English: Huawei E5 mobile Wi-Fi device (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This week I flew off to sunny Stockholm to get a glimpse inside the R&D centre of one of the world’s most controversial companies.
Huawei is a massive firm with a huge carrier network business and burgeoning enterprise and smartphone divisions looking to take on the global market.
But as a Chinese organisation unable to shake the rumours of ties with the state government and posing a threat to established market heavyweights, a lot of significant powers – especially in the US – are gunning for it and putting obstacles in its way to stop it achieving its goals.
Hence the invite to Stockholm. Huawei wants to be viewed as an open and transparent company and with a number of big deals within Europe, it clearly thinks it should build on its ties here to show the world it is not some far eastern firm to be feared.
There were several jokes between the journalists embarking on this first trip about how top secret the operation would be, but in all honesty, it felt no different to trips I have done to HP’s labs in Bristol and there was more mystery in my recent tour of the Mercedes AMG Petronas factory than there was here.
But don’t get me wrong, I believe this is a good thing. If Huawei are to become part of the accepted establishment, it needs to be as ‘normal’ as the rest of the industry but show a keenness in innovation and investing in regions outside of its home turf.
There was much rhetoric about its continued commitment to Europe, how much it wanted to use the skills of the locals to build its business and how it was keen to get involved with every major telco in the EU. It is already doing well, with the likes of BT and EE sticking up for its reliability so they have a real chance here.
But they must be careful not to over-egg it. Whilst there are 800 people working in R&D in Europe, this is nothing compared to the 70,000 it has working in the same areas across all of its locations and most of them still reside in China.
One exec proclaimed to the gathered press Huawei was “no longer a Chinese company” but a global one. I felt like telling him to calm down. Cisco may be global but we all still think of it as a US company.
Huawei should keep its focus on innovation – it spends billions on its R&D every year – and continue to open its doors to the world. But it must be careful not to become the lady who doth protest too much and let its products do the talking, rather than well briefed executives.
I was both surprised and impressed when I opened my email this morning. EE was shouting from the rooftops – through text form of course – that it had reached its goal of signing up one million customers to its 4G services four months early.
Considering how low initial take up figures had been and surveys from the likes of YouGov saying no-one was bothered about 4G, I was happy to give a hat tip to the joint venture. Ok, one million is nothing compared to the other 27 million customers they have who are content with their 3G deals, but it showed the network investment was finally starting to pay off and there was momentum in the market.
But the next email I received showed why that traction was there. Recent entrants to the game Vodafone announced today it would offer 4GB of additional data for free, every month until the end of their contract, to any customer who signed up to its 4G services before the end of October.
That is a stunning amount of data for nothing if you consider all the battles customers have had with their operators for pretending 1GB is enough for the average user – especially when it is natural for a faster connection to entice you to use mobile data more.
Back in 2012 when Ofcom announced it was to allow EE to repurpose its existing spectrum for 4G whilst others had to wait for what then seemed an elusive spectrum auction, I had quite strong feelings against it, fearing for the lack of competition. As time passed by, I was less concerned as it seemed the market was saying no to 4G and awaiting for choice to be available anyway.
EE may be ahead of the game with the speed and coverage and no-one seems to have massively shifted on price, but now the rivalries are hotting up, customers are winning with extras like sports and music services, or tons more data. Even I admitted this morning I was finally thinking of making the move to a 4G contract – yes, even tech journos have concerns about upgrading.
Undoubtedly O2 will come out with its own tempting bundle in the next few days to ramp it up further and more and more people will be looking at 4G contracts and thinking maybe its worth it.
But, I am still excited to see what happens when Three – the operator who has promised no premium pricing for 4G and unlimited data allowances – come to market with its services in December. If swathes of customers migrate to that network, the other big three operators will have to think about bringing those prices down.
Ok, maybe I will hold out just a little longer then… but in the meantime, it is good to see the UK getting on-board with speedy connectivity and being rewarded for the long wait.
NOG Brussel: Neelie Kroes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There has been a lot of speculation in the past week around plans championed by Neelie Kroes to scrap roaming charges throughout Europe.
A report in Reuters claimed the draft proposal of the single European market for telecoms had dropped the controversial clause that would see the cost for citizens using their mobiles abroad plummet by up to 90% and eventually become non-existent.
This led to hushed questions being raised about Kroes’ leadership and whether she could convince operators round to her way of thinking or whether the big boys in the mobile space would win the battle.
Today at the GSMA’s Mobile360 event in Brussels though, the Kroes we know and love took to the stage and made it very clear she would win the war.
Her tone of voice showed she knew everyone in the room had read the Reuters article and were questioning her metal, so she put them in their place.
“We [want] new consumer choices to make roaming charges in Europe a thing of the past… [and] this is what I am talking to telcoms operators [about],” she stated.
“We are talking about getting rid of roaming and, by the way they are agreeing, I can assure you. That for me has absolutely cemented making it possible for new business models [to] be developed.”
By the end of her speech I felt a little like we had all been told off and Kroes knows best. But, as the woman in Brussels pushing the Digital Agenda, she can talk like that anytime she likes if she is going to get the job done.
I am sure by now you have seen the news that Microsoft has agreed a deal to buy Nokia’s device and services businesses for a significant €5.44bn. Nokia expects €3.2bn of that to be a gain and even expects its price per share to rise as a result.
Most are talking about the significance to Microsoft. It couldn’t be clearer that they want Stephen Elop back to take the reins when Steve Ballmer steps down and to c
Nokia Siemens Networks logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
ontinue on this new path to become a devices and services company, rather than the legacy software firm we are all used to.
What I find interesting though is the future of Nokia, a company that has finally cut its losses and is going to focus on the successful part of the business – NSN (Nokia Solutions and Networks).
There has been some change within the division in recent years. Previously a joint venture by Nokia and Siemens, the latter decided to drop out of the business and focus on mobile broadband equipment, which it saw as the biggest growing segment of the networks market.
There was fear around whether the company could make it, with 17,000 layoffs expected and pressure on Nokia to give it the same attention as it was battling in the world of mobile. But after confirming the €1.7bn sale of Siemen’s 50% share in July this year, results have been strong. The most recent quarterly figures showed profits of €8m, up from a €226m loss in the second quarter of 2012.
Now Nokia has shed its struggling mobile arm and passed it on to Microsoft, which seems determined to make it work for better or worse, the Finnish company can focus its efforts on a profitable business that it fully owns and in an area where it has a chance against its competitors like Alcatel Lucent and Ericsson.
Networking might not have the glamour or grab the headlines in the same way smartphones do. But as mobile continues to grow across the globe, both for consumers and in the business world, the equipment at the back-end is going to become an even more imperative part. NSN has its place here, and a strong one at that, and I think this move is one of the most sensible Nokia has made in some years.
Chairman of the board and home-grown talent Risto Siilasmaa is now interim CEO and, although it may not be plain sailing, I think the seas to be travelled in Nokia’s future have never looked calmer.
As many of you will know, I have been following the BDUK process closely over the past few months and things in recent weeks have been hotting up.
You see, both citizens and businesses were starting to get antsy with the government and local councils for keeping schtum as to which areas would be benefiting from the state funded broadband roll-out and which wouldn’t.
On top of that, smaller ISPs waiting to vie for the contracts to serve the unlucky percentage not covered by BDUK were fuming at BT for keeping locations hidden and stifling their plans to deploy their own networks.
But a meeting with the public affairs select committee in July blew the stalemate wide open when Sean Williams, group director of strategy, policy and portfolio at BT, put his foot in it and said his company has no issue with the location details being released.
The department for culture, media and sport (DCMS) followed this up with a letter from its minister, Maria Miller, to local councils urging them to publish details as soon as possible for the good of everyone.
In addition, both the DCMS and BT confirmed every council which had signed a contract on the BDUK framework had a list of postcodes confirming the areas which would be part of the roll-out.
Yet, the local councils were still hiding in their town halls and not publishing this key data.
So, we knew they had the data, we knew the main parties associated were fine with it being published and we knew whatever the DCMS or BT said, local councils would continue to drag their heels.
I decided it was time to chase them and get the details myself and as a result you may have seen the article we have been updating, both as councils come back to us with their responses and as new contracts get signed.
I wanted to write a blog and update you on my progress. The quest – and seriously, it has become one – is far from over but the way I have been dealt with has been quite eye opening.
There were no sneaky tactics used on this side when trying to get the information. A simple email was sent to the appropriate person pointing to what was said in the PAC committee and Maria Miller’s letter and asking for a copy of the postcode data.
If this was declined, a follow up email was sent, again referring to the government and private sector stance on it and pointing out that it was in the public interest to do so.
If declined again, an FOI request was put in.
It has been three weeks and the responses we have received, or not received, have been varied and on the whole disappointing.
– Nine of the councils haven’t even deemed my continued emails worthy of replying to
– Four councils told us they were still concerned about contractual obligations to BT which deem the information commercially sensitive
– Some still claim they haven’t completed surveys of where broadband will go, despite signing the contracts
– And others have just been rude…
A lot of the replies I received said they were concerned the plans would change, meaning they would get in trouble for leading people up the garden path. But, as I said to these councils, if that caveat is included, there is still no reason not to publish the postcode data.
Credit to some of the councils, like Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, which has published both a map and postcode checker with where the projects will reach. But even they didn’t give us the list of postcodes.
Today’s response took the biscuit though. After trying to negotiate the list out of Staffordshire County Council, I sent an FOI request as I knew they had the information and there was no argument it wouldn’t be in the public interest to release it.
The response? My FOI was denied under section 22 as the information was intended for future publication. Basically, a middle finger up at me saying we will publish it when we damn well choose.
Dear God/Allah/Buddha/Dawkins, why are these lists so closely guarded? Is BT still pulling the strings behind closed doors or are local councils just that badly organised they can’t remember where they put them? Both are viable options from my experience…
But, the ludicrous nature of these flippant responses has only made me more determined and I have been given a nod to a new tactic that may help. Regardless, I will carry on pushing until we get all of these councils to publish their data.
If you have any information that could help, drop me an email at email@example.com.
Wi-Fi Signal logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As regular readers will know, case studies are a big thing over here at CW and we love to share with our readers not just new technology releases but how the solutions are used, any problems along the way and the reaction of customers.
The use cases regarding Wi-Fi are coming in thick and fast and one that dropped into my inbox today made me think about who gets the credit.
Ruckus Wireless is at the centre of numerous roll-outs but as the equipment manufacturer it doesn’t always get touted.
For example, today it sent me a press release detailing its involvement in the O2 branded deployment of Wi-Fi at Canary Wharf. I knew about the roll-out but when O2 was shouting from the rooftops about its latest contract win, Ruckus’ name was never mentioned.
I am sure this happens to other companies too. I have just interviewed Birmingham City Council about its upcoming Wi-Fi project with Virgin Media Business – article to follow – but the equipment manufacturer wasn’t mentioned.
Also, earlier in the week I interviewed the IT director of University of Nottingham about its new wireless network – again, article is on its way – which it built in partnership with BT, but the focus was that headline name, not the worker bees behind providing the technology.
Now, as a journalist, it is my job to ask the question and don’t worry, I will, but I just wanted to sing the praises of the often ignored manufacturers. Yes, I will tell you where to go when you call me with a rubbish press release about a new product launch (please take note this is NOT what we cover), but you are integral to the customer story and your innovations make it possible.
Time for those guys to get a bit more recognition I think.
English: Huawei Technology in Shenzhen, China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The BBC today ‘revealed’ Huawei was the company behind TalkTalk’s net filtering system known as HomeSafe. The service allows customers of the ISP to choose to block certain types of content from their homes, from pornography to social networking sites, and has been available since 2011.
Although praised by Prime Minister David Cameron, there is a fundamental difference in the system compared to what he has been touting this week. HomeSafe is voluntary. Cameron, however, is saying he wants content deemed as porn to automatically be blocked unless the household can face the embarrassment of saying they want to receive it – an automatic opt in to blocking in other words.
Now, I have a lot of problems with this proposal, even ignoring the technological issues surrounding it. If this actually makes it through to being legislated, I won’t be blocking anything to my internet connection, not because of some insatiable need for adult films (hush you dirty minded lot) but because I don’t trust what will be deemed pornographic by those making the rules.
The fact our government seems to keep mistaking child abuse and porn in their current rhetoric proves the extreme one way, but how extreme will it go the other? The Daily Mail online? Page 3? Anything with a Kardashian – OK, now the blocking isn’t seeming so bad…
But also, I don’t feel comfortable with the list of things blocked under these new rules. For example, I don’t condone extreme violence but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see it in news reports exposing horrendous activity that should have a spotlight shone on it.
So in my opinion, the only hope of these proposals being taken seriously and having a chance to be accepted will hang on who decides on the definition of the content.
Right now, Huawei makes that choice for TalkTalk. This has caused some nervous reactions as the firm is still facing questions over links with the Chinese government and, no matter how many times they say they can be trusted, fears in the UK have yet to be sated – although the reaction has been much more proportional than the US for example.
But I think everyone needs to calm down. TalkTalk is happy with Huawei’s database of which sites should be blocked and which shouldn’t, the service is voluntary and although all requests to the internet over TalkTalk routers go through the system, it doesn’t stop people viewing website unless they have chosen to do so.
It is of no surprise to me that one of the leading technology companies from the country most renowned for blocking content has been deemed the one with the best software to do this for a voluntary scheme.
Now, if the automatic opt in proposals come into force, more questions would need to be asked if Huawei was used. Not because it is a Chinese firm, but because I don’t think a private sector company should be making the moral decisions for UK households. Admittedly I don’t think the state should either, but interest groups from both sides, academics, media representatives, a huge array of society should have a say on what is blocked or not blocked, not one company or one Prime Minister.
I remain somewhat sceptical about Huawei as I have yet to see proof either way of its guilt or innocence when it comes to sharing information with the state. What I do know is its technology is highly thought of within the telecoms sector and if these experts continue to choose it, there must be a reason.
What I don’t like seeing is yet another fear mongering article about the Chinese getting into our networks, distracting from the real issue – the UK government getting into our networks. Let’s worry about the results of Downing Street’s latest ploy to win votes first before we get het up about things that haven’t even happened yet, or may not even come to fruition.
The operators argued until they were blue in the face, Ofcom kept us waiting and waiting, and EE put all of its investment squarely behind the technology – but it seems the person on the street couldn’t give two hoots about 4G.
A report released by YouGov today shows 33% of consumers “can’t see the point” of 4G, whilst 31% have no idea of the benefits it offers, despite the mobile providers making such a fuss about the speedier mobile networks.
It reminds me of the obsession with superfast broadband. Whilst governments and ISPs all rant and rave about speeds of up to 300Mbps, take up is still incredibly low – just two for every 100 broadband connections, according to Ofcom.
Let’s face it, the geekier amongst us may long for these dreamy speeds but the average consumer just wants capacity to stream iPlayer without any buffering.
The only way we can measure adoption of 4G is through EE as the only operator in the UK offering the technology, but it has always been a bit shifty about revealing adoption figures too, signalling a lack of appetite for the speeds.
At least with 4G the wait for roll-out has been relatively small compared to fibre. All the operators should have their services live by the end of the year, meaning competition will be improved and hopefully the premium prices will come down, perhaps attracting some more people on-board.
But what this report shows is the technology industry is failing to get the message out about what 4G brings to the user and their device. Maybe we should all stop arguing with each other and start showing the world what faster networks can do.
At Computer Weekly, we like to bring you the real stories of how your peers are using technology in their businesses and organisations, not just what the vendor wants you to hear about their latest solution.
But the key to these stories is not the journalist or even the technology, it is you and your experiences, and we think it is time those working with the networks were given more of a voice.
We are seeking networking managers or IT managers with a strong focus or passion for networks to form the first Computer Weekly user group for networking.
We plan on starting small, getting a few of us together over dinner to talk strictly off the record about issues important to you and trends within the industry you are excited about.
But from there, who knows. We hope to grow the group and start having regular events with interesting speakers talking on the topics you care about, as well as giving you a chance to network with your peers and share your thoughts and experience.
So, if you want to be involved from the start or be kept up to date with progress as the user group grows, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I cannot wait to hear from you and learn more about what you are going through as the leading networking managers in the UK.
English: Parliament buildings London UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Yesterday, I received the National Audit Office’s report on the BDUK project for rolling out fibre broadband.
The report sought to answer whether the scheme represented value for money f
r the taxpayer and how it was progressing so far, and there is no other way to describe it than painful reading.
The NAO slammed the government – specifically the department for culture, media and sport – for limiting competition with the process it put in place and not being strict enough on checking whether the figures the incumbent provider BT put forward for the project were fair. But the headline grabbing story is how far behind schedule BDUK is.
Rather than 90% of the UK having access to superfast broadband – which the government defined as 24Mbps and above – by 2015, now we will have to wait until 2017 to reach this goal – albeit with an extra 5% of the population promised coverage.
That is 22 months late. The DCMS has tried to blame agreeing state aid funding with the EU but, as the report points out, this only took six months longer than the initial planned period of five months, so it is a joke to try and place the blame solely at Brussels’ door.
I spoke to the DCMS yesterday and asked for more reasoning – or excuses – as to why this hold-up had happened and they told me: “This is a major programme and the timetable depends on a number of factors including procurement timescales, readiness of local bodies, and supplier capacity. It will also rely on capacity being released from the commercial deployment.”
The spokesman said now the department had clarity on the procurement and implementation timetables they could make “a better assessment of the necessary timescale than was the case when the programme was first announced.”
I’m sorry, but shouldn’t the DCMS have done this in the first place? It has been in talks with industry for years about this project and it should have taken the advice and technical nous of these partners to identify how realistic the roll-out was.
I can’t help but think this is still a money issue. I know I have ranted along these lines before but why are we spending so many billions on other elements of infrastructure in the UK when our internet connectivity is so far behind?
The web is the modern equivalent of roads and rail; it is as the old phrase states the internet super highway! What it can bring in services to the public, economic benefit to companies able to present on a global scale and even just communication between one another should not be put second to a high speed rail line that no-one seems too bothered about and won’t be completed for 20 years.
The government promised £100bn for infrastructure projects last week. Of that, just 0.25% is going to broadband whilst around 40% is planned to be spent on HS2. This makes no sense! Yes, things like the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) show that just throwing money at the problem doesn’t always work, but there is no doubt in my mind better funding would speed the roll-out and put some of the original goals back on track, plus you cannot argue austerity when there is £100bn in the pot.
Both in Europe and the wider world, speeds are shooting through the roof and governments are accepting the need for superfast internet connections. Here we are now saying everyone will have 2Mbps by 2017. That goal might have been ok when labour touted it for 2012 but with the EU setting a target of 30Mbps for all by 2020, it is just embarrassing how far behind the curve we are.
In the end, it is the UK that will suffer for this dawdling and the mistakes made by the DCMS. We cannot compete on the global stage in business and innovation with the basic technological foundations missing and rather than pushing back deadlines and crying about the deficit, the government should stand up, open the public purse and start pushing this project forward at the rate it should have been from the beginning.