Health charity warns NHS app could exacerbate existing health inequalities

The Health Foundation has warned the existence of digital divides in UK society could create a false sense of security as some segments of society are left in the dark.

The digital divide might not be as obvious in the UK as it is in other places, but that does not mean it is not there. Low income families and the elderly are two segments of society who risk being placed at a higher risk of infection should they not be able to download or consistently run the application, for one reason or another.

To be the most effective, academics have suggested that at least 60% of the population would have to download and operate the application as designed.

“The NHS contact tracing app could play a critical role in the fight against COVID-19, expanding the number of people who are traced and speeding up the process,” said Adam Steventon, Director of Data Analytics at the Health Foundation.

“But there’s a significant risk that many will be left behind. The impact of COVID-19 is already being felt unequally across society and appears to be having a disproportionate impact on people living in more deprived areas, older people, and some ethnic minorities.

“Within that context, it’s especially concerning that people in lower paid jobs and those with less formal education say they are less likely to download and use the app, and of course not everyone has a smartphone.”

A survey commissioned by the Health Foundation and carried out by Ipsos Mori suggests that 62% would be likely to download the application, though when asking routine and manual workers, state pensioners and the unemployed, this figure falls to 50%. 17% of those over the age of 65 do not own a smartphone, neither do 8% of the unemployed.

To validate these results, the UK Consumer Digital Index 2019, a report produced by Lloyds Bank, suggests 13% of UK citizens, some 7.1 million people, cannot open an app.

While it is highly unlikely any Government would be able to produce a COVID-19 which is completely fair, benefiting each and every element of society equally, little attention seems to have been paid to the digital divide.

Interestingly enough, this is a topic which has not been addressed by the telcos. Industry lobby group, the GSMA, has said one thing the industry could do to assist the success of such initiatives would be to zero-rate the applications, meaning none of the data consumed would be held against customer data tariffs. Many NHS websites have been zero rated already, while helplines are generally free to call, but this is an area which it could be extended to.

The consequence of failure to address the digital, or societal, divide is quite clear. Quoted statistics from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the Health Foundation claims that deaths in the most deprived areas are double than of the least deprived. Those facing greater socio-economic disadvantage living in these areas, are also likely to be the individuals less likely to see the benefits of the contract tracing application mentioned above.

“NHSX must ensure that the benefits of the app are experienced by the communities who need these the most, while ensuring that the potential negative consequences of the app, such as false alerts, do not fall on those least able to withstand them,” Steventon said.

“It is also vital that those who do not have access to the app are protected as a priority by the government’s wider Test and Trace system, and that a more comprehensive strategy to tackle health inequalities is put in place.”

There is plenty which can still go wrong with this application, but as the NHSX, the technology unit of the NHS, is doing little to offer any transparency into development, who knows what is going on.

We suspect this app is going to be a disaster. The NHS has decided against listening to advice from Silicon Valley, the guys who really know about building successful applications, and has offered little insight into the Isle of Wight trials. Going on reports from the island, the app was downloaded 50,000 times, though it failed to function for a material number.

Germany and France strive for cloud relevance through Gaia-X project

In a typically European approach, a mass collaboration involving the public and private sectors from Germany and France aims to take on the global cloud computing giants.

If the name – Gaia-X – is anything to go by, the project has lofty aspirations. Gaia theory views the earth as some kind of massive, interconnected hive-mind. For the time being, however, it seems that they’ll settle for Europe, or at least France and Germany. Politicians from the two countries bigged the project up in a joint press conference today, as reported by Politico.

According to the report, the idea is to create some kind of cloud infrastructure and convince European companies to entrust their digital valuables to Gaia-X rather than AWS, Alibaba or whatever. It seems to be more about connecting up a bunch of other cloud providers to make one big one, than creating a platform from scratch, so the name makes sense in that respect.

The announcement coincides with a growing trend towards Balkanisation in the global technology industry, as tensions between the US and China force everyone else to pick a team. Europe, of course, sees itself as the third superpower and thinks it should have the kind of independent tech sector you would expect of any self-respecting superpower.

“We are not China, we are not the United States — we are European countries with our own values and our own European interests that we want to defend,” Frech Minister of the Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire, told reporters. “The COVID crisis has shown that giant tech companies are winners of the crisis.”

The messaging seems to be confused about Gaia-X, as you might expect of a project that has so many stakeholders. On one hand they keep stressing how important it is that Europe has ‘digital sovereignty, on the other they insist that taking on AWS is the last thing on their mind. The German government has published this document in an apparent bid to explain what the point of Gaia-X is, but we’re not sure they succeeded.

Amazon said to be considering $2 billion stake in Bharti Airtel

The strange big tech arms race in the Indian telecoms sector looks set to escalate further if Amazon buys a major stake in Bharti Airtel.

The rumour comes courtesy of Reuters, which has had a word with no less than three people who reckon they’re clued up on the situation. They say Amazon is in early-stage talks to buy a stake worth at least $2 billion in Indian mobile operator Bharti Airtel. That would apparently equate to around 5% of the company, although it seems Amazon could double that investment if it got a sudden rush of blood.

While the Indian telecoms market is arguably the number one growth opportunity in the global market, the operators left standing are all in a lot of debt. That, combined with the depressed value of assets thanks to the coronavirus-induced global recession means there are some great investment opportunities. Not only do they offer potential capital growth, having a piece of the action also grants access to billions of Indian punters.

Which explains why US internet giants are showing such an interest. In April Facebook chucked $5.7 billion at Reliance Jio and last week it was reported that Google is having a sniff around Vodafone Idea. While all this cash will doubtless come with major strings attached, this is probably good for the Indian telecoms sector as a whole as it should enable the operators concerned to accelerate their network rollout plans.

Congress asks FCC to slow down 5G acceleration plans

24 Democrat members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have asked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to delay a vote on a Declaratory Ruling which would dilute local Government’s role in 5G.

Although those in the industry will cringe at the thought of another delay, the reasoning behind this one is certainly valid. In short, local Governments have enough on their plates dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Opinions on changes to the bureaucratic process for telecoms network deployment is not something which can be given full attention at this time.

“We are especially troubled by the burden responding to this Declaratory Ruling will place on local governments that are rightfully focused right now on combatting the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” the letter states.

“Likewise, we worry that if this Declaratory Ruling does not benefit from meaningful input from local governments, the result could undermine municipalities’ ability to balance their responsibilities to public safety and community design with their desire to ensure access to affordable wireless networks and the next generation services.”

What remains to be seen is whether Pai and the FCC take this request on board. There have been broader political requests to offer more time and flexibility on consultation periods, but as the FCC is attempting to dilute the power and influence of local Government authorities, does it actually care about the opinion submissions?

The vote in question here, set to take place on June 9, aims to address several areas and ease the bureaucratic burdens which are placed on telecoms companies while upgrading existing networks. There are three areas which will be introduced in this document:

  1. A shot-clock for decision making for the local authorities
  2. Redefining what would be considered ‘substantial change’ to existing infrastructure, and therefore, what upgrades need to go through the application process
  3. Remove requirements for additional environmental impact studies for some work

The idea is to address a pain-point in the telecoms industry; burdensome bureaucracy. Applications and studies will of course always have their place, but there has been a worry too much red-tape has been introduced to the sector. Telcos complain it is time-consuming, cumbersome and expensive. It slows down network deployment, which will have to be accelerated as the country enters the 5G era.

This is of course an on-going challenge for the telecoms industry, and it is by no means limited to the US. Bureaucracy is a challenge all over the world as the balance between state oversight and corporate freedom is found. The FCC has identified this challenge and is attempting to empower the industry.

The request for a delay to the vote will not be well-received by the industry, however. The US might have been one of the first countries to launch 5G services, it is very debatable who was actually first, but it has since slipped down the pecking order. If it is to retain a leadership position, this will have to be corrected, and at some point, the US telcos will have to react to the aggressive deployment strategies from Chinese counterparts.

UK government reported to be tapping up NEC for 5G network help

As part of a general rethink of the Huawei situation, the UK government seems to have decided it needs to do more than merely set vendor share thresholds.

The gossip comes courtesy of Bloomberg, via the SCMP. Having chatted to people who reckon they know a thing or two, the report claims “Officials spoke with Japanese technology company NEC Corp in May as part of efforts to diversify the range of telecommunications equipment providers for the UK’s 5G mobile networks.”

The rest of the piece goes on about political pressure from the US resulting in many parts of the government losing their nerve and wanting to do what whatever it takes to place Trump and co. It goes on to claim that no single company can currently step in to replace Huawei entirely, which seems to be the justification for government intervention.

That last claim is just wrong. There are no parts of the 5G network served by Huawei that don’t have Ericsson and Nokia equivalents and you have to wonder how Bloomberg thinks the US is coping without Huawei in any part of its networks. It feels like Bloomberg was fed that factoid by its ‘sources’ and has replicated it uncritically.

There is no need for the government to pick a winner when it comes to 5G kit. If it wants Huawei out then it simply has to mandate that. Operators are far better qualified to pick the best tech for the job than the state could ever be and if any of them fancy taking a look at NEC then they will. Hopefully the UK government is not planning to tell operators who they can work with, as well as who they can’t.

This story does coincide with a remarkable rise to prominence for NEC as a 5G player. Yesterday disruptive Japanese operator Rakuten revealed NEC as the primary vendor partner for its 5G core, having cultivated that relationship for a while. Over the course of a few months NEC has gone from being a bit-part player in mobile networks to everyone’s 5G secret weapon.

It’s far from contentious to assume the UK government is tapping up NEC for political reasons. It will be able to say to the US and its own MPs that it’s being proactive about the Huawei situation and is up to speed on the tech side. None of this has anything to do with the technological and commercial facts on the ground and we would expect UK operators to thank the government for trying to help, then ignore it and get on with the day job.

Google to face $5bn privacy lawsuit as consumer craving for secrecy increases

Law firm Boies Schiller Flexner has filed a $5 billion class action lawsuit against Google in the Northern District of California for continuing to collect data while privacy mode is activated.

Alleging Google violated the Federal Wiretap Act, the California Invasion of Privacy Act and the Fourth Amendment, the law firm is suing on behalf of millions. Although $5 billion is a significant financial penalty to be fearful of, Google should perhaps be more worried of precedent as losing this case could open the door for other lawsuits in States with their own privacy laws.

The ruling of this lawsuit will boil down to one question; did Google illegally mislead users by overstating the privacy protection afforded when users activated ‘Incognito’, a mode which supposedly acts as an opt-out for data collection and analysis.

“Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web activity data no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy,” the lawsuit states.

“Indeed, even when Google users launch a web browser with ‘private browsing mode’ activated (as Google recommends to users wishing to browse the web privately), Google nevertheless tracks the users’ browsing data and other identifying information.”

Should the lawsuit be successful, the team would like to award $5,000 in damages to every user who has used Google’s ‘Incognito’ mode since June 1, 2016.


‘Incognito’ mode was first introduced to Google search functions in 2008 and is designed to allow users to browse the internet without Google Chrome remembering the activities. Although it sounds promising, what should be noted is that Google has always stated it is not an absolute protection from online tracking.

The following statement is taken from the Google ‘Incognito’ section of the website:

Chrome won’t save your browsing history, cookies and site data, or information entered in forms. Files you download and bookmarks you create will be kept. Your activity isn’t hidden from websites you visit, your employer or school, or your internet service provider.

The contentious issue is how much ‘Incognito’ mode was oversold to the user, with the Boies Schiller Flexner legal team believing Google misled users. Through applications and functions such as Google Ad Manager and Google Sign-In, the claim is that browsing information was still collected by the search giant despite assurances to the user it wouldn’t.

Of course, what is worth noting is that there is serious incentive for the collection of personal information. According to estimates (albeit, old estimates) from Tim Morey of digital strategy firm Frog, the value of different data segment vary quite significantly:

  • $240 – Social security number
  • $150 – Credit card information
  • $57 – Internet browsing history
  • $38 – Health history
  • $5.7 – Online purchasing history
  • $4.2 – Contact information

The question which is being asked today is whether all of these data collection and analysis strategies are being done legally.


One trend which is becoming increasingly more obvious is the desire for more privacy.

Earlier this week, Brave, a privacy-orientated search engine, said that monthly active users (MAUs) passed 15 million for the first time in May, a 125% increase year-on-year. These browsers also tend to be more engaged, with click-through rates of ads were as high as 9%.

Perhaps it is the dangers of the digital economy hitting home, finally, but users are becoming much more aware of their privacy rights. This is not good for business for the likes of Google and other internet giants where business models are moulded around information, but it does raise a few questions about the suitability of existing privacy laws:

Telecoms.com Poll – Should privacy rules be re-evaluated in light of a new type of society?
30% Yes, the digital economy requires a difference stance on privacy
41% The user should be given more choice to create own privacy rights
29% No, technology has changed but privacy principles are the same

One question which has not been properly addressed is whether the privacy rules which are being enforced today are suitable for the digital era?

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) were passed in 2018, ensuring rules in Europe were fit for purpose, but many countries are dictated by privacy rules and regulations written in a bygone era.

In this lawsuit against Google, the three laws mentioned could certainly be considered out of date:

  • The Federal Wiretap Act was actually written in 1968 and largely replaced by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986
  • California’s Invasion of Privacy Act was first legislated in 1967, though there have been numerous updates, including the California Consumer Privacy Act in 2018
  • The Fourth Amendment was written in 1789 to protect the rights of citizens and prevent warrantless searches of their homes

Although all of these laws are theoretically in the same ballpark, they have been designed for analogue societies. Legal documents are full of nuances and loopholes and taking an example slightly out of context can create all sorts of problems. Today’s digital society is fundamentally different from the analogue era, making it difficult to apply existing laws perfectly.

A donkey might have four legs, a tail and eat hay, but that does not mean it will be at home in the starting gate at a racecourse.


There are plenty of ways the lawsuit against Google can fall apart, most notably as the lawyers on the offensive will have to demonstrate an extensive knowledge of the intricate operations within the search engine business to prove their points. This is an issue.

What you can also guarantee is that Google will throw plenty of legal resources at the case. These are seasoned professionals who have become very well accustomed to defending the internet giant.

Google will of course not want to pay the $5 billion penalty which is being sought by the lawyers championing this class action suit, a bigger consequence is precedent. If lawyers are successful in suing Google for breaking California laws, who is to say another firm would not raise the alarm in any one of the other 49 States which make up the USA.

The USA is a highly litigious country and precedent is a very powerful force in this community.

Road to successful digital transformation: Platform, Ecosystem, and Continuous Reinvention

There aren’t many telecom operators in the world that have not yet realised the importance of digital transformation. However, too often we have seen piecemeal measures being taken, which almost invariably lead to unsatisfactory results.

To succeed in digital transformation, telecoms industry stakeholders need to collaborate and embrace a holistic approach, building from platform up, reaching out to partners beyond the conventional telecoms domains to develop an ecosystem that can address changing market demands, and continuously delivering the most up to date solutions to enable customer value creation.

It is a valid statement that every telecom operator is different from the next one, because the customers they are serving are different, by geography, by segment, or by demographics, often by all of these factors. On the other hand, there is also strong commonality between operators, because the fundamental requirements to support digital service provision that most of the customers demand are the same. These include data collection, storage, governance, and cross-domain data analysis, frictionless handling and delivery of content and service, accurate billing, payment settlement, and many more.

This makes it a classic scenario where the 80:20 principle should apply. In other words, about 80% of a typical customer’s demand to power their digital services can be satisfied by a strong unified platform. Such a platform should be able to satisfy most use cases, carry out common tasks like network planning, construction, maintenance, optimisation, and operations, and should be equipped with the full AI suite, including AI algorithm engine, one-stop AI development environment, and AI service operation.

The platform should also have the flexibility to enable partners to develop or customise their own use cases. This is where the other 20% of customer requirement should be addressed. Despite the strong commonality between operator demands, no single platform can satisfy all the different requirements, and these are better served by a vibrant ecosystem gravitated towards the platform. Such a “pull” effect can be achieved with the platform’s capability to enable, to certify, to support, to incentivise, and so on.

When it comes to incentives to attract more partners to the ecosystem, different revenue sharing schemes can be implemented. For example, if the customer’s demand can be satisfied by a partner’s standard solution, in other words, if the partner does not need to customise its solutions for the customer, revenues may be split equally between the platform and the partner. In cases where partners need to customise their solutions to meet customer needs, the partners should have a bigger share of the revenues. The platform can also set up an “application marketplace” to host apps developed by partners. In such cases, dominant revenue sharing models used by leading consumer and business application stores, for example Salesforce AppExchange should be applied.

One operational characteristic that has separated internet companies from conventional telecom operators is that internet companies would undergo continuous delivery of new features and functions while telecom operators’ networks and services are more static. This needs to change if telecom operators’ digital transformation is to succeed. Such continuous reinvention is not limited to functions and technologies of the digital platform either, it should also continuously improve the enablement of the ecosystem that the platform orchestrates. Equally important is that such continuous delivery of improvement should not only be frequent but also discreet, without interrupting customers’ business operation.

As we can see, successful interaction between the three key elements, the platform, the ecosystem, and the continuous operation, to create values for customers relies heavily on the strengths of the platform.

Source: Huawei

Huawei’s General Digital Engine (GDE) is such a unified big data platform. It is built with the company’s expertise accumulated and refreshed from over three decades’ experience of serving telecom operators and other customers around the world. Such expertise has been with our engineers but with the GDE platform, it is now digitised and can serve all the customers in a broad range of service scenarios. It is also equipped with Huawei’s artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to help customers cope with and predict market and business demands that go beyond the capability of manual calculation.

Such expertise and capability are continuously being updated, to make the platform more powerful and able to meet more customer needs, therefore simplifying the transformation, shortening the time to market, and optimising lifetime total cost of ownership. Huawei will keep updating the platform, at least twice a year, to enable partners to deliver customisation more easily.

The platform is also the anchor point of a broader ecosystem, working with operator customers to first engage qualified existing partners, then to recruit new partners.

Moreover, the platform, the ecosystem, and the continuous operation mode all live by these values:

  • Agility: always ready to adapt to new market and customer needs and opportunities
  • Openness: open-minded approach to new technologies and new approach to solve problems
  • Equality: treating all partners in the ecosystem equally and fairly

‘Remove China Apps’ was top of the Indian Android charts until Google removed it

China seems to be falling out with everyone these days, as symbolised by the popularity of an Indian app designed solely to help uninstall Chinese ones.

The FT reports that ‘Remove China Apps’ was taken down from the Google Play store because Google’s policies don’t allow apps that help people delete or disable other apps. Judging by the cached app page, which you can see a screenshot of below, the developer tried to get around that stipulation by insisting the app merely served to inform people of the country of origin of their apps. If so, they somewhat undermined that effort with the naming of the app.

Onetouch Applabs, which developed the app, managed evade the Android police for a week or two, however, in which time it was apparently downloaded five million times and was briefly at the top of the download chart. The most intriguing aspect of this story is not that the app was taken down, but that it was so instantly popular.

“The focus of the prime minister Narendra Modi’s fifth televised address on Covid-19 was ‘Atm Nirbhar Bharat’ or a self-reliant India,” explains the developer. “Remove China App will help people to support “Atm Nirbhar Bharat’ by identifying  the origin country of the applications installed in their mobile phones.” Modi doesn’t seem to have named China specifically, but there’s plenty of evidence that’s the country he’s most keen to be less reliant on.

At the end of April India moved to protect its domestic assets from Chinese acquisition. More recently there has been significant tension at a bit of disputed border between India and China, at the Galwan Valley. The belligerent in that dispute appears to have been China, which is especially keen on claiming random bits of land these days.

Symbolically, the Galwan Valley region is near the ancient Silk Road between China and Europe/Africa. China’s Belt and Road strategy takes its name from that and is generally viewed as an attempt at economic imperialism. With India growing increasingly hostile to China and the US ramping its own antagonism, the country is running out of people to do business with. Unfortunately China seems likely to double down on its own belligerence in response to this resistance, which makes a new global cold war ever more likely.

2020 will see a video conferencing profit boom, but it could be short-lived

Zoom might be riding a high for the moment, but unless it starts to add additional value into its products it will soon wither away to the realms of irrelevance.

Yesterday, June 2, Zoom announced its financial results for the three-month period ending April 30. Total revenues increased by 169% year-on-year, while the management team boasted of more than 265,000 customers with more than 10 employees, up 354% year-on-year.

The coronavirus pandemic has certainly been profitable for the video conferencing firm.

“We were humbled by the accelerated adoption of the Zoom platform around the globe in Q1,” said CEO Eric Yuan. “The COVID-19 crisis has driven higher demand for distributed, face-to-face interactions and collaboration using Zoom. Use cases have grown rapidly as people integrated Zoom into their work, learning, and personal lives.”

For some companies, the rapid shift in working behaviour has been a welcome change, and while some of these trends will remain permanent, what remains to be seen is whether the profits will be.

Telecoms.com Poll – Do you think your business will continue the current work from home dynamic once the coronavirus pandemic has passed?
34% Yes, we’ll be given the option to work as we please
25% Yes, but we’ll have to check into the office occasionally
4% No, but others job functions in the company will
6% No, can’t do my job properly unless in the office
6% No, my company is still not convinced by remote working

What has been made quite clear over the last few weeks is that the remote working dynamic will at least partly be embraced. The digital transformation programme companies have been strong-armed through has proven successful, economies have not ground to a halt through COVID-19, and even the most traditional (dated) managers would have to keep some of the new working practices.

Admittedly this is a small poll, but Gartner supports the outcome, suggesting that while 60% of meetings take place in-person today, this could drop to as little as 25% in 2024.

Employees are happier, productivity has been maintained and cost-savings can be realised with a more mobile workforce. What is there not to like?

But the question some suppliers will ask is how much money can be made in the future?

According to Gartner unified communications (UC) research, overall spending on video conferencing software will increase 24.3% in 2020. This is the second-fastest growing category in the UC market, only behind cloud-based telephony. Both of these surges can be easily explained by the coronavirus pandemic.

Worryingly for companies like Zoom, this growth is forecast to taper off in 2021, while are suspicions that cloud expenditure could be rationalised over the mid-term, effectively penalising niche suppliers who do not offer a portfolio of services.

When we spoke to Nick McQuire of CCS Insight, he highlighted that while increased cloud spend might be sustainable post-COVID-19 as mobility trends are embraced, there are likely to be rationalisation projects on the horizon. As many of the decisions made to enable remote working were likely to have been knee-jerk reactions, overlap within organisations could exist or decisions might have been poor ones.

These rationalisation programmes could manifest in numerous different ways. Centralised procurement could mean single suppliers are selected, contracts could be ended as better options are found, or free services could be bundled into existing commercial contracts as value adds.

The final possibility is one which should be feared by all nice software providers who specialise in single areas. Best in breed suppliers could be sacrificed at the altar of financial efficiency. You have to consider what is out there currently.

Zoom is a video conferencing service, with plans to offer a cloud-telephony service in addition, however it offers little else. Other companies will offer the same services, perhaps not as high a quality, but as long as a satisfactory experience is achievable this is a palatable concession for a bundled contract.

Google, for instance, has made its video conferencing services free for all. This is temporary, but it could be made free for corporate customers in the future bundled into a contract which also includes desktop virtualisation, cloud storage, data analytics and numerous other elements. Bundled contracts are generally cheaper for the customer, and Google would most likely be very accommodating.

GoToMeeting is another niche player in the video conferencing world, though it is part of the LogMeIn group which also offers desktop virtualisation and user authentication services. This is not as broad as a supplier like Google, but there is an opportunity to bundle. Another example of a niche service is BlueJeans, however this was recently acquired by Verizon and will certainly be bundled into larger connectivity contracts for enterprise customers.

During the recent earnings call, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said the business would continue to be ‘laser-focused’ on video and phone service, though competition should be welcomed to encourage innovation. Being the best in one area and little else is fine in a perfect scenario, but the world is very rarely in such a state. Decision makers will state that they will search for best in breed, but sometimes concessions have to be made. Budgets do exist after all and the ultimate objective is to make money.

This is the risk that niche providers will face. They could be muscled out of the market as enterprise decision makers elect for more cost-effective bundled service offerings. Such thinking would benefit the tech giants, but with a recession on the horizon it might be a trend we’ll have to get used to.