Category: Current and Future Trends

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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Apple to use the UAC connector as its standard connector for headphones

Articles

Dell A2 Performance USB Headset

Feature headphones with digital functionality will be using UAC as an accessory-side connector for widest compatibility

Relax, Apple isn’t introducing another new connector | The Verge

Apple’s Ultra Accessory Connector dashes any hopes of a USB-C iPhone | The Verge

Apple plans new smaller Ultra Accessory Connector (UAC) for Made-for-iPhone accessories | 9 To 5 Mac

What is UAC? Apple’s new ‘Made for iPhone’ accessory and port explained | Trusted Reviews

My Comments

If you have owned a Nikon digital camera, you may have dealt with the Ultra Accessory Connector (UAC) as a method to tether your camera to your computer for, perhaps, downloading. This would typically be facilitated using a USB to UAC cable that came in the box with your camera.

Apple is resurrecting this connector as part of its MFi (Made For iOS) accessories program for iOS devices. There was a lot of confusion in the computing press regarding this connector because it could be about a different socket existing on a subsequent iPhone or iPad, or devices and accessories not working unless “you get with the program” – be part of the Apple ecosystem.

But the Ultra Accessory Connector is about how its use as an intermediary or accessory-side connector on a pair of headphones. It is being called on because an increasing number of newer smartphones and ultraportable laptops won’t be equipped with the traditional 3.5mm headset jack where you can connect a wired headset.

There is also the same appeal where headphones will have integral digital-analogue audio circuitry and there has to he a way to connect these to your smartphone if you are going the “wired” path. It is something very familiar to those of us who use a USB headset with our computers or a Bluetooth headset or audio adaptor with our smartphones. Here, manufacturers will see better digital-analogue circuitry and / or sound-processing technology such as microphone arrays, accessory-side sound-tuning and active noise cancellation as a way to differentiate their product ranges more effectively and  innovate their products.

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset - USB plug

It will still be feasible to keep a level playing field for headphones that use USB or other wired digital links.

The approach that is being pushed here is for a headset or pair of headphones to have the UAC connection as an accessory-side connection. Typically this will be as a “lump” on the headphone cable like what is used for remote control or a microphone, which comes apart. On the other hand, the most probable implementation for a pair of traditionally-styled “cans” would be a socket installed on one of the earcups similar to what happens for detachable-cord implementations. The headset would then be supplied with one or more application-specific connection cables that have a UAC-connector on the accessory side and the appropriate connector (Apple Lightning, USB-A, USB-C or 3.5mm phone plug) on the equipment side. There is also a goal to have such cables also available through the aftermarket thanks to accessory suppliers like Belkin.

The UAC connection is meant to facilitate a digital connection that works with USB or Apple Lightning norms along with the standard stereo analogue connection. Here, it means that an accessory cable can exist which has the traditional 3.5mm phone plug on it to allow use with equipment that still maintains this connection. This includes still being able to use the 6.35mm headphone jack adaptor to connect your headpbones to hi-fi equipment or the two-pin airline adaptor to plug in to your aeroplane seat’s in-flight-entertainment connection. It also encompasses the goal with the Apple Lightning and USB-C standards to provide analogue pass-through from equipment-side digital-analogue circuitry to cater for the cheaper headset designs.

In the digital context, this can mean that the sound processing circuitry can present itself to Apple’s iOS devices or “open-frame” USB Audio implementations properly as the equipment expects. Apple still sees this as being important because their newer MacBook laptops are being equipped just with USB-C connections and MacOS is still providing class-driver support for USB-Audio devices. But most other regular-computer and mobile operating systems are providing a similar level of support for USB Audio.

But what needs to happen in both camps is for proper operating-system-level support for audio input and output in both the communications and multimedia contexts, along with accessory-side remote control for call management, media transport control and volume control at least. It may also include the ability to use a basic display on the accessory to show information like current time, incoming calls and messages and media-play details, something that can earn its keep with in-line remote-control accessories.

The UAC connection type can lead to the idea of “feature modules” or “enhancement modules” that add extra functionality to or improve the sound quality of existing UAC headphones. For example, they could offer:

  • a highly-strung DAC circuit as an upgrade path for better sound quality with premium headphones;
  • a Bluetooth adaptor to add Bluetooth wireless functionality to a set of existing wired “cans”;
  • an advanced remote control with display so you can keep your device in your pocket;
  • or an extended-power module which allows you to use external battery packs to obtain long operating times out of your smartphone and advanced headset.

What the UAC connector that Apple is pushing for is the ability to headset manufacturers to continue to work on feature headsets that can work across all of the computing platforms. As well, I also see the UAC connector as a pathway to innovation because manufacturers will be encouraged to work on features that work across all phone platforms. This is more so as we invest in the premium headsets to go with our smartphones and computers so we can listen to music or watch those videos while we are on the train.

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Improved Wi-Fi technologies as the deluxe option for your Internet service

Article

Waoo Smart WiFi kit press picture courtesy of Waoo.dk

Waoo Smart WiFi kit offered in Denmark

Premium Wi-Fi is a growing opportunity for service providers, both to differentiate and to increase ARPU | Videonet.TV

From the horse’s mouth

Waoo (Danish ISP) – (Danish Language / Dansk Sprog)

Smart WiFi – Product Page

Promotional Video –  Click or tap here to play / Klik eller tryk her for at spille

My Comments

Recently, at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, some of the major home-network hardware providers offered distributed Wi-Fi network setups which provide a simplified method to improve your home network’s Wi-Fi wireless coverage.

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

D-Link Covr router and wireless extender package – could be offered by your ISP or telco

These have been offered either in a mesh-based setup or as a “router and extender” setup with simplified setup and operation procedures. The mesh setup creates a wireless backbone mesh between each of the “nodes” in such a way that any node can obtain a strong high-throughput signal from two other nodes and there is a failover process where if one node is out-of-action, other nodes can keep the coverage going. On the other hand, a “router and extender” setup works like most of the wireless extenders on the market but implements a simplified setup and roaming experience between the router and extenders.

Some of the distributed Wi-Fi network setups also allow for the use of a wired backbone which can cater for difficult wireless-network situations, multiple building setups or even as a robust high-throughput option.

There has been a need for these setups thanks to increased streaming of video content like Netflix along with heavy use of highly-portable computer devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones. But the typical Wi-Fi setup ends up being compromised by many different situations such as routers being installed at one end of the premises, the use of dense or metallic building materials in our houses and apartments or even “white goods” or metallic furniture like filing cabinets installed in a cluster against interior walls. As well, the existence of multiple Wi-Fi networks in a neighbourhood can make things works.

But there are some telcos, cable-TV providers and Internet service providers are offering distributed wireless setups as an extra-cost option for all of their customers, and / or as “part of the package” for their top-shelf packages. This kind of service is also of interest to other ISPs who are wanting to offer that more value to their customers, and is in response to complaints that customers aren’t benefiting from the headline or contracted bandwidth at their devices especially when they are using the Wi-Fi wireless network.

Examples of this are Singtel in Singapore, and Midco (Midcontinent Communications) in the USA are offering a distributed Wi-FI system as their “premium Wi-Fi” option offered as an extra-cost option while Waoo in Denmark are offering it at no extra cost to subscribers who take up their premium Internet packages that they offer with it available for extra cost for people who subscribe to the cheaper packages.

Here, the distributed Wi-Fi setup would be part of the modem-router normally offered as customer-premises equipment with it being managed and serviced by the ISP.  Some of these setups also have TV set-top boxes that also work as access points or as part of the mesh ecosystem, typically using a wired (MoCA, HomePlug AV500) or wireless backhaul. There may also be the use of dedicated access-point nodes around the premises to provide the extra reach to the other areas.

The ISPs are, at the moment, seeing this as leading towards increased customer satisfaction due to the increased stability and throughput realised at the end devices. It is also seen as being equivalent to cable-TV services where customers rent a PVR-based set-top box, because such customers see this as being better value for money therefore less likely to walk away from the service.

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Right-to-repair for consumer electronics being pushed forward in the USA

Articles

Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop

A demand is taking place to make sure portable computers and similar equipment such as laptops that suffer a lot of damage is able to be repaired by independent technicians

Right to Repair bills introduced in five states | Engadget

Five States Are Considering Bills to Legalize the ‘Right to Repair’ Electronics | Motherboard

From the horse’s mouth

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Defend Your Right To Repair (Issue Page)

The Repair Association – representing independent repairers

Consumer Electronics (Issue Page)

My Comments

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge press image courtesy of Samsung

Even those smartphones that end up with cracked screens or are dropped in the swimming pool

An issue currently being raised in the United States Of America is the ability for us to repair our own consumer-electronics equipment or have it repaired by independent repair technicians. This is becoming more important with smartphones, tablets and laptops that often fall victim to accidental damage such as that familiar cracked screen. As well, the batteries in this portable equipment lose their performance over the years and an increasing number of this equipment is supplied with batteries that aren’t user-replaceable, which leads to this equipment being “disposable” once the batteries cease to hold their charge.

The manufacturers prefer us to have the equipment serviced by official outlets but this can be highly onerous both in cost and time without the equipment. It is something that is made worse if a manufacturer doesn’t implement an authorised-repairer network for some or all of their products or severely limits the size and scope of an authorised-repairer network.

On the other hand, independent repairers like the phone-repair kiosks in the shopping centres are able to offer value for money or perform simple repairs like replacing damaged screens or end-of-life batteries quickly but they find it hard to have access to official parts, tools and know-how to perform these jobs.  In some cases, it can lead to the equipment being fitted with “known-to-work” parts salvaged from other broken equipment or a grey-market full of generic parts being available, some of which may have a huge question mark over their quality or provenance. These generic parts have come about because the parts manufacturers have been fulfilling enough orders of them that they can sell them as a commodity.

What is currently happening is that the manufacturers and distributors are exploiting various intellectual-property-rights legislation to prevent the sharing of repair knowledge to third-party repairers. As well, they have been reducing the number of official repair facilities along with reducing the availability of original spare parts and tools thus making it more onerous financially and time-wise to keep your device in good repair. In some cases like Apple with its iOS devices, they could limit the scope of their authorised-repair program so that it is harder for anyone but a select few to repair a particular class of device.

The issue that is being raised is the ability for an independent repair workshop to obtain proper spare parts, tools and knowledge from the products’ manufacturers or distributors so they can perform repairs on customers’ equipment at a cost-effective price. Here, they don’t need to be turning away customers because they don’t know how to fix a particular piece of equipment. This also includes the ability for independent repairers to discover solutions to common faults and share this knowledge along with the ability for us to see our devices work in an optimum manner for a longer time, thus reducing the “e-waste” which can be destined to the landfills.

This call is also about legitimising the ability for independent technicians to modify equipment to suit newer needs. Examples of these procedures may include “upsizing” the storage in a device with fixed storage like a smartphone, PVR or games console to a higher capacity, modifying equipment so it is accessible to those with special needs or simply adding an officially-supplied “optional-function” module to existing equipment. As well, it also encompasses the ability to continually provide support to equipment that has been abandoned by the manufacturers.

A similar situation that has been happening in the motor-vehicle market is that as vehicles became equipped with highly-sophisticated computerised subsystems, it became harder for independent repairers to service newer vehicles. This typically ended up with motorists taking their vehicles to the official repair workshops that were part of motor vehicle dealerships to keep their vehicles in good order. But some recent activity in the USA has made sure that independent garages could continue to repair and service the newer vehicle fleet by requiring the vehicle builders there to share this knowledge with them.

What is happening now is that five US states (Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Massachusetts and New York) are pushing forward laws that allow repairers to buy the tools and documentation from manufacturers. A similar law had been pushed in Wyoming to extend the “right-to-repair” principle to farm machinery. This action follows on from the Massachusetts effort in 2013 to establish “right-to-repair” for motor vehicles, causing a de-facto federal approach by the US’s vehicle builders to share this knowledge with the independent vehicle-repair and roadside-assistance trade.

The issue of “right-to-repair” also relates to the implementation of standards-based or platform-based design for equipment along with competitive-trade and consumer-rights issue. In these cases, it could be about repairer availability whether based on locality or satisfying users’ needs; the ability to increase value for money when it comes to equipment maintenance or insurance coverage for equipment damage; along with the equipment being able to last longer and not end up as landfill.

Small businesses and community organisations are also in a position to benefit because their budget isn’t affected heavily by capital or operating expenses for the equipment they own.This is because they could seek repairs to broken-down equipment at a cost-effective price or have existing equipment overhauled more frequently so that it is highly available and helping them operate. They can also purchase a high-grade domestic-rated unit like, for example, a premium domestic “bean-to-cup” superautomatic espresso machine to be used as part of a coffee stall, without being refused repairs or servicing or having to pay a higher price because it is used in a “commercial” setting.

Nowadays, what needs to happen is that jurisdictions legislate or enforce “right-to-repair” laws that allow independent technicians access to parts and knowledge so they can keep consumer equipment lasting longer.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2017–Computer Trends

I am writing up a series of articles about the trends that have been put forward at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The first article in this series covers all of the trends affecting personal computers.

1: Computer Trends

2: Accessories And The Home Network

Computers

Most manufacturers were exhibiting refreshed versions of their product ranges. This is where the computers were being equipped with up-to-date chipsets and had their RAM, storage and other expectations brought up to date.

  • Key trends affecting mainstream computers included:
  • the use of Intel Kaby Lake processors for the computers’ horsepower
  • solid-state storage capacity in the order of up to 1 Terabyte
  • RAM capacity in the order of up to 16Gb
  • at least one USB Type-C socket on mainstream units with Thunderbolt 3 on premium units and / or ultraportables using just USB-C connections with some having 2 or more of these connectors

    Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon USB-C Thunderbolt-3 detail image - press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

    More of this year’s laptop computers will be equipped with these USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 sockets

  • Wi-Fi connectivity being 802.11ac multi-band with MU-MIMO operation

Another factor worth noticing is the increase in detachable or convertible “2-in-1” computers being offered by most, if not all, of the manufacturers; along with highly-stylish clamshell ultraportable computers. This class of computer is being brought on thanks to Microsoft’s Surface range of computers with some of of the computers in these classes also being about performance. The manufacturers are even offering a range of these “2-in-1” computers targeted towards business users with the security, manageability, durability and productivity features that this use case demands.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 convertible Ultrabook press picture courtesy of Dell USA

More of these convertibles and detachable 2-in-1 computers will appear in manufacturers’ product ranges

Nearly every manufacturer had presented at least one high-performance gaming laptop with the Intel Core i7 processor, at least 16Gb RAM and 128Gb solid-state storage, dedicated graphics chipset. Most of these computers are even equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 connection to allow for use with external graphics docks, considered as a way for core gamers to “soup up” these machines for higher gaming acumen.

Lenovo had refreshed most of their laptop range, especially the ThinkPad business range. Here, this is a product range that makes no distinction between the small-business/SOHO user class where a few of these computers are managed and the large-business/government user class where you are talking of a large fleet of computers handling highly-sensitive data.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon press image courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon has been refreshed to newer expectations

The new ThinkPads come in the form of a newer ThinkPad Yoga business convertible, a refreshed ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook and a refreshed ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible. For example, the ThinkPad Yoga 370 has the 13.3” Full HD screen, the classic ThinkPad TrackPoint button as a navigation option but is driven by Intel Kaby Lake horsepower. This machine can be specified up to 16Gb RAM and 1Tb solid-state storage and has a Thunderbolt 3 connection along with 2 USB 3.0 ports. Lenovo even designed in protection circuitry for the USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 port to protect the ThinkPad against those dodgy non-compliant USB-C cables and chargers. Like the rest of the new ThinkPad bunch, this computer comes with the Windows 10 Signature Edition software image which is about being free of the bloatware that fills most of today’s laptop computers. The computer will set you back US$1264.

Other ThinkPads will also come with either a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connection depending on their position in the model range. For example the T470 family and the T570 family will be equipped with the Thunderbolt 3 connections. Let’s not forget how the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and Yoga have been refreshed. The Carbon implements horsepower in the Intel Kaby Lake Core i family, a 14” Quad HD display, 16Gb RAM and 1Tb SSD storage, and an expected battery runtime of 15 hours along with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. The X1 Yoga has been given the similar treatment with similar RAM and secondary-storage capacity but can be outfitted with an LTE-A wireless-broadband modem as an option.

Lenovo Legion Y720 gaming laptop - press picture courtesy of Lenovo USA

Lenovo Legion Y720 gaming laptop with Dolby Atmos sound

Gamers can relish in the fact that Lenovo has premiered the Legion range of affordable high-performance gaming laptops. The Legion Y720 is the first of its kind to be equipped with Dolby Atmos sound. The Y520 has a Full HD IPS screen driven by NVIDIA GeForce GTX1050Ti dedicated graphics chipset, the choice of an Intel Core i5 or i7 CPU, 16Gb RAM and hard disk storage between 500Gb and 1Tb or solid-state storage between 128Gb and 512Gb, and network connectivity in the form of 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet. Peripheral connectivity is in the form of 1 x USB-C, 2 x USB 3.0 and 1 x USB 2.0 and an audio jack, with this computer asking for at least US$900. The better Y720, along with Dolby Atmos, has a bright IPS screen either as a Full HD or 4K resolution and driven by NVIDIA GeForce GTX1060 graphics chipset with 6Gb display memory. Lenovo was also offering a MIIX 720 creative-arts mobile workstation that eats at the Apple MacBook Pro and Microsoft Surface Pro lineup.

Dell XPS 15 Notebook press image courtesy of Dell USA

Dell XPS 15 ultraportable in a 15″ size

Dell had refreshed the XPS 13 lineup of Ultrabooks, known for offering the right combination of features, durability, comfort and price. But they also offered a convertible 2-in-1 variant of the XPS 13, again offering that right combination of features, durability, comfort and price. They also released the XPS 15 which is the smallest 15,6” laptop with Intel Kaby Lake processors, NVIDIA GeForce dedicated graphics and a fingerprint reader.

Dell XPS 27 all-in-one computer press image courtesy of Dell USA

Dell XPS 27 all-in-one computer with best bass response in its class

The XPS and Precision all-in-one desktop computers have had their sound quality improved rather than having it as an afterthought. This has led to audio quality from the XPS 27 and the Precision business equivalent being equivalent to that of a soundbar, thanks to the use of 10 speakers working at 50 watts per channel, including two downward-firing speakers to make the work surface augment the bass. Two passive radiators also augment the system’s bass response. Both have a 4K UHD touchscreen  while the Precision certified workstation can work with AMD Radeon graphics and Intel Xeon CPUs.

Like Lenovo, Dell had exhibited their business-grade computers at a trade fair typically associated with goods targeted at the consumer. This could underscore realities like people who use business-tier computers for “work-home” use including those of us who are running a business or practising a profession from our homes. Dell have been on a good wicket here because of themselves selling computers direct to the public and to business users for a long time.

Here, Dell had refreshed their XPS, Inspiron, Optiflex, Latitude and Precision computer lineups with new expectations. They would come with Kaby Lake horsepower under the bonnet, USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connectivity depending on the unit along with newer dedicated-graphics options from NVIDIA or AMD. The business machines would be equipped with Intel vPro manageability features to work with business-computer management software.

Dell Latitude 5285 business detachable 2-in-1 - press picture courtesy of Dell USA

Dell Latitude 5285 business detachable 2-in-1 – the most secure of its class

In the case of business computers, Dell had underscored a desire to integrate the aesthetics of consumer-tier ultraportable computers with the security, manageability and productivity wishes that the business community crave for. For example, the latest Latitude Ultrabooks and 2-in-1s show the looks but come up with the goods as a business “axe” computer. One of the systems in the Latitude lineup is the Latitude 7285 detachable 2-in-1s which implement WiTricity wireless charging and WiGig docking while the Latitude 5285 detachable 2-in-1 sells on a highly-strong security platform with Dell-developed data-protection / endpoint-protection software and the option for a fingerprint reader or smartcard reader.

Samsung had shown some Windows 10 tablets but they also presented the Notebook Odyssey gaming laptop, available as a 15” variant or a 17” higher-performing variant. Both of these implement “dual-storage” with a solid-state drive in the order of 256Gb for the 15” variant or 512Gb for the 17” variant along with a 1Tb traditional hard disk. RAM is in the order of 32Gb or 64Gb for the 17” variant while these are driven by Intel Core i7 CPUs. Graphics is looked after by NVIDIA GTX dedicated GPU with 2Gb or 4Gb display memory but the 17” variant also has a Thunderbolt 3 connection for external graphics units.

There is also the Notebook 9 which implements a 15” HD display driven by NVIDIA 940MX graphics processor and Core i7 processor. Of note, the Notebook 9 implements a Windows Hello fingerprint reader along with a USB-C port which is its power socket thanks to USB Power Delivery.

HP was not silent but had fielded the Spectre x360 15” convertible Ultrabook, one of the few 15” portable computers that can be a tablet or laptop. It is driven by Intel Core i7 Kaby Lake horsepower and has the quota of 16Gb RAM and either a 256Gb or 512Gb solid-state storage. The 15” 4K IPS screen is driven by an NVIDIA GeForce 940MX graphics processor with 2Gb display memory, but the sound-reproduction has been tuned by Bang & Olufsen while there is an HP-designed noise-cancelling microphone array. The Webcam is an HP infra-red type which is Windows Hello compatible for facial recognition login. Connectivity is in the form of an HDMI socket, 1 USB-C socket, 1 Thunderbolt 3 socket, 1 traditional USB Type-A socket and an SD-card drive. Expect this convertible’s battery to run for 12 hours and be ready to go after 90 minutes of quick charging. The expected price is US$1299 for the 256Gb variant and US$1499 for the 512Gb variant.

Another interesting trend highlighted at CES 2017 has been an increase in the number of “Next Unit Of Computing” midget computers.  This is thanks to use cases like augmented-reality / virtual-reality gaming and an emphasis on aesthetics for desktop-based computing and has been brought about by the likes of the Intel Skull Canyon NUC. One of these was a range offered by Elitegroup with computers powered by Intel Braswell, Apollo Lake and Kaby Lake processors.

Zotac Mini PC press photo courtesy of Zotac

The latest Zotac Mini PC that is the hub of a “hi-fi” approach to computing

But Zotac approached the NUC trend in a manner not dissimilar to the “micro component” hi-fi systems, especially some of the premium offerings that emerged from Japan through the early 80s. These premium “micro-component” systems offered for their amplification needs a control amplifier and a power amplifier so as to provide more power output, along with their source components being a tuner and a cassette deck. In the case of Zotac, they offered the C-Series NUC midget computer which could be powered through its USB-C port thanks to USB Power Delivery. It came with the Intel Kaby Lake processors, NVIDIA GeForce dedicated graphics, a Thunderbolt 3 connector along with a few other features. The C-Series even has corporate manageability and security abilities such as Intel vPro and AMT system management along with the UNITE secure conferencing feature.

But Zotac offered an external “card-cage” graphics dock with a PCI Express x 16 expansion slot for graphics cards, 3 standard USB 3.0 ports and one USB 3.0 port supporting QuickCharge, but being able to supply power to the host computer via the Thunderbolt 3 port using USB Power Delivery. The graphics module’s power supply has a power budget of 400 watts and the module is known to be compatible with NVIDIA and AMD graphics cards.  They even offered their own NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Mini graphics card as a partner card for this dock.

The goal here was to supply a two-piece high-performance computer setup with a system unit and a module that can serve as its graphics subsystem and power supply. But users still had the ability to install better equipment when they felt like it. Or the graphics module could be purposed to provide extra graphics horsepower to portable, “all-in-one” and other small computers that are Thunderbolt-3-equipped as well as supplying necessary power through this port to host computers that honour USB Power Delivery.

Mobile Devices

Even though Samsung had suffered a deep blow with the exploding Galaxy Note 7 phablets, the mobile-computing platform has not died yet. It is although we may be hanging on to our smartphones for longer than the typical two-year contract period in order to save money.

At the moment, the phones that are being given an airing are the mid-tier Android smartphones like the Huawei Honor 6X with a dual camera and the ASUS Zenfone 3 Zoom which is one of the first to have an optical zoom on the rear camera’s lens.

Samsung launched their Galaxy A3 and A5 Android smartphones which are still positioned in the mid-tier segment. This is while Sony came to the fore with the XPeria X2 premium smartphone which has a 5.5” 4K display and 5Gb RAM, just above the baseline expectations for RAM capacity in a desktop computer.

LG had launched a range of low-tier Android smartphones that are equipped with user-replaceable batteries. The K3 is a compact unit with a 4.5” display while the K4 comes with the standard 5” display. There is the K8 5” selfie smartphone which has a highly-optimised front camera for taking those selfies to appear on Instagram or Facebook. Then LG brought the 13 megapixel camera featured in the G series lineup to the K10 5.3” smartphone. They also offered a Stylus 3 phablet with an integrated fingerprint scanner.

The next in the series will cover high-resolution monitors, computer accessories and the home network including the distributed-WiFi trend.

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