Tag: united kingdom

Jeremy Hunt pushes broadband need for speed

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised that the UK will have the fastest broadband network of anywhere in Europe by 2015.

The lofty commitment was announced in east London today, where Hunt told broadband industry experts that to be the best, you “need to be the fastest”, the Guardian reports. He said the announcement is not just about being the best overall but to be the best in fast broadband of any “major” European country, although we “may already be there”.

Labour responded by claiming the statement was one-sided, focusing on speed rather than access.

The announcement was met with mixed reactions from some of the UK’s broadband experts. Julia Stent, at uSwitch.com, welcomed Hunt’s enthusiasm but warned that there is still a good way to go before the UK is where it needs to be. Three in ten postcodes, according to uSwitch data, have broadband download speeds under 3 Mbps. One in five UK postcodes still suffer from broadband speeds of under 2 Mbps.

“The danger is that the culture secretary’s tunnel-vision emphasis on average speed addresses levels of demand from consumers and businesses for faster connections,” Stent said, “but doesn’t take rural areas into account”. Stent warns that many areas still do not have good coverage, and despite being in the age of fibre optics, they are “pitifully slow”.

Indeed, it was recently announced that the town of Chipping Norton in West Oxfordshire was to get fast broadband access through Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) technology, courtesy of Cotsolds Broadband – the likes of which can provide the web to communities outside of urban centres.

Earlier this year, the government was slammed for scrapping the Communications Green Paper, which specifically wanted to address maximising value of broadband spectrum. At the time, Shadow Minister Helen Goodman told TechEye that scrapping the consultation shone a light on the Coalition’s lack of direction in communications policy.

The Lords communications committee report, meanwhile, recently suggested that the Coalition’s plans are misguided. “The delivery of certain speeds should not be the guiding principle; what is important is the long term assurance that as new internet applications emerge, everyone will be able to benefit, from inhabitants of inner cities to the remotest areas of the UK,” it said.

ONS reveals closing digital divide in UK

According to the latest from the Office for National Statistics, as of Q2 2012, 7.82 million adults, or 16 percent of the UK’s population, had never used the internet before.

However, according to to the ONS, this is a four percent decrease from the previous quarter and 10 percent lower than the same time last year. This means that there are now 42.52 million adults in the UK who had used the internet at some point, by Q2 2012.

Looking at internet use across genders, the figures are almost level-pegging: men are five percent more likely to be internet users than women, at 87 percent of all male adults.

In terms of age, the 16-24 bracket are the heaviest users, with an enormous 98.1 percent having accessed the internet over the last three months. Only 0.7 percent of this age bracket had never used the internet. The 25-24 bracket had 97.2 percent access the internet over the last three months, and just 1.4 percent had never gone online, while the 25-44 age group was still high at 94.5 percent over the last three months, while 3.4 percent has never gone online.

The figures begin significantly tapering off at the 55-64 age bracket, where 78.6 percent had gone online over the last three months, thought 17.1 percent had never used it. In the 65-74 and 75+ age brackets, only 57.1 and 23.8 percent had accessed the internet over the last three months respectively. In the 75+ demographic, 71.2 percent of those polled had never gone online.

There is a small divide in terms of gross weekly pay. The most wealthy of those polled – earning over £1,500 per week – had all used the internet. For people with under £200 of pay per week, the ‘ever used’ figure was at 93.3 percent, but 6.5 percent had never used the internet.

Northern Ireland was the least connected region in the United Kingdom, with 77.5 percent of its population having used the internet. Next was the North East, at 80.3 percent, and Wales, at 80.7 percent. London and the South East were tied for top spots, at 87.6 percent each, followed by the East of England at 85.8 percent.

For disabled people, of those who have self-assessed that they have a disability in line with the Disability Discrimination Act, 33.7 percent were non-users of the internet, down from 36.8 percent the same time last year.

G-Cloud breaks from IT supplier cartel

Suppliers for the government’s cloud computing service, G-Cloud, will be announced soon, with a rare break up of the ‘cartel’ of large suppliers.

Government procurement has been under fire for some time, with a committee of MPs recently lambasting the small group of large suppliers which frequently get the juicy contracts.

The supplier list, accredited by the government to offer a variety of cloud services to different departments and agencies, will demonstrate a more flexible approach.

Around 600 cloud companies are said to have tendered for a place on the accredited G-Cloud supplier list, with 250 making the final cut. Those that make the grade will be able to offer a range of cloud services such as platform as a service, software as a service and so forth.

TechEye spoke to Richard Davies, CEO of ElasticHosts, a UK cloud firm which will be offering computing power to departments via the G-Cloud CloudStore with its infrastructure as a service.

“Basically we rent virtualised computer capacity with a user interface where they can rent computing power by the hour,” Davies says. “Whereas they might have bought physical hardware, they can rent what they want from us when they need it.”

With the list of 250 suppliers to be published on Sunday, Davies highlighted the potential to shake-up the way government procures its IT.

“Government procurement has traditionally been a slow process, and one that has been dominated by a handful of very big suppliers that run multi-year projects with hundreds of people,” Davies told TechEye in an interview.

“I would like to think that G-Cloud will mean that departments will be able to buy much faster and much more cost effectively,” he continued, “and pick modern technology that they want from a pre-certified list, paying for exactly what they need.”

According to Davies, this will lead to a “much more responsive model of procurement”, as compared to the “traditional world of large five ten year government IT projects with large firms”.

There has been mounting pressure on the government to change the way that government has tended towards pricey contracts with the big firms.  This has lead to some high profile blunders like the seemingly never-ending NHS IT debacles.

Davies believes that while there is still room for large scale projects with single suppliers, in many cases it is not necessar:. “I think there are always going to be specific large projects that require a significant piece of work by a single contractor over a few years,” he said, “but there is an awful of IT in government that is much more qualified than that.”

“The technology you need to run a website for a local council department for example, there is a lot of it out there that is pretty standard that you don’t need to sign a large contract to get.

“What you see a small number of bug name firms signing expensicve multiyear contract and I am not convinced they have delivered value.”

Davies does not foresee G-Cloud’s nature leading to any major headaches.

“G-Cloud is not a specific service so is not like a NHS IT contract, it is a list of 250 suppliers which have been be accredited,” he said. “Government picks a list of suppliers which are already providing these services, and are now accredited for government.”

By breaking down the procurement of cloud services, rather than handing a project out to a contractor, it seems that the government may be able to avoid costly blunders.  However, the problem for G-Cloud is whether the civil service can break away from past procurement methods.

According to Davies, the real test will be in six months or a year when we can measure just how much has been done from services in the catalogue

Davies wonders if the various departments are actually going to start picking out services from the list and using that to drive down costs. “Certainly we hope it will be a ‘yes’,” Davies said, “and the people running G-Cloud will hope the answer is ‘yes’ too, we will just have to see six months down the line.”

One of the problems with government cloud computing has been the potential threat of security over highly confidential and sensitive information. Davies does not think that this will be a problem.

“There shouldn’t be concerns over security,” he said. “Obviously, there is information that you want to keep private, so every firm has had to be accredited for the level of security they can offer.  These levels will be on accreditation list.

“Any department with sensitive information should be able to pick suppliers with relevant security accreditation level.”

While Davies is not able to spill the beans on which other suppliers have made the cut for the final list, he reckons that we will still see some familiar faces.

16 percent of Brits have never gone online

8 million adults in the UK had never used the internet in the fourth quarter of last year, according to a report from the Office for National Statistics.

Although 41.99 million adults in the UK had used the interent at some time, or 83.5 percent of the adult population, the 8.2 million who had never gone near it make up 16.3 percent of the adult population. 224,000 more people started using the web since the third quarter of last year. 

UK citizens who were less likely to go online included over 65s, the widowed, and the disabled, according to the report.

The youngest generation surveyed, aged 16 to 24, were the biggest users of the web at a staggering 98.7 percent having gone online. For whatever reason, men were slightly more likely to go online than women, at 86.1 percent used the web compared to 81 percent of women.

8.1 percent of people on pay of under £200 per week had never used the internet. According to the survey, the more people are paid per week, the more likely they were to go online, with absolutely zero non-users for those in the highest pay band of £800 – £899 per week.

The government is still keen to push web use across the country and has rolled out several initiatives to boost the internet in the UK. 

Gargantuan supermarket Tesco, for its part, is trying to get more people online while filling its own pockets – having turned ISP and offering a package for just £2.50 a month, undercutting cheap broadband provider TalkTalk.

TalkTalk said: “TalkTalk remains Britain’s best value home phone and broadband provider. Customers taking Essentials from TalkTalk along with our Value Line Rental save £42 a year compared with Tesco’s ‘evening and weekend’ package. Our Plus customers taking Value Line Rental save £26.25 per year compared to Tesco ‘anytime’.”

eBay pushes policymakers on mobile broadband

Online retailer eBay is telling the British government and regulators to stop dragging their heels on plans for next generation data connectivity in the UK. 

eBay has it figured out that, actually, in five to ten year’s time lots of us are going to be spending money on our mobile devices. But a stickler to getting to that point is the UK’s comparitively poor data connectivity. 

In an eBay paper with the catchy title “Seizing the Mobile Retail Opportunity,” UK Retail Director Angus McCarey says the speed of change we’re going to see over the next five will completely trounce the last ten years. 

eBay has packed its public affair execs off to Ofcom’s doorstep, where the Silicon Valley company is recommending it proceeds with the 4G auction as fast as possible. It believes Ofcom needs to prioritise broadband coverage rollouts in rural areas and on transport routes like railway and roads.

It also warns against monopoly, urging Ofcom to make it easier for smaller companies to access spectrum, as well as pushing white space technology.

The argument to us seems to be: people are still buying despite the recession. Enabling mobile devices to make shopping simple, easy, fun and perhaps addictive, consumers could provide a substantial boost to the economy.

Many companies at the forefront of mobile technology agree that the world is moving towards an always-connected environment and with that comes convergence. “Phrases like e-commerce or m-commerce will become increasingly meaningless,” eBay’s McCarey said, “there will just be commerce.”

If you’re always on with a decent connection the window of opportunity for consuming isn’t just a lunch break or on your laptop at home – it’s all the time. Not only that, but the relatively high cost of data really does put off shoppers, according to a survey eBay commissioned for the report.

Speaking to TechEye, Clare Moore-Bridger at eBay told us that there’s a paradox in the UK economy: “We’re leading the way in so many aspects of mobile adoption, but lagging behind in our infrastructure,” she said. “Current problems with slow download speeds are only likely to get worse as smartphone usage peaks and data demand heats up.”

Moore-Bridger said that, while signs of O2 committing to trialling 4G mobile internet in London are very encouraging, “we need more wide-ranging action, spurred on and supported by policymakers.”

The first and most important step, according to Moore-Bridger, must be taken by Ofcom: “The number one priority for Ofcom should be to proceed with the auction of the 4G spectrum as quickly as possible to enable the rollout of next generation broadband in 2013.”

Capgemini announces audited 2010 results

Capgemini, the services and IT company, looks set to turn a profit on the back of public sector cuts. While cuts are not yet fully in effect, it has secured plenty of contracts including with Transport For London – as TFL plans to cut workers amidst a flurry of strikes – and saw a return to growth in the second half of 2010. 

Total revenues for 2010 were $11,792 million (€8,697 million), up 3.9 percent on published revenues compared with 2009. They were down slightly, says Capgemini, on a like-for-like basis – so that’s constant group structure and exchange rates. The fourth quarter was up 16.2 percent year-on-year for published figures, 10.5 up following the acquisition of Brazil’s CPM Braxis, and 5.8 percent like for likes.

Booking totalled roughly $13,372 million (€9,863 million), up nine percent from 2009. Book-to-bill ratios for consulting, technology and loca professional services was 1.14 for the year and 1.21 for the fourth quarter.  Outsourcing saw the highest growth of all Capgemini’s businesses, up 16 percent on 2009. Five late-launch 2009 service lines, beginning operations in 2010, accounted for 37 of total bookings according to Capgemini. 

Total group profit for the year was roughly $379.7 million, or €280 million. That’s up an impressive 57 percent on the year before. Outlooks from Capgemini’s finance team reckons that it will see growth of between nine and 10 percent in revenue. Operating margin improvements are expected to be between 0.5 points and 1 point. 

Capgemini recently signed a £10.4 million IT outsourcing contract leading on until 2013 with Tube Lines, owned by Transport for London. It’s a contractor under management by London Underground, which maintains trains, tracks and stations for the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly Lines. Capgemini has taken over all IT support and applications at Tube Lines.

Capgemini is worth keeping an eye on. It’s a gigantic company that wins lucrative IT contracts in the public sector including an early signing with the Metropolitan police. It wields influence and as it returns to growth will likely continue to handle applications behind the scenes. Over in India, late last year we reported that along with rivals it has been locking in employees to stop them from jumping ship.

Controversial Huawei sets up shop in Banbury

While Huawei has got Britain’s comrades in the States paranoid about links to the Chinese military, the UK has greenlighted a security centre in Banbury, Oxfordshire.

According to the MD of the centre, it’s “like a glasshouse – transparent, readily accessible and open to regulators and our customers.” But US lawmakers have been aggressively trying to block links between Huawei and its bigwig telcos such as Sprint. Manufacturers are subject to the influence of the Chinese military, says an open letter from lawmakers posted in October.

Opening doors for Huawei can also open doors for foreign espionage, the wearers of tinfoil hats claim.

That was, however, for a large scale American network – not a security centre in Oxfordshire’s Cherwell District. According to Reuters the centre will be used to test hardware and software against security threats.

Huawei has been busy. It was selected by China Mobile to build a 40G network and has won a contract in Australia to test LTE spectrum in Australia, where it wants to become a top brand. 

Indeed if the paranoid USA is right in its suspicions, raised again late November when it annoyed the States with an undeclared acquisition, it will have a difficult time shutting Huawei out. Huawei and rival ZTE continue to do their best to convince the United States they are no threat.

HP joins Latin America trend to sell laptops to retirees

If you read some North American financial pundits, Latin America is full of evil leftist tyrants. But down in Argentina, HP and the country’s pensioners might disagree, as some of them are buying PCs thanks to a government PC loans programme.

While those in the developed world have access to pensions in a stronger currency and cheaper local prices for technology, retirees and pensioners in South America usually don’t have either.

That’s why the government down in Argentina and its public pensions system has enacted a loans programme through one of the government-owned banks to finance computer purchases by pensioners, with a low interest rate and long payment plans.

Of course there is still an age-related digital divide, but those that do know about computers are already taking advantage of it.

Take this scribbler’s old man as an example: an IT veteran who started back in the days of punched cards, he has just replaced his 2004 Sony VAIO with a snappy new dual core laptop sporting two gigs of RAM, which he bought with one of these government loans.

The programme, as implemented through the public bank allows pensioners to choose among three computer brands: Exo – a local manufacturer, Olivetti and HP. Of the three, HP seems to be offering the widest range of options, with multiple AMD and Intel powered laptops, and also all-in-one desktops.

These loans cover computers up to 1280 quid, in 40 monthly instalments and with free delivery nationwide. The monthly payments are automagically deducted from the pensioner’s monthly pay cheque. To put this scheme in perspective, the private sector only offers up to two-year financing -24 monthly payments – in very rare instances, with one-year financing being the most common.

So overall it’s a big deal to make the grey haired surfers happy. What seems to be lacking, though, is some ways to train the untrained in these “new” technologies.

In the case of this scribbler’s old man, he chose a Compaq C778LA, a model which HP originally introduced in mid-2009 and which HP has since updated with a 300GB hard drive. It sports two gigs of RAM, Intel X1300 integrated graphics, and Vista as its OS – quickly replaced with Win 7, also known as “Vista 7”.

 

In Blighty

 Different countries have different approaches to help their often cash-strapped generation. Britain adds IT education, for instance.

Libraries across the UK have been offering basic computer courses and there’s been training efforts like the Bee’s “First Click” programme. Other private volunteer efforts also target pensioners and help get them computer-savvy. According to reports, keeping in touch with relatives abroad and “keeping up with the grandchildren” are two of the main motivators for retirees to get to grips with ‘puters.

Another government programme in England is the sponsoring of “Online Centres” which target “those with low or zero IT skills” and provide everyone a chance to use computers and access the Internet. According to the programme description, there’s more than six thousand “online centres” across England housed in community centres, churches, schools and libraries with experienced staff available to give as much help as each person needs.

 

In Oz

Down under, the government in Western Australia offers retirees – actually anyone over the age of 60 – the “Seniors Card” which provides not only utilities discounts and cheaper transport benefits but also lower prices when purchasing a computer. 

Another solution is provided by WorkVentures Connect IT, an Aussie not-for-profit which offers “quality refurbished PCs” at cheap prices to any senior who receives payment from Centrelink (pension or health care card).

 

Conclusion

Leaving aside what the Beeb described ten years ago as the one in five pensioners who “do not see what they could use computers for”, it’s nice to see governments across the world taking into account the needs of the grey-haired web surfers. A mix of generous financing terms for wider access to computers – like Argentina’s programme that uses the funds on the State pension system that previously went to the private stock markets casino, often invested outside the country – plus easy access to training like England’s programmes surely seems to be the way to go. And surely it beats wasting tax payer wonga to reward the fat cats at the likes of Goldman Sachs with bailouts.  

Ed Vaizey assumes chief role for Brit Porn Police

Ed Vaizey is as confused about child safety online as the rest of us. Following on from his controversial net neutrality speech, he has this week been discussing child safety online.  During roundtables with ISPs he has discussed options available, “made progress”, but admits the mobile internet is a difficult area to enforce. 

While most mobile networks have a default block on content that is for over 18s when surfing from a phone, such as gambling or pornography, Vaizey admits that technology such as Bluetooth, used for transferring files from phone to phone, is tough to police. Besides, how exactly do the networks confirm ages on phones – and what is to stop an age confirmed phone transferring downloaded material to one that is not? Nothing, really.

Vaizey says he and the UK Council for Child Internet Safety  (UKCCIS) are working on ways to monitor material, but “it is not possible to tackle content that is shared via bluetooth, for example, on a phone-to-phone basis.” A quango that escaped the cull, the UKCCIS is “so important,” says Vaizey, for figuring out how to keep kids safe online.

But what is online safety? Is it underage kids swapping porno on their phones as a modern, technologically savvy alternative to swapping jazz rags at school? Or is it really about keeping them safe, in this instance, rather than typically boyish (or girlish) curiousity? Either way, ISPs must continue to take responsibility.

Vaizey says: “According to one school of thought, ISPs are there simply to channel the content to homes, and should not interfere with what goes down their pipes. It is often said that asking them to do so would be the equivalent of asking Royal Mail to open every envelope and parcel and have a look at the contents. I also believe that we should not over-regulate the internet, and that self-regulation should be the first stop before we consider Government regulation or legislation. 

“However, I think it should be put on the record that ISPs can play a role, and, indeed, have played a very effective role in combating child abuse content online.”

Vaizey, although naturally concerned about illegal imagery and child abuse, continued to say that the internet must be monitored for ordinary sex.

Fellow Conservative MP, for Worthing West, Peter Bottomley queried: “The debate is concentrating on the issue that matters most, which is extreme pornography. We are not concerned about nudity or ordinary sex. Most of us have a naked body, and very few of us inherited celibacy from our parents. Can the Minister say whether the six ISPs who are currently providing the channels in question are the organisations who came to his meeting, and if they were not, will he have them in as well please?”

To which Vaizey replied: “To a certain extent, talking about ordinary sex. We are talking about preventing children from having access to inappropriate content, and how we can work with ISPs to make it that little bit more difficult for them to do so.”

Whatever the answer, it’s not an obvious one. And will anyone, especially in this digital age, truly be able to shield young eyes from a curiosity of this “pornography” they’ve heard about? Vaizey, the UKCCIS and ISPs are trying to figure out a way to do just that. 

US will see newspapers go way of the dodo by 2017

Media tyrant mogul Rupert Murdoch has for some time now been shouting about the virtues of newspapers on tablet devices – his organs have been promoting the iPad and a shift behind paywalls is on the way. Indeed, only The Sun is free to view at the moment but that is set to change soon too.  

According to media industry analysts at Future Exploration Network he could be making the right move. The Grauniad has spent a great deal of dosh on ensuring it has quality journalists pushing out a lot of content on a daily basis, but has lost money through its free model. Future Exploration’s paper suggests that traditional media could be dead as early as 2017 in certain regions of the world.

In its Newspaper Extinction Timeline, it reveals that the emergence of tablet devices and other ways of viewing the news will see the extinction of traditional newspaper media by 2017 in America. It is followed by the UK and Iceland where the funeral is set for 2019, then Canada and Norway at 2020. 

But the figures are broadly one sided. While the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and much of Scandinavia are keen for a media shift, Europe as a whole isn’t fussed – with Italy hitting the extinction period in 2027, while France is 2029 and Germany is 2030. They are followed by Japan and Metropoltan China in 2031. 

“Every country is different,” says chairman of Future Exploration Network Ross Dawson, “The pace of change in media structure is being led by the US and UK, with other countries not so far behind.” It’s a tough one to pigeonhole: while the digital charge is being led by North America and the West, traditionaly newspapers are gaining further credibility and output in developing countries. 

And nine years is, in terms of a business, a long time for a paywall to generate a decent ROI. All figures must be taken with a pinch of salt – Future Exploration Network doesn’t tell us the exact ins and outs. In its notes it says: “This schedule for newspaper extinction shows best estimates given current trends.”

You can have a look at the prediction graphic here if our resized one, below, is too small, which it is.