Category: Current and Future Trends

The Thunderbolt technology turns 10

Article

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

Happy 10th Birthday to the Thunderbolt standard

Thunderbolt turns 10 | PC World

My Comments

The Thunderbolt high-throughput data connection specification that Intel launched and pushed with Apple’s help has turned 10 this year. And a laptop that I reviewed on this site nearly 10 years ago gave a sign of things to come when it comes to how Thunderbolt is being implemented today.

Sony VAIO Z Series and docking station

This (Sony) VAIO Z ultraportable notebook with its accompanying Blu-Ray writer media dock used a technology that has defined the Thunderbolt standard, especially Thunderbolt 3.

When I reviewed the Sony VAIO Z ultraportable laptop during 2012, I was dabbling with a technology that would be known as Thunderbolt. This was the Intel Light Peak technology that was adapted for copper connectivity but was to be known as Thunderbolt. But this setup underscored what Thunderbolt 3 would be about as a popular use case.

This computer setup had a “Media Dock” expansion module with an integrated Blu-Ray writer, a USB 2 connection, a USB 3 connection, Gigabit Ethernet connectivity, and HDMI and VGA outputs for a TV or monitor. But this “Media Dock” also served as an external graphics module for the  Sony VAIO Z Ultrabook. These devices were connected using an Intel Light Peak cable which had a USB Type-A connector that plugged in to the host computer, but to safely detach the expansion module, you had to press a button on the USB plug and wait a moment before you could disconnect the laptop.

Here this setup which I used in 2012 underscored the use case for what Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C and newer generations of this connection would be about. It was about a high-speed connection between a laptop, all-in-one or low-profile desktop computer and an expansion module of some sort. That expansion module would power a laptop computer but provide connectivity to a cluster of peripherals connected to it, house data-storage media of some sort and / or have better graphics processing horsepower within.

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation Ultrabook - left side ports - Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type C port, USB Type A port, audio jack

Thunderbolt 3 is the preferred connection on the current range of Dell XPS ultraportable premium laptops

Initially this technology appealed to workstation-based use of Apple Macintosh computers that were being used by people involved in film and video production. Here, this was about RAID disk arrays being worked as “scratch disks” for rendering edited video footage or digitally-created animations. Or it was about high-resolution screen setups necessary as part of editing workstations. It also appealed as a path to bring in raw video footage from cameras after a day’s worth of filming in order to prepare “daily rushes” for review by producers and directors, or edit the footage in to a finished product.

The technology finally evolved to become Thunderbolt 3 then Thunderbolt 4 which worked not on its own connector type but using the USB-C connector. That made for a high-speed cost-effective implementation of this standard. As well, the bandwidth has be multiplied by 4 to allow more data to flow.

Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt dock

The Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt 3 dock is an example of what this standard is about

Here the USB Type-C plug underscored the docking use case that Thunderbolt 3, USB4 and Thunderbolt 4 brought on. This became a real advantage with designing “thin and light” ultraportable laptops so these computers have a slimline look yet can be connected to workspaces that use docks based on these standards.

Razer Blade gaming Ultrabook connected to Razer Core external graphics module - press picture courtesy of Razer

Razer Core external graphics module with Razer Blade gaming laptop – what Thunderbolt 3 is about

The external graphics module that this specification encouraged has maintained a strong appeal with gamers but I often see these devices as opening paths towards “fit-for-purpose” computing setups with enhanced graphics power based around ultraportable or cost-effective computers. This is more so with the latest Intel integrated graphics silicon offering more than just very limited “economy-class” graphics abilities.

What Intel needs to do is to make Thunderbolt 4 and subsequent generations become more ubiquitous as a high-throughput “equivalent to PCIe” wired connection between computer and peripheral.

Here this could be about affordable laptops and all-in-ones equipped with at least one Thunderbolt 4 port along with Intel-silicon motherboards for traditional desktop computers using this same connector. As well, Intel needs to keep the Thunderbolt standard “silicon-independent” so that AMD and other silicon vendors can implement this technology. It includes the ability for ARM-based silicon vendors to implement Thunderbolt-based technology in their computing designs.

Thunderbolt 3 and 4 can even open up ideas like using “standard-form-factor” computer designs like the ATX or Mini-ITX families to create so-called “expansion chassis” setups based on these designs., opening up paths for construction of devices like external graphics modules by independent computer stores or computer enthusiasts. Or it could open up the path towards a wide variety of docks and external graphics modules that have different functionalities and specifications.

This recommendation can drive down the cost of add-on external graphics modules for those of us who want better graphics performance out of our computers some time down the track.

What Thunderbolt has meant is the rise of a very-high-throughput wired interface that can offer external devices the equivalent of what would be built in to a computer.

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European businesses still value data protection for their online services

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

Europäische Cloud-Anbieter profitieren von Datenschutzbedenken (European cloud offerings profit from data protection) | Netzwoche.ch (German language / Deutsche Sprache)

My Comments

I am following the scene as far as European online services and cloud computing for both business and consumer use is going. This is based on how I see that Europe could compete with the US establishment when it comes to offering any online service and ensure it respects European values.

I have just read a Swiss article which talked about the US and Chinese hyperscale cloud platforms dominating the European cloud-computing scene. But this article is stating that European cloud-computing / online-service providers are catching up with these behemoths. Here these companies are using data protection as a selling point due to data-protection and user-privacy concerns by European businesses and government authorities.

An example I saw of this is Germany and France working towards creating public-cloud computing services with the goal of being able to compete against the public-cloud services offered by the USA and Asia.

A recent survey completed by the French IT consultant Capgemini highlighted that the German-speaking part of Europe (Germany, Australia and Switzerland) were buying minimal European IT services. But the same Capgemini survey were saying that 45 of the respondents wanted to move to European providers in the future thanks to data protection and data sovereignty issues.

Data security is being given increasing importance due to recent cyber attacks and the increased digitalisation of production processes. But the Europeans have very strong data protection and end-user privacy mandates at national and EU level thanks to a strong respect for privacy and confidentiality within modern Europe.

COVID-19 had placed a lot of European IT projects on ice but there has been a constant push to assure business continuity even under the various public-health restrictions mandated by this plague. This includes the support for distributed working whether that be home-office working or remote working.

But how is this relevant to European households, small businesses and community organisations? I do see this as being relevant due to the use of various online and cloud IT services as part of our personal life thanks to the like of search engines, email / messaging, the Social Web, online entertainment, and voice driven assistants. As well, small businesses and community organisations show interest in online and cloud-based computing as a means of benefiting from what may be seen as “big-time” IT without needing much in the way of capital expenditure.

It will be a slow and steady effort for Europe to have online and cloud computing on a par with the US and Asian establishment but this will be about services that respect European privacy, security and data-sovereignty values.

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How to use RSS Webfeeds effectively nowadays

RSS Webfeed iconThe recent saga involving Facebook denying Australian users to news content has shown up a requirement to have multiple paths for following your daily news online from respected sources. This is more so where we want to use a single-view approach to aggregating content from multiple news services.

Often the solution is to subscribe to multiple email newsletters or load your mobile devices with news apps provided by multiple news outlets. This becomes an issue if you follow multiple news outlets and you want that “aggregated news view” from the different outlets. It means to have in the one screen view a list of headlines or articles from multiple sources in the one screen view.

The technology that I see regaining currency for this goal is RSS or “Really Simple Syndication” Webfeeds. This is where a Website provides a special always-updated XML file representing new and updated content.

This technology had a lot of currency in the early 2010s with popular Web browsers having RSS Webfeed management with that particular orange Webfeed icon. At the same time, Google ran an online RSS Webfeed reader but its death had sidelined the popular takeup of this technology.

RSS Webfeeds are still being used as a way to syndicate and synchronise content across the Web. Here, most Websites like this HomeNetworking01.info Website you are reading use this approach to facilitate “master” synchronisation for applications like email newsletters or content discovery such as “sitemaps”. It is also used very heavily in the podcast ecosystem to alert users when they have new episodes available of a podcast they subscribe to.

There are still some RSS feed readers out there that are worth using so you can craft your own personal newsfeeds.

Two methods of operation

Feedly screenshot

Feedly – an example of an online Webfeed reader that shows a custom newsfeed

But I see these Webfeed readers and podcast managers as falling in to two different categories based on where the subscription and synchronisation data is held. Such data represents the Webfeeds you are following and what articles you have read or podcasts you have listened to.

The first type is the “device-based” reader that keeps this data on the device that the user uses to read these Webfeeds or listen to podcasts. Examples can include email clients with RSS Webfeed reader functionality, Web browsers wtih built-in RSS Webfeed reader functionality or Webfeed reader and podcast manager apps that don’t work with an online-based user account.

In this case, anything you have read on that device is deemed read as far as that device is concerned. As well, if you add or delete Webfeeds on that device, these changes only apply to that device.

The second type is the online reader that is associated with a remote online backend of some sort. This can be a purpose-built online news aggregator or podcast manager that has an online infrastructure built up by its vendor. Or it could be part of an email or similar service that integrates RSS Webfeed management and is tied to the user’s service account. That also encompasses business cloud-computing backends offering this function or a NAS or file server that runs RSS feed-manager or podcast-manager software.

This type of RSS feed reader will be increasingly seen as the way to go for managing and viewing RSS Webfeed and podcast collections. This is due to most of us having multiple computing devices of some form or another, with a desire to view our Webfeeds across the different devices.

A popular example of this is Feedly which works on a freemium approach with a generous free-use allowance. This uses a Web view but has native clients for mobile platforms. It also has social sign-on for Google and Facebook accounts as well as the ability to create a unique acclount.

Here, it would work with user accounts that hold Webfeed subscription and synchronisation details. The end-users gain access to these feeds through a Webpage or a first-party or third-party native software client written for that end-user’s platform.  This approach supports multi-device use in such a way that what is read on one device is deemed read on other devices. As well, if you add or delete Webfeeds on your account, these changes are reflected on all devices associated with your account.

What to look for an an RSS feed reader

A well-designed RSS feed reader should allow you to group feeds in a hierarchical order. This may come in handy to make it easier to organise your Webfeeds based on common factors like country source, interest or whatever.

For online feed readers, you need to make sure there is a client app that suits your device properly. This includes a user interface commensurate to your device type be it a smartphone, tablet or regular computer.

How to discover a Webfeed

You may find that your Web browser has support for detecting RSS Webfeeds. This may be in the form of a button that glows orange when the browser detects a Webfeed. This then opens up the Webfeed in your browser or you may find that your Webfeed reader app launches so you can add the Webfeed to that site.

Desktop Web browsers based on Google Chrome and have access to the Google’s app store for Chrome extensions can run a Chrome extension that detects RSS Webfeeds.

The popular news Websites will have a page which shows what Webfeeds are available from their Website. Here, you can then click on these Weblinks to open these feeds or right-click on each feed to copy them in to your feed reader.

Let’s not forget that most RSS feed readers will have a Webfeed-discovery option where you enter your site’s URL in to a “search” dialog box. This will cause the feed reader to show you what feeds are available so you can add them to your feed list

What needs to happen

There needs to be a number of polished capable online RSS feed reader services that are made aware to business and consumers in order to allow people to make their own news views effectively. As well, there has to be a return to simplified Webfeed discovery for news Websites.

The cohort of smart TVs, set-top boxes and the Internet of Things needs to come on board the RSS Webfeed bandwagon as much as regular and mobile computing devices. This could be in the form of a Webfeed-driven “teletext” experience for smart TVs or simply smart displays of the Amazon Echo Show or Google Smart Hub ilk being able to show your custom RSS-driven news feeds at your command.

Conclusion

It is still worth remembering that the RSS Webfeed is still to be valued as an information service in its own roght. It is more so as a way to create your own custom news views without relying on the big names of the Social Web to provide that feed.

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Spotify to add hi-fi streaming to its music service

Articles Spotify HiFi person image courtesy of Spotify

Spotify finally adds one of its most-requested features – Android Authority

Spotify Will Launch a HiFi Streaming Tier Later This Year | Gizmodo Australia

From the horse’s mouth

Spotify

Five Things to Know About Spotify HiFi (Press Release)

Video – Click or tap to play on YouTube

My Comments

Cambridge Audio / Rega hi-fi system

Now Spotify is to offer a streaming music service fit to play through hi-fi equipment

Initially Tidal offered a subscription-driven music streaming service that had a sound quality fit for high-end audio equipment. Deezer had followed up with a similar service catering to that same market. Subsequently Amazon launched a service tier to their streaming music service that offers this same hi-fi sound.

Here, it wasn’t just appealing to hi-fi enthusiasts who have the premium high-quality audio gear to appreciate this sound quality but to musicians who wanted their listeners to hear their music at its best.

Now Spotify has come on board by working towards a hi-fi-grade music service tier. This is especially as most of us use Spotify as our “go-to” online music jukebox service. It will use lossless audio streaming technology to yield CD/DAT-quality sound from this service.

There is an intent to have it work on any Spotify endpoint including Spotify Connect devices. It is because a significant number of hi-fi components that have network-media playback functionality provide support for Spotify Connect.

Spotify has an intent to have it start to roll out by the end of this year and there may be questions about whether Spotify software or Spotify-Connect-enabled firmware needs to be updated to support this functionality. Of course you would need to use Spotify HiFi with equipment and connection types that answers the call of reproducing high-quality sound. It may even push Sony, Bose, B&O and Apple to consider how the Bluetooth setup involving their high-end Bluetooth active-noise-cancelling headsets can work with this service on any smartphone.

There will be questions about how Spotify HiFi will be priced and whether all of Spotify’s library will be available at the CD-quality sound that this tier will offer. Some reckon that a subscription to this tier will be between US$15-US$20 per month similar to what Tidal and Amazon are charging for their hi-fi level services. But they may look at ways to undercut Tidal and Amazon whether through a cheaper deal or offering more than what they both offer for their hi-fi-grade streaming services.

I also see this as a chance for Apple and Google to bring through high-quality-audio streaming services as part of the audio-streaming packages if they don’t want to be left behind. This will be important for Apple especially if they don’t want to lose their image as courting the premium “status-symbol” end of the technology market.

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Gainsborough TriLock appears now as a smart lock

Articles –From the horse’s mouth

Gainsborough Hardware

FreeStyle TriLock smart lock

Product Page

Product Microsite

Press Release from Allegion (parent company of Gainsborough Hardware)

Video – Click or tap to play on YouTube

My Comments

During the 1990s, a type of residential door lock had come on the market which conveys the look of a mortice lock but has the simple quick installation approach associated with the “bore-through” cylindrical or tubular form factors.

One of these entrance locksets that came about was the Gainsborough TriLock entrance set. This offered double-cylinder “deadlock” security demanded in the Australian market but had the ability for users to just lock the outside handle from the inside by pressing a button.

But Gainsborough Hardware have revised this lockset to become a smart lock. This entrance set, known as the FreeStyle TriLock, has a concealable keypad for users to enter their access codes when they want to enter, no matter whether it is locked from both sides or just the outside. There is an intent behind this lock’s design to allow a householder to replace a TriLock lockset that was on their front door without needing to drill new holes or refinish the door.

As well, it used Bluetooth connectivity with manufacturer-supplied smartphone apps so you can control the lock from your smartphone, including being notified of someone arriving at your home and letting themselves in. Of course, the FreeStyle TriLock allows you to use the traditional metal key to unlock the door, with this existing as a failsafe measure as well as for those of us still comfortable with the traditional key.

This unit can support up to 20 users and has the ability to schedule individual users’ access to your premises. The optional Gainsborough Bluetooth-Wi-Fi network bridge paves the way for remote management of this lockset, something that would pleas holiday-home or short-let premises owners.

There will be the issue of whether this smart lock will “tie in” with other smart-home systems like Amazon Alexa / Google Assistant (Home), Samsung SmartThings and similar platforms. This will be more so as we expect more out of these smart locks beyond letting ourselves and others in to our premises.

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PocketBook introducing an ebook reader with a 7.8”colour e-ink display

PocketBook InkPad Color eBook reader press picture courtesy of PocketBookArticles

Pocketbook InkPad Color Has a New Kaleido E-ink Screen, Costs $330 | The Digital Reader (the-digital-reader.com)

German Language / Deutsche Sprache

PocketBook InkPad Color: Großer eReader in Farbe – COMPUTER BILD

Inkpad Color: Neuer E-Reader mit Farbdisplay – PC-WELT

From the horse’s mouth

PocketBook

PocketBook InkPad Color: meet the first 7.8-inch e-reader with color E Ink new Kaleido™ screen (Press Release)

InkPad Color reader (Product Page)

Video – Click or tap to play in YouTube

My Comments

Previously, PocketBook who is a Switzerland-based eBook reader manufacturer, offered the first colour eBook reader which has a very useable colour e-ink display. This unit was with a 6” display.

But they have extended this to an eBook reader with a larger 7.8” display but achieving the same “dot-per-inch” resolution as the 6” model. The frontlight is even designed to work properly with E-Ink Kaleido and yield the best visual performance even if it is turned down to the lowest level.

Most of the features for this PocketBook InkPad Color are the same for both the PocketBook Color eBook readers with things like text-to-speech, Bluetooth connectivity, and support for audio files based on MP3, Ogg Vorbis and AAC codecs. But it also has Wi-Fi which would come in to its own for downloading eBooks and other “electronic hard copy” material from PocketBook’s own electronic bookstore, Dropbox and ReadRate. It also has a built-in RSS-based Webfeed reader for those of us who follow blogs and other online services using this standard technology.

The large colour display may come in to its own with graphic novels or other illustrated material. I would see this more so in France and Belgium where the “BD” visual novels  and comic albums are an artform unto themselves. Even business and education would value the large colour screen for illustrated materials delivered in electronic hard copy.

The PocketBook InkPad Color will weigh in at 225g even though it has the large screen. It will cost EUR€299 in Europe or US$330 in the USA.

It will be interesting to know how the E-Ink Kaleido technology will be taken further. In the near term, it could be about moving towards larger colour e-ink displays. But it could also lead towards work on photo-quality colour e-ink displays, making for electronic photo frames that use this technology or even towards colour digital signage.

What needs to happen is for more eBook readers to license and implement colour e-ink technology. Here, a colour display can be seen by an e-book reader manufacturer as a product differentiator just as size or network / Internet connectivity is used for that purpose. It can encourage authors and publishers to use colour as a drawcard for their eBook versions of their works.

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Australia now calls for right-to-repair laws

Articles

Android main interactive lock screen

Australia to seek right-to-repair legislation or regulation to allow customers to seek cost effective repairs for smartphones and other consumer goods

A ‘Right To Repair’ Law Would Put Australians Back In Control Of Their Tech | Gizmodo

Australia’s Right To Repair Moment Is Well Overdue | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Productivity Commission (Australia)

Right To Repair inquiry (home page)

My Comments

Increasingly it has become increasingly difficult to repair or have repaired manufactured goods made in the last few decades. We then end up with a situation where it is economically preferable to replace them or have them operate at a sub-par level for the rest of their useful lives. This leads to waste associated with broken goods being taken to recycling or landfill.

Lets not forget that end-users may want to modify equipment to suit their changing needs. For example, there will be the desire to upsize the RAM or storage on a computer, games console or set-top box so it can accommodate more data or run more smoothly. Or some devices may be modified for improved useability by users that have limited abilities. There may even be the idea of integrating existing HVAC systems in to smart-home setups.

Some of the limitations include limiting access to spare parts, technical knowledge and special repair tools to repair workshops and technicians approved by the manufacturer. In some cases, some manufacturers have reduced the number of approved repair workshops or technicians so it becomes increasingly inconvenient or expensive to seek repairs yourself. As well, it becomes more difficult for others including yourself to repair these items.

There is an increasing pressure to allow consumers or independent third-party repairers to repair items. This movement, known as the “right-to-repair” movement, has gained traction within the USA and the European Union with both these jurisdictions introducing legislation and regulation that enshrine this right. Even France is taking further action by having a “reparability rating” on certain classes of consumer goods like smartphones, TVs or washing machines so customers can know whether the item can be repaired and how difficult it would be to repair.

Arguments often cited for this include the ability for a device to last a long time thanks to the increased availability of replacement parts and knowledge to repair these devices. Here, it opens up the idea of independent repairers being able to repair these devices or allowing a technically-adept person to perform their own repairs. It includes the ability to see more people employed or doing business in the repair trade along with further sharing of knowledge about repairing equipment of different types including sophisticated equipment.

It could extend to the idea of a rich refurbished-device market so that devices that people need are made more affordable. This could also apply to the availability of devices that are modified for accessibility or to suit certain usage scenarios.

Over the last year, the Australian Productivity Commission has called for action to support right-to-repair by instigating an inquiry in to this topic. They have been soliciting submissions through this inquiry in order to make the best call on right-to-repair laws in this country. But it is easy to see it as being just for consumer goods like smartphones or cars.

Some submissions have expanded the scope of goods covered to those normally supplied to businesses or the public service, with the article citing devices like videosurveillance cameras or equipment to do with car-parking systems thanks to these devices being part of the smart city ideal. Here, they say that these devices are known to outlast the vendors that supply them in the order of years if not decades. It would encompass the issue of a vendor collapsing or being taken over by another larger firm, with this impacting on the supply of parts and technical knowledge for these devices.

Another commonly cited situation for “business-to-business” devices is tractors and agricultural equipment. Here, it is about whether parts or expertise is available for these machines nearer the farms that they are used on including whether that local diesel mechanic in that small town can get the tractor working properly again. This is as they are becoming more complicated to repair thanks to use of computer technology to manage engines or other aspects of the machine’s operation.

They also cited the issue of software especially firmware that allows most of today’s devices to run. There is a call to provide continual software-quality updates to this software for as long as the hardware device is to last or “open up” the hardware to third parties to provide software. An example of this is what has happened with the Linksys WRT-54G Wi-Fi broadband router where there has been the OpenWRT community creating highly-capable firmware for this device.

In this context, there was the issue of using digital-rights management to stop do-it-yourself or independent repair of equipment. Even in this case, it has to be about keeping the software up-to-date for as long as the device or platform lasts and if this can’t be achieved, opening up the device or platform to third parties.

Of course device vendors and their peak bodies are against these ideas due to them losing control of their devices to end-users and independent repairers. An example of this is Interactive Games & Entertainment Association who represent the console-based video-games platforms. Here, they don’t want this to go ahead because they see that games consoles don’t need the same kind of consumer protection as other consumer devices. But it may be that this kind of consumer protection may be about disturbing their business model with the games consoles being sold as loss-leaders with the cost made up in the games the people play on these consoles.

Luckily Australia is starting to see this issue for what it is and could set up “right-to-repair” legislation and regulation. As well, I also see this issue having impact on New Zealand due to that country being seen as the “same” market as Australia and it being easier for both the Australian and New Zealand governments enforcing the same standard of right-of-repair on both sides of the Tasman Sea.

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Wi-Fi EasyConnect and EasyMesh are now updated further

Articles

Linksys MR7350 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Router press picture courtesy of Belkin

Wi-Fi EasyConnect to be upgraded to simplify Internet-of-things setup

Wi-Fi Alliance debuts improvements to Wi-Fi mesh and IoT device onboarding | Wi-Fi NOW

From the horse’s mouth

Wi-Fi Alliance

Wi-Fi Alliance® connects and expands home Wi-Fi® (Press Release)

My Comments

Improvements to EasyConnect

Most of us may think of Wi-Fi EasyConnect as simply scanning a QR code with your smartphone to get your smartphone on to a Wi-Fi network that you want to use. Or it could be about using a smartphine app to scan a QR code on a device you want to bring on board to your home network that your phone is connected to.

But this week the Wi-Fi Alliance have cemented in stone ways of using WI-Fi EasyConnect to bring devices on board to your network. You still have to use a “configurator” program which could be an app on your smartphone to bring devices, known as “enrollees” on board to that network or to join that network yourself.

A Wi-Fi EasyConnect setup can support multiple “configurator” programs which will cater to environments where different software has different capabilities. As well, the standard allows a “configurator” program to work with multiple networks, allowing for realities like an individual ESSID for each waveband or people who are responsible for multiple networks.

Telstra Smarty Modem Generation 2 modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

.. and to even build out Wi-Fi EasyMesh distributed-wireless networks simply

Here, NFC “tap-and-go” pairing and Bluetooth LE pairing is part of the standard. As well, you can transcribe a PIN or passcode shown on the device or attached to a label on that device to enrol the device to your home network. For cloud-driven device platforms like Amazon Echo, the cloud platform downloads the device identifying details to your computing device to facilitate binding it to your Wi-Fi network.

Android users may be familiar with NFC-based device pairing when they set up some Bluetooth headsets with their phones or tablets. That is where you touch your Android smartphone or tablet to the headset to start the pairing and setup process.

But there currently isn’t support for showing a PIN or passcode on the configuration software for you to transcribe in to your device you are intending to bring on board your Wi-FI home network. Such a procedure could come in to its own with devices that have a keypad or keyboard as part of their control surface, examples being smart locks or TVs that have “many-button” remote controls.

For people who manage enterprise and building networks, Wi-FI EasyConnect is updated also to allow you to onboard devices to your WPA3-Enterprise Wi-Fi business network. Here the network would have to support EAP-TLS and implement X.509 digital certificates. It is to cater towards a reality where business owners and building managers want to bring “Internet-of-Everything” devices which don’t have a rich user interface on to these networks while keeping these networks secure.

For that matter, users of devices running Android 10 or newer versions stand to benefit from Wi-FI EasyConnect in some ways without the need for extra apps to be downloaded from the Google Play Store. Here, they can use their smartphone or tablet to scan a QR code that represents their target network’s Wi-Fi details to accede to that network. Or they can scan a QR code on a Wi-Fi-capable device they want to bring to the network they are using as long as this device supports Wi-Fi EasyConnect.

It is part of making sure that Wi-Fi EasyConnect works as part of the Wi-Fi WPA3 link-layer security specifications which will be required for a Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6 wireless-network segment to operate to specification.

The support for Wi-Fi EasyConnect that needs to come about is to have other mobile and desktop operating systems support this standard in some capacity, preferably in a native form. This would have to include using Bluetooth as an alternative to QR codes as a method of sharing Wi-Fi network credentials from a mobile device to a laptop or tablet.

Improvements to EasyMesh

Wi-Fi EasyMesh distributed-wireless setups now support onboarding of new access points using Wi-Fi EasyConnect methods. This means that the same user interface that is needed to get a computer or IoT device on your home network applies to Wi-FI network-infrastructure devices compliant to this standard. It will also be part of making sure that a Wi-Fi EasyMesh network works to the current WPA3 security expectations.

This is in addition to each of the access points in an EasyMesh setup being able to share advanced metrics about how the network is performing as a whole. Here, it will come in to play with those Wi-Fi networks that are managed or supported by other entities like business Wi-Fi.

Conclusion

The revisions to the Wi-Fi EasyConnect and EasyMesh standards are more about simplifying the process to bring Internet-of-Things devices on board to your WPA3-compliant home or business network. It is also about simplifying the process to build out your EasyMesh-compliant distributed wireless network with multiple satellite repeater units.

But what needs to happen is for more software and hardware support for these standards in order that they become increasingly accepted within the marketplace.

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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.

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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.

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