24/11/2014

Ofcom clears the way for 700MHz broadband

Ofcom, the Super Regulator, has published a statement that will clear the 700MHz band (694 MHz - 790 MHz) for use by mobile broadband services (likely to be additional bands for LTE services).

It is expected that the auctioning of this band will raise significant revenue for the treasury as well as having a positive economic benefit by allowing mobile network operators (MNOs) access to increased spectrum allowing them to provide better data services. The 700MHz band has very good propagation properties (i.e. signals pass through walls etc well) which should improve mobile coverage in rural areas.

Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) services will continue to operate in the 600MHz band, though multiplexes will use MPEG-4 and DVB-T2 technologies (any tuner that can decode Freeview HD will work with these technologies).

The main users affected by this will be Programming and Special Events (PMSE) radio microphones, who will have to move to other bands.

Whitespace technologies may also be affected, however these haven't really taken off in a big way and even Neul that has built equipment to utilise whitespace have recently concentrated on licensed spectrum (and have been purchased by Huawei).

This may seem daunting, but Ofcom is not proposing that these changes come into effect until 2020 (and maybe 2 years earlier in 2018), this is in-line with European harmonised spectrum strategy.

07/11/2014

Jawbone introduces Move and UP3

Jawbone the company that specialises in Bluetooth devices has launched two new activity trackers, the Move and the UP3.

The Move is a disk like (made out of anodised aluminium) and comes with a clip so you can attach it to your trousers, tie, bra or wherever you feel comfortable. It has a tri-axis accelerometer, 12 White LEDs, 1 Orange LED, and 1 Blue LED to indicate movement time, charge states, progress and current status. To be honest it seems very similar to the Misfit Shine. It uses a replaceable CR2032 battery which lasts up to 6 months. It only costs £39.99 which definitely puts it in the affordable bracket.

The UP3 on the other hand seems to be a vast improvement on the UP24 (and Jawbone known for being a Bluetooth company really shouldn't have released the original UP without Bluetooth support). It has a tri-axis accelerometer and uses bio-impedance to measure heart rate, respiration, Galvanic Skin Response (GSR). It also measures skin and ambient temperature. There are three single color LEDs: Blue for sleep, orange for activity, and white for notifications. It's also water resistant down to 10m (which means that it's suitable for swimming) and the rechargeable battery lasts about a week. It's £149.99 which isn't cheap, but the electronic sensors that measure your conditions are definitely better than the usual LED/pulse-rate detectors that most other devices use and can potentially allow the UP3 to do more accurate and advanced monitoring.

Though Fitbit dominate the tracker market (and though they are also launching new devices), the Move is a cheap and cheerful device for the low end market, while the UP3 has some nice advanced features and should give them a run for their money.

02/11/2014

The Kilogram moves from Platinum/Iridium to a Plank

In October the Kilogram turned 125 and the current International Prototype Kilogram based on a 4cm rod of Platinum and 10 Iridium is going to be phased out in favour of a new Kilogram based on a fundament constant of nature.

The IPK is based at the International Bureau of Weights in Sevres, France with 6 copies spread across the world, but time is having an effect and the weights do not agree with each other and the disagreements are increasing (each time measurements are taken the IPK has to be handled).

The new Kilogram will be based on the Plank, which will be measured using a watt balance (in a vacuum, developed by the National Physics Laboratory in Teddington) and is worked out by measuring how much current is required to move the balance, this will also mean redefinition of the ampere (which will be based on the charge carried by a single proton), but if gravity is known at the measuring point, it all works out from there.

This won't happen overnight and assuming all goes well the new standard will come into force (sic) in 2018.

13/09/2014

What's the big deal about an iPhone 6 and Apple Watch

Last week Apple announced the new iPhone 6 and 6 plus (the 6 being the updated version of the iPhone 5s with slightly larger dimensions and the 6 plus being a phablet with a true 1080 display). These will both be available on September the 19th, through carriers or an Apple Store.

Of course, the Apple Watch was also announced which caused swoons from legions of fanboys worldwide (not available until 2015 though). It's pretty, but no beauty, but does it really mater? Apple will still sell lots of them.

Let's start with the new iPhones, they have a new Apple A8 ARM CPU which can be twice as fast as the old A7X in the iPhone 5s and a new graphics chip (also faster). They also come with an updated M8 co-processor which as well as looking after things like the compass, gyroscope and accelerometer, now handles pressure as well. The older M7 off-loaded these functions, the M8 does the same. Allegedly it's a chip manufactured by NXP so probably a very low power 32bit ARM MCU which off-loads all the data collection from the actual sensor chips and then triggers the main (A8) CPU when it's got some usable data for it - it probably does a bit of data pre-processing too.

The M8 allows the phone to diligently collect movement data using very little power and applications can access the data as they need, the barometer adds the ability to track the height of the device (altitude), so can now measure the user's climbing stairs etc activity - Apple are doing their best to own the health market and it will make a big dent into applications when HealthKit hits iOS 8 allowing multiple health apps to aggregate their data into a central application. Why wear a Nike Fuelband, when your iPhone collects the same data, might as well take the data from the iPhone and send it back to Nike's Plus service (and Nike has recently got out of the tracker market, at least for separate wearables - maybe Tim Cooke [CEO of Apple] who sits on Nike's board gave them a heads-up).

Then there's the NFC stuff that's now in the iPhone, that will be used for Apple Pay. Apple has previously publicly rejected NFC completely saying the market wasn't ready and the NFC market was too fragmented, that's all about to change.

Then there's the Apple Watch, it's square, but Apple have done a fantastic job on the UI, it's nice now and can only improve. It too has a new chip (the S1), but there's not much detail on that yet.. It also has 'health' features and can track movement (independently from the phone), it's got LEDs and sensors on the base which can measure your pulse-rate (many read that to be heart rate, but it's not quite the same, pulse rate is just measuring the blood squirting through the veins - heart-rate generally means taking an ECG reading and measuring the number of beats per minute - that gets tricky and can mean FDA approval, which is a pain that Apple just may not want to go through YET). It has health apps built-in, though it will use the iPhone GPS to measure real distances moves etc.

Currently the LED/sensors just measure pulse-rate, but (probably very much like Withings did with the Pulse) they can also measure O2 concentration in the blood (pO2), then glucose/sugar levels and who knows what else, the technologies there, it just requires enabling bits of software.

The Apple Watch also has that nice little NFC subsystem in it, which will allow older iPhones (and iPads) to utilise Apple Pay (see what they did there!).

However, it's Apple Pay which is the real game changer. NFC on Android phones is fragmented, everyone has their own way of doing things. All the mobile carriers are trying to do mobile wallets, banks are trying to do mobile wallets, Apple is now doing a mobile payment system with agreement from the major card issuers (MasterCard, Visa, AMEX). Admittedly is US only at launch, but it will surely roll out to at least European countries reasonably rapidly. The US hasn't adopted Chip and Pin (C&P) yet, however stores are accepting NFC cards for small payments (NFC cards have a symbol on them, like a wireless signal radiating out). Apple now allows a user to store the card details (in a secure area) on the iPhone and uses that info to make an NFC transaction. It doesn't need all the card info, just enough to tell the merchant who the user is and that gets passed back to the card issuer, the transaction is done (all using secure tokes and secured on the phone using Touch-ID). Presumably Apple takes a small cut of the transaction from the card companies, but they get reduced fraud (mag stripes are easy to clone and until C&P is rolled out in the US, this is a MUCH more secure method). There's also only a single payment system that merchants have to worry about that uses their existing merchant accounts and systems. This will be HUGE for Apple.

That's just the beginning - take TfL's Oyster system in the UK, they're trying to get rid of dedicated Oyster cards and allowing users to use their normal (NFC) bank cards for pay-as-you-go journeys, this will eventually extend to all types of journeys (season tickets etc). Apple can now step in and support Oyster on the phone (and Apple Watch), no more searching for the right card that's registered for Oyster, dangle your watch near the reader.

Moving forwards, as the technology is adopted, Apple can start removing the need for the card companies themselves, it becomes the card issuer, it becomes the bank. The card companies are needed now, but for how long? The technology is there built into the iPhone and Watch. It links into your iTunes account and you have central control.

In the future, Apple produce an NFC reader in their desktop offerings (MacBooks, Airs, iMacs, Mac Pros) and e-commerce sites can access this, go to a site which is Apple Pay enabled, pay through your phone, the possibilities are endless - and the revenue streams to Apple with them.

The big losers? Well Pebble has just been blown out of the water, ok it's cheaper, but it's dumb compared to Apple's Watch. A lot of Android Wear watches are also likely to be hit hard, though some of them are prettier - at least now. Apple have built a watch eco-system - they currently support 3 watch designs and lots of different bracelets, they are all designed and made beautifully (even if the watch itself isn't the prettiest out there, it's a version 1). Now Apple work with the high-end watch designers - Apple Watch inside, designer watch outside. If Apple do this properly, they've corned the smart-watch market for a long time.

The BIGGEST losers though - eventually the card companies, Apple is disrupting them from the inside, much like it did with the music industry and is slowly doing to the film/video industry. The other major loser is COIN, such a good idea (though only for the US's antiquated mag stripe card system, it has a long way to go to support multiple C&P cards, if they ever get the technology and agreements to do so), it's business now looks very shaky indeed, killed by Apple before they've even got beta units out to people. Another loser is potentially POWA, they've got a great system for e-commerce sites so people can pay with their mobiles (and have just raised $200m), Apple Pay potentially kills their services too.

08/09/2014

Europa publish Radio Spectrum report on 700MHz spectrum

Pascal Lamy has presented his report to the European Commission on the future of the UKF (700MHz spectrum).

In summary the report proposes: -

The 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz) is currently used for Digital Terrestrial Television broadcasts and Wireless microphones, this spectrum to be re-alloacted to wireless broadband by 2020 (with a +/- 2 year variance).

The spectrum below 700MHz (470-694 MHz) should be maintained for DTT broadcasts and should be given regulatory stability.

The Program Making and Special Events (PMSE) spectrum should be moved to the 800MHz band (823-832 MHz) and 1.8 GHz (1785-1805 MHz).

This will mean TV sets/etc will need a major retune in around 2018 to ensure reception and also new broadcast technologies (MPEG-4 and DVB-T2 - which is used by Freeview HD, but not all current sets/etc will support it).

It's likely PMSE will require new equipment (especially for radio microphones), but at least manufacturers have about 6 years to do this.

29/08/2014

Ofcom ups the power in the 1800MHz band

Ofcom, the Super Regulator, has made a statement allowing 1800MHz licensees to increase the power from 62dBm to 65dBm.

The current licensees are 1800MHz (1805 - 1876.7 MHz) licensees are: -

  • Telef√≥nica: 1805.1 to 1810.9 MHz
  • Vodafone: 1810.9 to 1816.7 MHz
  • H3G: 1816.7 to 1826.7 MHz (plus 1826.7-1831.7 from October 2015)
  • EE: 1831.7 to 1876.7 MHz (plus 1826.7-1831.7 until September 2015)

The 1800 spectrum is used for downlink bandwidth and the operators use it for LTE services, though it could also be used for WiMAX.

This should allow for increased range of LTE services (i.e. mobiles from base stations).

28/08/2014

iStorage DatAshur Personal

iStorage have been making secure storage for a while, but mainly business devices. These tend to be made out of metal and have been relatively expensive. Now iStorage have come out with a "personal" version. It's made of plastic (the review unit was blue) and are significantly more cost-effective.

The DatAshur Personal comes in 3 versions 8GB, 16GB and 32GB. Each uses the AES-256 encryption standard to encrypt any data stored on the drive (well USB fob). They're not small at 83mm x 17.4mm x 8.6mm (including the end cap), but there's a 10 digit numeric keypad on the device (and a "lock" hey too). There's also two LEDs at the top of the device and a blue one under the lock key

The devices come with a default user PIN of 11223344 which is a special factory setting as it's not possible to set a normal PIN that has repeating or consecutive numbers. PINs must be between 7 and 15 digits long. Each key also has a standard 'phone' letter scheme so alphanumeric passwords can be emulated (so DATASHUR would be 32827487 - though the writing on the keys is quite small, it's probably easier to do the letter to numeric conversion on a phone).

The device actually can store two PINs, an ADMIN PIN and a USER PIN, by default only the USER PIN is enabled. This is actually a very useful feature for companies as the IT department can configure the ADMIN password (which the end-user has no knowledge of) and then issue it to an employee who sets their own USER PIN. If the employee then leaves, the device can be issued to a new employee with a new USER PIN. Obviously the ADMIN user can also see any data on the drive, which also means a USER shouldn't store any data they don't want their IT department to see on the drive too. An ADMIN user can also put the drive into read-only mode, so data can be read, but the drive can't be written to, useful for distributing company confidential information.

Though PINs can NEVER be retrieved from the DatAshur, an ADMIN user can reset a USER PIN (however not the other way around).

Once a correct PIN has been entered, the device will unlock and must be plugged into a USB port within 30 seconds or it will lock again. Once plugged in, it appears as a normal USB memory device.

That's where the security comes in, if a PIN is entered incorrectly 10 times, then the DatAshur will wipe the encryption keys which renders all data on the drive unreadable. This is also true for the file allocation table (or FAT). When in this mode a new PIN will have to be set-up, the drive connected to a USB port and then reformatted (in whichever mode is suitable for the operating system, could be FAT, FAT32 or NTFS) in order to be usable as a drive again.

The 8GB drive is available for @29.00, the 16GB drive costs £39.00 and the 32GB drives is £59.00 - though considerably more expensive (and a larger form factor) than competing USB drives, it should give the user (or IT department) peace of mind that if the drive is lost, the data is pretty secure (guessing a 15 digit password is likely to take more than 10 attempts). It can also be effective for allocating to users and then the IT department can also check what data the user is taking off-site. Suddenly the price doesn't seem so expensive.