22nd > May > 2003 Archive

The FAQ on UK data retention czar's shady video past

Privacy International is concerned with some pretty serious issues, so it's understandable that it's ordinarily pretty serious itself. But the appointment of Bob Lack to run the UK Home Office's data retention consultation has moved it to produce a Lack FAQ, which is amusing in a knockabout sort of way until you remember that this is a pretty serious issue too. Former policeman Lack became Group Leader of Security for Newham Borough Council in 1996, and commenced acting as spinmeister in chief for Newham's CCTV facial recognition schemes, which have since acted as a sort of toilet down which the Home Office has chucked piles of money, and also as a stalking horse for the facial recognition wet dreams of our control-freak politicians. Privacy International describes the Lack/Home Office relationship as "symbiotic... The Home Office has generously funded Mr Lack's CCTV projects, to the tune at least two million pounds, while he in turn through massive media exposure has created a public image of CCTV that makes the Home Office look cool and sophisticated." Indeedy. The FAQ covers the vexed and mysterious question of whether or not the Newham recognition system has ever actually resulted in an arrest. Mr Lack's statements to various papers on the subject seem contradictory, and the New York Times seems to have concluded that he is perhaps something of a fibber, even a self-confessed one. It doesn't include our favourite clipping, James Meek of The Guardian's report of not being nicked by the system after he'd been scanned in alongside known local criminals. Showing commendable initiative, Meek contacted DI Ian Chiverton, the local police officer responsible for liaising with the scheme. He volunteered the information: "There have never been more than 20 or 25 faces on the system. They've been weeded on a monthly basis. We've chosen what we call our nominal criminals, so they would be convicted burglars and robbers, but only one facial shot [of each] was ever put on. And there has never been a recognition of that facial shot." Chiverton explained that the facial recognition system needs pictures from at least five different angles, and given that the Metropolitan Police doesn't handle mugshots that way, you can see the problem. And indeed ythe problem with excitable politicians trying to implement this sort of stuff to catch terrorist suspects - got five angles of many of these? On the upside, if it can't recognise anybody it's possibly not a major threat to privacy, yet. Which is possibly more than you can say for the data retention consultation, given who's running it... ®
John Lettice, 22 May 2003

Catalan wireless broadband takes to mobile masts

The Register's Wireless LAN Channel Network infrastructure costs are a big concern - not only for those building the networks, writes Rob Bamforth of Bloor Research. Local authority plans and those people who live in the back yards that are being dug up or having masts built upon are also affected. New services seem to demand more new structures and disruption. Operators are reluctant to invest in regions where returns are likely to be low, and costs high - no surprise. Yet the disconnected alternative is also unwelcome. Local businesses are disadvantaged if there is no fast access to the networked economy from their rural location. Would-be tele-workers in remote locations struggle without broadband connections and are forced back on the road to the office and so increase congestion. It's good then to see projects that combines reuse of infrastructure with high-speed connection in a rural environment. A Catalan company specialising in WiFi services, AWACat, has created a rural area wireless LAN (WLAN) in the Penedes region south of Barcelona, working with 3Com Corporation. Penedes is a wine producing region probably best known for Cava, almost 95 per cent of which is produced here. So as a typically rural and strongly agricultural region, the population and around 200 businesses are spread across a challenging terrain. This would be expensive and time-consuming to wire up for broadband speeds. The idea from AWACat and 3Com is fairly simple. Create the network with low cost point to point links using existing infrastructure, and slot in WLAN access points where demand for access requires it. The point to point units are 3Com building to building bridges, each about the size of a video recorder. These are attached high up to give distances up to 24 kilometres with 11Mbps links. Where possible, and with appropriate agreements, they can be mounted on existing communications infrastructure, typically mobile phone masts. Well, if the planning permissions are already in place, why not re-use? Now before you head out to Barcelona with a crate full of chalk to mark the pavements, network access has been secured using Radius authentication over and above the basic 802.11b Wired Equivalent Privacy, WEP. The technology for building regional WLANs is not new, and there are a number of projects for WLANs in densely packed city districts. The one underway from the City of Westminster Council, a project called Westminster4G, initially flooding Soho, is expected to cost around £15M when completed and cover the whole of Westminster. However the low cost approach in Penedes is different. This might well be a way for rural regions less well off than Westminster to be able to provide a valuable service to local businesses and residents. This is especially interesting for areas deemed uneconomic by existing suppliers. It would be ironic if local authorities could then find use from the forests of recently opposed telecommunications masts. Ironic, and perhaps environmentally sound re-use. © IT-Analysis.com The Register's Wireless LAN Channel
IT-Analysis, 22 May 2003

Hey! You! Get onna The Cloud

The Register's Wireless LAN Channel The Cloud, the UK-wide broadband WiFi hot spot network, yesterday began offering its services at 200 pubs in the UK. Service is free for the next six weeks. Meanwhile The Cloud, which is part of the Inspired Broadcast Networks and Leisure Link Group, will roll out its services to 1,000 sites (all pubs) by the beginning of July and 3,000 sites by the end of the year. The Cloud has access to thousands of public venues where Inspired has connected entertainment machines, which are the process of been upgraded from ISDN to broadband connections. With these connections going in WiFi access is a natural addition. Essentially the company is building a wholesale network that will allow large mobile operators and telcos, like BT and Vodafone, to offer their customers mobile access under their own brand. The idea is WiFi access from The Cloud can be bundled with GPRS or 3G data services from mobile operators. The Cloud will also offer a pay as you go service priced so that it doesn't compete with its wholesale partners at around £5 per hour. Ericsson, which is providing WiFi kit, and Intel backed the Cloud at a launch event in London last night. The Cloud has signed its first service provider deal with BT OpenZone, with the revenue-sharing deal beginning on July 1. George Polk, managing director of The Cloud, told The Register the company is also in talks with Vodafone. He expressed confidence that the overall growth of the WiFi market will allow the project to reach profitability "within the next 12 months". But are pubs the right environment for wireless computing, we asked? "If you're looking for a place in the middle of the say to meet someone or spend some time working on a laptop, what better place is there than a pub," Polk said. "Not many people used laptops in coffee houses before WiFi was introduced and we expect much the same thing to happen in pubs." ® Related Story 1,000 pubs to get WiFi The Register's Wireless LAN Channel
John Leyden, 22 May 2003
Cat 5 cable

HP embraces and extends with BEA

Hewlett-Packard has extended a deal with BEA Systems that provides a free trial version of BEA's WebLogic Server with its Unix hardware to the rest of its server line. Users can try out BEA's application server on HP's Intel-based ProLiant servers running Linux and AlphaServers running OpenVMS. Come June, NonStop server users will be able to do the same. HP wanted to make sure it had a common Java application environment for its entire server line said, Mike Wardley, worldwide marketing director for HP-UX. "It's been 14 months since Compaq was acquired," Wardley said. "As part of that acquisition, there were a whole bunch of customers we weren't addressing." BEA's software is usually found running on a Unix server, but HP thinks highly of the potential market for WebLogic on Linux. "Linux in this space is very much an emerging market, so people are falling over themselves to do nice things for the Linux folks," Wardley said. HP backed itself into a somewhat difficult position when it decided to shelve its own middleware products last year. The company now relies on BEA for Java software and Microsoft for anything .Net related. HP executives argue that going with an industry standard type of product makes more sense than spending millions on homemade code, and on some levels siding with BEA is a good idea. WebLogic and IBM's WebSphere Application Server hold a strong lead over rival products, so at least HP has picked a winner. The problem is that IBM has total control over how its wants to bundle WebSphere with its hardware. IBM can make the licensing nips and tucks needed to close a deal, while HP cannot claim the same kind of flexibility. In addition, Sun Microsystems has tried to build up market share for its own application server by giving a version of the product away for free. HP has to hope that BEA can react to any pricing pressure from IBM or Sun with the appropriate speed. The two companies are in the process of extending shared support for Web Logic to HP's various operating systems and servers. Users should receive support for all platforms in the next 90 days. ® Related Stories McNealy on Project Orion, Sun's Database hole Oracle aims low with App Server BEA Systems: long term logic
Ashlee Vance, 22 May 2003

UK has 2 million BB connections – Oftel

The UK now has two million broadband connections, Oftel has announced today, with new connections running at around 35,000 a week. Garbage. Oftel doesn't rate 128k services as broadband (there are around 400,000 or so at NTL) but still includes them in figures so that the regulator can be "in line with statistics on broadband connections compiled in other countries". What nonsense. ® Related Story Oftel redefines broadband
Tim Richardson, 22 May 2003

BT Broadband is a flop

BT Broadband - the no-frills, access-only high-speed Net service - is a flop failing to live up to the telco's own expectations. Since its £30m launch in September last year, the monster telco has flogged just 171,000 lines. A spokesman for the monster telco told us that this was acceptable since it was a "new product". What a difference a year makes. When BT Broadband was announced in April 2002 the company trumpeted: "BT Broadband will help drive rapid take-up of broadband in the UK and is a fundamental part of BT's stated aim of signing up one million broadband internet customers by summer 2003. BT plans to have connected 500,000 customers through the new direct service in the same period." Asked why BT Broadband had failed so miserably to meet BT's planned target a spokesman said the 500,000 goal was "only an aspiration" and that BT "would get there eventually". Overall, though, BT reports today that as of May 16, it had 936,000 wholesale ADSL lines in the UK, half of which are served by BT's ISP, BT Openworld and BT Broadband. The rest are supplied by ISPs such as Freeserve, AOL and Pipex. Numbers are growing by more than 25,000 a week and BT expects to reach the one million milestone within the next couple of weeks. Publishing its prelims for the year to the end of March, BT reported that pre-tax profits were up 44 per cent to £1.83bn while group turnover increased 2 per cent to £18.73bn. However, this improved performance has been overshadowed by confirmation that BT has a pensions black hole of more than £6bn thanks to declining stock markets. Shares in BT were up 8.5p (4.6 per cent) at 193.5 in early morning trading. ®
Tim Richardson, 22 May 2003

SCO pulps Caldera-MS trial archives

The Caldera antitrust lawsuit included some of the most damning evidence of Microsoft misconduct; breakware, black propaganda, all was there, the potential embarrassment being such that there was good reason for Microsoft to settle, then try to pretend it never happened. Now, however, maybe it didn't ever happen - because the evidence is being pulped. AP reports that the 937 boxes of court-ordered documents, which have been in store since the lawsuit, are currently being destroyed at the behest of SCO, their owner and - surely coincidentally - Microsoft's new friend. Some 40 boxes have been temporarily hijacked by Sun, which is busily scanning them for use in its own antitrust suit, but after it's done so they'll be off for pulping too. AP reports that the likely future role of this historical archive is toilet paper. It'll be gone in a few weeks, and given that people don't sue over the deliberate detabilisation and undermining of DR-DOS very often, it's unlikely that there will ever be reason to rebuild it. Indeed, as the years go by the originals of subpoenaed smoking pistols themselves will slowly disappear, to the point where those claiming they ever existed can be safely tagged as crazed, deluded loons. Which is odd in this day and age, isn't it? Granted it costs ($1,500 a month, in this case) to store 937 boxes of paper, but the ongoing cost of storing documentation once it's been digitised would be negligible, and one does feel that companies - or at least the courts - should have a certain responsibility to history. One does however doubt that the companies accept this. During the antitrust trial Caldera provided copious and entertaining online documentation which at least meant you could bone up on the salient points of the evidence. The Register however noted that access became rather more obscure on the settlement, and subsequent shuffling of the corporate components has made it even more difficult, possibly impossible. Was it once here, http://www.drdos.com/fullstory/ at this now broken link? Updated: yes it was, and it's now back, having been temporarily mislaid during site moves. As a backup, there's always archive.org, and ther's also maxframe.com. Thanks to all the archivists who contacted us. ®
John Lettice, 22 May 2003

So Mr Blair, you really think techies can all get jobs?

The Professional Contractors Group (PCG) is calling on Prime Minister Tony Blair to explain why he believes there is full employment in the IT sector. During Prime Minister's Questions yesterday Tory backbencher, Andrew Selous asked: "Does the Prime Minister share the concern of a number of my constituents, who are well qualified IT professionals, with the relevant skills, that 21,000 IT work permits are granted every year while 56,000 British IT professionals are looking for work? "Will he agree to investigate whether the granting of 200,000 work permits a year - that is a fivefold increase on last year - is in any way detrimental to the economically inactive in the UK?" Replied the PM: "There has not been a fivefold increase in work permits. The number has been rising for a considerable time, however, which is, of course, partly because greatly increased activity in the economy means there is rising employment and falling unemployment. "Those who get work permits are specifically audited for their ability to get work in this country - people want them to work for them - and I do not think that it is right to set those people against those who are looking for work. "I simply point out to the hon. Gentleman that in his constituency, as in others, unemployment has fallen dramatically over the past few years and there are increasing employment opportunities for people in IT and other sectors as well," he said. This reply has angered new PCG chairman, Simon Griffiths, who said: "It is the PCG's belief that tens of thousands of skilled IT freelancers are currently without work in the UK while many companies continue to bring in non EU workers to fill these vacancies." "It is alarming if the Prime Minister is unaware of the fact that so many highly skilled IT freelancers are currently without work and we believe the long term consequences of this will blunt the UK's competitive edge," he said. The PCG has written to the PM asking him to comment on the situation. Separately, the All Party Parliamentary Small Business Group is to hold an enquiry into the problems facing the UK's 500,000 freelancers. Said Kerry Pollard, chairman of the All Party group: "Freelancers provide a power-house that can drive the flexible economy but insufficient attention has been paid to the problems and opportunities they face." Freelancers - including IT professionals - and other interested parties are being asked to contribute directly through a online consultation process on the Group's website at www.smallbusinessgroup.org.uk. ®
Tim Richardson, 22 May 2003

Slow Cube sales drag down Nintendo profits

Nintendo has reported a 36.8 per cent fall in net profit for the year ended March 31 due to poor sales of GameCube hardware and games - but the company still posted a 67.72 billion Yen (€494 million) annual profit. The results are broadly in line with Nintendo's most recent forecasts, made in April, although they are well below original projections; as recently as last November the company was predicting annual profits of 80 billion Yen (€583 million). The group's sales fell 9.1 per cent during the year, to 504 billion Yen (€3.68 billion). The figures still leave Nintendo as one of the largest and most profitable companies in the industry by quite a wide margin, but they also belie the fact that the GameCube hardware and software sales are both weak, and even the phenomenal success of GBA and GBA SP cannot make up those figures. For the forthcoming year, Nintendo's forecasts predict a profit of 65 billion Yen (€475m) on sales of 550 billion Yen (€4.01 billion) - a rise in sales, but a slight drop in net profits, possibly due to additional spending on product development and new lower licensing fees designed to attract more third party support to the Cube. Perhaps more worrying than these financial figures (which are healthy, if not exactly stellar), however, is the reaction of the stock market to Sony's announcement of the PlayStation Portable at E3 last week. Nintendo shares lost 12 per cent of their value on the news, which was clearly seen as a major shot across the bows of the company's core handheld gaming business - despite the fact that the PSP is still 18 months away from market, and few solid specifications of the system or details of software or pricing are available. © gamesindustry.biz
gamesindustry.biz, 22 May 2003

US anti-terror law used against hackers, thieves

The enhanced search and surveillance powers Congress gave the Justice Department in the USA-PATRIOT Act haven't just been used in the war on terror: it turns out they're helpful in everything from spying on credit cards fraudsters to tracking down computer hackers. On Tuesday lawmakers on the House Judiciary committee publicly released the Justice Department's written response to a laundry list of congressional questions probing law enforcement's use of the Act, which passed as an anti-terror measure in October 2001. Though the questions were targeted at "the Department of Justice's efforts to combat terrorism," the answers displayed USA-PATRIOT's broader uses. One particularly versatile provision of the Act allows the FBI to use Carnivore-like tools to determine what Web sites an Internet user visits and with whom they correspond via e-mail. Agents can conduct such surveillance without a wiretap order or search warrant, as long as they certify that the intercepted information would be useful to a criminal investigation -- regardless of whether the surveillance target is suspected of wrongdoing himself . According to the Justice Department's answers, this variety of Internet surveillance has been used in terrorism investigations, including the FBI's probe into the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl. But it's also been invoked in cases involving a drug distributor, thieves who stole a victim's bank account information and used it to plunder the account, a "four-time murder," and a unnamed fugitive who "fled on the eve of trial using a fake passport." Another section of the Act permits courts to issue special search warrants that the Justice Department can keep secret for a time, even after carrying out the search, if disclosure would seriously jeopardize an investigation. As of April 1st, 2003, the Department had applied for 47 of the so-called sneak-and-peek warrants, and the courts had granted every request. In 14 of those searches, agents were also authorized to seize items; in one additional case, involving suspected credit card fraud, the court refused to allow agents to secretly take documents from the suspect's rented storage locker, "because it believed that photographs of relevant items would be sufficient." Secret Searches USA-PATRIOT also permits courts in one jurisdiction to issue search warrants for electronic records in other jurisdictions. While the Justice Department didn't say how often that power was used, the Department credited the provision with "dramatically" reducing the burden on courts that -- through luck of geography -- previously had exclusive federal jurisdiction over large Internet providers, such as the Eastern District of Virginia, home of America Online. The Act also allows law enforcement to issue subpoenas to ISPs and phone companies to obtain the credit card or bank account numbers a customer uses to pay his or her bills - a provision the Justice Department credits for its quick tracing of unnamed computer hackers who "attacked over fifty government and military computers." Room bugs, wiretaps and secret searches of suspected international terrorists and agents of foreign governments also became easier under USA-PATRIOT, which boosted the length of time the FBI could conduct such surveillance without court authorization to 72 hours in "emergency" cases-the old limit was 24 hours, after which the FBI would have to apply to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington to continue. Attorney General John Ashcroft signed off on 113 such emergencies in the year following the September 11 attacks -- more than twice the 47 emergency authorizations issued in the previous 20 years combined. Despite its lengthy responses, the Justice Department balked at answering some of the lawmakers' questions, including a query into how many people have been imprisoned as "material witnesses" in terrorism investigations without being charged with a crime. The Department argues that revealing the number would be "detrimental to the war on terror" -- though it does reveal that fewer than 50 people were detained as material witnesses in the September 11 probe. © SecurityFocus.com
Kevin Poulsen, 22 May 2003

EURid wins .eu domain contract officially

Brussels-based consortium EURid was today officially announced as the organisation that will run the new .eu domain registry. This may cause a sense of deja-vu for many who read back on 20 March that EURid had won the contract. But that was a leak of the official document and the now the official document has been officially released so it's all kosher. Fortunately this means that the director of the Belgian country-code domain, Marc Van Wesemael, is now able to give us a few more details over the upcoming domain (he was modestly reticent in March). Firstly, and most importantly, when will the domain be available to buy? "The best case scenario is at the end of this year," Mr Van Wesemael told us. "However it depends on how long it takes to agree the contracts between the Commission and ICANN." EURid estimates that from the time it has the contracts in its hand, it will be six months to when it is able to sell .eu domains. However, it is insisting that the public policy of the domain be written into the contracts and so there is the potential for lengthy discussion on what use .eu should be put to and how it should be run. Mr Van Wesemael views are mostly formed though and are, unsurprisingly, based exactly on the system currently run by himself in Belgium. "We will be using the same model as in Belgium and the same UDRP rules," he told us. That model is a hybrid of the American and British systems. In .com domains for example, the contract for a domain is between a registrant (the punter) and the registrar (like Register.com), with ICANN taking a very hands-off approach. In .uk domains, the contract is between the registry owner, Nominet, and the registrant and registrars act simply as middlemen. However, .eu domains will see a contract between registrant and registrars that will have to include the Ts&Cs between the registrar and EURid. Essentially, EURid has clear and ultimate control over the domain and the registrar but EURid is not directly responsible for the domain. EURid will not sell domains direct. As for the UDRP - the rules that decide who is entitled to a domain in the case of a dispute - the Belgium rules are based on the widely criticised WIPO's rules but also goes further and includes defences for trading, people and place names. This is perhaps unsurprising since .eu is intended for companies to use. Mr Van Wesemael says he hopes the domain will be kept open so individuals can register names, but ultimately the decision is down to the Commission. The new system will use the same software as currently in place in Belgium, meaning .eu will benefit from the years of development across the globe in registering and transferring domains so that the process will be almost entirely automated from start to finish. The plan is still to charge €10 for a domain, with that being reduced to € €5 after a year. EURid claims it can sell one million .eu domains in the first year. "This is a guess, you know as much as me," says Mr Van Wesemael, "but if only a part of UK and German companies register domains for defensive reasons and if other Europe-wide companies register their domain, we expect to meet that number." The first meeting between EURid and the Commission is scheduled for next week. ® Related story Brussels awards .eu domain to Brussels-based consortium Related link EURid
Kieren McCarthy, 22 May 2003

Baltimore seeks White Knight

Troubled Irish tech firm Baltimore Technologies is up for sale, with the company seeking a strategic partner to help develop its sales potential. The stock market reacted well to the plan, with Baltimore's stock up nearly 40 per cent on the London Stock Exchange by 3.30pm. Baltimore said at its AGM today that it is commencing a "controlled sale process to select a strategic partner." The company has appointed JP Morgan to handle the sale and it is seeking binding offers by 30 June 2003. It is thought that "controlled sale" means that Baltimore is only really interested in bids from companies that can help grow the business. Apparently, it has cut its costs to the bone and needs a partner that has a stronger sales channel so it can properly exploit the earning potential of its technology. Baltimore's Chief Executive Officer, Bijan Khezri, said the process was necessary because the company had identified promising opportunities in areas such as network security and digital signature-based transaction security that Baltimore could exploit if it had a strategic partner. Khezri also said that Baltimore, which racked up losses of over £60 million last year and has cut staff numbers by around 900 since mid-2001, is now in better financial shape than it had been in some time. "Today's cash burn rate is the lowest in both absolute terms, as well as in relation to the overall cash balance, since the end of 2000," he said in a statement. Khezri added that Baltimore's "continuing strict cost control" had seen it achieve a £15.6 million cash balance at 30 April 2003. This figure does not include the £2 million to £3 million that Baltimore is due to receive in the next six months from earlier divestments. In addition, Baltimore said that its loss before interest, tax and amortisation for the four months ended 30 April 2003 was broadly in line with management's expectations. It did not, however, disclose what that loss was. Baltimore also said that revenue in the same period was below expectations, but that revenue for the second quarter, ended 30 June 2003, will be better than Q1. Again the revenue amount was not revealed. This, said Baltimore, was because the sale process had begun. Baltimore's full-year results for 2002, released in March, showed its revenues down 50 per cent year-on-year to £35 million. It did, however, manage to slash its operating expenses by more than three quarters to £9.6 million. Baltimore also reduced its pre-tax loss by 90 per cent to £65.3 million. It is not yet clear how much Baltimore will be sold for, but whatever the price, it will be the merest fraction of its previous value of more than USD1 billion, attained when the company was riding the wave of the technology boom. However, the company's value was quickly eroded by poor results and expensive acquisitions -- particularly the £400 million it spent on Content Technologies -- which never delivered their anticipated benefits. The company's stock has now nose-dived from its all-time high of over £155 in early 2000 to its current 35p In addition, employee numbers have fallen from 1,177 in June 2001 to around 270. © ENN Baltimore management claims to have now stabilised the business and it has signed a number of deals recently including a USD8.2 million agreement with the central bank of Saudi Arabia that will see the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency use Baltimore's public key infrastructure (PKI) products. Baltimore has a number of other high-profile governmental and banking customers such as the Italian Ministry of Defence and the Czech Savings Bank. In trading on the London Stock Exchange on Thursday, Baltimore's stock shot up nearly 40 percent to STG0.35. The stock has traded in a 52-week range of STG0.45 to STG0.185
ElectricNews.net, 22 May 2003

E-minister calls on Comms.biz to bridge Digital Divide

E-minister Stephen Timms is to call on the communications industry to invest in developing countries to help bridge the global digital divide. At an industry dinner this evening Mr Timms is expected to say that he would like to see more ICT businesses investing in overseas markets. And while he acknowledges that such moves are not without risk, he is likely to say that when businesses do invest in these markets, they gain new sources of revenue growth, greater efficiency, and access to innovation. It's been a busy day for Mr Timms. Earlier today he joined Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael to give local communities a slap on the back for their efforts to bring broadband to their areas. Visiting Rother in East Sussex, the ministers said it was the Government's aim that "every community in the UK, irrespective of location, should have the opportunity to access affordable broadband from a competitive market". Mr. Timms said: "Broadband has a great deal to offer to all communities across the UK - whether rural or urban. Government is committed to seeing everyone in the UK given the opportunity to enjoy the advantages new technology can bring. "The level of enthusiasm we are seeing for these technologies among both businesses and consumers is great to see. The more this demand is demonstrated, the further broadband will spread, opening up access to everyone in every part of the UK." Earlier this month a report by the Countryside Agency warned that lack of broadband in rural areas is creating a digital divide between town and country. ® Related Story Rural areas face widening BB digital divide
Tim Richardson, 22 May 2003

Future of WiFi? – it's the mobile phone

The Register's Wireless LAN Channel David Hughes normally sells WiFi hotspots for BT. Today, at the WLAN Event, he predicted that WiFi was the future of the mobile phone, not just the laptop computer. And he said that voice applications would cover the country using hotspots. Hughes was one of a panel of four talking about the future of WiFi in Europe, at the WLAN Event. All agreed that voice over IP would gradually come to be a prime driver of mobile Internet. Clive Mayhew-Begg, Chief Zones Officer at MyZones, said that "integrated WiFi broadband is the 4G of the future." "I say that very simply because it enables the consumer to own their own network services," he said. "Today, broadband is email; but it enables voice. That's why it's so exciting. We want to get everybody a little excited, a little bit edgy. A new generation of services for consumers is coming." Mayhew-Begg noted that by the end of the year, the first Nokia phone with WiFi as well as GSM would be launched. He predicted it would quite possible be the end of Bluetooth as a LAN alternative. Hughes said that the fears of power consumption being high on WiFi phones were unjustified. "My understanding is that the only difference in power consumption between WiFi and Bluetooth is the range. So with power control added to WiFi, you can get similar power consumption." He added that when BT OpenZone was launched, it was anticipated that its public access zones would include Bluetooth. "We haven't activated that," he said, "and my expectation is that WiFi phones will sweep Bluetooth away as a LAN access technology." Hughes predicted that Bluetooth would return to being seen as purely a way of linking personal devices to each other. © Some recent articles on Newswireless.Net Mafia uses 3G phones to cook elections? Bluetooth video - clip onto your spectacles! Related Irrational Exuberance Will the WiFi Bubble hypesters kill WiFi? Public WiFi has look and feel of dead duck Radio Intel - fantasy or future?
Guy Kewney, 22 May 2003

Gates justifies stronger chains for hardware makers

The Register first noted Microsoft's plans to seize control of the PC standards-setting process over two years ago, and we're therefore pleased to see the final confirmation that this process is now in place - Bill Gates is denying it. Actually the denial, which comes in an interview with Associated Press, represents a welcome post-antitrust return to form - Bill is arrogant, implausible, and couldn't give a stuff about non-Microsoft systems. The Athens communications PC, which Gates had unveiled just before the AP interview, is exhibit A here. Athens is the result of close co-operation between Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, and in that sense follows up on the Media Center PCs, which again started out as a buddies deal with HP, and on Tablet, where a couple more special friends were involved in the initial design process. Gates pitches this kind of relationship as representing closer co-operation and better integration between Microsoft and the hardware vendors, but the way it works is rather more brutal than that, and is approximately as follows. Microsoft decides on specific packagings of hardware and software that will give a 'new category' of machine a sales edge and help Microsoft extend its reach further across the new items of hardware that are included. The selected 'special friend(s)' can generally be given a short exclusive on the new category (e.g. the first Media Centers were HP, HP will also likely get first run at Athens), so they're not about to argue too hard about what will actually be in the standard. On the contrary, they will make volume commitments, contribute technology (HP's particularly handy here), and spend big time on marketing Microsoft's new standard for it during the exclusive period. And everybody else in the hardware business has little choice but to come chasing along behind. So in the case of Athens, we have Microsoft putting it all together with HP first, then telling the rest of the industry: "Call to Action: For system manufacturers and PC hardware vendors: Microsoft is encouraging the PC industry to incorporate 'Athens' PC design concepts in their product plans." Essentially, anybody who isn't HP right now probably has a list of things they've read about in the announcement and need technical data on, and an enquiries email address. Redefines partnership, doesn't it? Now, in Bill's World, the process sounds more like this: "What we're doing is saying let's have the best of both worlds. Let's not give up the PC model of many people making different choices and putting those into the marketplace, but let's get rid of some of the impedance created by the organizational boundary between us and those partners." So he is not in fact deciding what's going to happen, co-opting HP's support then telling everybody else to do it, but is getting "rid of some of the impedance created by the organizational boundary between us and those partners." Got that? This impedance-ridding process naturally results in new hardware configurations specified by Microsoft and with early support from Microsoft software becoming the standard, so what about Windows alternatives? Asked about this, Gates says: "Our responsibility is to make Windows better and better. Other people are responsible for those systems." Microsoft is now far more powerful than it has ever been, and is setting the hardware standards for the PCs you will have to buy far more overtly than it ever has before, yet here's Bill singing that old song again. Microsoft s only responsible for Windows, and bears no responsibility for your software not running on the hardware Microsoft has specified. The fact that Microsoft hasn't given you the information to write the drivers is your problem, and it's as if the antitrust trial never happened. Compare and contrast with the old days of Wintel PC200x as the standard. Then, there was a certain amount of tension, with Microsoft trying (and often succeeding) to morph it from a general PC hardware standard to a Windows-specific one, but with PC200x still providing a detailed and public roadmap that could be followed by Microsoft's competitors. Now it's entirely Windows, and only the parts Microsoft wants to become public go into the public domain, as and when Microsoft decides to put them there. If you needed any further proof that the old Bill Gates is back, and just as horrible as before, this week he's also been telling the press that NBGDRM (aka Palladium) is cool and no problem, because if people don't want it they can always just not use it. Speaking to AP (again - haven't they been busy?) he said: "This is a mechanism that if people want to use, for example, to protect medical records, they can use it. It's a lot of work to do this stuff, and we think consumers will want those privacy guarantees. If they don't want them, then fine, ask me about our other work." So it's optional - like, we suppose, IE. ® Related Link AP interview
John Lettice, 22 May 2003

DRM is your fluffy friend – Ballmer stakes out MS' turf

Sooner or later it had to happen. Microsoft is putting a lot of money into Digital Rights Management, and expects to get a lot more money back out so long as it can persuade consumers that DRM is their fluffy friend, and most certainly not a fiendish plot to allow the music companies to squeeze even more money out of them. This time, the knife was pointing at Steve Ballmer when it stopped spinning, so the prez's name went onto a DRM apologia sent out as Microsoft's regular customer information email. It's a tough one, but Steve rises to the challenge. Consumers benefit from being stopped from copying stuff through the efforts of "pioneering entertainment companies" (i.e., the ones using Microsoft DRM to stop the consumers copying stuff). "Online distribution offers a convenient way for people to access their favorite content wherever they are, at any time." Hell yes Steve, why bother with portable MP3 players when you can just buy the stuff over and over again? Steve doesn't directly mention MP3 players, but one does suspect they may be covered by the next bit: "But digital piracy is against consumers' long-term interests; it undermines the economic incentives for artists and producers to continue creating and distributing the work we all enjoy. With rights-managed licensing, consumers can help sustain the flow of fresh creative work, confident that they have legitimately acquired rights to content that is authentic, of highest quality, and virus-free." You begin to warm to the music industry's pitch that piracy is killing creativity, no? Nor us. In further support of this much-needed shot in the arm (surely 'snort up the nose? - Ed) for creative artistry, it is also A Good Thing that content providers be allowed to interfere with your computer as and when they feel like it. "Windows Media," says Steve, "uses one of the strongest encryption systems available. To raise the protection level still further, a content owner can change the media file encryption keys daily, or even every few hours." So if you momentarily forget yourself and somehow fail to legitimately acquire rights, don't worry, because they can vape that inauthentic content instantly, and you'll be clean again. Having issued the tricky commercial for the pigopolists, Ballmer moves onto slightly safer ground with a series of cuddlier-sounding, more personal scenarios. "Anyone who uses a personal computer for word processing, email, data analysis or other common purposes is creating digital content - content that if unprotected might be misused by others. One of the touchstones of our Trustworthy Computing initiative is responding to customers' demands for technology that protects the confidentiality and privacy of their information." Over the years Microsoft has gone a fair way to make customer demand supplant patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel. Who are these customers, and why are they all demanding protection? Ask yourself how much content you create that you're worried about people stealing. Sure, you've got stuff you want to keep private, but you probably manage this quite successfully already. The people who really want and need DRM are the content suppliers, who will be able to use it to gradually squeeze free stuff (not just 'pirated' stuff) out of the Internet. Ballmer's pitch is therefore particularly dangerous in that it presents this process as good for everybody, not just for the content vendors. It's an added convenience for these vendors and for the DRM supplier if everybody has it, it is most certainly not in everybody's interest. Here, for example, we have the whistleblower's nemesis, the unreadable or disappearing document: "...our forthcoming Office 2003 productivity software suite will enable users to designate who can open a document or email message, and specify the terms of use - for example, whether they can print, copy or forward the data. A rights management add-on for Internet Explorer will extend these protections to Web content." And you won't be able to do business with people using Microsoft rights management unless you're playing rights management too. This will not result in a neo-Stalinist world where information flow is tightly circumscribed and where embarrassing/contentious documents disappear from the Web at the drop of an injunction you'd never even heard about. On the contrary: "As these technologies become widespread, their protection will help encourage wider sharing of information within and between organizations, improving communication and productivity by assuring information workers of the confidentiality of their documents and data." On second thoughts, that neo-Stalinist world we mentioned back there is precisely what Ballmer is describing here, isn't it? ®
John Lettice, 22 May 2003

SGI renders 400 redundant

Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) wants to return to profitability and thinks a ten per cent cut in its workforce can help. Listed under "Today's Highlights" on the SGI Web site Thursday was the announcement that 400 workers would lose their jobs. As a result, SGI will trim quarterly expenses by close to $10 million, starting with its first fiscal quarter of 2004. SGI will take a charge of $15 t0 $20 million in its fourth fiscal quarter of 03, ending June 27. For some time now, SGI has been happy to stay in its niche, selling high-end servers and workstations used for computation-intensive tasks. The company has started to sell Itanium 2-based servers alongside its MIPS/IRIX hardware but has not seen incredible demand for either offering. A rise in government contracts as a results of increased defense spending has not done enough to bring SGI back into the black. And so SGI turned to job cuts as a way to lower the bottom line. "Our intent is to bring expenses in line with revenues," SGI's CEO Bob Bishop, said in a statement. ® Related Stories SGI finds 2,048 uses for an Itanic SGI gets dense with Origin 3900 Supercomputer SGI puts brave face on missed Q1 target
Ashlee Vance, 22 May 2003

GSM heads for 50pc of US phones

AnalysisAnalysis While the battle to set Iraq's mobile phone standard may be over, Nokia thinks that GSM can grab 50 per cent of the market back in the Homeland. And analysts seem to agree it's far from impossible. You might be as skeptical as we are, but the global GSM standard and its variants are indisputably on the rise in the United States. Before the champagne corks start popping in Stockholm and Espoo, it's worth remembering a couple of things. Firstly, and rather obviously, the protagonists in the rival camps are increasingly mixing it. Nokia showed us its CDMA handsets at its Irving HQ, this week and the high end model outclasses the offerings that CDMA buyers currently face. Nokia's precise involvement in bringing Texas Instruments dominant OMAP platform for smartphones to CDMA, which we reported last week, remains unclear. OMAP is used in high-end Symbian smartphones from Sony Ericsson and Nokia, but is GSM/GPRS only. Now these vendors will be able to sell OMAP variants to CDMA network operators - a major boost for CDMA. Meanwhile, Qualcomm itself seems to have remembered that it is, primarily, a radio company. It's following the market for 3G by providing software and infrastructure for W-CDMA, the not-Qualcomm 3G standard, as the final picture in our GSMWorld Cannes photo gallery illustrates. Secondly, any discussion of winners and losers is meaningless without the context of the operators. In the aftermath of inflated telecoms evaluations, today's debt-ridden carriers have had to cut their cloth for leaner times. The vast sums paid for 3G licenses [MMO2, formerly BT Cellnet, wrote down its fee yesterday] are only part of the problem. As https://www.sys-con.com/wireless/contact.cfm editor points out, the consolidation will come, but right now, they're too broke to buy each other. Going for broke But the US, with its four incompatible digital standards, is a less mature market, and has not yet reached the saturation point carriers abroad discovered a couple of years ago. It has yet to face the crunch. While there are so still so many potential subscribers out there who are phoneless, the network operators feel that they can justify spending huge amounts of money to gain share. And one remarkable statistic we learned this week is just how much they spend. The figures range from $450 per new subscriber for Nextel, to $250 at Verizon. T-Mobile, AT&T Wireless, Sprint PCS and T-Mobile range between $300 and $400. Clearly, this is an expensive business, and one that isn't sustainable in the long run, given that churn rates are likely to rise dramatically when browned-off US cellphone users are finally given the freedom of changing their network, but keeping their phone number. This is due to take place in November, and industry watchers have their own sweepstake on who'll fall the hardest and fastest. Odd man out Nextel, the only carrier to use Motorola's iDEN system, reports the lowest churn and highest satisfaction. But Nextel's long term future may be in the nichest of niche markets. The others have been nibbling at each other's market share without dramatic shifts in power between the camps. The new GSM player T-Mobile has gained at the expense of old Cingular, and Verizon has gained at the expense of Sprint PCS. AT&T is making strides converting its TDMA network to GSM/GPRS, and the market share of the GSM players combined (38 per cent) is larger than the two CDMA flagbearers at 34 per cent. However , come the churn, one factor will play into the GSM operators favor - if they're shrewd enough to realize it. The SIM card model already allows you to take your phone number and address book with you and use it in another handset, while CDMA handsets are closed. And number portability allows you to change the network entirely. This puts more pressure on the carriers to offer more attractive handsets (which the model was designed to do, as much as it was intended to increase competition between network operators). And competing on features and style plays into the GSM operators hands, as the coolest kit and the widest variety of models have always come from the GSM boys, serving a far larger global market. Add to the mix that Verizon is adopting the MMS picture messaging standard, and you have a potential for mass momentum behind standards: exactly what the US market has been lacking. Do network operators have souls? As with the GSM networks abroad, the US GSM operators may finally realize that a rising tide raises all boats. By adopting GSM and MMS global standards the network operators will share significant competitive advantages, and can compete on features - features that give them important and very visible (from the high street) advantages of differentiation. Assuming network operators have souls, this appeals to their kinder side. Right now the carriers offer near-identical selections of handsets, and compete on minutes. Anti-consumer practices are rampant. The changing landscape offers them a way to leave all this behind, and compete on features - both service features and more feature-rich handsets. All they have to do is turn to the light. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 22 May 2003

Gray Panthers gun for MCI

The Gray Panthers carry a big cane and have waved their geriatric wood at MCI (WorldCom), calling for the US government to cut back business with the troubled telco. A series of ads cropped up this week in which The Panthers chastised MCI for shrinking the retirement savings of thousands of seniors. The oldies also gave the government a stern talking to for awarding the disgraced carrier with large contracts. "Thousands upon thousands of seniors have had their retirements jeopardized," The Gray Panthers said. "The Government's reaction to the MCI WorldCom fraud has been as shocking as the crime itself. In the year since their fraud was disclosed, MCI WorldCom has become the government's biggest telecom provider with over $750 million in Federal government revenues in 2002, over three times as much as runner-up AT&T." Think of The Gray Panthers as a kinder, gentler, older version of The Black Panthers. Since its start in 1970, the group has fought to make life as a retiree more pleasant. The aged activists don't like MCI receiving any federal handouts when its actions contributed to multi-billion dollar savings losses. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the Chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, is also curious about the relationship between Washington and MCI. She has started an investigation looking into WorldCom's deals with the General Services Administration and various other government agencies. Clearly, the memory of WorldCom lives on despite the new MCI name. Should the government take it easy on a company trying to make its way through a most challenging bankruptcy? Why do the senior citizens want to punish a carrier desperate for redemption? Well, it's possibly because MCI has agreed to pay shareholders a paltry $500 million as part of settlement with the SEC over $9 billion in fraud charges. The 40,000 strong Panthers consider this fine but a drop in the bucket - something people would not get away with back in the good old days. "I was stunned earlier this week to see the Securities and Exchange Commission fine WorldCom $500 million one day and then the company get a multi-million-dollar federal weather satellite contract the very next day," said Will Thomas, a project director for the group. "Crime, it seems, does pay as long as you are MCI WorldCom!" Thomas appears to have a point. Earlier this week, MCI was handed a contract to build Iraq's mobile phone network. Funny that. ® Related Stories MCI wins Iraq gig, shovels $500m to shareholders WorldCom to adopt MCI name Capellas vows to clean up WorldCom
Ashlee Vance, 22 May 2003

US Robotics doubles up on 802.11g data rates

The Register's Wireless LAN Channel US Robotics today launched 802.11g wireless LAN kit designed to double the throughput of connections. The company's 802.11g Wireless Turbo range is powered by "Accelerator Technology" which increases performance level from 54Mbps to 100Mbps on a single 802.11g channel. The technology is fully compatible with the latest draft specification for 802.11g, according to US Robotics. Typically, 54Mbps 802.11g equipment offers real data throughput of only 10Mbps. US Robotics says it can get this performance up to 20Mbps. Tony Field, product marketing manager at US Robotics, said higher speeds in the products had been achieved not by data compression but by reducing the overheads involved in negotiating bandwidth. Other vendors, such as Indersill, have been applying much the same principles to treble 802.11g throughput. US Robotics has designed its 802.11g Wireless Turbo range for networks 802.11b and 802.11g coverage exists side-by-side and it supports b and g clients at their fastest speeds, the company boldly claims. "The equipment doesn't drop down in speed to that of the slowest node," Field said. Built-in 256-bit Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption and 802.1x MAC address authentication help admins build secure networks using the product range. Additionally, all U.S. Robotics 802.11g Wireless Turbo products will also support Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) encryption once the 802.11i security standard is ratified. Available in July, the US Robotics 802.11g Wireless Turbo portfolio includes a router (£99.99 incl. VAT), multi-function access point (£119.99 incl. VAT), PCI adapter and PC card (each £59.99 incl. VAT). The launch of the products came during this week's Wireless LAN Event in Olympia, London. ® Related stories Intersil triples 802.11g data rates Don't mess with 802.11g, researcher warns New wireless 11g 'standard' ends in tears WLAN security is still work in progress The Register's Wireless LAN Channel
John Leyden, 22 May 2003