Author: Matthew Finnegan

In-car wi-fi to boom over next five years

In-car wi-fi is set to boom as the automotive industry gets to grip with the popularity of mobile devices.

Car manufacturers have been fitting vehicles with cutting edge technology for some time, and more and more microchips have been finding their way into cars. According to IC Insights, chips sold to the automotive industry will grow at a faster pace than the overall industry, with the market growing to $28.0 billion by 2016. As Google lives out its sci-fi fantasies with its driverless car projects, we can expect the average car to be looking very different over the coming decades.

In addition to this, analysts are forecasting that the introduction of wi-fi will allow the integration of tablets and smartphones with onboard systems to be greatly increased in the next few years.

So far only a few manufacturers have bothered with in-car wi-fi, Audi being one of those which has included it either as a feature or an optional extra.  

Increasingly this is changing, and, according to analysts IMS Research, the market for in-car wi-fi will increase eightfold over the next seven years across America and western Europe.

While Bluetooth has been used by manufacturers, it has not been able to deliver the speeds that would be made possible by wi-fi, which is likely to be plug the gap and be introduced as a standard in the future.

By fitting cars with wi-fi, drivers and passengers would be able to share content from internet enabled devices as well as creating in-car hotspots, enabling camera modules or allowing wireless screen duplication. More specific automotive applications such as wireless car diagnostics or wirelessly upgrading software would also be enabled.

Filomena Berardi, senior analyst at IMS Research said that wi-fi uptake is expected to grow swiftly, particularly with advances such as Wi-Fi Direct and Miracast.

“The uptake of wi-fi in vehicles will be fairly aggressive,” Berardi said in a statement. “The recent Wi-Fi Alliance announcement regarding Wi-Fi Miracast, is very exciting. Some in the industry see this being used in conjunction with MirrorLink for wireless screen duplication.”

“All in all, the future for Wi-Fi in the car is very promising,” Beradi said.

'Living electric cables' found on sea floor

Scientists peering down into the mud of the Danish seafloor have discovered bacteria that functions as living power cables, transmitting electronic currents across a number of centimetres.

Researchers at the Aarhus University in Denmark and USC were surprised to find that Desulfobulbus bacterial cells, measuring only a few thousandths of millimetre across, were responsible for a seemingly inexplicable electrical source emanating from the seabed.

After conducting experiments on the bacteria, invisible to the naked eye, the team found that the current was in fact generated by the bacteria themselves, essentially acting as power cables.

It had previously thought to be impossible to move electrons over these distances, according to the researchers.  But by linking together into a multicellular filaments the bacteria were able to transmit current over distances as long as one centimetre as part of their respiration and digestion process.

At first, the scientists thought that the electrons were being generated by external networks between different bacteria. 

After studying the sediment they found that there are tens of thousands of kilometres of the bacteria under the sea floor.

“Until we found the cables, we imagined something cooperative where electrons were transported through external networks between different bacteria,” Lars Peter Nielsen of the Aarhus Department of Bioscience said.  “It was indeed a surprise to realize that it was all going on inside a single organism.”

UN report urges internet strategy against terrorism

A United Nations report has urged governments to reach a consensus on surveillance regulations to prevent terrorists operating online.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said that despite international recognition of the threat posed by terrorists use of the internet, a concerted strategy to address online activity has been lacking.

According to the UNODC the internet is used in number of ways to support acts of terrorism. This can include posting propaganda for the purposes of recruitment and radicalisation, training, financing, as well as planning and executing physical acts of terrorism. Sites such as Facebook and Youtube are mentioned as platforms used by terrorists. 

However, the UNODC asserts that, equally, the tools made available by the internet should be used by government of the UN’s member states to prevent and deter acts of terrorism. For example the internet could be used to gather intelligence to prevent acts of terrorism, or to build a case for the prosecution of such acts. Countering terrorist propaganda by engaging  potential recruits to a terrorist cause in “constructive dialogue” is cited as a way to address radicalisation.

The 148-page report goes on to acknowledge that overly-stringent anti-terrorism measures create problems surrounding privacy and human rights of citizens, such as tighter controls on ISPs to block access to content.

The report reads: “The issue of the extent to which Governments should regulate terrorism-related content on the Internet is problematic, requiring the balancing of law enforcement and human rights considerations (e.g. the right to freedom of expression).” 

The report suggests that there should be more of consensus among member states over retention of data by ISPs, with policies varying across the world. For example, efforts in the EU to create a cohesive approach have been “problematic”.

Such a strategy involves developing a “universally accepted regulatory framework” in member states for consistent regulations on all ISPs “regarding the type and duration of customer usage data to be retained”.  This would be of considerable benefit to law enforcement and intelligence agencies investigating terrorism cases, the report claimed.

However, the report does seem to promote greater use of surveillance:

“Countering terrorist use of the internet may involve the surveillance and collection of information relating to suspects,” the report states, though it adds safeguards should be in place to “prevent abuse of secret surveillance tools”.

It also contends that governments should create clearer guidance on how private sectors operators assist in undertaking electronic monitoring, surveillance or interception activities on public communications.

We spoke with Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, who commented: “This report is absolutely right to highlight that the internet is a global entity and that action to tackle terrorism must also be global. However, the report conflicts with the approach currently being pursued in the UK by the Home Office.

“Highlighting the need for more preservation of data once an individual is suspected of being involved in crime is far more proportionate than retaining data on every person using the internet just-in-case,” Pickles said. “Equally, the report recognises the role of appropriate judicial authorisations, something entirely lacking from the UK’s structure for acquiring data.”

He continued: “The report identifies a number of challenges, such as speeding up existing legal frameworks for non-UK based companies and better training for investigators that would be a far more effective use of the billions that will be required to fund the Communications Data Bill, if it ever becomes law. Equally, it is far more appropriate to address the limitations placed upon sharing evidence with other countries by data protection legislation than to disregard citizens’ privacy.

“Ultimately this report is one piece in a complex debate, and with China sitting on the UN security council it is still far from true to say the UN has successfully balanced civil liberties online with the legitimate security concerns of some states.” 

iPad Mini in supply chain gamble

Apple may have announced its latest product to its adoring followers, but analysts are wary that consumers may be waiting longer than usual to get hold of the iPad Mini due to supply concerns.

As was widely predicted, Apple announced a smaller iPad device, costing £269 in the UK, as well as a new iPad 4 and refreshes in its notebook and PC ranges.

However, with demand likely to be high for the new devices, particularly the cheaper Mini tablets, panel supplies are expected to be even more constrained than usual.

According to DisplaySearch, Apple has changed up its supply chain for the Mini, continuing to work with LG Display, which will supply to Apple’s Taiwanese manufacturing partner Foxconn, and adding a new supplier to its chain, AUO, which provides panels to Pegatron.

According to reports in the run up to the Mini, manufacturing will be split roughly equally between the two manufacturers, with AUO likely to take up to 60 percent of the production as it effectively takes the place of Samsung.

With the ongoing fight with Samsung over intellectual property, Apple started dissolving its relationship with the former ally, leaving the firm with limited options.  Samsung had previously been a reliable partner and Apple is now having to deal with an altered supply chain.

Analysts point out AUO has had yield problems with its 7.9 inch panels. These production problems are resulting in tightened supply to Pegatron which is tasked with putting the final touches to the devices. 

This means that in September, AUO shipped just over 100,000 units, a third of what Apple’s other supplier for the Mini, LG Display, managed in the same month.  

Tightened supply could continue for some time.  AUO’s production plan is to churn out 400,000 units in October, 800,000 in November, and reach the 1 million mark in December.  In contrast, LG Display will be shipping 1 million in October, 2.5 million in November, and 3 million the following month.

Apple will hope to shift a serious amount of the upcoming devices, but sales are still limited to what Apple and its supply chain can actually produce – and without Samsung this number is potentially lowered.

Reports in the Korea Times earlier this week show that the deteriorating relationship between the pair means that, in addition to not providing displays for the Mini, Samsung, already getting edged out of chip production, is likely to be given the elbow on all future display production.

Samsung had previously been the top supplier to Apple for LCDs used in its range of PC and mobile devices, shipping 15 million units in the first six months of the year.  However this figure is thought to have dropped to  3 million during the third quarter, with expectations that it will drop to 1.5 million in the fourth. 

Presumably others such as LG Display, Sharp and AUO will see increased orders to compensate, however, even Sharp has been having problems producing enough screens for the iPhone 5 in the run up to the Christmas period.

A company that intentionally puts the squeeze on supply to manufacture hype, Apple may find itself in a real quandary sooner than it would like.

Airplane 'database in the sky' could ease traffic concerns

Researchers are proposing a smart plane ‘database in the sky’ to help deal with the growing burden on airports.

With air traffic across Europe likely to double expected to double by the end of the decade, airports across the continent will struggle to provide for the increase. In the, accounts for 2.2 million flights carrying 200 million passengers were handled by the National Air Traffic Services in the past year .

For the UK in particular this has been a major problem. Debates have raged over proposals to build extra capacity at Heathrow airport, already bursting at the seams, with fierce opposition to even more runways being added to one of the busiest airports in the world.

However, Cambridge University engineers and academics believe that they have come up with a way to reduce the burden on flightpaths already heaving with planes.

They believe that by updating the systems used to control the in-air traffic, more aircraft can be managed with greater efficiency along flight paths. Currently airports use systems that in some cases involve air traffic management (ATM) equipment from the 50s, according to the researchers. 

The researchers contend that by fitting airplanes with onboard computers to predict future positions of other aircraft, and sharing information with other aircraft in-flight, a dynamic database of information could be established. This would allow fuel and time efficient flight paths to be quickly determined without needing to rely on the staff on the ground.

Such an automated system would allow for a more coordinated and intelligent management of flight paths, meaning that up to six times more planes could safely be flown on air traffic routes, or so the researchers hope.

Introducing such a system would require stringent security testing, but the Cambridge researchers are confident. According to one of the researchers, Professor Jan Maciejowski, the team has already approached airport staff, and has received positive reaction to the proposals.

“I’ve been delighted by how positively airport operators have reacted already,” Maciejowski said.  “It’s a sign of the times – airports are running at capacity and it’s becoming a matter of urgency to look at how systems can be improved.”

ARM revenues up 20 percent in Q3

ARM has seen its revenues rise 20 percent in its Q3 results as customers continue to spend on mobile devices.

Competitors such as Intel and AMD may be suffering from slow PC sales, but ARM has seen the popularity of its processor technology grow – with royalties for its chip designs up 27 percent year on year in the quarter.

The company saw 2.2 billion chips shipped using its designs. ARM architecture and processor licences, it boasted, have ended up in a broad range of applications from hearing aids and automotive braking systems to smartphones and tablets. Its Mali graphics processor range also performed well, the British firm said.

Revenues were £144.6 million for the quarter, up 20 percent from £120.2 million year on year.

Pre-tax profits were £68.1 million, up 22 percent from £55.7 million last year.

ARM CEO Warren East commented that mobility and cloud computing continue to helping push the company’s revenues up.

“ARM has delivered another quarter of strong revenue and earnings growth,” East said in a statement. “As we move into an ever more connected world of mobile computing, cloud-based networks and the Internet-of-Things, ARM is seeing increased demand for its high performance and low power technology.”

East continued: “This demand is helping to drive ARM’s licensing revenues and this quarter we saw market leaders license ARM’s advanced processor technology for next generation super smartphones, tablets, and mobile and embedded computing applications.”

The company promises that it is entering the final quarter with a ‘record’ order backlog, and its outlook for licensing is positive.  Data derived from its own customers points towards a “moderate sequential increase” in royalty revenues in the next quarter as well, it said.

ARM’s results contrast with the tough situation Intel and AMD have found themselves in, as macroeconomic conditions and slowing PC sales impact margins.  Aside from the dwindling returns in many western markets, according to some analysts, 2012 will see the first worldwide declines in PC sales for a decade. 

It has been said for some time now that the dominance of the traditional semiconductor firms would be threatened by mobility, and ARM’s many contract wins for its low powered designs – more suited to mobile computing – are clearly leaning on the rest of the market.  

In contrast to its competitors ARM has seen its position improve due to the boom in mobile computing.  

Meanwhile, analyst house IHS iSuppli forecasts that the release of Apple’s rumoured iPad Mini will help grow the market for seven inch tablets – an area where ARM is dominant – by two fold this year, reaching 34 million units, before a similar rise to 64 million next year.

E-waste spending on the verge of a boom

The market for e-waste recycling is set to hit $44.3 billion by the end of the decade, more than four times its current size.

Despite global economic troubles, hardware production continue to grow, meaning more and more products are consigned to the trash heap. Such e-waste creates a headache for vendors and manufacturers, posing health risks in equipment dumping grounds, as well as being an environmental hazard.

Hardware disposal also means writing off valuable metals found in components. These mountains of disused hard drives, processors and other components which have been thrown away are potentially worth large amounts of money when materials such as iron, steel, copper, and zinc are extracted from them.   

Many computer components also include amounts of precious metals such as a gold, silver and platinum. According to the United Nations Environment Program, one metric tonne of e-waste contains more gold than 17 metric tonnes of gold ore. Such retrieval is potentially dangerous, however, as hazardous material such as lead, mercury and arsenic gets burnt in the retrieval process. 

According to analysts at GBI Research, the market for reusing and recycling these materials is growing as tech products continue to be churned out, rendering old products obsolete within a smaller timeframe. This is in part due to the tougher legislation being put in place by the likes of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, which aims to ensure e-waste is not continually dumped on the doorstep of developing countries without a second thought.

Analysts claim this will mean that, by 2020, the cash generated by managing hardware disposal, reusing and recycling will also grow.  According to GBI, e-waste spending should hit $44.3 billion by 2020, up from $11.8 billion last year.

This should lead to improvements on the current situation – whereby computers made by big name brands are turning up on the rubbish dumps around the world despite vendors touting their green credentials.

This is also creating problems for those who are binning their unwanted products, and unwittingly opening themselves up for identity theft.

Photonics accelerometer promises pinpoint positioning accuracy

Highly accurate photonics chips are being developed that could pinpoint smartphone users position with unprecedented precision.

According to a team of researchers at California Institute of Technology (Caltech), development is underway for an ultrasensitive accelerometer that uses laser light to rapidly pick up on tiny motions.

Accelerometers are already used in a number of applications, and increasingly so in consumer electronics, as the technology shrinks to a sufficient size that it can be placed in mobile devices.

Up until now these accelerometers have used electronic circuitry, which is quick and cheap to produce, but could be improved on in terms of sensitivity.   Researchers say laser light is much more difficult to interfere with at room, and therefore allows greater accuracy in determining position.  

Attempts to use lasers have been made before, but nowhere near the scale needed to be placed on a chip and put in a phone for example.

However the team at Caltech has now managed to produce components that work at the nanoscale required, opening new applications.

So what improvements could this bring?  According to the scientists aside from the consumer aspect, such powerful sensors could help in the stabilisation of fighter jets in flight, or in digging down to oil reserves.  Unfortunately they also reckon that the a possible use will be to pester shoppers in supermarket aisles, with advertisers able to target consumers with unprecedented accuracy.

Of course it may be some time before shoppers face a deluge of coupons flooding onto their smartphones, as scientists are still working to move the photonics technology onto silicon chips, a problem they have been attempting to solve for some years now. 

But if they are successful then it will be possible to track movements with much greater accuracy than GPS could manage, for better or worse.

Demand for communications ICs to outstrip computer applications

Demand for integrated circuits is to see a ‘major shift’ according to analysts, as communications applications outstrip demand for computers.

According to semiconductor industry analysts IC Insights, the market for communications ICs will move ahead of demand for computer applications by 2014, reaching $160 billion by 2016.   

The market is set to grow 9.2 percent this year to $90 billion, an increase from $82.4 billion in 2011.   In 2013 the market is forecast to reach $100.5 billion, before outpacing the computer IC market when it hits $114.4 billion in 2014.

Meanwhile demand for computer ICs has fallen.  The market was worth $110.2 billion last year, dropping to an estimated $100.7 billion this year.

IC Insights forecasts that the figure will then rise over subsequent years, reaching $128.5 billion in 2016.   This will not be enough to keep up with the burgeoning communications market, with the PC market stalling.

Recent figures from analysts IHS iSuppli have shown that the overall market for PCs is set to fall during 2012 for the first time in ten years.

Intel meanwhile missed its targets for the recent quarter, with a drop in demand for its PC chips hitting revenues and profits, while rival AMD has also suffered from slowing demand.

UK worst in Europe for superfast FTTH broadband

The UK has failed to catch up with other European countries for roll out of high speed fibre to the home broadband, according to a new report.

The FTTH Council Europe has released figures showing the 22 countries with more than 1 percent of households accessing FTTH broadband, with a 16.4 percent increase in subscribers across Europe.  By mid 2012 there were more than 32 million homes in Europe with FTTH, and 5.95 million subscribers.

The UK was absent from the rankings however, due to its low FTTH penetration.  According to the report, the UK has just 0.05 percent of subscribers accessing despite the government aiming to have the fastest broadband in Europe by 2015.

According to the FTTH Council the UK has “missed the opportunity” offered by the Broadband Delivery (BDUK) project.

As well as increases to speed, FTTH would also mean a more stable connection, as radio interference would no longer present a problem, while latency would be less of a problem with just an extension of fibre all the way from the datacentre to the home. This will mean benefits for cloud services for example.

One of the biggest benefits would be for content creators, with uploading times significantly improved.

“Key countries absent from the ranking may miss out on their chance to build a sustainable future for their citizens”, said Hartwig Tauber, Director General of FTTH Council Europe.

“The decision to invest in FTTH – the only future-proof solution – needs to be made today.”
Andrew Ferguson at Thinkbroadband agrees that the UK is “late to the party”, though it is not totally off the radar for FTTH uptake, and has at least some FTTH 175,000 homes passed as of June, and 13,000 subscriptions. 

“The problem has been that most developments so far are small scale,” Ferguson says, “so while high in numbers, their impact on the national picture is small.

One of the major problems with rollout in the UK is that broadband operators such as BT Openreach have been concentrating on getting fibre to the cabinet networks, rather than fibre to the premise or house.

“Openreach has talked about getting its FTTP service to perhaps 10 percent of UK homes, but at present many areas are only partially built, with them concentrating on the headline-grabbing figures of 11 million homes able to get the FTTC service.” 

“We are assured that this figure is still a target, but priorities in the roll-out have shifted.”
Ferguson also says that the government meanwhile has been slowed by a desire to provide more comprehensive FTTH coverage than in other European nations.

“The UK has also focused on ubiquity of access, where as there are many countries in Europe with better FTTH deployments now tackling the same sort of digital divide.” 

“It is very likely that the desire for ubiquitous access has held back some projects that could have made the UK look better.