Category: Current and Future Trends

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

Article

Sharp Smart Countertop Microwave Oven press picture courtesy of Sharp USA

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

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

From the horse’s mouth

Sharp USA

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

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Articles

Gigaclear fibre-optic cable - picture courtesy of Gigaclear

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

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

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

My Comments

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

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

Cellular antenna in street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The traditional landline telephone is still trying to be relevant

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Using the common household phone

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

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

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

How is the landline telephone service now delivered?

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

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

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

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

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

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

 

Android main interactive lock screen

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

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

Use cases

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is the landline still relevant?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The future of the traditional landline telephone service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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