EU roaming laws threatened by bureaucratic delays

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Europe - Satellite image - PlanetObserver

Europe - Satellite image - PlanetObserver (Photo credit: PlanetObserver)

If you have to travel for business - or indeed pleasure - you will know the pain to your wallet of using your mobile abroad.

Roaming charges are insanely high across the globe and recent research has showed more people are opting to switch their phones off rather than incur the plethora of charges put on them by mobile operators.

The European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, has put tackling the issue high on her agenda in recent years and vowed to slash roaming costs across the EU, even going as far to propose a vote in the European Parliament on scrapping them altogether.

The committee stage of this vote - which has to take place before it reaches parliament - was due to take place on Monday night, timely with the world's largest mobile trade show, Mobile World Congress, taking place in Barcelona this week.

However, complaints from the European Public Party (EPP) that members had not received the proposals in their own language - a stipulation enshrined in EU doctrine - meant the vote has been delayed, with one Bulgarian MEP saying it could be put back as far as a year.

This would be a disaster for the policy. The European elections are due in May and Kroes, who was dedicated to getting the plans through before this deadline, will step down after her rotation as the commissioner for technological issues.

I am a fan of the European Union due to issues like this being tackled on a grand scale and making a real difference to the lives of citizens across the EU. But the bureaucracy involved and the slow timescale of it being carried out is doing a disservice to the hard work of Kroes and her colleagues.

Those I have spoken to in Brussels think the year delay is a tad excessive, but there is no doubt that those responsible need pull their fingers out and get to work on translating the document for all MEPs so they can get a full understanding of what the policy means and vote it through before it gets condemned to the backwaters of EU paperwork and lost opportunities.

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Huawei may be one of the few winners of the NSA revelations

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English: Huawei Technology in Shenzhen, China

English: Huawei Technology in Shenzhen, China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I attended an event at The Ritz yesterday - you have got to love making a posh place look untidy - hosted by Huawei, giving an update on its SoftCOM solution which offers up open, cloud-based technologies to bring software defined networking to telecoms operators.

However, whenever the big wigs from this Chinese firm are in town, discussion always turns to its awkward public persona.

I interviewed the CTO of its carrier networks business, Dr Sanqi Li, and I asked him about the tough couple of years the firm had had in the public eye - from the US deeming their products unsafe for use in corporate or public networks and Australia banning the equipment from government backhaul through to all the controversy surrounding their use by BT for UK government networks.

I am used to very polite answers from Huawei executives about how they want to be more open, transparent and gain the trust of the wider community outside of its home market, and Dr Li didn't disappoint. However, as he continued, it dawned on me there had been at least one winner following the revelations of Edward Snowden in 2013...

"What we see globally is that people realise more that security issues in this new digital age are a challenge for all," he said. "You have heard the news. It is not just around Huawei anymore but about everyone else being a victim. The security, the privacy, these are constantly concerns for all."

"I think the situation has been improving for Huawei as people realise this is now about everyone. All vendors, operators, governments, they need to work together to truly find a solution. It is not just us, look at Amazon, Google, Cisco, Ericsson... we all need to work together."

And Dr Li is right. It is not just about some looming threat from the Far East anymore. When doubts were first cast over the safety of using Huawei equipment, a lot of people said off the record that the accusers - normally rival firms and Western governments - would only know networking gear could provide holes to leak information if they knew how to do it themselves.

The NSA revelations show just that and that whilst we still remain unsure as to whether the Chinese government is getting its mitts on our personal or corporate information, we know for a fact the US and the likes of GCHQ in the UK are.

So, it is a fair point for Dr Li to make and I'll be interested to see how this plays out from an Huawei reputation perspective.

Does this mean Huawei and other firms from China are suddenly going to gain the trust of the West? Perhaps not. But it does show its suspicious gaze that has been focusing on the emerging market for so long needs to stop being so longsighted and focus a little closer to home.

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The BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard could be the symbol of a triumphant return

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Too Many Blackberrys

Too Many Blackberrys (Photo credit: Ninja M.)

Everyone knows I am a bit of a fan girl when it comes to the BlackBerry 10 OS, along with the firm's first, and indeed flagship, device running it - the BlackBerry Z10.

However, its continuing failure across 2013 showed I was one of the very limited numbers celebrating BlackBerry's new direction in touchscreen mobiles, rather than its classic QWERTY keyboard design.

It never fully moved away from the tradition, launching both the Q10 and Q5 to keep the button tappers happy, but it seemed to be aiming its sights on a new market, claiming to be as swift and shiny as its Apple and Android competitors.

But just having me and Karl Flinders on-board was not enough for the new CEO John Chen (we are sure it was enough for Thorsten though....).

In an interview with Bloomberg at this week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, he claimed hardware was integral to the company and, although "you never say never," having its own handsets was still very important, rather than the alternative of just licensing the software.

But it seemed along with returning to its enterprise roots, BlackBerry would also be returning to the safety of its famed keyboard design.

"I think there are enough leaks in the market that the [next handset is known to be] a touchscreen... but personally I love the keyboards," said Chen.

"So, when you look to BlackBerry going forward with keyboards, I wouldn't use the word exclusively, but predominantly."

The promise comes just after the revelation BlackBerry is suing start-up firm Typo - financially backed by American idol's Ryan Seacrest - claiming its iPhone case, which provides a physical keyboard for iOS users, infringes on its own patents.  

Chen didn't want to talk much about the case, but said with 44,000 patents, his company should see some business benefits from that.  

Both companies are showcasing their products at CES so expect a few awkward run-ins on the show floor...

Watching the interview, I do have some hope for BlackBerry. As Chen admits, he is a "factual engineer" with an enterprise software background and he knows the market BlackBerry has been a success in. Focusing on its most popular features and its biggest market within enterprises is surely the best step forward, rather than attempting to compete with the cool kids and, let's face it, losing badly.

There is still a long path to recovery for Chen and his new team at BlackBerry, but now they have realised the less hip but more profitable world of business is the future, I am feeling much more optimistic, even though I still prefer the Z10...  

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What we missed in the festive season

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Happy New Year all!

So after a blissful two weeks off, I have returned to my desk as many of you have with emails up to my eyeballs and a few stories that have made those eyes water as the networking and telecoms industries ignored the Christmas break and carried on moving.

First up was the news on Christmas Eve that former BlackBerry CEO and co-founder Mike Lazaridis was selling off $26m of his stock in the struggling mobile manufacturer and backing away from a proposed take-over deal with fellow co-founder Doug Fregin. 

Lazaridis had owned 5.7% of the firm's shares at the end of 2012 but, together with Fregin, had upped this to 8%. In October the pair submitted a security filing hinting at a possible takeover of the firm.

However, a subsequent filing on 24 December showed Lazaridis shares had fallen to under 5% and he had terminated a contract with Goldman Sachs and Centerview Partners who he had hired to look into the acquisition. 

Another withdrawal story also broke over the Christmas period with Nokia announcing the departure of its executive chairman for the Nokia Solutions and Networks (NSN) business, Jesper Ovesen. 

He joined the firm in 2011 during the joint venture days with Siemens but will be moving on as soon as Nokia's deal to sell off its devices business to Microsoft closes. A shame as he has helped build its success, but I still think the company has a strong future in new leadership.

Finally, my favourite story of the past two weeks has to be about Ed Vaizey admitting his own incompetence. Following a Sky News party, the minister for communications was overheard agreeing with one of his aides that he was "completely useless."

This gave the shadow culture minister Dan Jarvis a perfect opportunity to dig at him for his performance in areas like the broadband roll-out, calling it "utterly pedestrian."

Yes, it was more than likely taken out of context and after a fair few glasses of bubbles, but it is nice to hear a government minister speaking with the people's voice for a change...

So, now we are in 2014 and there is surely much to come from the industry, with Cisco's next conference just a few weeks away and Mobile World Congress looming in February, to name just a few high profile events.

What are your thoughts for the coming year? Anything you will be keeping an eye on? It would be great to hear from you. 

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Christmas quips won't get the broadband job done

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Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament (Photo credit: Gail Johnson)

Most of the time, the Houses of Parliament is something that makes me proud to be British. The representation from every corner of the UK, the ability to question ministers, parliamentary privilege; this to me is what real democracy is all about.

Other times, I want to punch the walls of the impressive gothic lobby at how often that democracy is wasted.

Today was one of those days.

I was watching the questions to the DCMS ministers this morning and was pleased when the subject of the broadband roll-out arose.

Nigel Evans, the independent MP for Ribble Valley, kicked off with a lame joke about the Obama 'selfie' scandal, saying if the secretary of state, Maria Miller, came to Lancashire, she would find it "a bit hit and miss" if trying to upload one taken with him.

Yes, we all groaned, but the over-arching point was a good one.

"In Lancashire, only 55% have access to superfast broadband, whereas nationally it is 65%," he said. "Will she ensure that Lancashire is not going to be left in the digital dinosaur age but 100% will get access to it?"

Miller had stats to say it was actually available to 67% in the Lancashire and used the figures to show the government was making progress, but ended with the line: "We are making progress but clearly we need to make sure that continues."

Ok, nothing ground breaking there. Happy an MP has brought it up but let's try something a little more taxing for the minister, shall we?

Step up Sir Nick Harvey, Liberal Democrat MP for Devon North, who had a much less jocular tone with Miller and a real question to ask.

"The secretary of state referred to the 10% that is most difficult to reach with superfast broadband," he said. "Does she recognise in areas like mine that 10% is in fact far bigger than that and that the rural economy is very dependent on small micro businesses and much higher than average levels of home working?"

"Will she get on with allocating the £250m that has been set aside for this 10% and will she not make it match funded by already broke local authorities?"

Alas Miller, going unquestioned as is the nature of these things, used the question as an excuse to say how great her party's plans were compared to the previous administration and to bypass the real question of the £250m - something that can't be allocated whilst the DCMS, local authorities and BT keep hidden where the BDUK roll out is taking place due to state aid rules - with a coming soon trailer.

"My honourable friend is absolutely right to say that making superfast broadband a priority infrastructure project for this country was absolutely right for this government to decide to do [we didn't hear him say that] and the plans we inherited from the party opposite were lamentable [he didn't say that either]."

"He will know that we have already allocated £250m, which we will be announcing shortly how that will be used [so, it hasn't been allocated to specific projects yet then, has it?] and also he will have noticed in the Autumn Statement an additional £10m for the hardest to reach areas where we need innovative solutions [another fund where details remain scarce]."

So, this didn't get any of us much further.

But when Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne Central, stood up I thought here we go. I know this woman has balls and at least with the cheeky 'lamentable' comment about the previous government's plans - Labour wanted everyone to have a minimum of 2Mbps by 2012 by the way - she also had motivation to take the DCMS to task.

Talking specifically to Ed Vaizey, who is the real minister in charge of broadband roll-out, she said: "Under Labour's universal broadband pledge, everyone would now have enjoyed a year of full access to decent broadband instead of the ongoing delay and controversy we have."

Yes Onwurah! Now, go in for the kill; why the delays? Why the cover ups? When can we have transparency?

"So can I ask the minister if he will be sending out eChristmas cards this year and, if so, does he take responsibility for all the problems so many people will still have receiving them?"

YES, YOU GO... wait a minute... a Christmas card joke? Really? You have your moment to stand there in parliament and question the people running this much maligned scheme to try to get some real answers, and you make a terrible joke about online cards?

Vaizey answered in his BoJo-esq style, of course. With a wry smile and a gesture to John Bercow, he said: "Mr. Speaker, call me old fashioned, but I send out physical Christmas cards. You will receive one and so will the honourable lady."

And how they all laughed; Vaizey, Onwurah, the gathered throngs - OK, tens - of MPs, whilst I sat here with my head in my hands asking myself what is a point in a parliament and questions to ministers if it is just all a chance to try out your stand-up skills and make a mockery of a serious issue?

I have been experiencing a lot of abuse via email and Twitter since starting to seek out the postcode data and roll-out plans of the BDUK project. I have also been condemned in public for posing difficult questions. I have watched other outspoken individuals seeking out transparency for the project go through similar things.

All we want is the answers and, when answered fully, we will get back in our boxes.

But let's face it; if the best we are going to get from the opposition is a quip about festive postcards, I think we all have to keep this up for some time and have quite a way to go before the truth will truly be out there. 

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Hello... is that the operator on the line?

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A telephone booth with smashed tempered glass ...

A telephone booth with smashed tempered glass in Holloway, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up in a small village in deepest, darkest Hampshire. When I was about 10 years old, the big news in the parish magazine was the fact we were getting a phone box. Oh the excitement! Don't get me wrong, the painfully middle class population all had their own home phones, but it felt like East Oakley was being included in 'the modern times' and keeping up with the Jones' - or neighbouring villages anyway...

I genuinely remember the moment vividly. Me, Danielle Stacey, Keira Armstrong and Rachel Davies, walking to the SPAR shop - something we weren't allowed to do on our own at the time, naughty us! - and dialing 100 for the operator (the only free number we knew at the time) to tell them to get off the line... or they may be hit by a train! Hahaha... OK, please remember we were only 10?

I am sure the only people that used that phone box were the local kids messing about, harmless as it was, but I still stick by the excitement it brought to the residents, young and old alike.

So, you can perhaps understand my reality check on receiving the latest consumer research from EE - used to tout its 4G network of course - saying half of all 18 to 24 year olds had NEVER used a phone box.

Working as I do in the West End, phone boxes have been purely for calling cards of ladies looking for, shall we say, company of an evening for many years and it was a talking point a few weeks ago in the office when I saw a man actually using one to make a phone call. Admittedly then, the stat that 80% of people had not used a phone box in five years was understandable.

But I am only in my late twenties myself and it amazes me that people so close to my age have never had to panic as they throw in an extra 10p to call their boyfriend when they are away on a dull family holiday, keep the emergency 20p to call mum or dad to come and pick them up when you have missed the last bus home from someone's not-so-secret house party or played pranks on poor, bored BT operators.

I know age comes to us all - my sister and I were last night discussing how our first email addresses were almost old enough to legally drink - and technology changes with the times. But it is little statistics like this that remind me how fast times are moving now and today's next big thing is tomorrow's age old relic.

Well, at least I can be grateful for the fun we had with the phone box, although perhaps not so grateful that it was the highlight of my year in 1995... 

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BDUK: The answer is to manage expectations with a transparent plan

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I am lucky enough to have regular conversations with some great alternative providers working at local level to try and get broadband connectivity to the most rural areas.

This week, for example, I got to speak to Dr Mike Goldsmith, managing director of
VillageBroadband, about the impressive community wireless project he is running in Northamptonshire - you can read more about that programme here.

But along with the exciting and innovative conversations I have, I also get the horror stories and the news from the ground of what small communities are going through on their quest to become connected.

Today one such provider contact pointed me to a story in the Burnley Express entitled 'Village broadband service not what it seems'.

A letter from local resident David Parkinson, living in Chatburn, said, as someone who works at an IT business based in the rural location, he and his colleagues were delighted when his village was chosen to be one of the first to get superfast broadband in the Lancashire broadband roll-out.

The work was completed in September 2013 and the local council, alongside BT, is now shouting from the rooftops the doors are open and orders are now being taken for the connections.

However, Mr Parkinson's business is connected to BT's exchange directly with an exchange only (EO) line. This means his business is unable to get the new superfast technology from cabinets.

If this was a one off, perhaps it could be forgiven, but Mr Parkinson said the majority of the businesses based in the village have these exchange only lines, leaving those who could arguably benefit most from the faster connectivity missing out.

A number of people have been questioning Lancashire County Council over Twitter about how this happened and how both it and BT were able to celebrate and publicise how super-connected Chatburn was when they hadn't even come up with a solution to help those with rural enterprises and EO lines.

The council has said it is working on a solution and considering a new cabinet to redirect the EO lines to, but this doesn't alter the fact Chatburn residents were told they would get their broadband in September 2013, even though those behind the plans knew it didn't mean all of them.  

It is yet another example of a lack of transparency when it comes to BDUK. They - both BT and the council - knew the EOs were there. They knew they needed to work out an alternative solution to connect those to the faster network. Yet, they still told the village they were getting superfast broadband in September with no caveats.  

I am consistently told by BT spokespeople that they won't tell us where they are rolling out as plans change and they don't want to disappoint people, as well as being told people like me - members of the press - will leap on them in 10 seconds flat if they didn't live up to their promises.

I have consistently replied that transparent plans with honesty about what areas they definitely will cover, where they hope to and the inclusion of caveats, including the likes of EOs, are still a better alternative than saying nothing or giving out tidbits of information.   

In the case of Chatburn, they have fallen into the last category, only revealing half truths about what they are doing, leaving out the killer detail that many will be missing out.

The residents of rural areas in the UK want broadband and, having waited this long, are ok with waiting longer. But what they want is the truth about when they can expect it and, as my provider contact said, a management of expectations, rather than statements that could easily be construed as lies.

I hope Mr Parkinson won't be waiting too long for his connection and his business doesn't suffer in the meantime.


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Is the fund to test 'innovative broadband solutions' funding for fundings' sake?

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This morning, I wrote a story about investment from insurance firms into infrastructure projects across the UK. The six companies plan on investing £25bn into the likes of airport redevelopment, flood defences, and, yes, broadband.

This will all fall under the umbrella of the National Infrastructure Plan from the government, which it claims will consist of £375bn of funding to get these projects done.

When the announcement came out this morning, a few token projects were touted, but the Treasury has just emailed me with more detail around how the broadband roll-out will benefit from the additional money.

Apparently, the government plans to open a £10m competitive fund in early 2014 to "test innovative solutions to deliver superfast broadband services to the most difficult to reach areas of the UK" - e.g. rural Britain.

"Options may include enhanced mobile services, new fixed technologies and alternative approaches to structuring financial support, working closely with the communications industry," it continued.

But, as with many government announcements, here is where the information stopped.

Is this new money or money from the Rural Community Broadband Fund? Who will be allowed to apply for this fund? Do we need to fund more research when there are plenty of small, alternative providers jumping in the air with working technologies who just need the funding and the nod from BDUK to start building?

Hmmm... I am not against extra funding in this area in the slightest - you may have seen my rants about the lack of money going into broadband infrastructure in the past - but you shouldn't have funding for funding's sake and it should be going towards the right projects, perhaps the printing costs of releasing all the postcode data behind BT/BDUK's roll-out?

So far I have been waiting over two hours for a call from the Treasury to come back to me with someone clued up on the scheme. As soon as they do and I get more details, I will let you know... 

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Best of the Beast

Best of the Beast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In these post-crash days and era of austerity, businesses up and down the country are struggling to balance the books. Yet some organisations have come out of 2013 looking healthier than ever before.

A new report from software company Growth Intelligence has announced a list of 1,000 companies said to be 'leading the economic recovery,' and technology is clearly making an impact on the fate of the UK.

From AppSense in the North West to Wireless Logic in the South East, the country is covered in successful tech firms that despite the tough economic climate have continued to bring in turnovers of between £6m and £250m.

But I'm afraid all of these innovative firms are lagging behind the fastest growing of the lot, and one you might not expect to see on a list containing everything from telecommunications to building materials.

Heavy metal legends Iron Maiden will this Christmas celebrate their 38th anniversary and as a little present, their holding company has been named as one of six music companies outperforming all other industries in the UK.

On top of the typical companies house data, Growth Intelligence includes employee growth, intellectual property and investments in patents and office space, amongst other metrics to get a wider picture, and it seems Maiden are kicking the backside of the corporates in their business endeavours, as well as on stage.  

They have been particularly successful when it comes to social media, where during its Maiden England World Tour between Jun 2012 and Oct 2013 - one of the best shows I saw this year - the band grew its online fanbase by five million.

In September 2013 alone, the band added almost 630,000 new social media fans, which Growth Intelligence said was the highest monthly increase the group has seen so far this year.

So maybe there is a lesson for us all here. Dressing smart, sticking to the rules and focusing on how to make money from your customers can get you far, but rocking out around the world with galloping guitar solos and songs celebrating the number of the beast may mean you do even better...


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Here's hoping HP doesn't squander its networking opportunity

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Image representing Hewlett-Packard as depicted...

Image via CrunchBase

HP's trial of a year has come to a close today with the release of its fourth quarter and full year results for 2013.

If you take the figures alone, they look much healthier, with revenues for the quarter breaking $29bn and the entire year coming in at $112bn.

However, these are smaller numbers than last year, both for the three months and the full fiscal period, and are only being celebrated because of the huge drops suffered in Q3.

The particular area being praised by HP's CEO, Meg Whitman, was the enterprise group - the hardcore hardware such as servers and storage. But again, these two particular product groups are only just returning to the same levels as 2012 and recovering from a sad performance in the previous quarter.

There is one beacon, however, in the company's enterprise arsenal and that is networking. This seems to be the only product set that is continuing to grow at an albeit slow but steady rate, bringing in $635m for Q4 2012, $644m for Q3 2013 and this quarter reaching $656m.

Yes, when a company has overall revenues in the billions, these numbers may seem small fry, but it is the continual progress of them that should bring a smile to the company's face, compared to the yo-yoing of its other enterprise hardware and the ongoing crash of its once very fruitful PC business.

With innovation in the networking space continuing to disrupt the market and the likes of Software Defined Networking looking to be the silver bullet to knock Cisco off its perch, it is an exciting time to be involved. Now it is time for HP to invest into the burgeoning technology area and makes it stamp on the market as others begin to fight over the ground Cisco may leave behind.

I look forward to seeing how it embraces networking and hope it doesn't squander the opportunity it has... 

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Welcome to Benioff-force 2013

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There was a slightly sad air circling the Moscone Centre at Salesforce's annual Dreamforce conference.

I have been attending since 2009 to cover the news coming out of the event; an event that has grown bigger and brasher over the years, with CEO Marc Benioff boasting as many as 130,000 registrations in 2013. But this year it felt different.

Dreamforce always had that vibe of an exciting and new conference filled to the brim with announcements that even the best journalists struggled to keep on top of. Salesforce itself was founded within a year of Google and was part of those select firms that came out of Silicon Valley in the late nineties and managed to manoeuvre their way through the bubble bursting which killed so many others.

These types have always garnered much respect in this part of the world but also managed to keep a cool façade, even if their founders have started to cover up the greys.

Yet this year, the almost cult status the company had achieved seemed to be sacrificed. Instead it became the Marc Benioff show and the technology that made the man took a cheap seat right at the back of the vast keynote halls.

I am somewhat of a cynic about the philanthropy of the world's richest, grateful of course when they make contributions I could never dream of giving, but feeling uncomfortable when they are used as a branding tool.

In the opening keynote, a large portion was dedicated to Benioff's personal philanthropy and in some cases it felt horrendously awkward. There is one thing deciding the children's hospital he was funding needed to be named after him, but I didn't know where to look when a picture with Haitian children writing 'Merci Salesforce' came up on the screen and the Prime Minster of Haiti stood up and thanked the CEO for his help and his cloud platform. It just seemed like the world had gone somewhat topsy-turvy when a world leader was puckering up to a Silicon Valley executive.

The rest of the conference continued in this vein. Even when it returned to the corporate customers rather than the charities, CEO after CEO was trawled out to tell Benioff what a wonderful man he was, how much he had changed their lives, and that was just from the president of WholeFoods.

Benioff has never been a shy guy and his presentation style has always been confident. He tried to make a joke of how in the connected world we lived in, it was crazy that every shop, airport or organisation didn't know who he was when he walked in and use it to their advantage. But this little diatribe sounded like more of a "Don't you know who I am?" rant you'd expect from a D-list celebrity in the queue for a new nightclub.

Then during a Q&A with the press, the mask of a man who cared about his customers and innovation in technology didn't so much slip as fly off, when he admitted he wanted to make as many products as possible to "ram down the throats" of his users, whether they needed them or not.

Yes, Dreamforce is always a great excuse for the UK technology press and customers to travel across the Atlantic, take advantage of hospitality in one of the greatest cities in the world and watch the likes of Metallica and Green Day with a free pint in hand. But there has always been an excitement around the technology, the feeling people were really getting what they paid for and that new innovations were just round the corner - which is what kept us coming back.

This year, the only announcement anyone was talking about was one with HP, which seemed to backtrack on the cloud-dream Salesforce had always stood for.

Salesforce is alive and well, revenues are coming in at vast rates and there is no doubt it will continue to be a success for some years to come. But the enticing company you always looked forward to getting a call from with its next big adventure has gone - and Benioff has taken his seat next to the Ellisons, Ballmers and Chambers of this world as an old, established, rich, white CEO rather than the new, refreshing innovator his cult company could have allowed him to be.

BDUK: The information they WILL share

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My ongoing piece about where BDUK is rolling out across the country is detailing the responses I am getting from councils as I try and make them give full details at a postcode level of where it will and will not be installed.

As you will know, there has been a lot of resistance to the publishing of this data and many excuses being made by all the parties involved.

But, there has definitely been some progress in revealing plans for BDUK county by county and the majority of the councils have websites now live giving limited information.

I wanted to make sure you all knew where these websites were so I have brought them all together in this blog.

Are the links below enough? No. We need more information and it should be on the postcode level, as was originally promised by many of the parties involved. But, in the meantime, here is what has been published which should give you a better idea at least.

Devon and Somerset

North Yorkshire


Herefordshire & Gloucestershire


Cambridgeshire and Peterborough



Durham, Gateshead Tees Valley and Sunderland


North and North East Lincolnshire



Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire

Coventry, Solihull and Warwickshire

Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole

Wiltshire and South Gloucestershire

Kent and Medway

East Sussex, Brighton and Hove


Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent



Essex, Southend-on-Sea, Thurrock


Leicestershire and City of Leicester


West Yorkshire



East Riding of Yorkshire



West Sussex



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Broadband's big boost for British (Telecom)

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Many of you may have seen by now the latest government report from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport entitled 'UK Broadband Impact Study.'

The DCMS commissioned the SQW Group to look at how us citizens will benefit from BDUK, both from the improved performance we will get out of our internet connections and the payback for our tax investment.

The headline figures are pretty promising and would understandably give Maria Miller and Ed Vaizey beaming grins.

The research claimed that for every pound the UK government put into broadband, the UK economy would benefit by £20. Wowza. I like those odds.

SQW said there would be a significant short-term boost to the UK economy from the government's broadband roll-out, with the network construction set to add around £1.5 billion to the economy overall and £0.5 billion with about 11,000 jobs in 2014 alone.

It also said the long-term effects would be impressive, with public investment increasing annual GVA by £6.3 billion and causing a net increase of 20,000 jobs in the UK by 2024.

Amazing! Thanks to the DCMS for sharing this information in a well put together press release with the report attached.

Of course many people wouldn't bother opening report and be happy with those headline figures. Some of us are not quite like that...

I am quite disappointed actually. I normally enjoy trying to find the holes in a piece of research and scouring through to find a slip up. However, the CEO of SQW, Chris Green, managed to put it right out there in the foreword.

"While recognising that there are still gaps in the empirical evidence base, and that the future is inherently uncertain, the study's projections are the outputs from a rigorous and detailed analysis which draws on the best data currently available."

Read that first line again.

"While recognising that there are still gaps in the empirical evidence base, and that the future is inherently uncertain..."

Basically, BDUK has been getting a lot of flak and bad press - not just from me by the way - so the DCMS thought they best pay someone to write a nice report bigging up how much its broadband investment is going to bolster the economy. 

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The BDUK postcode debacle and how it is driving me to drink...

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Yesterday, I returned to work after a lovely week away in the beautiful Peak District with my boyfriend, full of country walks, textile museums and a fair few whiskeys at some of the best rural pubs in the country - I would highly recommend the Kings Head to anyone who ends up in Bonsall, by the way.

But before I had even finished my first cup of tea back at my desk, the on-going BDUK saga took yet another turn that made me spit my hot brew all over my laptop (don't worry boss, everything is in working order).

As readers of this blog will know, I have been seeking out the postcode data for this project detailing where the roll-out of superfast broadband would be going and which areas would be left out. Again, as anyone following the story will be aware, this has been a far from easy task.

Since I began the investigation in July, not one council has offered me a list of the postcodes - even when I have submitted Freedom of Information requests - that both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and BT confirmed existed, as they were drawn up for when each contract was signed.

Some have claimed they don't have the postcode lists, others have denied it is in the public interest for them to be published, but most worryingly of all for a scheme that is funded by the tax payer, a number have said they cannot release the data as it is commercially sensitive to BT.

I have continued to push the local authorities through more FOIs and complaints as the DCMS and BT have said ever since the famed public accounts committee back in July that they were happy for this data to be made public.

Take this exchange between the chair of the committee, Margaret Hodge MP, Sean Williams, head of group director of strategy, policy and portfolio for BT, and Malcolm Corbett, CEO of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA).

Margaret Hodge: Is it true that, in your contracts with local authorities, you are preventing local authority officers from raising any concerns publicly or discussing their contractual arrangements with other local authorities? Is that true or not true?

Sean Williams: No, it is not true.

Malcolm Corbett: What about the non-disclosure agreements?

Sean Williams: Can I deal with that, because it was a theme in the remarks earlier? Every local authority, when we sign a contract, has an outline plan, which specifies to the level of individual postcodes where the likely BDUK footprint will be. Local communities can then ask the local authority, "Is my area covered in the BDUK footprint or not?" Local authorities will give them the answer.

That process is currently working. It has worked successfully for Rothbury in Northumberland. It is being used successfully for probably dozens of other RCBF bids at the present time. That is a fact.

Malcolm Corbett: Members of INCA have put in freedom of information requests to a number of local authorities to get speed and coverage templates that cover the whole county so that you can identify where the roll-out will be, over what time scale, and those areas where there will not be roll-out-the final 10%. We have put in freedom of information requests and they have all come back saying, "This is commercially confidential information that cannot be released".

I cannot see how it can possibly be in the public interest that our money is being spent in this way without us knowing where the money will be spent and where it will not be spent so that communities can take alternative action.

Sean Williams: We have suggested to the Department and BDUK that they should be published at that point.

Seems pretty clear, yes? But even the best of us can doubt ourselves, and as local authorities continued to say no and even more cited the 'commercial interests' reason for keeping schtum, I continued to check with representatives at both BT and the DCMS to confirm they were happy for this data to be published.

And they continued to say yes. Take this response I got from a BT spokesman in September when I asked specifically about whether the postcodes could be published...

"As you say, BT has said on record several times that it has no issue with this data being released. Our position remains the same as it did at the PAC hearing and we've been very clear on that. The information on the intended BDUK intervention areas is available to Local Bodies and it's a matter for them to decide whether they publish it."

But, here we are in November and apparently I have been getting it wrong all this time. Yesterday at a meeting in central London, my colleague asked Bill Murphy, managing director of next-generation access for BT, whether the postcodes could be published and he flat out said no. Why? Well, because of commercial interests of course...

"It's commercially sensitive information," said Murphy. "You can publish [coverage] maps and most councils are doing that... [but] you never know until you get there. We have a plan and a view but you do not know until you do the surveys and build and it is subject to change."

Unsurprisingly, we at Computer Weekly were shocked. After months of saying over and over again it was fine for the data to be published and several sources behind closed doors insinuating it was the councils holding everything up, BT had now changed their tune. So we wrote the story.

Cue an email from a BT press officer, complaining about the story and adding: "At no point has BT said that it's happy for postcode data to be published."

I won't lie; there may be a dent in my desk from where I felt the need to smack my head against it several times. An exchange ensued where I sent said press officer the correspondence and the details of the public accounts committee as I shared with you above.

The final email I received was as close as I think we will get to an acknowledgement, and it really isn't very close...

"There appears to be some confusion as my understanding is that our comments at the PAC always referred to draft, indicative plans being published by councils and not individual postcode data for the reasons explained in my previous email. You've probably seen that many councils have now published the draft plans on their website."

"I'm sorry for any confusion, however, and can see why you've written this up as a story if that was your impression. "

So there you go guys and gals, I am afraid this was all in my pretty little head and I have just been a confused journalist reading reports, conducting interviews, checking facts, making calls and submitting FOI requests to get an 'impression' - in case you don't know me well, I see sarcasm as the highest form of wit.

BT's current statement on what data should be shared is now the following:

"As we said at the PAC committee hearing, we are happy if councils wish to publish their indicative coverage maps, even if they are heavily caveated at this stage. This was a request from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and one that we have been proactively supporting."

"As for postcode data, until our very detailed survey work is complete there is no definitive or accurate postcode data that can be provided. Any data available now will undoubtedly change, so local authorities would have raised hopes only to have dashed them. They would also have indicated that some areas may be left out when it is too early to be certain."

So, is it time for me to hang up my pen and leave the government and BT to get on with the BDUK project without seeking out any more information?

Is it hell.

This is a tax payer funded scheme that affects residents and business across the country. People should know whether they are part of that scheme or not and other companies should be given the chance to get involved, both with the project itself and to serve the areas which are set to be missed out from the project - the latter of which should not have to wait until 2017 when BT has finished up its build.

The data exists and is held by the DCMS, BT and local authorities. I will not stop seeking out this information as I believe with the above circumstances, it cannot be right the details stay secret.

I look forward to coming back to you, but maybe I should have another week away to recover first... *grabs a Talisker*

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Shedding some light on Shenzhen

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English: Huawei Technology in Shenzhen, China

English: Huawei Technology in Shenzhen, China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rather than the noisy streets of London's West End or the kitten covered cozy office of mine in Nottingham, I am bringing you this blog today from Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.

I have travelled to the Far East for the first time in my life to visit the controversial but hugely successful Huawei; spending two days at its corporate headquarters in Shenzhen, China, and a further two days having meetings in the metropolis that is Hong Kong Island.

I cannot pretend it was a trip I took without reservations - and not because of my mother's warnings to keep my political and social opinions to myself when on the mainland. The question that stuck in my mind on the build-up to the trip, the 11 hour flight and the two hour car ride after was would I actually see anything of the real company or would it all be too cleverly orchestrated to get a real sense of the headline-making network colossus?

My conclusion was a mixture of the two.  

The PR machine is clearing in full swing and deliberate hires have been made over the past three years to try and win over Western media.

Take Joe Kelly. He worked as head of communications for BT Wholesale for many years - no easy task from a PR standpoint, I can assure you - but was poached by Huawei 10 months ago to work at its headquarters. The Irishman was by our sides in Shenzhen and was approachable, easy to get along with and had an instant rapport with the British journalists, making them feel more at ease. Very cleverly done Huawei. I see exactly why a) you hired him and b) you kept him close to us in China.

However, on the other side of things you have Scott Sykes, the American hired two years ago by the firm for the unenviable task of leading its international media relations and he was someone we were confronted with on our trip over the border to Hong Kong.

He was a very different character to Joe; less relaxed, arguably more controlled, but quite frankly rather intimidating. His answers to questions obviously toed the company line but they were sharp and he had an air of c level exec thinking our questions were unworthy, rather than an accommodating PR. The only glimmer of the usual positivity we have come to expect from Americans, especially in the PR industry, was when a colleague asked the chap whether he thought he had the most difficult job in communications. Then he smiled and gave a typical US answer of it being the best job in the world.

Over the week then, it felt like we had been eased in with the friendly homegrown press liaison but were being seen off by the representative of the country us Brits are used to being told off by.

This dichotomy seemed to sum up the week. For example, we were allowed access to executives but mostly those in marketing who had clearly been carefully selected themselves and were surrounded by large press teams, often attractive but silent women, which short, scruffy loud ones like me instantly find quite intimidating too.

We were given a tour of the ludicrously sized Shenzhen campus to get a sense of the sheer size and scale of its operations, but most of the areas we were let into seemed purpose built for public visits and were more exhibition halls than office workspaces or manufacturing.

So, the question really is when I leave later today, will I have gained the proof I wanted either way that Huawei are a trust worthy company or are a Chinese state machine we should all be watchful of? Unfortunately, I fear I still can't answer that, even after travelling 6,000 miles to find out.

I am impressed by the scale, the dedication to research and development, the self-deprecating nature when talking about past product mistakes and the real desire to break out of its home market and become a real global name. 

However, I am unimpressed by the lack of c-level executives willing to talk to us, the way we felt we were being kept on a lead when anywhere in its headquarters, the clinical appearance of the technology we were privy to and the conclusion of dealing with the US problem it had by calling the country sinophobic.

Don't get me wrong, every large corporation has its high and low points and all have something to prove, but Huawei has the most to show and the biggest need to win people over.

There are positive steps that have been taken this week and I am pleased it plans to continue moving towards a more open way of doing business, but rather than giving the press marketing employees on message and carefully picked PR people, it is time to let us in to the belly of the beast to talk to the big guns in charge. Only then do I think the real inner workings will come to light and the more those lights are hidden, the darker Huawei appears.


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BlackBerry screams 'BUY ME!' as the buzzards circle

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I cannot keep count of the amount of times in the past few weeks I have had the same conversation with friends, colleagues and even my partner.

Person I am familiar with: What is the phone you have now?

Me: A BlackBerry Z10.

PIAFW: [laughter] Really? A BlackBerry? Are you the last person with one of those? [more laughter]

Me: But, but, the new operating system is great, the design is beautiful, the...

PIAFW: [louder laughter]

Me: [insert expletive]

Admittedly, my boyfriend is an iPhone user, so I discount his opinion instantly [sorry love] but fellow beings both of the tech and non-tech persuasion seem to find my admiration for the product baffling.

I was the dream customer for BlackBerry; the one they envisioned when designing the new devices and operating system it launched in January. A previously dedicated Android customer who had dabbled with the idea of a new OS after getting annoyed with fragmentation and malicious apps. One who had considered Microsoft and Nokia's partnership but had not been won over. One who was ready to fall in love with her mobile all over again.

It took about a week after getting the Z10 to be head over heels and although I knew BlackBerry was in hot water, I, like them, thought if they got enough of the handsets into the mitts of smartphone lovers, the world would see the device we saw.

But it never came to be. Many months have passed and still no one has leapt to its defence. Instead talk is now around BlackBerry selling up shop - something everyone in the industry foretold - and a $1bn loss, mostly due to the writedown caused by unsold Z10s.  

Rumours are shooting around like Angry Birds of who the buyer will be, despite the firm already accepting an offer from its largest shareholder, Fairfax Holdings. But even when the $4.7bn was put on the table, it was widely considered to be posturing, with a hope to stir up more interest from other suitors rather than an instant yes from BlackBerry.

A Reuters article has now been getting a lot of attention, citing 'several sources close to the matter' throwing out names of prospective new owners; OS rivals like Microsoft - which just shelled out $7.2bn on Nokia - and Google, handset rivals like Samsung and LG, even technology giants Intel and Cisco have been mentioned.

You could come up with an argument for why each would want to buy BlackBerry and equally why each would want to run away. There is no doubt its existing customer base is attractive to those wanting to break into either North America or the world of enterprise. There is also little question its BES software is still widely regarded as the safest bet for corporate roll-outs and there are some tasty looking patents owned by the firm.

But there are plenty of question marks over the future value of the company, whether it will continue to fall in the next 18 months or if any buyer would have to pump in so much investment, it might not be worth the initial layout.

I will leave the economists to answer that question but it all smells to me like a bit more posturing from those sources who, let's face it, are likely to be BlackBerry employees or executives bigging up the firm again like with the Fairfax offer and hoping to make its for sale sign look more like an Apple advert than a Steve Ballmer video.

But I don't blame them. The best bet is to sell up and sell fast before the offers dry up. Because the fact is, despite what I think of the handsets and the software, customers don't want to buy BlackBerry, and in bars, businesses and even bedrooms across the globe, the few remaining fans are being laughed at by friends, colleagues and partners for defending the brand. Trust me, I know...

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My battle with BDUK - update two

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So another six weeks have gone by friends and I must admit I was hoping to have a lot more to tell you about my mission to publish the post code data on where the BDUK project will be rolling out superfast broadband

Alas, this update continues in the previous ones' negative tones as barriers continue to be placed between the citizens needing broadband and those set to provide it.

Since I last updated this blog, I have at least had several more responses from councils. Some came willingly but the majority were in answer to the reams of Freedom of Information requests I sent out after being ignored. In fact I wondered if I had anything to do with this -

However, FOIs do not equal honest answers it seems. My major concern is over the number of local authorities refusing to give me post code data on their plans due to protecting the commercial interests of BT - something they are allowed to do under section 43 (2) of the FOI Act.

This number has now hit 13. That is just under a third of all the local authorities involved in the BDUK project putting the supposed needs of a corporate giant above those of local residents who just want to know when, and more importantly IF, they are going to get access to broadband, in some cases for the very first time.

I have checked again with BT and the DCMS about whether they are happy with the post code data being published - as was initially stated in the Public Accounts Committee hearing that spurred this whole investigation - and both have said they are still more than happy for councils to go ahead.

So why the hold up? There have been many theories thrown around with the people I have been talking to, both on the private and public sector side. Some claim the authorities are using it as an excuse as they haven't got their acts together and put the data in an accessible format. Some blame BT and claim the bullying tactics it has been accused of are still going on behind closed doors. Others claim both sides are lying and just don't want it to come back and bite them on the behind when they don't stick to the plans they have signed multi-million pound contracts on.

I am still unsure which of these sides to put my bet on or indeed if there is another side in existence we have yet to think of to explain this ludicrous behaviour. But I am not one for giving up.

I am in discussions with some prominent politicians, campaigners and other such public figures to ensure these details don't remain a state secret and we finally get to know who is for connectivity and who will have to wait.

I will keep who close to my chest for now but, as ever, if you have any extra information on the roll-outs and want to share it, either named or anonymously, email me at or contact me over Twitter @NifS.

Oh, and by the way, there are still five councils who haven't even signed contracts yet. Good job the coalition put back the deadline to 2017 hey?

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4G isn't making me shun my Wi-Fi... yet

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Mobile operators may be arch enemies most of the time, but if there is one thing that brings them together onto the same side it is the threat of Wi-Fi.

When a user chooses to leap onto a wireless connection rather than use the mobile network, it means the operator is losing money and as free Wi-Fi becomes more and more ubiquitous, the threat to their revenues is growing.

However, EE recently claimed 4G has been bringing the punters back to the mobile network. The firm's Mobile Living Index, published in August, claimed 43% of customers were using fewer or no public Wi-Fi hotspots since moving to 4G, as well as almost 50% saying their browsing time had increased since getting the faster connection.

This could lead mobile operators to believe their 4G networks could be the weapon to win the war against Wi-Fi operators.

Yet those in the Wi-Fi business today bit back with their own survey.

Devicescape - a US firm which develops software enabling devices to connect wirelessly - claimed after a six month study taking in the usage of millions of Android users that either have its Curator Client, deployed by mobile operators, or DataSaver App, the picture was very different.

Whilst it was clear 4G led to an increase in mobile data usage, Wi-Fi usage had grown as well as a faster rate, almost doubling in comparison to those on 3G networks.

It is hard to know who to believe, with both sides having a motivation to shout about one type of connectivity over the other, so I am going to go with personal experience.

In the short time I had with a 4G phone, I definitely found myself using more data. However, I was much more careful about what I used it for and keeping track of it, unlike with 3G where I pay little attention to my data limit.

This more anxious attitude meant I was on the hunt for Wi-Fi hotspots a lot more as I wanted to conserve my uber fast 4G connections for when I really needed it, namely to keep me awake on the night bus home after a few too many vinos in Camden.

So, I think EE may be kidding itself a little if it thinks users are going to shun free Wi-Fi networks to exclusively stick with their pricier mobile data. When the limits go up and the prices come down, things may be different, but for now, I will still be keeping my eye out for that happiest of finds - free Wi-Fi connections.      

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Money for nothing and 2Mbps for me (if I'm lucky...)

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As with many on their commute to work, I end up with my head buried in the Metro, hoovering up the bite-sized news chunks and cracking a smile at how much Nemi reminds me of myself. This morning, however, what I normally consider a light hearted read got me quite angry and the snarl on my face is yet to leave.

A story on page four claimed the consultants employed by government to establish how much the high speed two (HS2) rail project was set to cost have pocketed £500m of taxpayer's money as their fee. What's more, these are the same bozos that were hired to estimate the cost of the Olympic Games, something they underestimated by more than £6bn.

Of course as a taxpayer, this makes me furious, but it is the continual eye watering figures associated with HS2 that are getting to me and how the government still refuses to redirect funds.

This latest one of £500m is just £30m less than the government first allocated to the BDUK project. It is madness that the Coalition is paying almost as much to consultants deciding on the monies needed for HS2 than it initially committed to broadband roll-out which, I know I have said it before but I will say it again, in the digital age we live, is arguably a far more important infrastructure project.

Anyone who reads my blog knows I am on somewhat of a crusade to get all the details published around the BDUK roll-out. The completion date is being put back time and time again, now until 2017, whilst local authorities are dragging their heels and one telecoms provider is being allowed to monopolise the entire project.

Money may not solve everything but there is no doubt in my mind; more funding for BDUK would have led to a faster roll-out. Instead we are pouring billions into a railway line we don't need and pricing consultants that can't even do their sums properly.

Please George Osborne, I beg you, re-examine your budget and realise this is a false economy. Start investing now where we need it most so UK businesses can thrive and this growth you claim the country has again will become more solid and believable.

Just don't get me started on how much they are spending on Trident...   

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Doth Huawei protest too much?

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English: Huawei E5 mobile Wi-Fi device

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.  

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