Ofcom consults on Walkie Talkies, Level Crossings and DECT phones

Ofcom, the Super Regulator, is holding a consultation on Licence Exemption of Wireless Telegraphy Devices.

Walkie Talkies or as they're officially known as Private Mobile Radio (PMR), are allowed to operate in license exempt status in the band 446.0 - 446.2 MHz. Previously this was split into to bands, 446.0 - 446.1 MHz for Analogue PMR446 equipment and 446.1 - 446.2 MHz for Digital PMR446 equipment.

Ofcom is proposing to make the whole band available for both analogue and digital PMR446 equipment, whereby: -

  • the band 446.0-446.2 MHz for the use of analogue PMR 446 with a channel plan based on 12.5 kHz spacing where the lowest carrier frequency is 446.00625 MHz
  • the band 446.1-446.2 MHz for the use of digital PMR 446 with a channel plan based on 6.25 kHz and 12.5 kHz spacing where the lowest carrier frequencies are 446,103125 MHz and 446.10625 MHz respectively
  • the band 446.0-446.2 MHz for the use of digital PMR 446 with a channel plan based on 6.25 kHz and 12.5 kHz spacing where the lowest carrier frequencies are 446,003125 MHz and 446.00625 MHz respectively as of 1 January 2018
  • analogue PMR446 equipment operating in the frequency range 446.1-446.2 MHz should use more robust receivers as specified in ETSI TS 103 236 or equivalent technical specifications

This would allow any device to transmit max 500mW while NO fixed basestations are allowed and the maximum transmit time would be 180s, This would all come into effect in Jan 2018.

Ofcom also wish to change mandated exclusion zones around radio astronomy sites for level crossing radar to that of co-ordinated exclusion zones i.e. level crossing radar in the exclusions zones could be used with the coordination of the Radio Astronomy sites. The methodology, decision and appeal processes to determine whether a device can be deployed in the coordination zone is to be agreed between the rail network operators and the Radio Astronomy service.

The current exclusion zones are

SiteNGRExclusion zone
Jodrell BankSJ 79650 5095020 km
CambridgeTL 39400 5400020 km
DeffordSO 90200 44700 20 km
DarnhallSJ 64275 6226520 km
KnockinSJ 32855 21880 20 km
PickmereSJ 70404 76945 20 km

DECT equipment has been license exempt for a number of years, operating in the band 1880 to 1900 MHz. Currently the document exempting the equipment states that a handset connects to a basestation and it is proposed to just change the to a short range device (SRD) to make it more applicable to handsets that aren't connected to the telephone network.

Stakeholders wishing to respond may do so using Ofcom's on-line form.


Misfit Shine2 - it's not shiny

Misfit have produced the prettiest wearable for a while, the original Shine tracked steps and was one (if not the) first to do automatic sleep tracking. It was a small disk (27.5mm across and 3.3mm high) which contained the electronics and a changeable CR2032 coin cell which lasted for about 6 months. It came with a silicon strap and a silicon magnetic clip so it could be worn on the wrist or clipped on to a t-shirt, bra, shoes, trouser pocket or wherever suited the user. It's also possible to buy socks and t-shirts with a dedicated Shine pocket and a necklace too. It links back to the Misfit app (Android and iOS) using Bluetooth 4.0.

Now the Shine2 is out it's bigger (it's 30.5mm across and 8mm height) and comes in matt black (carbon back as Misfit describe it) and rose gold. It's also 50m water resistant. The original Shine had 12 white LEDs around the edge and the have been upgraded to RGB LEDs, there's also a 'buzzer' inside that can notify you of various things. The battery is still a CR2032 which should last for around 6 months and Bluetooth is now 4.1 which allows for faster data transfers.

The Shine2 can now wake you up by its buzzer (you set the time in the app), the original Shine had the smart alarm feature, but you'd need the phone by your side. It can now also notify you of calls and texts.

The strap and clip unfortunately don't feel as well made as the smaller ones with the original Shine, but then there'll probably be a slew of new accessories for you to spend more money with Misfit.

Having used the Shine2 for a day, sync'ing definitely seems faster, though you definitely notice the size increase.

Still a very pretty wearable compared to most.

It retails for $99.99 from the Misfit Store (they do ship to the UK using DHL so add shipping costs and import duties/VAT).


Ofcom tackles Pirate Radio

Ofcom, the Super regular has published a report on how it has worked with Haringey Council to remove equipment used for Pirate Radio broadcasting from buildings operated by the council. 19 stations were closed in 2014.

Ofcom and Haringey estimate that this has saved the council £90,000 in enforcement and maintenance costs. Ofcom is meeting with other councils on the 3rd of November to report their findings from the Haringey cooperation and if this is rolled out across London could save councils £1m per annum.

Though Pirate radio is illegal it can form a basis for community radio, unfortunately it can cause real issues and NATS has reported 55 incidents of interference from Pirate station. There have also been complaints from emergency services and licensed commercial users.

There are schemes in place for local broadcasters to legally broadcast and Ofcom has even allowed DAB stations to be set-up using off-the-shelf hardware and open source software which means a DAB station can be set-up for around £6,000. These use Linux and efforts from OpenDigitalRadio and commercially available software defined radios.

Pirate radio has been groundbreaking in the past and it will be a shame if all Pirate radio stations disappear, but if Ofcom genuinely allow more open access using local commercial DAB multiplexes maybe it won't matter.


ARM doesn't quite open source M0 processor

ARM, the company that licenses it's CPU technology, is now offering the designs of it's Cortex-M0 for 'free'.

It isn't quite free, but the IP is available to designers to integrate into their own System-on-Chip (SoC) designs pre-commercialisation, along with supporting peripherals. There's then a fast track process to license the IP when the chip goes into production.

The designs will allow prototyping the the CPU and peripherals on a field programmable gate array (FPGA) before committing to actual silicon.

ARM is also supplying access to the ARM Keil MDK (software developer kits) for 90 days so developers can test their designs.

Once a commercial license has been obtained, ARM will provide use of the ARM Cortex-M0 processor IP, SDK, and Keil MDK development tools, along with ARM technical support.

This should allow start-ups who wish to develop specific SoC solutions to utilise the ARM M0 in their designs without having to pay traditional (large) licensing fees upfront.


There's a new smartwatch on the BLOCKs

After a 2 year wait, the BLOCKS smartwatch is now live on Kickstarter. It has a round face and comes in 3 colours (Onyx Black, Marble White, Sunrise Red) with a 360 x 360 colour display with haptic feedback.

Inside it's got quite a lot of technology inside the core itself: -

  • Snapdragon 400 CPU
  • WiFi supporting 802.11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 4.1 (Bluetooth Low Energy/Bluetooth SMART)
  • 512MB RAM
  • 4GB Flash (ePOP
  • 1.35" fully round display
  • Accelerometer / Gyroscope
  • Power button
  • Microphone
  • Vibration (motor)

It runs a (full) version of Android Lollipop (not Android Wear) which gives the core module much more functionality than standard Android based smartwatches. It doesn't stop there as the watch can be upgraded with modules (blocks) which can be thought of as strap links. A large wrist will support 4 blocks, while a more petite wrist should support 3.

Though designed to support extra modules, the watch core (i.e. the main round watch bit) will function by itself and the lowest cost option is just the core and a strap.

The BLOCKS smartwatch is fully compatible with both iOS (v8+) and Android.

The exciting bit is the additional modules, the following are available via the Kickstarter campaign: -

  • Extra battery (the main battery lasts about a day and a half, this extends the period by at least 20%)
  • Heart Rate module - uses and optical sensor
  • GPS module
  • NFC Module - may support contactless payment
  • Adventure module - it measures altitude, pressure and temperature

Next year the following modules are planned (Phase 2): -

  • GSM module - insert a SIM and leave your phone at home
  • Fingerprint module - authenticate things, maybe NFC payments
  • LED module - a torch?
  • Button module - use for emergency alerts or anything else you can think of using a button for

Then at a later date the following modules might come into being: -

  • Air Quality module
  • Camera module
  • Flash Memory module
  • Stress Levels module

The smartphone app allows further modules to be purchased (BLOCKstore), customise watch faces and buy watch apps (BLOCKSware?).

The basic BLOCKS core (and strap) starts at $195. The Super Early Bird (sold out) was at $250, the Early Bird (one left at time of publishing) was $260 and the Late Early Bird is $275 which goes up to $285 when all the early birds have gone. All of the later pricing includes for modules and further modules can be purchased for $30. There are also options to purchase multiple units.

BLOCKS has now been fully funded (the campaign launched at 5pm UK time) and has raised over $300,000 of a $250,000 target, that's $300,000 in under 2 hours!!!


New NFC ring, better with twice the NFC

Last week seems to be the week of NFC (Moo launched it's Business Card+ NFC cards, see previous article) and John McLear has launched the second series of his NFC ring.

The original NFC ring was launched on Kickstarter and though the campaign was a success, rings took far longer to arrive than expected due to production difficulties. Now there's a second NFC ring (also launched on Kickstarter, the campaign is active), which is nicer and better than the first.

The new ring is made from ceramic and looks much smarter than the first series. It has TWO NFC inlays based on the NTAG216 NFC chip made by NCP semiconductors. This allows to the ring to be dual use and store both public and private information. Use one NFC chip to store something like a website address and use the other to store secret info which could be used to unlock a phone (and with the appropriate hardware even a house lock etc). The chips work in the 13.56MHz band and can store up to 888 bytes of information (and that info will be held for up to 10 years). The chips support 100,000 write cycles (unlikely people will change the info stored that often, but in a retail environment that could happen).

The ring is laser engraved with the NFC logo on the inside making it easy to differentiate which is the public and private side of the ring.

The NFC supports 3 modes: -

  • open, which allows the user to write the data into chip (and also anybody else who might have an NFC writer in the vicinity)
  • closed, whereby once set, the data in the chip can never be changed again
  • code lock, this allows setting a code and data on the chip can only be set once the code has been verified by the chip

Currently code lock is not implemented in the Android app that accompanies the ring, but it will be in the future.

The early bird price for the NFC ring was £18 (all gone), but it's still possible to pledge £23 and get one (it's possible to order multiples too). It's also possible to get 2 NFC inlays for £5 and 4 for £10 so users can build their own ring designs (the inlays are 20mm by 6mm by 0.2mm).

Unfortunately NFC is only really usable on Android/Windows and Blackberry users (there's lots of programs available to program the chips including ones by NXP themselves). Since Android 5.0 the smart lock application is included in the base operating system so a phone can be unlocked with an NFC tag.

MacOS X/iOS users are once again out of luck as there's no real native support in the operating systems themselves, though 3rd party NFC add ons are available.

In future it may even be possible to pay for goods with the NFC ring utilising contactless payment technology (though it will require addition security so the crew card tokens/keys can be securely stored in the rings).

The Kickstarter campaign ends on the 21st Oct 2015.


Moo Moovs beyond the traditional business card

Moo, the company founded by Richard Moross MBE, which traditionally focussed on making very pretty business cards and other stationary has now added NFC technology to its portfolio.

It's has branded the technology as BusinessCard+ and users can utilise all the normal Moo tools for designing a regular business card, but sandwiched inside is an NFC chip and antenna. It's possible to have the cards preprogrammed before they leave Moo which is a boon for Apple users as NFC support is lacking.

The Moo NFC service can be set-up in several ways: -

  • Embed a URL
  • Action Library
  • 3rd party Actions
  • Maker Channel

The embed a URL just puts in a standard URL (with the length limitation based on the storage of the NFC chip), this could point anywhere such as a website.

The Action Library is really a Moo URL redirector, whereby the URL in the chip points to Moo, which then deliver an action which can be: -

  • Website Link i.e. a standard URL
  • Digital Business Card i.e. the redirection points to a vCard
  • Connect your social network i.e. a social network URL
  • Promote your app i.e. a link to an app download

3rd party actions can be: -

  • Connect on LinkedIn i.e. points to your LinkedIn URL
  • Navigate with CityMapper i.e. a link to a CityMapper location
  • Videochat with appear.in i.e. a link to your appear.in user
  • Listen with Spotify i.e. a Spotify URL
  • Meet with Sunrise i.e. a Sunrise link

The Maker channel supports an IFTTT recipe.

Once a URL has been put into the card, it's difficult to change (well for Mac/iOS users anyway), Android, Blackberry and Windows users are in luck as the OS has native support for NFC and many devices have NFC readers/writers in them and it's easy to get software to support them which means the URL can be changed.

For users that don't have the ability to write to the NFC chips, the Moo Action libraries are really the way to go, as then the actions can be changed on the fly but just logging into Moo and accessing their Paper+ service which allows users to enter what action should be performed from now on for the particular cards selected.

Mac users are really left out in the cold here, though the iPhone 6/6+ and Apple Watch (and newer versions) have NFC bits in them, they're only currently accessible for contactless payment and there's no direct access to the NFC subsystem from the operating system. MacOS X users are also currently out of luck as though there is some support in the operating system, it's drastically changed in recent version of MacOS X and old card reader/writer software no longer works. It is possible to 'hack support', but not really easy for 'normal users', see RFIdiot.org.