The Full Spectrum


August 23, 2012  12:27 PM

NFC is more than mobile payments

jscott1 Profile: jscott1
BlackBerry, near field communication, NFC, research in motion, RIM

Whenever anyone talks about NFC at the moment, we all get pound signs in our eyes, thinking about how good it is to pay with the touch of a card or mobile phone, rather than entering a pesky PIN.

Blackberry bold 9000

Blackberry bold 9000 (Photo credit: sofianeb)

Well, we might not be there yet – if you have tried to quickly pay with NFC, you will have been severely disappointed – but ‘payments’ is definitely the answer most would give if offered ‘NFC’ in a word association game.

The thing is, and I cannot emphasise this enough, we aren’t there yet. NFC might be built into a select number of handsets, some banks are starting to issue touch and pay cards, but NFC payments is much more a look into the future than the current state of play.

However, NFC on its own is being used in some really innovative ways already. I spoke to Gerry Kelliher, senior director of UK sales for RIM, today about how the BlackBerry manufacturer was using the technology, having already launched four phones – two Bolds and two Curves – with NFC built in.

As well as the little, consumer benefits of it like BlackBerry Tag for exchanging data on mobiles by tapping them together, or BlackBerry Music Gateway – same difference but transferring music – enterprises of all sizes are using NFC for tracking, authenticating and recording purposes.

Take Lanarkshire’s mental health association. A new partnership with RIM and app developer Skillweb has enabled 75 support workers to tap in and out when they visit patients with severe mental health problems, meaning exact records are kept of when they are in attendance and how long is spent there. This can then be checked to ensure each patient is getting the right care.

On a more commercial basis, Nottingham-based Sovereign Security are using BlackBerry handsets for their guards to check in at sites and communicate with one another, giving customers more confidence the firm is doing its job and enabling the company to keep track of all their guard’s activities.

NFC is a great technology with a bright future. I just think we should be making more of a song and dance about what it can and is doing now, not what it might be used for further down the line if all the right parties finally get their acts together. 

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August 20, 2012  3:49 PM

Jeremy Hunt’s need for speed misses the point

jscott1 Profile: jscott1
Broadband, Internet access, Ofcom, speed

It is becoming increasingly common – and frustrating – for MPs and ministers of state to turn up to give keynote speeches managing to say a huge number of words without saying anything at all. 

Another one of these occurrences happened today with culture secretary Jeremy Hunt taking to the stage at the Google Campus in Tech City. The premise was to update the gathered industry leaders, council members and a handful of journalists on his government’s progress with broadband roll-out and if they were still on track for the UK to win its crown as the best broadband nation in Europe by 2015.

Before I go into a tirade with the words of James Noughtie firmly in my head, I will say this: Jeremy Hunt stayed for questions. It may not sound much of a compliment, but journalists and interested parties are often lured to events with the promise of time with a senior cabinet minister, only for them to leg it at the first opportunity without answering a single query.

Hunt, however, sat on stage for a good 40 minutes after his speech taking questions from the audience and then stayed on for a further half an hour to be hounded by journalists wanting to take a story home. Thank you minister, it was much appreciated.

But, back to the tirade…

See, the reason for us all to gather, or what the department for media, culture and sport wanted us to take away, was the UK wasn’t just going to have the best broadband in the Wild West, but also the fastest.

“When the Lords Committee criticised me for being preoccupied with speed, I plead guilty,” said Hunt “Today’s superfast is tomorrow’s superslow… we must never fall into the trap of saying any speed is enough…”and many more statements flew out of the minister’s mouth from his carefully crafted speech.

I assume the desired effect was to make the room swoon at the minister dedicated to getting superfast broadband for all. He wants us to have speed and he wants us to have it now! Cue cheering and celebrating!

However, most of the room sat politely until he finished and then started asking, not about speed, but about what they considered more important aspects of broadband…

What about the quality of service? What about the different technologies to get these fast connections? What about getting these connections to everyone as fast as possible?

Members of the audience told Hunt they didn’t want 1Gbps broadband; they just wanted access to the internet; a connection strong enough to do their jobs or contact their loved ones, which many were still without.

Others questioned why £150m investment is being made into providing superfast broadband in cities. Why are the likes of BT and Virgin Media not doing this already without government aid? And why is the focus not on giving city dwellers reliable connections for the speeds they are already led to believe they can achieve for the money they pay?

The latest figures from Ofcom, used by Hunt to boast about our average speeds of 9Mbps in the UK, showed just 8% of residential broadband users were going for superfast broadband. The vast majority (68%) were happy with their up to 10Mbps connections. No one is begging for ludicrously fast speeds yet or, at least, very few are.

Hunt’s point that it is better to over-prepare for the future – remember his today’s superfast line? – is a valid one, but getting the basic infrastructure installed is the toughest part. Running faster connections over it is relatively simple afterwards and, although it should be included in the future planning process, speed should be secondary to getting not 90% but as close to 100% as possible of the UK within reach of an internet connection.

Many criticised the previous government’s 2Mbps goal for everyone by 2012 as not being enough. But, if this had been achieved in the time frame, ramping connections up to the speeds Hunt seems obsessed with and making the UK the fastest in Europe – well, only compared to what he refers to as the ‘big’ European countries of France, Germany and Spain – would seem a lot more realistic.  

We have a way to go before we compete with the Nordics, South Korea or even the burgeoning markets in Eastern Europe, but Hunt needs to stop acting like a boy racer and think of the tortoise and the hare. I know I would prefer a slightly slower but reliable connection for everyone in the country than a choice few getting mega fast speeds whilst others sit without. 

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August 15, 2012  2:14 PM

Adobe needed more backbone over mobile Flash

jscott1 Profile: jscott1
Adobe, Adobe Flash, Android, Apple, Flash, Google, iPhone

Today’s announcement from Adobe that it is pulling its Flash Player from the Google Play store is one that has infuriated me.

Since Steve Jobs published his unnecessary tirade against the company back in 2010, saying Apple would never incorporate the software for fear of “reducing the reliability and security” in its iPhones or iPads, I have watched the company fall in line with its rival.

Adobe’s initial (and true) stance that Flash was the most used software for video on the web so should be on mobiles, disappeared in a relatively short time and, despite it being a prominent feature on Android, BlackBery and Symbian phones, it made the decision late last year to can the software on mobiles altogether, focusing on the Apple adorned HTML 5 standard.

Everyone knew Adobe and knew it was the most dominant way of watching video on the web. Yes, the consensus was that HTML 5 would be the future, but the majority also acknowledged this future was a few years off and mobile users would need Flash performing as well as possible in the interim.

It annoyed me how quickly the firm crumbled under the Cupertino marketing machine and gave up on its mobile ambitions, despite having a good few years ahead. I was angered that rather than improving the software and proving Jobs wrong, it bowed out of the competition and let him and his company win.

But, it would be ok, I thought. They will continue to support Flash until its dying days and then, when we are all ready and all the apps are ready, we can migrate to HTML5 and slowly see off Adobe Flash to the software bin in the sky.

But no. The company wants out and wants out now. It is removing its Flash Player plug-in from Google’s application store and support will end in 2013 for anyone with an existing version of the app.

The mobile web is not ready for this. Huge applications, like the BBC iPlayer, are still dependent on Flash being downloaded so this decision will leave a lot of Android users, both with smartphones and tablets, screwed out of capabilities.

It also means those software developers, like the BBC, will have to rush out their updated applications to keep users happy, which will undoubtedly lead to mistakes and several versions having to be released before they get it right.

There is just no need to pull the rug out from under developers and users, as well as no need in letting Apple get the last laugh. You should have had more backbone Adobe. 

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August 7, 2012  11:28 AM

Acer needs to stop moaning and get back to developing

jscott1 Profile: jscott1
Acer, Microsoft, Microsoft Surface, OS, Tablet, Windows 8

surface_05

surface_05 (Photo credit: SpicaGames)

Today the tech press is awash with words from Acer, which has become the first PC manufacturer to square up to Microsoft about the launch of its Surface tablet – its own hardware attempt to house its upcoming Windows 8 operating system.

The company’s CEO, JT Wang, told the FT he had warned Microsoft to “think it over” when it came to its entrance into the hardware market – which will directly compete with Acer’s own Iconia tablets – and claimed it would create “a negative impact for the ecosystem” if the software giant muddies the waters of the hardware vendor pond.

Campbell Kan, president for PC global operations at Acer, even went as far as telling the FT that his company were asking themselves: “Should we still rely on Microsoft, or should we find other alternatives?”

It is understandable. Hardware vendors who have been making their own play in the tablet market will of course be annoyed that Microsoft is stepping on its toes. Microsoft is meant to be the software guy, spending its budget on reinventing the insides of the latest gadgets, whilst the hardware makers can throw their cash into boosting the product capabilities.

Windows 8 was meant to provide a platform for hardware vendors to adopt, embrace and roll-out on their own devices. Now, rather than a partner, it has begun to embody a competitor with Microsoft adding yet another tablet option to the already busy marketplace.  

Although Wang and his colleagues may have been brave to bitch about the world’s largest software vendor in public, I think it is a waste of time and I don’t see what other option they have than to go with the next Microsoft release.

Acer isn’t going to start installing Mac OS onto its machines and, whilst Google’s Chrome OS is an option, the vast majority of people want the main software component of their computer on their hard drive, not out in the cloud somewhere.

I am not surprised they are making a song and dance but an idle threat from Acer’s president isn’t going to get his company or its partnership with Microsoft anywhere.

Hardware vendors need to put their own annoyances aside. They are the hardware specialists, not Microsoft, and it is far more likely they can develop a better tablet than the Surface once they get their hands on Windows 8.

With that in mind, Acer should put its efforts into that development, rather than moaning to the FT, and keep hold of the healthy relationship it has had with Microsoft up until now

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August 2, 2012  3:20 PM

BlackBerry PlayBook: Another 4G tablet we can’t take advantage of…

jscott1 Profile: jscott1
3G, 4G, Canada, LTE, research in motion, RIM

Research in Motion (RIM) today unveiled an updated version of its tablet device, the BlackBerry PlayBook, with one major selling feature – its 4G compatibility.

The new tablet will go on sale first in Canada on 9th August before being shipped into other markets over the coming months.

Their first tablet wasn’t hugely well received, with miniscule sales figures and issues surrounding the first operating system, but I’m always keen to see new efforts. That is until I’m told the focus of the upgraded device is its 4G capabilities.

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 19:  Blackberry Playbook t...

CHICAGO, IL – APRIL 19: Blackberry Playbook tablets are offered for sale at a Best Buy store on April 19, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The tablets, made by Research In Motion, went on sale today in the United States and Canada. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

I don’t blame RIM. Many countries around the world want their tablets to work with Long Term Evolution (LTE) to speed up the data traffic going to and from their devices, so it makes sense to include it in the latest version.

What infuriates me is that despite living in the land that brought you the World Wide Web, the television, even the corkscrew, I still cannot get my handson a fast cellular network.

The continual dragging of feet by our regulators and governments on distributing the spectrum for mobile operators to establish 4G networks – the auction has only just been announced and still won’t take place until 2013 – means we are still at least a year away for the first roll-outs in the UK.

That is if the operators themselves don’t kick off about some unfair advantage one of its rivals will get along the way, pushing the fight through courts of law and public opinion, and pushing the timeline for deployment back even further.

Yes, when we get 4G networks, I want them to be done right, but when mobile manufacturers are building the capabilities into their devices and selling them before we have even agreed a date for a spectrum auction – look at the new iPad – it make me furious.

The debate this week in the Houses of Parliament have been about getting the broadband network right and, again, that is likely to face more delays, giving us no hope of having the best connections in Europe by 2015.  But at least a date was set on this and there has been a certain amount of drive by industry and government alike to hit the goal.

We need a goal for 4G. Regulators and operators need to speed the process up, stop arguing and think of the public.

They need to get the networks set up across the country so, if we choose to spend several hundred pounds on the new BlackBerry PlayBook, we can use it to the best of its abilities.

They need to do this, not months or years down the line, but now. 

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July 24, 2012  4:19 PM

Three UK faces competition for final spectrum allocation

jscott1 Profile: jscott1
4G, O2, Ofcom, Sky, spectrum, Virgin Media, Vodafone, Wi-Fi

Ofcom

Ofcom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s announcement of the long awaited 4G spectrum auction has got tongues wagging as Ofcom has confirmed it will reserve a portion of the frequencies for a fourth operator.

The idea is to promote more competition so consumers aren’t just left with the three major mobile operators – Vodafone, O2 and Everything Everywhere – to choose from when it comes to faster mobile data.

Unsurprisingly, everyone expects Three UK to be that fourth company as it already has a sturdy business in the UK. However, Ofcom told me earlier today it would be “too far an assumption” to think Three would win the bid without competition as other firms had “formerly expressed interest” in getting their hands on the spectrum.

The next obvious contender would have been Virgin Mobile, yet, it seems the company has thrown its toys out the pram. A spokesman told us the ISP was interested in the 2.6GHz spectrum up for offer as it could help improve wireless connectivity, but as Ofcom is only offering packages with 2.6MHz combined with another frequency – either 800MHz or 1800MHz – it wouldn’t be worth the investment.

Next up would be Sky. Rumours have been around for months that the TV and internet provider was looking to launch a mobile service in the UK. However, it is still sticking to the official line with us that it has no plans in the offing to extend its mobile solutions past that of its public Wi-Fi network, which it acquired with its purchase of The Cloud. I asked about increasing this connectivity with 2.6GHz but got short shrift.  

So who else could there be? If other ISPs take the same attitude as Virgin Media, it is unlikely we could see any of them trying to gain spectrum, and with three dominating mobile operators, along with an underdog, could there be room for another player to enter the game?

So, Three remains the likely candidate, but it will be worth watching the trials and tribulations of the auction process – considering how fraught the journey has been so far – to see if any other prospects put their heads above the parapet. 

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July 23, 2012  2:26 PM

The shared experience of the Tour de France

jscott1 Profile: jscott1
Networking, Wi-Fi, Xirrus

Yesterday the world watched as the first British cyclist for 100 years won the most gruelling cycling race in the world.

Bradley Wiggins 2010 Tour de France

Bradley Wiggins 2010 Tour de France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hundreds of thousands of supporters tuned in for the final leg of the Tour de France which saw Bradley Wiggins take first place and cycling become the most talked about sport of the day – even with the Olympics around the corner.

As someone who doesn’t even enjoy cycling, even I managed to get caught up in the buzz around Wiggins and felt the pang of joy for him when I saw the rider cross the line during my Sunday lunch at the local.

But, as with the games, the task of bringing the excitement of the event to all of the viewers took précis technology behind the scenes.

Xirrus was responsible for the Wi-Fi networking to keep 125 TV broadcasters, 2,300 journalists, 70 radio stations and 450 newspapers connected and able to share all the news, statistics and footage of the event with the spectators.

It also connected up all of the organisers for the event, ensuring operations ran smoothly across all 21 stages of the event.

It’s hard to believe it needed only five Xirrus Rapid Deployment Kits and it only took two employees two hours to set up at each site.

But, even with a select back-end, it ran very smoothly, enabling even the most cynical back home to enjoy the competition.

Now, here is hoping the companies involved in the Olympic Games mange to pull this off just as well.

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July 16, 2012  1:41 PM

Nokia sleeps before it’s dead

jscott1 Profile: jscott1
Microsoft, nokia, WIndows Phone

Nokia Lumia 800

Nokia Lumia 800 (Photo credit: John.Karakatsanis)

Before we have even polished off the bottle of whisky needed after listening to RIM’s painful figures, Nokia is heading our way with its second quarter results, due on Thursday.

I would normally wait until results day before shedding a tear for what was once a great company, much like RIM, but with the news today it is slashing the price of its flagship phone – the Nokia Lumia 900 – to just $49.99 (£32) we all know there cannot be good news coming our way.

The Finnish mobile manufacturer has struggled in the past few years due to the growing competition of smartphones from faster and sleeker developers at the likes of Apple, as well as missing the boat of adopting Android, whilst all the smaller guys grew from the partnership – again, much like RIM.

It lost its spot as the largest mobile manufacturer to Samsung, had cut 10,000 jobs and pledge €1 billion for on-going restructuring – if I say much like RIM any more times…

But even the most cynical of us felt there may have been a slight light at the end of the tunnel when it teamed up with Microsoft. Windows Phone 7 is a beautiful piece of software and it excited those in the mobile industry, thinking there was finally something to turn the iOS and Android fight into a three-way battle.

It seems though, despite even the hardware looking appealing to our eyes, the operating system has become a third wheel and is hanging around the cool kids asking to be picked but being left on the bench.

Sales for all Nokia handsets in the first quarter were €4.24bn, compared to just over €7bn for the same quarter in 2011, and losses hit €3bn over just three months. Although its CEO, Stephen Elop, tried to remain positive last quarter, even he admitted his firm had “faced greater than expected competitive challenges.”

Windows Phone has not been the saving grace he had hoped and with Symbian dead as an operating system, it is hard to see which way the company can move next.

Nokia has revamped the hardware, made a big bet on the software and thrown a huge amount at its marketing, but is still the traditional company who made our brick handsets back in the 90s and has now been put in the back of the drawer with all the old chargers. If the Lumias can’t bring it back into people’s pockets, I’m not sure what will.

We will bring you all the figures and news from the company’s results call on Thursday.

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July 12, 2012  3:27 PM

Companies must reveal who is to blame for outages

jscott1 Profile: jscott1
Cisco, Huawei, O2, outage

O2-UK SIM Card

O2-UK SIM Card (Photo credit: DeclanTM)

Today has seen yet another technical failure leaving hundreds of thousands of people in the UK without a tool that is necessary to their daily lives.

This time it is O2, a few weeks ago was RBS and in between has been a number of hits to the likes of Amazon and Salesforce, not hurting consumer daily activities, but cutting businesses off from much needed tools.

The problem is the causes of these outages are so often hushed up. Take the London Internet Exchange (LINX) that went down in on 31 May. Despite chasing around and getting reliable sources to pass on information, a public response of the cause was not issued until 26 June, leaving Juniper – the original suspect – red faced for over three weeks, despite not being to blame.

RBS was the same.  CA Technologies is thought to be the culprit and many trustworthy insiders have said as much, but the bank is still keeping pretty quiet on the true cause of its outage.

Today I had a run in with Cisco about the O2 outage. It took them three hours to confirm if it was down to the hardware it provided the mobile operator – it wasn’t – despite the fact the firm was a prime suspect after touting its involvement with O2 through case studies earlier this year. Huawei has still not bothered to get back to us as to whether the fault came down to its management of the network.

Add to that the fact it is known as common practice to keep these things quiet. Earlier this week I met with BT to talk about the technology they are providing for the Olympics. I asked if the firm would make public any issues it had and what was to blame. The spokesman said he would not reveal anything unless it was obvious to the viewer something had gone wrong.

The point is this: it is bad for everyone involved if you don’t come clean about the problems you are facing. For the company dealing directly with the consumer – say O2 or RBS – it makes you look incompetent and like you have no clue about what is happening in your back-end systems. For providers of technology – such as Cisco and Huawei – the sooner you clear your name, the better and, if you are the culprit (before Cisco worry, we know you are NOT responsible for the O2 outage) the more time you have to spin the story to make you look like you care about what the customer is going through and get on with fixing it.

When O2 got the Apple iPhone as an exclusive and it overloaded the network, people branded the handset as being useless for making calls. Now customers know you have to look deeper at the problem, and providers like O2 will get a very bad reputation if it doesn’t come clean and tell us who is really to blame at the next layer down.

The latest theory by the way for O2 is it was technology from Ericsson but, shock horror, the spokesman will neither confirm or deny whether it’s involved. After 24 hours of the outage, O2 know what technology it is, even if it can’t fix it, the company providing the technology know what it is, even if it can’t fix it too, and all this so-called crisis management leaves those affected more frustrated that the information is being hidden from them.

The best PR for a company is truthful and forward. O2 has been praised about its regular updates and good Twitter interaction. If everyone who has an outage can do this AND be truthful as soon as possible about what is wrong at the back-end, only the ones causing the issues will take the flack, not everyone associated with the company. 

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July 9, 2012  11:57 AM

Silverstone F1 – the infrastructure blame game

jscott1 Profile: jscott1
Internap

If you are a F1 fan like me or even caught a glimpse of the news this weekend, you would know it was the Silverstone Grand Prix on Sunday. You would also know that the typical British summer tried all it could to damage the spirits, and the cars, of all the attendees as the track was covered in water and parking fields turned into mudslides.

Yet when I left the house at 6:30am on Friday morning to join the Force One India team, I was full of high spirits, unaware of the trauma that lay ahead to get a glimpse of shiny, fast cars and, hopefully, Jenson Button.

Jenson Button at the 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Jenson Button at the 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Traffic backed up for miles, we had to walk through the rain from the village where our cab driver unceremoniously dropped us off and my corporate outfit for the press briefings in the morning looked more like I had just returned from Glastonbury.

Funnily enough, the trauma was quite fitting to the announcement the F1 team was due to make. Once all the executives had fought their way through the jams, we were informed about a new partnership with Internap which would see the company take over the hosting of its website.

As Force One’s head of partnerships said, F1 is all about the glitz and glamour of the high performance technology. However, the team’s website was slow, couldn’t handle rich media and had a fit anytime traffic spiked – usually over a race weekend.

By handing over the managed hosting and network optimisation to Internap in March, it claimed there had been no downtime for the site, increased return traffic and longer browsing times from their visitors. There was also a 50% rise in load times and all this led to some cheesy social media feedback from Force One fanboys.

The point is, this weekend Silverstone was blamed for bad organisation at its track and put customers off from coming back. This same thing was happening to Force India. The truth is, it was down to the infrastructure and weather at Silverstone, like it was down to the infrastructure and elements for the website, that caused the issues.

It was the same when O2 got the exclusive of the iPhone. No-one was prepared for the huge spike in traffic it would cause, the network overloaded and many complained that the first generation iPhone was useless for making phone calls, when really it was the back-end and huge usage that was to blame.

If the spikes in traffic are prepared for and the infrastructure is optimised to its full potential, no-one gets the bad reputation and all the visitors for both Silverstone and Force One’s website, have a good time.

However, for me, more hours of walking in the rain, an hour long fight to get a taxi and three changes on the trains to get home had left a rather bad taste in my mouth about all of them. Come back and ask me again once I have dried out…

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