Thursday, August 31, 2006

Spectrum wall-chart and WiFi "camera" make the invisible visible

WiFi Camera Obscura

According to BoingBoing, "The WiFi Camera Obscura uses a directional WiFi antenna as an aperture for taking 'pictures' [of] the radio energy from WiFi use in a room, and paints those pictures as a movie on a nearby wall. The pictures are lovely oil-slicks of revealed radiation..."

Here the energy from 3 different WiFi nets - each coded with a different color to distinguish them, even as they mix in space - are shown as an overlay on a photo of the room in which they were monitored:

WiFi made visible and overlaid on a photo of the room in which they were monitored

Tech-artists Usman Haque, Bengt Sjölén and Adam Somlai-Fischer are developing this system with support from folly and fast-uk. See the project website for more details and images.

The first version of "WiFi Camera Obscura" went on display last week at the National Museum of Art in Riga, Latvia, as part of "Waves," the 8th Art and Communication festival. A later version will be shown in Lancaster, England, at the "Perimeters, Boundaries and Borders" exhibition (29 September to 21 October 2006).

DSC04690 The Political Spectrum

Another piece in the Riga show is worth mentioning here: "The Political Spectrum" by Julian Priest and John Wilson (the co-founders of Open Spectrum UK). Theirs is a huge wall-chart showing the Baltic countries' frequency allocation tables, with data entries positioned according to the number of times an applicant for spectrum succeeded in changing a national allocations table. The Latvian part was left blank so it could be filled in during a public workshop on "spectrum politics." But people attending the exhibition started filling in the blank spaces right away - in effect claiming the spectrum as theirs.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Welsh Assembly to be investigated over RIBS contract

By Basheera Khan | 23 Aug 2006

The Welsh Assembly Government is to be investigated by the European Commission following claims of unlawful behaviour under state aid rules in its awarding of a contract to BT to upgrade 35 exchanges in Wales that had previously been excluded from the telco's national ADSL implementation on economic grounds.

The contract forms part of the £13.4m Regional Innovative Broadband Support (RIBS) initiative, which is the final stage of the Broadband Wales strategy to ensure 100% broadband coverage in Wales by 2007.

The complaint has been brought by WBNet Ltd, a family-run company in Monmouthshire which in 2004 began offering a 2Mbps SDSL wireless broadband service to businesses and communities across that county. Most commercial broadband services offered at present, including those offered by BT, are based on ADSL, which offers slower upload speed than it does download speeds. Using SDSL, broadband providers can offer a service where the upload speeds and download speeds are the same.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Welsh Scientists Awarded $1.86M Grant

Welsh Scientists Awarded $1.86M Grant for Energy-Saving Chip Work
Staff Reporter -- Electronic News, 8/18/2006

Welsh scientists with help from two local semiconductor companies have been awarded a $1.86 million (1 million pound) grant to drive forward smart microchip technology targeted at reducing the world's energy consumption.

The research team at Swansea University's electronics systems design center was awarded the funding through the Department of Trade and Investment's (DTI) technology transfer competition. They will carry out the project in partnership with Zetex and X-Fab, the two largest semiconductors companies in the United Kingdom.

Swansea University said its success in the DTI competition was enabled by a three year collaborative industrial research project and follow on patent and proof of concept support to develop smart microchips, funded by the Welsh Assembly.

"The Assembly Government is actively assisting collaboration between industry and academia to further increase the R&D capacity of Wales," Andrew Davies, Wales' minister for enterprise innovation and networks, explained in a statement.

The center estimates that power management through smart chip technology could allow over $400 billion in electrical energy annual savings.

"The technology has the capacity to make a significant impact both on next-generation industrial competitiveness and on sustainability issues in the field of engineering," Petar Igic, the director of the Swansea Center, said in the statement. "The commercial potential is massive."

Take-off time for smart clothing

Graeme Wearden
August 18, 2006, 14:40 BST

Clothing makers are betting big on a future where people will no longer carry mobile technology but have it integrated into their favourite jacket or bag

So-called "smart clothing" where technology is integrated directly into garments will be a multi-billion dollar industry in less than a decade, according to experts.

Also referred to as wearable computing, the trend could see a mobile phone or personal digital assistant integrated into a jacket. Some such products already exist, such as a snowboarding jacket shown off by Apple and Burton's in 2003 which included controls for an iPod, but are not generally seen as commercially viable.

Major players in the textile industry such as South Korea are already investing in the technology. Hwang Kyu-yearn, an official at the South Korean Commerce and Industry Ministry said this week: "The research and development of smart clothing can't be left up to the market only, because of its high risk. The Government has taken the role of offsetting this risk," according to the Associated Press.

South Korea's textile and clothing industry generates billions of pounds worth of exports, so it cannot afford to fall behind in the wearable computing market. Its Government has begun partnering with local companies on research and development work, with a view to winning 20 percent of the market. It has estimated that the wearable computing market could be worth $7bn (£3.7bn) by 2014.

Potentially, business workers could be as large a market as consumers, if the wearable computing industry can find ways of integrating mobility products into our clothes.

315 jobs to go as LG plant closes

Friday, 18 August 2006, 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK

The closure has been blamed on the falling cost of LCD monitors

The LG Electronics plant in Newport, south Wales is to close at the end of the year with the loss of 315 jobs.

LG Electronics Wales, which assembles computer monitors on the site, blamed falling prices and expressed regret.

It is the only surviving LG factory on the site following a landmark investment in 1996, promising 6,000 jobs. Most failed to materialise.

One worker said staff were very depressed after being told the news before being sent home for the day.

The man, who did not want to be named, said staff were then sent home for the day.

He said the news "even though it was not unexpected, was gutting".

In a letter to workers, the company's managing director said there had been a "great deal of speculation" about the plant's long term future.

Production lines had been reduced from six to three but a return to profit "unfortunately...has not materialised."

'Rapid decline'

The letter added: "The decreasing sales price of LCD computer monitors together with the increased competition within the market makes it impossible to operate this site profitably and this downward trend cannot be reversed."

"It is a huge disappointment to us all and the decision was made with great regret."

The LG site has had a troubled history, with up to 6,000 jobs promised in 1996 never materialising.

* A £1.2 billion sister factory on the site, which was to make semi-conductors, never went into production and is still empty.The LG Philips factory making colour tubes for monitors and televisions closed in 2003 with 870 job losses.
* The LG factories on the site originally received more than £87m of grant money, and in 2005 some £34m was repaid to the then Welsh Development Agency.

Irish company the Quinn Group, making radiators, took over the LG Phillips plant in 2005, creating 460 jobs.

Brian Morgan, of Cardiff Business School, was chief economist for inward investment body the Welsh Development Agency when the factory was set up.

He said the project was "doomed from the start" adding that the overall plan was "far too ambitious".

He said: "It was a massive attempt to bring an electronics factory and semiconductor plant to Wales and it never got off the ground."

Enterprise Minister Andrew Davies said he was "very disappointed" with the closure decision.

"The company has assured us that this decision in no way reflects on the quality of the workforce in Newport, but has been taken as a result of the intense global conditions for their products - particularly the rapid decline in price of the products they supply," he said.

Mr Davies said a team would be sent in to work with the company and the employees affected by the decision.

"We are also examining the local supply chain to ensure that any impact of this planned closure on any local companies is minimised," he said.

Liberal Democrat Kirsty Williams said: "Instead of the major shot in the arm that the Welsh economy was promised, Newport got a pain in the neck - a small factory producing electronics and an embarrassingly large hi-spec white elephant."

Hundreds of jobs at old LG site
16 Aug 05 | South East Wales
Korean firm repays grant millions
21 Mar 05 | Wales
Electronics giant repays £34m grant
01 Apr 04 | Wales
Final days at LG Philips
20 Aug 03 | Wales
LG: The dream that died
22 May 03 | Wales

Tibetans to Teach Wi-Fi Know-How

By Xeni Jardin
02:00 AM Aug, 18, 2006

DHARAMSHALA, India -- Organizers of a community wireless mesh network in Dharamshala, India -- the hometown-in-exile of the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetan refugees -- say they want to "unwire" more Tibetan exile communities and other unconnected spots in the developing world.

And to jump-start that plan, they plan to -- what else? -- network.

Click here for extensive photos of Tibet's mesh network.
In October, the Tibetan Technology Center will host the Air Jaldi Summit for wireless community developers from around the world.

Expected to attend is Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman and Wi-Fi pioneer Vic Hayes.

"We want to show people that it's possible not only to build out this kind of technology at low cost in developing areas, but that it's possible for the community to really integrate it into their lives," said Yahel Ben-David, a one-time Silicon Valley dot-commer who left his native Israel to build Dharamshala's mesh network.

October's summit will be less of a who's-who and more of a how-to, says organizer Oxblood Ruffin, who is a member of underground computer security group Cult of the Dead Cow.

In addition to representatives from Intel, Cisco and wireless activists from Europe, "Some sherpas from Nepal are coming," says Ruffin. "I'm trying to make the panels as diverse as possible, mixing grassroots activists, techies and enterprise folk in each."

Presenters will include wireless advocate and University of Limerick President Emeritus Roger Downer and Dave Hughes, who brought internet connectivity to the base of Mt. Everest.

"We want at least some of the workshops to teach people how to assemble and deploy mesh routers, then we're going to go put them up in the region and expand the mesh," says Ruffin. "We want work to be left behind so the summit leaves a positive footprint on the region."

But the event won't be all routers and no play. Organizers hope to obtain a beer permit from local authorities and throw a Himalayan kegger, with DJs spinning tunes via iPod, downloaded from the wireless mesh.

The conference also coincides with Dharamshala's annual Miss Tibet Pageant, and the reigning queen is expected to sashay by during the proceedings.

Mesh network technician Phuntsok Dorjee, 29, says the group has successfully installed some 30 nodes in Dharamshala that connect 2,000 computers since plugging in the first antenna in 2005 when Wi-Fi was legalized in India.

Now, they're ready to do it all over again.

"Our aim is to build up a strong Tibetan IT force, and replicate this in other Tibetan settlements, in other parts of rural India," says Dorjee.

"This doesn't require big-time investment, it's very cheap compared to commercial equipment, and once we have the gear set up it's easy to deploy. The first time is the hardest, so half of our work is accomplished."

Nepal Wireless

House committee directs govt. to let people freely use the WiFi bands

After a two hours discussion at the Development Committee of the House of Representatives on Thursday, the committee has issued directives to Ministry of Information & Communications (MOIC) and Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) to de-license the Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) bands using 2.4 Ghz and 5.8 Ghz frequencies.

Moreover, the committee gave instruction to clarify policies in order to make computer to computer 'Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)' legal.

At the start of the meeting, Mahabir Pun, team leader, Nepal Wireless Networking Project, gave detailed presentation about the accomplishments of the project to the members of parliamentary committee, and officials present in the meeting. He made clear that restrictions on the use of equipment using those frequencies were the major obstacle for the advancement of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Nepal.

Minister of State for Information and Communications, Dilendra Badu, admitted that the issue was new to him and that he would try his best to implement the recommendations made by the committee.

Chairman of the NTA, a regulatory body, Suresh Kumar Pudasaini, said the Authority had already sent its opinion on the opening up of ISM band frequency for general use to the ministry, but the ministry was yet to make any decision. He further added that he has been constrained by his own board's inaction and indecisiveness on the issues related to VoIP. He said he had already taken the issue to the board thrice in a row and blamed his board members for not enacting a decision on it. Pudasaini said while he had the right to issue any form of license and set tariff, on even simple issues related to communications with different ministries of Nepal Government, he had to route it via a junior officer at the MOIC. "If such a situation persists, it would be better to turn the NTA into a department under the ministry," he fumed.

A UML lawmaker and former minister, Raghuji Pant, shared his experience how bureaucrats tried to mislead ministers most often by giving false interpretation of legal and technical issues.

It was revealed that the decision on Frequency was under the domain of a committee formed under the chairmanship of the Minister of Communication with the Secretaries of Home, Communications, Defense, Tourism as well as chairman of the NTA. On this point, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee, Tanka Rai, asked since all members of the frequency committee were present at the meeting, if there were any objections from them. All the concerned Secretaries said they had no objections, on which Chairman Rai gave direct instructions to the Minister to publish the necessary directive on the Gazzette and bring an end to the matter.

Chairman Rai further said that there should not be any hindrances in the development of ICT sector and everyone should work towards rapid development of such technologies in the country.

Talking to Nepalnews, IT consultant and journalist Gaurav Upadhyay said that making accessible the WiFi bands or ISM band would help make wireless networking in rural parts of the country possible and provide communication facilities there.

He added that if these frequencies were not allowed for use to the public, there is no possibility of benefiting from the latest development in ICT, adding these bands were allowed for public worldwide.

“If we do not allow such bands for public use, we will be lag behind in ITC,” he said. pb Aug 18 06


Nepal to de-license WiFi soon

Wireless Works Wonders in Tibet

By Xeni Jardin|
02:00 AM Aug, 17, 2006

DHARAMSALA, India -- Across the border from Chinese-occupied Tibet, the tech infrastructure in this high mountain village is a mess.

But a former Silicon Valley dot-commer and members of the underground security group Cult of the Dead Cow are working with local Tibetan exiles to change that using recycled hardware, solar power, open-source software and nerd ingenuity.

Click here for extensive photos of Tibet's mesh network.
The volunteers are building a low-cost wireless mesh network to provide cheap, reliable data and telephony to community organizations.

The Dharamsala Wireless Mesh is an example of "light infrastructure," a concept gaining popularity among tech developers: decentralized, ad hoc networks that can deliver essential services faster than conventional means.

Attempts to deploy similar community wireless networks in America have been blocked repeatedly by national phone carriers. It takes a big company like Google to build citywide Wi-Fi networks (the company launched its first in Mountain View, California, this week).

So sustainable network builders are going where they're welcome -- in this case, a rural village 7,000 feet up in the Himalayas.

When Chinese forces occupied Tibet in the 1950s, thousands of refugees fled across the Himalayas to northern India. Half a century later, the village where many settled -- Dharamsala -- is home to a large exile community eager for opportunities in India's tech industry.

But electricity sputters off and on. Land lines and cell phones are frequently down for days. Those who can afford it carry multiple mobiles, in case one provider's network conks out. Internet access is scarce and expensive.

Yahel Ben-David, founder of the Dharamsala Wireless Mesh, honed his tech skills in Silicon Valley and his mountain skills in the Israeli military.

Using old climbing gear, he shimmies up towers to install repeaters, crosses high passes to reach remote antennas, and recycles discarded tech junk from the West. Here, new parts from the United States or Europe are prohibitively expensive.

Some of the technical challenges he faces are unique. This may be one of the only networks in the world where antennas must be monkey-proofed.

"Monkeys are everywhere," says Ben-David. "Often, you'll see a huge, gorilla-sized monkey hang on to an antenna, swing from it, eat it, try to break it. We lost a lot of cables that way, but now we use very strong equipment so that even monkeys can't break it."

Ben-David's Tibetan collaborators include Phuntsook Dorjee, a network technician who was born in exile. He now serves as the Tibetan Technology Center's liaison between hackers and local Tibetan community leaders, including the office of the Dalai Lama.

Dorjee says internet telephony is one of the most attractive applications for Tibetans because Tibetan script cannot be written using standard keyboards or SMS. "With VOIP they can just speak," he says.

Tech experts from the West have been passing through Dharamsala to help since the network went live in 2005, but they soon learn not to expect star treatment. Locals refer to them in Hindi slang as computer-wallas, like plumbers for PCs, just as the street-corner veggie vendor is the sabji-walla and rickshaw drivers are taxi-wallas.

Unlike most community wireless projects in the United States, Dharamsala's growing mesh is not open to laptop-toting visitors. The bandwidth its operators have to share is limited, costly and much of it comes from BSNL, the government-controlled telecom provider. So for now, access is limited mostly to schools, government offices and nonprofits, which pay a nominal fee and host equipment to further the network's reach.

Admins reluctantly installed a content filter at one site because so many adults were visiting porn sites that the network's limited bandwidth became choked.

"They found it a bit awkward to tell people to stop, because apparently some of the people doing this surfing were quite high in the organization," says Ben-David. "So we put in a porn filter, and suddenly traffic usage dropped a lot."

You'll find antennas in the oddest places here. Because Hindu temples are often built on hilltops, these are sought out as antenna sites. Sometimes the antennas are painted with religious symbols like the Sanskrit om so locals will welcome their presence.

The project's home base is a small, nondescript room on the campus of the Tibetan Children's Village, an educational center and foster home for young refugees.

Western volunteers teach computer classes here, too, in a room adjacent to the network's server room. Among the more popular classes is web publishing, where young people learn JavaScript, PHP and basics for building websites.

Samdhong Rinpoche, the 67-year-old prime minister of Tibet's government in exile, is a religious scholar and close associate of the Dalai Lama. He fled Tibet with the Dalai Lama in 1959 after China took over.

Earlier this month, he announced a new information-technology initiative that includes an online Tibetan-language video news network.

Many here are now hoping the internet will bring new economic benefits. Could Tibetans run call centers, like those in India's south, or use the mesh for e-commerce -- selling thangkas or yak cheese online?

Rinpoche believes there's something inherently Tibetan about the internet. Life is a network.

"Nothing is independent," he says. "Everything is related and interdependent. We have to connect with each other, and for connecting we need communication. And for communication now there are tremendous facilities (through technology) ... and it is very good."

The prime minister is among those in Dharamsala who also see technology as a valuable tool for preserving Tibet's past.

He says he carries 300 volumes of religious texts on a few CDs, a quantity that would have been impossible to transport on paper. A number of Tibetan organizations here are scanning ancient religious texts and old government documents smuggled out of Tibet, with plans to make them available through digital libraries.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Nepal- Licence exempt spectrum access

Press release

Circulated by Mahabir Pun, Nepal Wireless Networking Project

Distributed in the UK by John Wilson

Parliamentary Committee directs Nepal Government to let people freely use the WiFi (2.4 Ghz and 5.8 Ghz) Bands.

August 17, 2006

After a two hours discussion at the Development Committee of the parliament today, the committee gave directives to Ministry of Information & Communications (MOIC) and Nepal Telecommunication Authority to de-license the Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) bands using 2.4 Ghz and 5.8 Ghz frequencies. Moreover, the committee gave instruction to clarify policies in order to make computer to computer VoIP legal. At the start of the meeting, Mahabir Pun, team leader, Nepal Wireless Networking Project, gave detailed presentation about the accomplishments of the project to the members of parliamentary committee, and government officials present in the meeting. He made clear that restrictions on the use of equipment using those frequencies was the major obstacle for the advancement of Information and Communication Technology in Nepal. Minister of State, MOIC, Dilendra Badu, informed the meeting about his recent knowledge on the topic and it was he who wanted the committee to deliberate on it and make a recommendation.

Suresh Kumar Pudasaini, Chairman, Nepal Telecommunications Authority, the Telecoms regulator, said “NTA has already sent it’s opinion on the opening of ISM band frequency for general use to the ministry, but the ministry has not made any decision”. He further added that he has been constrained by his own boards inaction and in-decisiveness on the issues related to VOIP. He had already taken the issue to the board thrice in a row, and blamed his board members for not enacting a decision on it. He had his own grievances towards the Ministry. While he had the rights to issue any form of license and set tariff, on even simple issues related to communications with different ministry of Nepal Government, he had to route it via a junior officer at the MOIC. He later commented that if such situation persists, government should just practice what it does and make NTA just a department under the ministry.

In the same meeting, Mr Satish Kharel, a lawyer, challenged the joint secretary of the MOIC, Mr. Shohan Bahadur Nyachon, when Mr Nyachon tried to mis-direct the group by saying there were prohibitory regulations. Mr. Kharel asked which regulations, and displayed a copy of regulations, only to be meet with silence. MP Raghuji Pant, shared his experience how bureaucrats always tried to mis-lead ministers most often by giving false interpretation of legal and technical issues. It was revealed that the decision on Frequency was under the domain of a committee formed under the chairmanship of the Minister of Communication with the secretaries of Home, Communications, Defense, Tourism along with the Chairman of Nepal Telecoms Authority. On this point, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee, MP Tanka Rai, said that since all members of the frequency committee were present at the meeting, if there were any objections from them. All the concerned secretaries said they had no objections, on which Chairman Rai gave direct instructions to the Minister to publish the necessary directive on the Gazzatte and bring and end to the matter.

Further, Mr. Pun from Nepal Wireless Networking project warned the group that if only NTA and service providers were involved in policy formation, the general users may be left high and dry again, so appropriate caution should be exercised so that the general public also has the rights to buy and use equipments in the ISM bands.

In the end, Chairman MP Tanka Rai, said that there should not be any hindrances in the development of ICT sector and everyone should work towards rapid development of such technologies in the country.

Links: Nepal Wireless

The followings articles were published in international media telling about our community school and wireless networking project.

1. Village in the clouds embraces computers -

2. Praise for 'inspirational' web pioneer -

3. Mercury News, Nepalese man realizing Internet dreams -

4. Taking Wi-Fi to New Heights - Wireless Networking Opens New Opportunities for Remote Nepali Villages.

First published by PC Magazine:

5. Nepal better than Scottish highlands for broadband -

6. Wi-Fi yak farmers liberated by Net -c

7. Wi-fi lifeline for Nepal's farmers -

8. Mahabir Pun Nepal Wireless Interview · 2139 words posted 5 July 04 -

9. Social Innovations Award-Winners 2004 -

10. Himalayan village joins wireless world, December 27, 2004 - A place high in the clouds has some very down-to-earth achievements, writes Connie Levett. -

A cornish pasty, a coffee and free Wi-Fi please

Kieren McCarthy
Thursday August 17, 2006
The Guardian

"Hang on, I'll write it down for you." The woman serving at The Oxford Pasty Cafe in the middle of the city's covered market disappears into the small kitchen off to the side and comes back with the torn corner of a pasty wrapper on which she has written in red pen: "OPC 25 155 866."

As unlikely as it seems, this slip of paper represents a revolution in communications. It is a username and password and it provides 24 hours of high-speed internet access. But most importantly it was handed over for free with an "Oxford Blue" cornish pasty and a can of Coke.

Outside the shop, a folding blackboard offers free tea or coffee with any cake bought before midday and after 3pm, and the one next to it: "Free Wi-Fi internet available all day, every day." Both serve the same purpose, to attract customers, but the latter demonstrates that there is a new breed of customer out there: pasty eaters of the mobile internet generation.

It helps that Oxford is a university town, so there is an abundance of young people for whom email and net access is an essential part of life. But it isn't just students with laptops. More and more electrical goods are starting to include Wi-Fi to benefit from fast data exchange. Almost without exception, PDAs now include wireless internet technology and the next generation of mobile phones out later this year will have it as standard.

If you want to check your email, or make a free phone call using VoIP while out of the house, it is going to be internet "hotspots" that make it possible. It isn't just The Oxford Pasty Cafe that recognises it, either. The cafe owner was initially intrigued when a rival coffee shop a five-minute walk away advertised its free wireless service. Mortons on New Inn Hall Street has a different approach - you only get 30 minutes of free wireless and only if you spend £3 or more (£5 at lunchtime).

Both shops are supplied by the same company - Hotspot Solutions (www., based in Warwickshire, and the company has a refreshing take on wireless internet access.

Hotspot Solutions caters for everyone from big conference venues to local corner shops. The company's approach, managing director Jamie Hind tells us, is the antithesis of public hotspots in the UK, most of which charge an extortionate £6 an hour or insist on people signing a 12-month contract to get a lower rate. The company, Hind says, simply provides a managed service for a flat monthly fee. In the case of the two Oxford cafes, that is £25 a month, all-in. The price is low enough for shop owners to make a profit through new business.

But Hotspot Solutions is not the only provider interested in Oxford. One of the UK's biggest public Wi-Fi suppliers, The Cloud, hopes to roll-out a city-wide "hot zone" by the end of the summer. It has struck revenue-sharing deals with local councils across the country and will use street furniture such as lampposts to run access points covering a wide public area.

The Cloud charges a high per-hour fee but earlier this month announced a new low-cost Ultra Wi-Fi service where you get unlimited access to its 7,500 hotspots countrywide for £11.99 a month.

There is a third approach. As the UK's largest telco, BT has always charged a premium. At £6 an hour, or £25 a month on a 12-month contract, BT is the most expensive option. But it has decided to take advantage of people's increasing use of Wi-Fi to persuade them to use its other services. So if you sign up with BT for your home broadband, you now get 250 free minutes a month anywhere on its wireless network. If you are already a broadband customer you can get 500 minutes a month for just £5 - a third of the normal cost.

Whichever way you look at it, the days of widespread public net access are upon us. The only issue to be decided is how much we are willing to pay for it.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

How the web went world wide

Last Updated: Thursday, 3 August 2006, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News website

Particle tracks from Cern experiment, Cern

From its origins at the Cern lab the web has become a phenomenon
In a few short years the web has become so familiar that it is hard to think of life without it.

Along with that familiarity with browsers and bookmarks goes a little knowledge about the web's history.

Many users know that Sir Tim Berners-Lee developed the web at the Cern physics laboratory near Geneva .

But few will know the details of the world wide web's growth - not least because the definitive history of how that happened has yet to be written.

Zero to hero

One key date is 6 August 1991 - the day on which links to the fledgling computer code for the www were put on the alt.hypertext discussion group so others could download it and play with it.

On that day the web went world wide.

Jeff Groff, who worked with Mr Berners-Lee on the early code, said a very simple idea was behind the web.

"The vision was that people should not have to deal with the technology stuff," he said.

The web was an overlay that tried to hide the underlying complexity of the data and documents proliferating on the internet.

Early on this commitment to simplicity meant that the now familiar addresses beginning http:// were never seen.

The growth of the world wide web since its early days

In the early 90s a single way to get at the information stored on many different computers was very attractive, said Paul Kunz, a staff scientist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (Slac) who set up the first web server outside Europe in December 1991.

At that time, he said, computers were islands of information. A login only gave access to that machine's resources. Switching computers meant logging in again and probably using a different set of commands to find and retrieve data.

The web really caught Mr Kunz's interest after Tim Berners-Lee showed it querying a database of physics papers held on an IBM mainframe.

"I knew what the results should look like on the screen and the results looked identical in the web browser," said Mr Kunz.

The web server set up by Mr Kunz let physicists trawl through the 200,000 abstracts more easily than ever before.

This proved so useful that soon even Cern scientists were querying the database via the Slac webpage rather than using the copy on their network.

Audience share

But though physicists were being won over by the web's promise, in the early years few others grasped its potential.

Screengrab of first browser, JF Groff
The early web hid the now familiar http:// addresses
This was because, said Mr Kunz, many other technologies existed that did a similar job. Many people got hold of key documents using the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and used Usenet as a means to express themselves.

Particularly popular was a technology known as Gopher developed at the University of Minnesota that also put a friendly face on the blooming complexity of the computers connected to the internet. It got the name partly because the college's sports team is called the Golden Gophers.

Gopher was released in Spring 1991 and for a few years statistics showed far more gopher traffic was passing across the net than web traffic.

During this time Mr Berners-Lee, Jeff Groff and colleagues involved in the world wide web project were evangelising their creation at conferences, meetings and online.

The whole project got a boost in April 1993 when the first PC web browser appeared. It was created by Marc Andreessen at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois rather than at Cern because, said Jeff Groff, the web team did not have the staff available to write browsers for PCs, Macs or Unix machines.

Mosaic was so successful that it established many of the conventions of web use still around today, said Mr Groff. For instance, he said, the original conception of the web had no place for bookmarks or favourites.

Also in 1993, the University of MInnesota began charging for Gopher which led many people to consider alternatives far more seriously.

Express yourself

Graph showing growth of web and gopher traffic, MIT
For many years the web was overshadowed by gopher
Ed Vielmetti, a pioneering web user and now a research associate at the University of Michigan School of Information, said during these early years the technology really started to prove its usefulness to average net users.

Gopher and FTP systems were typically set up by companies or large institutions, he said. Also Usenet lacked any kind of persistence so anyone making a point had to re-post their opinions regularly.

Early on people started to use webpages as a way to express themselves in a way that other technologies simply did not allow. Mr Vielmetti said web code was very tolerant of mistakes and encouraged people to play around with it.

"Websites filled this unique little niche for you as a person, not as a corporate entity, and you can have the page sitting there and have it be yours," he said.

Every surge of interest in the web has been driven by the appearance of tools that make this expression, or a new type of it such as blogging, far easier than before.

The foresight of Mr Berners-Lee and the pioneering coders was such that, even today, many early webpages can still be viewed. That persistence can last decades.

Figures reveal just how worldwide the web has become

"The killer application for the PC was the spreadsheet, for the Mac it was desktop publishing and for the internet it was the web," said Paul Kunz.

He added: "Tim Berners-Lee was working on a problem to solve in high-energy physics but in finding a solution he found a solution to problems that the general public did not know they had."

In late 1994 web traffic finally overtook gopher traffic and has never looked back. Now there are almost 100 million websites and many consider the web and the net indistinguishable.

But, said Mr Groff, only now is the web meeting the vision that the pioneers had for it.

The original conception was for a medium that people both read and contributed to. New tools such as photo-sharing sites, social networks, blogs, wikis and others are making good on that early promise, he said.

The web may be worldwide but it is only just getting started.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

BT results defy analysts

David Meyer
July 27, 2006, 14:55 BST

BT has beaten analysts expectations and announced Wi-Fi phones, improved LLU rollout, and renamed The Project Formerly Known As 21CN

BT Group's first-quarter results for the current financial year were released on Thursday to show a growth in revenue of £153m (2.8 percent) — slightly higher than analysts had expected.

The telecommunications incumbent saw also pre-tax profit rise to £615m from £511m in the equivalent period last year. Income from BT Retail dropped by 2 percent, but revenue from BT Wholesale rose by an equivalent percentage.

There was a small rise of 0.3 percent in BT's revenues from small and medium-sized businesses, with 500,000 firms now using the company's business plan. Business broadband revenue, however, was up by 23 percent, with 85 percent of customers choosing premium packages.

The results were the first to show the performance of Openreach, the division split off to allow rivals direct access to BT's exchanges.

Openreach saw a drop in internal revenue (i.e. BT Retail's custom) of 9 percent, but enjoyed a 145 percent rise in external revenue. Overall, its revenue was down by 2 percent.

"If you are replacing traditional business with new business you have to suffer for a while," said BT Group chief executive officer Ben Verwaayen on Thursday, adding that BT's "new wave" business had increased in absolute terms consistently over the last nine quarters.

"The decline in traditional business is half of the increase in new wave," Verwaayen insisted.

Verwaayen also claimed that BT occupied the value-for-money part of the broadband market, as opposed to the lowest-price segment that hosts players such as Orange and Carphone Warehouse, who offer "free" broadband.

"People look to BT for much more than a dumb pipe — they want to have the services," Verwaayen said.

Those services — particularly those surrounding BT Fusion, the company's Wi-Fi-hub-centred convergence offering for the home — will in future be speedily delivered by download, which should make them easier to roll out.

There was also an update on local loop unbundling — where rivals install their equipment in BT exchanges — with the announcement that 932 out of a planned 1,240 exchanges have been unbundled thus far.

Other notable announcements on Thursday included a hint that BT Fusion's "dual-mode" phones, which work as GSM phones while not connected to the Fusion hub, will gain Wi-Fi connectivity in the autumn, which should improve on their current Bluetooth-powered performance.

Interestingly BT's 21CN (21st Century Network) project, which will see the UK's legacy circuit-switching PSTN phone network replaced with an IP-based system, seems to be quietly losing its "N".

"It's more than a network," said Verwaayen, as he insisted "21C" was still on schedule.

BT next-gen network to roll out from November

David Meyer
July 26, 2006, 16:30 BST

Telecoms giant says trials of its IP-based 21st Century Network have gone well, with rollout due to start before the end of the year

Rollout of BT's 21st Century Network (21CN) will start in November following successful trials, the telecoms giant said on Wednesday.

In a test situation using multi-service access nodes (MSANs) at Cambridge and Woolwich, the system — which will replace the country's ageing circuit-switching PSTN network with one based on Internet protocol (IP) — successfully transmitted 23 million calls, at a rate of 625,000 calls a day.

"This is what 21CN will be when we roll it out," a BT spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Wednesday. "We've got the vendor kit in there… this is a working trial."

BT, the UK's largest telecommunications supplier, is thought to be spending £10bn over the next five years to build 21CN, which will mark a country-wide migration towards IP-based communications. The move should help BT provide Internet telephony (VoIP) and high-speed broadband services throughout the UK.

According to BT Wholesale Networks' managing director, Deb Covey, the company is "working with the rest of the industry to finalise the UK rollout plan".

"It's full steam ahead as we prepare sites across the country for equipment to be installed this summer," she said on Wednesday.

The next stage of 21CN's development — known as Pathfinder — is now scheduled to start in November, when 350,000 customers in the Cardiff area will start transferring over to 21CN. This will effectively be the start of the network's national rollout, which is supposedly due to end in 2009.

The incumbent also said on Wednesday that Cisco and Ericsson supplied key components for the trials.

Ericsson provided call servers, and Cisco supplied media gateways (which form a link between the IP-based network and the older circuit-switching PSTN system) and its Catalyst network switches.

BT's adoption of Cisco's MGX series gateways even resulted in the introduction of "new features" into the product, to accommodate the Internet Protocol Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) standards used in 21CN, according to Geraint Anderson, Cisco's vice president of European service provision.

Cisco's Transport Manager platform will be used for the gateways and to provide an "interface to the BT 21CN Operations Support System". Other key suppliers for this and previous trials include Alcatel (LAN switches) and Siemens/Juniper (routers).

Similar nodes to those being used in the Cambridge-Woolwich trial, as supplied by Huawei and Fujitsu, are already being installed at 18 BT exchanges in South-East London, Kent and East Anglia.

No free broadband for businesses

David Meyer
August 01, 2006, 09:20 BST

Analysis: Consumers can now choose from a number of 'free' broadband services, but businesses won't be offered similar schemes any time soon, or even see a significant price drop

The last two months have seen the emergence of a number of supposedly "free broadband" offers aimed at UK home users. Carphone Warehouse started the trend in May, closely followed by Orange. Sky threw its hat into the ring last week, while ntl:Telewest will join the fun in September.

But trying to work out what effect, if any, this commoditisation will have on e-business and more specifically, business broadband prices, is not straightforward. The first important point to note is (and this really should go without saying): there is no such thing really as "free" broadband. In the case of Sky, the broadband comes tacked on to digital TV; with Orange, it's a mobile contract. There is always a catch.

After Carphone Warehouse got rapped on the knuckles by the advertising regulator for calling its broadband "free", chief executive Charles Dunstone blogged: "We do remain however the only mass market supplier of Free Broadband available without also subscribing to pay TV or a mobile phone subscription."

Of course, getting Carphone Warehouse's "free broadband" relies on having a fixed line and voice package with the company. As Disruptive Analysis's Dean Bubley puts it: "I'm looking forward to Kelloggs bringing out a free broadband offer saying it's the only one where you don't have to get a mobile phone contract, you just have to buy 98,000 boxes of cornflakes."

"It's marketing," points out Ovum analyst John Delaney. "You can only call it free because you allocate the price of it to another part of the bundle — back in the days of the incumbents we used to call that cross-subsidy."

There is a cautionary tale in this, which can be found in Denmark. There, the mobile operator Telmore (known in this country as easyMobile) had great success in offering extremely cheap call and SMS rates after the national regulator mandated cost-level wholesale rates.

Telmore's pricing was so successful that, according to Delaney, it "brought the perceived value of mobile so far down in Denmark that it hasn't recovered".

Delaney thinks the UK could see a similar outcome: "I think the danger is in the long term, if a lot of players are in the game of making things seem free. People are not stupid — the price of the bundle will start to be eroded, and it's very difficult to bring it back up. This risks eroding the value of the components of the bundle."

Ian Fogg, an analyst with Jupiter Research, agrees: "If you market something as free and the market is price sensitive, you're feeding the fire. At some point the industry is going to want to get more revenue from customers — if they sign up on the basis of being cheap, it becomes very hard to upsell them later."

So, the "race to the bottom" is a risky business. That said, the analysts agree it will probably have the effect of increasing broadband uptake in the UK. This carries several advantages — not least for e-commerce.

"Over the last couple of years, falling broadband prices have already made a big contribution to broadband penetration in the UK, and the further they fall, the greater that effect will be," says Delaney. "And clearly, the more people who have broadband, the more viable both e-business and e-government will become."

This is because broadband provides a "better Internet experience", according to Fogg, who adds that broadband users tend to spend more time online and tend to be more active Internet users.

Adam Legresley, head of operations at the IT Forum Foundation (which works with British e-business and the Department for Trade and Industry), agrees that increased broadband uptake will "make people more at ease and make them more Web literate", especially due to the higher speeds and smoother experience offered.

He suggests this shift will not only bring more customers to UK e-commerce sites, but will encourage more small businesses to go online. "It will give them greater confidence in using the Web as a teaching resource for themselves," Legresley says. "From the point of view of e-commerce, if you're getting more confident using it then you might be more inclined to set up your own Web site, even if you're a micro-business."

Free broadband, therefore, will probably provide an online boost for businesses, but what kind of effect might it have on the pricing of business broadband itself?

Sadly, the answer is "not a lot". The consensus is that there's a reason businesses pay more for their broadband, and it's not going to change because of the way services are marketed to the domestic user.

"There will undoubtedly be a number of small businesses for whom the free offer will be very tempting, and a lot will probably take it up," Matt Cantwell of business broadband provider Demon Internet tells ZDNet UK. "But we've actually won business from free broadband providers already, and free broadband's only been out for the last couple of months."

The biggest reason for this is quality of service. Internet service providers (ISPs) who offer free broadband are likely to try to put as many customers as possible onto the same network, to keep costs down.

This makes for variable speeds — something the home user might put up with, but hardly suitable for a business trying to send or receive large amounts of time-sensitive data. The usage limits imposed by most domestic ISPs are equally unwelcome in the world of business, but one of the strongest cases for business customers paying a premium is based on customer service.

"If you're running a very pared-down free service, if it's very successful, you may not have the customer service representatives available to be able to support your customers," Cantwell suggests, adding: "We're not going to charge you premium-rate numbers for calling technical support."

Business broadband providers also tend to offer things like multiple IP addresses, which are rather useful for running firewalls, VPNs, and other assorted network elements that a domestic user might find irrelevant, but most business users actively need.

Even Orange, which plans to roll out business broadband products next year, won't be taking their domestic approach into that market. "We still see there's an inherent value in business broadband just as we see with mobility," says a representative of the company's Business Services department. "We'll fight to retain that value in terms of what we charge our customers, but we certainly won't be going in with a free broadband tariff for businesses."

Orange does, however, have a halfway measure in the form of its "broadband for home workers" service. This allows large corporations using Orange for mobile services to combine their employees' work phone and home broadband bills, thus removing the need for workers to pay for home broadband themselves and claim it back from the company.

In other words, it's free home broadband again, only subsidised by a work phone rather than own phone contract. It is an "important first step in convergence", as Orange's representative points out, but it's also about as far as the "free broadband" concept is likely to go in the business environment.

Microsoft’s Ozzie declares end to PC era
By Richard Waters in Redmond
Published: July 27 2006 23:37 | Last updated: July 27 2006 23:37

Microsoft’s new top technology visionary on Thursday declared an end to the PC era as the software company made its latest attempt to deal with the threat to its traditional business from the rise of the internet.

Ray Ozzie, who took over the title of chief software architect from Bill Gates last month when the Microsoft chairman announced his plan to leave the company in 2008, laid out a vision for the company in which internet-based services, rather than PCs, lie at the centre of its worldview.

“In a previous era – in the PC era – Microsoft would naturally begin with a PC mindset,” he said at the company’s annual analyst and investor meeting.

“We’re in a new era – an era in which the internet is at the centre.”

While deeply impacting Microsoft, this “fundamental and transformational shift to services” was also about to “turn the technology industry on its head”, he added, forcing other companies to reconsider their businesses.

Mr Ozzie’s comments mark an attempt to accelerate the third, and most far-reaching, company-wide push by Microsoft to deal with the rise of the internet. Early victory in the Browser Wars against Netscape in the late-1990s was followed five years ago by a move to rewrite all its software to connect up over the internet under a sweeping initiative known as “Dot Net”.

However, the rise of Google, as well as successful internet-based services such as Apple’s iTunes, have forced the company to move faster. That has contributed to a jump in costs that has dented Microsoft’s share price in recent months.

While applauding the services vision outlined by Mr Ozzie, Rick Sherlund, software analyst at Goldman Sachs, added of Microsoft’s efforts: “They’re never as fast as you’d like.”

However, he said online services were likely to represent a new business opportunity for Microsoft, with little immediate risk that it would cannibalise the company’s existing PC business.

Mr Ozzie’s reference to the post-PC era came at the first Microsoft annual analyst meeting that Mr Gates has not attended. The Microsoft chairman, who has always denied suggestions that the PC’s dominance of the tech industry was receding, was in Africa on a long-planned vacation, the company said.

The new Microsoft software strategist laid out a plan that puts Windows Live, a new group of online services that includes its e-mail, search and other main internet-based services, at the centre of its business.

Comprised both of rebranded services that used to operate under the MSN name, as well as new services, Windows Live would become “the hub” through which Microsoft delivered all the technology-driven experiences that users valued, he added.

Meanwhile, the company said it would launch its first portable music player under the new Zune brand name in the US this year as it seeks to win back lost ground from Apple’s iTunes music service.

Blair seeks secret of Silicon Valley's success
Sun Jul 30, 2006 11:08pm ET160
By Adrian Croft

SAN JOSE, California (Reuters) - A risk-taking culture and close ties with universities are big reasons for the success of the U.S. computer industry, some of Silicon Valley's brightest stars told Prime Minister Tony Blair on Sunday.

Blair, on a mission to find out the secrets of the U.S. high-tech sector's success and apply the lessons in Britain, traveled to the heart of California's Silicon Valley to trade ideas with some of the sharpest minds in the business.

(...) Blair's visit to Silicon Valley came on the heels of a visit in June by George Osborne, a senior member of Britain's opposition Conservative Party, who questioned why Britain had produced no Internet giants like Yahoo! (YHOO.O: Quote, Profile, Research) or Google (GOOG.O: Quote, Profile, Research).

(...) [Sun Microsystems'] Schwartz also cited the close ties between Silicon Valley companies and the region's universities. The high-tech industry grew up around Stanford University and many companies also have ties with the University of California, Berkeley.

He said it would be a good idea for government leaders such as Blair to keep Web logs, or blogs -- online journals people use to express opinions, post pictures and share experiences.

UK's 'biggest' muni Wi-Fi network goes live

David Meyer
August 01, 2006, 17:20 BST

Norfolk and its capital are the lucky recipients of the UK's largest free municipal wireless network, though not everyone is allowed a full-speed connection

Norwich and its surrounding areas have become home to the UK's largest free community wireless network, Norfolk Open Link.

The pilot system, which went live on Tuesday, was funded by the East of England Development Agency. It was originally meant to stimulate economic development in the region by providing free broadband for local businesses, but has since had its scope extended to council employees and the general public.

The central network covers most of Norwich city centre — to a 4km radius around County Hall — as well as local universities, hospitals and business parks.

"If you do something for the businesses in the area, it makes sense to include the public sector and general sector as well," Kurt Frary, Open Link project manager for Norfolk County Council, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday.

Citing flexible working, easily accessible information and increased mobility as key motivations for the project, Frary pointed out that rural areas around Norwich were also being served.

"It's the first network of its type to tackle both urban and rural areas at once," Frary claimed.

Rural areas are being provided with free hotspots and "sort of mesh" networks, Frary said. Central zones have gained a full mesh network, whereby hundreds of nodes (fixed to lamp posts) simultaneously provide Wi-Fi access to passers-by and communicate with each other to pass information to and from the main Internet connection.

This connection is perched on top of the County Hall, and uses a "pre-WiMax" 5.8GHz connection for backhaul, the connectivity between the local network and the main IP networks.

"To all intents and purposes", the kit operates "in an identical fashion" to upcoming products, which will ship with certified WiMax chipsets, said Jim Baker, chief executive of equipment vendor Telabria.

Connectivity between the mesh nodes is also currently handled on 5.8GHz, although Baker suggested to ZDNet UK that Ofcom would soon relax restrictions on the 5.4GHz frequency (currently reserved for mobile Wi-Fi devices), opening up further channels for exploitation. Beyond that, the nodes transmit on the standard Wi-Fi frequency of 2.4GHz.

"We found it surprisingly easy," Frary told ZDNet UK. "The most complicated bit, in hindsight, was getting those relationships working with people you need to work with. If we'd talked to people in our own council about lamp posts earlier, it would've been easier.

"For an IT project, the biggest issues have been the practicalities of getting the boxes out there, rather than the technology, which has worked from day one."

Norfolk Open Link claims it is avoiding competition with the private sector, which has been a major obstacle to municipal Wi-Fi projects in the US. There, such projects have often run into opposition from a powerful telecommunications industry lobby.

"We're not selling a service and we're not competing with telcos, because it's an outside wireless network," Frary insisted. "You may get it in your house but it's not being sold that way — we're not giving the same class of service."

Council employees and businesses who sign up to give full feedback on their use of the pilot scheme will receive a connection speed of 1Mbps on the free service, while other businesses and individual users will be limited to 256Kbps.

Frary conceded that this meant those who successfully pick the service up in their homes would be able to get a superior service to dial-up and occasionally, he claimed, their existing broadband connections.

"It's not quite fast enough to do large downloads, but fast enough for general day-to-day stuff. I personally run a VPN on it for work use," he said.

"We've even enabled a team of midwives with three laptops and three PDAs — we'll get them to start using email and accessing hospital resources, and then we'll consider giving them access to hospital systems," Frary said. He said the local college was also keen to try out their "virtual learning environment" on the system.

What is broadband?

Originally broadband was a term used for connections that supported data rates of at least 8Mbps – data rates that were suitable for transmitting full-screen broadcast quality video. Today, the term broadband has come to mean anything with speeds above 256kbps. However, the packages on offer today come close to the original broadband concept in offering data rates between 2 and 16Mbps.

The technology underlying the current service offerings for the home is ADSL (Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line). The important aspect of ADSL to appreciate lies in the A for asynchronous. The 'asynchronous' label indicates that the inbound and outgoing data rates provided by the service are different – with higher speeds available for receiving than for sending data.

With the new ADSL service packages you will be able to download data – web pages, files, audio and video streams – at theoretically maximum speeds of between 2 and 8Mbps. In contrast, when you send data – like posting your holiday snaps on Flickr - the uploading speeds will seem slow.

Typically, a connection with a nominal 512kbps speed rating gives a download rate of around 460kbps and an upload rate of 200-240kbps. The upload rate remains the same for services nominally rated as 1 & 2Mbps. It is the 8Mbps services that show a significant increase – with upload speeds typically between 400 and 756kbps.

To complicate matters further, your broadband provider will be sharing your data stream with other users – for domestic users one data stream may be shared between up to 50 households. So if you all want to use your internet access at the same time, things will seem slower than you would expect. And should you all start uploading files at the same time, you will probably feel nostalgic for the speeds that you used to get out of your old-fashioned modem.

The current delivery of home broadband using the copper wire of the telephone line has been around for sometime, but it has life left in it yet. There are new versions on the way called ADSL2 and ADSL2+ and after that VDSL.

The cost of 'free' broadband

The recent launch of a number of ‘free’ broadband services may prompt questions like “is this really free?” and “what’s the catch?”. Closer examination will yield a set of more thought-provoking questions, “what’s broadband?”, “is this broad enough?”, as well as “what’s next?”.

"free broadband is conditional on you buying other services"

By mid 2006 a number of providers such as Sky and TalkTalk were promising domestic customers high speed internet access, packaged along with something else, such as tethered phones for national and international telephone calls (TalkTalk), or digital television (Sky). The broadband element of the package is said to be free, but the ’free’ broadband is conditional on you buying the other services too.

In essence these companies are offering a package which cable companies like ntl:Telewest have been able to offer cable TV subscribers for many years. Their package features the so-called triple play of broadband, TV and telephone.

What’s the catch?
These offers are undoubtedly better value for people who do not have access to cable and have been paying separately for a telephone line, landline telephone calls, and broadband internet access. They will also look attractive to those considering broadband internet who’ve previously been paying for much slower dial up internet access.

However, there is a lot of small print to consider. First, none of these packages are available to everyone. Only about five million homes have cable TV at present and the technology of the other packages relies on you living close to a telephone exchange to which your supplier has access.

You can learn more about broadband in what is broadband? But there are two further complications you need to consider:

* your broadband provider will be sharing your data stream with up to 50 other users
* the connection is asynchronous: inbound and outgoing data rates provided by the service are different – with much higher speeds available for receiving than for sending data

If you often post your holiday snaps on Flickr, or you provide a web server for your local community group and especially if you run an online business from home, the uploading speeds may seem slow. And should you and the others that share your data stream all start uploading files at the same time, you’ll probably feel nostalgic for the speeds that you used to get out of your old-fashioned modem.

What’s next?
There are ways of reaching households that aren’t near a telephone exchange and of avoiding the limitations of the copper wires of the telephone system. For example, wireless technology which avoids the expense of digging up the road to provide the optical fibre that is used for the network backbone.

The technologies of video and interactivity (broadcast and broadband) are converging quickly. Indeed it is worth remembering that the 16m+ households with digital TV through cable, satellite and Freeview are already receiving very high bandwidth content.

Meanwhile, BT, which now receives only a small proportion of its revenue from telephone calls, is set to become a provider of TV content. It launches internet protocol based IPTV in 2006 and along with Korean company Samsung plans trials later this year of high quality video broadcasts to mobile TV-phones.

"the future can be seen in Korea"

For many the future can be seen in Korea where 80% of households have very high speed connections, primarily by optical fibre. In Korea a combination of competition and government loans have lead to new and thriving technical and entertainment industries.

Those who advocate the undoubtedly greater expense of providing new infrastructure (in Korea’s case optical fibre) point to new forms of entertainment and hence revenue streams. These, alongside the industrial strength that results from being close to the leading edge, have served Korea well.

Article first published August 2006.

The broadband boom and you

By Dan Trelford
BBC Money Programme
Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 August 2006, 22:03 GMT 23:03 UK

Do you remember the days of "dial-up"?

The strange electronic white noise, the waiting to connect, and the painful process of wading through web pages?

Person using PC
The cheapest broadband offer may not be the best

Nine million households in Britain have turned their backs on these slow internet connections, and switched to broadband, freeing up their phone and allowing them to really surf the web.

Some 70,000 homes are now signing up for broadband every week, making it one of the fastest growing consumer products yet.

Offer boom

As Google and eBay have become a bigger part of our lives, the business of delivering them to our homes has become more competitive.

If you all start uploading files at the same time, you'll probably feel nostalgic for your old-fashioned modem

Open University: The cost of "free" broadband

However, there is more to this than just consumer demand.

Last year, an important regulatory decision changed the way broadband is supplied.

BT, which largely controls access to the internet via its copper wire telephone network, was told by Ofcom to open up its infrastructure to the competition.

Other companies can now control the wire that runs from your telephone socket to the pole on your street, and onto the local exchange.

The telecom term for this is "local loop unbundling", or LLU, and it sparked a process that has come to fruition with this summer's incredible boom in broadband offers.

Free broadband

The first company to seize the LLU opportunity was Carphone Warehouse.

It is known for being Britain's biggest mobile phone retailer, but its fixed line business Talk Talk has also been a success.

Many people have been disappointed with the "free" offers

Its chief executive, Charles Dunstone, decided on a bold move into broadband internet.

He wanted to change the conventional way people were billed for broadband.

Previously, customers were charged separately telephone line rental and calls on the one hand, and internet connections on the other.

If he could get control of the telephone wire into customers' homes, he would be able to offer a £21-a-month package that provided the first two - with broadband included in the cost.

He turned this strategy into a bold marketing claim - his broadband was "free".

Trojan horse

In April this year, as the offer opened to the public, the Talk Talk website crashed under the weight of demand.

Within days, the offer had created a media storm, and it was becoming clear that the 170,000 new customers Dunstone had banked on had been conservative.

Talk Talk broadband campaign
Talk Talk started the "free" broadband war

By June, he announced that 340,000 people had signed up for the offer.

As the thermometer rose this summer, the broadband boom really took off.

A feeding frenzy began, as big companies like O2 snapped up small and medium-sized internet suppliers.

Mobile operator Orange absorbed internet service provider Wanadoo - also owned by Orange's parent, France Telecom - and shortly afterwards joined the "free" broadband bandwagon by offering it to customers on a £30 per month tariff.

As with the Talk Talk deal, Orange were offering broadband as a kind of "loss leader", attracting customers with something "must-have" in return for tying them into a lengthy 18-month contract.

For mobile and landline telephone companies, broadband had become a kind of Trojan horse to get into their homes.

Unsuccessful attempt

We have followed three families as they tried to find their way through the maze of new deals and offers.

Chris Harris and his family found that the increased competition meant they could ditch their dial-up for broadband and still save money, but they also discovered there was a downside.

Like others who signed up for the Talk Talk "free" broadband offer, Mr Harris found himself in a call centre queue, trying to find out why he had to wait for more than a month for the service.

Mr Dunstone apologised and offered to speed up the process.

However, confusion at the local BT exchange meant that at the end of July the Harris family were still without their broadband.

Broadband TV

Dave Wilson and family had already been on broadband for 3 years through NTL.

James Murdoch, BSkyB

Despite having their own cable network to pipe broadband into their customers' homes, NTL, which recently merged with Telewest, is not immune to the fierce competition in the broadband marketplace.

Mr Wilson considered switching to the Orange "free" broadband offer, but was persuaded to stay with NTL after they offered him a large price cut.

NTL has just announced a new package, offering broadband alongside TV, landline and mobile calls, which they hope will attract new customers, as well as hanging on to people like Mr Wilson.

And what about BT?

In June, the company launched Total Broadband, which includes lower introductory prices and things like virus checkers included in the price.

BT also showcased new broadband services, which it claims offers customers the broadband of the future.

Key to the strategy is a new television service via broadband, still in the pipeline but due to launch in the autumn.

Hot market

We met up with Maureen Harrison as she tried out another BT broadband gadget - a videophone.

She was attracted by being able to see as well as speak to her daughter and grandchildren, but was not keen on having to pay for separate BT subscriptions for her family.

By mid July, Sky launched a much anticipated broadband offer of their own.

Last year Sky's parent, BSkyB, acquired a broadband supplier called Easynet, which had expertise in gaining access to BT's broadband network.

The BSkyB offer, under boss James Murdoch, continues the "free" theme by offering it to their TV subscribers as part of the package.

However, only around a third of them get to receive this at present.

Analysts believe that the summer of 2006 will be remembered not just for its scorching temperatures, but also as the coming of age of broadband Britain.

The Money Programme: The Broadband Boom and You, BBC Two at 10pm on Wednesday 2 August.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Wi-fi boost plan for rural areas | Last Updated: Monday, 31 July 2006, 08:50 GMT 09:50 UK

Rural areas could benefit from proposals to boost the power of signals used in wi-fi networks.

Regulator Ofcom wants to deliver broadband access to parts of the UK with no high-speed internet.

James Saunders, chief marketing officer of wi-fi firm The Cloud, said the plans could bring broadband to rural areas for the first time.

Limitations on the strength of wi-fi signals make it expensive to deploy such networks outside of urban areas.

Mr Saunders said: "We welcome the consultation from Ofcom.

"We think it could provide great opportunities in rural areas that are currently without broadband. It makes it much more possible to put up a wireless network."

Boosting power

Boosting the power of wi-fi signals would dramatically reduce the cost of bringing wireless networks to rural areas because fewer transmitters would be needed.

In the States you can broadcast signals 10 times the power that you can in the UK and Europe
James Saunders, The Cloud

Q&A: Wi-fi explained

Ofcom is currently consulting on three proposals:

# boosting the power of wireless signals in all parts of the UK
# limiting that power increase to rural areas only
# a balance of the first two plans incorporating a code of collaboration to minimise signal interference.

Many towns and cities in the UK now offer wi-fi access outside of the home at hotspots in cafes, pubs and libraries.

But there are no city-wide seamless networks - called mesh networks - that let people roam freely from hotspot to hotspot with uninterrupted internet access.

One of the obstacles is the cost of deploying wireless transmitters to establish such meshed networks.

Roll out

Cities in the US are beginning to roll out mesh networks, in part because demand is higher, but also because the country allows more powerful wireless signals.

Google is currently testing a mesh network in Mountain View, California, that will be free to users.

Selina Lo, chief executive of home wi-fi antenna firm Ruckus which is working with Google, said: "With lower power you have to use a lot more access points to form the network.

"A typical network will have hundreds or low thousands of access points. If you have power limits, these nodes have to be closer together and you need a lot more nodes."

Ruckus has developed a wi-fi antenna for the home to help customers connect to city networks.

Ms Lo said: "People running city networks know that the wi-fi in customers' home equipment is not powerful enough to do an outdoor long range connection.

'Bridge connection'

"Our device is designed to bridge that connection."

But there are fears that boosting the power of wi-fi signals in urban areas of the UK could lead to interference between devices.

"US hotspot operators are experiencing significant interference in this band," firms consulted by Ofcom reported.

"In the States you can broadcast signals 10 times the power that you can in the UK and Europe," said Mr Saunders.

"Metro wi-fi is more of a US phenomenon. In Europe because of power limitations metro wi-fi will follow more slowly," said Ms Lo.

The Cloud has recently deployed a city network in Manchester which covers 20 different streets of the centre.

Network access

But users cannot walk between the streets with uninterrupted network access as they could in mesh networks being deployed across the US.

Mr Saunders said The Cloud was committed to mesh networks in the future but said "a number of factors are needed to make mesh networks economical".

The company is currently working with the Corporation of London to deploy a mesh network in the City.

"We are building according to demand in the marketplace," he said.

Sky and NETGEAR | Press release

Sky and NETGEAR Form Market-Defining Broadband Partnership in the UK

Sky and NETGEAR Announce Unique Collaboration Making FREE Wireless Internet Routers Available to All Sky Broadband Customers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — July 31, 2006 — NETGEAR®, Inc. (Nasdaq: NTGR), a worldwide provider of technologically advanced, branded networking products, and Sky, operator of the UK’s leading multi-channel television pay-TV platform, have announced a unique agreement that will see NETGEAR wireless router technology provided free to all subscribers to Sky’s new broadband internet access service.

Sky Broadband can cut household bills by hundreds of pounds a year whilst bringing customers the benefits of both super-fast broadband and wireless connectivity via a customised NETGEAR router, known as the Sky Broadband Box.

Aiming to provide great-value, fast, easy broadband connectivity for millions of Sky customers, Sky Broadband is available immediately with a choice of products including up to 2Mb download speeds with no monthly subscription. Sky Broadband also offers a choice of other quality products with download speeds of up to 16Mb. Monthly download usage ranges from 2GB to unlimited.

The launch of Sky Broadband comes as Sky seeks to take advantage of the UK’s accelerating demand for broadband connectivity, which, according to the Broadband Stakeholder Group, will double over next four years with household penetration exceeding 80% by 2010.

“NETGEAR too wants to be at the forefront of this growing opportunity,” said Mark Power, NETGEAR UK & Ireland Country Manager. “This collaboration with Sky – one of the UK’s highest-profile, premier content providers – should help secure exactly that.”

“With an existing base of more than 8 million customers and an offering that clearly spells great flexibility, quality, and value, Sky promises to be a major force in future broadband adoption and integration. Adding free wireless connectivity to this mix makes it more compelling still, and NETGEAR is delighted to be Sky’s partner of choice in this regard.”

Brian Sullivan, Sky’s Director of Product Strategy and Management, is equally excited about the agreement: “Sky is committed to delivering the content that our customers want and they in turn trust us to deliver products and services that work at the touch of a button. Utilising some of the most reliable, cutting-edge wireless technology available today, our agreement with NETGEAR fits this strategy perfectly.”

The launch of Sky Broadband has been made possible by Sky’s state-of-the-art network, which already covers 28% of households including London, Birmingham Manchester Edinburgh and Glasgow. The network is rolling out fast across the UK and is expected to pass more homes than the entire cable industry by early next year, reaching 70% of all UK households by the end of 2007.

Sky digital customers who are not covered by Sky’s broadband network can enjoy Sky Broadband Connect, which features all of the benefits of Sky Broadband Mid for a £17 monthly subscription. As the Sky network rolls out across the UK, newly covered Sky Connect customers will be offered the Base, Mid or Max products as their area gets connected.

About British Sky Broadcasting
Sky is the operator of the leading multi-channel television platform in the UK and Ireland. Around 21 million viewers in 8.1 million households enjoy an unprecedented choice of movies, news, entertainment and sports channels and interactive services on Sky digital, the UK and Ireland's first and most popular digital television platform. BSkyB's channels are available in 10.2 million households through cable and digital terrestrial television. Sky is included in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and FTSE4Good and was recently named to the Global 100 Sustainable Corporations list is a Sunday Times “Company that Counts”

About NETGEAR, Inc.
NETGEAR® (Nasdaq: NTGR) designs technologically advanced, branded networking products that address the specific needs of small and medium business and home users. The Company’s product offerings enable users to share Internet access, peripherals, files, digital multimedia content and applications among multiple personal computers and other Internet-enabled devices. NETGEAR is headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif. For more information, visit the company’s Web site at or call (408) 907-8000.


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