Don't buy the hype! The lot of a Virgin Media customer is above inflation price rises and slow broadband

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I am fed up with Virgin Media.

This morning they announced a £3bn investment to bring fibre broadband to 4 million new homes.

But every day Virgin Media is neglecting its existing customers.

For a little while now, Virgin Media has been telling me I will be upgraded for free* to 'supercharged' 50Mbps speeds by the end of February 2015. Today, on the day that Virgin Media makes its announcement, I logged in to find that this has slipped to July to December 2015. Suitably vague.

I imagine their oh-so-amusingly named vans (stop doing that Virgin, it's just awful when brands try to be cute) are going to be driving round some new neighbourhoods with new customers!

Since joining Virgin Media in 2010 my prices have risen by an average of 9% a year, substantially above the CPI average of under 3% a year.

All this time, an ongoing 'overutilisation fault' that never seems to be fixed means my broadband service has degraded.

Overutilisation. Hang on. Sounds like that means Virgin Media has too many customers on its network! But it wants 4 million new ones? Hang on. That doesn't compute...

And all this on the day Virgin Media reveals a £3bn investment to extend the network to 4 million new households.

Well, that certainly explains why increased prices for existing customers haven't actually made the existing service any better.

*With a 9% annual price hike it isn't actually free is it?

FCC showing its teeth on broadband speed. Time for Ofcom to grow a pair

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News reaches the Full Spectrum that later this week the FCC, the US Ofcom, is to vote to change what is defined as, and possibly what can be sold as broadband.

The FCC wants to change the actual definition of broadband from 4Mbps to 25Mbps, which would leave millions of Americans who thought they had broadband with, well, not dial-up obviously, but not quite broadband, either.

The big hope is that this move will make the US broadband market more competitive, and force the big providers to improve their average speeds, for which read, put fibre in the ground.

Wouldn't it be nice if Ofcom would consider following suit?

Ofcom's new chief exec Sharon White will formally take over at the comms regulator very soon. Forcing the issue of broadband speed early on would be a good way for her to demonstrate that Ofcom means business.

Oh, who am I kidding? Upping the UK definition of basic broadband from 2Mbps to 24Mbps - which is conveniently BDUK's current target for superfast - would upset BT and make it harder for it to dismiss complaints over speed (and lack of fibre).

We can't have that, can we?

Why is Huawei hiding behind Honor?

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Let's be clear. I don't think Huawei is some kind of Chinese fifth column. I think it has consistently demonstrated good faith in its dealings outside China, and I'm generally happy to stand by that.

But now something has given me pause for thought.

A new smartphone brand has just launched in Europe. It's called Honor, and it hopes to shake-up the consumer mobile sector with more appealing pricing and a direct connection with the customer, rather than selling through faceless mobile phone shops.

Its debut model is the Honor 6, launched today.

Powered by an octa-core Kirin920 chipset and integrated with LTE Advanced communication modules supporting LTE Cat6 protocol category, the Honor 6 can achieve download speeds of up to 300Mbps, the fastest in the world, claim the makers.

Oh, but there's one thing the people who drafted the press release didn't think fit to mention. Honor is not just Honor. Honor is a new Huawei brand.

Whoa there! Hold on a minute! Huawei?

So now I'm a bit worried.

I asked Honor why this wasn't being made clearer, and they sent me this statement:

Honor's parent company is Huawei but it is an entirely new brand. It is a brand that will grow and be shaped by its audience and supporters. It is in the fortunate position of being able to benefit from the extensive hardware and software experience and global footprint of the Huawei parent company, but it is run by a dedicated team and is run as a separate business.

Honor is a subsidiary company of Huawei and the relationship between the two brands is complementary. We plan to continue this relationship on an ongoing basis.

Honor products will not be branded Huawei as Honor is now a brand in its own right.

Huawei has previously released Honor devices under the Huawei brand. But from this moment on, Honor is a new brand.  We know there is a real opportunity to create a brand for the digital native generation and our Honor devices are best positioned to meet their needs. It makes sense to use the Honor name for this new brand as it already has some awareness amongst our audience.

I understand that Huawei wants to let the Honor brand speak for itself and stand on its own two feet, that's fair. And to be even more scrupulously fair it does have a copyright notice (at the bottom of its website in small type).

But when you are consistently criticised over trust and security, deliberately obfuscating the facts about what you're up to is a worry. In my view, if Huawei wants to be trusted, Huawei doesn't get to hide.

Shropshire broadband stalemate part two: the missing £11m and how to find it

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After learning last week that one of the more vocal rural broadband campaign groups - the Shropshire and Marches Rural Broadband Campaign, was pulling out of its partnership with Shropshire County Council - the Full Spectrum reached out to campaign spokesman Patrick Cosgrove.

As you may remember, the group took the decision to pull out after annoyance that the Council could (or would?) not find a way to match fund an £11.38m BDUK grant reached a head.

According to Cosgrove, the problem is that Shropshire Council simply does not want to borrow its share of the £22m, and was in fact "pretty peeved" when it found out it had to match fund £11.38m, as it would divert attention from its deficit reduction strategy.

To be frank, there is more than a whiff of monumental cock-up to the situation, as well.

"They had originally been hoping for some Growth Fund money from the Marches LEP, but there was some sort of cock-up. They say that they and the LEP were badly advised by DCLG  (the Department for Communities and Local Government) and were told that the first round of Growth money couldn't be used for broadband infrastructure," explains Cosgrove.

"It turns out that was wrong as it has been permitted for some counties. I think they're hoping for some in the next round. In the meantime it leaves the three county MPs playing chicken with the Council as to who might blink first in finding or borrowing some money from 'somewhere', and Shropshire with no Phase 2. It really is a bit of a stalemate."

As for the Shropshire and Marches campaigners, their withdrawal also means 'no more Mr Nice Guy' and a bit more attitude, clearly in evidence in its most recent bulletin, which said the government would bring the countryside "grinding to a halt" unless it worked with Shropshire Council leaders to end the impasse and stopped playing chicken over who blinks first.

"Rural residents and businesses deserve better than these antics," said Cosgrove.

I have to say. I couldn't agree more, and with an election on the way I wouldn't want to be the candidate who has to doorstep voters in rural Shropshire.

But where on earth do you magic up £11.38m?

Through the VDU, and what Alice found there

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"I'm sure I'll take you with pleasure!" the Queen said. "Two pence a week, and video conferencing every other day."

Alice couldn't help laughing, as she said, "I don't want you to hire me - and I don't care for video conferencing."

"It's very good video conferencing," said the Queen.

"Well, I don't want any today, at any rate."

"You couldn't have it if you did want it," the Queen said. "The rule is, video conferencing tomorrow and video conferencing yesterday - but never video conferencing today."

"It must come sometimes to 'video conferencing today'," Alice objected.

"No, it can't," said the Queen. "It's video conferencing every other day: today isn't any other day, you know."

"I don't understand you," said Alice. "It's dreadfully confusing!"

I got sent a report by Azzurri, (the communications service provider, not the Italian national football team) today. It was about mobile productivity.

It was mostly well-thought out and quite sensible in its conclusions. Mobile workers are more productive. Employees are increasingly using mobiles for consuming, creating and editing content, and more and more are exploiting access to corporate content, such as email and CRM systems.

No argument there whatsoever.

The survey went on to say that next year, the focus would move to enabling unified communications and collaboration tools on mobiles, and video calling and conferencing is one of the top priorities for enabling, the survey said.

So will 2015 really be the year of video?

As I recall, late in 2013, 2014 was going to be the year of video. Before that we were certain it was going to be 2013. And definitely 2012. 2011 was also the year of video ... in 2010. And 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006 as well.

I can't speculate on 2005 as I only got my first job in tech journalism in July that year.

But I have my suspicions.

Shropshire broadband campaigners cut links with BDUK

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Frustration with the progress of Shropshire Council's BDUK scheme - Connecting Shropshire - has now boiled over after local campaign group, the Shropshire and Marches Campaign for Better Rural Broadband, ended its association with the council.

Mounting annoyance over Shropshire Council's apparent inability to find a way to unlock an £11.38m government grant by finding an equal amount of funding itself was the catalyst for the group's withdrawal, reported the Shropshire Star.

Group spokesman Patrick Cosgrove said the campaign had concluded there was "little useful purpose" in maintaining its membership of Shropshire's Rural Broadband Group.

Despite high hopes at the beginning, he explained, "attendance at the group has been patchy, agendas preset, and conditions of confidentiality too inhibiting for our campaign to express its views freely."

Though he remained sympathetic to the council, suggesting that central government had bullied and gagged it, Cosgrove said that its unwillingness to borrow to match the BDUK funding pot was disheartening.

He added: "Our decision has been aided by last week's discovery that one green cabinet in Clun will be upgraded to superfast while the other will not. It's difficult to imagine any elected member or council officer freely choosing to deal with a discrete area of population this way, which rather proves the point that BT is in the driving seat at the expense of rural households and businesses for whom the programme of broadband rollout was intended."

There is also a real concern that BDUK will increasingly be exploited by the main political parties as campaigning for next May's General Election hits its stride.

With the prospect of over £22m worth of broadband funding slipping ever further out of reach, Shropshire Council told the Star that it was still committed to finding the money. Somehow.

But according to Cosgrove, quite how that aim will be achieved remains something of a mystery. He told Computer Weekly that the group would continue its campaign.

In a recent constituency newsletter, Ludlow MP Philip Dunne said he would continue to work with the council to find ways to match the government funding.

How to cover up a network outage: distract everyone with Sir Tim Berners-Lee

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With hundreds of visitors to IP Expo crammed into the keynote theatre to watch Sir Tim Berners-Lee speak out on data privacy on Wednesday, you could have been forgiven for thinking that nobody had bothered turning up to see any of the actual exhibitors.

Lucky then, that only a few late-arrivals noticed that on the day that the ExCeL's management got together with a new Wi-Fi supplier to announce the successful deployment of a new, resilient wireless network, the new resilient wireless network went on strike.

It turned out something had been misconfigured, and it was a quick fix, but what a stroke of luck for the organisers that everyone was distracted at the critical moment.

I wonder if they planned it all along.

Why I won't be complaining about bad mobile signal again

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The western United States is a land of splendid and awe-inspiring isolation. Towering redwood groves, rugged coastal cliffs, soaring eagles, sleeping volcanoes hiding glittering blue lakes within their craters. You can drive for 20, 50, 80 miles or more before seeing a town of any size.

So you'd better have a spare can of gas in the trunk and a fully-charged mobile in case of grizzly attacks, right?

Welcome to Oregon.jpgWell, it turns out that the mobile might not be much help. Especially if yours
insists on roaming onto T-Mobile instead of AT&T despite being repeatedly told not to.

Turns out, outside of San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, T-Mobile is literally terrible. It can't even manage 2G most of the time.

Sure, I get that providing up-to-date phone masts in locations where they will hardly ever be used or needed is prohibitive in terms of cost, so I don't really blame T-Mobile for not bothering to invest.

And anyway, we were on holiday. We didn't need the internet. All we needed was Springsteen on the stereo, a TomTom on the dash, and the open road under our wheels.

However, coming from our crowded, connected island, the realisation that if the car spluttered to a halt on the dusty Oregon highways, help was not to be taken for granted, gave me a little pause for thought.

After 1,400 miles this West Coast road-tripper won't be complaining too much about lack of mobile signal in the UK from now on.

NoC distributed computing to support IoT

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A guest blog post from Lee Myall, general manager for cloud computing at Interoute

The Internet of Things (IoT) is closing in fast, it has been predicted there will be 26 billion units installed by 2020, generating $300bn in revenue. These are numbers that absolutely cannot be ignored and the anticipation for this technology boom is huge. A predicted 4.5 million developers will drive this prolific growth in IoT in the next six years and they are all in need of the right technology to support them. But, without putting too fine a point on it, developers without the infrastructure to develop are useless.

The challenges facing the mass adoption of IoT technology are significant, but not insurmountable. In order for the IoT to be a success from an infrastructure perspective, there are three major ingredients: infinitely scalable computing power, the network fibre to support the rapid growth in data traffic and the ability to control where your data is stored.

The infinite cloud

Scalable computing power is only achievable in the cloud, but it needs to be fit for purpose. If we are to reach the real potential of the IoT, developers need the computing power to support the creation of apps, media computing power for rich information and as we look to the future, high performance power or indeed, quantum computing to support enormous amounts of data crunching.

A truly elastic cloud provides the scalability to meet this unstoppable and unpredictable growth. We have seen the potential of disruptive apps like Uber and Aereo. Their rapid uptake and in Aereo's case unconstrained bandwidth consumption, have had a huge impact on the network. Without infinitely scalable computing the next 'killer app' will fall flat before it's out of the box. 

The network is the computer

The next challenge is the network itself. You can have all the quantum computers on the planet, but the real value lies in users connecting to and between them quickly and safely. You therefore need the computing power built into a superfast network in order to get the best performance. Who knows how fast an app might take off and overnight you might suddenly need to scale up bandwidth tenfold. With networked cloud, this bandwidth is already in place for the taking.

Taking control of your data location

App development on this scale is rarely a one-man job and several people or organisations will be involved. Individuals in different offices or even countries want to access the content they need but have to factor in things like the storage location, to ensure all data remains compliant to local regulations.

Like it or lump it, and despite talks in progress, we are unlikely to see a dramatic change in EU policy regarding data storage. Cries from the likes of CERN that a lack of clear data protection policies are preventing them from adopting cloud tech, have so far been ignored. Focus on the challenges EU data legislation has on the collective adoption of new technology will continue to grow.

Sound like a headache? Actually, the answer is quite simply to store data in the countries where consumers are accessing it. Regulations vary from country to country and it's essential that any multinational businesses are compliant with them. At the end of the day, the cloud is just a collection of datacentres and with the flexibility to choose which one houses which of your data sets; you can stay on the right side of the law wherever you are.

Network of computing

The cloud is the developer's oyster; with infinitely scalable computing developers can reduce time to market, boost collaboration and accommodate the rapid growth of new apps and services. A high-speed network of distributed computing is essential to the successful deployment of applications for the Internet of Things.

The trick is picking the right cloud provider. The network is the cloud and with it, developers can make visions for IoT a reality. With the power of the network behind it, could we be looking at not just hybrid clouds in the future but AI clouds that have the ability to automate app development for the enterprises of the future?

Mobile operators row over Crimean roaming

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Over in Ukraine, a row has erupted over mobile network provision in Russian-occupied Crimea, reports BBC Monitoring.

The disagreement centres on Ukrainian operator MTS-Ukraina, which is shutting down service on the Crimean peninsula after local authorities closed down its network in the capital, Simferopol.

Or so it says.

A man the BBC identifies as Crimean communications chief, Dmitry Polonksy, has countered with the claim that MTS-Ukraina is leaving town entirely of its own accord and that there is nothing to see here (move along please).

But coincidentally the Russians have just announced that their network, K-Telecom, is moving in on MTS-Ukraina's patch having taken over its frequency bands.

Now, it seems that there is more than one K-Telecom operating in Russia, and nobody really knows which one the Russians are talking about. But there is now speculation it could be owned by Moscow-based network operator Mobile TeleSystems or MTS, which just happens to (you might be ahead of me here) also be the parent of MTS-Ukraina.

So are we in fact witnessing a crafty bit of manoeuvring to ensure that MTS avoids becoming the subject of American sanctions? Russian news agency ITAR-TASS suggests this could be the case, but with confusion reigning throughout the region, who really knows what the truth of the situation may be?

Boris Johnson's 5G pledge? Don't make me laugh

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5G promises lightning-fast mobile speeds. Want to download a full-length movie in under a second? Want to stream ultra-HD TV on the go? Fancy trying out immersive gaming? Augmented reality apps? Oh boy, it's the mobile networking standard for you.

There's only one small problem. Nobody really knows what 5G is yet. It's years away. We haven't even begun to discuss standards. 4G is only just bedding in. We won't have 5G smartphones before 2023 at the earliest.

Or will we?

English: Mayor of London, Boris Johnson poses ...

English: Mayor of London, Boris Johnson poses for a photo prior to ringing the opening bell at NASDAQ on September 14, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning we reported on mayor Boris Johnson's long-term infrastructure plan for London - due to be formally unveiled this week - which is to include an eye-catching pledge to bring a 5G mobile network to London by 2020, in just five and a half years' time.

It all makes for a good story (who can resist clicking on a Boris Johnson headline? He might have got stuck on a zip line or offended Liverpool again) but I don't think Boris has the slightest idea what he's actually pledging.

2020? That's the South Korean target! Have you been to South Korea? They first deployed mobile WiMAX eight years ago! They launched LTE in 2011. They are quite literally years ahead of us.

Even with generous funding from Brussels and the British government, surely even the most ambitious 5G proponents can see this is wishful thinking. We haven't got a hope of bridging the gap in five years!

Will we have a commercial 5G network by 2020? Not on your nelly.

But with at least one mayoral election still to come before 2020 (and those rumours of Boris making a return to Westminster party politics with an eye on Number 10 never quite seem to go away), let's face it, it's hardly likely to be a pledge London's beloved mayor will have to live up to.

Are local councils falling out of love with BDUK?

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Is a groundswell of public anger causing local government to fall out of love with the BDUK Superfast Britain project?

The Western Daily Press reported this week that Wiltshire County Council is considering its options and may not sign up to the second phase of a £35m BDUK deal to deploy superfast broadband in the West Country.

Council deputy leader John Thomson described the project as a "nightmare" partly because consumer expectations of how fast their internet would actually be were set impossibly high by the fantasy world depicted in BT's TV advertising.

The reality of quite how bad fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) can be if you're not lucky enough to live right next to the cabinet was swiftly brought home to many Wiltshire residents when it turned out that 'superfast' was really 'onlyslightlyfasterifthat'.

Local stakeholder Geoff Preston branded BDUK a "scam" and accused the council and BT of being disingenuous with their pledge to get superfast to 91% of county homes by 2016.

Thomson told the paper: "It has been a nightmare, mainly because of people wanting to get superfast broadband now, and wanting it to be faster than it will be.

"To be honest, I'm not over-happy with the deal, but at the time it was the only one in town. There have been success stories, and some towns and villages are very happy with the result - but others not so much.

"There is a second part to the deal to the more rural places that we have applied for the money for, but it may well be there are other opportunities and other technologies that we can go for, that will provide a better service and give more value for money," said Thomson

Already, some Wiltshire communities have taken to organising their own broadband services. The village of Hankerton installed a Wi-Fi solution provided by Cotswold Wireless, and 10 other villages have come together to form a co-operative with the intention of going in on a fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) solution.

Wiltshire may be considering its options, but The Full Spectrum knows of at least one council that has already gone in with the altnets.

West Oxfordshire District Council recently supported a community broadband project in Northmoor, obtaining £186,000 worth of funding to install a Gigaclear FTTP solution from the government's Rural Community Broadband Fund, jointly funded by DEFRA and BDUK.

Incidentally, it was Gigaclear's first ever use of public money. Up to now it has relied entirely on private funding.

And it was to Oxfordshire that I travelled last month to meet with Gigaclear and community stakeholders in the nearby villages of Greater Otmoor, to see an FTTP project in action. You can read the full feature right here, by the way.

One thing that quickly became very clear to me, chatting to the stakeholders at the Abingdon Arms, was that, like in Wiltshire, they felt abandoned and frankly a bit cheated by BDUK. The money on offer vanished "like a technological Marie Celeste," said one, once it was realised quite how difficult bringing FTTC to the Otmoor area would be.

"BDUK was a real red herring. If we'd just ignored it from the start, we'd have saved ourselves several months and a lot of trouble," another stakeholder from the Otmoor group told me.

But what also struck me were remarks made by Gigaclear sales and marketing boss Joe Frost, who told me all about how his firm selects which projects it can support.

Here's the quote: "The attitude of local councils helps us prioritise, too. It is nice to know that places where we plan to build won't be overtaken by state aid. A lot of councils are now on board with this and realise there is not enough money in BDUK to address the problem, so are in-filling with people like us or wireless or satellite solutions."

So are councils falling out of love with BDUK and BT? Well, obviously two councils out of hundreds does not a trend make, and there are clearly notable successes for BDUK as a steady stream of press releases purports to make clear.

But as the poor publicity around the scheme continues to spread among vocal rural campaigners, things are certainly looking better and better for the altnets. I doubt I'm alone in thinking the examples of West Oxfordshire and Wiltshire won't be the only ones we see as the deadline on BDUK's 95% superfast coverage target draws closer and closer.

It's easy for Three to be generous: they don't have many customers

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As millions of people set to fly off on holiday in the next six to eight weeks, we've been writing a lot about roaming charges lately.

And with internet access such a vital component of all of our lives these days it's easy to see why.

After all, why should you not be able to use Google Maps to find our way around a new city in the same way you do at home, or Foursquare to find that one bar you will remember forever?

The good news is that with a good amount of nudging and prodding from Brussels, things are finally going in the right direction: at the start of July new caps on roaming charges came into force.

That's an excellent example, by the way, of the European Union working as intended, to bring positive change for all citizens.

Earlier this week, I wrote about a new service from Vodafone. It's called WorldTraveller and it will allow pay monthly customers and users on some business tariffs to use their call, text and data allowances for £5 a day in a number of countries, including the US and Australia. Vodafone runs a similar and cheaper service in Europe, incidentally.

The story attracted a few below the line commenters who felt £5 a day was a rip off, particularly when Three offers a similar service for 'nowt.

"It's very, very, very rubbish compared to 3's Feel Like Home," wrote Uk Taxpayer. "£15/month SIM only 2,000 minutes, 5,000 texts, All you can eat data, Free roaming to 16 countries, 4G (at no extra cost) when they finish the network build-out, and as the real deal kicker **inclusive tethering** to your unlimited data."

Added Whoopee?: "£5 a day - what a bargain - NOT. More like a total rip off. As Three charge the same in Australia and other countries as back home in the UK I'd suggest that this continuing rip off is good reason to drop Vodafone sharpish."

The comparison to Three's 'Feel at Home' service - I've also been writing about that - is entirely justified of course - actually it's a no-brainer, as far as I'm concerned.

But I'd like to counter with the idea that besides Vodafone actually being entirely justified to charge whatever it likes for you to use the network it bought and built, the two mobile providers are at totally different stages in their lifecycles, and the comparison is unfair.

In the red corner, look at Vodafone, the world's second largest mobile provider with hundreds of millions of subscribers worldwide and billions of pounds of sales in the UK alone.

Then look at Three. In terms of UK subscribers it's a minnow. It may form part of a large multinational comms firm, but it looks and acts very much like a start-up, making stand-out plays to grab attention and new customers.

My argument is quite simple. Three can afford to be generous with its freebies - it has so few customers that the money it loses allowing them to roam for free doesn't really matter, and is potentially repaid in terms of goodwill and word-of-mouth advertising.

If Three was the size of Vodafone, do you think they'd be offering free roaming? Frankly, I doubt it.

How PSN can help rebuild our trust in government

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This week's Public Services Network Summit at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster brought together local authorities and suppliers to reflect and review the progress made in rolling out the Public Services Network (PSN), and explore avenues for further evolution and development.

To coincide with the conference, PSN trade association PSNGB launched a new whitepaper titled PSN: A platform for reform.

Among many interesting points raised in the whitepaper was that of trust in local and central government.

Whether applying for passports or driving licences or sharing health and personal information around departments and local authorities, said the paper, citizens must trust government to safeguard the information they supply it and use it appropriately.

However, it pointed out, trust in UK government is falling, down from 47% last year to 42% at the moment - that's actually below trust in business - and a third of people don't trust the government with our personal data.

The whitepaper claimed that PSN can bring about a restoration of trust. Really? How's that, then?

I asked PSNGB chairman (he prefers emperor) Phil Gibson and BT Global Services' Neil Mellor (wearing a fetching PSNGB hat) exactly that question.

"PSN is not visible to citizens, but while there is no sticker saying 'PSN Inside' if people know that our government is holding and sharing data responsibly, that could help rebuild trust," suggests Mellor.

So is there a case for being upfront with the general public, educating them about the existence of the PSN, and possible even declaring compliance with some sort of 'PSN Inside' kite mark?

Maybe, says Gibson.

"We have that circular logo. I could well envisage a time where you see that logo on the door at your GP's surgery, for example, and know that they have a process in place for sharing and managing the information that they hold on you.

""Trust in government is not about loss, it's about what other departments might do with your data," argues Gibson, "but instead, everyone remembers the child benefit record loss."

"There is a point where we can say 'we have worked on this, we have this highly secure network reaching all parts of the public sector' and I think that that might well be worth communicating to citizens."

I envisage such a scheme might work a little bit like the Food Standards Agency's (FSA) hygiene ratings.

The FSA's inspectors rate restaurant premises on a scale of one to five, and slap a green sticker on the door to give consumers the confidence that the kitchen staff are washing their hands and not putting horse in the steak tartare, for example. Could a star-based PSN data security rating be something the average citizen would find reassuring?

It's an intriguing suggestion and it may never come to fruition, but I am definitely on board with the idea of being more open about the benefits that government IT should be bringing to our daily lives.

It's time to think again about spectrum licensing

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A guest blog by Adam Afriyie, MP for Windsor and chair of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

More people are online than ever before. Between 2010 and 2013, mobile internet usage more than doubled in the UK.

The internet is now a huge part of our lives; it's sometimes hard to understand how we survived without it. We connect to the internet throughout the day not only from our home and work computers, but increasingly from our smartphones and tablets in trains, buses and coffee shops.

It's crunch time
This growing demand means that, in a number of areas and applications, we're fast running out of commercial space on the radio spectrum to carry digital information. The UK is heading for a 'spectrum crunch' unless extra frequencies are made available.

Without this extra capacity the UK's important digital economy, which contributes 6% to UK GDP and supports two million jobs, will run out of room to grow, and customers will suffer as they're plagued by Internet outages and price hikes.

So, I'm urging the government to release an extra 650MHz of spectrum to private businesses from the public sector. This would help companies meet the needs of their customers over the next few years.

I know the government supports the principle of releasing more spectrum because the minister has already stated his intention to release 500MHz by 2020. I'd just like to see a little bit more released just a little bit quicker.

Of course, some of the spectrum needs to be reserved for UK public services and defence, but most people agree we've earmarked too much because of historic allocations. In Australia just 10% of the spectrum is reserved for defence while in the UK around 50% is allocated for military and radar uses.

On top of that, no one is quite sure how much of that spectrum the public sector actually uses in the UK. To answer that question once and for all, the government should consider commissioning a thorough review of current public sector usage, so we have the evidence we need to make an informed choice.

Innovative new approaches

But if we're going to solve this problem in the longer term, we'll also need to find innovative new ways of managing the UK spectrum. As well as increasing the amount of spectrum released for commercial use, we shouldn't be frightened of experimenting with new methods of licensing it.

I believe, for example, the government should strongly consider releasing licences to the spectrum with rights to use it within only certain geographical regions or at specific times of the day. Different companies and clubs could then share the same parts of the spectrum without interfering with each other.

The government should also consider giving companies more power to sell, share and trade their spectrum allocations in a competitive market. This would mean parts of the spectrum that were being used unproductively could be quickly sold and made available where needed.

I'm aware Ofcom has allowed 'secondary trading' of spectrum units for some time, but uptake among industry has been low, lower than desired and expected. The government should consider reviewing this current trading process to see whether there are any regulations or restrictions that are presenting any unseen difficulties.

Investment in the network

Finally, there are some interesting emerging technologies in the pipeline, like 5G, that will require large capital injections to bring online. We need to encourage private companies to invest in these new technologies to squeeze the most out of the network.

Licensing radio spectrum to private companies would give companies the security they needed to invest in the network. That's exactly what we saw after the 4G auction - more investment and better service for customers.

The UK has the opportunity to set itself apart as the trendsetter of the global digital industry. If, as I've long campaigned, we combine our culture of innovation with forward-thinking policy, we will become the first-choice destination for global talent and entrepreneurial businesses. And if we're to compete effectively on the world stage tomorrow, we need to get ahead of our competition today. 

Renting the network: better connected or false economy?

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In the modern world, people cannot afford not to be connected. But what happens when this connectivity becomes literally impossible to afford? Or an area's historic investment has not kept pace with its business requirements?

Traditionally, the onus has fallen on the UK's major telecoms players to build networks. With vast resources, providers such as BT and Virgin Media are able to take on some of the financial burden. Last year, Norfolk County Council became the UK's first local authority to sign a contract with a private sector partner through the Government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) contract framework.

Buy to Rent

With so much cash available, it is little wonder that large organisations are willing to share costs, especially when contracts invariably operate on a lease line model, where those relying on the network will pay the operator for its use. This model has served the industry well, but perhaps its clients less so.

It was in 2012, with the realisation that an asset ownership model could better serve day-to-day users of a network, that staff from Lancaster University Network Services (LUNS Ltd) formed The Networking People (TNP).

Chris Wade, director at TNP, explains the reasoning behind the company's formation: "Leasing lines for a telecoms network
can represent a false economy, especially for those such as councils with unique requirements and many end users. After an initial contract, typically spanning three to five years, those councils that are leasing lines will either have to extend the contract (and not benefit from new technology or commercial deals) or tender for a new network partner, which can mean heavy installation fees or migration costs. This 'replace or renew' model offers no flexibility or long-term sustainability."

Better Connected

TNP's ethos stands in stark contrast to the larger providers. It works closely with partners to design a bespoke network that is owned by clients; because TNP is wholly independent and has the expertise to implement its designs, the network can be installed at a reduced cost while asset ownership means leased line fees are dramatically reduced. Owning assets also means the problems associated with the '
replace or renew' approach are avoided entirely.

The model seems to have struck a chord with those in need of cost-effective connectivity. Recent projects for TNP have included network builds for Blackpool, Stirling and Shetland Councils and its team is growing rapidly.

Blackpool councillor Chris Maughan, cabinet member for technology, summarises the benefits of the partnership with TNP and owning its network: "[It allows] the council to make significant savings at a time when the cost of telecoms is going up. It is also providing the town with resilient and secure connectivity that is completely under our control to grow and adapt as we do."

Wade credits TNP's success to its willingness to maximise on any existing infrastructure. For example, in its Shetland project, the council used dark fibre, microwave radio, ADSL and satellite to build and expand the in-place network in the most relevant and economical way - with TNP assisting to deliver a nearly tenfold increase in speed in some areas, it is projected to save the Council up to £1.6m. Similar savings have been seen by Blackpool Council on its 100 node network and for Stirling Council, which gained a 30% saving compared to an equivalent fixed-line solution.

Model Approach

So will the nation's largest operators be taking inspiration from TNP's tailored approach? Chris thinks not, concluding: "For the major providers, solutions can be about economies of scale and long-term leased line income. However, leasing is an outdated model and as anyone that has purchased a house could tell you, owning an asset is both much less costly over time and has more value to those using it."

This is a guest blog post from TNP

Does telco recruitment herald a brighter superfast future?

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I reported this morning the findings of a survey by ManPowerGroup that appeared to suggest that the growth in deployment of superfast fibre-optic broadband around the UK was directly responsible for an upswing in recruitment around the telecoms sector.

Actually, telecoms and media recruitment in the first five months of the year was up 17%, almost 10% above the national average, claimed ManPower.

ManPower hit up just over 2,100 UK employers for its regular - and well-respected - Employment Outlook Survey, and while these sorts of surveys are ten a penny these days, the comments made by its telco and media expert Tobias Mills piqued my interest.

"Whilst in certain parts of the country, such as cities and more urban areas, it is relatively straightforward to find workers with the relevant experience and skill levels, they are finding it much more difficult in the more remote corners of the country," said Mills.

Last week I spent a few hours in the company of local campaign groups and businesses in Oxfordshire, where pure-fibre player Gigaclear is currently rolling out 1 gigabit fibre networks in a number of villages (you can read the feature very soon).

What became clear to me very quickly was a palpable sense of frustration - even anger - at how slow things were moving, largely directed in the direction of BT and the unfit-for-purpose BDUK scheme.

One campaigner spoke of BDUK funding disappearing like a ghost once the scale of the project needed to hook up his community became apparent.

So does this so-called recruitment spike herald movement from the big players in rural areas? I only hope that the trends ManPower has extrapolated from its data points to recruitment of skilled engineers and not telco customer service drones.

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The Internet of Pigs might fly

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"A year ago, to get people to let me talk to them about the Internet of Things for five minutes, I had to buy them a drink. Now, they're taking me to dinner."

The words of Cisco CEO John Chambers there, spoken in a keynote at Cisco Live earlier in May ... also spoken at Cisco Partner Summit, and Cisco Live Europe, and to investors whenever he gets the chance, and, heck, pretty much every time he opens his mouth.

Well, when you hit on a bon mot you like to keep it in circulation for a little while.

"A year ago, to get people to let me..."

"Hush, honey, and eat your meatloaf."

John is right, though. The Internet of Things (IoT) is among us. Just last week Milton Keynes council signed an eighteen month deal to roll out a citywide IoT network with the ultimate objective of improving services such as parking provision and waste management. Yes, intelligent litter bins are coming soon to Buckinghamshire.

Pigs_highres.jpgNow two Cambridge-based companies are taking the concept to the next logical step. Sensor and monitoring outfit General Alert (GA) has teamed up with IoT specialist 1248 to see if the Internet of Pigs will fly.

GA bills itself as a pioneer in the use of sensors and monitoring technology in the agricultural sector, and hopes to use 1248's Geras IoT database to improve livestock welfare.

Its sensors pick up billions of readings on environmental data such as temperature, humidity, drinking water flow and feeding rates, CO² concentration, and ammonia and pH levels. Its RFID and temperature tags are implanted in the pigs themselves, meaning the animal in effect becomes a 'thing'. Which is not to say it wasn't already a thing, but now it's a 'thing.' The quote marks are apparently important.

This data collected will have applications when it comes to stock management, farm productivity and efficiency, among other things, but can also serve as an alert system for farmers - a change in drinking or feeding behaviour, for example, could be a harbinger of disease in the herd.

With potential to deploy such sensor networks nationally, GA and 1248 reckon they could provide early warning of diseases such as foot-and-mouth, which caused major losses in the UK 13 years ago.

"Rising global population and standards of living are increasing the pressure on food-animal production, which leads to an increased requirement to manage animal productivity, health and wellbeing effectively," says Chris Dodge, IT director at General Alert.

"Sensors, electronics and communications technologies have reached a price point that is making it possible to deploy IoT systems that deliver real commercial benefit and Geras is a core building block of our solution. We are already working closely with veterinary, agricultural research and farm management companies and looking to expand the range of applications."

The Geras database is billed as a generic, scalable IoT service - an open standards-based infrastructure that accepts and manages data trickling in from many different types of device, so that applications can quickly access and ask high-level questions of it.

"Geras is designed to allow companies like General Alert to focus on what they do best - in this case, developing and deploying livestock technology," said Pilgrim Beart, CEO at 1248.

"Companies looking to rapidly harness the opportunities presented by the Internet of Things need to partner with experienced providers who understand how to build scalable architectures and are committed to open standards."

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Is EE working on a driverless car?

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As a frequent cyclist around London I have to be extremely sensitive to what the drivers around me are doing in order to guarantee my own safety. Indeed, I always try to ask myself what is the most stupid thing a nearby driver could do right now, and react as if they have just done it. It's called riding defensively, and it's taught in cycling courses and endorsed by the Highway Code.

What does this have to do with networking and communications? Well, one of the biggest sins I see on the streets is drivers using their mobile phones behind the wheel.

Buzzard from EE - Packaging.jpgWith many studies now suggesting that mobile phone use while driving is as dangerous as drink driving, and one study at the University of Utah suggesting it is more so, I firmly believe the drivers who use mobiles while driving should face comparable penalties to drink driving, including potential bans.

Today EE announced a number of enhancements to its 4G service and of particular interest were plans to enhance 4G coverage along the UK's motorways and major A roads, and the launch of the UK's first 4G in-car Wi-Fi, the Buzzard, a plug-and-play device that can run off a 12v cigarette lighter connection to get up to 10 devices online. It also fits neatly into a cup-holder.

I asked EE's top brass if this well-intentioned launch might prove a temptation too far for some drivers. What steps is EE taking to keep those at the wheel off the web, and isn't it time for mobile networks to take more responsibility for safety given the frequency with which the devices they back are implicated in road accidents?

EE chief marketing officer Pippa Dunn told me it was definitely an issue that the firm is awake to and EE is making sure the new services and devices are positioned only for the passengers in the car.

"I do think the responsibility is on the driver to ensure they are driving and not using mobile phones," she said. But, she went on, mobile device use in cars is here and established and it is right for EE to address that, she claimed. The firm will continue to put in place resources to educate the market and ensure that device use behind the wheel is stamped out. Good to hear.

In-car lifestyle shot.jpgTo EE's credit, its messaging around using the in-car Wi-Fi plans is pretty clear. In the press pack handed round afterwards I found the photo you see here, of two kids sharing (sharing???) EE's new Eagle tablet in the back of the car. The car is clearly in motion but ... what's that ... the driver's seat in front of them is unoccupied! Nobody's driving! Where are mum and dad, Pippa? Or is this one of Google's driverless cars?

The topic of computer-controlled, driverless cars is of great interest to the two-wheeled fraternity, some of whom view them as a potential life-saver, and I think this picture points to a great sense of social responsibility over at EE.

So is EE working on a driverless car? It's time to come clean, guys.

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Calling network experts: the arts world wants your help

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Closeup of a thoughtful Tim Berners-Lee at the...

Closeup of a thoughtful Tim Berners-Lee at the launch. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On only my second day at Computer Weekly, scoring a front-row seat to watch one of my all-time heroes, Tim Berners-Lee speak isn't too shabby.

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of hours this week at the Southbank Centre in Sir Tim's company for an illuminating event on the future of the worldwide web. Among the topics up for discussion were idea that how concerted mass action is needed to maintain the free and open ideals of the worldwide web, and protect it from powerful interests that want to control it to often nefarious ends.

You can read my report on Tim's thoughts on web openness and his hope for an online bill of rights right here.

The Southbank Centre drew together an audience made up of web experts, technical masterminds, representatives of the arts world, journalists, politicians and local schoolchildren to share their thoughts and pose their questions to Tim at an anything goes 'think in' designed to help set the agenda for the Web We Want festival, which is being held at the Southbank Centre later this year.

The subsequent roundtable discussions were held under Chatham House rules, which means I'm honour bound not to tell you who was speaking or what, precisely they said, however, I spent a little time with some representatives from the world of theatre and some of their concerns were very interesting indeed.

One of the participants, who works for a well-known London theatre company, expressed his frustration at his inability to collaborate effectively with other bodies and institutions around the world, simply because the underlying network was not up to scratch, or because he simply did not know how to use it to its full advantage.

Another participant threw up the idea of an artist in a remote part of the country, who may be making truly remarkable, beautiful works, but cannot share them with the world because the BDUK scheme has not yet provided fibre connectivity to his or her home.

The arts can be a disruptive medium, at least as disruptive as, and potentially more so, than the worldwide web has been in its 25 year life. Just think of era-defining artists like Vincent Van Gogh, or revolutionary composers like Igor Stravinsky, whose Rite of Spring is said to have caused a near riot at its premiere in 1913.

Art inspires. Art delights and enrages. Art topples governments and changes societies. Can anybody seriously make the case that the worldwide web has not done exactly the same? The parallels are clear to me, and coming away from the Southbank Centre's event, I now believe we have a clear responsibility to foster greater collaboration between our corner of the industry and the arts. In a symbiotic, collaborative relationship, both sides can realise their far greater potential.

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