Tag Archive | "infrastructure"

UK network peace treaty will bring nationwide 4G in summer 2013


UK network peace treaty will bring nationwide 4G in summer 2013

Customers on Vodafone and O2 will be able to join EE users on 4G LTE networks by the end of summer 2013 thanks to a new peace agreement between the carriers.

Following crunch talks with culture secretary Maria Miller on Tuesday, the networks have put legal differences aside to ensure that EE cannot get too far ahead in the race for faster mobile connectivity.

EE, which owns Orange and T-Mobile, plans to launch its 4G LTE network next month and will offer next generation speeds for devices like the Apple iPhone 5 and maybe a 4G version of the Samsung Galaxy S3.

The new agreement between the remaining networks comes following a failure to prevent EE getting the jump-start, and will mean the long-awaited spectrum auction can now be brought forward to January.

‘Hugely beneficial for UK’

Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, had initially planned to hold the auction in February or March, but now all parties will be able to press on with establishing the infrastructure once the spectrum has been allocated.

Following the agreement, Miller, who recently took over from Jeremy Hunt as culture secretary, said: “Delivering 4G quickly is a key part of our economic growth strategy.

“I am grateful to the mobile operators for their co-operation in bringing forward vital 4G services. The open and collaborative approach taken between the government and the mobile companies will have hugely beneficial results for UK business and investment.

“We anticipate that 4G services will boost the UK’s economy by around £2-3bn.”

Clearing TV signals

Once the spectrum has been allocated, it will be up to mast company Arqiva to clear the spectrum, which was being used for digital TV services, so it can be replaced by 4G connectivity.

Ofcom has now brought the deadline forward to May for that task to be completed. This will then enable the networks to roll out the 4G LTE networks months ahead of schedule.

O2 CEO Ronan Dunne said expressed frustration at the delay, but pointed towards the future.

“Everyone is pleased that we’ve made this progress,” he said. “it’s just a little bit frustrating that it’s taken so long. Before our various interventions we didn’t have a genuine level playing field and we risked a 4G digital divide.”

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On Test: Paying with your phone: TechRadar tests the Visa Olympic Samsung Galaxy S3


On Test: Paying with your phone: TechRadar tests the Visa Olympic Samsung Galaxy S3

TechRadar was invited to take part in Visa’s Olympic phone trial to see whether the UK is ready to ditch cash in favour of paying using phones – but is the country ready yet?

We joined 800 others – including Olympic athletes – in using the official Olympics phone from Visa: a Samsung Galaxy S3 equipped with a dedicated payment app for three months, with £50 of credit to try out in the Olympic Village and other contactless-enabled outlets.

For those still in dark about contactless payments, it’s a system that uses Near Field Communication (NFC) chips in cards to pay for goods, typically under the value of £20.

These chips are increasingly being pushed into phones too, so you could use your latest smartphone to pay for your coffee, morning newspaper or jaunt to McDonald’s – mostly the places where you would traditionally use cash.

The Visa Olympic phone was set to up to work anywhere that has contactless payment enabled: this is often denoted by a sideways Wi-Fi-like icon (sometimes with what looks like someone sticking a stamp on), or simply the word ‘contactless’ on some terminals.

Visa Samsung Galaxy S3

Visa is pushing the notion of contactless payment at the moment in a big way – it wants to gain the obvious financial benefits of replacing cash, but also help bring a new method of paying for goods into daily life:

“Over the last four or five years we’ve been getting the infrastructure in place in the UK where consumers can pay by contactless card. And what we’re putting in place for phones is future-proofing for phones,” Mary Carol Harris, VP of innovation and new product and channel development for Visa, explained to us.

“In the UK today we have 140,000 merchant locations for contactless. We’re starting to see a mass issuance of [contactless-enabled] cards, and this method of payment is extremely instrumental in paving the way for mobile, as it helps consumers trust the technology and integrate it into their daily lives.”

However Visa has set a startlingly high prediction that in just over seven years 50% of all its transactions will be with a mobile device – so we headed out into the depths of the city to see how well we could live by only paying with a phone.

However, while we’re starting to see contactless-enabled credit or debit cards being used in real life, we wanted to see if it was as easy to pay for goods using a phone – and whether it was enough to trigger a mindset change from those used to paying by card or cash.

App heavy

Before we head to the shops, let’s take a look at the mechanism that facilitates these payments: the dedicated Visa Olympic app which gives you the access to your cash on your phone.

Samsung Galaxy S3 Visa

It’s a trial app that doesn’t allow full functionality as yet: it’s heavily Olympics-branded, and only allows pre-paid credit to be added to the phone. We had to jump through a number of hoops to sign up, including ID verification and card association.

This isn’t abnormal though, and while the set up was slightly laborious, it at least gave a sense of security. It also made topping up easy: our debit card was linked to the app so we only had to request funds and enter an 8-digit PIN to gain access.

After that, you’re into a cornucopia of advantages over the boring old piece of plastic, which Harris explains is part of the reason for the push into the mobile space:

“There’s a mobility factor with contactless technology on phones. If you leave your house in the morning and forgot you phone, you’ll go back for it as many can’t live without it. Nowadays you can almost get by without your wallet, but the phone has become integral to your daily life,” she added.

“When we consider contactless payments on mobile you’ve not only got the obvious cash replacement advantage, but also other benefits, such as having a screen, keyboard, internet connection, all of which allows you to track your transactions and manage your finances better.”

However, there definitely needs to be some refinement when it comes to the transaction history, as we’re currently treated to indeterminate vendors each time we paid using our phone – there need to be associated IDs to be of any use.

In the wider world

Visa warned us that this was a work in progress when we signed up for the trial, that paying for stuff when using a phone would encounter problems. It actively encouraged it, to help the brand find the weaknesses of such a system.

And in practice, we’ll admit up front there were many – let us recount our major experiences with you now:

(Disclaimer: these experiences are generally based on one visit to each style of outlet, and may not be indicative of function throughout the chain).

Pret a Manger

One of the early brands to install contactless technology, Pret is a store set up for NFC payments. The only issue (and one that prevails throughout our test) is that it only depends on whether the server understands what you mean by ‘I want to pay by contactless’.

Most recognise an NFC credit or debit card, but when you hold up a phone, those that don’t understand what you’re saying look equally dumbfounded.

However, a quick tap was all that was needed once we explained what was going on – and the dedicated readers are a godsend over not knowing where to rub a chip and pin device.

Nando’s

This is where we spent a good chunk of our £50 – taking the lady out for dinner for passing her driving test. Yes, we’re that considerate.

However, paying the princely sum of £21 (no, of course there was no pudding. It was only her theory test) brought confusion to the manager, who had to be called when we said we wanted to pay using contactless technology.

Apparently the chain can’t accept payment over £15 (it’s supposed to be £20 nowadays), despite protestations to the contrary. This was resolved by paying it in chunks, but there was a clear reticence from the store to let us pay using a phone.

Tesco

Tesco is only just starting to get behind NFC payments, with contactless terminals installed in a small percentage of shops.

Samsung Galaxy S3 Visa

However, they’re clearly designed for cards rather than phones, as we couldn’t actually angle the handset around the side of the reader to allow us to make the payment, with ‘you’ve tapped twice, please try again’ messages appearing every time.

It did eventually work, but it highlighted the need for proper space when paying for items rather than just tacking it on the side of a chip and pin reader that’s stuck to a till.

McDonald’s

Another stalwart of the NFC movement, this was a decidedly more pleasant affair, and not just because we had a Wispa Gold McFlurry.

There was clear signage all around the till area noting how to pay via contactless, we didn’t have to ask to activate the system and when we paid using our phone, the young lady serving us said: “That is, like, the coolest thing EVER!”.

When your spend your life trying to convince people DLNA streaming is really an awesome thing, the respect of a teenager in McDonald’s over a piece of technology is oddly refreshing.

The Olympic Park

Obviously, what with this being the Olympic phone, we had to pop down to East London and see if making all the terminals contactless offered an easier experience.

If you’re up to speed with the technology, then you’ll be fine. Whipping out the phone didn’t provoke the same confused or intrigued response as before, with the staff happy to pass over the terminal to make the payment – and as always, the transaction is done and dusted in a second or two.

Samsung Visa Olympics

There have been noted issues with the technology during the Olympics: Wembley Stadium’s contactless payment system failed, causing only cash to be allowed. However, Visa was keen to point out it was the organiser’s decision to stop using the system, not its own.

Speaking to Elaine behind the counter at the Olympic Park about the technology was interesting: she confirmed that while there had been some interest in using contactless cards (around three or four used over the course of two days) there had, understandably, been nobody using phones to pay for anything as yet.

That leads us nicely onto one of the biggest issues we faced during the trial: the lack of understanding most serving staff have about using contactless cards, let alone using a phone to pay for goods.

Sure, it’s cool – but if we have to ask to have the machines enabled, then it presents a big barrier to the ease of use. The problem is it works in the same way as a card machine, where the till has to be told to accept a different kind of payment. Those systems that we ready to accept payment were fine – it’s just not prevalent enough.

Visa is extolling the penetration of contactless cards (30 million in the UK by the end of the year) but the fact is people aren’t using them, and that’s mostly because they’re not really sure how to use them.

For instance, when paying for part of a meal in a restaurant, the waiter picked up the card, placed it on the reader and £12 was debited. No asking if we wanted to pay via NFC, and similarly, no receipt, which will worry those new to the technology.

It took a fraction of the time to pay using NFC compared to paying via card, and it was excellent to see staff knowing how to use the system; but it should be the cardholder that gets to make the choice and tap the screen.

There’s also the issue of knowing where contactless payments are available – you can check it out on the interactive Visa map (and there are loads) but having to trawl around and find places we could use the phone to pay for items was annoying.

This would be solved if it wasn’t a pre-pay scheme, but we found ourselves buying coffees we didn’t really want just to use up the money we’d preloaded.

The good news is we should see a swifter installation of these contactless payment terminals around the country: most of the time these are provided by banks to vendors, and given the banks also make money from each NFC payment, the desire to make it as prevalent as possible is clear to see.

There are already 120,000 of these terminals in place and their numbers are increasing all the time: the Post Office is going to fit them in all its branches over the coming months, and the likes of Marks and Spencer and Tesco are beginning to deploy the technology too – complete with signage denoting the new payment method.

Are we ready?

It’s pretty clear we’re standing on the precipice of contactless cards being used much more regularly in day to day life. The terminals are rolling out, education campaigns are underway to help consumers know what contactless actually means, and the means of actually paying are becoming more prevalent.

There also should be special strips for contactless payments; currently you’re just supposed to wipe your device over a chip and pin machine and hope for the best. Flat services, like Oyster Card readers, would be great if there was space – or at least more direction on where to place the phone.

Galaxy S3 visa

But it’s early days for the system, and we saw a lot of benefit for the service. Security and finance management were high on the list; paying using the phone instead of cash meant that even if we lost the phone, we could stop the account before losing any money… and banks will guarantee the amount too.

Compare that to losing a wallet full of cash, and you can see why it’s preferable… as long as you realise what’s gone before the thief is buying the whole of McDonald’s lunch on your behalf. (Although, in fairness, there is a limit on how much can be spent before a PIN has to be entered).

Would we consider ditching the card for a phone? Not just yet – we can’t get over the fact we feel like utter fools asking to pay using a phone – but when most vendors are on board and up to speed, we’ll be the first in line to sign our mobile up.



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Interview: Nokia: why we’re not ready for voice control


Interview: Nokia: why we're not ready for voice control

Nokia: why we’ll be using voice everywhere

If your smartphone can recognise what you say when you dictate a text message or search the web, why can’t you use it as a controller for things like home automation – like a butler in your pocket?

Telling your phone that you want the lights dimmer, the house warmer, the TV louder and a table for dinner at your favourite restaurant, or to get your Roomba to start vacuuming the floor: we’ve got the technology to do all that, says Nokia’s CTO Henri Tirri. But do we want it?

“You get a different answer from geeks and from real people,” he says. “From a technology perspective a lot of this stuff can be easily done. You can have different type of sensors that monitor the environment. You can use a mobile device as a gateway.” So what’s the problem?

Voice still a barrier

Tirri, who used to run Nokia’s research labs, thinks that voice recognition is still a step too far for mainstream users.

“For many people, the idea of [using your] voice is a barrier; something they have to learn.” The key to cracking the voice control market isn’t about making recognition better, he believes. “It’s understanding what people are willing to learn – not what they are doing now but what are they willing to learn to do – is the key to making this successful in the home.”

He’s cautious because he looks at other technologies that have taken time to get adopted. We’ve has the technology to do location-based services since the late 1990s but they’ve only just started to take off.

“I’m looking at a decade of uncertainly in location based traffic; mobile advertising still hasn’t proved itself. We had all the concepts we are only now seeing coming to the market, we had the technology, so there needs to be some kind of incentive [to make it successful].”

There are other issues that will need to be dealt with. “If we put these embedded sensors in the infrastructure, who maintains them? If it’s a packaged system you can get [off the shelf], you have liability questions, questions of interference. These are radio devices so it’s a real issue. Your neighbours put up all these interesting radio devices and your TV stops working…

“I’m not pessimistic on the actual technology but I believe it will take much longer than five years to be widespread,” he says. But there will be some killer apps using voice before then, as long as they do things people want and need. He suggests learning from the success of Microsoft’s Kinect, which has exactly this kind of voice and gesture recognition and succeeds because it’s fun and entertaining. “If you try to make it something very serious, it doesn’t fly as fast.”

More bandwidth needed?

Will all this voice recognition and remote control take more bandwidth? Nokia already has LTE in the Lumia 900 in the US (and it pushed Microsoft to support LTE with Windows Phone sooner than it had planned), but is that even enough for what we already do? “The computer scientist answer would be that there’s never enough memory or disk space and bandwidth is a little bit similar,” Tirri told TechRadar.

“You introduce a new capacity and it’s filled by the ability of new applications. The reason why we see it so dramatically now is the law of large numbers; we have so many devices and users that when peaks start, the consumption goes up very fast. You have something popular like a sports event and you have a large number of people there and something is catching their eye, everybody connects – and you suddenly have a huge problem.”

There are plenty of ways to improve things, he says. “Dynamic allocation of spectrum is getting better. We’re looking at different areas of the spectrum that are available for secondary usage like taking what was the TV space. More and more that spectrum will be used.”

How much that helps is a question of whether the improvements happen in sync with the bandwidth demands of new applications. “Catastrophes always happen when the usage suddenly seems to exceed the anticipated technology development – or vice versa. After the recession there was a long period of time in Europe when the 3G networks were underutilized because there was an overestimation.”

Power frugal devices

Bandwidth will remain a crucial question he says, but it’s just part of the larger question of power usage and battery life for mobile devices. “It takes energy to communicate, it takes energy to store, it takes energy to compute. So we have to make tradeoffs and energy will be the limiting factor.”

That’s one reason why he thinks the next generation of mobile devices will actually be multiple devices that work together. “You already see this in some cases; you do something with a smartphone but it’s still nicer to look at something like video on a tablet form factor.” Bandwidth and battery life will accelerate this trend, he believes.

“Bigger devices [like laptops] consume more energy but they handle all the tasks at the same time; some of the tasks are something you need to be always on for, some of them you don’t need to do that. So having a smaller form factor device that wakes the bigger thing up or gives you messaging at very little energy as opposed to having the big device doing polling all the time [is more efficient].”

Add in new materials and flexible electronics that Nokia already has in the labs and by the time we’re all ready to use our phones as voice controllers, they’re going to be very different.

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Microsoft: OnLive Desktop violates Windows 7 terms


Microsoft: OnLive Desktop violates Windows 7 terms

The mightily-impressive OnLive Desktop app is offering Windows 7 to iPad and Android tablet users without Microsoft’s permission, Redmond says.

OnLive Desktop brings virtual access to the Windows 7 desktop, including marquee apps like Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer, over OnLive’s cloud servers.

Until now, it was unknown whether the company had Microsoft’s blessing. It doesn’t, but talks have been opened with a view to rectifying the situation.

Licensed scenario

In a blog post on Thursday, Microsoft’s corporate VP of Worldwide Licensing and Pricing, Joe Matz, said users of the app must also have their own Windows license.

“We are actively engaged with OnLive with the hope of bringing them into a properly licensed scenario, and we are committed to seeing this issue is resolved.

“Customers that want to work with partners to have them host Windows 7 in a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure solution on their behalf, can do so when the customer provides the partner licenses through the customer’s own agreements with Microsoft.”

Microsoft hopes that “partner” will be OnLive, but at the moment that’s not the case. This interesting situation is definitely one to keep an eye on.



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Everything Everywhere plans UK 4G launch in 2012


Everything Everywhere plans UK 4G launch in 2012

Everything Everywhere plans to roll-out 4G mobile internet for Orange and T-Mobile customers by the end of the year, providing it gets the green light from Ofcom.

The company has announced that a new 4G test on the 1800Mhz spectrum will commence in Bristol this April as part of its hopes to launch before the year is out.

In order to create the 4G network, it would be necessary for Ofcom to allow EE to convert some of its existing 1800Mhz spectrum license from 3G to 4G use. The regulator says it is considering the offer.

Everything Everywhere is also extending its 800Mhz spectrum 4G trials in Cornwall until the summer as it seeks to built the UK’s best 4G infrastructure.

This announcement comes as a major boost for UK smartphone owners as it was thought we wouldn’t see 4G speeds until 2013 at the very earliest.

3.5G speeds also on the up

Everything Everywhere also announced that it will complete the roll-out of HSPA+21 (otherwise known as 3.5G) by Q2, bringing download speeds of up to 21Mbps for some users.

The company is also planning to furnish its 3G customers with even faster HSPA+42 download speeds by the end of the year, making it by far the fastest 3G network in the UK.

CEO Olaf Swantee said: “Everything Everywhere’s vision is to launch 4G for Britain as soon as possible, and the roll out of 3.5G HSPA+ and our 4G trials across Britain are major steps towards delivering on that promise.

“The integration of the Orange and T-Mobile networks has already given our customers the widest 3G coverage in the UK – and I am pleased to say that with our advanced HSPA+ roll out they will also benefit from the fastest.

“I am also very proud to announce that, subject to regulatory approval by the spring, Everything Everywhere will be in a position to begin the roll out of 4G before the end of the year.

“There is a great opportunity for the UK to have the 21st Century network that it so deserves, putting the nation on a level playing field with other parts of Europe, the USA and Asia.”

Sort it out, Ofcom

A spokesperson for Ofcom said: “Ofcom has received an application from EE to vary its licence for 4G use. Ofcom is considering that application and once it arrives at a view it will consult with stakeholders.”

If Everything Everywhere can get approval from Ofcom, which has been frustrating everyone by dragging its feet on this matter, then Orange and T-Mobile users will get a huge head start on O2 in this area.

A planned auction for 4G mobile spectrum has been pushed back until the end of the year, much to the chagrin of networks keen to get the infrastructure up and running.



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