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November 27, 2014
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Rural rollout: a business beginner’s guide to the National Broadband Plan

Adrian Weckler

Published 27/11/2014 | 02:30

Click to see a bigger version of the graphic

High-speed broadband for every home – no matter how remote? We delve deeper into the pros, as well as the pitfalls.

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What is the National Broadband Plan?

It’s a plan to cover every rural home and business in the country with high-peed broadband of at least 30 megabits per second (30Mbs), partially paid for by the taxpayer. This week the Government published a map (on broadband.gov.ie) showing in detail every townland, village and rural area where the new state-subsidised broadband will apply.

When are the first rural homes and businesses set to be connected?

The Government plans for the first homes and businesses to get the service in late 2016. It says that the entire network should be completed by the end of 2020.

How much will it cost rural householders and business owners?

The same as city-based services. In other words, a 30Mbs service should not cost more than €40 a month (at today’s prices), regardless of where you live.

Will it apply to every rural premises and, if so, how many does that entail?

The Government is adamant that every last home and business in the country will be covered, whether on top of a mountain or on the remotest island. It says that this amounts to 600,000 homes and 100,000 businesses that cannot receive current high speed services from existing operators. It says that of 50,000 townlands in the country, 47,000 will qualify in whole or in part for subsidised broadband. It also says that this amounts to 100,000km of road network.

Is the new service to be a minimum of 30Mbs or ‘up to’ 30Mbs?

“It will categorically be a minimum speed of 30Mbs and not merely ‘up to’ 30Mbs,” said Communications Minister Alex White. “This chimes with the targets being set by the EU of 30Mbs for all European citizens.” This is a change in policy. Last year, the previous Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, said it would be ‘up to’ 30Mbs. The upgraded speeds may be designed to help it pass European state-aid tests: the higher the minimum speed specified, the easier it is for the Government to say government intervention is needed because private operators won’t provide similar services.

How will the Government get a minimum of 30Mbs to every last home in the country?

The Government is prioritising fibre to be connected into each house or business. However, it is anticipating other methods of broadband delivery in cases of hard-to-reach locations, such as phone lines or fixed wireless solutions. For this, it has specified “community points” such as Garda stations and schools: it may be that fibre runs to such a point and is then switched to a phone line or a wireless signal to reach the house or business.

Is the Government’s new broadband map final?

No. It’s encouraging people to examine the map in detail (it zooms down to every household and business) and check to see that it accurately reflects broadband availability.

How much will the Government spend and where is the money coming from?

The Government’s standing estimate is that it is ready to contribute between €355m and €512m of the total cost of rolling out the national broadband network, with private operators providing matching amounts.

However, Minister White says it could cost more (or less), depending on the tender results. The Government hopes to tap into EU funding to help pay for it, possibly including the European Investment Bank. However, it says that it will commit taxpayers’ money to it as necessary. Industry sources estimate that almost every house in the country could be covered for around €1bn.

Why can’t it be done sooner than the end of 2016?

The Government says that to pass EU state-aid rules, it now needs to consult with industry (Irish broadband providers) on the issue before formally submitting its plan for EU approval next summer. If it clears that hurdle, it will then tender out for operators to help build and run the networks. Minister White says that the tender process should happen “this time next year” and that construction of the network (or networks) will begin in 2016.

Is there anything that could hold it up further?

There are three main potential barriers. The first is that the EU may draw out or prevent it happening based on state-aid rules. A second hurdle is that the Government may lose interest: despite all the promises and plans, there is no budgetary commitment yet to this process and the earliest expected roll-out date will almost certainly come after the election of a new government.

One obstacle that is likely to crop up is a legal challenge. This could come either from a losing tender bidder or existing rural broadband providers, who might argue that the state-funded infrastructure is set to put them out of business. For example, there are at least 50 wireless internet service providers around rural towns and villages that could be wiped out if fibre is rolled out to every rural home.

Who will own the newly-built rural network or networks?

We don’t know. The Government is leaving the door open to handing over the rural networks to private operators as it doesn’t particularly want to start running a new utility. The issue will be outlined in the Government’s tender next year. While the Government does not want to give away taxpayer-funded infrastructure on the cheap, it also does not want to scare off potential bidders by denying any long term financial incentives for them.

Who is likely to bid to run the new networks?

Eircom and UPC, which dominate Ireland’s existing broadband infrastructure, are interested in the process and are likely to pitch for whatever tender comes up. Vodafone and the ESB, which are currently building a smaller fibre network, are also interested in the process.

Will the new network or networks be regulated by Comreg?

Probably, but neither the Government nor Comreg is yet saying what role Comreg will have.

Is this the only rural broadband scheme currently under way?

Technically, yes. The ESB and Vodafone have announced plans to connect ‘up to’ 500,000 homes and businesses around the country with a new fibre broadband network, but this will only be towns of at least 4,000 people. So it will largely just replicate what Eircom already has on its own road map and won’t reach the 700,000 rural premises targeted by the National Broadband Plan.

Where does this leave the previous National Broadband Scheme?

That scheme – which ran from 2008 until August of this year – is now over. It used cellular mobile broadband (from 3 Ireland) as its main service with promises of delivering between 2Mbs and 3Mbs. It’s interesting that the Government has now saying that it will not 4G mobile broadband as part of a National Broadband Plan. This would appear to restrict extremely remote locations to fixed wireless or phone line connections.

How did the Department of Communications put the map together?

It sought detailed information from broadband operators about their own existing coverage maps and their planned coverage maps up to the end of 2016. (In effect, this means Eircom and UPC.)

It then worked back from that to identify individual estates, townlands and one-off houses not covered by broadband services of at least 30Mbs.

“Where an operator said that it provides 20Mbs or 25Mbs, we counted that as an area that is not covered,” said one department official. The government says it has had 100 meetings with industry operators between April and mid-November.

Why is all of this necessary?

Commercial operators such as Eircom and UPC say that they simply cannot make money from offering high speed broadband to remote townlands and rural ribbon developments, which have 26 people per square kilometre living there, according to the Government.

So the only way for the 700,000 homes and businesses in those areas to get high speed broadband is by state intervention.

“The Government is clear that this requires a robust state intervention to deliver to the parts of the country that the commercial sector won’t be in a position to do,” said Minister White.

Indo Business

November 27, 2014
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Brazil operators refute ITU findings on high mobile prices

Brazil is one of the countries with the highest per-minute cost of mobile calls, according to a survey of 166 countries by the ITU. The cost of a one-minute mobile call in peak hours and on-net in Brazil is USD 0.53/minute, higher than in most countries analyzed, with the exception of France and Greece (USD 0.54), Ireland (USD 0.60) and Switzerland (USD 0.65). The figures are from 2013. On calls to other operators, the prices in Brazil are higher, reaching USD 0.55. The country, in this case, is second only to Ireland (USD 0.60) and Switzerland (USD 0.65). 

However, according to the Union of Brazilian Telecommunications Operators (Sinditelebrasil), the research is distorted as it only considers the top price of a one-minute call approved by the National Telecommunications Agency (Anatel), reports Reuters. According to the union, the average price per minute of mobile call in Brazil is about USD 0.07. In a statement, the union reported that the average price of a one minute mobile call in Brazil represents 13 percent of the price appointed by the ITU, based on a study of consultancy Teleco. 

For its part, Anatel reported that, according to its calculations, the price of a mobile telephony minute in the second quarter of 2014 in Brazil (including pre- and post-paid plans) was BRL 0.16 (around USD 0.06). On the other hand, the average price of a residential monthly fixed broadband subscription in Brazil is among the cheapest, at USD 13.82 per 1 Mbps, according to the ITU. 

November 27, 2014
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After dumping PC business, Sony plans to kill TV and mobile phone line-ups

Japan’s loss-making Sony plans to slash its TV and mobile phone product line-ups to cut costs, counting on multi-billion dollar revenue surges for its buoyant PlayStation 4 and image sensor businesses over the next three years.

Having lost ground to nimbler rivals like Apple and Samsung in consumer electronics, Sony said on Tuesday its goal for TV and smartphones is to turn a profit, even if sales slide as much as 30 percent.

“We’re not aiming for size or market share but better profits,” Hiroki Totoki, Sony’s newly appointed chief of its mobile division told an investors’ conference. A poor showing by its Xperia smartphones has weighed heavily on recent earnings and Sony said more detail on plans for the unit will be unveiled before end-March.

With cost cuts on the way in some divisions, Sony is also not planning to renew its FIFA soccer sponsorship contract next year, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Under its new three-year electronics business plan, Sony said it was aiming to boost sales for its videogame division by a quarter to as much as 1.6 trillion yen ($13.6 billion). It said that will be helped by personalized TV, video and music distribution services that should lift revenue per paying user.

At its devices division, which houses its image sensor business, Sony said sales could increase 70 percent to as much as 1.5 trillion yen. Sony’s sensor sales are already robust, with Apple using them in its iPhones while Chinese handset manufacturers are increasingly adopting them.

In a similar event last week for its entertainment units, the conglomerate said it was aiming to lift its movie and TV programming revenues by a third over the next three years.

Shares in Sony finished 6 percent higher on hopes that the new measures show a greater sense of restructuring urgency, while the Nikkei 225 index rose 0.3 percent.

“There’s a lot of expectation for Sony now, but nothing is sure until there are results,” said Ichiyoshi Asset Management chief fund manager Akino Mitsushige. “Getting out of the mobile market is an option, but they can’t do that now, so they will need to make some fundamental changes.”

Reuters

Tags: PlayStation, Sony, sony cuts costs, sony cuts tv and mobile, Sony loss, Sony Vaio

November 27, 2014
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Dropbox’s Carousel vs Amazon’s iCloud Drive: The Best Cloud-based Photo …

Over the extended Thanksgiving weekend, we Americans will take something more than a billion digital photos. We’ll capture video snippets in the hundreds of thousands. We’ll use our smartphones for most of this, and the more recent our phones are, the better those photos will be — and the bigger. 5 megapixels; 8 megapixels; 720 or 1080p — by the time we board the return flight, our overstuffed devices will struggle to find room for so much as a song. Which memories will we forego for lack of space? What’ll be lost if those phones are damaged, or misplaced?

Call it the paradox of abundance. Cost drops as file size grows. Physical storage is cheap, but a time-consuming hassle. Mixing platforms — you’re on Apple, your husband’s on Android — tightens the logistical knots. You’ve got cables to carry, software to install, headaches. And travel multiplies them.

So why not sidestep physical storage and park your photos in the Cloud? The options, and the mechanics, can be daunting — just ask JLaw, Kate Upton, Kirsten Dunst or the other celebs who gave unwitting demonstrations this summer.

Hacking aside, the choices are numerous. Both Android and iOS offer proprietary solutions. Google, in addition to their charmless Android photo library, offers an awkward form of cloud sync through Google Drive, or a more elegant version through Google+.(Really. It may be the best part of Google+.) There’s Box; there’s Microsoft’s OneDrive; there’s Flickr. Some are better than others. But none quite measures up to Dropbox’s Carousel or Amazon’s Cloud Drive Photos.

First, the criteria.

Speed Mobile bandwidth is precious. Connections waver or drop. Any app negotiating files as big as today’s photos needs to wring the most from every transferred byte, and fail gracefully when paths are thin.

Reliability If data security is a goal, dependability can’t be a luxury. Are our photos uploaded, or aren’t they? Do we have to intervene? Peace of mind is the point.

Background updating Your phone is your camera, but it’s also your address book, your browser, your email client, your gossip line, and your library. And, of course, your phone. It’s next to impossible to lock up such a device for any length of time. A great storage app should do its lifting in the background, keeping our shots safe while we go about our business (including the business of making more shots).

Cross platform iOS is great. Android is great. The devices come fast and furious these days; a platform’s cost-benefit matrix can change from week to week. With all the available options, households — to say nothing of wider social circles — are increasingly ecosystem-diverse. It makes sense to choose a service that’s available anywhere and plays well with everything. You don’t want your photos in platform jail.

Features Best to focus on the essentials here. Reasonable people can disagree, but I look for the basics of upload, download, broadcast and organization — the app needs to do them all well. Editing is a bonus; there are plenty of good editing apps out there. It’d be hard to prise me from my favorite, especially if the featureset feels second rate or bolted on.

For more images and a step-by-step breakdown of the apps, visit our gallery

Now for the apps themselves.

Carousel

Dropbox launched Carousel early this year to paint a friendly face on their core service. And while Dropbox itself is all about utility, Carousel aims at the heart, strumming the languid chords of memory like Don Draper in the brilliant Kodak pitch that might have inspired the app’s name. Plucking from Facebook’s timeline, distilling Apple’s overwrought albums, Carousel blends them with the notion of a photo wall. The result is a stream of images — your life — atop the thin ribbon of time.

Carousel arranges your photos in a “photo wall,” with varying sizes to avoid monotony. You can navigate quickly with the timeline along the bottom of your screen.

Carousel’s strengths are beauty and simplicity: just your photos, in reverse chronological order. The timeline is a small but potent wheel of captured moments; it seems to spin instead of scroll. Tap a photo to zoom in. Tap again to zoom back out. From the zoomed-in view, interactions are mostly intuitive. Carousel supports the usual kinds of sharing, including, in the iOS version, opening photos in other apps. For a delightful Easter egg, go to “Today” on the timeline and pull up. You’ll launch the “Take Me Somewhere” feature, which drops you unpredictably, serendipitously into the river of memory.

Conversation piece

Carousel lets you create direct connections with other Carousel users. It calls these “Conversations.” The difference between Carousel conversations and text messages isn’t readily apparent; the one perceptible difference is speed. Sharing a photo by text message means waiting while your photo uploads. Carousel’s conversation transfers, on the other hand, seem instantaneous.

In fact, speed is a Carousel hallmark. Browsing is zippy. Interactions are zippy. Best of all, uploads are zippy. Whether they’re happening on WiFi or a cell network, photos are pulled in quickly, no persuasion or coersion. It’s a delight to watch the small white circles at the corners of images trace themselves and disappear, signalling completion. Signalling peace of mind.

Reliability is another Carousel strength. Once set up, it needs almost no supervision. Its automatic backup feature finds photos and begins uploading within seconds of your taking them. And it works in the background, with no perceptible impact on your phone’s function. That invisible vigilance and follow-through are Carousel’s greatest advantage over other apps; nothing I’ve tried is its equal (though Google+ comes close on this particular front).

Heritage matters

In part, this is lineage. More than any other company, Dropbox, Carousel’s parent, set the standards for consumer cloud computing. Be everywhere; be fast; be reliable — no one gets this combination better. More subtly, Dropbox has extended the sharing economy by making everything you store there accessible through portable links, and by integrating those links directly into the OS, never more than a right-click away. Other services — like Google Drive — offer similar features, some in more robust forms. But they’re nowhere near as intuitive, and nowhere near as embedded in everyday flow.

So, in keeping with Dropbox’s ubiquitous links approach, what appears to be happening in Carousel’s conversations is different from what happens in a text message. In the text message, you actually send the photo to your friend — a physical object, so to speak. In Carousel’s “conversations,” you send only a link and a preview. The image remains in the cloud. The recipient even has the option to save it directly to her Carousel, bypassing the phone entirely. You can get it on the device if you need it, of course; but most of the time you don’t. Why waste bandwidth, or space on your device, till you do?

Carousel features an in-app sharing feature called “Conversations,” which lets you share photos without incurring the bandwidth or storage costs.

Carousel’s approach generally is to keep everything in the cloud, but give the user a great on-phone experience with high-quality previews and fast interactions. It’s so successful that, if you use your phone primarily for browsing, email, and photos, Carousel can save you the cost of an upgrade. Buy the cheapest, lowest-memory phone available; keep your photos in Carousel; keep your local memory tidy, and you’ll never run out of space. I spent Fourth of July week in Maine with a bottom-shelf, 8Gb Nexus 4, for instance — nowhere near enough storage for basic apps and all the photos I took. But with Carousel, space felt limitless.

The downside. Carousel is easy to set up, requiring only a basic Dropbox account. But it’s not hard to fill the 2Gb of space that comes for free. $9/month gets you a virtually unfillable 1Tb of space — worth it if you use Dropbox for other things, but maybe not if you only want photo storage.

Amazon Cloud Drive Photos

Amazon’s quest to embed itself in your life goes way beyond products. They’ve got film; television; music; even groceries, recently. Last year they got into the cloud storage game. It’s familiar territory for them; Amazon Web Services has been driving some of the internet’s busiest sites for nearly half a decade. But now they’ve got something for consumers. They call it Cloud Drive Photos, and they’re hoping it’ll become your go-to storage location.

They make a compelling case. Where Carousel gives you 2Gb of free storage when you open an account, Amazon Cloud Drive Photos gives you 5Gb. And if you’re one of Amazon’s more than 20 million Prime customers, it just got even more compelling: storage, for you, is henceforth unlimited. All the photos you want. Videos aren’t included in the unlimited plan, a fact that is both difficult to uncover (it’s in the messaging by omission; but they cluster photos and videos so tightly throughout the app that one tends to assume they treat them as equals), and irritating in that Vine, Instagram, and other video apps are quickly making quick phone videos the new photographs, memory-preservation-wise. All the same, for a Prime user, Cloud Drive Photos is clearly the best value among available options.

Keeping it simple

How’s the app itself, though? Quite good, in fact. The basic interface, like Carousel’s, invokes a photo wall: grid of images, reverse chronological order. There’s no timeline on the default view, but months and years appear as clickable tiles — tap them to reveal a sidebar that lets you jump from month to month. It’s less sensual than Carousel’s memory-jogging spool, but just as functional. You zoom in with a tap in the image, as in Carousel; you zoom out with a back button — entirely functional, but a metaphorical lapse that feels less delightful.

Cloud Drive Photos gives detailed photo information, including size, date, and geolocation — with a map.

Cloud Drive Photo’s approach to interactions is, if anything, even simpler than Carousel’s. You can do three things: share (all the standard methods; no “conversations”), download, or delete. There’s a handy Info button that reveals photo metadata — date time shot, date time uploaded, image size, filename, and location (with a map). On the wall view, there’s a “Select” mode similar to Carousel’s; but the only bulk actions you get here are Save and Delete — weirdly and unfortunately, no Share.

Like Carousel, Cloud Drive Photos keeps your images on Amazon’s servers, giving you just a lightweight preview to work with. This keeps the app speedy. I’ve found it slightly more laggy than Carousel — the photo wall, for instance, occasionally took several seconds to populate — but still impressive.

Organization, sort of

Cloud Drive does offer a couple of additional ways to organize your photos. The first, “Albums,” is more puzzling than helpful. I discovered, for example, that I had some albums even though I’d never created them. They seem to derive from whatever device the photo came from. You can’t change them, and the only way to make new ones within Cloud Drive is to go to the desktop browser app. In my case at least, their titles tended to refer to apps in which I’d made edits to images — “Flickr,” “Instagram” — not a helpful vector of exploration.

Cloud Drive Photos’ “Albums” feature — a mix of mystery and utility.

More useful, on the other hand, is the “Videos” tab, which hides all but the videos among your uploads. While both apps store videos similarly, only Cloud Drive Photos lets you view them in isolation like this. I’ve found it handy for both editing and sharing. And for reintroducing me to videos I took months ago, watched once, and forgot — but shouldn’t have. It’s a different serendipity than that offered by Carousel’s “Take Me Somewhere,” but no less magical.

The downside. For a non-Prime user, Cloud Drive Photos is a great deal — if you don’t shoot much video. And by “not much,” I mean really, hardly ever. I’m a very infrequent videographer, for example; yet I’ve somehow got 9Gb of them in my account. That would put you well over the free 5Gb limit, and Amazon’s prices for additional storage are not as low as those of some competitors. Space on Google Drive, for instance — usable for photos uploaded through the Google+ app — costs less than half what it does on Amazon. Same is true for Dropbox, which has fewer plans but charges less per gigabyte for those it offers.

The Winner?

While you really can’t lose with either — and while Amazon Prime subscribers face unlimited temptation — Dropbox’s Carousel gets the edge. Better display variety; easier cross-app integration; original features like Conversations, Hiding, and the Take Me Somewhere wheel — it’s just more delightful to use. Its class-leading speed and rock-solid reliability also stand out.

November 27, 2014
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The Slow Death Of The USB Mobile Broadband Dongle

Roy Morgan’s recent report on the popularity of mobile broadband in Australia has a few interesting findings. While just as many people continue to use Wi-Fi hotspots like Vodafone’s Pocket WiFi 4G, the use of USB dongles is dying out rapidly across Australia.

It’s no surprise to us, for one key reason — Vodafone’s USB 4G Modem is one of the newest USB dongles that you can buy, and it was released more than a year ago. Telstra’s venerable USB 4G has been available for the last three years, although the Prepaid 4G USB was released much more recently in August 2013. The less-gracefully-named Optus E3276v2 is from January of that year.

The problem with each and every one of these dongles is that they don’t support and of the carriers’ next-generation 4G mobile networks — Vodafone’s low-band 850MHz, Optus’s 4G Plus 700MHz and Telstra’s 4GX 700MHz. With rollouts of these newer, faster and much more expansive networks already happening around Australia, and 4G Wi-Fi hotspots that support them already available, these existing dongles are fast becoming outdated.

The Roy Morgan report says that in the six-month period from April to September 2013, 2.1 million Australians (or 10.8 per cent of the population) used a USB dongle to access a mobile broadband connection. In the same period this year, that number had dropped to to 1.4 million (or 7.4 per cent) — that’s a 33 per cent drop in a single year. Now, USB dongles are far surpassed by Wi-Fi hotspots (17.5 per cent), but still beat out mobile broadband SIMs in tablets (3.7 per cent).

USB 3G and 4G dongles have a small but dedicated following in the enthusiast community, like Whirlpool’s Wireless ISPs forum, where they’re the device of choice for users looking for a simple and powerful mobile connection to the ‘net — often through a specialised 4G-compatible router like the Dovado PRO or Dovado GO. While most users are perfectly happy with a hotspot, they’re not a one-size-fits-all solution.

We’ve contacted Telstra, Optus and Vodafone for a bit of an update on their plans for any future 4G dongles, and will report back with anything that we hear. [Roy Morgan]


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