08/10/2011

Ofcom delays auction of 800MHz and 2.6GHz (again)

Ofcom, the regulator that deals with broadcast, media, telecoms, radio and now the postal service has once again delayed the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum auctions which now won't happen until at least the Q4 2012.

The 800MHz band will become available after the digital dividend (i.e. when the analogue television services are turned off in 2012), while the 2.6GHz band was reserved as an IMT-2000 (3G) band for future 3G services (or if the new 3G entrant i.e. 3UK failed and another network was set-up).

Both 800MHz and 2.6GHz are suitable for 3G services as existing phones should be able to use them (multiple band phones), they are also suitable for future mobile services such as LTE (Long Term Evolution) which is better known as 4G.

There is as more spectrum available in the 2.6GHz band than all existing 3G networks have already, however 2.6GHz has poor propogation characteristics as it is easily absorbed by buildings etc. 800MHz on the other hand has extremely good propogation characteristics (analogue TV signals work all over the UK) but can't transmit so much data. Thus 2.6GHz is suited to urban areas where there are large amounts of users and high data rates are required, while 800MHz is suited to rural areas as single sites can cover large areas.

This is also why all the legal wrangles have hindered the auction. All the 2G networks (O2, Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile) got new 3G spectrum when the 3G licenses were awarded, while 3UK just got 3G spectrum. Recently Ofcom allowed the 2G networks to refarm their 2G spectrum for 3G use, giving existing 2G networks extra 3G spectrum.

Meanwhile Orange and T-Mobile combined (and had to give up some 2G spectrum in order to meet competition rules) to become Everything Everywhere.

3UK also felt aggrieved that it had a lack of spectrum as it didn't have any 2G spectrum in the first place.

Initially O2 and Vodafone had complained as they felt the 2.6GHz spectrum should have been given to existing 3G networks as it was a 3G band and threatened to take Ofcom to Judicial Review.

3UK also felt that existing operators should have their sub 1GHz spectrum capped (both O2 and Vodafone have spectrum in 900MHz for their 2G networks).

Court threats came and went and Ofcom held consultations and the spectrum auctions (that were originally meant to take place in 2007) got delayed and delayed again.

Then the Olympics were won by UK and by now broadcasters were using HD TV and even 3D TV and that meant remote broadcasting camera systems required much more spectrum than Ofcom had originally planned so they just allocated the unused 2.6GHz band and the (what would be now freed) 800MHz band for the broadcasters so neither could be made available at least until after the Olympics.

Ofcom is now planning a further consultation in late 2011 which will take at least 2 months which will then allow Ofcom to publish a statement in Summer 2012 and then an auction can follow later (i.e. not practically until Q4 2012). Ofcom actually released this information on Fri 7th Oct at 5pm (oddly when most news desks had closed for the day - Government departments tend to release bad news late on a Friday or just before public holidays - though Ofcom of course isn't a Government department but a Quango).

Various groups have seen this as hugely damaging to the UK economy as it will eave the UK well behind the rest of Europe (and the US) in terms of rolling out next generation 4G networks (LTE), though it's also a bit of a red herring as the UK networks haven't actually published plans to to rollout 4G networks any time soon (refarming 2G bands should provide considerable spectrum and greater 3G coverage). Though groups have claimed the economic loss to the UK could be around £730m.

As Ofcom have now reserved these bands for the Olympics they wouldn't realistically be available until 2013 anyway, so the new consultation and further auction delay won't materially affect actual rollouts based on these bands.

Things are not yet settled, there could still be legal battles and it's not going to be plain sailing. It's unfortunate that Ofcom (and thus the UK) was going to be one of the first countries to auction the 2.6GHz and 800MHz bands and now it's likely the UK will be one of the last to.

Nuance takes over voice, text and screen input

Nuance the company that pretty well dominates the text-to-speech (TTS) and speech-to-text (STT) market is now taking over the whole device input market too. It previously acquired Tegic (who produced the T9 text input system from AOL for $265m in 2007.

T9 was developed by Cliff Kushler while at Tegic, who then left to found Swype who produce a device input system for Android phone (users swipe their finders across the touch-sensitive screen to write words), it has been installed on around 50m Android phones.

Nuance has now purchased Swype directly for $102.5m ($77.5 now and a further $22.5m after 18 months).

Nuance's STT technology is already used in Google's Android, Apple's iOS, RIM's Blackberry and allegedly in the Siri service which is used by Apple's iOS v5 (and the iPhone 4S).

06/10/2011

RIP Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs has died at the young age of 56 after years of fighting cancer.

He has affected many people in many ways, mainly good though in the early years at Apple he was thought of as a bully but mellowed after being kicked out and then brought back in.

He revolutionised the home computer market with the Apple I and then the Apple II (with Steve Wozniac) - after which it went slightly pear shaped and he got fired and went to start Next Computers.

The Next Cube was a design classic (and later Apple designs kept hankering back to it) and NextOS was way beyond its time (and computing capabilities).

After Microsoft had bailed Apple out with a $250m cash injection and saving them from bankruptcy (and MS being a monopoly in the desktop OS space), Apple purchased Next (which was a commercial failure) and took on NextOS which later evolved into MacOS X.

In the meantime Steve Jobs had purchased a small computer generated image (CGI) start-up (spun out of LucasFilm) called PIXAR which he eventually sold to Disney ...

Steve Jobs also took on board an unknown British Product designer (Jonathan Ives) who made technology fit what were to become iconic designs such as the iMac, iPod etc. Changing the face of computing to what it is now.

Apple's iPod dominated the music player market since it's inception (over 70% of all music players sold) which has continued with the iPhone and iPad.

Apple made a bold decision to move from IBM/Motorola with the PowerPC to Intel's x86 CPU, but IBM was concentrating efforts on consoles such as Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PS3. Though Intel's CPU's weren't that special, Intel had the resources to support Apple and allowed them to produce the Macbook AIR which used the same silicon as normal Intel CPUs but on a new substrate allowing a much more compact design of the physical hardware.

The iPhone was also a radical move from the traditional smart-phone which was a phone that could sort of do apps. Apple changed that and made a small computer that could sort of make phone calls. When the iPad came out - they dropped the phone call bit altogether (well apps could make calls, but using data not voice circuitry).

Whether people are Apple 'fan boys' or not, Steve Jobs made a huge impact on the computing industry as we know it now and fundamentally changed the way music could be obtained and played, put design first and made the technology fit and made a computer into a phone.

He made some mistakes along the way like the Apple Lisa. The Newton was revolutionary but never had the software or hardware for it be useful. Apple also dallied in expensive printers (one of the first laser printers) and digital cameras.

He will be missed even by Windows die-hards.

There's currently a tribute on the Apple home page and a page dedicated to the man himself, which is simple yet poignant ...

03/10/2011

Droidcon takes place on the 6th and 7th of Oct

Droidcon is the London Android conference and it's taking place at the Business Design Centre in Islington over 2 days (6th and 7th Oct 2011).

There's a great selection of speakers (including myself - I'll be talking about enterprise solutions - or not) and there's a lot of actual good speakers. There'll be a mix of techie and other talks.

Ofcom now looks after your post too

Ofcom the 'super' regulator that looks after the broadcast, media, radio and telecoms industries also now regulates the Post Office having officially taken over the role of Postcomm from Oct 1st 2011.

The Postcomm website will remain live until October 31st at which point it will be archived on the National Archives website.

Any Postal matters will be located on the Ofcom Website.