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Are you getting superfast broadband? If not why not?

6 min read

This article was first published on

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 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.

HTC Desire updated to Android 2.3.4

1 min read

Android 2.3.4 screenshotGoogle have release the latest version of their phone operating system, Android 2.3.4 for the Nexus S. Among the improvements include upgrading the GTalk app to enable video chat to other Android users and GTalk PC or Mac users, over wifi and 3G.

The 2.3.4 update on the Nexus One doesn’t include the improved GTalk app, but the Oxygen ROM by AdamG is available for the HTC Desire over on the XDA with the updated app. I have it installed and can confirm that it works. (Although you have to remember that the Desire does not have a front facing camera!)

I have tested the new version of GTalk and can confirm that it does indeed work. You can have a two way video chat and if you need to, just have an audio only call. To get started go into the app and select your profile. From there tick the box that says "Allow video and voice chats" and you're good to go.


Read more about this release on the Google Mobile Blog.

Jailbroken and Unlocked

2 min read

So the once unbreakable iPhone 3GS has now been hacked by the infamous George Hotz allowing not only the fastest and easiest jailbreak but also the ability to use any GSM sim card in your iPhone.

Having only released the software this afternoon, blacksn0w is already trending on twitter with many successful unlocks already.

This is a vunerable time for the incumbent carriers, especially in the UK where the iPhone is about to become available on multiple networks.
I myself will be using this opportunity to trial other networks to see which one will give me the best performance my iPhone deserves and I suspect many others will be doing the same.

I've already popped a sim card from 3 into the iPhone and get full 3G reception where O2 would only get 2 bars at most.

I see no detriment to the performance of the handset so I would recommend you give blacksn0w a try.

To unlock your iPhone you need to download software from
Once you've downloaded blackra1n, connect your iPhone, don't open iTunes, run the App, disconnect your iPhone and you should see an App on your handset called blackra1n. Open this app and open 'snow' and click install. If you have problems with wifi, reset network settings on the iPhone and this will fix that issue!

For updates from Mr Hotz see his blog for the latest: or follow @geohot on twitter.

AirTunes: My media streaming solution

2 min read

I recently added an Airport Express Base Station to my wireless network at home, with the primary aim of streaming music to the Hi-Fi in the kitchen, but I experienced mixed results.

My set-up comprises the following: Mac Mini and a Linksys WRT54GC

The initial set-up was complicated by the inclusion of an install cd and instruction booklet which as it turned out was only required by windows users. Instead of reading the instructions (as I did), all I needed to do was plug it in and activate multiple speakers in iTunes! Once this step was completed the Mac took over and automatically set-up AirTunes. I was able to hear immediate results and I was impressed by the sound quality.

However, music playback would stutter repeatedly to the point that I was beginning to think I had made a mistake in purchasing the router. I resorted to google. A quick search posed more questions and quickly pointed me to advanced settings in the airport utility where I was able to manually configure the router.
While the problem eased it wasn't resolved, further investigation returned many users complaining about something called IPV6. This post: solved all of my problems using the following steps.

1. Open System Preferences
2. Open Network pane
3. Select Airport in the left list
4. Click the Advanced button
5. Go to the TCP/IP tab
6. Set the "Configure IPv6" field to Off.
7. Click "OK"
8. Click "Apply"
9. Let iTunes connect to you're Airtunes speakers

During the process of trial and error I came across a wifi utility called inSSider. This programme (windows only) scans your locality for other wifi users and provides detailed information like which channel they are using and if it's likely they are causing interference on your network. I found another network using the same channel as me (6) so I therefore switched channels (11).

AirTunes is now working flawlessly and I am able to listen to my iTunes library throughout my house.

What my ideal phone would be like

4 min read

Full disclosure first: I'm an iPhone fanatic.
I've been a mac user for 2 years and I honestly couldn't imagine using anything else now. The link between the iPhone and the Mac is seamless, if hard wired! I can honestly say that the iPhone 3G and now the 3GS are the best phones I've ever owned and used.

However! There are lots of things that annoy me about the iPhone.

1. The OS has taken a long time to get to where it is today and it's still locked down. Why should I have to jailbreak to get functionality that comes as standard on other handsets?
2. While I think Apple are exceptional at what they do, they are also total control freaks, which really annoys me as a consumer. I buy the hardware, I should be able to do what I want with it.
3. I have a love/hate relationship with the App store.
4. In order to backup, I have to sync with iTunes which requires the data cable. This isn't a problem for me as I download lots of podcasts which require syncing via cable.
WAIT hang on, that's another bug bear of mine.
5. The iPod app doesn't wirelessly download your podcasts on the fly. You can download over wifi, but only one at a time. My Nokia N95 was able to do that task.
6. The iPhone should be able to backup and sync over 3G or wifi even if you have to buy MobileMe.
7. The iPhone isn't that easy to use. Trust me, novices will find the entire ordeal troublesome and over complicated. I'm referring to those who only text and make calls on their current handset, of which there are many.
The iPhone essentially requires users to modify their use of a mobile phone and learn to sync their phone to their computer and to interface with the device via desktop software. This is a good thing however, and more people should learn to do this with their existing 'dumb' phones if only to avoid loosing data.

So what exactly is my ideal phone?
At least 3.2MP camera - I really do not need more mega-pixels on a phone, but I do want a good sensor. A flash would be handy.
Expandable memory via MicroSD card or suitable alternative.
The size and shape of the iPhone, perfect for my hands and a big enough screen to watch films on the plane/train!
15 hour battery life from constant use. I can recharge at multiple opportunities throughout the day, but 15 hours of constant use is enough to get me through any arduous day or to most destinations.
3.5mm headphone jack.


I'm getting very excited about Android. As well as being an Apple fanboy, I'm a total Google love child. My life is in constant sync with gmail/calendar/contacts/tasks and therefore Android is just begging to be tried.

Android is now maturing as a platform and being released on many new handsets and is therefore getting more and more support. Developers are going to port iPhone Apps and many developers will choose to develop for Android ahead of other platforms given the potential size of the Android user base. Therefore by having an Android device you will have the widest choice of apps available.

OS X is very nice, but the way Apple control the operating system always leaving me wanting more and therefore I will tire of it very soon.

Windows Mobile 6.5: let's just say that it would take a miracle for me to buy a winmo device - it's just not for me.

A really important consideration for me given my experience on O2. I would ideally buy the handset unlocked for use any network, which would then allow me to buy a suitable 30 day sim only tariff. I would require a network with decent 3G coverage.

To conclude, my ideal phone would be of the hardware spec above running android on either Vodafone or Orange.

Of the handsets currently available I would only be tempted to ditch my iPhone 3GS for the HTC Hero which is a capable handset.

I suspect that my dream device is only around the corner in the shape of the rumoured google phone, but in the mean time I will continue to 'make do' with my 3GS as my ideal phone.

Roaming charges – when will we revolt?

2 min read

I'm in the fortunate position of being on holdiay in France. A country which as part of the EU I could sign on, get free hospital treatment, buy a house or get a job. All because I am a citizen of the UK which is also part of the EU.

As an O2 customer I get data included in my tariff. O2 also provide me with access to thousands of wifi hotspots, for "free" yet O2 will charge me £3 per MB of data used because I'm on holiday (and none of those hotspots are outside the UK). If you want to participate in any online discussion while abroad you have to be prepared to stump up the cash as adding international data to your tariff is priced at £20 for 10MB and is a rolling fee.
That is a ridiculous position for any customer to be in. I'm fortunate becuase the apartment I've rented came with ADSL wifi included, and which sweetened the deal for me. (is broadband access as important as any other utility now?)

The EU have discussed roaming charges before and have made provisions to reduce the cost to the end user, but the reality is that this has not happened. If the adoption of smartphones continue to rise as predicted by many analysts, then consumers are going to demand to use their phones to access data while abroad, but at what cost? Will we see average Joe's returning from Spain with a phone bill of a few hundred pounds, just because they were updating their facebook profile with pics and short videos? Is that fair or is it an example of a multinational abusing their position in the market?

What do you think? Will you stop using your phone while on holiday or will you pay an extortionate fee? Or will you contact your operator and protest at the price point they have set for you to access data while roaming?

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.

SSH into your iPhone

3 min read

As a long time jail breaker of my iPhone it came to my attention that I've never made use of OpenSSH. Those jail breakers who are so called power users swear by the SSH option.
So what is SSH and why should you use it?
SSH allows data to be exchanged using a secure channel between two networked devices.  OpenSSH is an open source alternative to the proprietary SSH.  OpenSSH basically allows you (your computer) to talk to your iphone in a secure manner.
OpenSSH allows you to access the iPhones file structure and therefore make changes that apple would not not normallly allow; changes such as custom SMS tones.
Do you need to be a geek to do this? It helps, but no you don't!

A quick google shows up hundreds of sites offering guides and YouTube is full of selfhelp clips. I'll provide the steps necessary for you to create your own custom SMS tone on a mac.

You need to have a jailbroken iPhone for this.  A guide on how to do this can be found here.

1. Firstly you need OpenSSH. Open cydia and go to all packages and search for it. Once found, install it.
2. You need to know your iPhones IP address. You find this in settings, wifi. Press the blue arrow and in the next screen you will see your IP address.
3. If you don't already have cyberduck on your mac, download and install it.
4. Open cyberduck, open new connection.
5. Make sure that you have SSH FTP selected and enter your iPhones IP address.
6. Now enter your username and password. These are the same for everyones iPhones. Username is root and the password is alpine.
7. In may take a while for your mac to connect to your iPhone.
8. Once connected you will be able to browse your iPhones file structure.

To change your message tone follow these steps:

1.Trim MP3 files using Audacity (usually SMS notification should be shorter, roughly 3-4 seconds should be good)

2. Import the MP3 file to iTunes
3. Change the iTunes import to AIFF
4. Find the AIFF file and copy to desktop
5. Change the extension to “.caf”
6. SFTP to the iPhone using Cyberduck (Mac)
7. Navigate to the following directory: “/System/Library/Audio/UISounds”
8. Change one of the “sms-received.caf” file to
“sms-received_.caf” where is an integer from 1 to 6
that is least preferrable
9. For example: Rename “sms-received6.caf” to “sms-received_6.caf” to replace the Electronic with custom sound
File name mapping to notification name:

sms-received1.caf - > Tri-tone
sms-received2.caf - > Chime.caf
sms-received3.caf - > Glass
sms-received4.caf - > Horn
sms-received5.caf - > Bell
sms-received6.caf - > Electronic

Upload the file on the desktop using the old name of that was changed
For example: if “sms-received_6.caf” is changed to “sms-received_6.caf”, upload the file using the name “sms-received6.caf”
Choose on your iPhone, the replaced tone.
For example: if you replaced sms-received6.caf, then you should choose Electronic.

Thanks to Life in 0 and 1 for the guide.

Google app on the iPhone includes voice commands

1 min read

All the talk recently has centered on google releasing an update to their popular iPhone app and that Apple forgot to add it to the app store!

So what is the big deal? You can now speak at your iPhone and the google app will generate a search for you. I have to say that um not that impressed. It does work even though I dont have a north American accent, however I'm just not sure how practical it is. Even in wifi, the voice search takes some time and I think that but the worst typists will get a better result by entering text.

Google do need to be congratulated though, for introducing voice recognition to the iPhone.

The google app is available now from the app store.

Netbooks – Should you buy one?

2 min read

Last years hot gadget was the Asus Eee PC, an ultra portable laptop designed to get users online with little fuss. Dubbed the 'netbook' and reported to have in excess of 100 million users already this Market is maturing rapidly.

So the question remains, do you get one?

A netbook is essentially a laptop, but will take on a smaller form and provide less power and will inevitably have a 7 - 10 inch screen.

These devices will be useful for those who travel a lot, children or those who just want a fun tool to access the net.

Typically you should expect these to come with Linux or windows xp operating systems, Bluetooth and wifi connectivity, USB ports and a solid state hard drive. Battery life will be around the 5 hour mark. Webcams will be integrated thus allowing you to get the most out of voip applications such as skype.

What else do you get?

It's not all fun and games with these machines (although games are inlcuded as standard) open office comes bundled which allows you to edit and create documents on the go.

An Internet browser, an email client, instant messenger, office software, photo manipulation software, games, calendar, music and video are all included, so what else do you need?

If all this sounds too good to be true, then you're almost correct. While these netbooks are ultra portable, this makes them small, and probably hard to work from. They usually have a small hard drive, therefore you won't have access to a big media library.
But probably the biggest bug bear will be the lack of processing power, which will make these devices relatively slow.

So these are not a desktop replacement. But hang on a minute, who said they were? Did I?

These are a fun device which are fully functioning pc's, big deal if they lack raw processing power or a big hard drive. Get one of these and you will have a great time surfing the web and staying in touch with friends.