Even Google can get hacked… maybe

For those security staff who feel insecure or embarrassed about getting hacked, news that Google may have been disrupted by an external irritant will come as some comfort.

On November 12 for approximately 30 minutes as some services became unavailable after traffic was being rerouted through other networks. The company has not disclosed the specific nature of the disturbance, though it also hasn’t ruled out nefarious individuals.

“The issue with Google Cloud IP addresses being erroneously advertised by internet service providers other than Google has been resolved for all affected users as of 14:35 US/Pacific,” the company stated.

“Throughout the duration of this issue Google services were operating as expected and we believe the root cause of the issue was external to Google. We will conduct an internal investigation of this issue and make appropriate improvements to our systems to help prevent or minimize future recurrence.”

Network intelligence company ThousandEyes reported problems with its own G-Suite services, noting internet traffic from its own San Francisco office was traversing through China and Russia on its way back to Google, sparking some concerns. Unfortunately for ThousandEyes, this wasn’t a problem limited to the San Francisco office and was affecting all locations around the world.

No company is immune to the shady corners of the internet, though some would assume an organization as savvy and powerful as Google would be safer than most. Although the disturbance only lasted for a short period of time, for 30 minutes traffic was traversing through some countries which have a history of monitoring communications lines.

While this would be a perfect opportunity to jump on the ‘China is evil’ bandwagon, what is worth noting is traffic would drop upon hitting the Great Firewall of China, according to ThousandEyes’ investigation. Therefore it is logical to assume the attack was either an internal glitch from Google, or an external attack from someone aside from China.

For those who are constantly battling against the dark forces of the internet to keep customers and employees safe from prying eyes, take some comfort that even Google can get rocked by hackers, potentially…

SpaceX hits the skies with the launch of another comms satellite

Elon Musk’s SpaceX completed another successful launch this weekend, delivering the 7,000 kg Telstar 19 Vantage satellite from Cape Canaveral to offer connectivity across the Americas.

The launch, which was partially under threat due to adverse weather conditions, took place on Sunday morning with the satellite deployed 32 minutes after lift-off. Following the separation, the Falcon 9 launch vehicle was successfully landed on the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ drone ship, an autonomous vessel to allow for recovery of rocket assets, which is stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. The satellite will be owned and operated by Canadian satellite communications company Telesat.

Operating from Telesat’s prime orbital location of 63 degrees West, 22,250 miles above the earth, the Telstar 19 Vantage satellite has two high throughput payloads, one in Ku-band and the other in Ka-band, serving the South, Central and North American regions. In South America, Telesat’s customer Hughes Network Systems has invested to make use of the Ka-band capacity, while the Ka-band capacity over Northern Canada, the Caribbean and the North Atlantic Ocean will be utilised by several different customers including Bell Canada subsidiary Northwestel. In-orbit testing will now commence before services kick-off in the summer, with a 15-year design life.

While the satellite communications segment is certainly a more niche aspect of the overall sector, SpaceX is creating somewhat of a strangle hold on the launch industry with estimates putting Musk’s market share at more than 50%. The trick here seems to be SpaceX’s cash conscious attitude and drive to recycle as much of the assets as possible. While this is the first time this Falcon 9 asset hit the skies, SpaceX has recycled reusable rocket boosters on more than 20 occasions, with the team hoping recovered assets can each be used between 10 and 100 times.

SpaceX has a busy schedule over the next couple of months, with the next launches taking place on July 25 and August 2 for Iridium and Telkom Indonesia respectively.

Telstar 19 Vantage Launch

Example of Falcon 9 landing on recovery vessel

Coverage of Telstar 19 Vantage

Satellite Coverage

Facebook realises building aircraft is not a core competence

Social media giant Facebook has come to the conclusion that it might be better to leave the building of aircraft to aircraft-builders.

Facebook has been very active in exploring novel ways of bringing connectivity to people who don’t have it for a while. In 2016 it unveiled a few initiatives, including the Terragraph fixed wireless access project and the even more ambitious Aquila programme, focused on using huge, high-altitude drones to bring connectivity to remote locations.

At the time nobody was building the kind of drones Facebook needed to deliver the latter, so it decided to have a go at it itself, despite having zero experience in the matter. On one level that seemed like the kind of buccaneering, can-do approach we admire Silicon Valley companies for, but in hindsight it’s not clear Facebook fully thought it through.

So now we get the announcement that, despite having been apparently committed to Aquila a year ago, Facebook has decided get out of the aircraft-building game and close its UK facility. Facebook has been keen to stress that Aquila and its participation in the high-altitude platform station (HAPS) are still happening, it’s just letting companies like Airbus focus on the planes themselves, which seems fair enough.

The spin seems to be that all the stuff Facebook has done so far has seeded the market and provided the catalyst it apparently needed to take this sort of thing seriously. That may be true it seems unlikely that this was the plan from the start. But regardless, we shouldn’t pillory companies like Facebook for continuing to dare to fail fast, and welcome any contribution to the broader comms R&D effort.

Eutelsat thinks about buying Inmarsat, then decides not to

You know when something seems like a really good idea but then you sleep on it and wake up wondering what on earth you were thinking?

That seems to have been what happened at the top of EMEA satellite operator Eutelsat when it thought it might buy rival UK satellite operator Inmarsat (it’s apparently a legal obligation for every satellite company to have ‘sat’ at the end of its name). Yesterday it announced it was seriously considering it but today indicated it just can’t be bothered with the hassle.

“Eutelsat notes the recent speculation and confirms that it is currently evaluating a possible offer for Inmarsat,” said Eutelsat yesterday. “There can be no certainty any offer will be made, nor as to the terms of any offer.”

By today the party line was “Pursuant to market rumours, during the trading session on 25 June 2018, Eutelsat issued, at the request of the UK Panel on Takeovers and Mergers, a press release confirming that it was considering a possible offer for Inmarsat, without any certainty that an offer would be made. This statement was made in strict compliance with Rule 2.2 of the Code.

“Eutelsat hereby states that it does not intend to make an offer for Inmarsat and is consequently, except with the consent of the Panel, bound by the restrictions set out under Rule 2.8 of the Code applicable during six months from the date of this announcement.

“Eutelsat reserves the right to announce an offer or possible offer for Inmarsat or participate in an offer or possible offer for Inmarsat or take any other action which would otherwise be restricted under Rule 2.8 of the Code within six months from the date of this announcement in the following circumstances: (i) with the consent of the Board of Inmarsat; (ii) if a third party (including another publicly identified potential offeror) announces a firm intention to make an offer for Inmarsat; (iii) if Inmarsat announces a “whitewash” proposal or a reverse takeover; or (iv) if the Panel determines there has been a material change of circumstances.”

Take the lawyers out of the equation and the statement reads: ‘we’re not going to make an offer now but we might later.’ The FT reports that one of the main reasons Eutelsat decided not to bother with the move is that there are a bunch of political complications, especially from the UK side, and there was a decent chance it would be blocked.

Facebook is quietly exploring satellite broadband delivery

Through an almost non-existent subsidiary, Facebook is seemingly exploring how it can play a role in the delivery of connectivity through low-orbit satellites.

In a partially redacted application to the FCC, PointView Tech LLC has filed an application to launch and operate a single low-orbit, non-geostationary satellite, known as Athena, to see whether the delivery of connectivity through such assets is a feasible exercise. Although PointView Tech is pretty much non-existent aside from on paper, the scent can be tracked back to Facebook HQ in California.

The application reads: “PointView’s request for experimental authority also encompasses two earth station that will conduct E-band communications with the satellite. The mission will be to determine whether such satellite communications can effectively provide broadband access to unserved and underserved areas throughout the world.”

Interestingly enough, should the experiment prove successful, Facebook might be able to outdo the likes of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, or the Richard Branson backed OneWeb. The application details plans to ‘validate’ technologies which allow the transmission of E-Band communications, more specifically 71-76 GHz for the downlink and 81-86 GHz for the uplink; the much heralded mmWave spectrum. A successful demonstration would offer faster download speeds than the likes of Musk or Branson are targeting.

Aside from this application to the FCC, Facebook is also on the recruitment trail to find an Extra-Terrestrial Product Manager. The new hire will be expected to guidance for the airborne and space-based connectivity technology roadmap, working with technologies including free-space optical communication, high frequency RF/mmWave RF, and electro-mechanical.

As you would expect, the objective here is to fuel the connectivity craze. Facebook is an incredibly profitable machine, however the business model is extremely narrow; get people on the platform and serve them personalised ads. Delivery of the model is complex, but the concept is not. For growth to continue, Facebook needs to figure out how to keep current users on the platform for longer, but also think of new ways to attract new users. Rolling out broadband to the unconnected regions is one way which this can be achieved.

This is hardly a new topic for the social media giant. At each edition of its annual developers conference, Facebook talks about connecting the unconnected, and this year is no different. At F8 Facebook boasted of partnerships with local operators to bring new fiber infrastructure to Uganda, and also work with the City of San Jose testing an advanced Wi-Fi network supported by Terragraph, as part of the Telecom Infra Project.

“Almost 3.8 billion people still aren’t with internet access,” said CTO Mike Schroepfer. “Having connectivity really boils down to solving a couple of key problems. We need to actually have access, we need to make it affordable, we need to increase awareness. So we have been working on a portfolio of technological and operational solutions to make this happen.”

Facebook has not done a very good job at differentiating revenue generation, therefore stimulating the expansion of connectivity to underserved regions is critical for the future of the business. There is still room to grow in the established markets, though the glass ceiling is looming on the horizon; Facebook can only monetize each user so much without denting the experience, though some might question whether this is actually now the case. As it hasn’t found new ways to make money, like Google or Amazon venturing into cloud IaaS services for example, growth can only be fuelled by new users.

The satellite itself is scheduled to be launched in 2019 to embark on a two-year experiment, so this certainly isn’t an overnight fix to the connectivity problem, but there certainly is gathering momentum for satellite broadband delivery.

Orange looks to the skies to boost connectivity

Orange has announced a deal with Eutelsat to act as one of two distribution partners on the satellite operator’s Konnect VHTS asset, expected to be operational in 2021.

Satellite is an area of the communications world which is becoming increasingly popular for telcos in regions where delivering connectivity through traditional infrastructure is more expensive, such as remote or rural communities. Orange has confirmed it will use the partnership to address the fixed broadband market in European countries where it has a retail presence.

“Satellite is one of the technologies that contribute to building tomorrow’s inclusive digital society, especially for delivering broadband connectivity in rural areas where it is sometimes challenging to set up traditional broadband networks,” said Stéphane Richard, CEO of Orange. With this agreement, we will enhance our portfolio of very high speed internet solutions delivered by satellite, offering all our customers across Europe digital services of premium quality.”

While Orange has been preaching about its work in laying fibre throughout France and Spain, the partnership with Eutelsat could provide an alternative means of broadband delivery in places such as Moldova, Romania and Poland where the rollout has not been as extensive. It certainly would be a more cost-effective way to deliver the convergence promise. It might also work as a compromise in the fibre-rich markets for those awkward farmers who are hard to reach.

The satellite itself will have a Ka-band capacity of 500 Gbps and will include what Eutelsat describes as the most powerful on-board digital processor ever put in orbit. This asset also replaces the joint investment project with ViaSat in a ViaSat 3 satellite for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, which caught many by surprise. The partnership with ViaSat had been proving a successful one to date, the ViaSat-2 satellite launched last summer, and ViaSat 3 is due to have double the capacity of Konnect VHTS. Konnect VHTS does have a greater concentration of coverage over Europe however.

While satellites are an area of the telco space which has been more focused on regions like Africa to date, telcos elsewhere are beginning to make more noise. Aside from this agreement, Vodafone also entered into a partnership in 2016 with Intelsat for roaming services, while SoftBank agreed to invest $1 billion in US satellite firm OneWeb.

It’s looking more like the Internet of Threats at the moment – IBM

With 4G finally on the verge of being ubiquitous and 5G on the horizon the prospect of IoT is becoming real, but are organizations taking a genuinely thorough approach to security? New research from IBM does not suggest so.

‘Building the plane while flying it’ is a phrase which we quite like from the report and while it is certainly an enviable strategy, there is risk of overlooking details. This is not to say companies should not be playing around with the ‘fail fast’ mentality, but attitudes towards security need to change drastically otherwise IoT will be nothing more than a liability.

This is not a new idea, but it is quite amazing that we are still complaining. For new technologies to be secure, for companies to be able to meet the privacy demands and for the industry to avoid another tsunami of data breaches, security needs to be built into the foundations of any proposition, product or service. Unfortunately security still seems to be considered little more than an afterthought; perhaps the emergence of IoT will make the previous years’ trend of data breaches seem like nothing more than a drop in the ocean?

IBM’s latest report is not incredibly detailed, but it doesn’t have to be. According to the research, 36% of executives rank IoT security as a top challenge for the business, so it is recognised. But we get the impression because it isn’t a revenue driving aspect of operations it is overlooked. The risk here is that IoT technologies are being deployed at a faster pace than they can be secured. When you look at the predictions you can see this is not just a stab-in-the-dark claim.

The IoT market is expected to grow from an installed base of 15 billion devices in 2015, through to 30 billion devices by 2020 and then onto 75 billion by 2025. While this massive rollout is gathering pace, there still isn’t really a comprehensive approach or solution to secure an organization from malicious intent.

Perhaps one of the most worrying statistics from the report is the ways in which companies are mitigating risk. The top strategy, with 45% of the respondents, is purchasing insurance. While this might satisfy the number men it is not addressing the security issue. Insurance will not stop a nefarious actor or protect your organization from an intrusion. This is the attitude to security which is worrying, many are just accepting it will happen, protecting themselves from the repercussions as opposed to actually doing anything to try and prevent it. It is quite a baffling approach.

IBM IOT Security

As you can see from the table above (taken from the report), it would be unfair to say that organizations are doing nothing, but IBM notes that there is so much more which can be achieved. Perhaps the biggest threat is an incomplete understanding of the risks posed by IoT deployments, which is natural in these early days. Maybe the best ways to move forward is to learn by doing as theoretical studies can only get you so far. Perhaps a more cautious approach would be advisable however.

There is of course a lot of work to be done, which is why we might see some disasters. To comprehensively secure your network against threats IBM notes every IoT endpoint must be identified and profiled, added to an asset inventory and monitored. It should be imperative to understand every gateway to the network, what it does and who it talks to; every connected device is a potential entry point and should be treated as a vulnerability. This will involve a lot of leg-work, a lot of time and money, so there will of course be cowboys who cut corners to steal a couple of yards on competitors. This is unavoidable, but hopefully the damage will be limited.

Most of the technology is already available. Threat detection software is available, machine learning algorithms can be written to monitor regular behaviour of devices/gateways and encryption techniques are common. There will need to be advances made but the foundations are there for a secure platform. Maybe we’re just about to find out who actually cares about security and who view it simply as a soundbite.

One small step for SpaceX, one giant leap for the internet

It might have been a couple of days overdue, but Elon Musk’s SpaceX has finally launched its first satellite with the promise of delivering high-speed, reliable internet.

The launch itself is one of the first steps taken in an ambitious project known as Starlink which will aim to nearly 12,000 satellites to orbit by the mid-2020s to create a space-based Internet communication system. While the idea of satellite delivery for internet is not new, Musk’s plan is to use smaller satellites which operate in a low earth orbit, which in theory should remove any lag in delivery, is a new approach. This lag has been the criticism of such ambitions in years gone.

The launch officially took place at 6.17am on February 21, after a three day delay. The PAZ satellite will orbit Earth 15 times per day, covering an area of over 300,000km2 from an altitude of 514km and a velocity of seven km per second. While this might not seem like a huge amount of coverage, once Musk has launched a couple thousand of these assets into orbit, it becomes a much more feasible idea.

Now down to the techie stuff. The satellites will employ optical inter-satellite links and advanced phased array beam forming and digital processing technologies in the Ku- and Ka-band according to documents filed with the FCC. Many of the details on how the satellites will actually work are being kept under wraps right now, though we do know the assets will use frequencies above 10,000 GHz. These satellites will be linked to flat user terminals, as opposed to directly to handsets, which can be placed anywhere assuming they can see the sky. In terms of set up, it does sound simple which could appeal to developing markets.

It does seem like a very good idea, perhaps one of the reasons it has not been overly considered to date is because of the expense. The theory is there, but the practicalities of running a space-based Internet communication system are relatively unknown – experience for the vast majority has been limited to earth to date. It is an expensive experiment, but Musk has made his name through expensive experiments; blue-sky thinking is generally limited to those with large bank accounts after all.

The effect on the wider communications industry is likely to be felt in the rural communities, under-developed market and notorious not-spots though. Musk is unlikely to have any profound impact on the way the majority of Western markets consume the internet, as while this is a nice idea, speeds and reliability from the satellites will not be able to compete with fibre.

 

Sky moves to ditch the dish

UK premium TV and video content provider Sky has indicated it wants to allow access to all its services over broadband, hence removing the need for a satellite dish.

The statement was made during Sky’s latest quarterly earnings announcement, in which Group Chief Exec Jeremy Darroch said he plans to introduce ‘Sky over fibre’ in Italy and its first all-IP service in Austria, both of which remove the need to bolt a great big plate to the side of your house.

There are already many opportunities to get Sky content over a regular broadband connection, with the Now TV option of cherry-picking families of Sky content on a rolling monthly contract apparently proving popular. In a bid to make it even more so Sky is launching the Now TV Stick – a USB dongle you can plug into your telly to make the magic happen.

Lastly there were a bunch of announcements regarding investment in original programming, including the launch of Sky Cinema Original Films (not Movies, note). This indicates that Sky increasingly considers itself in competition with Amazon, Netflix, etc, rather than terrestrial broadcasters.

“Increasing investment in its own Sky original productions is sensible in light of its recent successes, and its efforts to reduce churn in the UK are resonating with users in part due to Sky VIP which has attracted 1.4m users,” said Paolo Pescatore, Analyst at CCS Insight.

“All eyes are now firmly on the Premier League rights auction. Sky cannot afford to lose its prized assets. Therefore, it must ensure to at least secure the similar packages it has today. However, the channel sharing agreement with BT helps both parties somewhat in the distribution of sports channels to their customers.

“The Now TV streaming stick is big news. Sky is looking to jump on the bandwagon of this segment given the popularity of these small form factor devices. People will be blown away with the price of the new Now TV streaming stick as well as the bundles (stick and passes).

“And let’s not forget the slew of new features, which in our opinion will strongly resonate with users; such as voice control, pause live TV and full HD for the first time on a Now TV product.

This will be a key product ahead of the summer months, when the new EU content portability changes come into effect.”

Dropping the dish, improving its SVOD and general IP content offering and investing heavily in original content all smacks of taking the fight to the big internet players. It’s easy to see a future when linear, as opposed to on-demand, TV is an obscure niche. The only type of content people will continue to feel compelled to watch at specific times will be live events such as football matches. Everything else will move to the Netflix model.

Connecting Africa: from the Serengeti to the Sahara

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Nathan Sawicki, Global Head of Marketing and Communications at Cyient, gives us an overview of the opportunities and challenges facing the African market.

Africa is the market on the lips of the global telecommunications industry; with PWC summarising the situation perfectly, “One region of the world stands out as a vast opportunity for untapped growth: Africa…. [It] is now at the inflection point where high potential starts to turn into high growth.”

Despite political unrest and weak economic growth in the past, smartphone ownership is increasing at breakneck speed and consumers are using more mobile applications than ever before. This demand for new mobile services is matched by the potential of the region, as the lack of ageing, legacy infrastructure removes barriers to adoption. As a result, telecoms companies are taking full advantage, using new technologies to provide innovative solutions to everyday problems.

The potential of the smartphone generation for telecoms

The second largest continent in the world, Africa has a predominantly young and dynamic population. The median age in sub-Saharan Africa is under 19 and there are more people under the age of 20 here than anywhere else on earth. But it’s not just a young population; the number of people on the continent is projected to double by 2050, reaching two billion. From a telecoms perspective, this can only be good news.

This age group has a huge appetite for mobile technology, with more than two thirds of people across the continent saying they already own a mobile, and that figure is growing. Ghana for instance, went from 8% mobile phone ownership in 2002 to 83% in 2015. As the continent begins to play a greater role on the wider global economic stage, this connected younger generation are crucial to its success. Global mobile data will increase sevenfold from 2016 to 2021 and mobile internet usage could make up 10% of Africa’s economy by 2025 – that translates to $300 billion in GDP. As basic smartphones dip below what McKinsey refer to as the “tipping point” of $100 per unit, we could see another 300 million new smartphones in the hands of the African population in less than a decade.

Leap-frogging fixed lines

It’s not just the continent’s population that presents such a good opportunity for the African telecoms industry, but also, its relative lack of installed infrastructure in both communications and banking.

While other continents are still working out how to manage legacy cables, phone lines and now-obsolete technology from previous generations, Africa has avoided fixed lines for the most part. This absence of pre-installed and outdated infrastructure has allowed providers to essentially leap-frog the fixed line development phase altogether. Operators have gone straight into satellite and wireless technology and are able to deliver this quickly and cheaply; making access universal across the continent.

In some African countries, significant infrastructure investment, such as mobile broadband and fibre-optic cable connections to households, is further accelerating the advancement of the continent’s mobile technology. Combining this with the widespread availability and demand for low-cost smartphones and tablets has enabled millions of Africans to be connected.

From smart agriculture to mobile transactions

On top of being one of the world’s most dynamic telecoms growth markets, Africa is also one of the most innovative. The ease of access, high demand, and lower technological and infrastructure costs (due to economies of scale) all provide strong conditions to foster entrepreneurialism.

Often seen as a global testing lab, the African telecoms market is now leading the way in developing mobile applications across a number of sectors, particularly payments, commerce, health and education. By harnessing these digital techniques, telecoms operators are finding new ways to solve daily struggles on the continent.

For example, in industries such as agriculture and fishing, Africa’s applied technology innovations are enabling farmers to communicate with each other and the markets. People can access accurate information on everything from weather, crop selection and pest control to management and finance. What’s more, authorities are using technological developments to prevent illegal fishing. Applications like Dialog trade net enable farmers and produce vendors to check the spot prices of agricultural goods via mobile phone, increasing efficiency and productivity and reducing the likelihood of exploitation.

In banking, M-PESA is a mobile-based money transfer service that has become widely popular in Africa – six billion transactions were completed last year alone. It is used by many individuals who may not have access to their own bank account but who want to trade money in the formal economy. Connectivity doesn’t just reduce the transaction cost, but brings financial services to those people who live even in the most remote parts of this vast continent. With this technology in place, more than 60% of Africans could have access to banking services by 2025.

With the meteoric pick-up of smartphone technology, the African population is becoming increasingly more sophisticated in its use of mobile applications. Locally relevant content, video-on-demand, and m-learning are high on consumer wish lists and are expected to further boost competition for operators in this booming marketplace for years to come.