January 2001

Real World
Web-wide World
Wired World
Wireless World
Hard World
Soft World

Real World

  • December 2000 saw the release of the Government's White Paper 'A New Future for Communications'. The main proposal in this paper was to create a new oversite agency OFCOM, subsuming OFTEL and covering all telecommunications, television and radio. Unfortunately for those of us who've read through it, there's not much new concerning the Internet. What is present can be boiled down to two predictions and a suggestion.

    Prediction: lots of people will soon be using their televisions interactively, and as web browsers and for e-mailing

    Prediction: there will be universal Internet access in the UK by the year 2005

    (note, though, that the specification of 'universal' given in the paper is very vague, so we are predicting that this target will be met regardless of the actual situation on the ground.)

    Suggestion: the Internet should continue to be primarily self-regulated.
  • On Jan 10th Yahoo put into place procedures designed to stop the sale of far-right memorabilia in its on-line auctions. This is in part a response to a French court order requiring Yahoo to comply with its national law against such sales. As Yahoo will at the same time introduce listing fees for its auctions, it also reflects Yahoo's taking commercial responsibility for the content traded by its members. (Those who have been following Napster's embracement of a fee-paying model will recognise the general trend here towards subscription models for those enterprises with a large enough subscription base).

Web-Wide World

  • On January 3rd, Reuters reported that at least 210 Net companies, mostly B2C (business to consumer), folded during the year 2000. Because this report was part of a 'dotcom-ceiling-falling-in' piece, we have since tried to find the figures to put it in context. For instance, just how many Net companies are there in total? Is the percentage of Net company start-up failures represented by the 210 more or less than the percentage of non-Net company start-up failures over the same period?

  • Unfortunately, however, we haven't yet been able to find the figures to put the dotcom failures in context. Either we're looking in the wrong place, or nobody really knows what's going on. Any references would be gratefully received.

Wired World

  • BT is somewhat ahead of the European Union's timetable for local loop unbundling (i.e. allowing competitors to have access to the local exchange in order to set up broadband connections). As BT has already opened up 25 (a small percentage) of its exchanges, there have been various self-congratulatory noises emerging from BT and Oftel.

    Unfortunately, however, there has not yet been much interest in those exchanges made available. BT's side of the story here is that they are 'incredulous' about the lack of interest. After all the clamour for LLU, now that they have finally gone ahead with it nobody is prepared to take up the offer. The operators' side of the story is that BT have opened up a small number of rather unappealing exchanges. We take no stand on who is right.

Wireless World

  • A recent report from Reuters raises worries about the roll-out of GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) networks for the mobile Internet.

    Currently, all generally available mobile phones in Europe use GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) networks. GPRS is supposed to have two major advantages over GSM. Firstly, GPRS phones are 'always on' - that is, there is no time overhead at the start of the call for the phone to make a connection. Secondly, GPRS networks promise data rates at a theoretical maximum of 115 kb/s, compared to GSM's rather sad 9.6kb/s.

    Unfortunately, in the GPRS pilot studies the bottlenecks aren't the speed of the network. Instead there is one bottleneck in handsets, which for technical reasons currently can't cope with speeds of over 30 kb/s. Secondly, there is another bottleneck in some WAP servers, where the network hasn't put enough power into their hardware.

    (Note also that there will soon be available High Speed Circuit Switched Data - HSCSD - networks that offer a theoretical maximum of 57.6 kb/s over existing GSM networks).

Hard World

  • The next generation of hard drives may come with copyright protection code built in. According to unconfirmed reports, the appropriate standards authorities have been considering making CPRM (Content Protection for Recordable Media) code an industry standard for hard drives. This would make it difficult for peer-to-peer service providers like Napster to continue, and would stop the everyday, casual piracy of code.

    As far as we understand it, CPRM for hard drives - it is already implemented on DVDs - will work basically in this way. Each drive will have an area dedicated to holding cryptographic keys, which will include a simgle read-only 64-digit key unique to each drive. Material copied onto the drive could be encrypted using (at least) this unique key, and applications which subsequently use the material will decrypt it using this key. So, if a file is copied to another machine, the decryption key used by the application will differ from the encryption key, and the decryption will fail.

    This proposal faces serious objections from industry, however. The main concern is that it will not ordinarily be possible to move protected data back and forth between drives which are CPRM-compliant and those which are not (we're not clear just why this is, but IBM's Research Lab says it's so, which is good enough for us). This could mean that companies which move to CPRM-compliant drives would have to exchange all of their drives at once, rather than gradually.
  • Success has recently been reported in using 'Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography' in the production of processor chips. This process allows manufacturers to etch much thinner circuits than current processes allow, making smaller and faster chips. EUL should eventually allow silicon chips to run up to 10GHz, and the first EUL manufacturing tools are planned to appear in 200

Soft World

  • According to figures released by those in the anti-computer virus industry (and we take note of their interest in saying so), the year 2000 saw viral infections reach epidemic proportions. So great has been the underlying number of viruses floating around that even the occurrence of the Love Bug in May didn't skew that month's figures greatly. Of course, most of the viruses going around are fairly harmless, but the fact that they are being propagated in these numbers suggests that that there are huge numbers of people indulging in unsafe practices.

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