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Are you getting superfast broadband? If not why not?

6 min read

This article was first published on EamonnMallie.com

Availability of superfast broadband within Northern Ireland97% of Northern Ireland residents have access to superfast broadband1, the highest proportion of any region within the UK. So why are only 60% of Northern Ireland households taking up this service?

Ofcom have published “The first Communications Infrastructure Report” which details lots of interesting facts that no local news outlet seems to be paying much attention to.
Access to the Internet is pretty much a human right these days and you can access the Internet for free at your local library. What student would prepare for an assignment without conducting some form of Internet research? I’d guess that nearly every single office job requires the Internet whether for email or browsing.
The Internet, therefore, is as much a utility as our water supply and is an essential every day service that we need.

So why then has there not been a media frenzy about these figures? Naturally the report does not cater for the need of our tabloid media but it definitely does need reported on.

The BBC reported “Northern Ireland broadband service criticised” which is a misleading headline in my opinion. Yes the report suggests that more could (and should) be done to improve access to broadband, but 97% of us here in NI already have access to superfast broadband. I have it and I’m about to get upgraded to a 30Mbit/s connection. What have you got? 1 in 4 have less than 2Mbit/s which means that you will really struggle to stream video online and most likely your skype call will be pixelated. In my view this is unacceptable and easily rectified with a simple call to your ISP.

National broadband measures

Percentage receiving less than 2Mbit/s

 

 

Percentage receiving less than 2Mbit/s
Each area has been ranked from 1 to 5 on the percentage of broadband connections that have modem sync speeds of less than 2.2Mbit/s.

1= less than 5%
2= 5% - less than 10%
3= 10% - less than 15%
4= 15% - less than 20%
5= 20% or more

Of course there will be those who argue that you simply don’t need superfast broadband. This is shortsighted and fails to recognise the benefits that come with a fast connection to the Internet. Superfast broadband is now more affordable and the consumer is in a strong position to take advantage of this without having to stretch their budget. Ofcom also reveal that on average we download 17 Gigabytes of data every month. That’s equivalent to about 11 or 12 hours viewing of iPlayer per month. As each year passes we consume more and more content online (up sevenfold in five years) thus making superfast broadband all the more important if you want to watch video online.
Hands up if you have an Internet connected TV? I know it’s not just me. If you have a games console, a Blu-Ray player, an Apple TV or have recently bought your TV then you can probably watch YouTube and other online video content from the comfort of your sofa.

Lots of us have laptops, mobile phones and tablet computers and we use them while we are watching television. I would wager that the majority of the time we are using the Internet on those devices either browsing facebook, playing words with friends, updating all of those apps you downloaded from the App store or even sending an email. OK so nobody sends email anymore, but you get the point, we need the Internet just to go about our normal everyday tasks. If you are a typical household with a mummy and daddy and 2.1 teenagers you’re going to need superfast broadband just to keep everyone happy.

The family I’ve just mentioned will all have mobile phones and statistically speaking more than 2 will have a smartphone and in a couple of years (maybe even just one) everyone will have a smartphone. This will not only apply pressure to the home wifi network but will see massive demand for 3G (and soon 4G) services. In other words, we just can’t get enough Internet!

But, we in Northern Ireland are a bit screwed when it comes to mobile Internet.
If you want 3G on the road you better not actually need it outside Belfast and the main roads.

[caption id="attachment_1360" align="aligncenter" width="517"]3G coverage in Northern Ireland 3G coverage by geographic area[/caption]

 

 

 

3G coverage by geographic area
Each area has been ranked from 1 to 5 on the level of mobile coverage.

1= 90% or more
2= 70% - less than 90%
3= 50% - less than 70%
4= 25% - less than 50%
5= less than 25%

Mobile coverage based on predicted coverage

So how does this actually affect us? Generally speaking when we are at home we can make the best use of the Internet, whether that be watching a High Definition movie or making a video call to a friend who lives on the other side of the world. However, this report should be highlighted not because of how I can get access to the Internet on a personal level, but for the stark reality that many businesses and those who travel for their work are not able to make use of superfast broadband connections whether in the office or from their car. This impacts the local economy. This means we are not as competitive and this means jobs are on the line. You only need to have a quick look at a recruitment agency to see that IT plays an important role within our local economy. The wider view is of course that the Internet provides access to a global market. We can now sell services overseas with literally the click of a mouse. The Internet provides opportunity and superfast broadband will enable our local businesses to compete on the global stage which ultimately will boost the local economy. Simple. Well not quite, but I hope you understand how crucial it is that we not only have access to superfast broadband but that we also avail of its service.
Feel free to leave a comment on the issue of broadband access and whether you think it really matters to the local economy or not.
Ofcom have published the press release The state of the communications nation and their report The first Communications Infrastructure Report but I'd highly recommend you visit
http://maps.ofcom.org.uk/ and see for yourself what level of access you currently have.
1BDUK defines Superfast Broadband as having a potential headline access speed of at least 24Mbps, with no upper limit.

My mini iPad review

3 min read

iPadI ordered an iPad when Apple had their Black Friday sale and to be honest I was not sure I really needed it or would actually like it. Remember that I ditched the iPhone for Android!

First impressions of the iPad were not good. It's heavy and the aluminium back make it cold to touch and without a case it can on occasion dig into your hands and give the impression of being sharp. However, these initial thoughts on the iPad's form factor was quickly squashed after using the device.

I have a 10" netbook which I have enjoyed using for two years. While it is a pain with some tasks, overall it has been £250 well spent and continues to serve a purpose today. How then can a £390 10" iPad compete with that?
To put it simply, it not only competes with, but out muscles the netbook on many levels. I have never been so taken with a device, even my first iPhone was not as compelling as this iPad.

After un-boxing, which is always a joy with Apple products, I fully charged the iPad and after a couple of hours synced it with iTunes and got all my apps (that I had previously used on my iPhone) on to the device.

Now I faced a dilema: I would now have two portable devices running similar (if not the same) apps, therefore did I really need the iPad?

Quick answer: YES! Immediately the device becomes second nature.

  • If I want to read the news headlines at breakfast, I reach for the iPad;
  • If I want to check twitter, I reach for the iPad;
  • If I want to check email, I reach for the iPad;
  • When I want to draft a blog post, I reach for the iPad;
  • I've got meetings at work, I load up the iPad with the relevant documents;
  • If I want to make edits or touch up photos, yes you guessed it, I reach for the iPad.

So what makes the iPad so compelling?

  1. The battery life is just awesome . It seems to last for days.
  2. Instant on. Just like your iPod, this thing is just in standby and as soon as you unlock the screen you're good to go.
  3. Screen. While not the retina display seen on the iPhone 4, the current iPad screen is still really good. NB not good in bright sunshine, but that's not an issue for me in Belfast!
  4. The speakers are surprisingly good e.g. handy for the bathroom or listening to in the holiday apartment.
  5. Built-in microphone. Seriously, skype has never been so easy. You can even do one way video.
  6. Apps - the app ecosystem on iOS is really good and there are plenty of good apps that utilise the iPad's full potential e.g. flipboard, filterstorm2.

I could really go on and on, but this is a mini review and after the above the iPad comes into its own when you discuss individual apps, which I plan to do at a later date.

Would I recommend one? Absolutely, but I'd wait until the next generation which should be announced in the next couple of months. Also keep in mind that Android 3.0 has been announced which looks to be a really cool tablet operating system and will give the iPad a run for its money.

Mobile apps will not save journalism

5 min read

Last week something happened to me. I felt so compelled by the content of an article on the Belfast Telegraph website that I registered so I could comment.

The articel in question is this one: "Can Mobile Apps Save Professional Journalism?"

The short article explains the 'appification' of the Internet and the effect it is having on media companies. Users can now download music, read books and make purchases all through apps and on mobile devices.

However, at no point does the author suggest how apps themselves are going to "Save Professional Journalism", which as you recall is the headline of the article.

Strange.

Except it is not.
You see, media companies are so busy saving their industry that they fail to see that the professions that make their businesses are as strong as ever.
Is the quality of music worse now than what it was 20 years ago?
What about the quality of fiction? I read more books now than I did as a child, because I use the kindle app. Technology has made this possible and in particular the Internet.

The investiagtive quality of journalism is not in question, nor is the ability of a journalist to report the facts. Quite simply, journalism does not need to be saved.
A quick search reveals that professional journalism (we are told) is at death's door, succombing to an unsustainable business model.
The internet opens many doors and the opportunities for a journalist to create and distribute content are almost endless. The trouble, of course, is how do they monetise this content.

Naturally publishers i.e. newspapers should change their business model and charge for access to their content. Except that is a massive risk and is surely doomed to failure.

We are a generation who consume masses of content with little regard to the content owner or the creative mind behind it. We are so disloyal that if we are offered a freebie, we grab it regardless of whether we need it or not. The chances we'll come back (to the product) are even lower.
The only way you can compete is to offer truely interesting content and a service that users can rely on.

Back to apps.
I do not see apps saving anything, certainly not 'news'. You see apps are little silos of data and when you are inside a silo you cannot see what's going on around you. This is a problem for an internet user.
I accept that apps are a major force at the moment and I would suggest (on my own usage) that most iPhone or Android owners have 50 apps on their phone.
I only use about 5-10 regularly.
For apps to save 'meda' the consumer needs to be using their app regularly. The guardian app I reviewed in a previous post is a good example. However, if I was asked to continue to pay a subscription I would have to consider the potential benefits and the competition. Indeed on my Android device I have full access to the Guardian website and no longer have a need for an app.

So I've paid for the app, but on a different device (with a better browser) I no longer require the app. Do you see the potential problem in this business model?

The BBC have been given the go ahead to release mobile apps, so what wont they offer (for free) that other paid models will? Again, how do you compete with free?

To jump back to the article, I was shocked by this statement: "Apps present a business model with much greater revenue potential than a website."

Really? How So? These questions are not answered.
I want to know what the author means by an app. Is it specifically iOS apps or mobile apps in general?
Is it also desktop applications or even web applications?
Why would a company move away from the web to make apps for so many different systems, when one website can serve them all?

If we accept that an app is different to a website (it's not, they're both content delivery systems) how can any business expect to make more money from their app than their website?
Presumably by errecting a pay wall or removing content.

You can place an ad in an app. Brilliant. You can sell more advertising space on a website than you can on an app.
There is nothing that you can do on an app that you cannot do better on a website.
Ah, but maybe I'm not getting the point. The author is suggesting that mobile use will become so widespread that overall usage of mobile browsing / apps will overtake desktop browsing. I agree, it most definitely will.
However, why do I need an app to view content? I can already view websites on my mobile browser.

Web apps can save the content business by making content available to the same user across multiple browsers and devices. This choice makes the service more compelling to the user (see the kindle app as an example) and ensures the content owner drives traffic to one single source.

This traffic should be enough to generate the revenue required to keep content owners happy. But if it's not, they can always erect the wall and go the way of the Times. It's not pretty.
Can there be anything worse for a journalist than not being read?

What is the reach of O2′s 3G Network?

2 min read

As a two iPhone household (a 3G and 3GS) both on the O2 network I consider myself to be in prime position to answer the question above.
You may not be surpised to hear that the reach is not very far!

According to O2's coverage map, I reside in a strong 3G area, yet at home my phone struggles to retain a signal and constantly switches between 'o' 'E' and '3G'. I must confess that when I'm at home I connect to the Internet via wifi so in terms of data usage I'm not constrained.
My main concern is not recieving calls and this is happening on a more regular basis. Often I'll be sitting in my living room, with a strong signal, 'o' data and yet I get a voicemail. How is that possible?

O2 have paired up with Vodafone to share their networks, so we should expect to see improvements, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

In Northern Ireland if you stray outside Belfast I estimate that you have little chance of picking up a 3G signal and within metroplitan areas you are beseiged by network problems due to excessive demand.

Could the problem be the iPhone?
It does not have the strongest receiver and it does conserve battery life by switching to 'E' in times of weak signal, but that in itself cannot excuse the operator for not rolling out 3G.

What's the alternative?
We can make our voice heard by blogging, tweeting @O2 or come contract renewal time, porting out your number to either Orange or Vodafone who will soon have the iPhone.

O2, the clock is ticking and time is running out for you to improve your network.