Wednesday, 16 August 2017

From Superfast to Ultrafast – Speedier Broadband on the Way

On the heels of BT offering to invest in the infrastructure needed to bring high-speed internet to those Britons who do not yet have it, researchers have announced the possibility of current technology becoming obsolete within a short amount of time. We aren't talking high-speed Internet any more. We're not even talking superfast. Instead, we are now looking at ultrafast speeds measured in gigabytes rather than megabytes.

Ultrafast wi-fi has been on the radar for quite some time now. Until recently though, making it happen has remained somewhat of a mystery. That mystery may have been solved by switching from traditional microwaves to terahertz. Researchers at Brown University School of Engineering in Providence, Rhode Island (USA) have demonstrated they can "transmit separate data streams on terahertz waves at very high speeds and with very low error rates," according a report on the Telegraph website.

"This is the first time anybody has characterised a terahertz multiplex system using actual data," the researcher said in an official statement, "and our results show that our approach could be viable in future terahertz wireless networks."

What It Means to You

If you don't know the difference between a microwave and a terahertz, you are not alone. Here's what it means to you in simple terms: ultrafast internet access that could be upwards of 100 times faster than the best high-speed service now available. We are looking at speeds of 50 GB per second as opposed to 500 MB per second, the highest speed available with state-of-the-art microwave technology.

If science is successful in developing terahertz applications, the implications of the new technology would be incredible. First and foremost, terahertz networks would bring to an end the very real danger of outstripping microwave capacity with current high-speed applications.

Secondly, we would be able to develop platforms capable of much higher data densities. Terahertz waves operate at higher frequencies than microwaves and higher frequencies means more data packed into the same stream.

Thirdly, a successful venture into terahertz technology would mean high definition streaming on-the-go for everything from live television to superfast data crunching for banks, businesses and other large consumers of data. That alone would do wonders for worldwide financial markets.

Proving It Works

Proof-of-concept experiments out of Brown University involved two HD television broadcasts that were encoded on two different terahertz frequencies and then sent out across a wi-fi network together. Researchers obtained error-free results at 10 GB per second. Errors were only slight at 50 GB per second and well within the range of standard error correction systems.

From high-speed to superfast to ultrafast, the speeds at which we can send data through the air will only be going up over the next several years. Imagine a wi-fi connection 100 times faster than you currently use. It is possible through terahertz; at least in principle. Now it is up to scientists to make terahertz technology viable for the mass market. It appears as though they are very much on course.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Statement of Intent: New UK Consumer Data Protection Rules to be Enforced

A recently issued statement of intent from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport aims to change the way those who collect data online use it for the foreseeable future. The statement outlines plans to initiate legislation that will further protect consumers against the misuse of their personal information, with or without their consent.

Among the new protections is greater control over data by individual consumers. As an example, consumers will be able to maximise the 'right to be forgotten' by requesting social media sites erase their information.

All the new data protection rules will be encapsulated in legislation to be known as the Data Protection Bill. The government says the bill will instil confidence in people that they have absolute control over their data. According to the statement of intent, research currently shows that up to 80% of the public lacks that confidence right now.

Shifting the Responsibility

Once the new legislation becomes law, it will shift the burden of responsibility from the consumer to the organisation that collects data. It will require organisations to obtain explicit consent for processing certain kinds of personal data. At the same time, it will eliminate the default tick boxes organisations currently use to obtain consent. It is the government's contention that such tick boxes are largely ignored.

The legislation will also:

  • Make it easier for consumers to withdraw consent
  • Give consumers the ability to request their personal data be erased
  • Give parents and guardians control over data collected from minors
  • Expand the definition of 'personal data' to include cookie information, ip addresses, and dna information
  • Give consumers more power to force organisations to reveal what kinds of data they have
  • Make it easier for consumers to move data between organisations
  • Update and strengthen existing data protection laws to bring them in line with the state of the digital economy
The government is extremely serious about shifting responsibility from consumers to data collectors. They have created significant penalties for violators, and the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) will be granted greater authority to enforce the rules. The statement of intent makes it clear that organisations will be held accountable for the data they gather.

"Our measures are designed to support businesses in their use of data, and give consumers the confidence that their data is protected and those who misuse it will be held to account," said Minister of State for Digital Matt Hancock.

Hancock went on to explain that the legislation will give consumers more control over their data while also preparing the UK for Brexit. On that latter point, the legislation brings UK consumer data protection laws in line with the EU's General Data Protection Regulation.

All that remains to be seen now is whether the final Data Protection Bill lives up to the promises of the statement of intent. If it does, the UK will have one of the strongest consumer data protection laws in the world.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

BT Counters Universal Service Obligation Mandate with Proactive Offer

If you had to choose between the government's proposed universal service obligation mandate and BT proactively building the necessary infrastructure to offer universal broadband, which would you choose? It is an interesting question that MPs and Ofcom now have to wrestle with. Thanks to a new offer by BT, the government may not have to implement the universal service obligation after all.

BT has proposed investing some £600 million in new infrastructure that will provide high-speed broadband to up to 99% of UK households by 2020. Universal access would be available by 2022.

BT defines high-speed broadband as a connection that gets at least 10Mbps. They say approval of their plan would mean most UK households getting broadband through fibre and fixed wireless technologies. Those that could not be reached through traditional infrastructure could be offered satellite broadband.

As an alternative, the government has already proposed the universal service obligation. Should they decide to implement it, every UK household without broadband would be able to request it beginning in 2020. BT would have no choice but to install the necessary infrastructure to meet that request.

Why Make the Offer?

It is a fascinating exercise to try and figure out why BT would make such an expensive offer? Agreeing to spend £600 million is an awfully pricey proposition when you consider that BT already provides high-speed broadband to 95% of UK households. To understand BT's move, it's important to understand how they will come up with the money.

Under the universal service obligation mandate, new broadband customers who get service after making a request could not be charged more than customers already receiving the same service. That would mean BT having to swallow the cost of building infrastructure on a case-by-case basis. Their proposal pays for the infrastructure in a different way.

According to the BBC, all of BT's current customers would pay for the construction through increased monthly bills. Those who eventually get access would then be paying the higher bills as well. From a business standpoint, it just makes better sense for BT to voluntarily create universal broadband access rather than being forced into it.

A Few Concerns

BT's proposal has thus far met with mostly positive reactions. However, there are a couple of concerns. First is the possibility that 10Mbps service would be obsolete before the company finished building the infrastructure. That would mean all of those newly connected households would once again be behind in a game of perpetual catch-up.

The second worry is obviously the higher cost to broadband customers. While the first concern can be addressed through well-planned technology upgrades, there's nothing anyone can do about the second. Someone has to pay to build and maintain the infrastructure. If customers don't pay for it directly, they will have to pay for it through tax contributions to cover government subsidies.

We shall see what the government decides to do with BT's proposal. Either way, universal broadband – even in the hardest to reach places – is the ultimate goal.