simonmackay Archive

Keeping online video going with an older TV

Cable TV in the man-cave

Older TVs may end up in a secondary lounge area or bedroom

There is a very strong reality as far as the modern television set is concerned. It is that they last for more than 10 years thanks to electronic design that is about long-term reliability. This is bolstered by technical standards relating to broadcast TV or device interconnectivity that stay the same for the long haul.

Increasingly, as we buy a better or larger TV for the main lounge area where we watch most of our content, the older set that this new set will replace ends up in a secondary lounge area, a bedroom or even a secondary residence. In some cases, the older set will end up in the hands of a family member or friend who doesn’t have a TV or has one that is on the way out.

It is the same practice that happens with the refrigerator where an older fridge serves as an overflow-storage fridge whenever one buys a newer better fridge for their kitchen.

Online video via your home network

But it is underscored by a problem that will get worse with the rise of online video. Increasingly, manufacturers who don’t understand this reality are abandoning their older sets as they evolve their smart-TV platforms. This leads to smart TVs based on the older software not being supported by content providers when they launch front-end software for their new online video services. Or the set works with a limited, buggy operating system and applications which can impact your enjoyment of online video.

Let’s not forget that there are the TVs that don’t have any smart-TV functionality. Typically they will have, at best, network connectivity to work with a DLNA-based media player so you can see images or video you have on a NAS on these sets.

Here, you may have to rely on set-top devices to keep your older TV working in an optimum manner with the latest online video services. In this situation, it is easier to replace the set-top device if its manufacturer abandons the device’s software or the content providers abandon the set-top device’s platform.

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

The Apple TV set-top box – an example of a popular online-media platform

At the moment, there are a few set-top platforms that are worth using for this purpose. The tvOS-based Apple TV; Android-based boxes running the Android TV operating system; Chromecast and Roku platforms still maintain support for older devices. The XBox One and PlayStation 4 games consoles also benefit from continual software upgrades as well as having apps for popular online-video services. Let’s not forget that you may find that some of the “décodeurs” offered as part of the multiple-play “n-box” setups by the French telcos like the Freebox Révolution may qualify in this regard.

Telstra TV media player (provisional design) press picture courtesy of Telstra

A Roku set-top box that is continually updated can also serve this need

You will also find that Apple TV and Chromecast are still alive with the AirPlay and Chromecast mobile-to-set-top streaming protocols. This will mean that most content services can be streamed from your iOS or Android mobile device to the set-top device. You may also find that Android TV will also support Chromecast streaming.

Other considerations

HDMI connection on video peripheral

HDMI connections – a preferred output on video peripherals

Your TV will have to, at least, support HDMI connectivity in order to work with these set-top devices. This is because most of these devices will have HDMI as their only AV connectivity option.

But you may find that the TV in question may provide only one HDMI input. This is more so with cheaper sets like house-brand specials offered by discount stores. In this case, you may end up having to use an HDMI switcher if you need to run multiple set-top boxes or other devices with these sets. Some audio devices like home-theatre-in-box units or AV receivers may answer this functionality need through the provision of extra HDMI inputs.

If your TV supports HDMI-CEC under its many names like Anynet+, Simplink, Bravia Sync or Viera Link, some of the set-top boxes like the tvOS-based Apple TV or the Chromecast will take advantage of this functionality. This will be in the form of the TV coming on and selecting the input the set-top device is connected to when you use its remote or, in the case of the Chromecast or Apple TV, you start streaming to that device from your smartphone. You may also find that you can control the set-top device with your TV’s remote so you don’t always have to rely on the set-top device’s remote.

HDMI-ARC is also relevant in relation to your older TV especially if you intend to use a soundbar, home-theatre-in-box system or AV receiver with it to improve its sound. This allows you to hear the sound from the set’s own broadcast tuner, network functionality or video devices connected directed to the set’s HDMI inputs via that audio device. If the older TV doesn’t have this connection but you want to use an external audio device, you may have to connect that device to the set’s digital audio output.

As far as traditional broadcast TV is concerned, you may find that your old TV will support the current digital-TV standard that is in place in your country. This is true if the digital-TV standard hadn’t changed since your country switched over to digital TV. But if your country is yet to switch to digital TV, you can plug in a set-top box when that day comes. Similarly, if your country has started to implement a newer digital-TV standard like DVB-T2 or ATSC 3.0, you would need to use a set-top box to gain access to broadcasts based on these standards. This extends to implementing interactive-TV platforms like HBBTV or the interactive provisions that ATSC 3.0 offers.

What manufacturers need to do

TV manufacturers need to understand the reality that the sets they make will be serving us for a very long time even if they try to force planned obsolescence on their products.

Here, if they offer a smart-TV product, they have to provide continual software support for at least 5 years, if not more. This may also have to be about at least providing software updates that answer data-security, software-quality and newer industry-standards needs.

As well, the manufacturers would need to maintain their products to commonly-accepted standards for broadcast reception and device / network interconnection. This is more so as a TV set ends up relying on external devices in order to stay up-to-date.

Conclusion

In order to keep your older TV set that you have pushed down to that secondary lounge area or bedroom, or have inherited from someone else going, you will need to consider the use of extra devices. This is more so if you want to keep it using the online services reliably.

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Litigation about broadband service expectations takes place in the UK

Article

A UK court case is taking place regarding the standard of Internet service available in an apartment block

Owner of Multi-Million Pound UK Flat Sues Over Poor Broadband | ISP Review

Millionaire travel tycoon sues luxury flat owner for £100k over lack of broadband | Evening Standard

My Comments

In the UK, a person who bought a London apartment worth multiple millions of pounds is litigating the owners of the apartment building it is in because of substandard Internet service within the building.

They took up the lease on the apartment after being sold on the fact that there was to be proper Internet coverage to all rooms therein along with proper service within the building. But the service was below par before Hyperoptic ran fibre-optic Internet connectivity through the building in 2016. This led to him using public-access Wi-Fi at a local library and cafe as well as the home network and Internet service at his brother’s home before that installation.

This case, although litigated within the UK, touches on contract-law issues especially when it comes to the description of a premises that is subject to a lease or sale agreement. Here, it is pointing to the expected standard of broadband Internet service and network wiring that is provided within the premises. It is also of importance concerning what is being provided within high-density developments like apartment blocks that based around multiple premises being integrated in few buildings.

But the court case held at the Central London County Court is part of a larger conversation regarding access to multiple-premises developments like apartment blocks by communications infrastructure providers within the UK. This is no matter whether the development is at the budget or premium end of the price scale.

Concurrently, the UK Government are working on regulations regarding the provision of this infrastructure, whether to provide communications and Internet service to the premises in the development or to establish a mobile-telecommunications base station especially where a landlord or building committee who has oversight regarding the building won’t respond.

I see this case bring in to scope issues regarding how the standard of telecommunications services available to a premises is represented in its sale or lease contract. This will have a stronger affect on apartments and similar premises that are integrated within a larger building. It will also be part of the question about infrastructure providers’ access to these buildings and the premises therein.

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Ultrasound being used as a way to measure user proximity to gadgets

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Google Nest

How ultrasound sensing makes Nest displays more accessible {The Keyword blog post)

My Comments

Google is implementing in their Nest Hub smart-display products an automatic display-optimisation technology that is based on technology that has been used for a very long time.

Ultrasonic technology has been used in various ways by nature and humans to measure distance. In nature, bats and dolphins which don’t have good vision use this approach to “see” their way. It is used extensively in military and civillian marine applications to see what is underneath a boat or around a submarine and is also used as a common medical-imaging technique.

As well, in the late 1970s, Polaroid implemented ultrasound as part of their active autofocus system, which ended up as a feature for their value-priced and premium instant-picture cameras. Here, this was used to measure the distance between the camera and the subject in order to adjust the lens for proper focus. There were limitations associated with the technology like not being able to work when you photograph through a window due to the ultrasonic waves not passing through the glass.

But Google has implemented this technology as a way to adjust the display on their Nest Hub smart displays for distant or close operation. The front of a Google Nest Hub has an ultrasonic sensor that works in a similar way to what was used in a Polaroid auto-focus instant-picture camera.

But rather than the Polaroid setup being about using the distance measurement from the ultrasonic sensor to adjust a camera’s lens, this application adjusts the display according to the user’s distance from the Nest Hub. If you are distant from the Nest Hub, you would see reduced information but the key details appear in a larger typeface. Then if you come closer to the Nest Hub, you would see more detail but at a smaller typeface.

Nest Hub Directions display press picture courtesy of Google

The Google blog article described this as being suitable for older users and those of us who have limited vision. The fact that you have the ability to see key information in a large typeface at a distance can make the Nest Hub accessible to this user group. But others can’t see deeper information unless they are very close to the device.

End-user privacy is still assured thanks to the use of a low-resolution distance-measurement technology whose results are kept within the device. As well, there is a menu option within the Google Home app’s Device Settings page to enable or disable the feature.

At the moment, it is initially being used for timer and current-time display as well as displaying travel time and traffic conditions for a planned journey that you set up with Google Maps. But Google and other software developers who develop for the Google Home ecosystem will add distance-sensitive display functionality to more applications like appointments and alerts.

Some people could see this technology not just for optimising the readout on a smart display but could even be used to ascertain whether people are actually using these devices. This could then be used for such functionality like energy-saving behaviour where the display turns off if no-one’s near it.

But what Google has to do is to license out this technology to allow others to implement it it to other fixed-display-based devices. Here, it could become of more use to many who don’t go for a Google Nest Hub.

but to add more functionality like appointments, alerts, reminders

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Why I support multiple accounts with online media endpoints at home?

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

The Apple TV set-top box – an example of a popular online-media platform

It is so easy to think of the idea of one person associated with an account-based online media service that is run on a commonly-used online media device. The classic example of this is a smart TV or set-top box that is installed in the main living room. It also extends to smart speakers, Internet radios and network-capable audio setups that work with various online audio content services.

There is a reality that many adults will end up using the same device like the aforementioned smart TV. But a lot of online-media services like Netflix, the broadcast video-on-demand services run by the free-to-air TV broadcasters or online audio services implement user-account-driven operation so customers benefit from their subscription or user-experience personalisation like “favourite shows” lists. With these smart TVs or similar devices, you can only associate the device with one user account for each of these services. This assumes that one person owns and operates the device.

Dish Joey 4K set-top box press picture courtesy of Dish Networks America

Set-top boxes connected to TVs in common areas are used by many people

It is although Apple has started work with having one Apple TV device work with multiple Apple ID user accounts, leading towards concurrent operation of these accounts in tvOS 13. But, at the moment, this only works with Apple-provided online services that are bound to end-users’ Apple IDs.

This reality is driven by the rise in multi-generational households with adult children living under the same roof as their parents. That has come about due to strong financial pressures on young people driven by costly housing in major cities, whether owned or rented. It goes along with that long-time adult reality of maintaining personal relationships under the same roof, while other adults end up staying at the home of another person they are friendly with as a temporary measure. As well, younger adults are increasingly living in share-houses in order to split their living costs easily amongst each other.

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 - viewer arrangement at Rydges Melbourne (Locanda)

An online media account set up on a laptop, tablet or smartphone is typically set up for one user having exclusive use of that device

But a significant number of the accounts for the various online-media services are established on computing devices that are primarily or exclusively used by a single adult. Then a person may decide to register their online-media service account on a commonly-used online-media device to use their subscription or customisations there.

The problem that easily happens is that other people cannot operate their accounts for the same service on that same device thus losing the benefit of their customisations being valid at that device. Or if they do so, they have to complete a rigmarole of logging others out before they log in, with some services having a login procedure requiring you to enter usernames and passwords on the media device using that dreaded “pick-and-choose” method even if the service was set up using social sign-in.

What does the single account problem affect?

Netflix menu screen - favourites

Shows you have marked as “favourite” for your profile in your Netflix account

The situation can also affect the account that is associated with the commonly-used device in a number of ways. This is more so with the content recommendation engines that most online media services implement which help in the discovery of new content that may be of interest. The behaviour of these engines manifests in the form of a “recommended content” playlist that appears on the service’s homepage, the customer email that is sent out to each of the service’s customers with a list of recommended content or a content suggestion that appears at the end of content you were engaging with.

SBS On Demand - favourites screenshot

Another example of shows you have marked as favourite – this time on SBS On Demand

Here, you may have “steered” SBS On Demand’s content recommendation engine to bring up European thrillers due to you watching these shows. But someone else comes in with a penchant for, perhaps, Indian Bollywood content. They binge on episodes of this content and you end up with the recommended-content list diluted with Indian content.

SBS On Demand - recommendations screenshot

The recommended-content playlist like this one can be diluted when there is one account shared by many with different tastes like with SBS On Demand

Another area where this will affect is the list of favourite shows or currently-viewing series that these services keep. Here, you use these lists to identify where you are up to in a show or series you are viewing. Similarly, your member email may alert you to new seasons of your favourite series or if the show is to be removed from the service. But if you started working through a show or series on a computing device you exclusively use but want to continue it on the large-screen TV bound to someone else’s account, you won’t be able to do so unless you log in with your account to continue your viewing there.

In the same context, it doesn’t permit a user who is enjoying the content on the account associated with the commonly-used device to another device associated with their own account. This may be of concern if, for example, you commenced viewing of an episode of a binge-worthy series on the main TV in the house’s main living area but had to continue it on your 2-in-1 laptop in your bedroom because someone else wants to do something else.

Common workarounds

Using a setup like AirPlay, Chromecast or hard-wired connectivity to link your own computing device to the large-screen TV may be seen as a workaround for access to your account even if the set or main set-top device is associated with another account.

But this can yield problems like mobile devices not yielding a best-quality picture with a hard-wired connection or the existence of an Apple TV, Chromecast, Android TV setup or appropriate cable that is connected to the TV you want to use. Let alone it not being feasible to carry that desktop computer of yours around to the main TV to watch that Netflix show there using your account and its customisations. Or your smartphone or tablet going to sleep and interrupting your viewing due to it taking battery-conservation measures or simply running out of battery power.

You may find that connecting multiple set-top boxes or similar devices to the main TV with each one bound to different accounts may exist as another workaround. This is typically demonstrated by the use of a games console bound to its owner’s online media service accounts connected to a Smart TV that is bound to someone else’s online-media-service accounts.

But this can look very ugly, become less useable and you may not have enough HDMI ports on your TV or audio peripherals (soundbar, AV receiver) to cater for each set-top device bound to each individual household member’s accounts. It is made worse by most TVs having up to 3 HDMI inputs and most popularly-priced audio peripherals only having the one HDMI-ARC connection to the TV.

What can be done?

An online media service that works through a particular online media endpoint device could support multiple logins with the number being this side of 10.

Here, you could have an option to add or delete extra accounts to the online media-service interface as if you are managing your own account on that interface. The authentication process for adding accounts would be the same as for your own account, whether through supplying a username and password or transcribing an on-screen number in to the Website or mobile app for that service to enrol a limited-interface device.

A question that will come up is whether to have the accounts concurrently operating with the device exposing the customisations associated with each account on the same interface; or require the end-users to switch accounts for exclusive operation when they want to use their account.

Concurrent operation may be considered of relevance to, for example, a couple who watching their shows with each other whereas exclusive operation may come in to its own with an adult who watches their shows by themselves. This can also help with building out content recommendations or the online-media service keeping track of the popularity of a particular piece of content including how it is enjoyed.

What features can this add to online media consumption?

One feature would be the ability to easily enjoy the same content across different devices associated with your account, no matter whether they are exclusive to your account or not. This would benefit where you are working through the same content in different locations like hearing a playlist from that online music service in the car, or at home on the hi-fi; or watching that series on an iPad while you come home from work on the train then continuing it on the TV in the main lounge area at home.

Concurrent operation could also allow for an amalgamated content-choice experience, perhaps with separate menus or playlists for each person. It can extend to providing a list of common favourites or content recommendations that appeal “across the board”.

You also make sure that the content recommendations offered by the online media service reflect your content-consumption habits rather than be diluted by someone else’s choices. This is more so for music or video content that you enjoy and you want to discover similar content.

In some cases, you could have the ability to have the content-recommendation engine come up with content that appeals to the tastes represented by a group of accounts like a household rather than just one account. Such recommendations could be listed alongside account-specific recommendations lists.

Conclusion

What needs to be considered as the rise of online multimedia consumption occurs is the ability for multiple online media-service accounts to be used for the same service on the same device. This means that these services can work well with the reality of multiple-adult households such as couples or multi-generation households.

It then means that the service is personalised to each end-user’s tastes and the content recommendation system in these services reflects what they watch.

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Thunderbolt dock may be behaving erratically under Windows 10. What can you do?

Article

Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook at QT Melbourne rooftop bar

Simply restarting your Thunderbolt-3-equipped computer may correct problems you have with any Thunderbolt 3 docks attached to it.

Microsoft Warns of Uncommon Windows 10 Thunderbolt Issue | Bleeping Computer

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft Support

Devices connected through a Thunderbolt Dock stop working after the computer resumes from the S5 power state (Support article)

My Comments

You may find that your Thunderbolt-3-equipped computer may show up a problem with its Thunderbolt 3 connection if it is running a recent build of Windows 10.

This will happen when you are using a Thunderbolt 3 dock or a Thunderbolt 3 peripheral like a display or external graphics module that has dock functionality where you can connect multiple peripherals. As well, it may encompass Thunderbolt 3 devices that have user-removable or user-replaceable storage media like memory-card readers, SATA hard-disk interfaces or optical drives.

It will be common with those of us who have a laptop computer and establish one or more workspaces equipped with a full-sized keyboard, mouse and one or two large screens then use a dock for one-cable connection and disconnection. You may also be connecting one or more storage devices like USB hard disks, memory keys or optical drives to the dock for extra storage functionality.

The problem will manifest if you have Fast Startup enabled on your Windows 10 laptop. This mode, which will most often be set up by default and to come in to play when you close up your laptop, will dump from RAM to the hard disk or SSD what is needed to bring your computer to the login screen when you close the computer’s lid or quickly press the Power button.

The symptom will show up if you do the following practices regularly:

  1. connect the computer to the Thunderbolt dock, finding that all peripherals connected to the dock are present and functioning as far as Windows is concerned.
  2. power-down the computer by pressing the Power button for a long time or instigate a shutdown procedure from within Windows with the goal to have it fully turned off.
  3. disconnect the Thunderbolt dock from the computer once you see the screen go black
  4. let the computer completely power down
  5. connect the Thunderbolt dock to that computer and wait for it to stabilise
  6. turn on the computer like normal

Here, the peripherals connected to that Thunderbolt dock will register with Windows and be present in the operating system’s Device Manager. But they won’t function as expected like you won’t have any input from the full-sized keyboard or mouse nor would the storage devices be available for use by Windows and its applications.

This behaviour happens very occasionally and you may normally disconnect and reconnect the dock to force Windows to “rediscover” the associated peripherals.

But what can you do to rectify this problem? Here, it is a simple process of fully shutting down then restarting your computer using the Shutdown or Restart procedure in Windows without disconnecting the Thunderbolt dock. ‘

With this process, you are making sure that during the boot cycle, the Windows operating system is properly taking stock of all the peripherals that are connected to the Thunderbolt dock and making sure they are properly available “to the computer”. This includes enforcing the dock to reset itself and create a fresh inventory of what is connected to or integrated in it to present to the host operating system.

You may also find that fully restarting your computer if peripherals connected to a hub, dock or similar device aren’t working properly no matter the connection method or operating system.

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Logitech improves on the XBox Adaptive Controller with a cost-effective control package

Articles

Logitech G Adaptive Gaming Kit press picture courtesy of Logitech International

Logitech G Adaptive Gaming Kit has what you need for the XBox Adaptive Controller

Logitech’s $100 kit for the Xbox Adaptive Controller makes accessible gaming cheaper | CNet

Microsoft went all in on accessible design. This is what happened afterwards | FastCompany

Previous HomeNetworking01.info coverage on the XBox Adaptive Controller

Microsoft runs a Super Bowl ad about inclusive gaming

From the horse’s mouth

Logitech

Adaptive Gaming Kit (Product Page, Press Release, Blog Post)

My Comments

Recently, Microsoft launched the XBox Adaptive Controller as an accessible games-console controller for people who face motion and dexterity-related disabilities. They even promoted it in a TV commercial ran during this year’s Super Bowl football match, which would have been considered to go against the grain for the usual sporting and video-game audiences.

This has been part of Microsoft’s step towards inclusionary gaming and I had written in the article about that controller not just to focus towards providing video gaming for disabled people. But I also called out the therapeautic value that some games can have for elderly people as well as disabled people with Microsoft offering a lower barrier to entry for independent game developers to create games that underscore that concept.

It has actually been underscored in a recent CNET video article about the XBox Adaptive Controller being used to help a US war veteran who lost some of his motion and dexterity in a motorcycle accident.

Click or tap here to play the video

But Logitech have taken this a step further by offering an accessory kit with all the necessary controls for US$99. This kit, known as the Adaptive Gaming Kit, makes it more affordable for these people so you can have an accessible gaming setup to suit your particular needs without having to choose and buy the necessary accessories. Here, it is important especially if a person’s needs will change over time and you don’t want to have to buy newer accessories to suit that need.

The package comes with rigid and flexible mats with Velcro anchor points for the various buttons and other controls. The flexible mats can even allow the controls to be anchored around a chair’s arms or other surfaces while the whole kit can allow for the equipment to be set up and packed up with minimal effort. The controls all have their own Velcro anchor points and screw holes for anchoring to other surfaces.

Logitech used their own intellectual capital in designing the kit while working with Microsoft to evolve the product. Here, they implemented their own mechanical-switch technology that is part of their high-end keyboards including their low-profile switches used in their low-profile keyboard range. The large buttons have stabilisers built in to them so you can press them from anywhere on the button’s surface. This leads to them not reinventing the wheel when it comes to the product’s design or manufacture because of the use of common technology.

What I have liked about Logitech’s Adaptive Gaming Kit is that the idea of accessible gaming comes at a price point that represents value for money. This is compared to various assistive-technology solutions which tend to require the user to pay a king’s ransom to acquire the necessary equipment. It has often led towards the government or charitable sector not getting their money’s worth out of their disabled-person support programs due to the high cost of the necessary technology.

Welcome to the new age of making assistive technology become more mainstream, not just for disabled users but for the realities associated with the ageing population such as ageing Baby Boomers and people living longer.

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The generation gap has its own digital divide

Article

Old lady making a video call at the dinner table press picture courtesy of NBNCo

Making the idea of new technologies familiar to the older generation needs to be done at a pace they are comfortable with.

Smartphones creating generational and income divide | ABC News

Broadcast

“Living On The Wrong Side Of The ‘Digital Divide’” – ABC Radio AM (Monday 18 November 2019 8:00am)
MP3 audio file

My Comments

The recent ABC Australia Talks National Survey looked at a wide range of issues including climate change and social respect. But one of the issues that is relevant to this Website is the issue of the digital divide.

This highlights how pervasive personal computing including use of online services and mobile computing devices like smartphones is amongst certain parts of the community. It also includes the issue of missing out on essential services due to not being able to or comfortable about using them the online way.

As it is often discovered, the digital divide potently affects the older generations but also affects people based on income due to access to the necessary technology. What has never been called out was whether the kind of work people do during their working life had affected their risk of falling victim to the digital divide.

The ubiquity of new technologies through one’s productive life

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook at Rydges Melbourne

It has taken a significant amount of time through the 1980s to the 2000s for the computer to be a mainstream tool in one’s productive life

A key factor that I have noticed is how much of one’s school or working life was spent using the technology and how quickly one adapted to newer technologies as they came in to being through their productive life. This is underscored through the evolution of personal computing technology including networked and online computing that took place through the 1980s to the 2000s. As well, the 2000s and 2010s brought about the idea of mobile personal computing thanks to smartphones and tablet computers used both personally and in the workplace.

The workplace

It became more potent in the workplace through the 1990s as computing power moved to the desktop in an affordable form and this brought about the change from the manual office that is based around typewriters, ledger books and card files to the highly-computerised office based around on-site desktop and server computers which handled word-processing, record-keeping and accounting tasks using computer software.

After the Australia Talks show, I had a follow-up conversation with an older man who worked in an office that was facing this transition revealed that his workplace’s accountant took a long time to adapt his accountancy skills to the highly-computerised office. Here, it was about being able to use the computer software to maintain an electronic equivalent of the ledger books.

Let’s not forget that a significant amount of blue-collar or public-facing work didn’t involve the use of computer technology. In some workplaces, specially-employed staff would collect or provide data to the blue-collar or public-facing workers as they needed it. If the worker ran their own business, they would be performing most of the record-keeping for their business the manual way.

The school

The same situation can be underscored through one’s school life before the 1990s where personal computing tended to play second fiddle. This would be about practices like a separate computer-studies lesson that would be taught in a computer lab equipped with personal computers. Other subjects typically required students to present their work in a handwritten form while teachers engaged in “talk and chalk” presentation techniques for most of their classes.

As well, investment in computer education tended to depend upon the whims of the powers that be that oversee the school, whether they be the school board or the government-based or church-based education authority that the school was accountable to. In some cases, it required private enterprise to “chip in” to provide the necessary capital for this kind of study.

After the 1990s, most schools encouraged the use of office software like word-processors, spreadsheets and presentation software as a teaching tool. This is along with the idea of seeing the computer as a tool to facilitate integrated learning and online research.

Being able to adapt to newer technologies

Let’s not forget that different people adapt to the newer technologies at a different pace. It includes whether they will deploy and encourage the use of that new technology to an area that they have oversight of and with what level of enthusiasm. This may be driven by factors including confidence, financial abilities or whether there is much support for that technology.

Some of use may be more keen in implementing newer technologies in our personal and productive lives, such as being “early adopters” of newer technology. Here, they will typically be interested in what new technologies come their way such as through reading journals, magazines and other material on that subject. This is typically said of younger people who tend to adapt very easily to newer social and other trends.

Similarly, some users have demonstrably wanted to adapt to the newer technologies using various methods such as class-based or self-paced training; and / or playing video games based on the new platform in order to make themselves comfortable with it.

Then there are others who will take a slower approach towards handling anything that is new. This may be due to avoiding being stuck with a trend that may be a “rooster one day, feather duster the next”. Similarly, it may be about waiting for the technology to become mature and affordable for most people before they take it up. Some users may even be very skeptical of any new trend that comes along especially if it is pushed on them. This is often said of mature or older people who are more settled in their ways regarding life.

Conclusion

There are many different reasons why there will be a generation-specific digital divide with the core one being about how much exposure they have to newer information technology through their school and working life.

To assist with this digital divide, there will need to be people within their family and community who can help them understand and utilise the various newer technologies that come their way. It can also be through the use of courses and other computer-literacy education tools that are pitched to this generation and its IT needs.

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What is infrastructure-level competition and why have it?

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

Gigaclear underscores the value of infrastructure-level competition

An issue that will be worth raising regarding the quality of service for newer high-speed fixed-line broadband services is the existence of infrastructure-level competition.

When we talk of infrastructure for a fixed-line Internet service, we are talking of copper and/or fibre-optic cabling used to take this service around a neighbourhood to each of the customers’ premises.

Then each premises has a modem of some sort, that in a lot of cases is integrated in the router, which converts the data to a form that makes it available across its network. A significant number of these infrastructure providers will supply the modem especially if they cannot provide a “wires-only” or “bring your own modem” service due to the technology they are implementing and, in a lot of these cases, will legally own the modem.

In Europe, Australia and some other countries, this broadband infrastructure is provided by an incumbent telco or an infrastructure provider and multiple retail-level telecommunications and Internet providers lease capacity on this infrastructure to provide their services to the end-user. This is compared to North America where an infrastructure provider exclusively provides their own retail-level telecommunications and Internet services to end users via their infrastructure.

In a lot of cases where multiple retail telecommunications and Internet providers use the same infrastructure, the incumbent telco may be required to divest themselves of their fixed-line infrastructure to a separate privately-owned or government-owned corporation in order to satisfy a competitive-service requirement. This means that they cannot provide a retail Internet or telecommunications service over that infrastructure at a cost advantage over competitors offering the same service over the same infrastructure. Examples of this include Openreach in the UK, NBN in Australia and Chorus in New Zealand.

A problem with having a dominant infrastructure provider is that there is a strong risk of this provider  offering to retail telecommunications providers and their end-users poor value for money when it comes to telecommunications and Internet services. It also can include this provider engaging in “redlining” which is the practice of providing substandard infrastructure or refusing to provide any infrastructure to neighbourhoods that they don’t perceive as being profitable like those that are rural or disadvantaged.

Some markets like the UK and France implement or encourage infrastructure-level competition where one or more other entities can lay their own infrastructure within urban or rural neighbourhoods. Then they can either run their own telecommunications and Internet services or lease the bandwidth to other companies who want to provide their own services.

Infrastructure-level competition

Where infrastructure-level competition exists, there are at least two different providers who provide street-based infrastructure for telecommunications and Internet service. The providers may run their own end-user telecommunications and Internet services using this infrastructure and/or they simply lease the bandwidth provided via this infrastructure to other retail Internet providers to provide these services to their customers.

Some competitors buy and use whatever “dark fibre” that exists from other previous fibre-optic installations to provide this service. Or they provide an enterprise communications infrastructure for government or big business in a neighbourhood but use dark fibre or underutilised fibre capacity from this job for offering infrastructure-level competition in that area.

As well, larger infrastructure operators who pass many premises in a market may be required to open up their infrastructure to telcos and Internet service providers that compete with their retail offering. This is something that ends up as a requirement for a highly-competitive telecommunications environment.

This kind of competition allows a retail-level telco or ISP to choose infrastructure for their service that offers them best value for money. This is more important for those retail-level ISPs and telcos who offer telecommunications and Internet to households and small businesses. As well, whenever a geographic area like a rural neighbourhood or new development is being prepared for high-speed broadband Internet, it means that the competing infrastructure providers are able to offer improved-value contracts for the provision of this service in that area.

Infrastructure-level competition also allows for the retail-level providers to innovate in providing their services without needing to risk much money in their provision. It can allow for niche providers such as high-performance gaming-focused ISPs or telcos that offer triple-play services to particular communities.

There is also an incentive amongst infrastructure providers to improve their customer service and serve neighbourhoods that wouldn’t otherwise be served. It is thanks to the risk of retail ISPs or their customers jumping to competitors if the infrastructure provider doesn’t “cut the mustard” in this field. As well, public spending on broadband access provision benefits due to the competition for infrastructure tenders for these projects.

What needs to happen

Build-over conditions

An issue commonly raised by independent infrastructure providers who are the first to wire-up a neighbourhood is the time they have exclusive access to that market. It is raised primarily in the UK by those independent infrastructure providers like Gigaclear or community infrastructure co-operatives like B4RN who have engaged in wiring up a rural community with next-generation fibre-optic broadband whether out of their pocket or with financial assistance from local government or local chambers of commerce.

This is more so where an established high-profile infrastructure provider that has big-name retail Internet providers on its books hasn’t wired-up that neighbourhood yet or is providing a service of lower capability compared to the independent provider who appeared first. For these independent operators, it is about making sure that they have a strong profile in that neighbourhood during their period of exclusivity.

Then, when the established infrastructure provider offers an Internet service of similar or better standard to the independent provider, the situation is described as a “build-over” condition. It then leads to the independent provider becoming a infrastructure-level competitor against the established provider which may impinge on cost recovery as far as the independent’s infrastructure is concerned. Questions that will come up include whether the independent operator should be compensated for loss of exclusivity in the neighbourhood, or allowing a retail ISP or telco who used the independent’s infrastructure to offer their service on the newcomer’s infrastructure.

Pits, Poles and Pipes

Another issue that will be raised is the matter of the physical infrastructure that houses the cable or fibre-optic wiring i.e. the pits, poles and pipes. These may be installed and owned by the telecommunications infrastructure provider for their own infrastructure or they may be installed and owned by a third-party operator like a utility or local council.

The first issue that can be raised is whether an infrastructure provider has exclusive access to particular physical infrastructure and whether they have to release the access to this infrastructure to competing providers. It doesn’t matter whether the infrastructure provider has their own physical infrastructure or gains access rights to physical infrastructure provided by someone else like a local government or utility company.

The second issue that also can crop up is access to public thoroughfares and private property to install and maintain infrastructure. This relates to legal access powers that government departments in charge of the jurisdiction’s regulated thoroughfares like roads and rails may provide to the infrastructure provider; or the wayleaves and easements negotiated between property owners and the infrastructure provider. In the context of competitive service, this may be about whether or not an easement, for example, is exclusive to a particular infrastructure provider.

Sustainable competition

Then there is the issue of sustainable competition within the area. This is where the competitors and the incumbent operator can make money by providing infrastructure-level Internet service yet the end-users have the benefits of a highly-competitive market. A market with too much competition can easily end up with premature consolidation where various retail or infrastructure providers cease to exist or end up merging.

Typically the number of operators that can sustainably compete may he assessed on the neighbourhood’s adult population count or the number of households and businesses within the neighbourhood. Also it can be assessed on the number of households and businesses that are actually taking up the broadband services or likely to do so in that neighbourhood.

Retail providers having access to multiple infrastructure providers

An issue that will affect retail-level telcos and ISPs is whether they have access to only one infrastructure operator or can benefit from access to multiple operators. This may be an issue where the infrastructure operators differ in attributes like maximum bandwidth or footprint and a major retail-level operator want to benefit from these different attributes.

In one of these situations, a retail-level broadband provider who wants to touch as many markets as possible may use one infrastructure provider for areas served by that provider. Then they use other providers that serve other areas that their preferred infrastructure provider doesn’t touch yet. This may also apply if they want to offer service plans with a particular specification offered by an infrastructure provider answering that specification but competing with the infrastructure provider they normally use.

Multiple-premises developments

Then there is the issue of multiple-premises buildings and developments where there is a desire to provide this level of service competition for the occupants but offer it in a cost-effective manner.

This may be answered by each infrastructure provider running their own wiring through the building but this approach leads to multiple wires and points installed at each premises. On the other hand, an infrastructure cable of a particular kind could be wired through the building and linked using switching / virtual-network technology to different street-side infrastructures. This could be based on cable technology like VDSL, Ethernet or fibre-optic so that infrastructure providers who use a particular technology for in-building provision use the infrastructure relating to that technology.

Estate-type developments with multiple buildings may have questions raised about them. Here, it may be about whether the infrastructure is to be provided and managed on a building-level basis or a development-wide basis. This can be more so where the multiple-building development is to be managed during its lifetime as though it is one entity comprising of many buildings.

Then there is the issue of whether the governing body of a multiple-premises development should be required to prevent infrastructure-provider exclusivity. This can crop up where an infrastructure provider or ISP pays the building manager or governing body of one of these developments to maintain infrastructure exclusivity perhaps by satisfying the governing body’s Internet needs for free for example.

In all of these cases, it would be about making sure that each premises in a multiple-premises development is able to gain access to the benefits of infrastructure-level competition.

Conclusion

The idea of infrastructure-level competition for broadband Internet is to be considered of importance as a way to hold dominant infrastructure providers to account. Similarly, it can be seen as a way to push proper broadband Internet service in to underserved areas whether with or without public money.

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Germany to instigate the creation of a European public cloud service

Article

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 to have one or more public cloud services that respect European sovereignty and values

Germany to Unveil European Cloud to Rival Amazon, Alibaba | ITPro Today

France, Germany want more homegrown clouds to pick from | ITNews (Premium)

My Comments

Germany is instigating a European-wide project to create a public cloud-computing service.  As well, France is registering intent in this same idea but of creating another of these services.

Both countries’ intention is to rival what USA and Asia are offering regarding public-cloud data-processing solutions. But, as I have said before, it is about having public data infrastructure that is sovereign to European laws and values. This also includes the management and dissemination of such data in a broad and secure manner.

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

… which could also facilitate European software and data services like what is offered through the Freebox Delta

The issue of data sovereignty has become of concern in Europe due to the USA and China pushing legislation to enable their governments to gain access to data held by data service providers that are based in those countries. This is even if the data is held on behalf of a third-party company or hosted on servers that are installed in other countries. The situation has been underscored by a variety of geopolitical tensions involving especially those countries such as the recent USA-China trade spat.

It is also driven by some European countries being dissatisfied with Silicon Valley’s dominance in the world of “as-a-service” computing. This is more so with France where there are goals to detach from and tax “GAFA” (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) due to their inordinate influence in consumer and business computing worlds.

or BMW’s voice-driven assistant for in-car infotainment

Let’s not forget that Qarnot in France has designed computers that put their waste heat to use for heating rooms or creating hot water in buildings. This will appeal to a widely-distributed data-processing setup that could be part of public cloud-computing efforts.

Questions that will crop up with the Brexit agenda when Europe establishes this public cloud service will include British data sovereignty if data is held on the European public cloud or whether Britain will have any access or input into this public cloud.

Airbus A380 superjumbo jet wet-leased by HiFly at Paris Air Show press picture courtesy of Airbus

… just like this Airbus A380 superjumbo jet shows European prowess in aerospace

Personally I could see this as facilitating the wider creation of online services by European companies especially with the view to respecting European personal and business values. It could encompass ideas like voice-driven assistant services, search engines, mapping and similar services for consumers or to encourage European IT development.

Could this effort that Germany and France put forward be the Airbus or Arianespace of public-cloud data services?

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PAX 2019–Indie games gaining a strong appeal

Previous Coverage about the indie gaming segment

Untitled Goose Game on Alienware stand at PAX 2019

Untitled Goose Game ends up as one of the feature games to demo computer gaming hardware at PAX 2019

Alaskan fables now celebrated as video games

Two ways to put indie games on the map

Indie games like Untitled Goose Game appeal to people outside the usual game demographics

My Comments

When I visited the PAX 2019 gaming exhibition in Melbourne, I had noticed a distinct interest and appeal towards the indie game sector as distinct from the mainstream AAA+ games sector. This became of interest thanks to Untitled Goose Game becoming the talk of the town as a strong example. As well, the Victorian Government was using this show to showcase games that are developed locally as part of using public arts funding to support this kind of game development.

Here I had noticed a significant number of approaches to how these games worked. One game I had noticed was what would be called a Web game or browser game that can play within a Web browser. This method was a common approach for online games sites like Miniclip or games offered by Facebook and co as part of their platform.

I had talked to some of the games developers in this class of game and they noticed that the games exhibited modest performance requirements. It was true of the games that were written to be native to the host device’s operating system. This would mean that they could be played on a business laptop or home computer that has an integrated graphics infrastructure and baseline RAM.

But most of the laptops that were being used to play these games were connected to AC power rather than working on battery power. Here, I raised the issue with one of the game developers about their games’ power-requirements and optimising them to run efficiently especially if the laptop is to be run on battery power, and they concurred. One use case regarding power efficiency for games I was thinking of are overseas travellers who want to while away a long flight playing one of these games.

Similarly, these games are able to be played casually. That is to be able to provide enjoyable gameplay over short or long sessions whereas a significant number of popular AAA+ games tend to require long intense playing sessions. As well, a lot of the indie games appeal to a wide audience including those that are easily pushed out of video gaming like women or older people.

The indie games also don’t convey aggressive or highly-competitive ideals which do increase their appeal to parents and others who are concerned about what is conveyed in most of the popular video games on the market. This factor is becoming very important due to an increasing awareness about social values and how popular culture respects them with it impacting on how we consume media.

A situation that a lot of these developers do face when writing their games for the console platforms or porting an existing title that way is the tight requirements. Here, they have to make sure that the game handles all error conditions including if a controller is disconnected mid-play. There is also the requirement for the game to be playable with a handheld controller that uses one or two D-pads, a joystick and mapped buttons.

These points are highlighting the key differences that the indie game scene is about where a distinctly different vibe exists compared to the AAA+ video games offered by the mainstream game publishers. This is very similar to what is seen with film where the art-house and independent movies carry a different vibe to what the Hollywood blockbuster movies offer.

Keeping the indie gaming scene continuously alive and maintaining the existence of standalone independent games studios around the world can then allow for a diverse range of games that appeal to a wide range of tastes.

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