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27 November 2015 ~ 0 Comments

UK Company Designs Facebook Drone

facebook-testing-aquila-drone

Facebook and Google are competing at high-altitude to connect the world’s most remote locations to the Internet. The State of Broadband, produced by the UN Broadband Commission, reveals that 57 per cent of the world’s people remain offline and unable to take advantage of the enormous economic and social benefits the internet can offer. The major internet companies are working hard to increase the online population. Facebook is planning to take to the skies with a network of laser-beaming drones while Google is making use of giant balloons which will be circumventing the globe to provide internet links. Google is being very secretive about its own drone project.

The Somerset based Ascenta consultancy, owned by 51-year old engineer Andrew Cox, was recently bought by Facebook for £12m so that they could beam broadband connections from the sky, using satellites, lasers and unmanned high-altitude aircraft designed by Cox. The carbon-fibre framed drone, called Aquila, has a wingspan of a Boeing 737, will operate as high as 90,000 feet in the air, and can stay airborne for 90 days at a time. Facebook’s Connectivity Lab has designed a laser which will be used by Aquila to deliver data at more than 10 Gb/s.

“In our effort to connect the whole world with Internet.org, we’ve been working on ways to beam internet to people from the sky,” Zuckerberg wrote on his blog. He went on to say, “Facebook’s Connectivity Lab is [building] drones, satellites … and lasers to deliver the internet to everyone.”

Facebook’s ultimate goal with Connectivity Lab is to create a laser communications system that can be used to connect multiple airborne drones with each other and with the ground, making it possible to create a stratospheric network that can extend to even the remotest regions of the world.

Facebook currently has 1.3 billion users and is connected to a significant proportion of the estimated 3 billion people who use the Internet. Increasing the internet footprint by another 4 billion people could lead to a massive increase in its potential user base.

Are you a regular Facebook user? Have you ever been stuck somewhere remote with a desperate need to get online? And How do you feel about broadband being lasered down to you from drones?

12 November 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Microsoft Band 2 set to launch in UK mid-November

The Microsoft Band tracks your heart rate, exercise, calorie burn and sleep quality, and keeps you connected with email, text, and calendar alerts

Microsoft recognises that to grow and compete in the very competitive consumer technology market it needs to be both a device and software leader. For decades, Microsoft took control of and monopolised the software market, leaving others to fight over who would build the devices which would run Microsoft products. But the market changed in the ’90s largely because Apple started making devices which were both fun to use and desirable to own. iPods, iPhones and iPads are high-tech toys which helped build one of the world’s largest and most profitable businesses. It did not take the market long to recognise the need to have products which could compete with the Apple offerings.

Today the market for technology accessories is huge and wearable devices are seen as the next big consumer product for major technology companies. Inevitably Apple is very dominant in this market and the Apple Watch is the benchmark against which competitive products are measured.

A niche market has developed in the wearable market for fitness monitors. The main players are the Fitbit Charge HR, the Fitbit Surge and the Jawbone Up4. The Apple Watch fulfils many of the functions of the fitness band but its pricing puts it in a different league. Microsoft has been a minor contender in this market with the original Band, but the new Band 2 which is being released in the UK this month may just be the device to elevate Microsoft to the position of a serious contender for the title of the fitness band to buy if you are serious about your training or sport. Launch price is expected to be around £200.

Compared to the original Band, the Microsoft Band 2 has a cleaner and more integrated design replacing the flat screen of its predecessor with a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 covered OLED touchscreen that curves around the wrist. In comparison, the Apple Watch sports a 312×390 pixel resolution AMOLED display with curved edges.

The main players in the fitness device market come with fitness tracking features such as heartrate monitors and step counters. The Microsoft Band takes it a step further with UV exposure tracking, oxygen consumption and built-in GPS. Microsoft Band, UP4 and Charge HR also have built-in sleep tracking features. While the Apple Watch doesn’t have a native app to do this, the function can be added through third-party apps on the App Store.

The Microsoft Band works with iPhone, Android, or Windows phones and is designed to be more than a fitness tracker. While it does track your calories, sleep, and steps, the band is also designed to send you email and call notifications, calendar alerts, and social media updates. Add to that its robust fitness capabilities — including GPS mapping, continuous heart-rate monitoring, workout coaching, and sensors that measure the sun’s intensity — and you may start to wonder what the Band can’t do.

As it developed a more modern device, Microsoft adopted the goal of helping users “take control of health and fitness in a more personalized way,” said Lindsey Matese, member of the Microsoft Band and Health teams.

Microsoft asked themselves, “what would cyclists, joggers, and gym rats want?”
Round two of Microsoft Band is designed to be more flexible for people who wear it during their workouts as well as working hours. The desire for a more comfortable device is one of several pieces of feedback the team learned during the testing process when it surveyed customers on its functionality.

Microsoft Band 2 feels less like an awkward accessory and more like a comfortable bracelet. This is due to the softer material and a curved, full-colour OLED display. We think they have certainly delivered a product which is going to make the opposition play catch-up. It ticks all the boxes and the activity tracking is great. Features such as the Heartrate measurement and the Golf GPS are very good and could be the deal-breaker for many potential users.

The Apple Watch is probably a better watch, although it lacks GPS and sleep tracking. But it is far more expensive, so cannot really be compared with the fitness devices in the market. We think Microsoft has a winner and it will be interesting to see how the market responds to the Band 2.

What are your thoughts? Has Microsoft delivered on its promise to deliver the best fitness tracker in an attractive package? Will buyers start thinking Band 2 when they look for a sporting wearable?

06 November 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Sainsbury’s suddenly axes network

sainsbury mobile closing copy

It has emerged that Mobile by Sainsbury’s currently has a shelf-life of fewer than three months. The supermarket juggernaut has quietly been banishing marketing materials from all of its 1000+ stores in preparation for the shocking shutdown. Current customers have only until 15th January next year to use up their existing credit and choose a new operator to port their number to.

According to an insider source, the reason for the sudden closure is a break-down in negotiations with their infrastructure provider, Vodafone. The network was always a joint-venture between the two companies and without any agreement between them, there is little option but to stop providing a service. At the moment it’s unclear whether Sainsbury’s approached any other providers to step in place of Vodafone to keep the network live. We’ve also not received comment on how financially successful it has been for Sainsbury’s as it might be assumed that they have been looking for a graceful exit strategy.

While there has been little warning to their customers, industry experts say that it’s not a surprising outcome. Vodafone have been reportedly looking to completely withdraw from providing services to piggybacking MVNOs such as Sainsbury’s and Talkmobile.

Sainsbury’s is the second biggest supermarket brand in the country and two of its arch-rivals, ASDA and Tesco are still running their virtual networks running on other carriers. It has to be said, that their offerings have seemed to be much more successful too. While Sainsbury’s will no longer be marketing their network in stores, several of their retail outlets will still be selling mobile phones and accessories.

If you’re an existing customer of the network, you should start thinking about changing to a new network, requesting a PAC and porting your phone number over. No services at all will be available from 15 January 2016.

Did you see this coming? Are you a Mobile by Sainsbury’s customer and if so, what’s your reaction? Do you think Sainsbury’s are acting fairly? And how many of you expecting this coming? Should Sainsbury’s have done anything differently after negotiations with Vodafone broke down?