Category: Current and Future Trends

Understanding the new distributed-Wi-Fi systems

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system press image courtesy of NETGEAR

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system – understanding these devices and whether to purchase them or not

A new class of home-network device has been appearing over the last year or so in the form of the “distributed Wi-Fi system”, sometimes known as the “mesh Wi-Fi system”.

These systems consist of two or three modules, one working as your home network’s router and the other modules working as access points. But they have features that are different to setups where you use an ordinary access point and wired-network backbone or a range extender to extend your Wi-Fi wireless network’s coverage.

Some ISPs are even offering distributed-Wi-Fi systems as a product differentiator for their premium packages or as an add-on that customers can buy. They are offering these devices in response to their customer base complaining to their support desks and “bricks-and-mortar” storefronts regarding poor Wi-Fi coverage.

Core features

Simplified setup and self-tuning

When you set up these devices, you don’t have to determine the operating frequency for each of the modules nor do you have to deal with multiple devices for your network to run properly.

Typically the only hands-on requirement is to work with one management interface when adjusting your network’s settings. You may even find that this interface is where you set up things like your Internet connection parameters or your network’s ESSID and enable / disable any particular features the system has.

You may find that the procedure involved with enrolling additional node devices to an existing distributed-Wi-Fi system may be as simple as pairing a network client device to a Wi-Fi network using WPS push-button pairing. This would simply be about pressing a button on the new device then pressing a button on one of the existing devices or the main node.

These systems continually re-adjust the operating frequency and other parameters so as to cope with changes in operating circumstances.

For example, if one or more of your neighbours set up new home networks or add access points and range extenders to these networks, you may find that your network underperforms due to the neighbouring networks operating on the same frequency. Even someone running a “Mi-Fi” mobile router or using their smartphone’s “Internet-share” mode could affect the network’s performance.

But the typical distributed-Wi-Fi system will automatically tune itself to different frequencies when these situations do occur. As well, it may implement other tactics to provide the best signal strength for your client devices.

Automatic creation of a single Wi-Fi network

A problem that users will have especially with wireless range extenders is that your network is split up in to multiple extended service sets or Wi-Fi networks. This can cause problems with users having to switch between different network names to gain the best coverage, something that can daunt a lot of users.

If you set up a traditional access-point setup with a wired (HomePlug or Ethernet) backbone, you have to “copy” the SSID and security parameters to each access point’s setup interface. A few HomePlug access points simplify this task using a WPS-based “Wi-Fi Clone” function where you activate this function then press the WPS button on your router to “copy over” the network parameters to the access point.

But these systems allow you to create your network’s SSID and security parameters with these being reflected across all of the modules that are part of the system. This includes implementing these parameters across all wavebands that these distributed Wi-Fi systems support.

This leads to a network that has the same kind of “roam-ability” as what would be expected for larger Wi-Fi networks with multiple access points. It is similar to what you would have expected with a properly-set-up traditional access-point network.

System types

Mesh-based distributed Wi-Fi system

Mesh-based distributed Wi-Fi system – each device links with each other

There are two different approaches being implemented with distributed Wi-Fi systems. These affect how the wireless backhaul signal is provided between each of the system’s modules.

Mesh system

The mesh method, implemented by Linksys Velop, Google WiFi, and eero require the use of three or more modules with one of these serving as the “edge” router for the network.

Here, the wireless backhaul works on a mesh approach where each module effectively receives signals from and transmits signals to the other modules that are in range. There is some fault-tolerance in these setups where the receiving module (node) can rely on other transmitting nodes if one of them fails. On the other hand, the receiving node aggregates the bandwidth it receives from two or more nodes of the network for higher throughput.

Router-extender / hub-satellite system

Hub-satellite distributed-Wi-Fi system

Hub-satellite distributed Wi-Fi system – uses extender devices connected to a router

The other approach, followed by the DLink Covr and the Netgear Orbi works in a similar vein to a traditional router and range-extender setup or traditional multiple-access-point setup.

Here, the satellite nodes in this system provide a single backhaul link to the hub node which typically is the router. The better designed systems like the NETGEAR Orbi use a dedicated wireless link for their wireless backhaul. This avoids competition for bandwidth by the portable client devices and the satellite nodes wanting to repeat the signal.

Features and limitations regarding these systems

Router-only or access-point functionality

Most of the distributed wireless setups are connected to the Internet in the same vein as a router where they create their own logical network. This setup appeals to users who have a modem that provides a media-level connection to their Internet service like a cable modem, optical-network terminator or a wireless-broadband modem.

This will be a limitation for users who have a modem router like most xDSL connections or users that implement a router that offers very advanced functionality like a VPN endpoint or VoIP gateway.

If you have one of these setups and want to use a distributed wireless system, look for one that offers access-point functionality or network-level bridging functionality. Here, these systems just connect to an Ethernet LAN socket on the existing router but you would have to disable the Wi-Fi functionality on the router if you use one of these systems if the node is closely located to the router.

Dedicated wireless backbone

Better-designed systems will implement a separate wireless backbone that isn’t used by any of the client devices. These systems will use specific radio front-ends and create a separate wireless network specifically for this backbone while each node has other radio front-ends that simply serve as the Wi-Fi access point for that area.

The benefit that is provided here is that the backhaul isn’t being shared with client devices that in the node’s good-reception area. That allows for optimum bandwidth for your distributed-Wi-Fi setup.

Alternative wired backbone

A handful of these systems are offering a wired backbone as an alternative setup for the network that they establish. This is provided through either an Ethernet LAN connection on the nodes or a setup may implement HomePlug AV500 or AV2 powerline networking as the wired backbone.

This feature may be of value for environments where the wireless backhaul just won’t perform as expected such as houses with interior walls made of highly-dense materials. Or these setups can come in to their own with multi-building home networks, where a wired link like HomePlug AV2 powerline networking for existing setups or Ethernet for new setups could link the buildings. On the other hand, if you wired your home for Ethernet, a distributed wireless system that implements support for an Ethernet wired backbone can exploit this infrastructure by allowing you to push out the network coverage further.

These systems should be able to treat the wired backbone as though it is another wireless backbone or part of the mesh. With some of these systems, you could push out a wireless backbone that refers to one of the nodes connected to the wired backbone as its “master” node rather than the main router.

Internet-dependent operation

There are some distributed-wireless systems that are dependent on an Internet connection for them to operate and for you to manage them. Most likely this is evident if the user interface is through a mobile-platform app that links to an Internet resource; along with heavy talk of “cloud operation” in the product documentation. This kind of setup is one that some new Silicon-Valley outfits are heading down the road towards as they want us to join the Internet-dependent “cloud bus”.

On the other hand, a system that isn’t dependent on an Internet connection for you to manage the network will allow you to visit a Web-page dashboard through a local network address or resource name and fully manage your network via that dashboard created by the router or node. Some of these systems that have UPnP IGD or management functionality enabled may make themselves discoverable using a Windows computer on the same network if you open Windows Explorer / File Explorer and see it listed as a Network device.

This is the traditional practice for most home and small-business network hardware and such a setup may offer the ability to be managed within your network using a mobile-platform app that points to the local resource. But this setup allows you to manage or troubleshoot your network even if the Internet connection is down. You also benefit from the ability to get your network ready before your Internet service is provisioned or deal with service-provisioning scenarios like changing your service provider or connection technology, or dealing with Internet services that authenticate with usernames and passwords.

What should I buy?

Not every distributed-Wi-Fi setup suits every house. This is because different houses come in differing sizes and compositions.

I would pay attention to those distributed-wireless systems like the NETGEAR Orbi that offer a choice of different nodes that have differing signal strengths at different price points. The benefit with these systems is that you can effectively shape your Wi-Fi network’s coverage to your premises size and shape.

For example, an entry-level package with a low-output satellite node could earn its keep with providing coverage to an area at the edge of your small house or apartment where you sometimes have good reception but could do with “pushing out” the coverage a bit further for better response from smartphones and mobile-platform tablets used in that area. But you would find that a standard distributed-wireless package may be overkill for this situation. Here, it is similar to creating a HomePlug powerline segment to serve a baseline HomePlug wireless access point to fill in that dark spot and achieve that same goal.

But for most homes, you could get by with running a standard distributed-Wi-Fi system that just has two nodes. Here, you install one where your Internet connection would customarily be while the other one either is at the centre of the house or towards the opposite side. A two-storey or split-level building may simply require one of the nodes to be placed upstairs while the other one is downstairs. You may find that houses with a large floor plan may require three or more nodes and/or a mesh-based system for optimum coverage.

Systems that support an Ethernet or HomePlug AV wired backhaul in addition to the wireless backhaul earn their keep with those houses that use dense building materials for one or more of their interior walls. If a system only supports an Ethernet wired backhaul, you can team it with a pair of “homeplugs” to gain the benefit of the powerline-network technology which may answer your need with that old house that has a thick brick or sandstone interior wall.

As for system management, I would prefer to use a distributed-Wi-Fi system that implements Internet-independent setup and management. This means that if the Internet connection should go down and you had to re-configure your system or you chance service providers, you can do so.

Personally- I would like to see these systems be able to support the ability for one to determine the SSID and security parameters for the wireless network that they are creating. This is important for those of us who are using one of these systems to improve our existing network, whether to supplant our existing router or its Wi-Fi functionality. In this situation, you may want to convey your existing network’s parameters to the new network so you don’t have to go around to each client device that uses Wi-Fi to set it up for the network. It is although the procedure is simplified with most of these systems implementing WPS-based “push-to-connect” client-device setup on each module.

Use an access point and a wired backbone or one of these kits?

The distributed-Wi-Fi systems do appeal to people who don’t go for a “hands-on” approach in optimising their home network’s Wi-Fi performance. They are also useful for those of us who live in a high-turnover neighbourhood where people are moving in and out frequently. You will also have to be sure that you are not dealing with radio obstacles like interior walls made out of dense materials like that double-brick home that has am extension.

On the other hand, a traditional access point linked to an Ethernet or HomePlug wired backbone can work well for those of us who don’t mind a hands-on approach to set up the system and don’t face a situation where they have to readjust their home network regularly.

It is also important if we want to use a mix of equipment from different vendors or place high importance on a wired backhaul for reliability. To the same extent, the traditional access point with the wired backhaul is infact the surefire path for dealing with a multiple-building situation such as reaching the granny flat or man-cave garage.

Conclusion

At the moment, the distributed-Wi-Fi system, especially the mesh-based variant, is a technology still in its infancy. What needs to happen for this technology to become more accepted is that it can work in a purely heterogeneous vendor-independent manner, something that has to be facilitated through the implementation of standards that cover mesh networking and simplified setup / configuration requirements.

But the fact that major home-network vendors are coming in on the act rather than it being owned by Silicon-Valley startups means that the product class is becoming increasingly viable as a solution for poor Wi-Fi network coverage.

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Microsoft to compete against Amazon and Google in voice-driven home-assistant speakers

Article

HP Elitebook x360 G2 press picture courtesy of HP USA

Cortana may not just be in your Windows 10 computer anymore, it could be in a speaker similar to Amazon Echo

Microsoft’s ‘Cortana speaker’ features are set to rival Amazon Echo’s Alexa  | Windows Central

My Comments

Amazon and Google have established voice-driven home-assistant platforms of their own in the form of Alexa and Google Home. These have initially been presented in the form of network-connected wireless speakers but both those companies are already offering them or intend to offer them also as “pods” that connect to existing music systems and/or as reference designs for consumer-electronics vendors to integrate in to their products.

Now Microsoft has made further steps to join in the party by preparing the “Creators Update” iteration of the Windows 10 desktop operating system to support the installation of a “Cortana speaker” similar to the speakers that are part of Amazon’s and Google’s platforms. Here, they written some code and provided a user-interface space so you can set up and configure one of those speakers. But this existed as a “programming stub” which led to a separate app and to the Microsoft Windows homepage due to an intent to get one of these speakers ready to market.

But Microsoft exhibited a proof-of-concept speaker for this idea last year in the context of a speaker designed by Harman-Kardon in order to prove that Cortana could compete with Google Home and Amazon Alexa in this space.

How would I see Microsoft execute this idea? Personally, I would see the Windows Store used as a marketplace to add on extra skills to Cortana in the smart-home context. This will also include the exposure of an application-programming-interface for Cortana so software developers can add “smart-home” functionality to her. As for hardware, Microsoft would work best to license out the “Cortana speaker” design and software to independent hardware vendors as well as offering their own speaker design.

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Frigidaire offers a window-mount room air-conditioner that connects to your home network

Article

Google Home welcomes 12 new partners in big smart home update | CNET

Frigidaire Cool Connect uses app-linked smarts to chill hot homes | CNet

Dreading summer already? Frigidaire’s smart window air conditioner lets you cool on demand | Digital Trends

From the horse’s mouth

Frigidaire USA

Frigidaire Smart Room Air Conditioner with Wifi Control

Product Page (8000 BTU model / 10000 BTU model / 12000 BTU model )

My Comments

Typically, the traditional single-piece room air-conditioner that was installed through a window or a wall cut-out was never seen as anything special by their manufacturers. These noisy boxes that kept your room cool (or warm in the case of reverse-cycle units) didn’t come with anything special as far as their features were concerned.

Recently-issued models started to come with remote control abilities but could be controlled using your home network thanks to a Tado or similar “virtual-remote-control” kit. But Frigidaire raised the ante for this class of air-conditioner by offering a model that can directly work with your home network.

The Frigidaire Cool Connect air-conditioner can be installed in a window like the rest of these beasts but this is where the similarity stops. Here, it looks very similar to one of the advanced network-capable multiroom speakers thanks to a mesh-like grille that covers the bottom half of the unit. The top edge of the unit has the output vents that blow the air upwards and may limit its installation to somewhere up to halfway up the wall.

As well, the essential controls such as to turn it off and on or adjust the comfort level are simply touch-buttons on the top edge towards the front while the temperature is shown through the front of the unit. There is also a card remote control that you use for managing the essential functions from afar.

But the difference with this room air-conditioner compared to the others out there is that can connects to your home network via Wi-Fi and be controlled using an iOS or Android app. Here, you can control the essential functions or set the 24-hour timer for pre-emptive scheduled cooling such as to have your place cool before you arrive. Here, these functions can be managed over the Internet, which can be good for starting the Frigidaire Cool Connect air-conditioner to get the home cool well before you arrive as a way of dodging that heat-wave.

A feature that impressed me about the Frigidaire Cool Connect air-conditioner is that you can have a cluster of these units controlled as a group. This can be of use with larger areas where a single unit isn’t enough to cool a room or premises down. Or you have individual units installed in particular rooms like a bedroom and the living room but want to manage them both at once for actions like dropping that heat-wave temperature down or turning them off when it’s cold enough.

Let’s not forget that you can use a device that supports the Google Home or Amazon Alexa voice-driven home assistants to control the Frigidaire Cool Connect air-conditioner. Here, you could issue commands for the essential functions like turning the system on or off or increasing or decreasing the comfort level.

What has been shown here is that Frigidaire, now a part of the Electrolux appliance behemoth, is raising the bar for an appliance class often overlooked by many other appliance manufacturers. Here, they have offered a single-piece window-mount room air-conditioner that can be part of the connected home.

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Netgem proposes to integrate the set-top box and soundbar in one unit

Article

Combining the STB, TV soundbar and Alexa means telcos can stand out from the crowd | VideoNet

From the horse’s mouth

Netgem

SoundBox set-top box and soundbar

Product Page

Video (Click / Tap to play in YouTube)

My Comments

Soundbars and TV speaker bases are becoming an increasingly-valid path for improving your TV’s sound because they provide the sound through just one box, perhaps along with a subwoofer enclosure. This is because the typical flat-panel TV is becoming more slim but doesn’t have much thought put in to its sound quality and most of us want to hear our shows through something a bit better than that.

As I mentioned in another article on this topic, they will appeal to people who have their TV set up in the traditional manner with it being in the corner of the lounge so as to avoid it competing with the view offered by a feature window or fireplace. They also will appeal to those of us who like our music via a dedicated stereo system with its own speakers, something that is considered to be important thanks to the “back to basics back to vinyl” trend.

In some countries where there is a competitive market for “triple-play” Internet service or subscription-based TV service, the features that a set-top box or PVR offers are seen as a selling point for each of the service providers. As well, most of these telcos or pay-TV providers want to be in a position to upsell customers to better services.

This has led Netgem, a French set-top-box designer to offer to these providers a device which has a soundbar and set-top box in the one housing. It will have the ability to work with a variety of online video and music services and can be controlled by the traditional remote control or a smartphone app. But this box is also being equipped with Amazon Alexa support which allows it to work in a similar vein to the Amazon Echo wireless speaker. The Amazon Alexa agent will also learn media-navigation skills pertaining to this device so you simply can select what you want to watch by voice.

Philips achieved a similar goal by offering a soundbar with an integrated Blu-Ray player,  2-band (FM / Internet) radio and network media player in order to provide a soundbar equivalent to the “home theatre in a box” systems.

The idea behind this box is to allow a telco or pay-TV provider to provide a device that is better than usual to differentiate itself from the others. This is more so where they are focused on selling a “solution” rather than selling a product or service. In most cases, it could be seen simply as an optional device that customers can request rather than as the standard device for a premium package. It is because there will be some customers who will have their own soundbar or home-theatre setup as the way to improve their TV’s sound and simply want a set-top box as the gateway to an IPTV service.

As well, implementing HDMI-ARC, DLNA MediaRenderer, AirPlay / Google Cast playback and similar functionality cam make sure that this device can earn its keep as part of your networked personal A/V setup.

What is showing up is that, especially in Europe’s competitive markets like France, there is a strong interest amongst whoever is offering triple-play broadband service to provide something that offers that bit extra.

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The home-network gateway device to become advanced

D-Link Covr router and wireless extender package press image courtesy of D-Link

Expect a lot more out of the router that comes with your Internet service when Technicolor gets its way

The device that represents the network-Internet “edge” for your home network i.e. the router won’t just be serving that function in a standalone way anymore. Here, it will work in tandem with other Internet-side and network-side computing devices to become a highly-sophisticated “hub” for your home network.

One of these drivers is to provide a simplified customer-support process, especially for those of us who use carrier-provided equipment at the edge. Here, the support and provisioning process can be fulfilled by the router supplying information to your carrier or ISP regarding your Internet service’s and home network’s performance.without wasting time requiring the customer to supply this information during a support call. This may be considered controversial but has value regarding the support and troubleshooting process which can perplex those of us who aren’t competent with technology such as a lot of older people.

It also encompasses the fact that distributed Wi-Fi will be the “new norm” for the home network, whether through multiple access points connected to a wired or dedicated-wireless backbone, the use of one or more wireless range extenders or a mesh-driven distributed wireless network. Here, it may be about simplifying the process of commissioning the “satellite” wireless devices and making sure that they are performing as expected to assure maximum Wi-Fi coverage across your premises.

The other factor is for a call to provide for always-maintained software in these devices thanks to issues being raised regarding the security of our home networks and the Internet. It was underscored through the recent distributed denial-of-service attacks against various Internet services and blogs using the Mirai bot network that was running compromised software on routers, network cameras and the like which hosted poorly-maintained software to facilitate these attacks.

Let’s not forget that the home-network gateway device will be expected to do more in conjunction with cloud services. Here, they want to provide this kind of service in the same context as the “app-store” commonly associated with mobile computing platforms but increasingly associated with regular computing platforms, and an increasing number of dedicated-purpose devices like printers. It is where a customer can add on extra functionality to their home-network router after they have bought and installed that device rather than buying and installing a new device to achieve this goal.

I was learning about this thanks to a news release offered to me by Diego Gastaldi from Technicolor Connected home regarding this topic. Technicolor came in on this game thanks to buying in to Thomson who supplies a lot of the customer-premises equipment provisioned by telcos and ISPs for their broadband Internet service, especially the triple-play services. This company had presented at Mobile World Congress some of their new concepts for the home-network gateway devices that will be pitched to the likes of Telstra or Bouygues Télécom for their services along with how they can add that extra value.

This is in conjunction with Technicolor announcing their solutions for managed distributed Wi-Fi setups along with devices supporting wireline broadband and mobile wireless broadband on the Internet (WAN) side. The latter trend existed mainly with small-business equipment but its appeal for the home network is being underscored with the “quick-to-provide” goal for an interim wireless service before a wireline service is rolled out, a “fatter pipe” for broadband service by aggregating wireline and mobile broadband services; and always-available broadband for business, e-health / ageing-at-home and the smart home’s security.

The typical applications that will be called out would be to provide business-style “unified threat management” for the home network as a network security measure. Or they could be about joining a “community wireless” platform like Fon where they can share Wi-Fi bandwidth with guests or customers.

But they are also highlighting applications like monitoring elderly loved ones at home to be sure they are OK. Earlier on in 2010, I had a conversation with a representative from Ekahau regarding their Wi-Fi-based Real Time Location System in a residential or small-business environment. This was more so with their T301BD Wi-Fi Pager Tag, pitched primarily as a name tag with duress-alert abilities for healthcare and similar enterprise-level applications, being used as part of an “ageing at home” or similar home-based care scenario. Then I had noticed initial doubt about this kind of application in the home but such setups could be made real with distributed Wi-Fi and them being offered on a cloud-driven “as-a-service” model.

By using a multiple-computer “cloud” approach, there isn’t a requirement to overload a router device with extra processing circuitry which would require a large device to be designed. Typically this would be fulfilled by the use of one or more data centers connected to the Internet like the Amazon Web Services approach Technicolor are using. But, as the compact network-attached-storage maintains its appeal as an on-premises network storage hub with most of these devices offering “remote access” or “personal cloud” functionality, this kind of “cloud” approach could encompass these devices along with other “function-specific” hubs like smart meters or security systems.

But what is happening is that there will be more expectations out of the router device that sits between the home network and the Internet with it being a “gateway” to more online services.

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What will 802.11ax Wi-Fi wireless networking be about?

ASUS RT-AC5300 router press picture courtesy of ASUS

802.11ax will be the next Wi-Fi standard that will grace our routers, but this will require newer hardware

There is the impending plan to define the IEEE 802.11ax Wi-Fi wireless local-area-network standard which is intended to supplant the 802.11ac standard used for general-purpose Wi-Fi networks. Qualcomm are even offering an initial lot of silicon for this standard in order to have something that can be proven.

But what is it about?

One of the man benefits is wider bandwidth which allows for five times more bandwidth than what 802.11ac offers. But there is also the idea that we will see Gigabit throughput levels being offered for real rather than as headline speeds which are based on a “link-level” speed without any error correction.

This is brought about with increased MIMO multiple-antenna / multiple-front-end abilities such as MIMO-OFDM, which is expected to improve Wi-Fi’s robustness. The MU-MIMO functionality which effectively provides optimum bandwidth to each client device will work for downstream and upstream data.

Yarra's Edge apartment blocks

802.11ax Wi-Fi wireless will benefit apartments, hotels and trade shows where many Wi-Fi networks do co-exist

802.11ax Wi-Fi implements spatial frequency reuse to improve network reliability in high-density setups. Current Wi-Fi setups don’t really perform reliably when they are faced with a high-density setup like a trade show with connections dropping off too easily. But there is the ability to reuse frequencies and co-exist to assure improved reliability in these situations. It also answers a reality with Wi-Fi and high-density urban living where you will come across with each small apartment, office or shop in a large building ends up being equipped with its own Wi-Fi network, something that will be more so with next-generation broadband service being delivered to the premises.

Something more real that will underscore the robustness that 802.11ax provides

To the same extent, this level of robustness in dense Wi-Fi environments also applies to situations where Wi-Fi networks that have multiple access points including range extenders are being implemented by most people to assure optimum network coverage for their portable devices. It is a practice underscored by the reality that a Wi-Fi router is typically installed at one end of the premises because it has to be colocated with the connection that facilitates a wired broadband connection like a telephone or cable-TV socket.

Let’s not forget that the Wi-Fi WMM and WMM Power Save standards will be improved under this specification to assure continual throughput for streamed multimedia content; along with power-efficiency for battery operated devices. These standards will be improved to cater towards an increased volume of data.

The 802.11ax Wi-Fi standard is not intended to be set in stone before 2019 although there will be equipment being released to earlier drafts through the next few years. This is a practice that has happened with 802.11n and 802.11ac Wi-Fi, with the Wi-Fi Alliance even calling the standards before IEEE had the chance to call them. But it could be seen more or less as the wireless local network standard to complement next-generation fibre-optic or 5G wireless broadband Internet services that offer Gigabit or more bandwidth.

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Fact-checking now part of the online media-aggregation function

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Google

Expanding Fact Checking at Google (Blog Post)

My Comments

ABC FactCheck – the ABC’s fact-checking resource that is part of their newsroom

Previously, we got our news through newspapers, magazines and radio / TV broadcasters who had invested significant amounts of money or time in journalism efforts. Now the Internet has reduced the friction associated with publishing content – you could set up an easily-viewable Website for very little time and cost and pump it with whatever written, pictorial, audio or video content you can.

Google News – one of the way we are reading our news nowadays

This has allowed for an increase in the amount of news content that is of questionable accuracy and value to be easily made available to people. It is exaggerated by online services such as search and aggregation services of the Google or Buzzfeed ilk and social media of the Facebook ilk being a major “go-to” point, if not the “go-to” point for our news-reading. In some cases, it is thanks to these services using “virtual newspaper” views and “trending-topic” lists to make it easy for one to see what has hit the news.

As well, with traditional media reducing their newsroom budgets which leads to reduction in the number of journalists in a newsroom, it gets to the point where content from online news-aggregation services ends up in the newspapers or traditional media’s online presence.

The fact that news of questionable accuracy or value is creeping in to our conversation space with some saying that it has affected elections and referenda is bringing forward new concepts like “post-truth”, “alternative facts” and “fake news” with these terms part of the lexicon. What is being done about it to allow people to be sure they are getting proper information?

Lately, a few news publishers and broadcasters have instigated “fact-checking” organisations or departments where they verify the authenticity of claims and facts that are coming in to their newsrooms. This has led to stories acquiring “Fact-check” or “Truth-meter” gauges along with copy regarding the veracity of these claims. In some cases, these are also appearing on dedicated Web pages that the news publisher runs.

In a lot of cases, such as Australia’s ABC, these “fact-checking” departments work in concert with another standalone organisation like a university, a government’s election-oversight department or a public-policy organisation. This partnership effectively “sharpens the fact-checking department’s knives” so they can do their job better.

But the question that is facing us is how are we sure that the news item we are about to click on in Google or share in Facebook is kosher or not. Google have taken this further by integrating the results from fact-check organisations in articles listed in the Google News Website or Google News & Weather iOS / Android mobile news apps and calling these “fact-check” results out with a tag. The same feature is also being used on the News search tab when you search for a particular topic. Initially this feature was rolled out in to the US and UK markets but is slowly being rolled out in to other markets like France, Germany, Brazil and Mexico.

Google is also underpinning various fact-check efforts through helping publishers build up their efforts or instigating event-specific efforts like the CrossCheck effort involving 20 French newsrooms thanks to the French presidential election. It is in addition to supporting the First Draft Coalition who helps with assuring the integrity of the news being put up on the Internet. It also includes the use of the Digital Initiative Fund to help newsrooms and others instigate or improve their fact-checking operations.

A question that will also be raised is how to identify the political bias of a particular media outlet and convey that in a search engine. This is something that has been undertaken by the Media Bias / Fact Check Website which is an independently-run source that assesses media coverage of US issues and how biased the media outlet is.

But a situation that needs to appear is the ability for fact-check organisations who implement those “accuracy gauges” to share these metrics as machine-useable metadata that can be interpreted through the rich search interfaces that Google and their ilk provide. Similarly, the provision of this metadata and its interpretation by other search engines or social-media sites can provide a similar advantage. But it would require the use of “news categorisation” metadata relating to news events, locations and the actors who are part of them to make this more feasible.

Similarly, a social network like Facebook could use the fact-checking resources out there to identify where fake news is being spread so that users can be certain if that link they intend to share is questionable or not.

To the same extent, engaging government election-oversight departments like the Australian Electoral Commission, the Federal Election Commission in the USA and the Electoral Commission in the UK in the fact-checking fabric can help with assuring that there are proper and fair elections.  This is more so as these departments perform a strong role in overseeing the campaigns that take place in the lead up to an election and they could use the fact-checking organisations to identify where campaigns are being run with questionable information or in an improper manner.

As part of our research in to a news topic, we could be seeing the fact-checking resources playing an important role in sorting the facts from the spin and conspiracy nonsense.

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HP to introduce virtual-hardware security for Web browsing

Article

HP Elitebook x360 G2 press picture courtesy of HP USA

HP Elitebook x360 G2 – to be equipped for Sure Click

HP hardens EliteBook protection with Sure Click, a browser secured in virtual hardware | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

HP

Press Release

Bromium

Press Release

Video explaining the Bromium micro-virtualisation approach (Click / Tap to play)

My Comments

A very common attack gateway that has been identified for endpoint computing devices, especially regular desktop or laptop computers, is the Web browser. It is because the browser is essentially the “viewport” to the Internet for most reading-based tasks.

But most recent browser versions have implemented software-based “hardening” against the various Internet-based attacks. This is in conjunction with the main desktop operating systems being “hardened” through each and every update and patch automatically applied. These updates facilitate practices like “sandboxing” where software of questionable provenance is effectively corralled in a logical quarantine area with minimal privileges so it doesn’t affect the rest of the system.

HP and Bromium have developed a “virtual hardware” approach where a browsing session can take place in a separate “logical computer”, a concept being driven by the multi-core CPUs that are the hub of today’s computer systems. This can provide improved security by using the hardware approach that is effectively with its own operating system and has the data destroyed at the end of a session. Here, it restricts the effect of malware like ransomware picked up during a “drive-by” download because the software can only run within that separate “logical computer”.

At the moment, this feature is being initially rolled out to the Elitebook x360 G2 convertible business laptop but will trickle out across the next generation of “Elite” premium manageable business computers to be launched in the second half of the year. It will work only with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Google’s open-source Chromium browser at the moment. What I would like to see happen is that this feature is able to be “trickled-down” to HP’s consumer, education and small-business product ranges but in a more “self-service” manner because households, small businesses and volunteer-driven community organisations could equally benefit from this feature.

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Wi-Fi TimeSync–to make multichannel Wi-Fi wireless audio real

Article

Wi-Fi might fix wireless speakers this year | The Verge

Wi-Fi for audiophiles: Alliance preps TimeSync certification program | The Register

From the horse’s mouth

Wi-Fi Alliance – TimeSync

Product Page

Whitepaper (PDF)

My Comments

Denon HEOS wireless speakers

Speakers like the Denon HEOS family will benefit from WiFi TimeSync so that they can be used with different manufacturers’ systems

The Wi-Fi Alliance have worked towards a standard for keeping time-sensitive data synchronous on a Wi-Fi network segment. This has become a very difficult situation with networks that rely on packet-based data-transfer technology because you are never sure whether data packets are leaving or arriving at the same time.

The key application case being put forward for Wi-Fi TimeSync is to use Wi-Fi technology to provide multiple-channel audio and video with an open-frame wireless approach for home-entertainment setups.

One implementations seen in this context would be a household starting with the TV’s internal speakers for video sound but moving towards a sound bar and / or external speakers plus a subwoofer located up the front beside the screen. Then they move towards a fully-fledged home theatre setup with rear speakers, using speaker systems from manufacturers they prefer at prices they prefer.

Another implementation would be a single-piece multiroom speaker or single-piece music system. The user then adds one or two extra speakers as their budget allows so they benefit from improved stereo separation. This also comes in to play for a multiple-speaker setup for environments where they want to “spread the sound” such as during a party.

But there are other use cases. One would be to use Wi-Fi in the context of connecting wireless microphones, instrument connections (guitars and electric basses) and wireless monitor setups for recording, broadcast and PA applications. Similarly, video field production would benefit in supporting a wireless link from one or more cameras and audio devices to the one video-production desk or video recording transport; or SMPTE time-synchronisation data can be wirelessly sent amongst multiple AV devices which have their own recording transports like camcorders or audio recorders.

Another use case being put up is showing the same video across multiple displays with a wireless link between the source and the displays. This could benefit automotive, coach and airline applications where the same video content held on a mobile device may be shown on seatback or dropdown screens to the passengers. Similarly, it could be about the use of temporarily-installed displays showing content from one main video system but allowing for “quick setup quick teardown” installation.

They also see this same technology for control and instrumentation applications such as patient monitoring in healthcare applications, industrial automation on the factory floor and, most likely, smart buildings and smart cities. For the smart home, it could be about using multiple temperature sensors to measure indoor room temperature so as to control the HVAC system efficiently.

In these applications, there is a goal to be manufacturer-independent, something that will break a curse associated with current Wi-Fi-based multiroom-audio applications. This is where the multiroom or multichannel functionality will only work with equipment supplied by the vendor or equipped with silicon from the same chipset family.

The Wi-Fi TimeSync standard will be based on the 802.11 Time Measurement standard and will support millisecond-level synchronisation. It will be independent of the baseband (physical-layer) Wi-Fi technology so as to support Wi-Fi segments implementing 802.11n or the newer 802.11ac standards.

A question worth raising is whether access points and routers need to support the Wi-Fi TimeSync standard themselves or if this can be facilitated on existing home or business-grade equipment. Another question that will also be raised is whether the same level of synchronisation can be achieved across a Wi-Fi segment involving multiple access points whatever the backbone. This can also include the common wireless-range-extender scenario that works from an extant wireless-network segment and creates its own wireless-network segment.

Here, it may also be about standards bodies representing the Cat5 Ethernet, HomePlug powerline, MoCA TV-coax and similar wired-network technologies considering higher-level support for packet synchronisation on the media types.

The initial call is that chipset vendors will offer the necessary silicon by end of 2017 for manufacturers to integrate in to their device designs. Then it will take some time for these designs to materialise as equipment like Wi-Fi-based wireless speakers or amplifiers.

What this could lead to an open platform for AV applications which can lead to a breeding ground for innovation and a reduced price point for these devices. Other areas will benefit from using a Wi-Fi wireless network for synchronising real-time data accurately.

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Google demonstrates their Google Home concept during Super Bowl 2017

Part of the experience of watching American Football’s annual ultimate playoff that occurs every February is to see the ads that are run during the commercial breaks. This is because, a company has to stump up at least US$5 million per “spot” to get an ad in front of the USA’s many eyeballs who will be watching the Super Bowl. Here, it is also the time that advertisers pull out the stops to show the most impressive and memorable commercials that could end up being run when they want to extend the campaign further.

Google used this year’s Super Bowl to demonstrate the concept of their Google Home voice-activated home assistant platform competing with Amazon Alexa. But is shows what these voice-operated home assistants are all about. Most of the functionality you will see in this ad will require you to install smart-home devices that control your existing lighting or heating.

Have a look at this if you missed it during this year’s “ad parade”.

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