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Archives for October 2010

Ferraris for all: Superfast broadband comes to Britain

Rory Cellan-Jones | 15:52 UK time, Wednesday, 27 October 2010


In the British broadband race, Virgin Media has moved into the fast lane, promising to deliver 100Mbps across its whole network by the middle of 2012.

BT is also building a faster network, based on fibre, though its service tops out at 40Mbps. By 2012, so we are promised, UK homes and businesses will have access to some of the fastest broadband in the world.

But just a couple of questions? Is there really a demand for 100Mbps? And is there a risk that the gap between the fast cities and the slower countryside will now open up?



First of all demand. To illustrate the merits of its new service Virgin Media brought a Ferrari to BBC Television Centre this morning. But just how many people really need a Ferrari service - especially when surfers trying to hit 100Mbps are likely to hit the same speed bumps as the Ford drivers negotiating our broadband infrastructure.

Virgin released figures today showing a big increase in customers using what it calls its "top tier" services, so over 700,000 now have 20Mbps or 50Mbps broadband. But of those just 92,000 have opted for the current Ferrari, the 50Mbps meg deal.

Still, once 100Mbps is on offer, there'll presumably be a big rush by customers to upgrade from 20 to 50Mbps. A few years back, we all wondered why anyone would need more than 2Mbps, but from video conferencing to online gaming, people are finding uses for higher speeds.

Virgin reckons that homes packed with smartphones, tablets and other connected devices will find they need the extra bandwidth.

Is there a risk of a new broadband divide opening up? Yes, of course, when Virgin Media and BT between them are making it clear they will only be able to cover two-thirds of the country with fast fibre-based broadband.

There will be around £500m from the BBC licence fee over the next four years to help fund rural fast broadband schemes, but it's not clear just how many homes that will reach. After all, we were told a while back that the cost of covering the whole of the UK in fibre could run into billions.

When I spoke to the redoubtable rural broadband campaigner Chris Corder via an internet call today, she was adamant that the "final third", as some call it, should come first.

Chris, whose excellent video about what digital technology means to her can be seen here, has battled to get her village in Lancashire any kind of broadband connection. Now she says the countryside needs speed more than the cities, and should be prioritised by Virgin Media, BT and the government.

Well, I don't think that is likely to happen, but campaigners like Chris aren't going to go away. Even if plenty of people in the cities don't really see a personal need for 100Mbps broadband, there is a real fear out there in rural Britain that those without the possibility of such a service are going to be disadvantaged.

Ferraris for the many, not the few - now that could make a rallying cry for those left out of the fast broadband era.

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Mobile barcodes and smarter shopping

Rory Cellan-Jones | 08:35 UK time, Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Could the barcode, a technology invented 60 years ago, be the next big thing in making mobile phones a powerful shopping tool? Tesco certainly thinks so. Today it's launching what it claims is the first UK grocery app to include a barcode scanner.

Now, like many people, I've used apps on both the iPhone and Android phones that scan barcodes and then give you a readout of comparative prices for various products. They are great fun to show off to friends but after a while it's difficult to work out when you would use them.

But Tesco thinks it's found a compelling use. The company paints a picture of you the customer finding that you've used the last tin of tomatoes, then scanning it with your phone so that it goes into the online shopping basket for your next home delivery. Or you might be out at a friend's for dinner, compliment them on their delicious Tesco Finest cheesecake, and scan that for your next online shop.

Two screengrabs of Tesco app for iPhone


Hmmm, I'm not quite convinced that pulling out your phone and finding out just how cheap your host's dessert was will endear you to them, but maybe it will become quite the thing at fashionable dinner parties.

Right now the app is only available on the iPhone - Tesco says 10% of online grocery customers have the Apple phone so that was the natural place to start - but it should be coming to Nokia and Windows phones with cameras at some stage.

What would make it really useful though is if you could use your phone in a store to scan and then pay for goods without having to queue up.

That kind of application is starting to appear. In the United States Starbucks is trying out a system which allows iPhone and Blackberry users to pay for their coffees with a barcode. And, in the UK, I recently checked in for a flight with a barcode which had been e-mailed to my phone, though I'm not entirely clear that this was more convenient than a paper ticket.

The idea that your phone can become an all-purpose digital wallet and identity device has been around for more than a decade, and it's taking a lot longer than many expected to become a reality. Now that Britain's most powerful retailer is putting its weight behind the idea, perhaps its time really has come.

Update 1225: To clarify, Tesco have been in touch to stress this is the first grocery app with a barcode scanner on the iPhone.

As others have pointed out, there is already an Ocado Android app which features a barcode scanner.

Ocado tells me that the app has been very popular - after starting with an iPhone app, it decided to offer extra innovations on its Android app, including the barcode scanner and voice search. They won't confirm this, but hinted that barcode scanning might soon come to their iPhone app too.

I've asked Tesco when it plans to bring its barcode scanner to Android phones, but the retailer hasn't been able to give a date.

So yes, Android is proving a focus for smartphone innovation.

Big bucks for broadband?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 16:21 UK time, Monday, 25 October 2010


Is the government planning a big investment in broadband as part of a plan to boost Britain's economy, as the cuts in public spending begin to bite? You might think so from a passage in the prime minister's speech to the CBI this morning.

David Cameron was speaking about his government's plans to co-operate with the telecommunications industry to get more investment in broadband. Here's what he said:

"This collaboration is already working. Virgin Media is rolling out a new superfast broadband service this week. Combine that with the support we are giving in rural areas and BT's planned investment and it will mean that within two years, over 13 million homes and businesses in the UK - including some in our rural areas - will be hooked up to some of the fastest broadband speeds in the world. This is incredibly exciting - and a clear demonstration of how determined we are to work with you to build the right framework for growth in Britain."

So, to the detail. What is the new service that Virgin Media is rolling out this week? It appears that the PM may have blown the gaffe on an announcement that the cable company is making on Wednesday about the rollout of 100Mbps broadband. How much government funding is going into that new superfast service? Not a penny - according to Virgin Media.

But perhaps the new regulatory environment brought in by the coalition accelerated the arrival of the 100Mbps service? Virgin says it confirmed its intention to roll out 100Mbps back in April, meaning that it has nothing to do with any regulatory changes brought in by the new government.

So what about "the support we are giving in rural areas"? This, it seems, refers to the superfast broadband trials mentioned by George Osborne in last week's Spending Review. So how much taxpayer money is there for that, and for the universal service commitment which should make sure everyone can get a minimum 2Mbps service by 2015?

Well, £530m is going into the fast broadband trials - a hefty amount, but not from general taxation. £230m is coming from the underspend on the digital switchover fund - money originally collected through the BBC licence fee - then the rest of the £300m will also be drawn from licence-fee payers' funds.

Finally, the end result: that by the end of 2012, "over 13 million homes and businesses - including some in our rural areas - will be hooked up to some of the fastest broadband speeds in the world". Again, some clarification is necessary. Together, Virgin Media and BT hope to put that many homes within reach of fast broadband by the end of 2012 - but it will be up to customers to decide whether they want to pay up to actually "hook up".

In summary, fast broadband should be available to around half of British homes within two years. But it's investment from the private sector, combined with cash from licence-fee payers, which is going to make that happen.

Get smart: What makes a clever phone?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 09:18 UK time, Monday, 25 October 2010


What makes a smartphone smart? I've been trying out the latest entrants to what some call the "converged mobile device" market and pondering what the real test of a smartphone might be.

I wanted to compare three phones doing three essential tasks. The handsets were Nokia's new N8, the Samsung Omnia 7 - one of the new Windows Phone 7 handsets, and Apple's iPhone 4, probably still the yardstick against which other smartphones are measured.

First of all, I needed to work out what tasks I should set so I initiated an online debate. What, I asked, was essential in a state-of-the-art phone?

Making calls and texts, according to the veteran technology journalist Jack Schofield. Well, surely those are a given - though it's true that the iPhone 4 has had an issue with dropped calls - and we expect a lot more from a smartphone. Others agreed, suggesting an array of more sophisticated tasks: turn-by-turn navigation, social networking, web surfing, GPS, watching TV news clips, multi-tasking, recording audio, and... playing Angry Birds.

What stood out was a combination of hardware and software. For many people now, the camera is the second most important thing in a phone after its calling capabilities. But they also want the software on their phones - and increasingly the apps - to make life on the move a bit easier.

In the end I chose these three tasks.


(1) Send an e-mail, with a photo attached: E-mail used to be a specialist and mainly a business use of a phone, restricted to Blackberry users and the brave few who could fiddle with the settings on an early smartphone. No longer - it's becoming an essential.

So I sent an e-mail with a photo attached using each of the phones, then checked my inbox for a reply.

On the iPhone it was simple - go to Photos, choose "Email Photo", and as soon as you start typing in the "To:" box, the phone offers an address if the recipient is in your contacts. Off went the picture - with an option to choose the size of file - and very quickly I was able to check for a reply.

On the Samsung Windows Phone, which I'd synchronised with my Gmail account, it was just as straightforward. Go to the big Photos pane on the desktop, find the picture, choose "Share", and you get a number of options including e-mail. Once again, my friend's e-mail address was quickly recognised, and off went the photo - though I didn't have the option of sending a compressed version.

The Nokia N8 is an attractive and very well-made phone using a new version of the Symbian operating system, which is supposed to make life a lot easier. I have to say this was not my experience - every action which seemed to take a click or a tap or two with the other phones took several more on the N8. I thought I had synchronised my Gmail account with this phone; although it was receiving my messages, it did not have my contacts, so I had to remember my friend's address and type it in. It all worked eventually - but there was just too much friction in the process to make it comfortable and natural.

Cabbage on three smartphones

(2) Take a photo and upload it to Facebook: Social networking is one of the main activities on a modern smartphone - and sharing photographs is a good test of both hardware and software.

The Windows and Nokia devices both have physical buttons which activate the camera, making picture-taking a lot easier than on the iPhone, where you have to find the app. Uploading from the iPhone was a doddle: go to the Facebook app, and off you go. In fact, it is rather simpler to upload from an iPhone than from a computer because everything is so integrated.

The Samsung phone made it even easier - the whole Windows Phone 7 system is designed to integrate with Facebook so you can "share" straight from the camera roll. There is, however, no Facebook app, and I found it slightly annoying that I was given a Windows-crafted version of the social network rather than the original when I tried to go to my Facebook page.

The Nokia has a much better camera than the other two, but the interface is once again extraordinarily fiddly. Getting to the social app which takes you to Facebook seemed to take an age, writing a caption was painful - and I reckon the whole thing took me about three times as long as on the other phones.

As for the actual pictures, you can see them on Facebook if you have an account.


(3) Use the phone to check the time of a film and work out how to get there: I remember the first time I tried to get on the web with a mobile phone. It was a Nokia, and there were so many menus and sub-menus on the route to the information I was seeking that I could probably have gone to a library and looked it up more quickly. But it still seemed streets ahead of anything else.

Nowadays, despite the Symbian upgrade, the N8 is still in the slow lane. Looking for a cinema where I could see the film Despicable Me took me first to the web icon on the desktop, which then offered me another sub-menu, which then offered me Google, which then offered an old-fashioned dialler text input - until I switched to landscape mode to get a proper keyboard. After endless tapping and cursing, I eventually found the film times - and set off anew in search of information about whether the London Underground was working properly.

A complete contrast to the other two phones, which both offered speedy access to a search box - Bing on the Windows phone, Google on the iPhone. Checking up on the Tube was also simple on the iPhone with the Tube Deluxe app, and I found that, for a small payment, I could get a similar app on the Samsung Windows device.

By the end of the three tasks I was clear about one thing: it's software not hardware that matters. Or at least a shiny, touchscreen handset with a decent camera is now the minimum requirement for entry into the smartphone league - and it's the software and the apps which are the real differentiators.

Microsoft may have finally cracked it. After years of desperately trying to bring computer levels of complexity to the mobile, it has realized that big buttons, an uncluttered clean desktop and a minimum of clicks are the route to a smartphone user's heart. There is still some work to be done - no copy and paste ("coming soon - and it took two years on the iPhone" is Microsoft's rather lame response) and a very thin selection of apps in the marketplace. But Windows Phone 7 is a system which looks to have a promising future.

Can you say the same about Symbian? Three years after the Iaunch of the iPhone, it has still not come up with software which matches the usability of the Apple phone or its integration with the rest of a user's digital life.

One operating system I haven't mentioned here is Google's Android. It has proved itself as an innovative and accessible platform - and one which leading handset manufacturers are happy to offer their customers.

When I was foolish enough to suggest a few weeks back that Nokia just might consider ditching Symbian for Android, there was a chorus of abuse from Nokia fans. But the Finnish giant's new boss Stephen Elop is promising new thinking. What do you think: couldn't marrying Nokia's undoubted hardware prowess with Android's superior software be a really smart move?

Update 1500: Lots of people seem angry that I haven't tested an Android phone in this post. Perhaps they haven't read to the end where I praise Google's operating system, even going so far as to suggest that Nokia might do well to adopt it instead of Symbian

Just to be clear, I did not test an Android phone for two reasons. The post was not meant to be about the smartphone market as a whole, but about two new phones with new operating systems, and how they matched up to the competition. And if I'd had an Android phone in my hands over the weekend I would have used that instead - but I'd lent the Samsung Galaxy to a colleague who was testing it for another BBC outlet.

Unplugged: Living without the media

Rory Cellan-Jones | 07:00 UK time, Friday, 22 October 2010


How could you survive without the media, the internet and a mobile phone for 24 hours?

Perfectly well, perhaps if you are Vanessa Feltz - we've been having an entertaining dialogue this week about whether modern technology is an essential part of our lives. But for some media students at Bournemouth University, it's been something akin to torture.

They have been taking part in a global experiment called Unplugged. It is designed to examine the intimate relationship young people now have with the media and work out what happens when television, radio, the web, and mobile phones are taken away.

Earlier this week I pitched up in Bournemouth to film three of the many students taking part in the experiment. Caroline Scott, Charlotte Gay and Elliott Day have all just started on a degree in multimedia journalism so normally they would be reading papers, watching television, blogging, texting, Facebooking and tweeting, and generally engaging in the multimedia life of the modern student.

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But when I arrived, they had switched off their phones and computers and were wandering disconsolately around the campus without so much as an MP3 player to entertain them.

Earlier this year a study from Ofcom showed that we spend nearly half of our waking hours using the media, often plugged into several things at once. As we filmed it struck me just how dependent this generation is on modern media technology.

When they wake, their first move is to the laptop or phone to check out Facebook. In the student union bar, big screens show live sport, while half the crowd seem more focused on their phones than their friends. Even in the library, it is computer screens rather than books which seem to command student attention.

In my student days, back in the mists of time, the radio and newspapers were my only regular contact with the media, and arranging to meet friends meant dropping round on the off chance, and scrawling a note on the door if they were out. Today, it's the mobile phone which makes student life work.

Charlotte told me that it was almost impossible for her to function without her phone: "You have to organise everything a day in advance. But things change in a matter of minutes, let alone a day. It's been really difficult."

Dr Roman Gerodimos who is running the Unplugged project says there are already signs of how much the exercise is hurting those who are taking part: "They're reporting withdrawal symptoms, overeating feeling nervous, isolated and disconnected, they don't know what to with themselves or their time."

Of course, there was one intrusion from the modern media world - me, and my cameraman. But I hope we encouraged the three "unplugged" guinea-pigs to think about the experience and what they had learned from it. Because I set them some homework, asking each of them to write 100 words about their day offline.

Rather than jot it down on paper and put it in the post - as I might have done 30 years ago - they waited until the next day when they could turn on their laptops once more. Here is what they sent me:

Elliott Day:

"Usually, as I climb out of bed I would switch on the radio and listen to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 whilst I was getting dressed. Then I would walk to the nearby shop and buy The Times and the Bournemouth Echo to read over breakfast. Today, however, was unlike any other day. Today I was attempting to go 24 hours without media. Today my whole morning routine was thrown up into the air. Despite being aware of the social importance of the media, I was surprised by how empty my life felt without the radio or newspapers."

Caroline Scott:

"I didn't expect it, but being deprived of the media for 24 hours resulted in my day-to-day activities becoming so much harder to carry out than usual. I kept reaching for my smartphone to send e-mails, read texts and log on to the internet - only to remember I wasn't allowed to use it! I felt isolated from society without knowing what the papers said or being able to contact friends at the touch of a button. I believe that the older generations of people in society would definitely find the challenge just as hard as my age group - we have all adapted to depending on the media to carry out tasks quickly and find out information on demand. I didn't break out in a cold sweat like our lecturer expected us all to, but it's not something I would like to do again!"

Charlotte Gay:

"After the experiment I realised how much media we are subliminally receiving and it's not until you consciously try and shut it out then you notice the effects it must have on a person. During the task I found sitting in social areas the hardest to avoid the media, adverts everywhere, music being played the airwaves and everyone with their gadgets made the task near impossible to complete. I have to say the most difficult item for me to be without has been mobile, not only is it a social gadget, it's my main access point of communication."

You can read more about the whole Unplugged experiment on the Bournemouth University blog. And there's another thing I missed out on when I was a student - somehow I never got round to starting a blog.

Apple podcast: Steve sounds off

Rory Cellan-Jones | 09:50 UK time, Tuesday, 19 October 2010


Can I recommend an episode of a podcast? It rambles on for about an hour, but it does feature one of the most fascinating figures in the modern history of technology letting rip about his company and its philosophy. It should be available on the Apple iTunes store soon.

Steve Jobs


Apple's conference call with analysts after it reported another set of record set of results always promised to be interesting enough - if you were an obsessive Mac-watcher or an investor desperate for further nuggets about the gross margin on the iPad, sales of which had disappointed a demanding Wall Street.

Then, after the chief financial officer had trundled through the details of the results, there was a big surprise. Steve Jobs, who hardly ever takes part in these financial set-pieces, was joining the call: first to say a few words, then to participate in the Q&A.

And as soon as Apple's founder and presiding genius opened his mouth, it was clear he was in fighting mood. First in the firing line, RIM, the makers of Blackberry. Their sales had been overtaken by the iPhone for the first time in the last quarter - and in Mr Jobs' view, that was it: game over, no hope of them making a comeback in the foreseeable future.

That was just the hors d'oeuvre. His two main targets were Google's Android system for mobile phones - and anyone deranged enough to think they could take on the iPad. Mr Jobs seemed irritated by the idea that Android phone sales were now overtaking the iPhone, though he suggested the data were unclear. Then he went on the attack. Google had characterised the Android system as open and Apple's IOS as closed - that was "disingenuous", though he didn't quite explain why.

Microsoft was a real example of a company using open systems (that will surprise some of Mr Jobs' disciples) and in any case "open" didn't always win. "We think open versus closed is just a smokescreen to hide the real issue of what is best for the customer - an integrated or fragmented approach." The customers, he said, just wanted something that worked and he was confident that this approach would triumph over the "mess" that was Android's multiple variants and different app stores.

Then he moved to the avalanche of new tablets about to enter the market, suggesting that only a handful of them might prove credible. Mr Jobs seemed outraged that rivals thought seven inches might be a sensible size for a tablet screen - Samsung is just one firm producing a tablet that size.

A seven-inch screen, he maintained, was just 45% as large as the 10-inch iPad. He suggested that makers of such tablets should include sandpaper in the box so that users could sand down their fingers to the right size to be able to use the apps on such a small screen.

The great showman finished this particular rant with a prophecy - the current crop of tablet rivals would be "DOA, dead on arrival." Also dead now are the rumours that Apple is about to unveil a smaller version of the iPad. Steve told us that the tablet was a product "we've been training for for a decade", and he wasn't about to admit that others might have got it right.

During the question and answer session he first parried a query about Apple's bitter dispute with Adobe over the use of the Flash video streaming technology - "Flash memory? We love Flash memory" - then went on to claim that most video on the web was now in the HTML5 format anyway.

While Steve Jobs was holding forth, another Steve was getting some very bad news. Microsoft announced the resignation of Ray Ozzie, the man who inherited the chief software architect from Bill Gates and was seen by many as the firm's leading creative force. For the CEO, Steve Ballmer, to lose one senior colleague might be seen as misfortune - but after months which have also seen the departure of Robbie Bach and Steven Elop, it's beginning to look like carelessness. Mr Ballmer may be many things, but an articulate and inspiring apostle of his company's vision he is not, so he could do with a supporting chorus.

Which brings us back to Steve Jobs. You can argue with much of what he said last night. Is Google's "let a thousand flowers bloom" approach really failing to deliver compared with Apple's rigid approach? Are all seven-inch tablets doomed to fail? Are customers really well-served by devices that can't deal with Flash? But you can't accuse the Cupertino conductor of a lack of leadership or vision. The only problem for Apple is what happens when he decides to put the baton down.

Get Online? Why would I do that?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 09:35 UK time, Monday, 18 October 2010


Are you one of the nine million people in the UK who has never used the internet?
Daft question, I know: if you are reading this, you have already discovered the wonders of the web. But perhaps this week you - and I - could do more to help explain to others why we find it useful.

Today is the beginning of Get Online week, and the BBC, with its First Click campaign, is putting in a big effort across radio and television to help spread the message that the internet can make a real difference to anyone's life.

Vanessa Feltz

Vanessa Feltz presents Net Rescue, 2000

But, as I found out on Saturday when I went on the Vanessa Feltz show on Radio London to talk about the campaign, some people are going to be hard to convince.

Vanessa told me she had never been on the web or even sent an e-mail - and she confessed she thought it was mad that she was being made to promote the idea on her show.

This seems especially ironic, since a web search tells me that in 2000, BBC1 offered a "week-long series in which Vanessa Feltz discovers if and how the Internet can make life easier".

When she asked me to explain why I found the internet indispensable I burbled a bit about online bargains and checking the weather and I fear she was not won over. But I'm not giving up that easily - if we can't woo to the web a media personality like Vanessa Feltz, how are we going to make an impact on the rest of the nine million refuseniks?

I decided what was needed was not abstract meanderings about a life-changing technology, but some concrete examples. So I set out to record the various ways I used the internet over the weekend - and work out what my life would be like without it. Here is what you might call my weekend weblog.

Friday 1900: The weekly grocery shopping arrives at the door, ordered online. No money saved, but that's an hour we don't spend at the supermarket
each week.

2030: Watch this week's edition of Have I Got News For You via the BBC iPlayer. I'd forgotten to record it - without the internet option I'd have missed the programme.

2230: Reading a long book about politics downloaded onto an e-reader. I still read "real" books, but the electronic option is great if you don't want to lug a heavy hardback with you wherever you go.

Saturday 0800: Out for a run with the dog while listening to the podcast of the Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode film review. I'm addicted to Dr Kermode's fabulous film rants - and Simon Mayo's deadpan asides - without the advent of the podcast, I'd rarely hear a programme which goes out on a Friday afternoon.

0900: The postman arrives with a book about conspiracy theories ordered from an online bookshop. An impulse buy, bought with one click the day before, and already in my hands.

1230: My nephew, who lives in Uganda, is on a rare visit to London and drops by for lunch. He has an interest in technology, and I start telling him about a story I've written recently - he stops me and tells me he knows, because he follows me on Twitter. I find that social networks are helping to keep me in touch with friends and relatives I rarely see.

1600: I spend a frustrating hour trying to install Windows on a Mac computer so that I can try out the latest version of Skype. Give up, and use my son's computer which runs Windows. Have a high-definition video chat with old friend who I haven't seen for months. Messing around with computers can be a huge waste of time - but they can transform the way we communicate.

1900: A quiet evening in, watching the television - and keeping an eye on the constant flow of commentary on Twitter about Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor. Some kinds of TV just work better with a sarcastic online chorus to enjoy.

Sunday 0930: Reading the Sunday papers - yes, the old-fashioned dead-tree variety. I now get a lot of my news on various digital devices, but do still find paper quite a compelling "form factor" with toast and marmalade.

1045: In the garden, planting bulbs while listening to the Archers Omnibus via a smartphone app which just about works as long as I don't stray too far from the household wi-fi network. There is a plotline in the Archers involving elderly residents having computer lessons - wonder what that's about?

1400: At my computer doing some work for Monday. I listen again to the Vanessa Feltz show via the iPlayer, and then set about editing a clip from an interview with Martha Lane Fox, the government's Digital Champion. Unable to meet her on Friday, I asked her to record her end of a phone conversation on her smartphone and then e-mail it to me. The audio quality is not bad at all, and when I've finished my edit, I upload it to the BBC server in seconds via my fast home broadband connection. The internet has transformed the way I work, though it has also meant that it fills far more of my waking hours.

Work, rest or play, my life would not be the same without the internet, and I cannot imagine getting along without it. But everybody is different, and many of the nine million who are not online will feel that they get along quite nicely as they are, thank you, and could we please stop preaching at them.

One person, however, surely needs to get with the programme. Vanessa Feltz told me that when listeners send e-mails to her team has to print them out for her to read. So maybe they can now print out this blog post for her. Vanessa, are you listening? Come on in, the water's lovely.

Google: Harmless hobbies and hard cash

Rory Cellan-Jones | 13:09 UK time, Friday, 15 October 2010


Thought Google had lost its way? Messing about with robot cars, and other side projects like Wave and Buzz that are a distraction from its core business and are failing to please either consumers or investors? Well look at the search firm's latest financial results and marvel.

Google logo


In the last three months Google hauled in over $7bn in revenues, up nearly a quarter on the same period a year before. And of course that cash comes not from driverless cars or building high speed broadband networks across US cities or social networking ventures - it all comes from advertising.

Look at Google's UK revenues - in the last six months they amount to $1.5bn or around £1bn - and work out just how big a player the firm is in the local advertising market less than a decade after its arrival.

By contrast, ITV, earned £728m in advertising revenues in the first six months - a big improvement on last year but still a way behind Google. Online advertising has weathered the recession well and one firm appears better placed than any other to benefit as it accelerates again.

And it's not just the old staple, search ads, which is behind the surge in revenues and profits. Google says it's now earning more than $2.5bn from display advertising and $1bn from mobile.

What's clear is that some areas which looked like a costly diversion are now proving their worth.
Take YouTube for instance, which once looked like a big sink down which Google kept pouring cash.

The other day I got an e-mail offering me a revenue-sharing deal for one of my YouTube videos - it was of Stephen Fry at the Windows Phone 7, giving Microsoft's phone a surprise endorsement. The deal, which I naturally declined, involved a share of revenue from putting adverts next to my video.

But Google says over two billion YouTube videos every week are now part of this advertising programme, providing an increasing flow of cash for both their owners and of course for the search company. Whether or not that makes YouTube profitable is not revealed in the accounts - but Google is hinting strongly that it is there or thereabouts.

Then there is the Android adventure - why spend a fortune developing a mobile phone operating system and then simply hand it over for nothing to manufactures?

Well Google says the idea is that the more smartphones there are out there, the more they will be used for search, and the more advertising that will generate. And with mobile search up 500% after a year in which Android phones have taken the market by storm it's hard to argue with the strategy.

Now there are plenty of Google activities where it is hard to see any contribution to the bottom line. Its engineers are still being allowed time out to work on wacky ideas, many of which quickly fail.

You might think that it is now time for the company to grow up and take life a little more seriously. But as long as it keeps churning out bigger and bigger piles of cash, indulging in a few eccentric hobbies looks like a strategy for success.

Video calls: Cool at last?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 14:00 UK time, Thursday, 14 October 2010


Video calling has been the next big thing in communication since the 1960s - and has never really caught on. But is this long-awaited revolution finally about to happen?

Apple's Face Time


You might think so from the huge sums Apple has poured into promoting the Face Time feature on the iPhone and the iPod Touch which allows users to see as well as hear who they're calling.

Or could it be Skype which will finally make video calling commonplace, perhaps via your TV rather than your computer or mobile phone?

The internet voice company is launching the latest version of its software today. It is making a lot of noise about its integration with Facebook, with the promise that you will be able to Skype your social-networking friends, but I am more interested in its latest video calling innovation.

Already 40% of Skype calls involve video, and now if you're on a Windows PC you will be able to have a video conference with several friends at once. Each time one of them speaks, they pop to the top of the screen.

It looks as though it could be useful both to groups of friends and to businesses wanting to hold meetings between people at several locations without making them travel.

But when I met executives from Skype earlier this week I wanted to know when it would bring video calls to the mobile world. For a decade, first with 3G phones and now with the iPhone 4, companies have told consumers that seeing as well as hearing will become a key feature of mobile calls. It did not happen with 3G and, as far as I can see, it's not happening with the new iPhone.

To use Face Time you have to find someone else who has an iPhone 4 and who is, like you, on a wi-fi network when you call. It is such a limiting set of circumstances that even when I tried to make a Face Time call to a couple of Apple executives thus week I failed to get through.



But what if you could integrate Skype's iPhone app with Face Time and use it to make video calls over 3G - surely that would be a winner? The people from the internet telephony business smiled ruefully when I asked this question and refused to be drawn.

It appears there are several sticking points - notably that the Face Time software isn't quite as open as it might appear, and the reluctance of mobile operators to allow even more video data to clog up their networks.

So it's indoors, in front of our computers, that video calling is going to grow - or perhaps in front of our televisions. Skype is already built into a number of televisions, and as the process of hooking up TV to broadband gathers pace, more and more of us may be sticking a webcam on top of the set and sitting down for a chat with friends and family around the world.

And here Skype may well have some serious competition from a giant of the internet world. Cisco is already building a decent business offering high-end HD video-conferencing to multinationals. Now it's beginning to offer a similar service to domestic users, though at what currently looks like a prohibitive price right now.

It's clear that at least three businesses - Skype, Cisco, and Apple - are now betting big sums that face-to-face communication over the internet is at last going to become commonplace.

Perhaps it might make sense for Skype and Cisco to get together to make sure that Apple does not dominate this market in the way it does digital music sales. Skype has recently hired a former Cisco executive as its CEO, so watch this space.

Not on Facebook? Facebook still knows you

Rory Cellan-Jones | 08:30 UK time, Wednesday, 13 October 2010


If you hate the idea of social networking and have never been on Facebook, then Facebook knows nothing about you. Correct? So how come when you set up a profile on the social network for the first time, it can suggest friends for you?

That was what someone who contacted me over the weekend wanted to know.

He described himself as a 30 year veteran of the IT industry who had always been deeply sceptical about social networking. But as an experiment he had set up Facebook profiles, first for himself and then, with permission, for a friend who had also never been near the network.

In each case he was presented with a list of possible friends the moment the profile was created and before there had been any response to the validation e-mail Facebook sends to confirm your e-mail address.

This he described as "really scary stuff for the whole community that do not wish to participate in Facebook social networking, since if they have not registered others can create accounts using their e-mail addresses, and get their list of friends."

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So I decided to try this out for myself. I set about creating a Facebook profile for a friend who is a university lecturer. My friend - let's call her Belinda - had never used Facebook but gave me her permission to put her on the network.

I entered her university e-mail address, chose a password, put in a date of birth, and then was quickly taken to a page suggesting a couple of dozen possible friends.

I rang Belinda and read out the names to her. Three were colleagues, others were present or former students, and some she didn't recognise but assumed they too had been associated with her university. Now at this stage she had received, but not opened, the e-mail from Facebook asking her to authenticate her e-mail address.

So two things are immediately clear - Facebook knows at least something about you the minute you hand over your e-mail address, and it's possible for someone who knows that address to extract some of that information.

My friend was puzzled about how the network knew who she knew. So I got in touch with Facebook to ask some questions. Here they are, followed by the replies:

Q) How does Facebook know about my friend's friends when she herself has never had a profile before I created one?
A) "Suggestions is a feature that helps you connect with people and pages you are likely to know. Facebook calculates suggestions based on the networks you are a part of, mutual friends, work and education information, contacts imported using the Friend Finder, and many other factors."
Q) Shouldn't it be impossible to create a profile - and see someone's "friends" - before you've clicked on the confirmation e-mail?
A) "Accounts that have not confirmed an e-mail address have limited functionality. These accounts cannot communicate with anyone except confirmed friends and the e-mail address does not appear on the profile until it is confirmed."
Q) Doesn't this mean that people's privacy is in some sense under threat even if they are not on Facebook? And doesn't this lay people open to the threat of identity theft?
A) "This is no different to how someone could create a fake e-mail account in someone else's name. Facebook has always been based on a real name culture. This leads to greater accountability and a safer and more trusted environment for our users. It's a violation of our policies to use a fake name or operate under a false identity, and we encourage people to report anyone they think is doing this, either through the report links we provide on the site or through the contact forms in our Help Centre."

As far as I can see Facebook is saying that my friend's friends had probably uploaded the contents of their address books onto the site, including her e-mail details. So when I used that e-mail to sign her up, the network matched it up against anyone who had that address in their contacts and suggested a connection.

Sinister? The man who contacted me at the weekend certainly thinks so, but my friend the university lecturer told me that she had mixed feelings: "Intellectually, I can see I should be concerned about this threat to my privacy, but in practice I am not too worked up about it."

But what's clear is that even if you think Facebook knows nothing about you, it probably does - because your friends have chosen to tell the network about you.

Windows: Back in the mobile race?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 14:30 UK time, Monday, 11 October 2010


Just how much is riding on Windows Phone 7? It is after all just the latest mobile operating system from a company which is currently an also-ran in the smartphone business.

Steve Ballmer


So why is Microsoft making such a big deal of it, with glitzy launches in London and New York? Last week the chief executive Steve Ballmer was in London to give a lecture about cloud computing to students at the London School of Economics.

But the only two Microsoft products that really seemed to get the ebullient Mr B bouncing were Windows Phone 7 and Xbox Kinect, the new motion-capture gaming platform.

These two, it seemed, provided a picture of where the company was heading in a bright new always-on connected future, with products that would excite and delight consumers.

When you look at Microsoft's latest set of accounts it's hard to see why so much is being made of mobile and gaming. After all the Entertainment and Devices division which includes these and a ragbag of other products still looks like an afterthought compared to the behemoth that is Windows. It had its best-ever year making $679m in profits, but that compares with over $12bn from the Windows division.

And, though Microsoft doesn't provide a detailed breakdown, it looks like most of those profits came from Xbox, with mobile revenue falling and the Microsoft-branded Kin phone proving a costly failure.

What's more Windows Phone 7 arrives in a ferociously competitive smartphone market where its rivals are already galloping away into the distance.

According to Gartner, Symbian is still in the lead with 41% of the market, followed by RIM, the Blackberry maker, on 18%, Google's Android on 17% and Apple on 14%. Windows, meanwhile is on just 5%.

So, I ask again: why is Microsoft trumpeting the latest variant of a mobile operating system as its biggest launch since the desktop Windows 7?

First, because executives are genuinely excited about the new system, and, having had a brief play with one of the launch phones, I can understand why. After years of horribly complex mobile menus that tried to mimic the desktop, Microsoft now appears to have created something that is actually both simpler and more attractive than what is out there at the moment.

You don't pick up the phone and struggle to work out where you go next - big bold rectangles lead the way. Developers are already making use of this canvas to build apps that combine the simplicity of mobile with the functionality of the desktop - the Tesco app, for instance, allows you to roam the store with greater ease than on other smartphones.

The other reason this is so important is that Microsoft has realised that all the action, all the innovation, in the world of communications technology has now moved to the mobile. It's where the next billion consumers are most likely to get their first taste of the internet; it's where new ideas like app stores or location-based services or augmented reality are being tried out.

So, while Windows and Office and the server business will no doubt continue to churn out billions of dollars for years to come, Microsoft will look increasingly irrelevant if it is not at least a player in the mobile market.

And that is why Steve Ballmer is bouncing around telling us how Windows Phone 7 is going to blow our collective socks off. Microsoft's rivals in the smartphone business are way ahead, but Mr Ballmer believes there is plenty of time to catch up.

He will have a quite a battle to win over the millions who've already bought into the Android or iPhone or Blackberry versions of the mobile world.

But there are millions more who are just beginning to think about using a phone for more than to make calls, and there is now another option for them to choose.

Windows is never going to achieve the dominance on mobile phones that it still has on the desktop - and thank goodness for that, will be the cry from those whose believe that monopolies stifle innovation. But Microsoft is now back in the game, and that has got to be good for mobile consumers.

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Update 1631: What a coup de theatre! At the end of a rather lacklustre launch event in London, Microsoft introduced a surprise guest to extol the virtues of Windows Phone 7. Onto the stage walked the actor, writer and polymath Stephen Fry, notable to date for his adoration of Apple's products and his disdain for just about everything that has a Windows logo on it.

Stephen Fry

The Fry Thunderbolt

He proceeded to explain how his mind had been changed when he was sent some of the new handsets: "My first feeling was that it was fun to play with". Mr Fry explained, contrasting it with earlier phones that had been drab and grey and all about function rather than form. "When I heard Mr Ballmer use the word 'delight', I thought what joy there is in heaven when a sinner repenteth."

And what joy there will be in Seattle to hear those words. Stephen Fry, who is a genuine fanatic about smartphones, was keen to stress that he had not been paid for his appearance. But for Microsoft his endorsement will be of huge value - after all a few unkind words from him have done untold damage to other new phones in the past.

Facebook phonebook: Privacy confusion

Rory Cellan-Jones | 14:43 UK time, Friday, 8 October 2010


How worried should Facebook users be that the social network is making it a little too easy for private phone numbers to be shared?

Telephone directory


That's been a hot topic of debate in our office this week after the Guardian's piece suggesting that the iPhone Facebook app could result in numbers being uploaded from phones onto the site without users being aware.

The piece said all it would then take was for someone's Facebook account to be hacked and lots of private numbers would be laid bare. That did not strike me as particularly worrying, unless you think Facebook is less secure than other services - after all, the same would be true if your Gmail account were hacked.

But then my colleague Jonathan Fildes started examining his own Facebook phonebook - and found something mildly worrying. He told me:

"After reading the Guardian piece, I checked my own phonebook. Luckily, the paper explained how to find it, as it is not at all obvious from your profile that the feature even exists - but you can find your own at
"Everything seemed to be in order. I hadn't synced contacts from my iPhone, so there were only around 20 numbers there, most drawn in from friends who had chosen to share their phone number with me."

Most, but not all?

"There was one oddity: a prominent tech blogger who I recognised, but who I was not friends with on Facebook and whose contact details I did not have in my phone.
"I checked his profile; sure enough, he chose to share his number with anyone. No privacy breach there, but how did the number appear in my phonebook?
"I spoke to Facebook; after a chat with the engineering team, a spokesperson suggested that I might have the blogger's contact details in my Gmail address book and that I might have decided to import my contacts from there.
"I checked. I had e-mailed this blogger and he was in my contact book. But I e-mailed him earlier this year for the first time; the only time I imported my contacts from Gmail was when I set up my Facebook account in 2007."

So how do you think his number was put in your address book?

"I told Facebook that this suggested one of two things: that Facebook periodically trawls my Gmail account for new contacts without my consent or that the phonebook makes recommendations based on my friends, four of whom are friends with the tech blogger.
"Facebook categorically denied my first theory and pointed me towards its friend finder, which states: 'We will not store your password after we import your friends' information. We may use the email addresses you upload through this importer to help you connect with friends, including using this information to generate suggestions for you and your contacts on Facebook.'
"Which left my second theory: the blogger's number was suggested by Facebook based on my connections. This seemed to be likely, Facebook said, and sent me a link to explain: 'When you import contacts into Facebook from your email, mobile, instant messaging service or other social network, we may use this information to create friend suggestions for you and your friends. We also display these contacts in your Facebook phonebook.'"

So, is that the explanation?

"Well, then I was sent another e-mail: 'Just to confirm that your second suggestion is not correct. Suggestions do not appear in the phonebook.'
"At this point I was getting more and more confused. Phonebook doesn't make suggestions, but someone who was friends with four of my friends appeared in my phonebook automatically. So, I asked, what was happening?
"The most likely explanation, Facebook said, was that 'one of your four mutual contacts has used the contact importer tool and uploaded contact details for both you and [the blogger], which creates that link'.
A "link". "So, he was suggested to me? 'No,' Facebook reiterated, 'we don't make suggestions. This was a link.'"

What's the difference between a "suggestion" and a "link"? I'm confused.

"Me too. In this case, there is nothing sinister - I am quite happy to have this particular blogger's number and it would appear from his profile that he is happy to share it with anyone. But this is just one example. We have been contacted by many more people confused by the people they see in their phonebook. One could see his wife's phone number, but it was attached to the profile of someone he didn't recognize.

"Facebook says that this could be because the algorithms and system used to match phone numbers may not be working accurately. Or that the person now attached to his wife's phone number may have uploaded the wrong number or a number without the correct country code. It says it is now reviewing the system.
"It could be a technical problem that is easily fixed. But I think what this episode really highlights is the ongoing confusion around knowing what you share and how you share it on Facebook."

I agree. Facebook keeps refining its privacy settings, and promising that it's offering users new ways of controlling their data. But which of us even knew that there was a phonebook option?

And are we any clearer about just how it works, and whether we can be sure that our data is not being passed around by people we may not even know?

Are parents the biggest threat to online privacy?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 14:08 UK time, Thursday, 7 October 2010


Think you have got your online privacy sorted? Perhaps you've made sure that your Facebook settings are super-secure, and that only close friends and family can see the photographs you post on the web. Well, just be thankful you are not a baby, because the biggest threat to your online privacy could come from your parents.

Screengrab of Facebook page with baby photo


If you are born in 2010, then by the time you are two, your parents are likely to have posted pictures of you on the internet, sometimes even before you are born, and some will even have gone so far as to create a Facebook profile for you.

That at least is the conclusion of some research into the way mothers of children under the age of two use the internet. The survey for the security company AVG questioned over 2,000 mothers in 10 countries, and found that 81% had uploaded images of their children. Not that surprising, you might think. But 23% had uploaded antenatal scans for friends to see, 7% had given their baby an e-mail address, and 5% had created a profile on a social network.

In summary, most babies born today will find when they grow up that they have quite a sizeable digital footprint online over which they have had no control.

My children were both born before the advent of social networking and the mass sharing of photos and personal information that has come with that phenomenon. But I can completely understand the desire to share pictures of your newborn in this modern manner, just as we popped a few photos in the post to our friends and families.

I am slightly less comfortable with the idea of creating a profile for your child online without their consent. A friend made a Facebook page for his newborn son within days of the boy's birth. Now, at 18 months, the young fellow already has 132 friends (including me) and is frequently online, posting photos of himself and telling us about his passion for red buses and police cars, and his sleepovers with other babies. I am not entirely sure, though, that it is his fingers on the keyboard.

This is an engaging way for his parents to let their nearest and dearest know of their son's progress, and they can control who sees any of the material. Just a bit of fun, really. The question is what will the infant Facebooker feel when he gets to an age when he's actually allowed to have a social networking profile? He will find that his entire life up to that point has already been laid out online.

My generation found it bad enough when parents got out the baby pictures to show to our girlfriends. I've warned my friend not to be surprised if the revelation of his father's Facebook fun sparks a teenage rebellion from his son.

We are all finding our way in this new era of online sharing, working through tricky questions of etiquette - should I let my boss be my Facebook friend, is it right to mix the personal and professional on Twitter, will my work colleagues think less of me if they see those pictures of my stag night? But one rule that is gradually emerging is that it is polite to check with friends before you post private pictures of them online in a place where lots of other people can see them. Perhaps we need to start consulting our children before we start making great big footprints all over the web on their behalf.

A cut-price tablet computer? Whatever Next...

Rory Cellan-Jones | 09:20 UK time, Wednesday, 6 October 2010


I didn't quite believe it until I saw it in the catalogue. Next, the UK fashion retailer, is selling a tablet computer, and at £180 it looks like an attractive alternative to Apple's iPad, which starts at more than twice the price.

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The pictures in the Next Directory made it look just like, well, an iPad, with a 10-inch touchscreen, wireless networking and plenty of applications. It runs on Google's Android operating system, has all sorts of connectivity options - something you won't find on Apple's tablet - and all in all looks like it could be a hot new gadget from an unlikely source.

I had to have one to try out, and, after a bit of scurrying around, the Next PR team managed to get a tablet to me. Joy was unconfined in my household as I opened the box and took it out.

First impressions were fine. Sure it was light and plasticky, but it looked not dissimilar to its weightier Apple cousin. Then I turned it on - and everything started to go wrong.

First of all, it takes an age to boot up. The Next symbol appears first, then the Linux penguin and an Android logo. And finally you are at a homescreen and can get going. But not until you have swiped a padlock symbol to unlock the screen, which took me several minutes to master, during which the tablet kept going black.

Once I'd managed that, I tried to scan my way through the various icons - mail, photos, music, e-reader and so on - but found the experience a bit like trying to find a light-switch in the dark with gloves on. Whatever I touched, the icon next to it seemed to wobble.

Of course the whole experience really depends on getting online and, after a lot of tapping and a little cursing, I eventually managed to connect to my home wireless network and start surfing the web.

The screen continued to prove maddeningly unresponsive but at last I found my way to the BBC News website. There I hoped to watch some video - after all, one of Android's main selling-points over Apple's mobile operating system is that it does work with the Flash video-streaming technology. No luck - just a message asking me to download the correct version of the Flash player.

And as I switched off to go out I noticed that I had already used a good chunk of the device's rather meagre three-hour battery life.

But from then on, my day with the Next tablet got even worse. I took it along to a lecture by Microsoft's Steve Ballmer and showed it off to a number of other technology journalists. They laughed unkindly, and got even more giggly when they tried to make it work.

Then when I took it into work to film it, the wretched thing began behaving like a spoiled child and refused to respond to any of my commands. Whenever I tried to tap on the settings icon to connect it to the office network, the screen just sat and sulked. Even turning the thing off proved impossible and I had to find a paperclip to insert in the reset button to power it down. All in all, a disastrous piece of gadgetry.

To be fair to Next, I suppose there is a possibility that I got a faulty version. A spokeswoman for the company was concerned that might be the case and promised to find me another one. But looking at various comments online, it appears I'm not the only one who found the tablet deeply disappointing.

What are the lessons from this? First of all, plunging into a hot new area of the technology market without any experience of what consumers expect is full of perils. I'm sure that Next would not sell an item of clothing without testing it thoroughly and taking a view on whether it will work in the market. Now the fashion retailer has found that slapping your label on a cheap piece of kit from a Chinese supplier (though it does say "designed in the UK") works no better with a computer than with a dress.

But Next is unlikely to be too worried about a product which is far from its core offering and can be quietly dropped without too much damage to its brand. It is Google which should be concerned. Its Android operating system has been going great guns lately, overtaking Apple in some smartphone markets and now popping up on a number of good-looking new tablet computers like the Samsung Tab. But Google has no control over who uses the open source system, so when someone produces a tablet which gives users a dreadful impression of Android there is nothing it can do.

Apple, by contrast, has complete control over every aspect of its devices and the way they work. The company has taken some stick lately for its determination to impose such a rigid template even on outside developers. I wonder whether Google is regretting being quite so laissez-faire. After all, Android is now a key brand for the search company. Does it really want it tarnished by a succession of tired tablets or feeble phones?

BT's high-fibre race

Rory Cellan-Jones | 08:37 UK time, Monday, 4 October 2010


Do you and your neighbours have a need for speed? Are you desperate to get fibre-based broadband to your community? Well, now you can do something about it by heading to this site - The Race to Infinity - and registering your interest.

BT's competition to find the places in the UK most eager to leap into the fast fibre future could play a useful role in determining just how much need there really is for speed, particularly in the third of the country where the market will not provide.

It may also spark a backlash against the company on which much of the burden of hoisting the UK up Europe's broadband speed league falls. (Remember, the government has promised that we will have the best super-fast broadband in Europe by the end of this Parliament.)

The Race to Infinity could look a bit like one of those TV contests with fabulous prizes that are almost impossible to win.

Back at the dawn of time - well, the beginning of the noughties - BT ran a similar exercise to gauge public interest in getting bog standard broadband. I remember visiting Ullapool on the west coast of Scotland where there was a vigorous campaign to get the local exchange broadband enabled.

A few months later, enough people had registered an interest to trigger the automatic upgrading of the Ullapool exchange. That was how it worked - reach the trigger level and, as long as you did not live too many miles from the exchange, you were able to get a broadband connection.

This time, getting your community into the fast lane will be a bit more complicated than just persuading your neighbours to sign up on the site. BT is being cautious, promising only that the five exchanges with the highest proportion of sign-ups will get fibre laid by 2012.

It's clear already that the Race to Infinity is sparking interest. I went to the site early this morning and found the map already lighting up with dots all over the UK where people had entered their postcode to find out whether they might get fibre soon. Against a number of the pinpoints, from Drochil Castle in the Scottish Borders to Elmsted in Kent, there was the following message:

What strikes me is that the very communities which seem most likely to enter this competition - at least from the evidence so far - are those smaller, more remote, places which are not eligible to win it. Now, to be fair, this is by no means the only way that BT and others are attempting to get the "final third" connected.

Last week we saw the announcement of the public/private partnership between BT and the EU which promises to bring high speed broadband to Cornwall and the Scilly Isles. And we're expecting to hear imminently which three places the government has chosen for its next generation broadband trial.

What about Ullapool and its chances of getting the kind of service that will be commonplace in urban areas within a couple of years? I found an Ullapool postcode, stuck it in the Race to Infinity box - and back came the message about the exchange having too few residents to be eligible.

Maybe BT's exercise will show that it is only a handful of enthusiasts who really care about super-fast broadband in rural communities. If the competition really does catch the imagination of the public, then the pressure will mount on both BT and the government to make sure that nobody is left trailing behind in the race to a faster future.

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