Author: simonmackay

The case for a future-proof fibre-broadband setup

Article – From the horse’s mouth New Zealand map

Chorus Broadband NZ

Blog Post

My Comments

Chorus, New Zealand’s broadband infrastructure provider, highlighted why their fibre-to-the-premises broadband setup has been designed to be future-proof.

Here, they highlighted the time when New Zealand acquired colour television and households were getting their claws on to one of the new colour TV sets that were being released. This was concurrent with the 1974 Commonwealth Games being hosted in Christchurch, New Zealand and the Kiwis were wanting to watch this event in living colour. Then they highlighted the up-and-coming 2020 Olympics in Tokyo with the possibility of it being delivered using 8K UHDTV technology thanks to NHK in Japan being able to deliver 8K UHDTV broadcast feeds to broadcasters who have local rights to the event.

But they were mentioning about the feasibility of upgrading their infrastructure from 1Gbps to 10Gbps. They are prototyping such a setup in their Auckland-based Chorus Fibre Experience Lab but came across with the fact that it would only require replacement of the electronics at each end of the connection.

This would be the optical-network terminal in their exchange or street cabinet and the optical-network terminal in your home that connects between the optical fibre and your router’s WAN (Internet) socket. At the time that 10Gbps fibre-optic connectivity is needed, newer and better routers would be offered with a 10Gbps Ethernet connection of some sort on the WAN side, in addition to LAN-side wired and wireless connectivity that suits these expectations. If the exchange-side setup is totally modular, it could allow for a gradual service upgrade initially to those who are after that bandwidth like business users or “tech-head” early adopters.

Some other areas like Hong Kong, Norway, Qatar, and South Korea are dabbling with the 10Gbps fibre-optic idea and offering it as a service. Mostly this is offered by the local ISPs as a premium or business-class service.

But Chorus and other FTTP providers can see other upgrade paths for their fibre-optic services without the need to replace the optical fibre. Here, they could convert from passive-optical-network architecture to active-optical-network architecture to provide full bandwidth to each premises. It also allows the infrastructure to support full quality-of-service for real-time applications like online gaming, IP telephony or video streaming as well as a highly-flexible service for households and businesses.

Chorus are also underscoring the reality that there will be more Internet traffic over their infrastructure especially with the smart home and the Internet Of Things. This is more so if these devices become dependent on cloud services and provide frequently-updated data.

Here, what is being highlighted is the use of futureproof technologies that can allow for long-term investment in the same infrastructure and an upgrade path that costs relatively little to implement.

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Amazon chasing the numbers when it comes to Alexa’s Skills

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Amazon needs to assure quality for the skills they offer to Echo users

Alexa is learning more new skills every day | Engadget

My Comments

At the moment, Amazon is adding many skills to the Alexa voice-activated home assistant ecosystem every day with at least 15,000 skills available for your Echo by the time this article is published. This is in contrast to Google offering 378 apps and Cortana offering 65 apps. Apple yet hasn’t shown up the number of skills or apps that they have added to Siri as part of her role as a voice-driven home assistant.

But the problem with this approach is that Amazon can easily end up “chasing the numbers” where they don’t care about software quality. This is very similar to what has happened with the app stores like Microsoft Store where these stores filled up with many poor-quality and, in some cases, worthless apps. Here it is seen as a quick way for Amazon to dominate the voice-driven home assistant landscape alongside offering the multiple devices and extra capabilities.

Amazon yet haven’t had much experience in building up a platform app store with a goal towards achieving a significant number of quality apps. This is compared to Google, Microsoft and Apple who have learnt by experience when it came to building up their platform app stores which Google Home, Cortana and Siri will be based on. In most cases, it was about leaving the gates wide open and admitting too much trash or “dribbling in” very little software and putting across an image of very little choice. It is symptomatic of a technology being at an immature state where much hasn’t been worked on to have the right mix of features and software.

As regards with the software quality of skills or apps for a voice-driven home assistant platform, there will be issues about preserving proper software behaviour, assuring proper taste and decency in a family environment, along with assuring end-users’ data-security and privacy. It is more so with the fact that these skills will be relating to smart-home devices and these devices can be used to represent a household’s lifestyle. This will need to be achieved through software and consumer-protection policies and a feedback loop between end-users and the platform developer.

Of course, there needs to be the ability for Amazon and co to highlight high-quality skills and apps to users such as through an “editor’s choice” or “product spotlight”, along with a user review and rating system.

Other issues yet to be raised include how a developer can monetise a skill, whether through having customers buy the skill through Amazon’s storefront or through an advertising platform. In the case of advertising, there will be issues regarding user privacy, the kind of advertising that appears along with when the ads appear in your interaction with that skill.

I would see the sign of maturity for the voice-driven home assistant technology as higher-quality skills or apps being available along with the platforms being offered in more territories on more devices with the expected feature sets.

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Another independent ISP provides broadband into rural UK communities

Article

County Broadband Bring 1Gbps FTTP Network to Rural Homes in Broughton | ISP Review

From the horse’s mouth

County Broadband

Home Page

Broughton Fibre FTTP Project

Home Page

Press Release

My Comments

County Broadband are a wireless ISP who are offering improved Internet service across most of rural Cambridgeshire and East Anglia in the UK. But they have decided to run a 1Gbps fibre-to-the-premises service in Broughton, Cambridgeshire as a proving ground for deploying this technology in rural villages.

This is similar to the efforts that Gigaclear, B4RN and other small-time rural ISPs are undertaking to enable real broadband expectations in other parts of rural England. In this case it is to provide a viable alternative to substandard ADSL service that may not have a chance of hitting the headline 2Mbps speed thanks to the typically decrepit telephony infrastructure that these areas end up with.

They are announcing the impending arrival of this service through a village hall meeting for the townsfolk on the 4th of August 2017. The ISPReview article raised issues about poor-quality service with BT Openreach saying on their Website that the local street cabinet was mad ready for fibre but this installation was found to be located 3 miles or 4.828 km away from Broughton, without the likelihood of delivering high-speed broadband to that town.

That article also said that, like what has happened in other British rural areas, larger companies would “wake up and smell the bacon” with the intent to service those areas because of the small-time operators offering next-generation Internet in to those areas thus leading to infrastructure-level competition. Of course, there is also the fact that as the town grows, more retail-level ISPs could be offering to use the infrastructure to service that neighbourhood along with mobile telephony providers using the same infrastructure to provide an improved cellular mobile telephony service for that area.

But I also see this as being of benefit to the householders and businesses who want to benefit from what a high-speed Internet connection offers. This is more so where small businesses see the cloud as a way of allowing them to grow up such as for a shop to move from the old cash register towards a fully-electronic POS system as part of “growing up”, or for the hospitality trade to benefit from offering high-speed Wi-Fi Internet as a marketable amenity.

For County Broadband to provide the FTTP fibre-optic infrastructure to Broughton as a proving ground could lead them to better paths for rural broadband improvement. This could mean something like more villages and small towns in East Anglia being wired for next-generation future-proof Internet and perhaps making that area an extension of the Silicon Fen.

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Controlled folder access to come to Windows 10 soon

Articles 

Windows 10 preview build protects your files from ransomware | Engadget

Windows 10 will hide your important files from ransomware soon | The Verge

Microsoft previews new ransomware protection feature | Bit-Tech

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

Windows Experience blog post

My Comments

If you have heard the news over the last few month, you will have heard about ransomware activity in the form of the WannaCry and Petya ransomware variants getting at major installations including the NHS and the Victorian traffic-camera infrastructure.

But Microsoft has attacked this problem in a different way by providing application-level control for the next major update for Windows 10 – the Fall Creator’s Update. It is part of refining the Windows Defender security software that is part of the operating system for improved business-tier data security.

It is a very similar process to what Android and iOS do in relation to allowing the user to control what apps have access to what resources and features on their smartphone or tablet. It is also in contrast to how regular-computer operating systems work when it comes to controlling the level of access granted to a computer’s file system, where users or groups of users are typically granted particular levels of access to folders or files.

Here, once you enable the Controlled Folder Access function, applications can’t add, modify or delete files in folders where this control exists unless the app is part of a user-defined whitelist.  The routine for adding an app to the whitelist will be very similar to what you do on your iPhone or Android phone when it comes to allowing that app you newly downloaded to have access to a particular resource on your smartphone and could occur during installation or when you first use that app after enabling Controlled Folders.

By default, this feature would be enabled for the Documents, Desktop, Pictures and Videos folder trees but you can enable this feature for other folders such as “ad-hoc” work folders created on the system disk or other fixed storage on your system. I am not sure is this is also to apply to removable storage like USB hard disks, USB memory keys or SD cards, or whether this can also apply to network and online storage like your NAS shares or your Dropbox folder.

A question that can also be raised is whether the Controlled Folder feature will also provide a way to limit access to other system resources by apps. Here, it could range from access to network and Internet resources to prevent spyware from “phoning home” or to limit access to your computer’s Webcam and microphone to limit use of these resources as a surveillance tool.

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AVM adds distributed Wi-Fi functionality to the Fritz!Box

Article – German language / Deutsche Sprache

Fritz!Box: Auch AVM setzt auf Mesh-WLAN | Netzwelt.de

From the horse’s mouth

AVM

AVM FRITZ!Box 3490 - Press photo courtesy AVM

AVM Fritz!Box – the first Wi-Fi device range to implement distributed Wi-Fi through a software upgrade

FRITZ! Labor für WLAN Mesh (Product Details)

My Comments

A major trend affecting the home network is the rise of distributed Wi-Fi systems which are simple-to-setup Wi-Fi networks that use a mesh-based or “repeater-extender” Wi-Fi wireless backbone. Some ISPs are even offering these kind of systems as an added-value option that customers can “buy on” or product differentiator for their top-shelf packages.

But AVM, a network-technology company based in Berlin, Germany, and known for its Fritz!Box routers have taken a different approach to this situation. This is in addition to being the first home-network hardware  Here, they are offering this functionality in the form of a user-deployed software upgrade just released in Germany for some of their devices, namely the Fritz!Box 7490, 7580 and 7590 modem routers and the Fritz!WLAN Repeater 1750E Wi-Fi repeater and Fritz!Powerline 1240E HomePlug access point.

Here, AVM has done away with the need for households to replace their equipment to head towards the mesh-driven Wi-Fi home network.They just have to download the newer firmware updates from AVM’s Website and apply them to the Fritz!Box modem router. Then they take advantage of a firmware-hosted “Home Network Overview” (Heimnetzübersicht) dashboard to roll out the “over-the-air” firmware updates to any compatible Fritz!WLAN repeater or Fritz!Powerline access point to have them part of the mesh. Of course, it also facilitates one-touch configuration of the network with each wireless node in the meh being part of the proper “extended service set” with the same ESSID and security parameters.

The question here is whether AVM will implement just the wireless backbone for their mesh or have it support a wired (Ethernet or HomePlug AV2) backbone as well. Here, supporting a wired backbone as well as the wireless backbone can cater towards difficult network setups like stone buildings or multiple-building properties.

What do I see of this? Personally I would see the European network-hardware vendors implement a fully software-driven approach towards the advanced Wi-Fi setup. It would then lead to ISPs in highly-competitive markets like France rolling out this kind of functionality simply through a software functionality update for their customer-premises equipment.

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Amazon gives Alexa intercom abilities for their Echo devices

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

The Amazon Echo to replace that intercom you bought from Radio Shack

Amazon is turning every Echo device into an intercom | Engadget

Your Amazon Echo-Filled House Now has an Alexa Intercom System | Droid Life

Amazon wants the Echo to replace your home intercom | VentureBeat

My Comments

As the battle heats up between Amazon, Google and, very soon, Apple and Microsoft for the voice-driven home assistant platform, there is a strong likelihood that these platforms will acquire new features “out of the box” at a regular pace without the need to add a “skill” or app.

Initially Amazon added a telephony function to their Alexa platform with video telephony for the Echo Show videophone device.  Now they are introducing an intercom function for their Echo devices. It is due to the fact that a lot of the households that buy Amazon Echo devices will end up equipping their home with many of these devices, such as to kit out a pair of computer speakers or old boombox with an Echo Dot.

This may be similar to an intercom system that you may have used in your home, be it that little portable box that plugs in to the wall and uses your AC wiring as a communications path or that fancy radio-intercom setup integrated in your home with one of the units having an integrated radio tuner.

Here, you have to name each Echo device with a room-unique name when you set it up or revise its settings. Then you have to enable the “drop-in” functionality on the Alexa app, whereupon you can tell Alexa to call a specific device. You can set up the “drop-in” functionality to monitor a particular room such as to monitor a sleeping baby or hear if your older parent is calling out.

The system even works across the Internet rather than just your home network, which can come in handy with families and neighbours who want to keep in touch with each other in the same community.

You can upgrade your existing Amazon Echo equipment towards this functionality by simply updating the software in the Echo devices and the Alexa app to the latest version. But I wouldn’t put it past Amazon to roll this function out to other devices that are based on the Alexa platform or to work out ways to improve on it. Similarly, I wouldn’t put it past Google, Apple and Microsoft to answer Amazon with an intercom feature of their own.

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Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop–now refreshed

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Dell

Product Page

TV commercial – click or tap to play

Previous Coverage

Product Review of previous-generation unit

My Comments

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptopSometime during March this year, I reviewed the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop, simply known as the Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop, which was based on the 6th-generation Intel Core i7 CPU with a cheaper option for an Intel Core i5 CPU. Here, this high-performance computer was positioned as a gaming laptop that doesn’t show the aggressive looks of computers destined at this kind of user, rather it conveys a style similar to the typical 15” mainstream laptop. It was also kitted out with 8Gb RAM and a 1Tb hard disk for the cheaper i5 variant and 16Gb RAM, 128Gb solid-state disk and 1Tb hard disk for the more expensive i7 variant. This is also in conjunction with NVIDIA dedicated graphics that has 4Gb display memory and Optimus automatic switching between dedicated and integrated graphics.

In the review, I had positioned the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming product range at those of us who are chasing performance in a portable form. This was ranging from someone who wants something that can be quickly put away after use, or someone who is living a relatively nomadic lifestyle like one who works in the merchant navy or doing business placements around the world. I also exposed it towards students studying courses involving advanced graphics or people dabbling with photos, video or animation as a hobby or small-time business effort but don’t want to follow the Apple path.

But just lately, Dell refreshed the Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming series of high-performance laptop computers with the 7th Generation Intel processors, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 series dedicated graphics with the Ti variant being a product differentiator, The cheaper machines come with a 256Gb SSD while the premium model comes with a 1Tb hard disk as well. This is a process that happens with all of the computers that become available where a manufacturer will issue a newer model that is simply equipped with newer and better silicon but is like the model that was released prior when it comes to form, function and product positioning.

The entry-level configuration costs AUD$1399 and comes with Intel i5 horsepower, 8Gb RAM, 256Gb solid-state drive, and NVIDIA GTX 1050 graphics, The step-up model which costs AUD$1499 comes with the same specs as the entry-level model but uses the NVIDIA GTX 1050Ti which offers a level of better graphics performance. Then the premium model which costs AUD$1599 comes with the Intel i7 horsepower, 16Gb RAM, 1Tb hard disk and 256Gb SSD as secondary storage along with the NVIDIA GTX1050Ti graphics.

But Dell are riding on the Spider-Man Homecoming movie just about to be released in to Australian cinemas for the Australian winter school holidays by running a TV commercial themed around this movie that is now on your TV. I have watched this ad a few times and see it not just as a “games during class” concept but also the fact that these computers can be relevant with advanced graphics as part of a STEM or media-focused study curriculum.

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What is G.Fast all about?

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

G.Fast could be the next step for DSL-based fibre-copper broadband setups

There is a newer iteration of the DSL physical-loop network connection standards that has shown up on the scene lately. It is known as G.Fast and is intended for fibre-copper layouts that encompass a longer fibre run from the exchange or central office.

This is an improvement over the VDSL2 family of standards currently used for fibre-copper setups where there is a longer copper run, such as “fibre-to-the-node” or “fibre-to-the-cabinet” setups. What it is capable of is a bandwidth up to a Gigabit / second over a 500 metre copper run.

House

It could be about fibre to the front yard here

What has happened lately is that a compatibility-testing regime for this standard has been launched thanks to a number of laboratories who are undertaking these tests. As well, it is being put on the map as far as a copper-based last-mile communications standard goes.

Yarra's Edge apartment blocks

or high-speed fibre to the basement in these apartment blocks

There is interest in this technology for use as part of next-generation broadband setups where fibre and copper are used in the link, but it is targeted towards relatively-short copper runs.

Examples of these are:

  • fibre-to-the-distribution-point / fibre-to-the-curb – where the DSLAM modem is installed in a distribution point or frame that serves a street and, perhaps, some cul-de-sac courts
  • fibre-to-the-front-yard / fibre-to-the-frontage – where the DSLAM modem is located outside a single-occupancy property and just serves that property, or a DSLAM is set up to serve a small group of terrace houses or a small strip of shops.
  • fibre-to-the-building / fibre-to-the-basement – a setup used with multiple-occupancy buildings with the DSLAM equipment installed in a wiring closet or equipment room within the building and telephone cabling used between the equipment room and the individual premises.

Some of these deployments that serve few premises permit the use of a single-premises DSLAM box that is the size of a shoehox or, more realistically, one of those “shoebox-form” cassette recorders prevalent through the 1970s as an entry-level cassette recorder. This can be installed in an access pit or attached to a telegraph pole and could be “reverse powered” by the subscriber’s modem or a power injector installed on the subscriber’s premises.

The advantage being pitched is that a subscriber can head to “next-generation” Internet even if they are in a predicament that restricts or prohibits the deployment of new street-premises wiring infrastructure. This could range from brick or stone houses where it is costly in time and money to pull new wiring, through the desire to preserve a carefully-landscaped garden, to tenants who have to seek their landlord’s permission to install infrastructure, along with being sure someone is home to supervise the technicians installing the infrastructure.

Let’s not forget that a fibre-to-the-distribution-point setup or a fibre-to-the-building setup can also be ready for Gigabit broadband once G.Fast is implemented. There may also be the idea of using these DSLAMs as part of level-based telecommunications infrastructure in the high-rise buildings to assure high bandwidth across the development.

At the moment, G.Fast service customers will need to be supplied with a G.Fast DSL modem which they connect to their broadband router’s Ethernet WAN socket and the telephone line. This will happen as part of signing up to these next-generation Internet services that use that technology. But very soon it will lead towards the arrival of a subsequent generation of DSL modem routers that are equipped with a G.Fast / VDSL2+ / ADSL2+ modem as a WAN (Internet) connection option.

G.Fast will end up being suitable for population-dense urban areas being served by a fibre-optic next-generation broadband service as long as the copper cable run goes as far as the street.

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Full-fibre ISPs are calling for action to qualify next-generation broadband service in the UK

Article

Fibre optic cable trench in village lane - press picture courtesy of Gigaclear

Fibre to the premises courtesy of Gigaclear

“Full Fibre” ISPs Call on ASA to Stop Misleading UK “Fibre Broadband” Adverts | ISP Review

My Comments

While the NBN are taking things slowly to roll out next-generation broadband Internet in to Australian communities and providing most with a fibre-copper service, the UK are facing a similar problem.

Most of urban Britain are being provisioned with similar fibre-copper next-generation broadband service, typically “fibre-to-the-cabinet” with a copper VDSL2 link between the street cabinet and the customer’s door. This is while a handful of ISPs and infrastructure providers like Gigaclear, Cityfibre and Hyperoptic are running fibre-to-the-premises next-generation broadband infrastructure, whether to country properties or large urban developments.

But a lot of telcos and ISPs are using the word “fibre” as part of hawking their next-generation broadband Internet product, while it is seen as a keyword by the marketers to say that the service will provide higher bandwidth to the customer than what was normally expected. This is although they are running a fibre-copper Internet service in most of their territories.

What is being raised is how should a broadband service be qualified in relationship to its infrastructure when the service is advertised to the public. It isn’t just about whether a service implements fibre to the premises or not, but how much of the run between the exchange or head-end and the customer’s premises is being covered by a fibre link.

There has to be distinct keywords to say that a service is being provided “fibre-to-the-premises”, a “majority-fibre” service like fibre-to-the-building or fibre-to-the-distribution-point, or a “minority-fibre” service like fibre-to-the-cabinet. Other issues that need to be raised is whether a service is being delivered with symmetrical (upload / download) bandwidth or is an “exclusive bandwidth” service like active fibre where each customer gets the full contracted bandwidth rather than facing bandwidth contention.

What Gigaclear and co are raising is that customers need to know what they are able to get when they sign up for a next-generation broadband Internet service or other advanced telecommunications service.

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Spotify now ported for the Windows 10 Store

Articles

Spotify Windows 10 Store port

Spotify – now fully part of Windows 10

Spotify is now available in the Windows Store – The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Spotify

Press Release

Microsoft

Windows Blog post

Get Spotify from Microsoft Store for your Windows 10 computer

My Comments

One of the first Windows apps to be ported to the Windows 10 Store as a “Universal Windows Platform” app is Spotify. This port, facilitated with the Centennial “desktop-to-UWP” toolkit, is primarily to have it available for computers running the Windows 10 S variant of the Windows 10 operating system, which can’t accept anything other than what is available at the Windows Store.

Another feature that will also be par for the course will be that the Spotify Windows 10 client will be updated through Windows Store rather than always polling Spotify’s servers for software updates. But further versions of this client could exploit Windows 10’s features like using a Live Tile or showing notifications in the Action Center. As well, when Microsoft opens up more relevant API hooks in subsequent major Windows 10 updates that opens up newer functionality, it will be easier for the Spotify developers to take advantage of it.

I installed the port on my desktop computer which is running Windows 10 and found that this was a simplified installation routine which carried my Spotify account and other details across. It was really a simplified installation process for a crossgrade from the standalone package that Spotify offered.

Some reviewers had criticised some other Windows Store ports of existing Windows programs due to them enforcing the installation of the new software alongside the extant software or requiring the user to re-establish themselves with the services the software was a part of. But they appreciated the “one-touch” deployment process when drawing it down from the Windows Store whether this was a new installation or to upgrade the existing client.

What is being called out by Spotify is how a software developer can make a program available via the Microsoft Store for Windows 10 computers but cater to those users who have an existing desktop version of the program but want to take advantage of the new port.

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