EU’s net neutrality guidelines get published

The EU is taking a tough line on net neutrality. The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (Berec) – which represents all the EU’s communications regulators – has finally published guidelines clarifying how telecom companies should treat the data they handle, months after a law concerning the matter was published.
  
The EU is taking a tough line on net neutrality. The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (Berec) – which represents all the EU’s communications regulators – has finally published guidelines clarifying how telecom companies should treat the data they handle, months after a law concerning the matter was published.
 
In the past, apps and other online services could, in theory, pay more to ensure their products ran smoothly. That appealed to network providers, who saw it as a way to boost profits. But Berec says only a limited number of services will be able to ask for special treatment, and then only so long as it is not to the detriment of others.
 
The new rules also set out consumers’ right to be free to access and distribute information and content, run applications and use services of their choice, so long as they are not illegal. The publication has been welcomed by digital rights experts.
 
“Europe is now a global standard-setter in the defence of the open, competitive and neutral internet,” said Joe McNamee, executive director of European Digital Rights (EDRi).
 
The term net neutrality refers to the idea that all data should be treated equally, regardless of its content. Think of the networks as being motorways. Instead of having slow lanes for lorries and fast lanes for cars, all vehicles can go the same speed. Thus YouTube should not be able to get its video data streamed faster – and thus offer higher-quality clips that do not buffer – than Vimeo or other smaller sites, assuming everyone’s computer servers can upload the material quickly in the first place.
 
Likewise, networks should not give preference to video call data over music downloads or web pages. Critics had argued that giving faster internet traffic to one company over another was bad for business and had the potential to threaten innovation.
 
What are the exceptions? The guidelines refer to “specialised services”. Examples given include: high-quality voice calling on mobile networks, real-time health services, such as video feeds for use in remote surgery, live broadcasts over internet TV services, Regulators would have to check that giving preference to such services would not degrade others.
 
Berec adds that the networks can also manage traffic “to comply with a legal order, to ensure network integrity and security, and to manage congestion, provided that equivalent categories of traffic are treated equally”. Much was made of “zero-rating” services. What happened to that? Zero-rating refers to subscription packages in which use of a specific service would not be affected by data caps. For example, a user who had a 5GB download limit on their mobile account might still be allowed to access Facebook for free as an exception.
 
Berec places an outright ban on blocking or slowing some apps but not others under such a deal. However, it acknowledges that other cases will be less clear cut, and suggests that regulators bear in mind what effects there will be on the public when they assess requests for exceptions.
 
“There are lots of details still to be determined like how national regulators like Ofcom actually enforce the law using these guidelines,” commented Prof Chris Marsden of Sussex University “The law has been in force for months and they’re not exactly stampeding to bring actions. Civil society organisations are claiming a great victory but we will see. With over 30 national regulators involved – 28 EU plus several others – much can change or be ignored.”
 

For bigger ISPs, it means that they will need to avoid launching services that discriminate between different online services. For smaller ISPs, which might have struggled to convince the tech firms to pay for faster access, it should ensure a more competitive market.
 
Berec believes that will benefit the public. However, the UK’s decision to leave the EU may mean that UK citizens end up living under a different regime.
 
“Ofcom is a member of Berec and has been contributing to this work,” wrote Reg Dhanjal from the law firm Pinsent Masons earlier this year. “However, with the Brexit vote it may in time set out its own net neutrality guidance. Those guidelines will likely be informed by the EU approach to net neutrality but could potentially contain some differences to the EU regime.”
 
 

 

Dropbox hack ‘affected 68 million users’

A Dropbox security breach in 2012 has affected more than 68 million account holders, according to security experts. Last week, Dropbox reset all passwords that had remained unchanged since mid-2012 “as a preventive measure”.
  
A Dropbox security breach in 2012 has affected more than 68 million account holders, according to security experts. Last week, Dropbox reset all passwords that had remained unchanged since mid-2012 “as a preventive measure”.
 
In 2012, Dropbox had said hacks on “other websites” had affected customers who used their Dropbox password on other sites too. But now what purports to be the details of 68.6 million Dropbox accounts have emerged on hacker trading sites.
 
The 5GB document has been acquired by a Motherboard reporter, who also said it had been verified as genuine by a “senior Dropbox employee” speaking on the condition of anonymity. The data includes email addresses and hashed passwords. But security researcher Troy Hunt, who has also seen the document, said the hashing algorithm that obscured the passwords was “very resilient to cracking”.
 
“Frankly, all but the worst possible password choices are going to remain secure even with the breach now out in the public,” he said. 
 
Mr Hunt said he had managed to independently verify the hack by finding the password of his wife within the cache. He toldsaid the document contained a “very unique, 20-character, completely random password” used by his wife to login to Dropbox. It had been created by a password manager, he said, making the chance of it having been correctly guessed “infinitely small”.
 
Mr Hunt wrote his blog: “There is no doubt whatsoever that the data breach contains legitimate Dropbox passwords – you simply can’t fabricate this sort of thing.”
 
Security researcher Ken Munro also said the hack appeared to be genuine and to have “taken place in 2012”.
 
In a statement, Dropbox said: “This is not a new security incident.” And there was “no indication” Dropbox user accounts had been improperly accessed.
 
“Our analysis confirms that the credentials are user email addresses with hashed and salted passwords that were obtained prior to mid-2012,” said the statement. “We can confirm that the scope of the password reset we completed last week did protect all impacted users. Even if these passwords are cracked, the password reset means they can’t be used to access Dropbox accounts.”
 
Meanwhile, on Tuesday the password management service OneLogin – of which Dropbox is a client – revealed that a user gained access to one of its systems used for log storage and analytics.
 
Alvaro Hoyos, chief information security officer at OneLogin, has said that this incident is not connected to the Dropbox hack.
 
“We have no indication that OneLogin’s August 2016 incident is connected to any further incidents currently in the news,” Mr Hoyos said. “To reiterate what our recent blog post stated, the impacted system is a standalone system and there are no signs of suspicious activity in any of our other systems. The security of our customers is of the utmost importance and we are carrying out an extensive investigation in partnership with a third-party cybersecurity firm. We are advising impacted customers as soon as any additional information becomes available as a result of the investigation.”
 
 

Google to expand ride-sharing service in San Francisco

Google plans to expand a ride-sharing service in San Francisco using its Waze app, setting up a potential showdown with market leaders Uber and Lyft.
  
Google plans to expand a ride-sharing service in San Francisco using its Waze app, setting up a potential showdown with market leaders Uber and Lyft.
 
Waze gives traffic conditions and driving directions in real time. Since May Google has been running a pilot carpooling service, which uses Waze to connect drivers and passengers near its California headquarters. But by the end of the year anyone in the Bay Area will be able to request a ride, using the Waze app.
 
If successful, Google may look to expand the service to other cities. The move may undercut its rivals, as Waze charges cheaper rates. Under the pilot program, Waze charged riders a maximum of 54 cents a mile with no booking fee.
 
Waze aims to connect drivers and potential passengers heading in the same direction and the charges to passengers cover the cost of fuel and maintenance. It is a different model from Uber and Lyft, where drivers use their own cars to offer rides for profit.
 
Over the last few years Google and Uber have started to compete in the fast-growing transport business. Both firms are developing driverless cars, with Uber set to launch road tests in Pittsburgh soon. Uber has also begun developing its own mapping software.
 
Both Uber and Lyft are estimated to be worth billions of dollars but have yet to turn a profit.
 
 

Amazon Dash – who wants to live in a push-button world?

Amazon’s UK customers can now push a button when they run out of toilet rolls or washing powder – and within 24 hours a package will arrive at the front door.
  
Amazon’s UK customers can now push a button when they run out of toilet rolls or washing powder – and within 24 hours a package will arrive at the front door.
 
You can see the launch of the Dash service in two ways. It’s either another miraculous piece of innovation from the e-commerce giant that will make our lives simpler, or a scary sign that lazy consumers are yet again handing far too much power to a US technology firm. Amazon Prime subscribers in Austria and Germany are also being offered the service.
 
Here’s how it works. There are Dash buttons for about 40 brands at launch, ranging from dishwasher tablets, to instant coffee to condoms. You buy the button – but get the cost off your first purchase. Then you set it up with the Amazon shopping app, choosing the exact product and your delivery preferences. From now on, when you run out of that product, pressing the wi-fi-connected button will simply trigger an order via the shopping app.
 
And, yes, Amazon has thought of what you were thinking – if your children delight in pressing buttons repeatedly, you won’t get a mountain of toilet rolls delivered to your door. Once an order has been placed, you get a notification, and another button press within 24 hours will be ignored.
 
The company says the aim is to do away with the most tedious of shopping experiences. “Nobody gets retail therapy shopping for toilet paper,” as the executive demonstrating the Dash button explained.
 
Dash was greeted with scepticism when it launched in the US in March last year. Were people really lazy enough to want to do that? At first, it was slow to take off, but those who used it demanded more buttons, and now there are more than 150 products available. Amazon is, as ever, light on detail when it comes to giving out numbers, but it says orders through the Dash button have grown threefold in the past two months.
 
It’s being launched in the UK along with a sister product, which takes removing the hassle of shopping a stage further. Dash Replenishment involves devices such as dishwashers and printers automatically ordering new supplies of tablets or ink cartridges without their owner needing to do anything, except sign up in the first place.
 
What Amazon is doing here is providing the first really compelling examples of how the so-called internet of things could transform our homes, with smart appliances talking to the network about their needs.

 
It’s also a demonstration of the extraordinary breadth of skills at the disposal of Jeff Bezos’s firm – from a deep knowledge of what makes consumers tick, to an extraordinary logistics operation that can now deliver products to some addresses within an hour, to the nimblest supplier of cloud computing services on the planet.
 
But hold on a minute. Are we so lazy now that we are happy to have one pack of soap powder make its way from Amazon’s fulfilment centre down busy city streets to our door, with all the environmental impact that entails, rather than heading to the shops and getting everything in one go? Shouldn’t we have the weekly shop delivered to us by a British supermarket? Are we happy to tie ourselves to big brands whose buttons we will push, or whose appliances will buy their perhaps pricey supplies on our behalf?

 
And do we like the idea that this brilliant American technology firm will be collecting ever more data about our shopping habits, even if it is doing that to deliver us a better retail experience?
 
Like it or not, shopping is becoming an on-demand, push-button, instant gratification experience. And, as in so many other areas of our lives, it seems likely that it will be shaped by a US technology company.
 
 

Curved screen Predator laptop unveiled by Acer

Acer has unveiled the world’s first laptop to feature a curved screen. The company says the innovation should make it more immersive to play video games on the machine.
  
Acer has unveiled the world’s first laptop to feature a curved screen. The company says the innovation should make it more immersive to play video games on the machine.
 
Several TVs already feature curved displays, but the feature has proved to be divisive because it has both benefits and disadvantages over flat-panel technology. The Taiwanese company also announced it had acquired a pet technology start-up, at a press conference in Berlin. Several other consumer electronics brands – including Samsung, Lenovo, DJI, Sony and Huawei – are set to unveil new kit of their own at the Ifa technology show in the German capital this week.
 
The Predator notebook’s screen is much bigger than the norm – measuring 21in (53.3cm) – but it is its shape that made it possible for the company to claim a “world’s first”.
 
“The curvature of the screen matches the natural curve of the eyes and gives a wider field of view,” Acer Europe’s John Miedema said. “This allows people to pick-up in-game details, like spotting enemies or looking in the rear view mirror in racing games, more easily to give a better, more immersive gaming experience.”
 
Curved screens are widely used in cinemas and first appeared in TVs about three years ago. They are also said to produce a greater sense of depth, because the images they show are not on a single plane. Samsung, in particular, has been a strong advocate of the technology. Its two highest-end TVs come only in curved designs.

 
But other manufacturers have experimented with and then abandoned the look.
 
“Curved screens are great if you are in exactly the right position and equidistant from the various points of the display, but as soon as you are not in the ideal place you get distortions of the image and glare,” said David Mercer, from the consultants Strategy Analytics. “With TVs this is a problem, as you tend to have more than one person watching at a time. But I can imagine it makes more sense on a laptop for a single user.”
 
However, one games hardware expert had doubts. “It’s a bit of a marketing gimmick because while 21in is massive in laptop terms, it’s not particularly big in general screen real estate,” said Dave James, from the PCGamesN news site. “Desktop monitors are normally 34in or higher for a good curved screen, and that makes a difference as it wraps around your field of view. For a 21in laptop, your face would have to be extremely close to it to get the effect.

“The fact the Predator’s screen has an ultra-wide aspect ratio is probably more exciting for gamers.”
 
The model’s other unusual feature is the inclusion of eye-tracking technology developed by Sweden’s Tobii. It was originally developed to help people with disabilities control PCs.
 

Acer follows another Taiwanese company, MSI, in building the sensors into a laptop. They allow gamers to: aim at targets by looking at them, freeing up their hands for other controls, change the direction they are looking at by moving their eyes, make use of “dynamic lighting” – the overall scene dims if the player looks at a very bright object or does the reverse if they look into shadows, mimicking the way our eyes work.
 
Tobii first revealed how its tech could be used to enhance PC video games nearly two years ago. But, at present, few titles support the feature. “Acer kept referring to Assassin’s Creed Syndicate because it was just about the only game it could point to,” said Mr James. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Tom Clancy’s The Division are among other compatible titles.
 
“I think it’s niche in application,” said Piers Harding-Rolls, from the consultancy IHS. “Eye-tracking technology is much more interesting when it comes to virtual reality. Acer is building the Star VR headset [which integrates Tobii’s tech], and this is probably a result of it thinking where else it could use it.”

 
At Ifa, Acer also revealed it had acquired the start-up Pawbo. The company makes webcams that allow owners to watch and remotely play with cats and dogs by shining a laser and releasing treats. Acer announced a new model that allowed up to eight people to interact with a pet at once, as well as accessories including a remote control “cat teaser” and a toy rodent that could be made to pop up out of a surface. The company said pet owners had spent a total of $104bn (£79bn) on their animal companions last year.

 
It forecast the sector would grow by 24% by 2019. Until now, Motorola Mobility had been the only major tech company to have targeted the sector, although there are dozens of smaller firms involved.
 
 

Lenovo Yoga Book copies handwriting off paper notepads

Lenovo’s latest tablet computer can take a digital copy of handwriting as it is jotted down on a paper notepad placed on top of the machine.
  
Lenovo’s latest tablet computer can take a digital copy of handwriting as it is jotted down on a paper notepad placed on top of the machine.
 
The Yoga Book’s unusual fold-out digitiser pad can also be used to create graphics. In addition, it lights up to form a keyboard. The tablet bucks a trend among rivals that encourage users to write and draw directly on their screens.
 
One expert said that pursuing a unique approach was “risky”. 
 
“There have been previous concepts like this – Microsoft toyed with something similar years ago – but it’s very different to what else has actually been put on sale,” said Patrick Moorhead, from the tech consultancy Moor Insights & Strategy. 

“And when you bring out something new there’s a risk. 

That’s not necessarily bad, because there could be a higher rate of return [if it proves popular] and people recognise Lenovo as a company that brings out differentiated products. 

But if it doesn’t deliver, then the spending on all the [research and development] will have been for naught.”

 
Lenovo’s share of global tablet shipments rose by about 3% over the past year, according to market research firm IDC. But it said demand for the firm’s products was static, and its improved position was the result of the wider tablet market contracting by 12%.

 
Lenovo made its announcement ahead of the start of the Ifa tech show in Berlin, where it will show off the product. It comes in two versions: one powered by Android, the other – which costs more – by Windows 10.
Lenovo refers to the lower digitising half of the device as a “create pad”. A button-press illuminates a “Halo” keyboard on its flat black surface, allowing owners to use it like a laptop.

 
It provides haptic feedback – a buzzing sensation – when each key is tapped. But the letters, numbers and symbols are fixed and do not change shape. The firm acknowledges that owners will probably be slower at typing on it than on the keyboards sold as accessories for Apple’s iPad Pro, Microsoft’s Surface and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab devices, all of which feature moving parts. But Lenovo says that new owners should still be able to attain speeds of 40 to 60 words per minute and then improve over time.
 
The advantage of the design is that when the keyboard is turned off, the space doubles up as a graphics digitiser that works with a bundled stylus. The firm suggests that this offers a better experience than drawing directly onto the tablet’s touchscreen.

 
“You don’t have to hide your content [behind your hand], so you don’t obstruct the view,” said product manager Wahid Razali. “The feel you have is also different as it has grain on it. And you can also draw at the same time as manipulating the on-screen content with your second hand. So, you get to create in a more fluid manner.”
 
The third mode allows the part to take digital copies of notes written up to 1cm (0.4in) above its surface, meaning they can made by writing on a pad of paper. First, the user must swap the pen’s plastic stylus for an ink-based one or – if they have bought a second copy – switch add-ons.

 
The tablet can detect where the pen is via an electromagnetic field it generates. Its stylus, in turn, provides a signal to let the computer know when it is being pressed against paper. This has an advantage over rival smartpens because: the stylus does not need to be recharged, there is no need to use special paper – as is the case with Livescribe and Neo’s products, the user does not need to place a special sensor at the end of the paper – as is the case with the Equil and IrisNotes systems. However, the user needs to press a button each time they turn a page in their notepad to avoid their jottings getting mixed together, and the app involved cannot turn their handwriting into text.

 
As such, consumers could get the same benefit from taking a photo of their notes with a normal tablet or smartphone. Lenovo suggests the facility will have most appeal to students, but also intends to target the tablet at bloggers, business executives and people working in creative industries.
 
“You get benefit from Lenovo’s pen input, and the device is also a lot thinner than Microsoft’s Surface,” said Mr Moorhead. “But the trade-off people will have to consider is its keyboard. I believe people will need to try it in a bricks-and-mortar store before they buy it, and that will require shops to have a special place to demonstrate it. So, Lenovo must now spend enough money to market it to buyers.”
 
 

Samsung Gear S3 watches get bigger screens and batteries

Samsung has added bigger screens and batteries, and more scratch-resistant glass to its latest two smartwatches.
  
Samsung has added bigger screens and batteries, and more scratch-resistant glass to its latest two smartwatches.
 
The higher-end version of the Gear S3 can now connect directly to 4G mobile networks – its predecessor was limited to 3G. Other firms are also announcing new smartwatches at Berlin’s Ifa tech show, including Asus, Withings and Fossil.
 
They do so shortly after the sector experienced its first drop in demand, according to a recent report. IDC said shipments of smartwatches were 32% lower in the April-to-June quarter than they were during the same period in 2015.
Much of this was, however, due to a decline in sales of Apple’s Watch, which had been on sale for a year and has yet to receive an update.  
Both versions of Samsung’s watch now feature a 1.3in (3cm) circular screen – a slight improvement on the 1.2in dimension of last years’ line-up.
 
This is made possible, in part, by boosting the battery capacity of both to 380mAh. The firm says that should deliver up to four days of life between charges. Only the Frontier version of the Gear S3 supports 4G, which would involve a mobile data contract. The Classic option relies on a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone.
 
The devices are also the first confirmed to use Corning’s new Gorilla Glass SR+, which is said to offer similar scratch resistance to sapphire. As before, the devices run on the Tizen operating system and can buy goods via the Samsung Pay mobile wallet service. But they now have the ability to mimic the signal produced by the magnetic strips of credit and debit cards, meaning they can be used when stores do not have NFC (near-field communication) pay terminals.
 
Despite these upgrades, one expert suggested it was improvements to the styling of their buttons and case that were most significant.
 

“It’s really minor detailing, but on someone’s wrist the devices immediately look more like classic watches and less like the geek-ware,” said Ben Wood from the CCS Insight. “But the big question is: Do consumers want ‘full-touch’ watches? We believe that the smart analogue watch is the area where there’s a bigger opportunity.”
 
Nokia’s Withings division is among those taking this latter approach. Rather than seek to put a touchscreen on people’s wrists, its Activite devices combine a standard quartz clock-movement with fitness tracking sensors that send readings to smartphones. The firm has yet to make an official announcement, but banners at Ifa indicate its latest model adds a heart rate sensor to the mix.
 

Asus, however, is sticking with touchscreens and Google’s Android Wear operating system. Its new ZenWatch 3 has a circular face, marking a shift from earlier square designs. The 1.4in display is larger than Samsung’s. However, the device has a lower water resistance rating and no way to connect directly to mobile networks.

 
“Asus and others face the same challenge with smartwatches as they do with smartphones,” said Mr Wood. “Apple and Samsung’s marketing budgets outgun them and risk obliterating consumer interest.”
 
 

 
 

London broadband speeds ‘slower than a small Indian village’

City life may be faster in London but broadband speeds are slower than those in a small Indian village.

 
 

City life may be faster in London but broadband speeds are slower than those in a small Indian village.
 
According to research, the UK’s tech savvy capital crawls along at a snail’s pace of 22.44 Megabits per second (Mbps) compared with a whizzy 34.8Mbps in Rani, Rajasthan. The small community with a population of just 13,880 can download movies, music and buy products online faster than London’s bustling hub of 8.67 million people.
 
Broadband speeds in London are also five times slower than rural Cosoba, Romania, where they have been measured at a superfast 112Mbps. 

A study by website fixbritainsinternet.co.uk found London, Manchester and Edinburgh are way behind the rest of the world, with even the laid back Bahamas, Costa Rica and Poland beating us in the race for quicker downloads. 

And it revealed six in 10 Brits have been let down by poor internet service in the last month, while half said they would think twice about moving to an area with slow broadband speeds.

 
A comparison of 13 towns and villages around the world found London just scraped into the top ten with Manchester above it at nine. Belgian backwater Oudenaarde topped the table with superfast speeds of 202Mbps, followed by Cosoba, Romania which had 112.2Mbps and Samsersdorf, Switzerland with 74.6Mbps.

 
Karan Chadda, director of London based marketing consultancy Evolving Influence said: “We’re heavily dependent on fast, reliable broadband. We regularly send and receive lots of videos, images and other large files. When visiting clients around the country, I’ve often been unable to download files or can only download them very slowly when working in nearby coffee shops. It wastes time and, on occasion, delays projects, which has commercial implications. Worries about broadband quality shouldn’t be a factor when scheduling meetings with clients, but it’s a weekly occurrence and something needs to change to bring Britain up to speed with the rest of the world.’

 
And farmer Aled Evans of Ruthin, North Wales added: “Slow and unreliable internet is a massive issue for me. Currently, access to superfast broadband is almost non-existent in rural areas and painfully slow speed broadband is putting farmers such as myself at a real disadvantage. Currently, access to superfast broadband is almost non-existent in rural areas and painfully slow speed broadband is putting farmers such as myself at a real disadvantage. With many of us now diversifying into the food, drink and tourism industry, having a high quality internet connection is more essential than ever for new business growth.”

 
The website is now urging Brits fed up with slowcoach speeds to join its campaign and lobby watchdog Ofcom for a shake-up. Ofcom is already looking at ways to force providers to give households automatic compensation for slow or broken broadband service.

 
International internet speeds:
Oudenaarde, Belgium – 202.3Mbps 
Cosoba, Romania -112.2Mbps 
Samersdorf, Switzerland – 74.6Mbps 
Prezemyslaw, Poland – 47.1Mbps 
Fors, Sweden – 40.6Mbps 
Rani, India – 34.8Mbps 
Garrochales, Costa Rica – 27.4Mbps 
Harbour Island, Bahamas – 26.6Mbps 
Manchester – 23.61Mbps 
London – 22.44Mbps 
Edinburgh – 21.07Mbps 
Aberdeen – 15.67Mbps 
Hull – 12.42Mbps
 
 

Rail firm to test Uber-style mobile payments system

Smartphones could soon be used instead of rail tickets if an experiment by Chiltern Railways is successful.
  
Smartphones could soon be used instead of rail tickets if an experiment by Chiltern Railways is successful.
 
The rail network wants to pilot a ticketing system that scans people’s phones to detect when they get on and off a train. Each journey’s fare is calculated and deducted from the user’s bank account. The tests are scheduled for 2017 and the technology could be available nationwide by 2018.
 
But one analyst claims the tech would result in only a modest improvement in convenience for passengers. Using a smartphone’s Bluetooth signal, the app allows passengers to open ticket barriers automatically, as well as get on and off trains, all without needing to hold a ticket.
 
Bluetooth sensors at the gates will detect when passengers enter and leave stations, and from this, calculate the journey each passenger has taken. The app will be connected to each user’s bank account and charge for train fares in a manner similar to Uber does with taxis.
 
A design brief, written by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) suggests that the tech could eliminate consumers’ problems in choosing the most affordable ticket. It could also eliminate long queues at ticket machines, as well as provide a “seamless customer journey”, the RSSB said. A further benefit of the tech would be to track each train’s performance, potentially leading to real-time journey and delay info, as well as simplifying the compensation process for delays.
 
For rail firms, each customer’s smartphone could provide rich data on which journeys are most popular, potentially allowing them to reallocate trains to suit demand.
 
However, one analyst is not convinced that the tech is much of a breakthrough in terms of convenience. “It’s not too different from tapping an Oyster card on a ticket gate and tapping out the other end,” said Ian Fogg, principal analyst at IHS Screen Digest. “All this is really saving is the trouble of taking a smartcard out and tapping it at the gate. That’s a fairly small improvement.”
 
But he said that simpler ways of proving a train has been delayed, as well as congestion tracking, would be a distinct advantage. If Chiltern Railways doesn’t provide phone charging services on the trains that will pilot the scheme, then it is overlooking a key drawback, Mr Fogg added.
 
This technology “has the potential to revolutionise ticketing on the railway in Britain through the use of an app”, the RSSB said. Chiltern said it would test the technology next year on journeys between five stations – Oxford Parkway, Islip, Bicester Village, Bicester North, and London Marylebone. The two primary goals of the pilot are to see whether the technology works on a practical level, and if it is adopted by the public.
 
Dave Penney, managing director at Chiltern Railways, said the tech “could be the next evolution of rail ticketing”. He said: “We know passengers want to purchase tickets easily and travel for the best price; this app-based concept eliminates the need to pre-purchase a ticket. Bluetooth sensors and geolocation tracking are used to open ticket gates and determine journeys taken, then the customer is billed at the end of the day with a best value guarantee ensuring they are charged the appropriate fare for their journeys.”
 
It remains to be seen whether the UK’s other 27 train operators adopt the technology.
 
In a statement, Virgin Trains said: “We always want to be on the side of passengers and make their experience with us the best it can be.” It didn’t specify whether it would adopt the RSSB’s Bluetooth tech.
 
 

Fastest mobile 4G network speed record ‘broken’

A new record has been set for the world’s fastest 4G mobile internet speed, according to a network operator.
  
A new record has been set for the world’s fastest 4G mobile internet speed, according to a network operator.
 
Finnish firm Elisa says it has achieved a 1.9 gigabit-per-second (Gbps) speed on a test network, claiming this is the fastest on record. The hyper-fast mobile internet service could theoretically download a Blu-ray film in 44 seconds.
 
But analysts are sceptical that such a feat could currently be replicated within a live, real-world network. Elisa said it used technology provided by Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to deliver a mobile network speed that edged close to the 2Gbps threshold. By comparison, its fastest commercial network speed is 300Mbps – less than a sixth as fast.
 
The corporation’s chief executive, Veli-Matti Mattila, said: “We know there hasn’t been a speed this high announced by any other network.”
 
In February however, one university research team – not affiliated with a network provider – managed to achieve a 5G mobile speed of 1 terabit per second (Tbps), which is more than fifty times faster than Elisa’s 4G speed.
 
In terms of commercial applications, Mr Mattila said that Elisa is planning to roll out a premium 1Gbps network in Finland within the next “two to three years”. Mobile virtual reality and augmented reality, as well as “high quality 4K video and beyond”, are cited by Mr Mattila as applications likely to benefit most from hyper-fast network speeds.
 
But analysts are sceptical about the real-world relevance of the speed record. “Deploying a network that can support 1.9Gbps doesn’t mean customers will get 1.9Gbps mobile broadband,” said Nick Wood, assistant editor at Total Telecom. He said: “This is because that network capacity has to be shared among customers. In reality, customers are likely to experience a modest improvement in overall speed and reliability, which is great, but doesn’t make for exciting headlines the same way that 1.9 Gbps does.”
 
Mr Mattila added that Elisa’s new record shows that 4G networks can still “evolve” and deliver greater download speeds for mobile customers. “5G technology is in the early stages, and soon we will see that tech piloted. But with 4G working at faster and faster speeds, it means we don’t need 5G coverage just yet,” he said. “I expect we will pilot 5G within the next year, but I don’t expect the 5G deployment in the mass market until after 2020.”