Author: simonmackay

One of AVM’s FritzBoxes is a sign of what a modem router would be about

Article

AVM FritzBox 5530 Fiber FTTP fibre-optic router product image courtesy of AVM

AVM shows an example of what the home network router will be about with the FritzBox 5530 Fiber

Neue FritzBox: AVM bringt neuen Router in den Handel (New FritzBox: AVM brings new router to market) | Inside Digital (German language / Deutsche Sprache)

From the horse’s mouth

AVM

FritzBox 5530 Fiber (Product Page – English / Deutsch)

My Comments

AVM is offering to the German market a Wi-Fi router that is a sign of things to come for home-network routers.

This unit, known as the Fritz!Box 5530 Fiber has a built-in optical-network modem that works with current-specification fibre-to-the-premises networks. It doesn’t matter whether the network implements active or passive topology, which would cater for situations where the infrastructure provider or ISP upgrades the service to active technology for increased capacity.

The fibre-optic cable for the network would have to be equipped with SFP fibre-optic plugs which allow the user to plug it in to the FTTP service. Depending on the FTTP installation, this may be a captive fibre-optic flylead that you plug in to the modem or fibre-optic cable you plug in to the equipment and a wall socket.

Here, this kind of router would come in handy where fibre-to-the-premises services are able to be delivered on a “bring-your-own-equipment” basis. Here, this may be a self-install setup for those premises which have extant FTTP infrastructure for the network that provides the desired service. Or it could be for professionally-installed “new-infrastructure” services where the customer supplies their own equipment or the equipment is supplied under separate delivery.

It would also appeal to ISPs who want to provide a router with integrated optical-network-terminal functionality as their customer-premises equipment.

Connections on AVM FritzBox FF30 Fiber router image courtesy of AVM

On the left is the SFP fibre-optic connection for your FTTP fibre-optic Internet service while the Ethernet socket in the middle outlined in white is the 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet socket.

On the LAN side, there are three Ethernet connections with one being a 2.5 Gigabit connection for “multiple-Gigabit” Ethernet networks along with two Gigabit Ethernet connections. The Wi-Fi segment is a two-stream Wi-Fi 6 setup which allows for high-throughput wireless networking. Of course, these connections work at the stated speed if equipment matching these specifications is connected to them.

The Fritz!Box 5530 Fiber has VoIP adaptor functionality including a DECT base station for six handsets along with an analogue-telephony-adaptor for one regular telephony device, including a fax machine. This setup is SIP compliant for setup with most Fixed-Line IP services that are the way to provide landline telephony in the era of fibre-to-the-premises broadband.

It runs the AVM FritzOS operating system and like other Fritzbox devices, implements automatic software updating. There is support for the AVM FritzMesh arrangement that allows the use of AVM’s network-infrastructure hardware to become part of a wired and/or wireless mesh setup to assure proper network coverage across your home.

At the moment, the Fritz!Box 5530 Fiber sells to the German market for a recommended-retail price of EUR€169. But the fact that it provides a fibre-optic WAN and at least one multi-gigabit Ethernet LAN connection to answer the trend of high-throughput Internet and home-network connectivity.

This could become in the near future the path to go for home-network routers as fibre-to-the-premises Gigabit broadband Internet takes hold. It also underscores what is going on with the design of consumer IT hardware within Europe.

Send to Kindle

COVID-19 brings back interest in the regular computer

Articles

Lenovo Legion Slim 7i gaming laptop press image courtesy of Lenovo

The Lenovo Legion Slim 7i gaming laptop representing the kind of investment taking place for regular computers in this era

The PC is suddenly cool again … for now | CNBC

The pandemic has made it harder to buy a new laptop | The Verge

My Comments

Due to us having to stay home more due to the COVID-19 coronavirus plague, we have had to rely on online services for our work, education and social life.

What this has meant is a stronger interest in the use of desktop and laptop regular computers that have more powerful silicon and run desktop operating systems. These purchases are justified more due to increased usage of these systems and a longer lifespan that they typically have. Let’s not forget that these computers typically have or are able to be connected to larger screens and better input devices suited for long usage sessions.  As well, the money that people have saved by not going out or travelling is financing the purchase of these systems.

Short supply early in the pandemic

This high demand for newer computers has caused problems in the supply of these computers due to factories in China that supply parts or subassemblies for these systems shutting down during the first few months of this pandemic. Another factor that slowed down the supply of thee computers was the logistics associated with their parts being limited due to various restrictions on the transport modes and ports / airports to limit the spread of the virus. But once it became a known quantity and factories were able to adapt to the bug in a prophylactic manner, the backlog of computer orders was able to be fulfilled by the major vendors.

The steady rise of Chrome OS as a viable alternative

Google’s Chrome OS is coming to the fore in this context due to schools and workplaces implementing Chromebooks as a viable computing platform. This is due to it having a limited third-party software base, although it can run Android software, and its support for a secure computing environment. But even these machines are becoming more capable with them acquiring faster silicon and more memory.

But could this mean that more software providers, especially games studios, will have to write software for the Chromebook? Similarly will there be requirements to create software development environments that target many platforms including Chrome OS at once?

Laptops still hold their ground with ever-increasing computing power

There is a strong interest in the portable form factors like laptops because of their innate flexibility. As I have mentioned before when raising the issue of whether to buy a desktop or laptop computer in this era, this could suit household members who don’t have a dedicated workspace and end up using the dining table; people who prefer to use the computer to suit seasonal needs like outside or by the fire.

It is leading towards a significant trend for increased computing power in these computers, especially the ultraportable units like Ultrabooks or MacBook Air units. Around September, this meant the arrival of Intel’s Tiger Lake silicon with the Xe graphics infrastructure. Here the Xe integrated graphics processors were on a par with low-tier mobile dedicated graphics processors and could offer elementary games-grade graphics performance with a Full HD screen.

For example Intel have just premiered at CES 2021 the Tiger Lake H35 silicon which is their attempt to bring on gaming-grade performance to Ultrabooks. This is in addition to opening up Chrome OS to Tiger Lake performance silicon.

This has come about because the computer industry has found that over the past year that it is increasingly justifiable to invest in regular-computer platforms. That is thanks to these units being able to last and be relevant for the long term. It also has been underscored over the past ten years with laptops, all-in-ones and low-profile desktop computers being found to exhibit real computing power for primary workday use.

Continual post-pandemic interest in the regular computer

There is doubt whether the demand for regular computers will last long as more of us return to work or school. It may not be an issue for laptop users if your workplace or educational institution implements “bring-your-own-device” policies or they have bought the device for you to use during your tenure with them, and you are able to take your computer between there and back.

Similarly, some pundits may be seeing the increased and continual interest in remote working with this maintaining a need for the regular computer. This may be enforced by offices being required to work at reduced capacity to avoid the risk of contagion until we are sure this pandemic is totally under control. It is also along with businesses looking towards downsizing their office premises or moving away from inner-urban areas due to the reduced need for on-site staff.

Here, this could evolve towards the use of local “third places” like libraries and cafes as alternative workspaces with, perhaps, interest in local flexible shared-working facilities. Similarly, hotels are seeing renewed interest in offering their guestrooms for day use and pitching this towards remote workers. These will continue to exist as an alternative to working from home, especially where one wants to avoid home distractions.

This may be also augmented by a desire to “move away from the city” and only visit there for regular but infrequent workplace meetups, as those pundits in the real-estate game are underscoring. Here, you would have to have a decent Internet connection and a decent computer at your new country house to be able to work from there.

Conclusion

Again these will be about maintaining interest in the regular computer, especially laptop computers.

This is due to them being conducive for long working sessions thanks to properly-sized hardware keyboards and larger screens that these computers have. As well, most of these units will also appeal for use beyond work like playing powerful rich games, doing further learning or supporting entertainment needs.

Here, the laptop will maintain its space for those of us who like flexible working whether at or away from home.

Send to Kindle

How to adapt to multiple-screen computing

Desktop workspace with Dell XPS 13 laptop computer

The computing setup with multiple screens – now very ubiquitous

Computing setups that are equipped with two or more screens are becoming more ubiquitous due to the affordability of these setups. As well, it is becoming more acceptable in general business and personal computing to operate with multiple displays at your main workspace thanks to a range of productivity benefits.

You may find that there is a steep learning curve as you set up your workspace for multiple-screen computing. This is something that I am facing as I move from a traditional desktop computer centred around a traditional PC tower to a laptop computer that is connected to a dock and I want to keep the existing monitor going.

An example of this is when you move away from your desktop computer with the traditional single-monitor approach to a laptop-centred computing setup and retain your desktop computer’s monitor because it has plenty of mileage left in it. It can also happen if you are using an all-in-one desktop computer like the iMac that has an integrated display and you use a similarly-sized monitor to create a multiple-screen computing setup.

Those of you who use a traditional desktop computer may head towards multiple-screen computing if you decide to buy a new monitor and keep the existing monitor going. You will find out if this is feasible for most of these computers if there are two or more display outputs on your computer, especially its graphics card.

Praise and worship at church

Using a computer in conjunction with a projector to show material to a large audience like this church setting will have you working a multiple-screen setup due to the use of a smaller screen for control or cueing purposes

This can also happen when you are using a projector or large-screen TV as the “big screen” in your display setup, something that is commonly done for multimedia or games applications or to show content to large audiences.

Occasionally I have had to deal with multiple screen computing setups. This was either as part of helping some people out with their computing setups. Or it was to help a small church with their AV and IT needs which has been the basis of some articles I have published and targeted to that same audience.

Now, thanks to a computer upgrade towards a laptop, I have headed towards regular use of a multiple-screen setup by maintaining my existing monitor as a second screen for that setup. In this case, I use the larger-screen second monitor for working on documents in my primary laptop-centric workspace.

Why go multiple-screen for your computing needs

Most computer users who make heavy use of their productivity software will want to benefit from multiple screens. This is due to the effectively-large working area that these setups offer.

.. as will using your laptop with your TV to watch Netflix

For example, a person who is building a document or presentation from online research will be having multiple programs running so they can add content from the online research in to their “magnum opus” easily. Some of these users will even have multiple Web-browser sessions running concurrently along with the program they are using to build their content. Or a user could engage in a videoconference and look up relevant material or take notes on another screen during the call.

People who work with large spreadsheets will also benefit especially if the spreadsheet becomes wide. It also applies to those of us who use desktop publishing, illustration or photo-editing programs to lay out publications or create our computer-graphics masterpieces. You may come across an increasing range of monitors that can be switched between landscape and portrait orientation, which may allow you to adapt them to support a wide or tall project.

Those of us who make use of online news services will benefit from multiple-screen computing> This can be about being able to monitor a current event that appears on an online news service while engaging in another activity like creating that document, spreadsheet or presentation.

Multiple-screen setups also are about a larger screen that is used to show material to other people. This is very common with projector-based setups or where the large-screen TV set is used. Increasingly a lot of software focused to this kind of effort is being designed to take advantage of multiple displays.

This same application is being extended to videoconferencing setups like with Zoom’s Multiple Monitor setup. Here, that allows a “gallery” view to exist on one screen and the current speaker to appear on the other screen, and to allow shared resources to appear on the secondary screen. It also extends to those of us who use text-based “chat” or social-media platforms and want to follow them while doing other computing activities including browsing the Web.

Some games are even exploiting multiple-screen operation in order to provide multiple concurrent views of the same action. Or they even use this to effectively create larger and wider views of the action.

Typical configuration

Here, you are typically implementing the multiple-screen display setup in the “extend” operating mode. This has the screens set up as one large display area or “canvas” but most operating systems make one screen become the primary screen where programs appear by default when they are launched. Typically it is the screen that will be used during the boot process and will show the startup images like the interactive login screen or operating-system splash screen. If you use a laptop or all-in-one computer, the integrated screen will always be deemed the primary screen.

Even with projectors or TVs, you may have to implement “extend” behaviour and work your computer’s regular display as your primary display to allow some presentation, multimedia or games software to work properly with multiple screens. In the same context, some users may have the computer’s primary display working as a “content preview” screen and shift the content to the large screen when it is ready to show.

For laptop users, they may use the “external monitor only”” display option but run multiple external monitors, This would come in to play if you are connecting multiple monitors to an outboard dock of some sort.

Laptop users will also need to be used to switching frequently between single-screen and multiple-screen setups. This is due to themselves using the laptop’s screen as the only screen when they use it in a portable context away from their desktop workspace but work with multiple screens while at the desktop workspace. They will also have to cope with being able to “go multiscreen” at a moment’s notice if they choose to connect the computer to a large-screen projector or TV.

Your mouse pointer

Mouse Options in Windows Control Panel - Pointer Trails called out

Using “pointer trails” a.k.a. “comet tails on your mouse pointer can make it easier to discover across the multiple screens

The first issue you will face is locating your mouse pointer. In this situation, you need to know which screen it exists on at the current time, or whether you are moving from one screen to another. This can be very difficult with screens of different sizes like a setup involving your laptop screen and your large-screen monitor. It can also be difficult where you have two screens that are separated from each other including dealing with monitors that have large screen bezels.

These kind of options are introduced in to the main regular computing platforms as a measure to increase accessibility and useability of these platforms for those of us with limited abilities. This is due to these platforms being used by an ageing user base for both work and play along with younger people that have limited abilities wanting to he productive with these platforms.

One way is to enable “comet tails” on your mouse pointer. This has a decaying trail of the pointer arrow which will appear as you move your mouse pointer with your input device. Windows has this as part of its Mouse control options in the Control Panel. MacOS X requires you to use a third-party app to have this same functionality for locating the mouse pointer.  You may also find that adjusting how your mouse pointer looks such as its size or colour may help you with making it more discoverable for you.

Another technique that you will have to perform frequently is to bring up the secondary or context menu simply as a way to locate your mouse pointer. Here, the large area occupied by the context menu stands out more visibly than a small mouse arrow or I-cursor. People who use a pointing device that has a secondary button can use this button on all desktop operating systems. But Apple Mac users who use a pointing device without a secondary button, as what was part of the original Macintosh setup, can achieve this same function by holding down the Ctrl key on the keyboard and clicking their pointing device.

The two main desktop operating systems also have their own tricks to make the mouse pointer discoverable at a moment’s notice through a special mouse-action or keypress. Here, it can be useful for identifying where your mouse pointer is across that large area.

Mouse options in Windows Control Panel - option to highlight mouse pointer when you press CTRL

Windows users can set things up to quickly highlight where the mouse pointer is when they press the CTRL key

Apple Mac users can set their computer to quickly enlarge the mouse cursor when you move the mouse (or your finger on the MacBook’s trackpad) vigorously. Here, you click on the Apple menu, then click on System Preferences, then click on Accessibility then click on Display, You subsequently select Cursor and tick the “Shake mouse cursor to locate” option. Windows users have to go the the Mouse control options in the Control Panel and select “Show location of cursor when I press the CTRL key“. Here, when you press and release the CTRL key, a large circle appears then reduces in size around where the mouse cursor is.

Laptop users who run a multi-screen setup comprising of their laptop’s screen and the large monitor in an “extended” arrangement may find that the small screen could be kept for “parking” application user interfaces that they aren’t giving all their attention to. They then keep the large screen for the applications they are focusing on at the moment. An example of this could be a Web browser with a page they are reading or an office application with the document they are working on existing on the large screen. That is while an email client, messaging application or media player that only needs occasional attention could be visible just on the laptop’s smaller screen.

Moving apps between screens with the keyboard

People who are new to multiple-screen computing or switch between single-screen computing and multiple-screen computing will come across situations where the app they are using doesn’t appear on the screen they want to use. This may be of concern where a user starts a program they previously ran on a multiple-screen setup doesn’t appear on a single-screen setup due to the absence of the screen they were using. Or they want to quickly move an app to another screen.

This situation will come in to play for those of us with laptops who work only with the laptop screen while away from the main workspace. Here, you may find that a program you use on your external monitor isn’t visible on the laptop’s screen but appears on the Windows Taskbar or MacOS Dock as an app that is in use. This may happen where an app doesn’t adapt to different multiple-screen setups properly.

Here, software that adapts properly between single-screen and multiple-screen computing setups will, for example, move to the single screen in a single-screen setup if it was last operated on other monitors in a multiple-screen setup.

It also applies to those of us who are using a computer as part of an AV playout setup and have to move a program’s screen between the cue / monitoring screen and the main screen. That also extends to people using the big TV screen to view videos or pictures or play games on a laptop. It is more so with Web browsers or other programs that don’t handle multiple screens properly.

Windows simplifies the process of moving apps between screens with the keyboard. Here, Windows users need to Alt-Tab to the program you are trying to bring back in to view in order to give it logical focus. Then you use the Windows + Shift + left or right arrow keys to bring the program to the integrated screen.

Apple Mac users would then have to invoke Mission Control by pressing the F3 key. Then they would have to use the trackpad or other pointing device to move the program between screens. As far as I know, there isn’t an approach to using the keyboard to move an app or window between screens on the MacOS.

Screenshots

You may find that the procedure for taking full-screen screenshots may be very different here. In most cases, the operating system will encompass what is seen on both screens in a full-screen screenshot.

In the case of Windows, you may find that PrtScr may yield you something to large for your screenshot. Here, moving the cursor in to the screen where you want to take the screengrab then pressing CTRL+ALT+PrtScr would “grab” what is on that screen and store that to the Clipboard. If you want both screens, you would press CTRL+PrtScr. Then, you simply past that in to Windows Paint or your favourite image editor, redact it then save it as a file. Other operating systems will use a similar means to take screenshots of a particular screen in a multiple-screen shot.

But mostly you will have to resort to window-specific screenshot commands like Alt+PrtScr for Windows or Cmd+Shift+4 then Spacebar for MacOS to grab screenshots of the relevant windows.

Conclusion

As you head towards multiple-screen computing, take your time to get used to it. Here, it is about moving an application window between the different screens or working out how to quickly locate that mouse pointer.

Send to Kindle

A Sharp Alexa-enabled microwave could be about task-driven cooking

Article

Sharp Smart Countertop Microwave Oven press picture courtesy of Sharp USA

Sharp’s first smart countertop microwave oven features Wi-Fi connectivity and certified Works with Alexa compatibility for hands-free operation using voice commands.

Sharp’s New Alexa-Powered Microwave Is Even More Confusing Than Amazon’s | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Sharp USA

Sharp Launches its First Smart Countertop Microwave Ovens (Press Release)

My Comments

Most of us who use a microwave oven tend to specify cooking times and power intensities for each cooking job. This is even though most of today’s microwave ovens use job-specific cooking functions that are available to us. But some of us may decide to use a “popcorn” cooking function to cook most microwave popcorn.

These functions can confuse most of us due to different approaches to invoking them that exist between different makes and models of microwave oven.  As well, other differences that will crop up include how long these tasks are expected to take. It is also analagous to working from any recipes that are part of your microwave oven’s documentation, because these may not work out correctly if you end up using a different appliance.

Here, this issue will be considered important as more of us place value on the microwave as a cooking option for something like, perhaps, those green vegetables. It can also bamboozle anyone who uses traditional cooking techniques like the conventional oven but finds themselves in a situation where they have to primarily rely on the microwave oven for cooking needs like when they stay in a serviced apartment or AirBnB.

Amazon had released to the US market the AmazonBasics microwave that works with their Alexa voice-assistant ecosystem. But this is seen as an elementary appliance, answering most common cooking tasks. Sharp has now come to the fore with two of their microwaves that are released to the US market.

Here, the difference is to use Alexa as a gateway to the advanced cooking tasks that these microwaves offer. The press release talked of us saying to an Amazon Echo device “Alexa, defrost 2 pounds of meat” and the microwave will be set up to thaw out two pounds of frozen meat. The larger model of the two will have the ability for you to ask Alexa to set the microwave up for something like cooking broccoli or other veggies.

I see this as being about using voice assistant platforms to open up a common user interface for the advanced microwave-cooking tasks that your microwave would offer. But for this to work effectively, the user needs to know what the expected cooking time would be for the task and when they need to intervene during the cooking cycle.

As well, more of the voice assistant platforms need to come on board for this approach to advanced microwave cookery. Let’s not forget that the display-based voice assistants can even come in to their own in this use case such as to list ingredients and preparation steps for what you intend to cook.

Here, the voice assistants will become a way to lead users to use the microwave beyond reheating food, melting butter and chocolate or cooking microwave popcorn/

Send to Kindle

Is fixed-line broadband still relevant in the era of 5G wireless?

Articles

Gigaclear fibre-optic cable - picture courtesy of Gigaclear

A fixed-line connection like this Gigaclear fibre-to-the-premises setup ….

Will 5G kill off home broadband as we know it? | TechRadar

5G vs Fiber: Will 5G make fiber obsolete? | NetMotion Software

My Comments

This year will see a question about whether Gigabit or faster fixed-line broadband Internet services will be relevant in the face of 5G cellular wireless broadband services.

5G wireless broadband will have a theoretical maximum bandwidth of 10-50Gbps and an average bandwidth of between 100Mbps to 200Mbps. This average speed will start to increase as it becomes less dependent on 4G wireless broadband technology. But these figures are affected by the kind of reception your 5G endpoint device is getting from the service.

Cellular antenna in street

… or 5G wireless cellular broadband (whether fixed-wireless or mobile broadband) – what is relevant?

This typically is delivered in the form of mobile broadband services that are used with smartphones, tablets and other portable devices. But it is also being delivered as a “fixed-wireless” broadband service where the customer connects a more-powerful 5G modem to their home network. Optus is providing this kind of service offering to declare independence from Australia’s NBN service but it is offered in areas where it isn’t technically feasible or too costly to deploy fixed broadband service.

Current-generation fixed-line broadband services are capable of at least 1Gbps upload/download n the case of fibre-to-the-premises services. The ideal setup or “gold standard” for this kind of service is fibre-to-the-premises but various fibre-copper setups are being used that can deliver close to this speed. These are based on DOCSIS 3.x cable-modem technology, RJ45 Ethernet cable technology or G.Fast DSL-based telephone-cable technology with the copper run covering a small neighbourhood or a multi-tenant development.

The 5G technology would be cheap to establish but costly to maintain and upgrade. This is compared to fixed-line broadband technology that would be expensive to establish but cheap to maintain and upgrade. In most cases, an upgrade would be about new equipment in the racks at the headends at least. Or a fibre-copper service may be upgraded through a change of topology towards a full-fibre (fibre-to-the-premises) setup.

Typically, fixed-line broadband would be the preferred solution for those of us living in larger built-up communities. It is although there are efforts like B4RN who are pushing fibre-to-the-premises fixed-line broadband in to rural areas within the UK. Sparser areas may prefer to implement 5G wireless-broadband technology with a few large low-frequency 5G cells covering those areas.

Both technologies can complement and serve each other in various ways.

Since 5G technology is based on a cellular-wireless approach, each base station needs to link to a backhaul to pass the data to each other and to other communications devices connected to wired infrastructure around the world. As well, the 5G wireless technology operates at radio frequencies up to 6GHz thus requiring many smaller “cells” (base stations for a cellular-wireless network) to cover a populous area. Even the use of many of the very small cells like picocells or femtocells to cover buildings or shopping strips would require the use of a backhaul.

In this case, fixed-line broadband networks especially fibre-optic networks can be used to provide this backhaul.

Increasingly, Wi-Fi network segments connected to fixed-line broadband setups are being considered as a complementary wireless-network solution. This may be about providing load-balancing for the 5G-based cellular service, even as a failover mechanism should the user not experience ideal reception conditions or the network underperforms. The classic example here would be indoor settings where building materials and the like obstruct 5G cellular coverage using the typical smartphone’s own antenna.

On the other hand, the 5G technology will maintain its keep for mobile / portable use cases while fixed-line broadband networks will serve in-building network use cases. 5G will also satisfy those use cases where it is technically unfeasible or cost-prohibitive to deploy a fixed-line broadband network.

For that matter, the mobile / portable use cases are what the technologists are banking on for 5G wireless-network technology. Here, they are envisaging the likes of self-driving vehicles, drones and the like depending on this technology for communication with each other. This is along with it being as a data backbone for the “smart city” that is driven by the “Internet of Everything”, facilitating improvements for things like service delivery, public safety / security, transport, energy efficiency and the like.

But 5G and fixed-line broadband, especially fibre-to-the-premises broadband, will exist on a “horses for courses” approach. Here, one technology may be about data reliability and infrastructure upgradeability or the other may be about mobile / portable or transient use.

Send to Kindle

How about having an up-to-date recovery image on your computer

Dell XPS 13 press picture courtesy of Dell Australia

You need to have access to the latest data representing your computer’s operating system, device drivers and allied software from its manufacturer as a recovery image to simplify any repair / restore efforts or to get your “new toy” up and running as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Recent computers that run MacOS or Windows now come with a partition on their hard disk or SSD that has a copy of the operating system and other software they come with the computer “out of the box”. Or there is the ability to download a recovery image for your computer from the manufacturer’s Website using a manufacturer-supplied app.

It is in lieu of the previous method of delivering an optical disc with the computer that has the operating system and other manufacturer0-supplied software thanks to newer computers not being equipped with optical drives.

Here, this recovery data comes in to play if the operating system fails and you have to reinstate it from a known good copy. An example of this could be the computer being taken over by malware or you need to get it back to “ground zero” before relinquishing it. Or the system disk (hard disk or SSD) fails and you have to put the operating system on a new system disk as part of reconstructing your computing environment.

But Microsoft, Apple and the hardware manufacturers associated with your computer’s internal peripherals update their software regularly as part of their software quality control. There are often the feature updates that add functionality or implement newer device-class drivers that are part of an operating system’s lifecycle.

What typically happens is this recovery image represents the software that came with your computer when it left the factory. It doesn’t include all the newer updates and revisions that took place. Here, if you have had to restore the operating system from that recovery image, you will then have to download the updates from your computer’s manufacturer, the operating system vendor or other software developers to have your computer up-to-date.

The firmware / BIOS updates may not matter due to them being delivered as a “download-to-install” package. This means that when these packages are run, they verify and shift the necessary firmware code to the BIOS / UEFI subsystem for the computer or the firmware subsystems for peripherals supported by the computer’s manufacturer, then subsequently commence and install the installation process.

Questions that can be raised include whether the factory-supplied data should be maintained as the definitive “reference data” for your system. Or whether the computer manufacturer is to provide a means to keep the software up-to-date with the latest versions for your computer.

This will be an issue with manufacturers who prefer to customise the software drivers that run hardware associated with their computer products while end-users prefer to run the latest software drivers offered by the hardware’s manufacturer. This is typically due to the hardware manufacturer’s code being updated more frequently and is of concern with display chipsets like Intel’s integrated-graphics chipsets.

Similarly there is the issue that people are likely to change the software edition that comes with their computer like upgrading to a “Pro” edition of the Windows operating system when the computer came with the Home edition.

An approach that a manufacturer can take over a computer system’s lifetime is to revise the definitive “reference data” set for that system. This could be undertaken when the operating system undergoes a major revision like a feature update. This can be about taking stock of the device drivers and updating them to newer stable code as part of offering the latest “reference data” set.

That allows a user who is doing an operating-system recovery doesn’t need to hunt for and download updates as part of this process if they want the computer running the latest code.

This kind of approach can also come in to its own during the time that the computer system is on the market. It means that during subsequent years, newer computer units receive the latest software updates before they leave the factory. This is so that the computer’s end-user or corporate IT department don’t have to download the latest versions of the operating system, device drivers and other software as part of commissioning their new computer system.

The idea of computer manufacturers keeping their products’ software-recovery data current will benefit all of us whether we are buying that new computer and want to get that “new toy” running or need to reinstate the operating software in our computers due to hardware or software failures.

Send to Kindle

The traditional landline telephone is still trying to be relevant

Article

Using the common household phone

It will be hard for the traditional voice telephone service to die out due to it evolving

Market Snapshot: Voice as a Lifeline and the Transformation of Home Telephony | Parks Associates (name and address required to download)

My Comments

It will be hard for the traditional landline telephone service to disappear from our lives altogether. This is even though an increasing number of households are using mobile phones for their voice communications. The Parks Associates report was written with the past year in mind thanks to the COVID-19 coronavirus plague having most of us around the world housebound.

At the moment, most telcos and ISPs are offering the traditional landline telephone service as part of one or more multiple-play telecommunications packages. These packages encompass a combination of services including:

  • landline telephone service,
  • fixed broadband Internet,
  • multichannel pay TV,
  • mobile telephone service
  • mobile broadband Internet

Often the landline telephony service is anchored to a “cheap-to-call-the-nation” tariff plan where you can make many calls and talk for a long time on these calls per month to home and business telephone numbers within your country. A lot of these plans even offer unlimited phone calls to regular home and business numbers at least for the cost of the subscription fee.

There are also some of these plans offering the ability to call mobile phones based within your country for dirt cheap prices or as unlimited-calling destinations. The plans will even have international calling packages that make it cheap to call the world, especially landlines and, perhaps, mobile numbers in the popular countries, from your landline service.

How is the landline telephone service now delivered?

Increasingly such services are being delivered as a hybrid VoIP service rather than the traditional circuit-switched voice telephony service associated with the Plain Old Telephone Service.

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

An increasing number of routers offered by telcos and ISPs support Fixed Line IP out of the box, serving as a VoIP DECT base station and / or VoIP analogue-telephone adaptor

The first method, typically used with packet-only network transports like DOCSIS-based cable modems, fibre-to-the-premises fibre optic, fibre-to-the-building fibre-optic with Ethernet cabling to the premises, fixed-wireless or even naked/dry-loop DSL is known as Fixed Line IP. Here you have a traditional telephone connected to an analogue-telephony-adaptor, a DECT-based cordless telephone using an IP-driven DECT base station or a dedicated VoIP telephone connected to your home network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet. The analogue-telephony adaptor and/or IP-based DECT base station will be likely to be integrated in your home network router especially if it comes from your telco or ISP.

This setup may also include the use of a “softphone” app that runs on your regular computer or smartphone. Here, this software emulates an IP-based fixed-line telephone on one of these computing devices so you can take calls from your fixed-line service with your smartphone, tablet or laptop computer. Such apps are used with business telephony setups but are being considered of value for small-business and residential telephony services provided using Fixed Line IP.

Infact the Fixed Line IP service is now considered the way to deliver traditional voice telephony due to it being media-agnostic. As well, it plays in to telecommunications platforms where infrastructure and service are provided by different entities like what we are seeing with the UK’s Openreach, Australia’s NBN and New Zealand’s Chorus; along with the rise of independent infrastructure providers providing competitive wholesale telecommunications service.

 

Android main interactive lock screen

Newer smartphones are offering Wi-Fi calling, delivering cellular mobile telephony via any Wi-Fi network you are connected to with them

The other method is to use Wi-Fi Calling where a cellular telephony service is provided by Wi-Fi through your home or other network. This is equivalent to a traditional cellular telephony service with your mobile number ringing on your Wi-Fi-Calling enabled smartphone no matter whether it is connected via Wi-Fi or the mobile network. Recent iterations of iOS and Android provide native support for Wi-Fi calling.

Use cases

The landline telephone service and voice telephony in general is being used as a way to keep in touch with family and friends and to avoid social isolation. This especially appeals to communities whose constituents haven’t adapted to mobile telephone or online services, something that is typical of some religious communities and schools.

Working or running a business from home can also appeal to some users as a reason to maintain a traditional fixed telephony service. This may be in conjunction to maintaining a mobile telephony service that is kept for calling while away from home. As well, most tax codes will accept the establishment and maintenance of telecommunications services associated with working or running a business as legitimately-deductable business expenses.

Voice telephony is being seen as a key modality for providing any sort of telehealth services. This reduces frustration associated with establishing and running a videocall. It is also more familiar for people who need medical help.

Older people are the key user groups who value the traditional fixed telephone, Here, it is a very familiar service for them as these services became ubiquitous in everyone’s homes since the end of World War II. As well, the landline telephone service is considered by the national emergency numbers like 911 in the USA, 999 in the UK or 000 in Australia as a sure-fire link to emergency help through these numbers. This is typically due to setups like mapping landline numbers that call emergency numbers to physical addresses.

Increasingly the concept of unified communication services is being exposed to small business and home users with all the features associated with big-business telephony. This has been a trend with the history of telecommunications evolved from business use to home use as associated products and services became cheaper to buy and operate. The provision of unified communication services to this user class is being maintained as part of differentiating residential and small-business telecommunications packages in a highly competitive market.

As well, the traditional landline service is still seen as a lifeline. This is more so with elderly people, rural residents and low-income households due to it being part of the universal telephone service.

Why is the landline still relevant?

The landline telephone service is still seen as relevant due to a significant installed user base. As I have said before this is facilitated with service upgrades that are part of multi-play service packages.

There is a familiarity associated with using a landline telephone service especially for people who have grown up with this kind of telephone service. Here, it underscores a simple user experience whether making or taking phone calls.

The landline telephone service is still affordable to use which appeals to low-income communities. This is due to it being part of the standard definition of a universal telephone service and the fact that it is also offered as a very cheap service as part of the multiple-play service packages.

Where a traditional wired telephone is used as part of this service, a landline telephone service’s quality-of-service is independent of your building’s structure. Here, you are not finding that double-brick, sandstone or cinder block walls are interfering with your phone service’s reception. It also yields consistent voice quality which isn’t dependent on wireless signals.

The landline phone service can effectively serve in a load-balancing capacity for voice traffic where it is used alongside mobile telephony services. Typically this would be achieved by a person ringing someone’s landline phone number when their attempt to ring someone’s mobile number fails to an “out-of-range” or “busy” condition. This may he due to situations like a dead battery in the user’s mobile phone.

It is still preferred to deliver life-critical communications services through the landline telephone service due to it being related to physical addresses. Fixed-line IP services and cordless telephones will face trouble with devices that are dependent on continual power supply available at the customer’s premises.

The future of the traditional landline telephone service

A direction that will come about for the traditional landline phone service is to move towards device-agnostic phone services and the popularisation of big-business-style telephony services in the home and small business. What I mean is that it doesn’t matter whether the endpoint device for these services is a phone associated with a fixed-line telephony service or a mobile phone associated with a cellular telephony service. This will be due to varying factors like people working or running businesses and organisations from home; independently-managed phone services, and the like.

It will also include the ability for a user to maintain different telephone numbers for different purposes with each number ringing on whatever devices the user chooses to have them ring on with a distinct ringtone or ring cadence and in a chosen order. It is rather than having a phone number for a class of phone service ringing on a particular endpoint device. The classic setup example would be to keep a public-facing “business” phone number and a separate “personal” number given out only to family and friends.

The setups could allow a number to simultaneously ring on selected devices like a cordless phone and a mobile phone, or have a number ring on one device first for a certain amount of time then another device until the call is picked up. Other business features that will appear include the ability to move a call between devices whether they be fixed-line or mobile or answer a ringing phone using another device.

There will even be enhanced call filtering features to deal with robocalls, telephone sales calls and the like. This may include abilities to shoehorn the filtering process to suit a particular user’s needs.

But the future for voice telephony would be about having multiple phone services delivered via a single physical link with the feasibility to have multiple calls taking place over the same link.

As well, the increased bandwidth will allow for voice quality to be as good as AM radio, if not as good as FM radio or better. This will be a feature that benefits people who have, for example, difficult-to-understand accents.

Let’s not forget that for residential and small-business users voice telephony, whether on a fixed device or a mobile device, will be part of a personalised unified or converged telecommunications service that also encompasses text-based chat, video telephony, user presence notification and similar features.

What needs to happen further for “fixed-line IP” services offered by ISPs is to support the ability for residential and small business customers to set up and configure their own VoIP telecommunications equipment with these services. This can be facilitated through simplified equipment-configuration protocols for these services.

There also has to be a simple yet secure configuration approach for these phone services so that users can set them up to suit their needs exactly and be sure the setup is kept secure.

But at least the traditional landline telephone service is still maintaining some relevance in this day and age. This is even though it is packaged in a new way such as with a multiple-play broadband package or as an IP-based pre-packaged voice-telephony service. As well, these voice-telephony services will be delivered in a manner that is independent of whether the endpoint device is installed at your premises or something you take around town.

Send to Kindle

Building out a desktop workspace for your laptop computer

Desktop workspace with Dell XPS 13 laptop computer

The laptop-centric desktop workspace

Increasingly, a significant number of laptop-computer users set up a desktop-based workspace to use their computer at. With this arrangement, they equip the workspace with a full-sized keyboard and mouse alongside a large screen, with the computing power taking place inside the portable computer.

Why a desktop workspace for your laptop computer

The establishment of a desktop workspace for your portable computer is primarily about creating an ergonomic environment with full-sized input devices and larger screens that can stand long work sessions.

Some users may find this more important with ultraportable computers that use a smaller keyboard or omit things like numeric keypads. Similarly, you may find that a full-sized mouse may have work better for you than just relying on the computer’s trackpad.

Increasingly this arrangement appeals to the idea of running two screens thus creating a larger visual workspace. In most cases, this can be achieved through the use of a desktop monitor along with the laptop’s own display with them both set up to be a single display.

J Burrows lap desk used with a laptop computer on a couch - product image courtesy of Officeworks Australia

The laptop still is portable for use in the lounge during winter

Here you don’t lose the flexibility associated with using a laptop computer thanks to its portability. For example, your computing arrangements can suit the seasons at home if you have a good outdoor space that you use when it’s warm or you have a solid-fuel fire or a heater which conveys the look of a fire that you use when it’s cold. Or you can use a café or similar location as your “secondary office” when you want to work away from distraction. But you then are able to head back to your primary workspace where you want to benefit from what it offers.

Where is it relevant

A fully-equipped desktop workspace for your laptop computer is relevant to one or more areas you place a significant amount of your working time at. For a work-home laptop, this could be at your desk at the office you work at as well as your home office if you maintain this space. It will also have a strong appeal to those of us who run small businesses or community organisations with a physical shopfront but do a significant amount of the “homework” associated with running the organisation at home.

It also appeals to the “hot-desk” concept where different users end up using the same workspace but want to bring their computer, therefore their data, to that workspace. This is a significant trend that is being encouraged in new-style workplaces who are moving towards practices like telecommuting. But it also appeals to situations where, for example, members of your family want to use a fully-equipped workspace to do a significant project.

Secondary workspaces

Similarly you can create multiple desktop workspaces with this kind of setup at different locations. I mentioned this earlier in the context of a “work-home” laptop taken between your workplace / business premises and your home.

But this can also extend to a secondary residence like a holiday or seasonal home, whereupon you can establish a similar desktop workspace to use with your laptop computer at that location. Or this could be about a similar workspace set up in a study for your older children to use while completing their assignments and projects on their laptops.

Here, you may end up “pushing down” older equipment that has mileage left in it to this secondary workspace as you buy newer better equipment for your primary workspace. Examples of this would be to upgrade to a more capable USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 dock or a better monitor while your existing USB-C dock or monitor ends up at the secondary residence.

The equipment

Most of the equipment will be similar to what you would equip a standard desktop computer with but you may have to be particular about the connectivity issue concerning your laptop computer.

Input devices

Full size mice can earn their keep here at your primary workspace

You will need to equip your desktop workspace with a full-sized keyboard and a full-sized mouse or other input device. Here, make sure you choose the keyboard or input device you are comfortable with. Be aware that if you find that the travel-sized mouse can suit your needs equally for continual use as a full-size mouse, so be it.

These can be either wired or wireless with the former requiring a USB Type-A port on the computer for each wired device. Or the latter can be wireless, either using a transceiver dongle that plugs in to the computer’s USB Type-A port or Bluetooth which uses the laptop’s Bluetooth interface.

Some of the wireless “desktop sets” which consist of a keyboard and mouse in one package may allow one transceiver dongle to work with both the keyboard and mouse. But with Bluetooth you don’t need to deal with transceiver dongles because you are using the computer’s Bluetooth interface.

Screens

LG's 32" 4K monitor with HDR10 - press picture courtesy of LG USA

LG’s 32″ 4K monitor with HDR10 – larger monitors like these are relevant for the desktop workspace

If you have a 2-in-1, especially of the convertible type, you may find that having it set up in the “viewer” or “tent” mode will allow you to have a screen without its keyboard or trackpad being active. You may have to make sure Windows 10 is operating in “desktop” mode if you are using the external keyboard and input device.

As well, a good-quality display monitor with the screen size you are comfortable with and resolution that suits your needs can work well as your main or secondary display. The secondary display can come in to its own by providing an increased screen size and you may find that you have to use a laptop stand or bracket that suits your computer in order to prop your computer up to screen level.

If the monitor has its own speakers and connects to the setup via HDMI or DisplayPort including USB-C DisplayPort alt, you will need to have the default sound device being the laptop’s graphics-infrastructure display-audio device. Preferably in this case, the monitor should have an external audio output if you want to use headphones or a better sound setup with it.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU - presentation mode

Having a 2-in-1 like this Dell Inspiron set up in viewer mode like this and using it with a keyboard and mouse may be a starting point for an enhanced workspace

Most operating systems will have the ability to have the screens work as either a copy of each other or as though they are one large display. It is in addition to setting up your computer to only use the external monitor as its display rather than its internal one. In this case, you may want to have the screens work as one large display if you value the increased desktop real estate or simply use your large monitor as your working display at your main workspace.

You can even go about having both screens as one large display but use the laptop’s built-in screen to “park aside” windows that you aren’t working with while  you have the larger screen for what you are currently focusing on. That would be effective for those of us who use a 12”-14″ ultraportable as part of this setup.

Sound

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar speaker

This Creative Labs Stage Air soundbar and similar desktop speakers could provide the sound for your desktop workspace

This can be satisfied through the use of desktop speakers, including a desktop soundbar like what Creative Labs offers. Or that old amplifier or receiver connected to a pair of bookshelf speakers can do the trick. In the same way, that 1980s-era “ghetto blaster” that has a selectable line input can answer the same need.

The speakers or amplifier can be connected to your laptop’s or monitor’s headphone or line-out jack or you may want to use an outboard sound module for this purpose. You may find that that the dock you use to provide one-cable connectivity to your laptop will have a built-in sound module that has very similar functionality to a USB sound module.

But the standalone sound modules are more likely to have better audio connectivity or audio reproduction electronics. Here, this may be of benefit for those of you who have a  home-office “den” that is equipped with high-quality audio equipment or you are using turntables or tape decks to salvage legacy media to digital form.

Such a setup may work well if you want better sound at your primary workspace and don’t want to rely on the laptop’s tinny built-in loudspeakers there. This would be important if you listen to music, watch videos or play games using that workspace.

Storage

USB portable hard disk

These portable USB hard disks are seen as a way to expand storage capacity for your workspace

You can also get by with using a USB hard disk or solid-state-storage device not just as a data-backup device but to offload data that you won’t be needing to keep on your laptop’s own storage subsystem. This will be of importance with those computers that use a small SSD as their onboard storage.  On the other hand, a network-attached storage could serve the same purpose as a data-backup or offload storage device. This is more important if you want to keep multimedia data available to your home network.

If you deal with optical disks like DVDs or Blu-Rays, you may find that a USB optical drive compatible with the disks you deal with may work well for this setup. This is more so if you are using the disks primarily at your desk, perhaps primarily to archive data; or simply want to play CDs, DVDs or Blu-Rays through your computer including ripping them to the computer’s storage subsystem. The same goes for other legacy removeable media like floppy disks or ZIP disks whereupon you use USB-connected drives for gaining access to data stored there.

Pioneer USB Blu-Ray optical drive

A USB optical drive can come in handy here if you use CDs, DVDs or similar discs at all.

Some of you may find that keeping a highly-portable USB hard-disk / SSD and/or optical drive may answer your needs if you are intending to use them on the road. This may be about moving photos you take with your camera off your laptop or watching a DVD or Blu-Ray during the long-haul flight. In the case of secondary residences or similar premises, you may prefer to take the highly-portable USB storage device with you when you leave so your backup or offload data stored there is safe with you.

Network connectivity

You may find that if you have an Ethernet connection near your workspace, you may want to connect your laptop to the network and Internet via Ethernet rather than Wi-Fi wireless. In most cases, this will allow high-throughput low-latency network and Internet connection and you may come across this if you have located your router in that workspace, wired your home for Ethernet or your business has wired Ethernet infrastructure.

This situation is answered through the use of a USB-based Ethernet network adaptor that plugs in to your computer’s Ethernet ports. But a lot of well-bred USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 docks have this function built in to them. Let’s not forget that you may find that your laptop has its own Ethernet port especially if it is a mainstream business or gaming unit.

Connecting many devices

The question that will come up frequently is how do I connect the many devices to my computer especially if it has fewer ports. Usually this would be about connecting and disconnecting many cables as you bring your computer to this workspace

Hubs and docks

To simplify this process, you may find that a USB hub or dock (expansion module) may come in to its own here.

Belkin USB hub

A typical USB hub

A hub will have a number of USB ports for use with USB peripherals while a dock will have a range of different connections and interface circuitry for different devices. You may find that your monitor may have some of this functionality built in to it and this can be a real boon because you don’t have to deal with a separate box. It will be more so if you are dealing with a USB-C monitor.

Here, you connect all of your peripherals that would be normally connected to your computer to this device. Then you have a cable that connects the hub or dock to your computer to expose all those peripherals to it and its operating system. Previously these used a USB 3 Type-A connector but most of them now use a USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 connector due to the high data throughput and, in some cases, power-supply functionality that they offer.

Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt dock

A USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 dock like this Dell WD19TB dock is relevant for this kind of workspace

If your computer supports USB Type C or Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, these devices come in to their own with a DisplayPort “pass-through” monitor connection. In a significant number of cases, you will find that the hub or dock comes with a power supply and works to USB Power Delivery specifications. This will mean that you will be able to keep your laptop’s power supply in your laptop bag rather than always bringing it out when you want to work at home. With the power capacity, I would look for something that is at least 45 watts in order to cover most computers’ needs.

On the other hand, if your computer doesn’t have a USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 connection, you will have to connect your external monitor directly to the computer’s display socket. Some of the USB 3.0 docks will have a display connection of some sort and this will be facilitated through the DisplayLink standard which “pipes” the video output from your computer’s graphics infrastructure via the USB 3.0 output to the display connection. This setup may appeal for a secondary-display application where display latency isn’t an issue.

The rule with these devices is to make sure you are purchasing one that suits your current needs. As well, if you do choose to upgrade an existing hub or dock  you can “push” your existing hub or dock in to service for another workspace that you use less regularly. Or if the hub or dock is small and light enough, it could be something you could stuff in your laptop bag to connect up other peripherals when on the road.

Accessories

Some of you may use a laptop stand or bracket as part of your desktop workspace. Here, your computer will either clip in to the bracket or rest on this stand, typically to have the laptop’s display at the same height as your main computer monitor.

Here, make sure that the laptop stand or bracket is sturdy and can continue to do its job for a long time. It is also worth making sure that the stand is adjustable so that the top of the computer’s screen is at the same height as the top of the monitor’s screen.

Moving from desktop to laptop?

Some of you may be building out that desktop workspace for your laptop computer as part of moving from desktop to laptop computing.

Here, you can retain most, if not all of your desktop computer’s peripherals and connect them to your new laptop computer, whether directly or via a hub or dock. As well, an independent computer store or electronics store may offer self-powered USB disk-drive enclosures that fit most standard-sized internal-mount hard disks or optical drives used in desktop computers. This will mean that you can move hard drives, SSDs or optical drives out of you desktop computer’s case to these enclosures so you can continue using them, something that can be done with a screwdriver.

Lenovo even had this idea in mind with their BoostStation external graphics module which connects to the host computer via Thunderbolt 3. Here, this unit didn’t just have room for a graphics card but also had the ability for you to install a hard disk or SSD like the one you have removed from your old desktop computer.

Similarly, you will have to remove the hard disks or solid-state storage device that are in your desktop computer from that computer before you send it off for e-waste recycling. This is to preserve your privacy and the confidentiality of your data. Again, if you needed to, that computer store may have a USB disk-drive enclosure or a USB hard-disk docking station so you can get at any of your data on the hard disk or SSD.

This approach is worth taking if you find that your desktop setup’s peripherals have a significant amount of mileage left in them or you use certain peripherals that fit your needs exactly.

Conclusion

Once you build out one or more desktop workspaces for your laptop computer, you are then able to have the best of both worlds – comfortable ergonomic computing at your desk and portable computing with your laptop.

Send to Kindle

Chapter marking within podcasts

Android main interactive lock screen

Smartphones are facilitating our listenership to podcasts

As we listen to more spoken-word audio content in the form of podcasts and the like, we may want to see this kind of audio content easily delineated in a logical manner. For that matter, such content is being listened to as we drive or walk thanks to the existence of car and personal audio equipment including, nowadays, the “do-it-all” smartphones being connected to headphones or car stereos.

This may be to return to the start of a segment if we were interrupted so we really know where we are contextually. Or it could be to go to a particular “article” in a magazine-style podcast if we are after just that article.

Prior attempts to delineate spoken-word content

In-band cue marking on cassette

Some people who distributed cassette-based magazine-style audio content, typically to vision-impaired people, used mixed-in audio marking recorded at high speed to allow a user to find articles on a tape.

This worked with tape players equipped with cue and review functionality, something that was inconsistently available. Such functionality, typically activated when you held down the fast-forward or rewind buttons while the tape player was in play mode, allowed the tape to be ran forward or backward at high speed while you were able to hear what’s recorded but in a high-pitch warbling tone.

With this indexing approach, you would hear a reference tone that delineated the start of the segment in either direction. But if you used the “cue” button to seek through the tape, you would also hear an intelligible phrase that identified the segment so you knew where you were.

Here, this function was dependent on whether the tape player had cue and review operation and required the user to hold down the fast-wind buttons for it to be effective. This ruled out use within car-audio setups that required the use of locking fast-wind controls for safe operation.

Index Marking on CDs

The original CD Audio standard had inherent support for index marking that was subordinate to the track markers typically used to delineate the different songs or pieces. This was to delineate segments within a track such as variations within a classical piece.

Most 1980s-era CD players of the type that connected to your hi-fi system supported this functionality. This was more so with premium-level models and how they treated this function was markedly different. The most basic implementation of this feature was to show the index number on the display after the track number. CD players with eight-digit displays showed the index number as a smaller-sized number after the track number while those with a four or six-digit display had you press the display button to show the track number and index number.

Better implementations had the ability to step between the index marks with this capability typically represented by an extra pair of buttons on the player’s control surface labelled “INDEX”. Some more sophisticated CD players even had direct access to particular index numbers within a track or could allow you to program an index number within a track as part of a user-programmed playlist.

As well, some CDs, usually classical-music discs which feature long instrumental works that are best directly referenced at significant points made use of this feature. Support for this feature died out by the 1990s with this feature focused on marking the proper start of a song. It was considered of importance with live recordings or concept albums where a song or instrumental piece would segue in to another one. This was of importance for the proper implementation of repeat, random (shuffle) play or programmed-play modes so that the song or piece comes in at the proper start.

There was an interest in spoken-word material on CD through the late 1990s with the increase in the number of car CD players installed in cars. This was typically in the form of popular audiobooks or foreign-language courseware and car trips were considered a favourite location for listening to such content. But these spoken-word CDs were limited to using tracks to delineate chapters in a book or lessons within a foreign-language course.

But CD-R with the ability to support on-site short-run replication of limited-appeal content opened the door for content like religious sermons or talks to appear on the CD format. This technology effectively “missed the boat” when it came to support for index marking and most CD-burning software didn’t allow you to place index marks within a track.

The podcast revolution

File-based digital audio and the Internet opened the door to regularly-delivered spoken-word audio content in the form of podcasts. These are effectively a radio show that is in an audio file available to download. They even use RSS Webfeeds to allow listeners to follow podcasts for newer episodes.

Here, podcast-management or media-management software automatically downloads or enqueues podcast episodes for subsequent listening, marking what is listened to as “listened”. Some NAS-based DLNA servers can be set up to follow podcasts and download them to the NAS hard disk as new content, creating a UPnP-AV/DLNA content tree out of these podcasts available to any DLNA-compliant media playback device.

The podcast has gained a strong appeal with small-time content creators who want to create what is effectively their own radio shows without being encumbered by the rules and regulations of broadcasting or having to see radio stations as content gatekeepers.

The podcast has also appealed to radio stations in two different ways. Firstly, it has allowed the station’s talent to have their spoken-word content they broadcast previously available for listeners to hear again at a later time.

It also meant that the station’s talent could create supplementary audio content that isn’t normally broadcast but available for their audience, thus pushing their brand and that of the station further. This includes the creation of frequently-published short-form “snack-sized” content that may allow for listening during short journeys for example.

Secondly a talk-based radio station could approach a podcaster and offer to syndicate their podcast. That is to pay for the right to broadcast the podcast on their radio station in to the station’s market. It would appeal to radio stations having programming that fills in schedule gaps like the overnight “graveyard shift”, weekends or summer holidays while their regular talent base isn’t available. But it can also be used as a way to put a rising podcast star “on the map” before considering whether to have them behind the station’s microphone.

Why chapter marking within podcasts?

A lot of podcast authors typically ran their shows in a magazine form, perhaps with multiple articles or segments within the same podcast. As well, whenever one gave a talk or sermon, they would typically break it down in to points to make it clear to their audience to know where they are. But the idea of delineating within an audio file hasn’t been properly worked out.

This can benefit listeners who are after a particular segment especially within a magazine-style podcast. Or a listener could head back to the start of a logical point in the podcast when they resume listening so they effectively know where they are at contextually.

This can also appeal to ad-supported podcast directories like Spotify who use radio-style audio advertising and want to insert ads between articles or sections of a podcast. The same applies to radio stations who wish to syndicate podcasts. Here they would need to pause podcasts to insert local time and station-identity calls and, in some cases, local advertising spots or news bulletins.

Is this feasible?

The ID3 2 standard which carries metadata for most audio file formats including MP3, AAC and FLAC supports chapter marking within the audio file. It is based around a file-level “table of contents” which determine each audio chapter and can even have textual and graphical descriptions for each chapter.

There is also support for hierarchical table of contents like a list of “points” within each content segment as well as an overall list of content segments. Each of the “table of contents” has a bit that can indicate whether to have each chapter in that “table of contents” played in order or whether they can be played individually. That could be used by an ad-supported podcast directory or broadcast playout program to insert local advertising between entries or not.

What is holding it back?

The main problem with utilising the chapter markers supported within ID3.2 is the lack of proper software support both at the authoring and playback ends of the equation.

Authoring software available to the average podcaster provides inconsistent and non-intuitive support for placing chapter markers within a podcast. This opens up room for errors when authoring that podcast and enabling chapter marking therein.

As well, very few podcast manager and media player programs recognise these chapter markers and provide the necessary navigation functionality. This could be offered at least by having chapter locations visible as tick marks on the seek-bar in the software’s user interface and, perhaps allowing you to hold-down the cue and review buttons to search at the previous or next chapter.

Better user interfaces could list out chapters within a podcast so users can know “what they are up to” while listening or to be able to head to the segment that matters in that magazine-style podcast.

Similarly, the podcast scene needs to know the benefits of chapter-marking a podcast. In an elementary form, marking out a TED Talk, church sermon or similar speech at each key point can be beneficial. For example, a listener could simply recap a point they missed due to being distracted thus getting more value out of that talk. If the podcast has a “magazine” approach with multiple segments, the listener may choose to head to a particular segment that interests them.

Conclusion

The use of chapter marking within podcasts and other spoken-word audio content could make this kind of content easier to deal with for most listeners. Here, it is more about searching for a particular segment within the podcast or beading back to the start of a significant point therein if you were interrupted so you can hear that point in context.

Send to Kindle

How regional next-generation infrastructure providers enable competitive Internet service

Previous Coverage

Gigaclear fibre-optic cable - picture courtesy of Gigaclear

Gigaclear – laying their own fibre-to-the-premises within a rural area in the UK

What is happening with rural broadband in the UK

Further Comments

In some countries like the UK, Australia and Germany, regional broadband infrastructure providers set up shop to provide next-generation broadband to a particular geographic area within a country.

This is used to bring next-generation broadband technology like fibre-to-the-premises to homes and businesses within that geographic area. But let me remind you that fibre-to-the-premises isn’t the only medium they use — some of them use fixed wireless or a fibre-copper setup like HFC cable-modem technology or fibre + Ethernet-cable technology. But they aren’t using the established telephone network at all thus they stay independent of the incumbent infrastructure provider and, in some areas like rural areas, that provider’s decrepit “good enough to talk, not good enough for data” telephone wiring.

In the UK especially, most of these operators will target a particular kind of population centre like a rural village cluster (Gigaclear, B4RN, etc), a large town or suburb (Zzoom), city centres (Cityfibre, Hyperoptic, etc) or even just greenfield developments. Some operators set themselves up in multiple population centres in order to get them wired up for the newer technology but all of the operators will work on covering the whole of that population centre, including its outskirts.

This infrastructure may be laid ahead of the incumbent traditional telco or infrastructure operator like Openreach, NBN or Deutsche Telekom or it may be set up to provide a better Internet service than what is being offered by the incumbent operator. But it is established and maintained independently of the incumbent operator.

Internet service offerings

Typically the independent regional broadband infrastructure providers run a retail Internet-service component available to households and small businesses in that area and using that infrastructure. The packages are often pitched to offer more value for money than what is typically offered in that area thanks to the infrastructure that the provider controls.

But some nations place a competitive-market requirement on these operators to offer wholesale Internet service to competing retail ISPs, with this requirement coming in to force when they have significant market penetration.That is usually assessed by the number of actual subscribers who are connected to the provider’s Internet service or the number of premises that are passed by the operator’s street-level infrastructure. In addition, some independent regional infrastructure providers offer wholesale service earlier as a way to draw in more money to increase their footprint.

This kind of wholesale internet service tends to be facilitated by special wholesale Internet-service markets that these operators are part of. Initially this will attract boutique home and small-business Internet providers who focus on particular customer niches. But some larger Internet providers may prefer to take an infrastructure-agnostic approach, offering mainstream retail Internet service across multiple regional service providers.

Support by local and regional government

Local and regional governments are more likely to provide material and other support to these regional next-generation infrastructure operators. This is to raise their municipality’s or region’s profile as an up-to-date community to live or do business within. It is also part of the “bottom-up” approach that these operators take in putting themselves on the map.

In a lot of cases, the regional next-generation infrastructure providers respond to tenders put forward by local and regional governments. This is either to provide network and Internet service for the government’s needs or to “wire up” the government’s are of jurisdiction or a part thereof for next-generation broadband.

Legislative requirements

There will have to be legislative enablers put forward by national and regional governments to permit the creation and operation of regional next-generation broadband network infrastructure. This could include the creation and management of wholesale-broadband markets to permit retail-Internet competition.

There is also the need to determine how much protection a small regional infrastructure operator needs against the incumbent or other infrastructure operators building over their infrastructure with like offerings. This may be about assuring the small operator sufficient market penetration in their area before others come along and compete, along with providing an incentive to expand in to newer areas.

It will also include issues like land use and urban planning along with creation and maintenance of rights-of-way through private, regulated or otherwise encumbered land for such use including competitors’ access to these rights-of-way.

That also extends to access to physical infrastructure like pits, pipes and poles by multiple broadband service providers, especially where an incumbent operator has control over that infrastructure. It can also extend to use of conduits or dark fibre installed along rail or similar infrastructure expressly for the purpose of creating data-communications paths.

That issue can also extend to how multiple-premises buildings and developments like shopping centres, apartment blocks and the like are “wired up” for this infrastructure. Here, it can be about allowing or guaranteeing right of access to these developments by competing service providers and how in-building infrastructure is provided and managed.

The need for independent regional next-generation broadband infrastructure

But if an Internet-service market is operating in a healthy manner offering value-for-money Internet service like with New Zealand there may not be a perceived need to allow competing regional next-generation infrastructure to exist.

Such infrastructure can be used to accelerate the provision of broadband within rural areas, provide different services like simultanaeous-bandwidth broadband service for residential users or increase the value for money when it comes to Internet service. Here, the existence of this independent infrastructure with retail Internet services offered through it can also be a way to keep the incumbent service operator in check.

Send to Kindle