Internet Access And Service Archive

What to expect in personal IT over 2019

Internet and Network technologies

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot press image courtesy of NETGEAR USA

Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot – first retail 5G device

5G mobile broadband will see more carriers deploying this technology in more locations whether as a trial setup or to run with it as a full revenue service. It will also see the arrival of client devices like smartphones or laptops rather than just USB modems or modem routers supporting this technology.

Some users will see 5G mobile broadband as supplanting fixed broadband services but the fixed broadband technologies will be improved with higher data throughput that competes with that technology. As well, fixed broadband especially fibre-based next-generation broadband will also be required to serve as an infrastructure-level backhaul for 5G mobile broadband setups.

Wi-Fi 6 a.k.a. 802.11ax Wi-Fi wireless will be officially on the scene with more devices becoming available. It may also mean the arrival not just of new access points and routers supporting this standard but the arrival at least of client-side chipsets to allow laptops, tablets and smartphones to work with the new technology. Some countries’ radio-regulation authorities will look towards opening up the 6GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi purposes.

It also runs alongside the increased deployment of distributed-Wi-Fi systems with multiple access points linked by a wired or wireless backhaul. This will be facilitated with Wi-Fi EasyConnect and EasyMesh standards to create distributed-Wi-Fi setups with equipment from different vendors, which means that vendors don’t need to reinvent the wheel to build a distributed-Wi-Fi product line.

Consumer electronics and home entertainment

LG 4K OLED TVs press picture courtesy of LG America

LG 4K OLED TVs – a technology that could be coming more affordable over 2019

4K UHDTV with HDR technology will head towards its evolution phase with it maturing as a display technology. This will be with an increased number of sets implementing OLED, QLED or similar display technologies. It will also lead to more affordable HDR-capable TV models coming on to the scene.

Screen sizes of 75” and more will also cut in to affordable price ranges/ This will also be augmented with OLED-based screens becoming available in a “rollup” form that comes in an out like a blind or a traditional pull-down screen. Similarly, there will be a look towards the concept of “visual wallpaper” in order to justify the use of large screens in peoples’ households, including using the screen as a way to show messages or other information.

Online services will still become the primary source of 4K HDR TV content but the 4K UHD Blu-Ray disc will increase its foothold as the “packaged collectable” distribution medium for 4K video content. ATSC 3.0 and DVB-T2 will be pushed as a way to deliver 4K UHDTV content over the traditional TV aerial with this method of TV reception regaining its importance amongst the “cord-cutting” generations who dump cable and satellite TV.

JBL Link View lifestyle press image courtesy of Harman International

More of these voce-driven home-assistant devices with screens over this year

Another major direction affecting the home network and consumer electronics is an increased presence of voice-driven home-assistant services in this class of device. Typically this will be in the form of soundbars, wireless speakers, TV remote controls and similar home-entertainment equipment having endpoint functionality for Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.

As well, the “smart screens” like what Lenovo, JBL and Amazon are offering will become more ubiquitous, with the ability to augment responses from a voice-driven home assistant. It will be part of having more household appliances and other gadgets work tightly with voice-driven home assistants.

It may be seen as an effort to bridge the multiple network-based multiroom audio platforms so you can run equipment from different vendors as part of one system. But the problem here will be that such setups may end up being more awkward to use.

The smartphone will be facing some key challenges what with people hanging on to these devices for longer and / or running two of them – one for their work or business along with one for personal life. Some new form-factors like folding smartphones will be demonstrated while some of them will be optimised for high-performance activities like gaming.

These devices are being augmented with the return of mobile feature phones or basic mobile phones. These phones are like the mobile phones that were on the market through the 1990s and 2000s and don’t connect to the home network or Internet or use these resources in a very limited way. They are appearing due to people wanting detachment from online life like the Social Web usually as part of the “back to basics” life calling, or simply as a fail-over mobile telephony device.

But as laptops and tablets become full-on computing and communications devices, the feature phones and basic phones will simply work in a complementary way to allow voice telephony or text messaging on the same service in a handheld form.

This situation is being underscored by more mobile carriers offering mobile telecommunications services that aren’t necessarily bound to one particular device. This is to face realities like the connected car, smartwatches with mobile broadband, Mi-Fi devices amongst other things which will be expected to use the same mobile service.

In the same context, there will be a market requirement for mobile communications devices, especially mobile phones, to support two or more services including multiple numbers on the same service. Primarily this will be driven by eSIM technology and over-the-air provisioning, but it will facilitate ideas like totally separate services for one’s business and private lives, or to cater towards people who regularly travel across international borders.

Security and regulatory issues

I do see a strong push towards more secure Internet-of-Things devices for residential, commercial and other applications over this year. This is as regulators in Europe and California put the pressure on IoT vendors to up their game regarding “secure-by-design” products. There is also the expectation that the Internet Of Things needs to be fit for purpose with transport applications, utilities, medical applications and the like where there is an expectation for safe secure reliable operation that cannot be compromised by cyber-attacks.

Here, it may be about the establishment of device-firmware “bug-bounty” programs by manufacturers, industry bodies and others used to unearth any software weaknesses. Then it will lead towards regular maintenance updates becoming the norm for dedicated-purpose devices. It may also include a requirement to for device vendors and end-users to support automatic installation of these maintenance updates but allow for manual installation of major “feature-addition” updates.

This is in conjunction with the Silicon Valley behemoths like Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google having to change their ways due to them under increased scrutiny from governments, media, activist investors, civil society and end-users. It will affect issues like end-user privacy and data transparency, financial and corporate-governance / human-resources practices, along with the effective market power that they have across the globe.

Equipment design

Use of Gallium Nitride transistors for power conversion

A major trend to see more of this year is the increased use of Gallium Nitride transistor technology. This is beyond using this chemical compound for optoelectronics such as blue, white or multicolour LEDs or laser diodes installed in Blu-Ray players and BD-ROM drive for the purpose of reading these optical discs.

Here, it is to multiply the effect silicon had on the design of audio equipment through the 1970s leading to highly-powerful equipment in highly-compact or portable forms. This is through improved heat management that leads to the compact form alongside more powerful transistors for switch-mode circuits.

One of the initial applications will be in the form of highly-compact USB-C Power-Delivery-compliant chargers for laptops and smartphones. This year will be about an increased number of finished products and reference designs that, depending on the application,  yield more than 45W of DC power for USB-C PD applications from either 100-250VAC mains power or 12-24VDC vehicle / marine power. It could then be affecting multiple-outlet “charging bars” and similar devices where the goal is to have something highly compact and portable to power that Dell XPS 13 or Nintendo Switch alongside your smartphone.

I see it also affecting how power-supply circuitry for computers, peripherals, network equipment and the like is designed. This can lead towards equipment having the compact profile along with reduced emphasis on factoring in thermal management in the design like use of fans or venting.

ARM-based microarchitecture to compete with Intel’s traditional microarchitecture

In the late 1980s, the then-new RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) microarchitecture excelled with graphics and multimedia applications. This is while Intel’s x86-based 16-bit traditional-microarchitecture used in the IBM PC and its clones were focused simply on number-crunching.

But 32-bit iterations of the x86 microarchitecture were able to encroach on graphics and multimedia since the early 1990s. Eventually it led to Apple moving the Macintosh platform away from the RISC-based Motorola CPUs towards Intel-based x86 and x64 traditional microarchitecture.

This was while Acorn Computers and a handful of other computer names worked towards ARM RISC microarchitecture which ended up in smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes and similar applications.

Now this microarchitecture is making a comeback with the Always-Connected PCs which are laptops that run Windows 10 on Qualcomm ARM processors for higher power efficiency. It was brought about with Microsoft releasing a Windows 10 variant that runs on ARM microarchitecture rather than classic microarchitecture.

This will lead to some computer vendors running with at least one or two of these computers in their ultraportable product ranges. But there is investigation in to taking ARM technology to higher-power computing applications like gaming and server setups.

The big question for Intel is what can they offer when it comes to microprocessor technology that can answer what Qualcomm and others are offering using their ARM processors.

Increased SSD capacity

The solid-state drive will start to approach bill-of-material per-kilobyte price parity with the 500GB hard disk. Here, it could lead towards laptops and ultra-compact desktop computers coming with 512Gb SSDs in the affordable configurations. This is also applying to USB-based external storage devices as well as what is integrated in a computer.

Here, the concept of high-speed energy-saving non-volatile storage that would satisfy a “sole computer” situation for a reasonable outlay is coming to fruition. What will still happen with the traditional mechanical hard disk is that it will end up satisfying high-capacity storage requirements like NAS units or servers. In some situations, it may lead towards more NAS units supporting multi-tier storage approaches like bring frequently-used data forward.

Conclusion

This is just a representative sample of what 2019 is likely to bring about for one’s personal and business online life, but as with each year, more situations will crop up over the year.

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The successor to the Freebox Révolution has arrived in France

Articles Freebox Delta press photo courtesy of Iliad (Free.fr)

Xavier Niel unveils new Freebox with Alexa, Devialet, Sigfox, Netflix | TechCrunch

French Language / Langue française

Free annonce ses nouvelles Freebox : la Freebox Delta et la Freebox One | FreeNews

Freebox One : pour les accros à Netflix (et c’est tout) | ZDNet.fr

Freebox Delta : voici la box qui doit sauver Free | ZDNet.fr

From the horse’s mouth

Free.fr (French Language / Langue française)

Freebox Delta (Press Release / Communiqué de presse – PDF)

Freebox One (Press Release / Communiqué de presse – PDF)

My Comments

While the “gilets jaunes” were protesting about the cost of living in France, Free.fr had just launched a long-awaited successor to the Freebox Révolution modem-router and media player setup.

The Freebox Révolution was a device symbolic of the highly-competitive telecommunications and Internet-service market that exists in France. It is a xDSL modem-router with an Ethernet connection and a NAS that is also a DLNA-compliant media server. It works with a set-top media player that has an integrated PVR and Blu-Ray player. But over the years, these units took on new functionality that was extraordinary for carrier-provided equipment such as VPN endpoint and Apple AirPlay functionality. Infact I saw it as a benchmark for devices supplied by telcos and ISPs for Internet access when it came to functionality.

Here, there are two systems – one called the Freebox Delta which is positioned at the premium end of the market, and the other called the Freebox One which is positioned as an entry-level offering.

The Freebox Delta has a server unit which combines a modem-router and a NAS that is equivalent to a baseline 4-bay standalone NAS. The WAN (Internet) side can work with a 10Gb fibre connection, an xDSL connection or a 4G mobile broadband connection. But it is the first modem-router that can aggregate the bandwidth of an xDSL connection and a 4G mobile broadband connection for increased throughput.

On the LAN side, there is a Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) connection working across three bands and implementing MU-MIMO wireless connectivity. It is in conjunction with an integral four-port Gigabit Ethernet switch. There is the ability to link to the Freebox Delta Player in another room using the FreePlugs which are Gigabit HomePlug AV2 adaptors that Free.fr provides but these are actually network adaptors that use the USB-C peripheral connection approach.

The VoIP functionality that any “box” service offered by the French carriers provides has an RJ11 endpoint for a telephone as well as a DECT base station. There is a USB-C connection along with NFC support.

But Free.fr are even having the Freebox Delta as part of a home-automation system by providing hardware and software support for home-automation hub functionality. It is thanks to Free’s partnership with the Sigfox smart-home software platform. This is based around Zigbee technology with Free.fr and others supplying “smart-home” devices complying with this technology.

The Freebox Delta Player is effectively a connected speaker made by Devialet, a French hi-fi name of respect when it comes to speaker.  But it is a soundbar that uses 6 drivers to yield effectively a 5.1 surround-sound experience.

It works with a French-based voice-driven home assistant (OK Freebox) that handles basic commands but can work with Amazon Alexa which gives it access to the Amazon Alexa Skills library. This is achieved through a four-microphone array and is another way for a European company to effectively answer Silicon Valley in the field of voice-driven assistant platforms.

It can yield pictures to the 4K HDR 10 standard using an HDMI 2.1 socket compliant with the HDCP 2.2 standard and supporting eARC audio transfer that allows for best use with 4K UHD TVs. There is also a DVB-T2 tuner for over-the-air digital TV. You can control the Freebox Delta Player using a wirelessly-charged touchscreen remote which charges on a Qi-compliant wireless charging plate integrated in this media player. Let’s not forget that this device is up-to-date by implementing USB-C peripheral connectivity for two peripherals.

The Freebox Delta will cost EUR€480 to buy, with payment options of  EUR€120 per month over 4 months, EUR€10 per month over 48 months or the full upfront price being paid. The service will cost at least EUR€49.99 per month.

Freebox One press picture courtesy of Iliad (Free.fr)

Freebox One – the entry-level solution

The Freebox One is an entry level single-piece multimedia player and modem-router unit. This will have a Gigabit Fibre and xDSL connectivity on the WAN (Internet) side and Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and four Gigabit Ethernet ports on the LAN side. There will be the DECT VoIP base for the telephony function along with a DVB-T connection for digital TV. It can work with 4K HDR 10 via an HDMI 2.1 (HDCP 2.2 compliant) port for your 4K UHDTV.

It has a front-panel display that is similar to the previous generation of Freebox systems.  You can get this device for EUR€29.99 per month for first year, EUR€39.99 per month as a Freebox hardware-and-services package of the kind you get in France.

With both Freebox systems, I would expect that Free.fr will regularly release new firmware that will add extra functionality to these devices over the years. When you get these “boxes”, you will find that there is more of an incentive to visit the “mis à jour” part of the user interface and frequently update their software.

By offering the Freebox Delta for sale rather tied with a multiple-play service package, Free.fr wants to be able to sell this unit as a device you can use with other services. This means that they can put themselves on the same footing as AVM by being another Continental-European source of highly-capable always-updated consumer premises equipment for your home network.

But what needs to happen is for the European consumer IT firms to create hardware and software platforms that can effectively answer what Silicon Valley has to offer. Who knows which European companies will end up as the “Airbus” or “Arianespace” of consumer and small-business IT?

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NetID and Verimi to become Europe’s single-sign-on answer to Silicon Valley

Articles

Map of Europe By User:mjchael by using preliminary work of maix¿? [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Europe takes steps towards its own single sign-on services

German online ID startups ready to take on US titans | Handelsblatt Global

European netID Foundation Launches; Turner Establishes Unified Ad Sales Unit T1 | ExchangeWire

netID provides a single portal where European consumers will be able to manage their data privacy | Videonet

RTL Group, ProSieben.Sat1 form European netID Foundation | TVB Europe

From the horse’s mouth

European NetID Foundation (German language / Deutsche Sprache)

Homepage (Startseite)

netid.de

My Comments

Social sign-on concept diagram

Social sign-on and single-sign-on concept diagram – relationship between the social network and online service

A situation that I am regularly watching is whether European companies are running consumer-facing online service that answer what the Silicon Valley establishment can provide yet maintain the European values of privacy and data-handling transparency. This is rather than the European Commission always tackling the Silicon Valley

Flag of Germany

It’s all kicking off within Germany thanks to RTL and ProSiebenSat1

titans with the big stick when they get out of control.

Here, the European values about democracy, user privacy and data-handling transparency have been moulded and established due to Continental Europe passing through some of the darkest periods in history. Through these eras, a significant number of European nations were run as police states with their national-security services were conduction mass surveillance at the behest of the nations’ dictators.

Infact the German-speaking countries of Europe have become strong defenders of this ideal by enacting strong data-privacy laws. It was also underscored with Germany showing strong concern regarding their Chancellor Angela Merkel being spied on by the NSA which led to European government having their information and communications technology business run by local businesses.

Initially, there have been some European companies operating in the online file-storage, Web-search and online-audio spaces like with CloudMe, Qwant, Spotify and SoundCloud. Also France is taking steps towards a YouTube competitor in the form of a peer-to-peer video-streaming service known as PeerTube. As well, there have been a few privacy-centric Webmail providers hosted within Europe like Protonmail. Lately the BMW Group worked on its own voice-driven personal assistant platform for its vehicles and I had valued this as a possible base for a European-base voice-driven assistant platform answering Alexa and co.

But the latest service class to have a European answer is single-sign-on for online services. This has been facilitated in a consumer-facing manner as a “social-sign-on” facilitated by social networks, mainly Facebook and Google. Such systems also implemented a simplified provisioning process with the data that you used to establish your Facebook or Google presence being used to create your account as you come onboard to a new online service.

The main European competitor has come in the form of NetID, created by the European NetID Foundation. This startup has been established by the RTL Group, ProSiebenSat1, and United Internet but is partnering with some other German brands like the Suddeutsche Zeitung and Spiegel newspapers along with the Scout24 online classifieds Websites.

Another is Verimi which is established by Allianz, Deutsche Bank and Lufthansa. This is based on the WebID video legitimisation service to facilitate verification of customers when they establish bank accounts or credit cards. This company is wanting to underscore the quality ethos behind the “Made In Germany” brand.

They offer a single-sign-on experience and a “hardened identity” service to facilitate online transactions. But the end-users have greater control over their own data and this is being driven by the GDPR and other European data-privacy regulations. Let’s not forget that the data is kept on servers that are within Europe.

The European NetID Foundation do expect to work beyond Germany with the desire to cut in to France, Belgium, Netherlands and Austria at the start. This could be facilitated very easily by the RTL Group who have private commercial TV or other media presence in multiple European countries or ProSiebenSat1 who effectively have private commercial TV presence across German-speaking Europe.

There is the one “data point” for each individual customer to make their data-privacy wishes clear. It is accessible from multiple Websites like those run by the different media providers. But each customer has the ability to have granular opt-in / opt-out control over their data with, for example, the ability to let a company they trust run targeted advertising for them but not allow another company they don’t trust to run that same service. The other key factor behind the European NetID Foundation is that it is an open-platform approach with an open-source codebase.

There is also the concept of customer data being managed by a third-party agent but effectively under the control of these end-users. It is also underscored by an open approach that supports the European transparency value and the data cannot be used by a company until the user grants them consent to that data.

At the moment, the European NetID Foundation is at is early days but it will be needing to approach other sign-on situations including support for devices with limited user interfaces. Here, this would be either be about setting up an account with or signing in to an online video service from a TV using its remote control for example.

Personally, I would like to see these companies offer their alternative single-sign-on services beyond Europe, especially to organisations who support and honour European business values.  But I see it as another step towards Europe creating their own online services that break away from Silicon Valley’s stranglehold on our online life.

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UK to make Openreach a legally-separate entity

Article

New UK Regulatory Regime Begins for Legally Separate Openreach | ISP Review

My Comments

Australia, the UK and New Zealand have approached the idea of encouraging telecommunications competition in the fixed-line space by detaching the fixed-line infrastructure from the incumbent telco. In Australia, this was with NBN as effectively a public entity buying this infrastructure from Telstra and Optus, or New Zealand who had Telecom NZ split in to Spark as a telecommunications reseller and Chorus as an infrastructure entity.

The Australian and New Zealand effort had an emphasis on creating greater distance between the incumbent telecoms service reseller and the infrastructure entity with a stronger clear-cut emphasis on the infrastructure entity not favouring the incumbent telecoms reseller.  This was through effective legal separation of these companies in a manner that they couldn’t control each other.

But the UK implemented a similar plan for splitting British Telecom by having the fixed-line infrastructure managed by Openreach and BT being a telecoms reseller. But there wasn’t a strict legal delineation between these two companies and this closeness allowed Openreach to continue to operate in the same manner as BT did when it was the UK’s incumbent telco monopoly. This led to poor-quality service and poorly-maintained infrastructure, with BT Openreach ending up with an Internet-wide nickname of “Openwretch”.

The underinvestment in the infrastructure by Openreach was to satisfy BT’s ends rather than providing a high-quality service that would benefit competing telcos or ISPs using that infrastructure. This also rubbed off on the competitors’ customer base with the reduced service reliability and often happened when new technology was being delivered by Openreach. Let’s not forget issues like “cherry-picking” areas that get fibre-to-the-premises broadband or whether rural areas get decent broadband.

New Ofcom regulations were implemented in the UK with the requirement for Openreach to be a company that is legally separate from BT. This meant that they had their own legal identity (Openreach Limited) with its own board of directors and with its staff working for that company. This is meant to effectively permit its own corporate governance that is independent from BT.

There will be the issue of logically moving the employee base to this new identity including rearranging the pensions arrangement for the staff. Let’s not forget that there will be a strong marketing and PR effort directed towards the stakeholders to “refresh” the Openreach image, perhaps with a new brand.

What is meant to happen is that competing telcos and ISPs will he required to have access to the same technology on the same footing as BT. This will also be underscored by newer tougher minimum quality standards including more fibre-to-the-premises broadband deployment across the UK.

There are newer market dynamics affecting the availability of infrastructure for residential and small/medium-business telecommunications and Internet service in the UK. Here, an increasing number of infrastructure providers like Cityfibre, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear and B4RN are providing infrastructure-level competition in various urban and rural areas. This is along with an increasing number of full-fibre installations taking place.

The issues that will crop up include Openreach outbuilding the infrastructure-level competitors in urban areas, especially if they can effectively “possess” a building, street or neighbourhood by having exclusive infrastructure rights to that area. Here, the risk that is being highlighted is the possible market consolidation due to competitors being driven out of business or taken over. I also see this risk affecting ISPs or telcos, especially small-time or boutique operators, who prefer to deal with particular infrastructure providers not being able to operate or being forced to use one of a few providers.

Then there will become the issue of what level of competition is sustainable for the UK’s telecommunications and Internet-service market. It is also a question that can affect any market heads towards or already has infrastructure-level competition for their Internet and telecommunications.

This question can affect ISPs / telcos, end-users, local government and premises owners. A core factor that will come in to play here is what kind of access is granted by an infrastructure provider to retail-level telecommunications / Internet providers on business terms that facilitate competitive operation.

-The factors that come in to play include whether there is an innovation culture where the operators can differentiate themselves on more than just price; and what service price level the market can go below before companies can’t operate profitably. Then there is the issue of whether the UK market really expects a pure-play Internet-only operation from these providers; or a multiple-play operation with fixed-line or mobile telephony, pay-TV or other online services. That also includes the existence of franchised IP-based telephony, pay-TV and other services that will be pitched towards retail-level telcos and ISPs who don’t offer these services.

What I see of the recent activity in making Openreach a company legally-independent from BT is that it is a sign of enabling proper competition for the UK’s telecommunications and Internet services for households and small businesses.

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An ideal home network for an apartment

Apartment blockIncreasingly, as the cities become more dense, most of us will be either living in an apartment or looking towards doing so. In some cases, some of you may be living in a larger house in a rural or peri-urban area but maintain an apartment as a city-based “family house” if you or your family are making frequent trips downtown.

There will be issues that will impact how you set up your personal IT and home network in these apartments in order to make sure that it can coexist with your neighbours’ networks. Let’s not forget that those of you who are active in your building’s management committee may face discussions and questions about building-wide IT including the Internet Of Things. Here, I will be regularly publishing articles that may be of relevance to you and your situation.

When you are thinking of “downsizing” towards that small apartment, you may find that your needs change as far as your home network is concerned. As well, you may have to set things up so that your network coexists properly with your neighbours’ home networks especially as far as data privacy / security and network performance is concerned.

In most cases, setting up your home network and Internet connection at your apartment may be a simple task with you just installing a wireless router to use with your portable devices and, in most cases, a HomePlug AV500 powerline network segment for desktop computers and home-entertainment equipment.

But not all apartments may come across as a simple setup. For example, you may come across places with internal walls or plenums that are constructed of dense materials like double-brick, cinderblock or reinforced concrete or use metal as part of their construction, which can impede reliable Wi-Fi wireless signal reception.

As well, you need to be sure with HomePlug powerline or Wi-Fi wireless technologies that your operation of these technologies doesn’t impede on your neighbours’ use of them. This includes being sure that your data on your network stays private while theirs also stays private.

Equipment

Wireless Router

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

Most recent-spec Wi-Fi routers may serve you well for apartment-based networks

You can get by with most Internet routers, whether you buy them yourself or have them supplied as part of your Internet service. This may be true for a studio, one-bedroom or small two-bedroom location but you may have to consider something with improved Wi-Fi wireless performance for larger two-bedroom or three-bedroom spaces.

It is more so if your apartment follows the typical path of having the Internet connection like the telephone socket installed at one end of the dwelling which is opposite to another end where a lot of your living takes place.

Wireless connectivity

But you need to be sure that the Wi-Fi wireless functionality is of current specification. You may not need to worry about whether the router uses external high-gain antennas because of the smaller area that it is expected to cover. But I would make sure that this functionality works across two bands simultaneously especially as the 5GHz band is still seen as “new territory” for network coverage and can facilitate high throughput. Such a router will be described as 802.11a/b/g/n simultaneous dual-band or the routers that have 802.11ac functionality will be simultaneous dual-band devices.

Internet (WAN) connectivity for next-generation services

If your building is provisioned with next-generation broadband Internet service, find out whether the equipment supplied in your apartment includes router functionality or is simply a modem or optical-network terminator. In the latter situation, you would just need to use a broadband router with an Ethernet WAN (Internet) connection. It is also worth noting that a lot of FTTB (fibre-to-the-building / fibre-to-the-basement) setups will implement VDSL2 for the copper path to your apartment so you would need to use a modem router that supports this technology on the WAN side. This is a feature that is becoming available with newer mid-range and high-end DSL modem routers and is slowly trickling to economy equipment as this technology becomes more common.

In some cases, you may be lucky enough to have an FTTB setup which implements Cat5 Ethernet wiring to all of the apartments like with Spirit Telecom in Australia. The same would hold true for an FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) setup which simply uses an optical-network terminator. Such setups would simply use a broadband router with an Ethernet WAN connection.

It is also worth noting that a lot of premium DSL modem routers including some equipment offered by carriers are offering a “dual-WAN” or “multiple-WAN” functionality where they have two different paths for connection to the Internet. This is typically an Ethernet and a DSL connection with the ability for you to select between these connection types using the configuration Web interface that they provide. Some of these modem routers have one of the Ethernet ports able to be switched between a LAN (home network) connection or a WAN (Internet) connection rather than a dedicated WAN Ethernet port and you would have to make sure you select the right type of connection for the purpose in mind.

When you move in to a new building as part of your downsizing efforts, you may need to find out from whoever is in charge of the building such as the owners corporation whether it has been provisioned for a fibre-based next-generation broadband service. Here, you would need to know what technology is being used along with whoever is providing the Internet service. This is so you can be sure you have the right equipment for the service.

That headline Wi-Fi Internet service offered by your building

Android main interactive lock screen

Those headline Wi-Fi Internet services offered by the apartment building will work well with smartphones, tablets and computers only and are best used for casual Internet use

Avoid the temptation to use for your main Internet service that free Wi-Fi service that your building offers as a headline amenity. The kind of developments that typically offer this kind of service are “resort” apartment developments, retirement villages or so-called “residence” apartments let out on a similar business model to a hotel. It also includes hotels that have rooms and apartments available to let for long-term residence but in the same “inn-style” business context with rent; light, heat and power; telecommunications, food and similar living expenses as one payment to that hotel.

This is because of the fact that most of these networks aren’t secure, typically being set up as open wireless networks with a Web-based login experience and intended for casual login. If these networks are properly set up as a public-access network, they will be set up with client isolation so that client devices cannot discover each other across the network.

Therefure, they don’t play well with anything other than a regular (desktop or laptop) or mobile (smartphone or tablet) computing device. I encountered this problem through an online conversation from someone who bought the Sony CMT-MX750Ni network-capable micro music system that I reviewed and couldn’t run its integrated Internet radio and online content functionality and further correspondence that I had with the commenter revealed that this stereo was installed in a “resort” apartment which had this kind of free Wi-Fi Internet access. They ended up having to use it with an iOS device connected to the Wi-Fi network and running a content app for online content.

There is still the security risk of having all the network traffic associated with everyone in the building using that network being “sniffed out” especially in an improperly-configured network, along with the risk of a commonly-known password that is rarely changed.

These Wi-Fi internet services are best used when you want to use Internet-based services from your laptop, tablet or smartphone while in a common space. But you won’t be able to use your home network’s resources from a device connected to one of these Wi-Fi Internet services.

Your home network

Wired-network segment

NETGEAR GS108PP ProSafe Gigabit Unmanaged 8-port Switch with Power-Over-Ethernet Plus press picture courtesy of NETGEAR

It may be worth having your apartment wired for Ethernet if you are buying “off the plan”

It is important to consider establishing a wired-network segment alongside your Wi-Fi wireless network segment. This is more important with the arrival of Smart TVs and network-connected video peripherals so you can be sure that they work properly and provide enjoyable viewing. In some cases, if you are locating a desktop computer or network-capable printer away from the router, you may find that a wired network segment may do the job.

If your apartment is being newly built such as when you buy one “off the plan”, it may be worth considering having an Ethernet connection installed if you can afford it. Here, you could have it set up to link to the main living area, the bedrooms and / or study / office space. Here, this is important for larger spaces like two-bedroom or larger apartments, dual-level maisonettes and the like. In this context, the areas you will need to cover are where the router will be and where you will be watching TV or using games consoles or similar equipment.

HomePlug AV adaptor

HomePlug networks can work well with apartment setups as a “wired no-new-wires” network

On the other hand, you can set up a HomePlug AV500 or better powerline network segment to cover your apartment. This is more important if you are on a tight budget or are dealing with a small apartment, and would earn its keep with existing developments.

Some of you may think that you could use a HomePlug powerline network segment to temporarily extend your home network from your apartment out to a common area or your neighbour’s apartment. You wouldn’t see reliable operation if you are doing this in a larger building due to the way the building is wired for many households or the fact that the building’s electrical subsystem is also serving various pieces of  “big-time” electrical equipment like lifts or building-wide heating / air-conditioning equipment which can yield electrical interference.

Wireless access point

You may find that your your home network’s Wi-Fi wireless segment can cover your apartment easily but there are some situations where these places can yield patchy coverage especially for smartphones and tablets.

For example, your apartment may have one or more interior walls made of a dense material like double-brick or concrete and these could impede the Wi-Fi coverage. This can also include where a building uses metal ducts or plenums running from floor to ceiling in the apartment for central heating and air-conditioning, garbage disposal or other purposes. It also includes where you are dealing with pre-1960s buildings where fireplaces used to exist or still exist but in a cosmetic manner. Similarly, you may be living in a “maisonette” or similar-styled apartment where your apartment is across two levels and your network’s coverage may not span both levels properly.

Devolo dLAN 550 WiFi HomePlug AV500 access point press picture courtesy of Devolo AG

The compact Devolo dLAN 550 WiFi HomePlug wireless access point – fills in the Wi-Fi gaps

Here, you may have to consider implementing an extension wireless access point to improve your network’s reception in those patchy areas. Typically the HomePlug wireless access points that use your apartment’s AC wiring as the backbone can answer this need very easily, providing just the right amount of coverage to fill in that dead-spot. Similarly, some wireless range extenders that can be set up to become access points for a wired backbone can provide that same level of coverage. At the most, you will typically end up with using two wireless access points in your setup – one that is part of the router as well as one extension access point.

How do I set this up?

The Wi-Fi wireless network

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system press image courtesy of NETGEAR

Distributed Wi-Fi setups like this NETGEAR Orbi can assure coverage across that large apartment, penthouse or two-level maisonette

In this area, you may have to identify a vacant operating frequency for the network using a Wi-Fi finder app, available for most regular-computer platforms and Android mobile platforms. Here, the channel you use would be the one where there is the lowest signal strength because no nearby networks are using that channel.

But you may find that some wireless routers, access points or distributed-Wi-Fi systems may offer this functionality as part of their setup procedure or may even automatically tune themselves as part of an “easy-setup” routine.

Then you determine a unique SSID (wireless network name) and passphrase for your network and configure your router and other wireless-network equipment to work to these specifications. Some of the routers, especially those offered by ISPs, may have a unique pre-defined SSID and passphrase, but it may be worth changing the SSID on these devices or. if you are comfortable with it, connecting your client devices to this new SSID configuration.

Shared-Internet-access setups

Some of you may use FON, Telstra Air or similar “shared Internet access” setups which require your home network router to be part of a wireless public-access network. Such services have it that you offer bandwidth to other users that aren’t part of your household, then are able to get bandwidth for free due to you offering that bandwidth to others.

This is achieved by it maintains the Wi-Fi access for your home network along with a separate Wi-Fi local network for this public-access network, typically by having two SSIDs on the same frequency – one for the public-access network and the other for your home network.

You may find that other people in the street can’t use the public-access network as expected because your router is located high up and away from street level. This can manifest with the remote device used by the person on the street acting as though it is in a fringe area and exhibiting patchy reception. It is something I have experienced in Docklands where it was a hit-and-miss affair to use the Telstra Air service offered by an apartment dweller living in one of the buildings that was facing a public walkway from my smartphone outside the building.

On the other hand, the only people who would benefit are others who are walking up and down the corridor outside your apartment.

The HomePlug powerline network

Western Digital LiveWire HomePlug AV Ethernet switch

You may have to use the SYNC or SimpleConnect buttons on your home network devices like this WD LiveWire HomePlug AV switch to assure reliable secure connectivity in your apartment-based HomePlug setup

Here, this network may be a simpler affair where you just use the SimpleConnect buttons on the HomePlug adaptors to create a new network segment with its own encryption. This is a procedure that I bad described in this IT assistance article where I was instructing my former pastor over the phone about how to set up a HomePlug segment for his desktop computer when he moved to a new location. But it is imperative to perform this process when you are setting up a HomePlug segment for the first time so as to avoid your data “creeping on” to your neighbour’s HomePlug segment or vice versa.

If you are adding other HomePlug devices, you need to follow the routine for using SimpleConnect buttons to add these devices – press the button on the new device then on the existing device while watching for the lights to flicker in a certain way.

When it comes to connecting a cluster of co-located network-capable equipment together like a home-entertainment system, you can either purchase a HomePlug-Ethernet switch that has multiple Ethernet connections. On the other hand, you can simply get by with a desktop Ethernet switch connected to a HomePlug adaptor to bring all the equipment in that cluster online – most of these desktop Ethernet switches do cost very little to purchase for a five-port Gigabit type.

Devolo dLAN 1200+ HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor press picture courtesy of Devolo

HomePlug AV2 like what is offered by this Devolo dLAN 1200+ adaptor may provide more stable operation when competing with large motors in the building (European setup)

Most apartment setups may be able to get by with the HomePlug AV500 powerline networks but you may find that HomePlug AV2 1200 MIMO-based technology may suit your needs better. This may be of relevance for those of you who may benefit from the extra bandwidth or who find that the highly-robust technology may cope with the high concentration of heavy-duty motors used in these buildings for things like air-conditioning or lifts better.

Other notes

If you are using a network-attached storage device or something similar, it may be preferable to connect it directly to the router rather than via a Wi-FI or HomePlug network because this assures a more reliable connection when it comes to making sure files arrive at the NAS complete.

Conclusion

An apartment can come across as a simple place to set up a home network within but there are some issues to work out so that you have a reliable secure home network that coexists with your neighbours’ home networks easily.

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What could be done to simplify your router upgrade

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

There needs to be a standard filetype to simplify the process of upgrading your home network router without reconfiguring your home network

An issue that will crop up through the life of a home network is to upgrade the router. This will be brought on with replacement of carrier-supplied equipment with retail equipment, replacing that half-dead router that you are always powering off and on many times a week, or upgrading to higher-performance equipment.

But you will end up having to transcribe out configuration data from your old equipment so you can enter it in to your new equipment especially if you want to avoid having to reconfigure other network equipment on your same home network.

Most routers offer a way for users to back up the current configuration details. This is typically to allow a user to do things like perform a factory resent or to test a configuration without losing a prior known-to-work state.

The process typically requires the user to download a configuration file to the computer they are configuring the router from in a similar manner to downloading a resource from the Web. But there isn’t a consistent file schema for storing this data in a manner for transferring to devices supplied by different vendors. In some cases, you may not be able to transfer the configuration data to newer equipment from the same vendor such as to install a newer router model.

AVM have taken steps in the right direction by allowing users to save a configuration from an older Fritz!Box router and upload it to a newer Fritz!Box router running a newer version of the Fritz!OS firmware. It is also to factor in allowing the router to persist your configuration to a newer version of the firmware.

But what can be done to make this work better would be to use a standard file format, preferably an XML-based schema which could be used for storing a router configuration. This would have to be agreed upon by all of the vendors to provide true vendor interoperability.

There would also be issues about providing multiple methods of storing this data. It could be about maintaining the traditional HTTP download / upload approach with Web clients on the same local network. Or it could also be about transferring the data between a USB Mass Storage device and the router such as to facilitate an out-of-box install.

Such a setup could allow for a range of scenarios like simplifying the upgrade path or to make it easier for support staff to keep information about different configurations they are responsible for.

The configuration data would have to cater for WAN (Internet) and LAN details including details regarding Wi-Fi wireless network segments, advanced network setups like VLAN and VPN setups, VoIP endpoint setups as well as general and security-related data.

Of course an issue that will crop up would be assuring the user of proper network security and sovereignty, something that could be assured through not persisting the management password to a new router. Also you won’t be able to keep Wi-Fi channel data especially if you deal with self-optimising equipment, because you may have to face an evolving Wi-Fi spectrum landscape.

What will need to happen is to provide methods to allow seamless upgrading of devices that serve as your network-Internet “edge” so you can simplify this upgrade process and get the most out of the new equipment.

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Matthew Hare granted an OBE Honour for rural broadband in the UK

Articles

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

Fibre to the premises courtesy of Gigaclear

Queen’s Birthday Honours for CEO of Rural FTTP ISP Gigaclear | ISPReview

Matthew Hare awarded OBE for services to broadband provision | ThinkBroadband

From the horse’s mouth

UK Government – Cabinet Office

Queen’s Birthday Honours List

Previous coverage about Matthew Hare OBE

Interviews (2011,2015)

New ISP players working against established players to provide competitive Internet service

Gigaclear hits the big 10,000

First it was Hambleton, now it’s Uppingham to have fibre-optic broadband in Rutland

My Comments

I have given a fair amount of coverage to Matthew Hare and his company, Gigaclear, on this Website. This is due to the effort put in by Matthew Hare and this company to put fibre-to-the-premises broadband in to a significant part of rural England like East Anglia, the Home Counties and now Devon.

As I have highlighted before, rural areas do have a real need for urban-grade broadband Internet service. This is due to the many small businesses that serve these areas, including people who run these businesses from home along with people who live a significant distance from friends and family who are based in city areas. In some cases

It has also encouraged other independent fibre-to-the-premises networks to exist like the Hyperoptic urban network and the B4RN communitiy-driven rural networks.With these networks, the provision of current-expectation Internet service has been about working independently of BT Opennreach who look after the main telecoms infrastructure of the UK.

As I have covered before, Gigaclear have invested GBP£1000 / property to provide a standard of broadband not normally associated with a rural-broadband deployment. It is to provide a symmetrical Gigabit service using fibre-to-the-premises technology rather than a fibre-copper technology which can introduce many variables like decrepit infrastructure.

Just recently, Matthew Hare and Gigaclear received FTTH awards from the FTTH Council Europe who represent European fibre-to-the-premises network providers. This was because of his successful use of that technology in British rural areas.

Now Matthew Hare has received an Order of the British Empire as part of the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours thanks to his groundbreaking effort in providing broadband Internet service that is beyond ordinary for rural areas. This Honour, fully referred to as “Officer of the Order of the British Empire” was cited as for “Services to Broadband Provision in the UK”.

There have been some other Royal honours issued in relationship to providing independent Internet service using independent high-grade infrastructure within the UK. One of these is Dana Tobak CBE, whose Honour was granted as part of the New Year’s Honours list in 2017-2018 for her work with Hyperoptic and two granted in 2015 in relationship to the B4RN effort – Christine Conder OBE and Barry Forde MBE.

What these awards are showing is that someone has gone out of their way to provide a high standard of Internet service to Britain’s rural community and has broken the ground to offer it independently of an established incumbent telco or ISP.

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Lexington residents undertakes their own effort to push a competitive broadband service

Article

Lexington Kentucky downtown (CBD) view photo By Madgeek1450 at English Wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Lexington to benefit from real Internet-service competition thanks to an emergency meeting by the city’s council

Angry With Charter, Lexington Forces Broadband Competition | Broadband News and DSL Reports

Lexington Is Downright Pissed About Charter’s High Prices | Broadband News And DSL Reports

Lexington gears up for citywide gigabit-speed internet service | SmileyPete

My Comments

Over the last few years, it has become much easier for the incumbent “Baby Bells” and cable-TV companies to get away with providing a customer-hostile service to most of the USA’s Internet users. This has manifested through onerous terms and conditions, price gouging and poor customer-service quality from these businesses so much so that the average American doesn’t have any faith in them for their telecommunications services.

AT&T Touch-Tone phone - image courtesy of CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=936797

Lexington to keep the city from heading back to the Ma Bell days

It is while these established telcos and cablecos keep lobbying federal, state and local governments to prohibit the deployment of competitive telephony and Internet service and even have a new FCC chairman as their lapdog. In some ways, I describe this current situation as leading the USA’s telecommunications, cable-TV and Internet-service market back to the “Ma Bell” days before Carterfone and the AT&T breakup decree.

But Lexington, Kentucky have undertaken local-government action to facilitate competitive Internet service.

This was achieved through an emergency meeting of the municipal council to open the doors for MetroNet to set up shop in Lexington and provide their own Gigabit fibre-optic infrastructure in order to offer competing Internet service. It was in response to Charter, an incumbent cable-TV company offering cable-modem broadband, taking over Time-Warner Cable and Bright House Networks thus leading to rubbishy customer service and price-gouging.

Regular readers will be aware of the values of a next-generation broadband network based on Gigabit fibre technology. Here, these include home users benefiting form Internet-delivered 4K UHDTV content being quickly streamed or downloaded or reduced lag for online gameplay. Business users and people working from home can also benefit from being able to upload and download business-critical data quickly, implement streamed-video delivery without issues and see reliable use of cloud-driven “as-a-service” computing, amongst other things.

The fibre-optic service is to start coming on line late Northern Summer. Initially it will be rolled out to the area bracketed by east of Lexington’s downtown area and north of Richmond Road, East New Circle Road and the I-75 Interstate highway. The work had started off in January this year and is progressing smoothly.

The goal is to make Lexington, Kentucky the second Gigabit City in the USA, after Chattanooga in the neigbouring state of Tennessee. Here, the Chattanooga effort was facilitated by the city’s Electrical Power Board in 2009. The goal will also be for Lexington to be the USA’s largest Gigabit City. But could these efforts come on as a way to light up various Southern states of the US as places to conduct tech-focused business?

As has been achieved with real service competition especially on an infrastructure level, it will mean that the incumbent operators will have to lift their game to maintain customer loyalty. Infact Charter have registered interest to offer Gigabit-speed cable modem service in a few of their markets but could this competitive pressure have it happening in Lexington?

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Matthew Hare and Gigaclear to receive FTTH Council Europe award

Article Gigaclear fibre-optic cable - picture courtesy of Gigaclear

UK fibre operator Gigaclear wins FTTH Council Europe Award | ThinkBroadband

From the horse’s mouth

Gigaclear

Gigaclear’s Chief Executive first Brit to receive prestigious FTTH award (Press Release)

FTTH Council Europe

2018 Awards Press Release (PDF)

My Comments

I have given a fair amount of coverage to the effort that Matthew Hare and Gigaclear have undertaken to get the ball rolling for establishing fibre-to-the-premises in a significant area of rural England. Here, the standard for the service was up to a Gigabit per second symmetrical (upload and download) which was above average for consumer-grade broadband and they were even working with Fluidata to open up these networks for competitive service access.

This includes two telephone-based interviews with Matthew Hare regarding how this company is answering the rural-Internet need and providing a real benefit to the various rural communities. From one of these interviews, I had called out in the report how Oxford Country Cottages were selling this connection as a significant amenity for their self-catering holiday cottages. with follow-up communication with that estate’s owners leading to them identifying that they were benefiting from a significant amount of return business due to this feature.

I was regularly identifying issues like people in the rural communities working from home or running a home-based business or practice as a user group that would benefit from the high standards of coverage. It also included the reality that most of the business activity in rural areas was driven by small businesses who would benefit from cloud computing and other similar technologies that also benefit frim this same coverage standard.

As well, I was also calling out the so-called “tree-changers” who a class of residents who have moved from the cities to rural communities in search of that tranquillity associated with country living. Here, these users want to be able to benefit from the same or better standard of Internet connectivity to maintain contact with their family or, perhaps, to run a business of some sort.

Now the FTTH Council Europe have awarded Matthew Hare with an FTTH Individual Award for his effort in using fibre-to-the-premises as a way to bring real broadband to rural areas. As Matthew said:

“It is an honour to be recognised by such an influential industry body. Since 2010, we have been delivering on our quest to connect some of the UK’s hardest to reach communities to reliable, ultrafast broadband. Every day, we see the difference having a reliable internet connection can make to people’s lives and we remain committed to closing the digital divide, ensuring we put an end to rural isolation. This is just the beginning. There is a lot more we aim to achieve with our fibre networks ”

he was underscoring the realities with working with rural areas along with the benefits that these rollout efforts would bring to the communities. He was also highlighting the feasibility of rolling out full-fibre broadband in to relatively-sparse rural areas including hamlets and villages. There is also the fact that if the established operators won’t answer a need, independent operators could end up satisfying that need.

What has happened today for Matthew Hare and Gigaclear could be a ray of encouragement for anyone wanting to provide fibre-to-the-premises broadband in a rural area.

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Symmetrical data transfer speeds to arrive at the cable modem

Article

Your Crappy Cable Upstream Speeds Could Soon Improve | Broadband News And DSL Reports

My Comments

There is a significant number of broadband Internet services around the world that still implement cable-modem technology that uses the coaxial cable rather than Ethernet or xDSL technology for the copper run.

But most of these setups are limited to an asymmetrical download-upload bandwidth even though newer DOCSIS 3.0 standards open up download speeds of 1Gbps. This has effectively ruled out cable-modem services for business applications including those of us who work from home.

CableLabs have cemented a new standard called Full Duplex DOCSIS 3.1 which allows for symmetrical bandwidths of up to 10Gbps. This can allow cable-TV companies and the like who implement coaxial-cable technology to sell business-grade cable-modem Internet using that technology. The idea will be to bake it in to the DOCSIS 3.1 specification suite which will be used to assess cable-modem endpoint equipment and cable-Internet services.

I would also see this benefit fibre-coaxial next-generation broadband setups by allowing for up to 10Gbps symmetrically and making them legitimate with a wide range of users. The main problem that will affect its deployment in the US cable marketplace is the notorious reticence for the cable companies to implement this technology or make it available for a price that is reasonable for residential and small-business users. This is a symptom of the poor level of competition that is existing in that marketplace.

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