering company, it focused the firm to develop radio for wartime use. This led to radio kits being made more portable and voice to be transmitted along with code, effectively evolving the way radio was used.

However, the static nature of trench warfare meant radio was best used by scout plane pilots who could rapidly report on the enemy's location and the accuracy of artillery fire. The more mobile nature of the Second World War was where radio really came into its own by building upon the technology of the Great War.

Wireless
By the time the First World War ended, significant improvements had been made in communication systems. Wireless technology was one such evolution that worked alongside the developments pioneered with radio.

Continuous Wave wireless sets were used to transmit messages from relay stations to battalions and military headquarters during the conflict, thereby bypassing the need to rely on messages being delivered by runners or animals. This helped to keep military units coordinated while they endured the to-and-fro of artillery bombardment.

The developments in wireless technology would eventually lead to the foundations of more robust communications technology that was put to use in the Second World War, and eventually led to the rise of modern radio networks.

While World War One will be remembered by many as a bloody and rather pointless conflict that saw thousands lay their lives down for a few yards of land, the war drastically changed politics, warfare, manufacturing and technology. From the ruin of war came the foundations of modern communications that would have a world-changing effect a century later.

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

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.

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