30th > December > 2004 Archive

Tesco claims 500,000 mobile sign-ups

Tesco has signed up 500,000 subscribers for its UK mobile phone service, just 14 months after setting up in business. The UK supermarket giant is what is called a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO): it manages the customer relationships and billing, while the infrastructure and network is supplied by someone else - in this case, mmO2. The UK's best-known MVNO is Virgin Mobile, with 4.5m customers, which runs on T-Mobile's network. It may take Tesco some time to catch up - but it has enormous distribution muscle through its shops. It also has enormous traffic for its website - Tesco is the UK's biggest etailer. mm02 has a similar joint-venture in Germany, with Tchibo, a coffee chain. Through its retail partners, mmO2 targets lower spending pre-paid customers. ® Related stories mmO2 ups sales forecasts Tesco touts broadband for the masses Tesco Mobile cuts tariffs mmO2 hunts prepaids with German coffee chain Tesco Mobile hits the streets
Drew Cullen, 30 Dec 2004
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Intel invests in three digital home firms

Intel continues to pump money into companies developing products for the so-called 'digital home'. Three more of these firms have received undisclosed investments, the chip giant said today. As ever, the investments come through Intel's Intel Capital (IC) subsidiary, which seeks to encourage firms working on products and services that drive the sale of faster, more feature-packed microprocessors - or "in support of Intel's strategic interests", as the company puts it. The investments come from IC's Digital Home Fund, which was launched almost a year ago and has taken stakes in 12 companies to date. "The companies we've invested in have contributed significantly to industry progress connecting PC and CE devices together, ensuring their ease-of-use, and paving the way for new services to deliver digital entertainment and information," an Intel spokesman said. Two of the three investments announced today mark follow-up funding rounds for Zinio, the digital magazine distributor, and Synacor, a provider of bundled online services. Zinio takes established paper titles and distributes digital images of each printed page to subscribers using its own software. Synacor similarly aggregates Internet-based content services through a portal mechanism, allowing ISPs and the like to provide a range of offerings through a single source. Gteko, described as "an ease-of-use networking and support software company", gets its first wodge of Intel cash. Its customers include HP, Linksys and Canon, so it plays into Intel's interest in wireless networking technologies. ® Related stories Intel readies 'East Fork' digital home PC platform Intel pours VC cash into Digital Home Intel coughs up for the Digital Home Intel to launch low-end 915 chipsets Jan 05 Intel confirms dual-core desktop 'Smithfield' Intel nabs Samsung branding chief The digital home cometh, says Intel US and Europe embrace the digital home Digital home group touts convergence spec Intel takes Centrino to consumer electronics
Tony Smith, 30 Dec 2004
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Samsung founds $100m antitrust fines fund

Samsung has put $100m to one side just in case the US Department of Justice fines it for allegedly conspiring to fix memory prices. The South Korean giant revealed the existence of the antitrust war chest today, 30 months or so after the DoJ began investigating claims that major memory makers, including Samsung, Infineon, Micron and Hynix, had colluded to raise DRAM prices. The fund will protect the company against any "possible loss resulting from the ongoing antitrust investigation into the company", Samsung said. The June 2002 investigation drew first blood this past summer, when Infineon admitted it had been involved and was fined a $160m, the third largest in the history of US antitrust action. This month, four company executives - Heinrich Florian, Gunter Hefner, Peter Schaefer and T Rudd Corwin - pleaded guilty to their role in the price fixing scandal. They to serve between four and six months in gaol and pay $250,000 each in fines. Infineon isn't the only one to cough to the crime. In November, Micron admitted it had been involved too, laying the blame at the door of certain company staffers - it was the result of individual action rather than corporate policy, the memory maker claimed. Micron's public confession appears to have spared it criminal charges and fines. Samsung's move to put aside money in case it too is fined, suggests it will not follow Micron's example. Certainly, it maintains a 'no comment' on the DoJ probe and insists that a negative outcome (for Samsung) is not at all guaranteed. ® Related stories Four Infineon execs heading to jail on price-fixing charges Micron employees fixed DRAM prices Infineon pleads guilty to memory price-fixing Memory makers hit by price-fixing claims Sony, Samsung agree to share toys
Tony Smith, 30 Dec 2004

Union slams MoT IT system delays

A computer system which will enable people to check out the MoT status of cars they want to buy is running two and a half years late. The original launch date for the database, designed by Siemens Business Services, was May 2002, but since then it has missed three "go live" dates, most recently today, according to the Public and Commercial Services Union. Louise Saunders, national branch secretary of the union at the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, said: "What was originally meant to modernise the MoT test system and ensure that vehicles are roadworthy and legal is fast becoming a frustrating embarrassment." Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, said: "We have real fears that this delay will mean continuing MoT test fraud and unsafe vehicles on the road.The government wants services delivered more efficiently, but yet again we are seeing a privatised IT project hitting the buffers, wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers' money." The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency told the BBC that the delay was "disappointing [but] they had to be satisfied the system was effective". The MoT database is now expected to go live next Spring, after trials in February. ® Related stories UK.gov IT: it's broke, how can we fix it? Building disaster into the network: how UK.gov does IT Swansea IT strike action off
Drew Cullen, 30 Dec 2004

JVC preps dual DVD/Blu-ray disc

Japanese consumer electronics company JVC has created an optical disc that contains both regular DVD and Blu-ray Disc zones. The announcement comes a month after Toshiba and Memory Tech, both members of the rival HD DVD camp, unveiled a similar dual-format disc that meets today's DVD standard an HD DVD. JVC's prototype goes one step further than the Toshiba/Memory Tech product by incorporating a triple-layer structure. Topmost is the 25GB BD layer, under which sits the usual dual-layer DVD structure providing 8.5GB of storage capacity. The Toshiba/Memory Tech disc provides a single DVD layer, enough for 4.7GB worth of video and audio data. Both discs are seen as possible mechanisms for smoothing the transition to high-definition movie content stored on either BD or HD DVD. Customers will be able to buy the discs knowing that they can watch the DVD content straight away, and the HD material as and when they upgrade to a new machine. Punters can also buy HD movies without losing the ability to view the films on older, otherwise incompatible hardware. The discs are even more attractive to content providers, who can offer a single product targeting both the DVD and high-def markets, keeping manufacturing and distribution costs down. This will be particularly handy while high-def remains a specialist market, as has been the case in the audio world. Consumer-oriented BD and HD DVD players and pre-recorded discs are expected to arrive in the US and Europe late 2005. JVC has not yet decided whether to commercialise its dual-format disc, but it has said it will submit the medium to the Blu-ray Disc Association as a possible addition to the BD-ROM specification. ® Related stories Toshiba touts DVD/HD DVD hybrid Toshiba launches HD DVD consortium Disney backs Blu-ray Major studios back HD DVD HP confirms plans for Blu-ray CE giants 'readying Blu-ray camcorders' Blu-ray group mandates Microsoft codec for BD-ROM Blu-ray movie disc format unveiled
Tony Smith, 30 Dec 2004

BT has 'Big Brother' wobbles over ID scheme bids

British Telecom may not bid for ID card contracts because of concern that its involvement would make it seem like a 'Big Brother' company in the eyes of the public. According to This is London, BT has been talking to consultants and public bodies, including Liberty, in order to gauge how close involvement with the ID scheme would be perceived. The area where BT's skills would be likely to be most appropriate would be in providing the infrastructure that would be used in order to link the network of readers with the national identity register, and hence with multiple other government databases, which would put the company squarely at the Big Brother end of the deal. The Government so far has played down the key role that will be performed by what will, in effect, be a national surveillance network and played up the bits of plastic instead. But as the project progresses the purposes of the network will become more obvious to the public, and the Big Brother aspects will move to the foreground. BT is currently claiming that it hasn't yet decided whether or not to bid, but any hesitation may not stem entirely from the Big Brother factor. The company is already involved in the the NHS National Programme for IT, and it might view that as enough headaches for the moment. Nor are large UK Government IT contracts viewed by industry with undiluted enthusiasm these days. Bad planning and moving goalposts can make project failure a near certainty, and it's generally the contractor that ends up being blamed. Add the Government's determination to push down prices to this and you might reckon winning a UK Government contract boiled down to very publicly trashing your own reputation while tearing up five pound notes. In recent sessions in Parliament, ministers have declined to rule out either EDS or Capita, both of whom have figured large in previous IT failures. But if the Government started ruling out companies now, it might find itself in the embarrassing position of not having anybody credible pitching for the contract. BT itself sponsored a meeting between Intellect members and ministers earlier this year, which according to Nick Kalisperas of Intellect was intended to brief government on what could be done. The government has been leaning heavily on UK industry trade body Intellect for IT expertise, with Intellect itself running a "Concept Viability" service for government IT projects. One might hope that the viability issue would speedily despatch the ID scheme, but Intellect's submissions in the two consultations on ID cards have stressed its view that the IT industry can "meet the technological challenges laid out by the Government's proposals". The Government no doubt takes this to mean that the IT industry thinks the scheme will work, but actually it's merely saying it thinks the technology can be made to work. We rather doubt that, too... ® Related Stories: Clarke takes charge of Blunkett's Fear Agenda Tories come out in support of UK ID card scheme Need a job? Get a card - arresting ID pitch to business ID scheme, IT the key to Blunkett's new terror laws
John Lettice, 30 Dec 2004

FCC to auction three 3G bands from June 06

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will auction off the States' 1710-1755MHz and 2110-2155MHz spectrum bands to prospective 3G telephony providers by June 2006 at the earliest. The FCC will also auction off the 1432-1435MHz band soon afterward, the organisation said, possibly as early as July or August 2006. The June 2006 timetable emerged as the FCC filed its intention to open the two bands to the highest bidders with the US Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The NTIA notification must come at least 18 months before the auction process begins, according to the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act, which mandates that timeframe when one-time government-only spectrum is opened up to commercial usage, a process the Act was created to drive. In return, the NTIA has to tell the FCC how much the process of transferring federal users from the 1710-1755MHz band to another part of the spectrum is going to cost bidders. The FCC admitted that a number of requests have been made that the 1710-1755MHz and 2110-2155MHz bands not be transferred to commercial usage. However, the regulator said it expects to resolve these "in the very near future". The auctions themselves will provide successful bidders with licences to provide "advanced wireless services" - the FCC's formal language for 3G. The FCC said it hopes the transition will ensure US consumers get access to "competitive, high quality communications services". "For all of us who believe in the future of wireless broadband, it is truly a banner day," FCC chairman Michael 'Son of Colin' Powell in his letter to the NTIA. ® Related stories Orange beams jam-busting TV to your mobe Hutchison buys out Italian 3G partner for 470m WiMAX to steal 3G and DSL market share Sprint spends $3bn on 3G Orange 3G arrives mmO2 hikes 3G speeds Don't waste money on 3G - Which? 3G kicks off in Norway Cingular signs for 3G
Tony Smith, 30 Dec 2004

Microsoft revokes Passport service

Microsoft has given up on trying to hawk its controversial Passport sign-on service to other companies, according to a report in the LA Times Microsoft's decision to shut down its Passport partner program comes after one of its largest allies - eBay - said it would retire Passport in January and use its own service instead. Redmond will still offer up Passport as a single sign-on tool for its own services such as Hotmail. This move by Microsoft to give up on being a type of internet services middleman can be seen as a major victory for the rival Liberty Alliance, which is comprised of serious tech heavyweights such as IBM, Sun Microsystems, HP and Nokia. Microsoft told the LA Times that it would now concentrate on making software tools that can be used by other companies to create their own web services. Passport allowed Microsoft to keep track of a wide range of customer information, including credit card numbers. It could then pass on this information to partners for use in their own internet services. The process was meant to make life easier on consumers, as they only had to remember one user name and password to log on to a wide variety of web sites and services. Rivals, however, quickly complained that Microsoft was trying to dominate internet transactions. Sun, in particular, warned Microsoft's partners that they would eventually lose control of their customers if they picked up Passport. The competitors formed Liberty Alliance to create a set of identity management standards that could be shared by vendors. Passport also made privacy advocates nervous. Microsoft suffered one of its most embarrassing moments in May of 2003 when it revealed that all 200m Passport users could have their private information made public because of a security hole in its service. The US Federal Trade Commission vowed to look into the problem and said Microsoft could face a huge fine, but the FTC has not disclosed whether or not it did in fact fine Microsoft in the end. While Microsoft is backing down from promoting Passport, it still has very real identity management aspirations. It makes a variety of products for managing internet services and will certainly continue to play a role in this part of the software market. In the end, it seems Microsoft was unable to convince enough partners of the merits of Passport. Why invite Microsoft to keep track of your customers when more open options exist for building custom services? ® Related stories IBM gives in to call for Liberty services for all Deutsche Telekom Passport hole exposes 120,000 Intel joins Liberty Alliance Google launches email, takes the Bill Gates defense Microsoft forgets to renew hotmail.co.uk domain
Ashlee Vance, 30 Dec 2004

Windows XP users Phelled by new Trojan

A new Trojan horse - named Phel - that punishes users of Microsoft Windows XP operating system is in the wild. Security software firm Symantec has issued a bulletin warning Windows XP users to be on the look out for the program, which is distributed as an .html file. The malicious code can attack systems running XP Service Pack 2. The vuln was first found in October, and Microsoft is busy trying to catch up to it. "Microsoft is taking this vulnerability very seriously, and an update to correct the vulnerability is currently in development," the company told ComputerWorld. "We will release the security update when the development and testing process is complete, and the update is found to effectively correct the vulnerability." Symantec warns that users will see two Internet Explorer windows pop up when an .html file with Trojan.Phel.A is opened. If the code does its worst, the Trojan will automatically be executed every time a Windows user turns on his machine. More information from Symantec is available here. ® Related stories BOFH gets into the Xmas spirit Corporate PCs 'riddled with spyware' Bofra exploit tied to 'massive botnet' Skulls Trojan keelhauls Symbian phones Trojan targets UK online bank accounts Trojan infects PCs to generate SMS spam
Ashlee Vance, 30 Dec 2004

Snowed-in code blamed for Comair's Xmas flight collapse

Aging server software has been blamed for Comair's holiday collapse that left thousands of travelers stranded. Comair last week said that winter storms had affected its computer systems responsible for scheduling flight crews. At the time, however, the carrier - a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines - did not say exactly how inclement weather had brought down its boxes. It now turns out that a dinosaur of a system was only capable of handling 32,000 scheduling changes in a month (a result of the 16-bit conundrum). Snow storms caused an unusually high number of changes to be made and brought Comair's computers down. A poster on Slashdot claims Comair was running the scheduling software on one of IBM's AIX servers. "The box itself is still up and running just fine; this is purely an application error," the Slashdotter wrote. "This application was not written in-house at Comair, but by another large aerospace company -- SBS." "The great majority of Comair's traffic flows through the midwest, and the central base of operations is in Cincinnati. The midwest was hit by a major snowstorm this week, causing many, many crew reassignments. It appears right now that the application in question has a hard limit of 32,000 changes per month (ouch). Consider that Comair runs 1,100 flights a day and there are usually 3 crew members on each aircraft. A big storm like this can cause problems for days after the snow stops falling. That's a whole lot of crew changes." Comair is said to be in the process of installing a new system called Maestro Crew - also developed by SBS, a Boeing subsidiary. The more sophisticated software package was due to be installed in January. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has ordered an investigation into the problems that affected both Comair and US Airways over the holidays. Comair cancelled all of its flights on Christmas Day and struggled for days to get its flights back in the air. “Comair looks forward to sharing with the Department of Transportation and its Inspector General what we have learned from this chain of events as we work together to help avoid situations like this in the future," said Comair President Randy Rademacher. "Comair will cooperate fully with the DOT in this matter." The carrier finally restored normal operations on Wednesday. ® Related stories Official orders probe of airlines that stole Christmas Vodafone to offer in-flight Wi-Fi Singapore Airlines plans in-flight live TV via Wi-Fi
Ashlee Vance, 30 Dec 2004