19 Dec

Updated Keyboard Shortcuts Wallcharts

I recently updated my infamous ‘Windows Keyboard Shortcuts’ (as originally blogged back in 2006 here), so here is the updated version:

Windows keyboard shortcuts (PDF 48KB)

But what about Mac users? Okay, here’s a new version for all the Mac lovers out there (me too).

Mac keyboard shortcuts (PDF 98KB)

Feel free to download and distribute the files as you wish!

18 Feb

NGA Broadband – Tackling the backhaul question

As I couldn’t read this whole story on Point Topic today, even though it was sent within their excellent newsletter, I am reprinting it here for others that haven’t seen this article on the costs of middle mile services (referred to here as backhaul). If you do subscribe to Point Topic you can access the story here: http://point-topic.com//content/ukplus/shortreports/UKPbackhaul.html

1 Introduction

Accessible, affordable, high-speed backhaul has been identified as key to bringing next-generation broadband services to the UK’s rural and remote communities. These locations tend to suffer from lack of access to backhaul provision because they are usually some distance from their nearest BT exchange and are situated in areas not served by other commercial providers. So, installing distributed antenna is the right decision for such areas.

The importance of backhaul was highlighted by the Coalition Government in its broadband action plan published on 6 December 2010. “Our aim is to ensure every community has a point to which fibre is delivered, capable of allowing the end connection to the consumer to be upgraded – either by communities themselves, or since this will make the business case more viable, industry itself might choose to extend the network to the premises.” The plan, entitled “Britain’s Superfast Broadband Future”, proposes a “digital hub” in every community by the end of this Parliament (in 2015) and Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) is to explore the viability of the approach at a local level. This builds on the idea of the “digital village pump” first coined by community interest company NextGenUs UK in 2010.

The Digital Scotland Report, published on 26 October 2010 by The Royal Society of Edinburgh, explores backhaul provision in greater depth. “Lack of backhaul capacity limits the provision of local access, the delivery of next-generation speeds to homes and businesses, and the rollout of mobile data services.” A number of remote communities have built their own high-speed local access networks but have limited speeds as a result of sharing a slow backhaul connection. In Scotland these include Tiree, Eigg and Knoydart. The report adds that a high-speed backhaul infrastructure would stimulate investment to build new local access networks as well as benefiting those that already exist.

Proponents of better and particularly fibre backhaul cite not only its beneficial effects on next-generation local access network provision but other benefits including greater efficiency in public services and enabling mobile operators to roll out 3G and LTE 4G mobile broadband offerings.

Industry has highlighted a number of ways in which the cost of both backhaul and access network construction could be reduced, namely sharing existing infrastructure, deployment of new overhead infrastructure, microtrenching and sharing streetworks. Other approaches on backhaul are also coming to the fore, the most interesting of which are demand aggregation on alternative infrastructure and the use of public sector networks.

In this short report we identify the options for providing backhaul to communities seeking next-generation broadband speeds, particularly those in remote areas. We look at the cost of providing backhaul and some of the products available today together with what is expected to be available in future. The emphasis is on fibre-optical solutions.

2 Defining backhaul

Backhaul is the connection over which traffic is carried from a local aggregation node such as a street cabinet or telephone exchange back to an internet gateway. It is sometimes referred to as the “middle mile” as opposed to the “last mile” or the local access network. Backhaul can be provided using different types of technology: fibre optic cable, fixed wireless radio and microwave technologies and satellite.

Essentially there are three flavours of backhaul – local, regional and national:

  • Local backhaul takes traffic from the primary connection point (PCP), back to a local aggregation point or node. Typically the PCP will be one of the green street cabinets operated by BT Openreach, used as a access point for a communications provider involved in sub-loop unbundling, and the aggregation point will be a BT exchange.
  • Regional backhaul collects traffic from the local aggregation node and delivers it to an aggregation point where a national backhaul provider has a point of presence (PoP). Here it connects to the national backhaul network. However, this [regional?] aggregation point need not be a BT exchange. Other providers including Cable & Wireless, KEF Media and TalkTalk have similar connection points, as do some local authority networks.
  • National backhaul takes traffic from the regional aggregation point to a telehouse for internet breakout and onward delivery to the voice network. As above, the national link can be provided by various other providers besides BT.

The backhaul network needs to have enough capacity to serve aggregated traffic demand from the entire community it serves. End-users do not all use the network simultaneously but the network should still be able to handle peak hour demand.

The most likely approach for getting backhaul to a community deployment is for Openreach to provide a fibre as part of its Ethernet portfolio. Alternatively the fibre may be dug by a fibre-laying company, of which Openreach is one. Existing dark fibre may be another option although this is less likely to be available beyond urban areas and national routes.

Alternatively wireless technology could be used to provide the local backhaul element using 5.8GHz radio, making it the ideal cb radio. This would involve conducting line of site surveys and sourcing suitable premises for masts or erecting poles, together with gathering the required wayleaves and landlord commitments. Both fibre and wireless approaches has been employed by Rutland Telecom, for instance, which uses Openreach fibre for its Lyddington sub-loop unbundling deployment, and point-to-point radio for backhaul from a number of smaller villages in Rutland.

3 Costs of backhaul provision

The problem for many rural and remote communities is that the local backhaul element simply does not exist in any readily accessible commercial form. The effect of geography and distance means therefore that backhaul provision comes at a high price. The cost of backhaul varies depending on the individual circumstances of deployments. Anecdotal accounts of specific backhaul costs include those cited in the Digital Scotland Report of £140,000 per year for 34Mbps backhaul supplied by BT to the Connected Communities network on the Western Isles in Scotland. The report goes on to estimate installation and operational costs of £250 million over 15 years for the 2,500 km of fibre it says is needed to bring backhaul to Scottish communities of more than 800 homes.

3.1 Backhaul pricing examples

Sample scenarios

To explore how significant the cost of backhaul is for rolling out NGA, Point Topic has calculated the implications of Openreach’s prices for backhaul projects to serve communities of different sizes over a range of distances. For local backhaul we assume communities at 1,000, 2,500, 5,000 and 7,500 metres from the serving BT exchange. We also consider how the costs per household or business look if they are allocated across 250, 50 or only 10 premises.

Each community is served by one PCP with fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) deployment using sub-loop unbundling, putting VDSL2 into the cabinet. Thus an optical fibre is required to connect the communications provider’s (CP) cabinet, adjacent to the PCP, to the serving BT exchange. The prices for Openreach’s Ethernet Access Direct (EAD) products are used. EAD is due to replace Openreach’s current Backhaul Extension Service (BES) and Wholesale Extension Service (WES) products in June 2011. Prices include both one-off and annual rental elements, corresponding to the standard telecoms categories of capital and operating expenditure, capex and opex.

The differences in economic impact across this range are considerable. If fibre is already available and costs can be recovered from as many as 250 premises then the one-off capital costs would be quickly paid for and continuing opex would be quite modest per home or business, at only £20.30 per year even at 7.5km range. But recovery from as few as 10 premises gives opex per premises of £273.50 even at a short distance from the exchange, far beyond what is likely to be economic on a commercial basis.

The picture is less encouraging if new fibre has to be provided. Opex stays the same but capex is much higher, ranging from £23.80 for a home in a large and nearby community to £3,195 for one in a small community far from the exchange. And costs go up by another order of magnitude if a new duct has to be dug for the whole distance as well. Here the range of capex is from £163.80 to £29,445.

It is also important to remember that here we are looking simply at the cost of backhaul. The figures quoted are only small part of the total cost of providing a broadband service. They do not include, for example, the cost of the CP’s street cabinet or the cost of the unbundled tie cable from PCP to home among many other things. Legal and planning costs, exchange costs, marketing costs and a profit margin all need to be covered by the full price quoted to the end-user.

These simple calculations raise a number of questions without providing answers. What is a reasonable amount to spend on providing broadband to remote places? If my house is a few £100,000 cheaper because it is remote, would it be worth investing even £30,000 to abolish some of the disadvantages of remoteness? And what should the working assumptions be about the take-up of superfast broadband services in rural communities? Commercial CPs cannot afford to assume 100% take-up of a service or anything close to it, but it makes sense to assume 100% in cost-benefit analysis of a publicly funded project. In the long run the aim will be indeed to achieve 100%. Many homes will be users without appearing to access the internet as far as they are concerned, whether for streaming TV, telecare or smart metering.

22 Jan

10 Billion App Store downloads!

Apple $10,000 giftcard for the 10,000,000,000th appIt might seem incredible but Apple will shortly announce the 10 billionth app download since they started the service in 2008. They are offering a $10,000 iTunes Gift Card to the user who downloads the ten billionth app, demonstrating just how successful the service has been in that short time.

Apple allows 70% of revenues from the store to instantly go to the seller of the app, and 30% go to Apple. The average revenue for publishers (for each app) is around £450, so it’s not hard to work out just how profitable the business model is.

For my clients this means an app is a viable proposition for greater visibility and exposure, as well as a useful channel for interaction and new functionality.  It also offers potential for an additional revenue stream (for paid apps). The possibilities are endless: for instance recruiters can use apps for job searches and candidate communication, property clients can provide details of deals and location based services, travel clients can push last minute offers and local authorities can engage more effectively with communities.

The potential for reaching users is increasing all the time – social media being the quickest way to gain exposure for other digital services. the opportunities for free apps has arrived in the form of basic app production services, thereby enabling all types of businesses to get in on the phenomenon.

Get in touch to discuss app production for iOS, BlackBerry or Android.

29 Apr

Facebook still top social media traffic source

Facebook continues to refer the most social media traffic to websites, according to data from web analytics company StatCounter. Although the monthly figures show an odd trend downward for three months, clearly things have picked up again in Facebook’s favour, at the expense of other social networks. StumbleUpon has lost ground recently, but this trend is also reflected elsewhere than just here in the UK, where the service is generally not so well used.

Twitter shows a strong overall trend, apparently referring about 10% of all traffic from social networks.

Top 7 social media sites in the UK

Facebook dominates the social media sites referring traffic to websites

If any conclusion can be drawn from these statistics, it is that Facebook page updates continue to rise in importance since Google started to index them, underlining their importance in a corporate social presence.

29 Apr

QR codes now on Google Places

The recently rechristened Google Local as Google Places now offers customised QR codes for users. Once scanned by a customers’ smartphone, the code takes them to your own ‘place’ page in their mobile browser; QR codes can be used on business cards and other marketing materials.

QR Code for hugopickering.com

Capture this QR code to see this page in a mobile browser

Apparently in the USA Google is sending out 50,000 windows stickers to businesses with ‘their’ QR codes on, allowing users to quickly access websites, hopefully optimised for mobile usage. Try the QR code on the right to see what this page looks like when optimised for mobile use.

As a long time advocate of QR codes I am glad to see that they are being pushed by Google – they are one of the most effective ways of attracting and gaining user attention and  driving them to interact with brands, products and services. In Japan (where the QR code was invented) they are used everywhere, but they have taken sometime to catch on in the West – this is a shot in the arm for linking the offline world with the online world.

If you would like to know more about QR codes and how they could benefit your organisation, please get in touch and I would be happy to discuss how they can fit into your digital strategy.

16 Mar

Maybe QR Codes are finally coming of age

I have been an advocate of QR Codes for the past year, having discovered their use by the techno-savvy and techno-barmy Japanese. It now appears that Facebook is set to implement them, according to a number of Tweets and an article just now over on TechCrunch.

You will find one on my contact page which is actually just a link to my website (which will automatically format for mobile phones so that a QR code makes sense), but I use this to demonstrate what a QR Code can do for businesses.  I also use them on my business card to link to my website, and with the addition of a URL-shortening service such as Bit.ly you can track the links. Then you can also change the destination as required, by using redirects on your server or any number of other tricks. The QR Code destination itself can be modified at source – I use BeeTagg‘s code generator where you can monitor clicks and change the destination.

QR-coded tee-shirt

tee-shirt with QR-code - a bit geeky, but proves a point

I also created a tee-shirt with one of my QR codes on it.  It’s not the sort of thing I would necessarily wear out in public, but it proves a point at least!

22 Feb

Google Buzz settles in as a major player

Google Buzz

Google makes email social

Following the initial flurry of criticism (I would hardly call it a storm as other commentators have done) for Google Buzz, the search giant’s social network offering, the service has been running for nearly two weeks and tens of millions of users have tried it and continue to post thousands of posts and comments every minute, so it looks like it is here to stay.

I say that’s a good thing, as Buzz is more than just a flash in the pan – its integration with GMail makes it a powerful networking ally, letting users post status updates, share content, read and comment on their friends’ posts.

Although they made a hash of the launch by not fully testing the service with a full beta testing group, Google has addressed the initial concerns (and I am sure that won’t make a mistake like that again) and users seem happier with the revisions.    The service has of course lost some traction, but the nature of social networks means that this will only be a temporary setback as friends connect with their friends and the inexorable rollout goes further and further.

As Google’s first foray into integrated social media it’s a step in the right direction. It will clearly develop further (and most likely even further than Yahoo’s similar service) and at least addresses Google’s lack of social media activity since Orkut, which has been overshadowed almost everywhere in the World (except South America for some reason). At least Buzz has avoided the fate of the Facebook/Beacon ad fiasco, which was terminated in 2009 for violating privacy.

So, go and create your Google Profile to ensure that others can find you, and try Google Buzz as a way of staying in touch. See the official Google Gmail Blog for 5 Buzz Tips to get the most out of the service.

Please get in touch if you want to know why you should be using this or any other social networking tool for your business or charity.

31 Jan

TV starts to see social media in a new light

Elisabeth Murdoch gets social media. At least so she told TV producers and distributors on January 27th at the annual NATPE convention in Las Vegas. Rather than shying away from social media as has been the case for so long with many TV broadcasters (and production companies such as Shine TV to a lesser extent), Murdoch’s production company is clearly keen to embrace social media as a key part of its audience attraction and retention.

The goal is to form enduring connections with our fans and create new and magnetic social media experiences…Social networks are finally the interactive dimension of storytelling

The opportunities afforded by social media, when executed with experience and understanding, are evident in any number of sectors, but media is still hung up about piracy and therefore nervous to implement it. But Murdoch understands the power of the social:

Fans remain the best salesmen of our content, even if that behaviour is on the borderline of piracy

Read the original story on Broadcasting & Cable.

31 Jan

Social Search on Google

An interesting new feature on google.com shows more personal search results with relevant content from your online friends and contacts. Although Facebook friends won’t show up (yet), the Google Social Search service aims to add links to their information posted as images and/or articles. The official Google Blog explains it fully, but the following video gives a simpler overview of what it’s all about.

There is a lot of noise about the privacy implications of all this, but it’s really all about connections to find information you can already find, so this, in my opinion is just shortening the distance taken to find it. It is in its infancy now, so expect this to be a growing trend for Google and search in general.

Filling in your Google Profile is really all that is required to get the most out of Social Search.

22 Jan

Geolocation tools

I was asked yesterday about geolocation tools and how I go about getting a longitude and latitude for a postcode. Easy I said – just go to Google Maps and search for the postcode. Then click on the RSS icon to display the coordinates.

Google Map

My Location for Google Maps - see the blue dot?

However, since July 2009 Google Maps have provided one better than this – Google’s ‘My Location for Google Maps’.  This is really quite clever, although not always entirely accurate.  It tries to emulate the ‘My Location’ feature in Google Maps for Mobile (you know, the blue dot showing where you are on an iPhone/Android device etc). It looks for a Wi-Fi location or your current IP address and then tries to locate you. Sometimes it’s pretty accurate, but sometimes you can’t see yourself on the map at all. You will need to confirm that you are happy for Google to use your location on its maps, but the information is anonymous.

You can read more about it on Google’s own maps blog.