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Hearing aids: Getting a boost from smart technology

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Hearing aids: Getting a boost from smart technology

Hearing aids: Getting a boost from smart technology

Smartphones are simply ubiquitous these days, and one can argue that our handsets will soon replace the wallet as our most personal (or most indispensable to our daily routine) of all our possessions. We can certainly thank today’s tech companies for continuously trying to push the envelope when it comes to mobile device technology, especially in giving consumers everywhere a better and more well rounded tool for connecting with others. And the great thing about today’s mobile tech is that it is also helping specific types of users, like the hearing impaired, be more connected.

In Ericsson’s report about the top ten hottest consumer trends recently, it mentioned the burgeoning popularity of augmented hearing, which has given rise to various hearables (wearable devices designed for the ears) starting to hit the market. Because of this, people who are hearing impaired now have a wider range of new devices they can take full advantage of.

Based on information provided by the Hearing Loss Association of America, an estimated 48 million people living in the United States are dealing with some degree of hearing loss. To put that 48 million into proper perspective, that number is equal to around 20 percent of the country’s whole population. It is quite common to think that hearing impairment is mostly associated with old folks, but unfortunately, about 15 percent of kids are affected, too. 

So it is really good to hear that the US government is doing something about it. Some time last year, the Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act was passed, and this new law basically lets adults with mild to moderate hearing loss purchase more affordable devices without needing to see a hearing professional. The law also has the US Food and Drug Administration create a new category for hearing aids, which should urge device manufacturers (especially of headphones and handsets) to begin releasing products that can help users who are hearing impaired.

The great thing about today’s connected technology is that they have helped paved the way for hearing aids that can connect to a smartphone. A good example is the Oticon Opn, a Bluetooth enabled hearing aid, which can be paired with an iPhone. Speaking of which, Apple is one of the more high profile mobile brands that have initiated special projects for those suffering from hearing loss. About half a decade ago, the tech giant started the Made for iPhone program, the objective of which was to help manufacture mobile devices and mobile accessories geared for the hearing impaired. Oticon is not the only device maker partnering with Apple’s Made for iPhone program — Starkey, another hearing aid brand, is also joining forces with Apple to help its iOS mobile user customers. 

To browse hearing aid compatible phones, you can visit this page. You can also check out the Federal Communications Commission’s iCanConnect initiative.

 

Amazon adds remote access feature to FreeTime parental controls

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Amazon adds remote access feature to FreeTime parental controls

Amazon adds remote access feature to FreeTime parental controls

This piece of news may be a welcome one for Amazon users who have kids — the tech giant is rolling out a new update for its Parent Dashboard in Amazon FreeTime that should allow parents to better manage their kid’s mobile usage, remotely from their smartphone, tablet, or even personal computer.

More than half a decade old now, the FreeTime Unlimited service from Amazon has set an example for others with regards to the proper way of marrying children friendly content with profiles that can be personalized and more importantly, parental controls. Now, moms and dads not only can track and manage their child’s mobile usage, but also set time restrictions and learning goals every day, as well as monitor handset activity, while of course, granting kids the opportunity to enjoy access age appropriate content in the form of video clips, mobile apps, games, and even books.

It was last year when Amazon had first launched the Parent Dashboard, which parents can take full advantage of when it comes to managing their child’s mobile usage. Another cool thing about the Parent Dashboard feature is that it allows grown ups to initiate conversations with their kid, especially with regards to what their child is watching or reading while using their mobile device. And because the Parent Dashboard comes with tools for generating reports of a kid’s daily mobile usage, and activity history (which videos were viewed, which apps were used, which games were played, and which books were read), it lets moms and dads have a better grasp of what types of media their kid is consuming.

While it is true that every parent would want to know what his child is doing while using smartphones and tablet devices at all times, this is actually easier said than done, and not always that simple. Amazon had commissioned a study conducted by Kelton Global Research, and the results of that research effort indicated that while practically all of the parents (97 percent) are currently managing their child’s mobile usage, a full three fourths of these parents do not like the idea of having to hover over their child each and every time.

Thankfully, Amazon has found a way to deal with this — it now lets parents configure the parental controls by remote access from the online Parent Dashboard. This way, they can manage their kid’s mobile usage without visible interference. Conveniently, the parental controls are made identical to those found on the kid’s device. Moreover, parents are also free to remotely update the list of content that can be accessed by their kid, and even lock or unlock the handset for a limited period of time.

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Airwave auction results announced by Ofcom

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Ofcom has raised £1,355,744,000 i.e. £1.4 billion in shorthand from the latest airwaves auction. The auction was around two frequency bands, 3.4 GHz which is expected to be used for 5G and 2.3 GHz which adds more capacity for 4G networks.

The final assignment stage that will determine the specific frequencies in each band for the auction winners will now take place, but the size of the spectrum and bands paid for is known for the five entrants in the auction.

  • Airspan Spectrum Holdings Ltd did not win any spectrum
  • EE got a 40 MHz slice of the 3.4GHz band at a price of £302,592,000
  • Hutchison 3G UK (Three) 20 MHz in the 3.4GHz band costing £151,296,000
  • Telefónica UK (O2) all of the 40 MHz 2.3 GHz in the auction with a price tag of £205,896,000. Additionally 40 MHz of 3.4 GHz for £317,720,000
  • Vodafone 50 MHz in the 3.4 GHz band costing £378,240,000

As with other airwave auctions the money raised goes to HM Treasury.

This spectrum will be instrumental in further improving 4G mobile services now, while helping the UK to lead the 5G revolution and build a Britain that is fit for the future. We hope that it can now be deployed as soon as possible for the benefit of consumers right across the UK.

Digital Minister Margot James

The extra spectrum in the 2.3 GHz band should mean existing 4G services with O2 will get faster where mobile devices have support for the band and can actually see the signal. In terms of geographic coverage the lower the frequency the better the range generally, so it seems likely that those with no O2 signal in an area will not benefit unless extra masts are deployed but that those who can get an O2 signal may see less congestion at the mast in busy areas.

A small note of caution on the 5G in the 3.4 GHz band, while 5G is more efficient and squeezes more out of the spectrum compared to 4G the headline promise of multi Gigabit speeds to your mobile are actually going to come from much higher frequency bands 10 GHz to 60 GHz.

The money raised from the auction while not as crippling as the old 3G auction may still encourage landowners to hold out for high rents to host masts on their land and the deployment of more masts combined with a 700 MHz band roll-out are key to delivering mobile coverage. The rush towards deploying Wi-Fi kiosks and hidden in street furniture show the likely pattern for 5G deployments, i.e. lots more small cells to blanket areas with the high frequencies and it is possible some high rent mast sites will lose out if partnerships with local authorities give enough access to lamp posts so that the big old mast on top of a block of flats is not needed.

Looking at overall UK mobile situation the median speeds in Q3 2015 were 9.4 Mbps down (1.9 Mbps up) and have risen to 15.6 Mbps down (3.1 Mbps up) for Q1 2018. The mean speed is higher at 22.2 Mbps for download speeds reflecting the impact of the small 2 to 3% testing with speeds above 100 Mbps on their mobile devices.

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Guest Wi-Fi network arrives on BT Business Smart Hub

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Guest Wi-Fi networks are pretty common on third party routers but the Guest Wi-Fi that has launched for BT Business customers with a Business Smart Hub 6 tunnels the traffic so that in addition to the Wi-Fi network being distinct from the businesses own network (Wi-Fi or Ethernet) the Internet traffic while on the same physical line is seen as coming from a distinct BT Wi-Fi IP address. Content filtering is enabled, helping to ensure that malicious or illegal content is blocked, though as always its impossible to block everything.

We’re addressing the cyber security and legal risks of doing so by providing a Guest Wi-Fi service which is completely ring-fenced from companies’ private networks. Small firms benefit from greater security, content controls and better broadband performance, while at the same time giving their customers a faster, more convenient and secure way to get online with every visit to the business.

Mike Tomlinson, managing director for SMEs for BT Business and Public Sector

A maximum of 13 people can connect via the Guest Wi-Fi network and 80% of the connections bandwidth is reserved for the business so the impact on broadband speeds will be controlled. People with the BT Wi-Fi app will connect automatically when in range, but for the more average visitor there is a simple Get Online button on the landing page for the network. As always the same rules apply as when using Wi-Fi that is open and unencrypted i.e. assume someone is reading it hence why business travellers ensure they are using a virtual private network and encrypted email access.

For those wanting to find out more visit https://business.bt.com/sales-comms/guest-wifi. There should be posters and stickers available so that people sat in reception or using a shop can see you have a guest network available but as of 4pm these do not appear to be available.

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Can too much VR also negatively impact kids?

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Can too much VR also negatively impact kids?

Can too much VR also negatively impact kids?

There is no shortage of discussion (and even fierce debate) with regards to the potential harmful effects of excessive mobile device usage, especially among the younger demographic of users, including radiation, and less than a week ago, we even tackled the subject of possible smartphone blindness. But what about virtual reality, or more specifically, too much VR immersion or usage of VR headsets (hello there, Ready Player One fans)? 

It is somewhat cliche (and rather lazy) to just say, “It is far too early to tell.” But for parents with children who are already beginning to fall in love with virtual reality worlds, they probably can’t afford to not be concerned, at least. And the number of worrying moms and dads is already growing — as indicated in a report recently released by Common Sense Media and a research team hailing from the Virtual Human Interaction Lab of Stanford University, it appears that 60 percent of parents are already a bit worried that too much VR usage can bring about unwelcome health effects.

In completing their report, what Common Sense Media and the Stanford University researchers did was conduct a poll on about 3,600 parents with at least one kid not older than 18 years old. The results of the survey pretty much paint a picture of an increasing population of adults already beginning to have apprehensions of what VR can do to their children. 

As pointed out by Michael Robb, the director of research at Common Sense Media, it does not help that so few research efforts have been done so far with regards to the potential harmful effects of VR on kids everywhere. Make no mistake about it, VR appreciation is this close to becoming a mainstream thing (okay, we may have exaggerated that part right there), but we know so little about its long term effects (granted, it is quite tricky to achieve just that considering the technology itself is pretty new). 

According to the research done by Common Sense Media and Stanford University, around twenty percent of parents who are based in the United States already are in a household that has VR equipment. Moreover, 13 percent of parents in America are now looking to purchase VR gear in the next twelve months. 

That should mean that less than 87 percent of parents in the US either have no plans of buying VR hardware or are undecided with regards to the matter. But it goes without saying that their kids could help change their minds. Basically, every kid in the face of the planet would love to experience VR (thanks to movies, video games, and all of pop culture). And for sure, they are hoping that their parents would buy them VR gear.

And we have not even tackled the possible negative effects yet. Some of the most commonly assumed are headaches and eye strain, due to the mismatch between viewing objects in reality versus those rendered in VR. And then there’s the content itself — sexual and violent content are obviously something that should worry parents. We have a feeling that the list of effects will expand as VR gets more popular. 

 

CityFibre responds to LGA Full Fibre Kitemark call

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Our analysis of coverage of full fibre for new premises has been used by the LGA to highlight the need for a simple Kitemark to highlight that new homes and business premises have full fibre infrastructure available when people move in and now CityFibre has responded.

Access to high-quality internet access is of enormous importance to UK residents, with around one in three admitting that it has become as important to them as electricity, gas and water, and a quarter going as far as saying that they couldn’t function without it.

We also know that having access to next generation internet access delivered over full fibre infrastructure can add significant value to property – a figure that’s been calculated to be worth at least £7bn nationally over the next 15 years.

Full fibre is the only infrastructure capable of delivering the reliable gigabit speed services and futureproofed capacity the UK needs. We fully support the LGA’s call for the launch of a FTTP kitemark, which will give full fibre – the gold standard in internet connectivity – the status and recognition it deserves.

Consumers have been misled for decades by advertising practices which allow copper-based broadband products to be advertised as ‘fibre’. The introduction of a kitemark, however, will help consumers know what they are paying for and what standard they should expect.

By improving awareness and increasing demand for that gold standard, consumers, Government, local authorities and industry can collaboratively drive the roll-out of full fibre across the UK, helping it to catch up with the rest of the world.

Ultimately, this isn’t just about residential broadband speeds, this is about driving real and meaningful economic growth in all parts of the country for the long term. The FTTH Council in the USA, has calculated that providing full fibre to just half of all premises in any given location could result in a 1.1% rise in annual GDP. This figure applied to our own research based on 100 UK town and city economies, suggests an economic impact in excess of £120bn. This is a figure that cannot be ignored.

CityFibre, in partnership with Vodafone, is committed to delivering full fibre infrastructure to at least 1 million homes and businesses and our roll-out is underway. However, given the size of the prize for the UK, all players – and this includes local authorities, government, regulators, network builders and industry as a whole – need to ensure that combined, we deliver the maximum possible coverage in the shortest possible time. Only then will we unlock and unleash the full economic potential of full fibre, and that of the communities in which it is built.

Mark Collins, Director Strategy & Policy at CityFibre

The CityFibre statement is what we would expect from the operator and while we can debate the economic benefits of a shift from VDSL2/cable to full fibre and the precise figures what is missing from the statement is any firm commitment by CityFibre to address the issues of new build premises. The partnership of 1 million premises with Vodafone is of course much needed as an additional boost for the cities/towns it happens in but we have asked CityFibre what commitments they have for premises built after the roll-outs in an area have left and what resources are online for developers in a CityFibre area so they can see what engagement options they have.

On the topic of full fibre being the only infrastructure capable of delivering reliable Gigabit speeds, then the DOCSIS 3.1 coax fibre hybrid system needs mentioning and is behind the UnityMedia plans to make Bochum, Germany the fastest city in the country and already they have the coax fibre network selling a 400 Mbps service for €39.99 per month (20 Mbps upload, with normal speeds of 350 Mbps/18 Mbps and minimum speeds of 160 Mbps/10 Mbps) and Gigabit options in the pipeline. Full fibre should be more reliable in terms of up time as you don’t have lots powered cable hardware in the streets, but in terms of throughput the GPON FTTP networks that will be part of the Vodafone roll-out have bandwidth sharing in the local loop and Vodafone is NOT going to guarantee 1 Gigabit speeds for 1 million customers, so average speeds at peak time are going to flucuate just like any large consumer broadband service. UnityMedia is owned by Liberty Global who own Virgin Media in the UK, but as yet DOCSIS 3.1 appears to be on the backburner but they may invest more money into the service if they believe full fibre operators are going to see their customer base shrink.

The battle in the UK to hold the crown of the largest residential full fibre network will be interesting, and it is possible that with the Project Lightning roll-outs by Virgin Media combined with their roll-outs to new build premises which are often using RFOG (Radio Frequency over glass where final conversion to DOCSIS takes place in the home so the usual cable modem and TV box can be used) and actually delivering fibre to the premises that they may keep pace with CityFibre, with the 112,000 we have marked as part of the RGON FTTP network they have a bigger full fibre footprint currently. We don’t currently include this 112,000 in the FTTP coverage figures, the reason being that the services sold by Virgin Media are identical to their DOCSIS network but with the political focus on full fibre maybe its time to change that counting policy.

Update 12:20pm CityFibre has got back to us and the response is copied in below:

CityFibre is planning to deliver city-wide FTTP builds and planning for future demand, including new builds, is core to our business model and approach. We work closely with each local council to account for any areas of the town or city in which new developments are planned within our network design. We also engage directly with developers, often introduced by the local authority, that are active in each of our project areas.

Developers can register via the enquiry form on our website and from this page www.cityfibre.com/property

The link for property developers has something of a marketing slant since it has a graphic for 4 million homes, CityFibre is some years away from a FTTP footprint of four million homes but we believe this means that cities with a CityFibre presence add up to 4 million homes.

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Google and Kajeet team up to bring Wi-Fi to school buses

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Google and Kajeet team up to bring Wi-Fi to school buses

Google and Kajeet team up to bring Wi-Fi to school buses

Kajeet has recently revealed that it has struck a partnership with Google in order to provide Wi-Fi connectivity in school buses. Google has an initiative called Rolling Study Halls, and the aim of this project is to equip school buses with Wi-Fi connections in a dozen states across America beginning this year. To make this happen, the tech giant is acquiring the services of none other than Kajeet in order to power the Internet for the buses.

Much has already been said about the so-called “homework gap” and how it continues to affect kids in rural areas in the United States. For those not familiar with this phrase, it basically means the gap between students who can finish their homework because they enjoy access to the information superhighway, and those that can not simply because they live in a household that could not afford a web connection. Various major players in the mobile, wireless, and tech industries have already tried to lend a hand in bridging the homework gap. Back in August of last year, national wireless service provider Sprint had promised to provide Internet connectivity to around 180,000 low income high school students by way of its 1Million Project

Of course, Google is doing its part, too. But the tech giant’s focus is more specific — providing Wi-Fi connectivity in school buses, which will not only help kids without Internet connections at home, but also give an opportunity for some students to be productive even when stuck on long bus commutes. According to Google, it has already conducted pilots of its Rolling Study Halls initiative in the states of North Carolina and South Carolina. The company is now looking to expand the project to 16 more school districts in rural regions across the country. 

As for Kajeet, its collaboration with Google presents an opportunity for the former mobile virtual network operator to reinvent itself. The company was primarily known as an MVNO and a seller of mobile devices designed for kids, but back in July of last year, it had decided to shut down its wireless service for good. In the wake of its MVNO service discontinuation, it had to forge a deal with another MVNO, TPO Mobile, so that its displaced customers could get a new home. 

But now, Kajeet’s focus now is catering to the education sector. Right now, the firm is joining forces with 127 school bus fleets in 34 states across America in order to give student riders Internet connectivity. Kajeet has done this by setting up a cellular modem inside the buses, which transmits a Wi-Fi signal to kids. The company is also collaborating with more than 400 school districts that offer students Internet connections at home, made possible through hotspot devices provided by Kajeet.

 

BBFC consults on age verification

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Levels of sub USO premises in the rural and urban areas of England and its regions for homes built in 2017

There is a consultation now running on the age verification systems that will be put in place as part of the Governments measures to make the internet a safer place for children. The measures were set to actually have been in place in April 2018, but given the BBFC who are charged with monitoring and dealing with miscreants were only formally given their mandate on 21st February 2018 had not had time to set everything up and providers of age verification systems looking almost like vapourware at that time the early implementation was delayed.

We now have a situation where the BBFC has started a public consultation on its draft guidance for age verification systems and ancilliary service providers (e.g. social media apps). The consultation is open until 23rd April.

The most interesting aspect of all this is that if these measures are solely about protecting the children why is non commercial pornography exempt and what precisely is the definition of a commercial site, having adverts on a site appears to mean a site will count as commercial, as will free sites that are just a gateway to a paysite; but the situation around community ran sites with a donation system to just pay for server space are less clear. What is clear is that when it comes to policing the new system the largest sites are likely to be looked at first and for many smaller commercial or community run sites if they can avoid drawing attention to themselves they might be able to avoid the controls or at least wait and see how all the measures work in practice.

Age verification that will be acceptable under the new system will be more more than just a simple tick box saying you are over 18 or entering your date of birth. The BBFC explicitly calls out Debit, Solo or Electron cards as not being suitable for verification purposes and also says that other data elements such as name, address and date of birth are not suitable. Therefore the most likely sources of verification are credit cards, passport or mobile phone and one of the requirements is that verification providers need to guard against improper use by children, so it will be interesting to see how they guard against a 16 year old noting down a parents credit card details while at the same time retaining ease of use for end-users.

A lot has been said on Data Protection by opponents to the age verification system and the delay to implementation was fortunate particularly given the revelations about the way facebook data has been used thus highlighting how easy it is for the public to be tricked into sharing a lot more information than they expected, and the facebook/Cambridge Analytica episode vindicates a lot of the concerns of privacy groups over age verification.

Worries about the actual adult content provider learning who a member of the public and then being able to profile their content tastes and sexuality are largely being dismissed by age verification solutions since they are saying that data is only processed by them with a simple yes or no sent to the adult content site. Which sounds great, but with things like pay sites no doubt encouraging people to sign up with one time verification it is likely that where as millions access content anonymously for convience people may sign up and thus make profiling easier.  

Another issue particularly now is whether the public will trust an age verification system that is actually owned by the adult content provider?

We hope that the BBFC in line with its commitment to be open and transparent will when issuing a block notice for a non compliant site or service add it to a list of all the notices so that the many worries about over blocking and the potential for blocking notices to be widened for politicial purposes can be mitigated. The notices we believe are not industry wide, but individual providers will be notified and given that other elements of the processes take into account the frequency of visits by children it looks like some smaller more business focussed providers may escape and avoid the extra costs involved in both dealing with the block notices and ensuring that blocking is over blocking.

The BBFC when the Age Verification is up and running will be monitoring the effectiveness and we hope that as part of this they will investigate whether traffic has simply shifted from http/https to being hidden within a VPN tunnel that avoids all the measures put in place for just UK visitors to sites. Additionally research will need to be undertaken to determine if if measures are being bypassed by under 18’s sharing data that allows them to bypass the controls.

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Only £20 a month for up to 38 Mbps FTTC fibre via NOW TV

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Levels of sub USO premises in the rural and urban areas of England and its regions for homes built in 2017

The lowest price point for broadband war continues and NOW TV with its latest offers is looking to boost its customer numbers for their broadband service which is based around the core Sky broadband services.

  • Unlimited ADSL2+ with up to 17 Mbps downloads, is now just £15/m for 12 months, compared to the previous offer of £18/m. £9.99 to pay for P&P of the router needs to be paid too. Standard price £25.99/m.
  • Unlimited up to 38 Mbps downloads (up to 9.5 Mbps uploads) using VDSL2/FTTC is just £20/m for 12 months, down from previous offer of £25/m and £9.99 P&P to pay. Standard price £35.99/m.
  • Unlimited up to 76 Mbps downloads (up to 19 Mbps uploads) using VDSL2/FTTC is just £30/m for 12 months, down from previous offer of £35/m and £9.99 P&P to pay. Standard price £43.99/m.

You can opt for a no contract product but you need to pay £50 extra up front in that case. The price offer runs until 23rd May 2018.

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First property goes live on B4RN network in Norfolk

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Levels of sub USO premises in the rural and urban areas of England and its regions for homes built in 2017

The dig for B4RN East Anglia started in December and the first property is now all lit up and live on the network with around 7km of duct installed . Scole Community Centre is the first live property and that is largely down to the property housing the cabinet where all the individual fibres from the point to point links will terminate. B4RN is rare among the full fibre operators in the UK as they use a point to point architecture rather than GPON.

A lot of hard work has gone into this day from bringing together our volunteer network, to raising funds and digging around fields to lay the duct, but it is not rocket science – 15 volunteers and a few B4RN Engineers completed the civil works in about 10 working days spread over a couple of months. In return for that hard work we are now part of one of the most modern and fastest rural broadband networks in the world.

The B4RN pure fibre network brings the latest fibre technology directly into people’s homes using light to transmit the signal and not outdated electrical impulses over unreliable old cable networks. The key for rural broadband is not just connecting fast fibre to the ageing copper and aluminium cables (known as Fibre To The Cabinet, or FTTC), as this dramatically slows the speed and does nothing to prevent the constant breaks caused by the current ancient infrastructure. The answer is to bring a fast, reliable, fibre connection to each property (known as Fibre To The Home, or FTTH), this is what the B4RN community is doing.

B4RN East Anglia Regional Director, David Evans

The work to bring the service to premises in Billingford, Upper Street, Thelveton and Shimpling will now get underway, but there will still need to be fund raising to pay for the material costs including converting previous pledges into investments. B4RN may have grown to some 24 full and part-time staff, but still relies on hundreds of volunteers and this mobilisation of communities is what has helped them grow to cover an area that is apparently larger than the area encompassed by the M25. The rural nature of the B4RN network is very apparent if you imagined just 4,200 B4RN subscribers spread out over the area enclosed by the M25.

Take-up rates where B4RN operates are impressive at around 60% but this does vary from area to area and from our mapping of their footprint we count 6,485 premises passed.

The quote from David Evans sums up the problems with full fibre deployment, i.e. it is not rocket science but can involve a lot of hard work, and once you go down the route of employing people for the dig or contracting out for the work the costs shoot up and community spirit also goes a long way to getting free wayleaves rather than the protracted negotiations we have seen that can hold up commercial deployments. Also as B4RN avoids built up areas the problems that seem to plague Virgin Media over pavement re-instatement if local press articles are correct not an issue.

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