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Scottish village rolls out FTTP broadband at half normal cost
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Scottish village rolls out FTTP broadband at half normal cost

 

Just under 200 properties around the village of Balquhidder in Stirlingshire, central Scotland, are to receive a full-fibre, or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband service after local residents banded together to dig their own trenches and lay their own cables.

Backed with a £100,000 grant from Stirling Council, a similar investment from specialist internet service provider (ISP) Bogons, and rural development funding from the Scottish Leader programme, the Balquhidder Community Broadband (BCB) project has rolled out a gigabit-capable full-fibre network across the area, boosting speeds and hopefully improving economic opportunities.

Located in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, and known as the last resting place of Scottish folk hero Rob Roy, Balquhidder was previously overlooked by commercial broadband roll-outs. But by enlisting little-known ISP Bogons – which is currently converting a disused nuclear bunker in the area into a new datacentre – BCB says it has been able to keep construction costs as low as possible, at a level about half that of a commercial FTTP build.

Project founder, tech entrepreneur and local resident Richard Harris – who currently runs an international artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) company called Two Worlds – said the area around Balquhidder had seen its economic development and resilience crippled by the lack of effective communications.

“Balquhidder, like much of rural Scotland, offers a high quality of life in an active community in stunning surroundings,” said Harris. “I have spent 11 years in efforts that have led to this project, during which time I’ve twice had to move growing companies out of Scotland because of poor communications.

“Without this network, we would soon have had to move out of the area altogether. With it, we can now do the opposite – start to attract more skilled individuals and other companies into the area.”

Tom Lewis, owner of locally based restaurant and hotel operator Mhor Group, said the build had been vital to his business development.

“The markets we target expect and demand a good internet connection,” he said. “Our current satellite feed is really expensive and only lets us provide limited email services to our customers, which has had a negative impact in our corporate conference business.

“It will be transformational once we are connected and finally allowed to manage our businesses in Balquhidder, Callander and Glasgow from our home in Balquhidder.”

Stirling Council’s finance and economy chair, Margaret Brisley, said: “Access to high-speed broadband and connectivity is a major issue for communities in rural Stirling, impacting on economic growth and access to services. The Balquhidder Community Broadband Project is an excellent example of a community providing a solution to this challenge, supported by Stirling Council and private sector partners.

“The council recognises the leadership and commitment shown by the community and is delighted to work in partnership to deliver this project. Providing world-class broadband connectivity to Balquhidder will be transformational, enabling and supporting the economic growth of the area while giving the community full access to services.”

For Bogons, the dig was the first time it has been involved in a community broadband project, but company director Brandon Butterworth said it is now looking to expand its horizons and has already started to develop a wireless ISP proposition around nearby Loch Tay.

“We are looking to help other communities where the community is willing to do the digging and other works for us to install fibre,” he said. “A DIY dig saves the community a significant part of the install cost where any fibre, even fibre to the cabinet [FTTC], has not previously been available.”

Is there life left in 4G mobile networks
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Is there life left in 4G mobile networks?

 

The switch from 3G to 4G was a big transformation for operators, but the next stage will be different. As Lester Thomas, chief systems architect at Vodafone, puts it: “4G’s technical term is LTE – long term evolution – so 4G was always designed to be something that would evolve.”

While 5G trials are ongoing and December 2017 saw the approval of the non-standalone 5G new radio specifications, 4G networks are still reaching maturity, and although some US and Asian operators are touting roll-outs as early as later this year or next, 5G networks are not expected to launch in the UK until 2020.

Research from mobile industry association GSMA, published in February this year, finds that in 2019, 10 years after launch, 4G will have the most connections (more than 3 billion) worldwide.

By 2025, there are expected to be 1.2 billion 5G connections globally, but 4G is still predicted to account for 53% of total mobile SIMs, compared to 29% today, and 5G will account for just 14%.

Estimates suggest 5G will cost tens or hundreds of billions for a network across the US or Europe. Operators have already sunk billions into 4G networks and need to squeeze the maximum return from them, which demands ongoing investment.

Howard Jones, head of network communications at EE, says: “Our 4G investment will continue right through to the middle of the next decade, both from a coverage perspective and from a capacity perspective.”

The company is focused on enhancing 4G in high-density places, rural areas with poor coverage and indoor spaces.

We can do it without 5G

Operators say many of the features associated with 5G, like large multiple input/multiple output (MIMO), beamforming and network slicing, can be achieved to some extent with 4G.

Network slicing allows a physical network to be divided into multiple virtual networks so the operator can provision the right “slice” depending on the requirements of the use case.

But 4G networks can already support it, particularly through network functions virtualisation (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) which allow operators to “spin up” and move network capacity around. 5G adds the capability to the radio access network (RAN), to create slices at the edge for low-power applications where sensors have limited battery power or for a very low-latency, high bandwidth application like augmented reality.

“In essence, the way we’ve built the Emergency Services Network (ESN),” says Jones. “It behaves as though it’s a network slice, so it’s LTE, but it’s a fairly early look at what it would be like to have a 5G network where you had a dedicated slice for a particular customer, because we give them top priority on the network and a dedicated core network of their own.”

Further, operators such as Vodafone in the UK have already deployed massive MIMO and beamforming across its network, using multiple antennae to send and receive data more efficiently and boost capacity where lots of people connect to the network at the same time.

The company noted: “While building a full 5G network will take time and 5G isn’t expected to roll out globally until 2020, networks are already being enhanced to keep ahead of demand and bring some of the benefits much sooner.”

4G and 5G working together

Despite advances in 4G, capacity is likely to be the initial driver for implementing 5G. According to Cisco’s latest Visual Networking Index, in 2016, global mobile data traffic amounted to 7 exabytes per month.

In 2021, mobile data traffic worldwide is expected to reach 49 exabytes per month at a compound annual growth rate of 47%. GiffGaff expects global mobile data usage to increase by 720% by 2021, projecting data usage of “a staggering” 98.34 GB by 2025, per SIM, compared to just 1.26 GB in 2016.

To manage these demands and maintain customer experience, 5G will need to support billions of simultaneously connected devices and up to a million connections per square kilometre.

“5G, to some extent will be used to relieve capacity issues in densely populated areas. If you don’t have a lot of roadmap for 4G from a capacity perspective, 5G is the answer,” says Jones.

“The challenge, then, is getting enough users with their compatible devices onto those sites so that you see the benefit of that capacity, so you can shift the user from 4G to 5G, which means more 4G capacity for everybody else,” he says.

New revenues

While data and network demands are rising, telco revenues for traditional services are flat-lining. Recent analysis from IHS Markit found that global telecom revenue grew just 1.1% in 2017, “despite unabated network usage.” The report noted that every region showed either revenue decline or low single-digit growth at most.

Clearly telcos need to find some radical new source of revenue, and 5G offers hope, although not everyone is convinced that the financials stack up yet.

At a Huawei mobile broadband event in November, BT CEO Gavin Patterson said: “We need to finish the job on 4G – we need to make sure we get return on investment, we need to make sure we truly get the use of mobile networks up.

“Then we need to build the use case for 5G – clearly the innovation is there but ultimately, as carriers, we have to make a significant investment and put capex down, and the business case for that still needs to be built in many ways.”

The transition from 3G to 4G was underpinned by going from poor internet experience to one that opened up the internet for mobile – the industry hasn’t found that push yet for 5G.

“5G will be a better experience, but it is opening up the verticals, particularly around the IoT, that will open up new revenue streams,” says Patterson. “Finding use cases is the biggest challenge we have at the moment.”

4G limits

Ericsson forecasts that 5G will generate $1.3 trillion in business value by 2026, and mobile operators could benefit from an additional 34% bump in revenues. The biggest opportunities are seen to be in energy, manufacturing, public safety and healthcare, plus transportation, media and automotive.

Many are “critical” services, which rely on ultra-high reliability and availability (99.9999% availability is anticipated in 5G networks) and ultra-low latency (on a 4G network it’s typically about 50-100 milliseconds but on a 5G network it will be 1 millisecond or less).

“The differrence between 4G at a 100-millisecond delay and 5G at 1 millisecond is in the order of half a car length. Half a car length can mean the difference between life and death,” Kenneth Budka, senior partner at Bell Labs Consulting, said at the Brooklyn 5G Summit in April 2017.

As 5G is a service-oriented architecture (SOA), it can slice the network more easily to support unique use case requirements.

“You can support things that you can’t support today where 4G is like a single architecture,” says Thomas.

Jones at EE notes the potential in new areas too. “We have had a lot of interest from broadcasters looking at 4G to provide them with outside broadcast capabilities,” he says. “However, the nature of 4G means we can’t necessarily prioritise a single customer and provide a guaranteed SLA (service-level agreement).

“That changes with 5G. We can make promises on particular SLAs for a given time period if need be, so the impact of 5G on the broadcast industry could be significant.

“It takes a lot of investment to get there because you’ve got to have coverage,” he says. “But it could bring to life what 5G can do in terms of throughput capabilities and reliability.”

Platform play

Many operators are also looking at the platform business model to boost revenue – that is, offering digital ecosystems connecting producers of goods and/or services with consumers and/or the platform-based IT architecture which supports these models.

The platform business model could be the potential “killer app” for 5G, says Thomas.

Research in 2017 from trade association TM Forum found that more than a third of communications service providers offer digital ecosystems or platform marketplaces already, and another 40% intend to within the next two years.

Vodafone, for example, offers an IoT platform for simple services, such as smart cities with end devices like smart lighting and waste management, with little networking requirement.

In the future, 5G will be needed to cope with the volume, variety and velocity of use cases, with applications from augmented and virtual reality to connected cars and digital health. Also, a central principle of platforms is that its applications keep evolving.

“With a 4G network it was almost like a compromise between bandwidth, latency and cost,” says Thomas. “But 5G, because it has the network slicing and the service-oriented approach, you can tailor the network for each different use cases on the same shared network platform.”

TM Forum’s report concludes that while 5G may not necessarily be critical to the success of platform business models, platforms combined with IoT will be essential to 5G and unlocking new IoT revenue streams that 4G can’t, through combining higher bandwidth with network slicing.

Swedish industry contributes to 5G evolution
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Swedish industry contributes to 5G evolution

 

Industrial companies are keenly looking forward to Ericsson’s launch of 5G services later this year, and have played their part in shaping the technology.

The telecoms giant has worked closely with major companies in its Swedish homeland, including SKF, Boliden and Volvo Cars, and is targeting 5G services at manufacturers that want to implement Industry 4.0 programmes, as well as for general use on smartphones.

In developing the new network protocol, Ericsson has taken on board the ideas behind Industry 4.0, such as smart factories.

Compared with 3G, 4G and LTE, 5G is a faster and better technology for mobile communications. Ericsson’s roll-out of 5G is happening earlier than expected and it plans to start with clients outside Europe.

For example, Stockholm-based Ericsson took the opportunity to give 5G presentations during the Winter Olympics in South Korea. And with operations in most markets across the world, it has many more opportunities to talk to industrial companies about 5G.

Although Nordic companies will not be the first to use the technology, they are already preparing for it by working with Ericsson.

Mats Norin, programme manager, 5G for industries at Ericsson, told Computer Weekly that the firm has worked closely with many Swedish companies to find the best solutions for them and to create interesting use cases. For example, Ericsson engineers have been collaborating with roller bearings manufacturer SKF, mining company Boliden and Volvo Cars.

Industrial users of 5G will benefit from improved speed and a unified high-performing network, which will help them to use the internet of things (IoT) more extensively and improve robotics, for example.

Current technology such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cables are not nearly as good to meet industries’ needs, and 5G’s lower latency and higher capacity will make a huge difference.

Ericsson, whose history as a telecoms provider dates back to 1876, has a huge market share worldwide for 5G’s network predecessors, LTE, 4G and 3G.

Mining company Boliden is one of Sweden’s future 5G users. Ericsson has conducted tests in one of Boliden’s mines and considers it an interesting case. More and more work in the mining industry is automated and new technology is taken up quickly because it improves security and productivity.

The automotive industry is another example. Jonas Rönnkvist, director of business development and strategy for Volvo’s consumer IT division, told Computer Weekly that Volvo cars have been connected to mobile networks since 2000 and, like other industrial companies, it has to keep up with the latest developments in mobile networks.

A mobile network technology usually lasts only eight or nine years before a new, improved generation comes in. But network providers are often in a hurry to launch new technologies to replace the old, and that can cause problems for users.

For instance, Norway has announced that it will close its 3G network soon, said Rönnkvist, nine years after 3G came onto the scene. But a new car needs technology that lasts as long as possible, he said, so it is a bit of a puzzle to get the right technology and functions into the right car at the right time.

Volvo may be happy that new, improved technology is on the way, but it does cause a lot of work. The company is currently heavily involved in developing self-driving cars in a joint venture with Autoliv called Zenuity. The entertainment systems for such cars are expected to play an important role when the occupant no longer has to focus on driving, raising the profile of mobile technology. But that is some years ahead, and Rönnkvist expects 6G and 7G to have followed 5G by then.

One thing that Volvo cars can already do with current mobile networks is to send and receive messages between cars. For instance, if one car discovers that a road is slippery, a warning is sent to other connected cars on the same road. Volvo also uses mobile networks to upload new software into its cars, and a third area is car-sharing with friends, with a mobile phone serving as the key. This technology was launched with Volvo’s XC40, recently named European Car of the Year for 2018.

Government sets deadline for affordable 10Mbps broadband
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Government sets deadline for affordable 10Mbps broadband

 

All UK citizens will be legally entitled to access to an affordable broadband connection of at least 10Mbps by 2020, the government has announced.

Regulator Ofcom has been set the deadline as part of a broadband universal service obligation (USO).

“Ofcom now has up to two years to implement the scheme, meaning that by 2020, everyone in the UK will have a legal right to an affordable connection of at least 10Mbps, from a designated provider, no matter where they live or work, up to a reasonable cost threshold,” said the government.

Digital minister Margot James said the announcement puts high-speed broadband on a similar footing as other essential services, such as water and phone lines.

The government said that only through a regulatory USO could the “sufficient certainty and legal enforceability” be achieved to ensure high-speed broadband access for the whole of the UK by 2020.

According to Ofcom’s Connected nations 2017 report, 4% of premises are without 10Mbps broadband download, compared with 6% in 2016.

The government said that “95% of the UK already has access to superfast broadband, and the USO will provide a digital safety net for those in the most remote and hardest-to-reach places”.

The USO said the cost should not exceed £3,400 for each premises and the minimum speed requirement will be kept under review and is expected to increase over time.

The government and Ofcom will run a process to select the universal service provider(s) that will be required to offer the service, with small as well large providers given an opportunity.

In July 2017, telecoms giant BT made a formal offer to become the designated universal service provider for the USO, which would have cost BT between £450m and £600m. At the time, culture secretary Karen Bradley said the government “warmly welcomed BT’s offer” and would consider it alongside the lengthy consultation on the USO.

However, Bradley announced in December that the government did not think the offer was strong enough to take the regulatory USO “off the table”. …………………………………………………………………………………… …………………………………………………………………………………………………

How to find the right mobility strategy for your SME
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How to find the right mobility strategy for your SME

 

When budgets are tight, as they are for most small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), having a mobile strategy may seem an extravagance. However, most businesses use a mobile device in one way or another, so maximising their usefulness is a must.

According to the Office of National Statistics, (ONS) the amount of people regularly working from home has risen to 4.2 million in the last decade and it’s expected that half of the UK’s workforce will be working remotely by 2020. Furthermore, the latest figures from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BEIS) say that 16.1 million people work for SMEs – 60% of all private sector employment in the UK.

According to Myles Leach, managing director at voice-over-IP (VoIP) firm Nfon UK, it stands to reason that SMEs are and will continue to be affected by this change in working trends: “Employees need and want to have the opportunity to work flexibly. But crucially it benefits the SME. It saves on office space and costs,” he says.

“Operations can continue when a site is shut because of bad weather or for maintenance. There will invariably be fewer staff ‘sick days’ as they can still work during school holidays and when children are ill.”

Bringing mobile into SMEs and bring things up to date

What works for one SME won’t necessarily work for another, but before adopting a mobility strategy it’s important to look at what’s already in place, to determine where changes need to be made. According to Andres Richter, CEO at cloud ERP specialist Priority Software, in a survey his firm carried out of 500 UK senior decision-makers, over a third did not have the correct technology to support mobile working, and 43% couldn’t perform business-critical functions on a mobile application.

“If the company already has business software applications in place, they should see if their vendors already offer mobility tools. For example, many modern ERP systems now support mobile application generators which allow users to create a range of applications from their mobiles and use them to perform core business processes no matter where they are. These can be created in a matter of minutes, and don’t require high levels of IT expertise, perfect for SMEs looking to enhance their mobility strategy using existing technology,” he says.

Jon Wrennall, chief technology officer at cloud software supplier Advanced, says that SMEs should look to place employees at the heart of their mobile strategy, “empowering them to use mobile technology to streamline their tasks and minimising the chances of departments working in siloes”.

He adds that SMEs can use the cloud to help facilitate mobile working, which enables users to work on the move and still have all the real-time information they need at their fingertips.

“The cloud is a key driver in making mobile strategies success but implementing such a strategy is often seen as a bold move as some SMEs lack confidence in adoption and don’t understand the positive role it can play,” says Wrennall.

“SMEs should therefore look to take incremental steps. For example, they can trial mobile technology will a select set of employees who can then share feedback with those that aren’t yet familiar with it. It also enables SMEs to assess areas for improvement,” he says.

Device and service choice

Wrennall said that when it comes to devices and service choice, not everyone is familiar with mobile devices. Some will be more receptive to changing their working practices, while others might not.

“SMEs should give more support to those that need it and educate them on the benefits of mobile and the cloud. They should work closely with staff to find out their pain points, as this will determine what devices and services they choose to implement,” he says.

He adds that a move to a mobile strategy should be considered with the same level of due diligence as any other significant investment within a business. Before choosing what device or service to adopt, SMEs must consider how a transition will impact their staff and customers as well as choose a provider that can illustrate a clear and structured pathway for moving staff and data to mobile technology as smoothly as possible.

“Device and service providers must be able to show they are going to be a long-term value adding partner and that they’re in it for the long haul,” says Wrennall.

Organisations would be well advised to use just one type of device or at least minimise the number of unique hardware/software configurations,” according to Jack Zubarev, president at Parallels, a supplier of desktop and application virtualisation software.

“The cost of delivering and supporting applications simply increases with each unique device/software combination. Further device replacement and refresh will become far less expensive if one can standardise not just on device vendors but on the specific configuration(s),” he says.

“But then again, most organisations do not have the luxury of this standardisation as employees bring their own devices. In this case universal remote delivery of applications to any device, will likely provide the most cost-effective solution and isolate software delivery from underlying device hardware.

Making mobility secure

SMEs are in as much danger from cyber criminals as larger enterprises. David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, says that if SMEs overlook mobile security, they run the risk of leaving a big gap in their security defences. He adds that his firm detected 5,730,916 malicious installation packages, 94,368 mobile banking Trojans and 544,107 mobile ransomware Trojans in 2017.

“One of the dangers is that mobile technology ‘creeps’ into the business and isn’t necessarily considered in the same way as desktop or laptop security. Consider the BYOD [bring-your-own-device] trend, for example, where staff use their own devices for business,” he says.

“This isn’t a bad thing per se, but it’s important that businesses include mobile in their risk assessment, just as they would for any other technology they use: i.e. looking at what assets they have, how are they used, how is data stored/moved, who has access to it, who might want it and how might they try to access it etc. In this sense, mobile security should be considered as part of an overall security strategy.”

One of the biggest trends affecting mobile strategy and security is BYOD. “No longer can organisations insist on a device to be used by employees,” says Clive Longbottom, service director at Quocirca. “This is made worse by the changes in workforce – contractors, consultants, specialists and so on cannot be forced to use a specific device, but can be forced to allow the organisation to create a secure partition on their device.”

Employees at smaller companies may not realise that, when downloading an app, where that app came from.

“Employees can search on an App Store and find any number of apps that purport to be able to do what they want.  Individuals tend not to even check to see where the developer comes from (for example, Russia or China) and will have no capabilities to check the traffic between their device and the backend servers,” says Longbottom.

“By creating a secure partition, users can be prevented from loading apps on to it, with only the company-approved apps being available to them. Sure, the individual can still install apps on their part of the device, but these apps will not have access to any corporate data.”

Putting best practice into your mobile strategy

Priority’s Richter says the best tip is to understand where in the business a mobility strategy will add value. “Is it more important for your HR and accounting team to be mobile, or your field service reps? Although the end goal should be full mobility across the board, initially, instead of trying to do everything at once, being selective about what parts of the business would benefit from going mobile will increase the chances of a strategy sticking,” he says.

Leach says that line managers must be confident that staff are aware how to use, and are using, technologies available so that employees are just effective at their job when out of the office.

“There also need to be clear policies for working from home, such as allocated days and shared calendars. However, the most crucial factor to ensure a successful mobile strategy is creating a positive culture for mobile working. Do employees feel comfortable asking for and then working from home? Do you trust that they will be working, or do you think that they will be swilling tea all day whilst signing for neighbours’ Amazon deliveries?” he says.

Should SMEs worry about 5G? What does the future hold for SME mobile strategies?

At some point in the next few years, 5G networks will begin to be commercialised. 5G devices should be expected to consume less energy and thus improve battery life. 5G networks will have higher data rates and lower latency than previous mobile generations.

These new networks will come with features to give companies better mobility and flexibility. This will be useful for SMEs with remote employees being able to work anywhere and retain workplace-like bandwidth and connectivity.

The internet experience of 5G for field employees will be better in a number of ways. Internet-connected vehicles and machinery can be more easily monitored in real-time. It should also be easier to get analytical data into management hands to enable quicker decisions wherever employees are. These should make an impact on a business’s productivity.

Optical fiber
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LGA proposes full-fibre broadband kitemark for homebuyers

 

The Local Government Association (LGA) has thrown its weight behind a proposed kitemark for fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband services to reassure buyers of new-build homes in rural areas that their property will have a fit-for-purpose ultrafast broadband connection.

“Connecting our rural residents to future-proofed, fast and reliable broadband is vital to helping them get on in life and benefit from the advantages that decent digital connectivity can bring,” said Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, and a Gloucestershire County councillor.

“The standard of digital connectivity we provide to our new-build homes should reflect our national ambition to roll out world-class digital infrastructure across the country. Residents will no longer tolerate digital connectivity taking a backseat in developers’ plans.”

The provision of broadband to newly built properties has long been a source of contention around the UK because unlike more established utilities, such as water and electricity, there is still no obligation on developers to connect a broadband service before selling a property.

This situation persists in spite of an agreement struck two years ago between the government, the Home Builders’ Federation, and Openreach, to make it easier to deploy FTTP – also known as full-fibre – broadband in new-build homes, and subsequent commitments by Openreach to build full-fibre networks for free on qualifying developments.

In rural parts of England, things are even worse. According to recent analysis conducted by ThinkBroadband, only 32% of properties built in 2017 are connected to FTTP, and 17% are unable to access a service that meets the incoming Universal Service Obligation (USO) of 10Mbps.

Although the government’s National Planning Policy Framework sets out aims to help local authorities encourage property developers to build FTTP connections as standard, the LGA said there were still no legal powers to hold developers to account should they fail to do so.

The organisation said an FTTP kitemark would be a simple and common-sense measure to make it clear to the general public that their new homes will have a future-proof internet connection.

“We call on the government, homebuilders and the broadband industry to work with us and develop the details of this proposal and give homebuyers the confidence to invest in a new home, knowing they won’t be stuck in the digital slow lane,” said Hawthorne.

Mark Collins, director of strategy and policy at full-fibre specialist CityFibre, said access to FTTP was a massive economic benefit and could add significant value to residential property (up to £7bn nationally between now and 2033). In the US, the Fibre-to-the-Home Council has claimed that rolling out full-fibre to just 50% of premises in a given area can result in a 1.1% uplift in annual GDP.

“Full-fibre is the only infrastructure capable of delivering the reliable gigabit speed services and future-proofed capacity the UK needs. We fully support the LGA’s call for the launch of a FTTP kitemark, which will give full-fibre – the gold standard in internet connectivity – the status and recognition it deserves,” said Collins.

“Consumers have been misled for decades by advertising practices which allow copper-based broadband products to be advertised as ‘fibre’. The introduction of a kitemark, however, will help consumers know what they are paying for and what standard they should expect,” he added.

Microsoft plans to invest $5bn to boost IoT business
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Microsoft plans to invest $5bn to boost IoT business

 

Microsoft plans to invest $5bn in the internet of things (IoT) over the next four years.

The company regards the intelligent edge as its the next frontier in computing, and its CEO Satya Nadella has previously spoken of how he sees computing becoming more distributed, from IoT devices on the edge into the cloud.

“Our investments in IoT, data and AI [artificial intelligence] services across cloud and the edge position us to further accelerate growth,” said Nadella, during the earnings call for Microsoft’s Q2 2018 results.

The firm’s ambition is to create a software and hardware ecosystem that spans distributed computing infrastructure – from edge devices and sensors to the services in the Azure public cloud that collect and analyse this data, and run machine learning algorithms and predictive analytics.

Its current products include the Azure IoT suite, Dynamics for Field Service and the Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform.

In a blog post announcing the new IoT investment, Microsoft senior vice-president for Azure Julia Whyte wrote: “Our goal is to give every customer the ability to transform their businesses, and the world at large, with connected solutions.”

She said the increased investment would support continued innovation in the Microsoft technology platform, as well as supporting programs.

“We will continue research and development in key areas, including securing IoT, creating development tools and intelligent services for IoT and the edge, and investments to grow our partner ecosystem,” said Whyte.

She added that through this investment Microsoft would be extending its IoT products, services, resources and programmes.

“Today, we’re planning to dedicate even more resources to research and innovation in IoT and what is ultimately evolving to be the new intelligent edge,” said Whyte.

The company is repositioning itself to serve the needs of organisations and consumers in the connected world, with its IOT platform spanning cloud, operating system and devices.

Whyte said: “We are uniquely positioned to simplify the IoT journey so any customer -– regardless of size, technical expertise, budget, industry or other factors – can create trusted, connected solutions that improve business and customer experiences, as well as the daily lives of people all over the world.”

Organisations using the Microsoft IoT platform include Steelcase, Kohler, Chevron, United Technologies and Johnson Controls. …………………………………………………………………….. ………………………………………………………………………..

Only newer systems will get Intel firmware updates for Spectre chip flaw
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Only newer systems will get Intel firmware updates for Spectre chip flaw

 

Intel has said it will not issue patches to fix the Spectre vulnerability on 16 of its older processors.

Its decision is unlikely to affect mainstream systems, but users running older hardware or those using the non-patched processors in embedded hardware may find their systems remain open to attack.

In an update to its Microcode revision guidance document, published on 3 April, the company said: “After a comprehensive investigation of the microarchitectures and microcode capabilities for these products, Intel has determined not to release microcode updates for these products.”

Affected processors include Bloomfield Core i7 and Xeon chips, Clarksfield i7, Gulftown i7 and Xeon chips, the Penryn family and Harpentown Xeon server chips.

The company said the microarchitectural characteristics of some of these processors preclude the practical implementation of a patch.

It claimed some of the processors were not commercially supported by system software. “Based on customer inputs, most of these products are implemented as ‘closed systems’ and therefore are expected to have a lower likelihood of exposure to these vulnerabilities,” said Intel.

Ondrej Kubovic, security awareness specialist at ESET, said Intel’s decision should only affect processors that are more than five years old. “We can only hope this will give Intel more space to concentrate on patching systems that are still widely used, and that only isolated and sparsely used systems will be left out of the patching loop.”

But just because a processor is considered old by the manufacturer, it may still be operational and running business-critical applications. The Windows operating system is limited to modern processors, but the Linux kernel can be compiled to run on older processor architectures. The availability of older Linux distributions means it is easy to run such systems, particularly for legacy applications.

Kubovic added: “These [processor] flaws enable attackers to harvest information, not to modify them. Therefore, if the system contains no personal or sensitive data, or is used for other purposes but not for browsing, it should be relatively secure. Also, users can improve their security by applying Meltdown and Spectre patches issued by the operating system, browser and other software developers.

“Of course, the safest thing to do is to replace the vulnerable hardware for newer non-vulnerable components. In case hardware replacement or patching is not possible, users can also airgap their system to stay out of an attacker’s reach.”

Processor firmware patching has been far from satisfactory. Intel released, then withdrew, patches and Microsoft’s patch opened up more vulnerabilities, according to security researcher Ulf Frisk. In a post on 27 March describing Total Metdown, an exploit he discovered in the Microsoft patch for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008, Frisk wrote: “It stopped Meltdown but opened up a vulnerability way worse. It allowed any process to read the complete memory contents at gigabytes per second, oh – it was possible to write to arbitrary memory as well.”

Allan Liska, senior solutions architect at Recorded Future, said: “Total Meltdown, as it is being called, is a serious bug in Windows 7 and Windows 2008 that was introduced when Microsoft rushed to patch the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities. The vulnerability gives any user on a system read/write access to all processes running on that system, irrespective of who the process owner is. This is an unfortunate side-effect of rushing to issue patches for complex software systems – the potential to introduce new vulnerabilities.”

While Intel, Microsoft and hardware manufacturers are obliged to continue to patch supported products, Intel’s decision not to patch legacy processors leaves older systems vulnerable to attack. Such systems may not be running in business systems or home computers, but embedded in the internet of things (IoT) devices.

Oded Comay, chief technology officer at ForeScout, said: “Even when a known vulnerability exists in a component, it can’t be fixed easily due to other considerations. In fact, a CPU vulnerability typically requires hardware changes to be fixed completely.

“We need to think differently about mitigating the risk these vulnerabilities pose to the organisation. Network segmentation comes to mind as a major technology that can help reduce the risk in many situations involving network attached devices.”

The challenge for the industry is that IoT devices with non-patched processors may be deployed across smart cities to control street lighting or traffic, embedded in industrial control systems or within smart devices in people’s homes, or even inside their home Wi-Fi router.

Some may run on dedicated networks, but many will use the public internet for low-cost connectivity. As such, securing the network may not be entirely feasible and replacement of the devices will often be impractical.

5G mobile spectrum auction raises £1.3bn
Tech,

5G mobile spectrum auction raises £1.3bn

 

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has announced the conclusion of the first stage of the mobile network spectrum auction, raising £1.37bn for the public purse.

The auction, which began on 20 March, saw 190MHz of spectrum go under the hammer – 40MHz of immediately usable spectrum in the 2.3GHz band to support existing 4G mobile networks, and 150MHz in the 3.4GHz band to form the basis of future 5G mobile networks.

“This is good news for everyone who uses their mobile phone to access the internet,” said Ofcom spectrum group director Phil Marnick. “As a nation, we are using ever more mobile data on smartphones and mobile devices.

“Releasing these airwaves will make it quicker and easier to get online on the move. It will also allow companies to prepare for 5G mobile, paving the way for a range of smart, connected devices.”

Five companies, including all four mobile network operators (MNOs), took part in the auction, and Ofcom confirmed that EE, O2, Three and Vodafone will divide up all the available spectrum between them. The fifth bidder, long-term evolution (LTE) backhaul specialist Airspan Spectrum Holdings, failed in its bid.

A sixth bidder, Hull-based wireless service provider Connexin, dropped out before the process formally began.

Out of all four MNOs, Telefónica-backed O2 and Vodafone have emerged as the big winners, with O2 winning all the available 4G spectrum at a cost of £205.9m and 40MHz of 5G spectrum at a cost of £317.7m, and Vodafone winning 50MHz of 5G spectrum at a cost of £378.2m.

EE – which was excluded from the 4G bidding process under new rules capping how much spectrum it may own – won 40MHz of 5G spectrum at a cost of £302.6m, and Hutchison-backed Three won 20MHz of 5G spectrum at a cost of £151.3m.

The total amount of spectrum sold off equates to about three-quarters of the total spectrum sold in the 2013 4G spectrum auction, which raised £2.34bn and was deemed a disappointment given that the previous 3G auction in 2000 netted the government £22.5bn.

However, the vast amounts paid by the operators in the 2000 auction meant they struggled to generate an effective return on investment (ROI), and the UK’s auction has subsequently been implicated as a major cause of the telecoms industry recession in the early 2000s.

After that, the auction process was redesigned to enable operators to achieve ROI, and to let Ofcom meet its remit to manage the use of spectrum efficiently, with consumers’ interests put ahead of the Treasury’s.

Telefónica UK CEO Mark Evans said O2’s success in acquiring all the available 4G spectrum was a major win for its customers, particularly as this meant it had effectively spend the least per MHz of any bidder across the whole process.

“We have been setting the standard for loyalty and customer service in our sector,” said Evans. “With this spectrum investment, we can build on our publicly recognised Best Network Coverage, to lead the way on network reliability and service as well.

“The real winners in this auction are customers as O2 invests to further strengthen its award-winning network. The airwaves we have secured allow us to further enhance our network, both now and in the future.”

Evans said O2 would move to enable users to access the 4G spectrum within 24 hours of the regulator releasing it for use.

The auction will now move on to the second, assignment stage, which will determine where in the frequency bands the spectrum awards will be located. After that, Ofcom will issue licences to the winning bidders.

it must be the foundation of design
Tech,

it must be the foundation of design

 

For too long, our approach to cyber security in the internet of things (IoT) has been: “Security? Yeah, we’ll do that once we sort out this bit”. To be honest, most parts of the digital economy have gone through this phase – and it’s easy to understand why.

If you’re building an exciting new product or service then you naturally focus on the opportunity at hand – what problem will it solve, and how will you market and sell it?

But as digital technologies mature, developers also realise they have to consider how to build a new product securely, from the ground up – and so it is now with IoT.

We know this is incredibly important for two reasons. First, research that TechUK has undertaken with GfK on consumer attitudes to the “connected home” shows concerns about privacy and security are some of the biggest barriers to the adoption of this technology.

Second, unsecured devices can be grouped together to attack other parts of the internet, as we have seen with increasingly large denial of service (DDOS) attacks.

Security by design

It is for these reasons we have been involved with and strongly support the government’s recent Secure by Design report. In taking action, we are reassured that government pushed to strike a balance between allowing the fantastic innovation that we are seeing in the IoT market and ensuring concerns about security don’t undermine trust in IoT.

That innovation in IoT is making tangible differences to people’s lives – look at the incredible work being trialled as part of the Diabetes Digital Coach programme in the west of England. As well as the life-changing uses of IoT, it can also help out in some of life’s more mundane but expensive issues, such as helping to alert people to a burst pipe at home.

Government’s proposed approach is based around a Code of Practice for device manufacturers, service providers, app developers and retailers. It has 13 points in total, but we want to highlight the priority areas, which are: no more default passwords; implement a vulnerability disclosure policy; and keep software updated for a defined time period.

We will be working closely with government on the wording of some of these and how they will be implemented. But, be in no doubt, these are basic measures which every company should be adhering to.

Building trust

Alongside the Code of Practice, government has floated a potential labelling scheme for IoT products to help inform the consumer and build trust in companies participating. In principle, it is a good idea and can be a tool in helping consumers attribute value to security.

On a practical level, security, given the evolving threat landscape, is much more of a movable feast than, for example, energy efficiency. TechUK will be working with our members, government and industries to see if we can achieve the principle in a sensible way.

The government is also taking this approach to an international level as part of its efforts to create a safe but innovative and open internet. This is really important. Creating a culture of confidence and trust in IoT and digital technologies is critical in itself.

It’s time for IoT to mature but growing up first has its advantages. By the UK becoming a leader in how to shape and guide these innovations – just as we believe we can in the matter of ethics in artificial intelligence – we can also attract talent and investment to Britain from around the world.