UK government unveils its cunning plan for future telecoms

Some UK officials had a bit of a think about telecoms infrastructure and were so pleased with the outcome they wrote it down and published it.

Whitehall’s condensed telecoms wisdom has manifested itself in the form of the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review – a 90-page brain dump full of top tips on how to make the UK better at telecoms, with a heavy emphasis on ‘full fibre’. Only this, it seems, will keep our national pipes healthy and regular.

We want everyone in the UK to benefit from world-class connectivity no matter where they live, work or travel,” said new Secretary of State for this sort of thing Jeremy Wright. “This radical new blueprint for the future of telecommunications in this country will increase competition and investment in full fibre broadband, create more commercial opportunities and make it easier and cheaper to roll out infrastructure for 5G.”

Sounds good Jezza, so let’s take a closer look. Here are the key recommendations from the report:

  • New legislation that will guarantee full fibre connections to new build developments;
  • Providing operators with a ‘right to entry’ to flats, business parks, office blocks and other tenanted properties to allow those who rent to receive fast, reliable connectivity, from the right supplier at the best price;
  • Reforms to the regulatory environment for full fibre broadband that will drive investment and competition and is tailored to different local market conditions;
  • Public investment in full fibre for rural areas to begin simultaneously with commercial investment in urban locations;
  • An industry led switchover (from copper to full fibre) coordinated with Ofcom;
  • A new nationwide framework which will reduce the costs, time and disruption caused by street-works by standardising the approach across the country;
  • Increased access to spectrum for innovative 5G services
  • Infrastructure (including pipes and sewers) owned by other utilities such as power, gas and water, should be easy to access, and available for both fixed and mobile use;
  • Ofcom to reform regulation, allowing unrestricted access to Openreach ducts and poles for both residential and business use, including essential mobile infrastructure;
  • Alongside the FTIR, Government has also published a Digital Infrastructure Toolkit which will allow mobile networks to make far greater use of Government buildings to boost coverage across the UK.

To be fair there do seem to be some genuinely useful measures in that list. Improved access to sites is something regularly called for by operators and if that, together with a significantly more benign regulatory environment, is actually delivered, then telcos will have far fewer excuses for not just cracking on with the job. Having said that the obligation for new builds to have full fibre connections could further inhibit that already feeble industry.

“We welcome the government’s review, and share its ambition for full-fibre and 5G networks to be rolled out right across the UK,” said Ofcom Chief Exec Sharon White. “The government and Ofcom are working together, and with industry, to help ensure people and businesses get the broadband and mobile they need for the 21st century.”

The ‘notes to Editors’ at the end of the press release seek to further illustrate what a great idea ‘full fibre’ (i.e. FTTP) is. In a blow to technologies such as Gfast they note that running fibre and copper in parallel is inefficient. They also reckon that ‘if we get the conditions right’ the market should deliver 80% FTTP coverage (Portugal is already at 89%), despite onlt being at 4% right now.

The company largely responsible for delivering 20x more fibre than we currently have will be Openreach. “We’re encouraged by the government’s plan to promote competition, tackle red tape and bust the barriers to investment,” said an Openreach spokesperson. “As the national provider, we’re ambitious and want to build full fibre broadband to 10 million premises and beyond – so it’s vital that this becomes an attractive investment without creating digital inequality or a lack of choice for consumers and businesses across the country.”

The report doesn’t quantify the total number of premises in the UK but it does say around a million currently have FTTP, and since that represents 4% of the total that gives us 25 million premises. In turn that means Openreach’s lofty ambition would still only get us half way to 80% so there remains a lot of work to be done.

A lot of that, it seems, will be done by CityFibre, which is aiming to connect 20% of the country to fibre by 2025. “Today marks the day the government decided once and for all to leave copper behind and commit the UK to a full fibre future, making clear that a new generation of infrastructure builders is the vehicle for delivering its bold ambition for all homes and businesses to be connected to full fibre by 2033, not just Openreach,” said Mark Collins, Director of Strategy at CityFibre.

“However, it is critical that the consumer is at the heart of this fantastic opportunity from the start, as this is the key to unlocking demand. That means avoiding price rises, ensuring switching between networks is simple and ending the years of misleading ‘fake fibre’ advertising. Getting both sides of the equation right is key to ensuring millions of homes and businesses will benefit – we now need to see the Government and Ofcom push these plans through.”

CityFibre isn’t the only independent fixed infrastructure player to cautiously welcome the report, but with an air of ‘I’ll believe it when I see it. “We welcome the Government’s statement today that a switchover from hybrid to full fibre networks could be underway in the majority of the country by 2030. But the devil is in the detail,” said Evan Wienburg, CEO of full fibre infrastructure provider TrueSpeed.

“While the Government is right to state that a full-throttle drive to nationwide full fibre connectivity requires competition and commercial investment to succeed, a fair and equitable playing field for all infrastructure providers is essential,” said  This has not always been the case. There are numerous examples of tax payers’ money being wasted by national incumbent providers building FTTC/FTTP networks in areas where privately funded infrastructure providers have already deployed.”

Coinciding with the publication of this report is the formation of a pan-European alliance of indie fibre providers, including CityFibre. Its aim seems to be to promote the wholesale-only model and make sure fibre means fibre in broadband advertising. The alliance doesn’t seem to have a name yet but something like the Fibre Union of Connectivity Kings might do the trick.

At the very least this report and its recommendations give outfits like CityFibre a concrete set of parameters to refer to when embarking on one of their regular moans about how unfair the UK infrastructure market is. It looks like the government is committed to doing everything it can to encourage fibre investment and it should definitely be held to account for that over the coming years.

UK government wants to save us from internet horridness

The UK government has vowed to make a bunch of new laws designed ‘to make sure that the UK is the safest place in the world to be online.’

On the surface this is hard to argue with. Nobody is in favour of harm, right? Well, baddies are, so it’s about time us goodies got together to get them off the internet. Of course there are many genuine baddies out there: people who openly incite criminal acts like terrorism, violence, sexual crimes, etc, but presumably there are already laws in place to tackle such people, so if they are still allowed to proliferate online then what we need is better enforcement rather than more laws.

“Criminals are using the internet to further their exploitation and abuse of children, while terrorists are abusing these platforms to recruit people and incite atrocities,” said UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid.  “We need to protect our communities from these heinous crimes and vile propaganda and that is why this Government has been taking the lead on this issue.

“But more needs to be done and this is why we will continue to work with the companies and the public to do everything we can to stop the misuse of these platforms. Only by working together can we defeat those who seek to do us harm.”

All of that is fine: let’s do better at stopping criminals do criminal stuff online. What’s not to like. But Digital Secretary Matt Hancock thinks that alone is insufficient to purge the internet from horridness and ensure the delicate UK electorate can go online without risk of being upset, offended or microaggressed.

“Digital technology is overwhelmingly a force for good across the world and we must always champion innovation and change for the better,” said Hancock. “At the same time I have been clear that we have to address the wild west elements of the internet through legislation, in a way that supports innovation. We strongly support technology companies to start up and grow, and we want to work with them to keep our citizens safe.

“People increasingly live their lives through online platforms so it’s more important than ever that people are safe and parents can have confidence they can keep their children from harm. The measures we’re taking forward today will help make sure children are protected online and balance the need for safety with the great freedoms the internet brings just as we have to strike this balance offline.”

Force for good? Change for the better? Wild west elements of the internet? Hancock seems to have a somewhat adolescent perspective on the colossal, infinitely nuanced social environment that is the internet. When politicians start using subjective, loosely-defined terms like ‘good’ to inform public policy, their electorate should be concerned.

Javid seems to have a more mature view on this topic and is senior to Hancock so will hopefully temper his evangelical zeal. There’s no question that crime committed over the internet should be prosecuted and that children need extra protection, but those concerns should not be a green light for sweeping censorship via the criminalization of anything some politician might unilaterally decide is ‘bad’.

Internet giants given choice: help fight terrorism or face tax bombardment

The battle between internet giants and government has carried over from 2017 to 2018, as UK Government warns of a tax blitz unless citizen data is opened up to intelligence and enforcement agencies.

Over the last 12 months the UK Government has been battling the internet giants, such as Facebook and Google, on the PR front, using fearmongering techniques to convince the general public the loss of privacy rights and security is justified in the fight against terrorism. Fortunately, the idea of building backdoors into security perimeters was successfully beaten back by the technology industry, and now the weapon is financial.

Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime Ben Wallace told the Sunday Times the internet companies will face a multimillion-pound tax raid unless they do more to help government agencies tackle terrorism. Whether this threat will worry the likes of Twitter or Microsoft remains to be seen, though we have our doubts. We suspect the tens of millions spent on lawyers at the internet companies means they will be better at navigating around taxes than the UK government will be at collecting them.

Wallace’s verbal tirade at the internet giants is down to the access governments are granted to data held in various data centres around the world, as well as the encrypted messages which are enabled by apps such as WhatsApp. The argument here is that if these companies can use this information to offer advertising services to third-parties, it should also be used to counter nefarious individuals who seek to do harm.

Wallace does sort of have a point. The internet giants could do more to tackle extremist content and hate campaigns online, but handing a backdoor key to the government, allowing intelligence agencies unlimited access to our personal information on feeble foundations is a couple of thousand steps too far. So far the government has not been able to table a suitable deal to the internet companies which creates a collaborative framework for intelligence agencies, while also maintaining data protection rights of citizens.

“They will ruthlessly sell our details to loans and soft-porn companies but not give it to our democratically elected government,” said Wallace.

While such comments are worthy of a retweet, or will entertain a few people down the pub, Wallace has not put forward a valid, complete argument. Social media sites exist because the user has given permission for Facebook or Twitter to use certain bits of information for advertising services. The user has not given permission to be monitored by the government. Secondly, the data used in these advertising services are generally anonymized; government activities would be individual specific.

In both of these examples, data protection and privacy rights are violated, aside from circumstances were warrants are granted. Wallace is comparing apples to pears.

Unfortunately attacks like these are cheap efforts by government officials to militarize the general public against the internet giants through PR. If you actually look at the facts, the internet giants are quite co-operative.

Prior to Christmas, several of the internet firms released transparency reports on how many requests they had from the government for information, and how many times they complied to the request. Over the first six months of 2017, the UK government made 32,643 requests to Google for user data. 74% of these requests were granted. 6,845 requests were made to Facebook, with 90% being successful.

When there is a legal and justifiable basis to offer the government data on an individual, the internet giants tend to comply and aid the government. Wallace seems to be chasing a blank cheque, which should not be allowed under any circumstances.

Various governments around the work have proved they cannot be trusted to snoop, while maintaining the rights of individuals. To access this information there should be justification. It should be measured on a case-by-case basis, otherwise what is the point in having privacy rights.

Unfortunately this is just another example of a government which has not adapted to the era of connectivity, struggling to figure out rules for the digital environment. What this possibly demonstrates is the inability of the UK government to tackle the internet giants intellectually through legislation and regulation. If all else falls, threaten to heavily tax a commercially driven organization and that might get results.

Until Wallace and his cronies are able to provide a solution which does not compromise the security of the platforms, maintains privacy principles, is legally sound and creates a system of accountability, the internet giants should continue to push back against the Big Brother ambitions of government.

UK Gov attempts to modernise telco law with new hire

The UK Government is advertising a new position to ensure telco legislation is modernised following Brexit; knowing about the telco industry is not necessary though.

The new position, Head of Telecoms EU Exit Policy and Legislation, will be located in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, and will be responsible for running a team of six, with the mandate of modernizing the legislative environment for the telco industry. Part of this will include translating the European Electronic Communications Code into British.

As you would expect for such a complex and ever-evolving, the perfect candidate would have years of experience in the TMT space, with a firm grasp on current and future trends. Or maybe not. ‘Knowledge of telecoms would be welcome but is not essential’ according to the job description.

Perhaps we have discovered why the UK government finds it so hard to effectively regulate the current telco environment, as well as writing rules which offer freedom to be creative for the future digital environment; it isn’t necessarily hiring people who know the industry.

The telco industry has been the subject of much disruption over the last few years, directly influencing the fortunes and failures of other segments as well. Considering digital will form the foundations of any and all successful businesses in the future, the importance of suitable legislation, which is adaptable enough for future change but stringent enough to ensure accountability today, cannot be underplayed. This will be an immensely complicated, and of course, a thankless job but the best way to safeguard success would surely be to hire someone who knows the industry inside-out.

Of course, the new Head of Telecoms EU Exit Policy and Legislation should not be blamed. Some might argue the inappropriate appointment of individuals rises right to the top of the pile. Take our Minister of State for Digital and Culture Matt Hancock as an example.

Hancock briefly worked for his family’s computer software company, before finding employment as an economist at the Bank of England, specialising in the housing market. He then moved onto becoming an economic adviser to the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, before being elected as an MP. During his time as an MP, Hancock’s work has focused on social housing, skills and energy, before being appointed to his current position.

Again, it would be unfair to blame Hancock for his rise to his current position as he is a career politician specialising in handshakes, smiles and PR quips, but unfortunately he does not seem qualified for the role. We’re sure he is a perfectly charming and intelligent individual, but working for his family’s software business, during a period which is incomparable to the current digital landscape, does not provide enough experience to make him a suitable leader for the UK’s grand digital ambitions.

Some might also point out that the role of an MP is to surround themselves with experts and collect as many opinions as possible. This is a reasonable thing to assume, but if the Minister of State for Digital and Culture (who has no or little experience in telco) is being advised by a Head of Telecoms EU Exit Policy and Legislation (who has no or little experience in telco), there might be a problem. What we have is a failure in the system, and individuals who don’t plan on sticking around long enough to fix it.

The position is still open for applications, so we do hope there are a few candidates with an appropriate level of experience in the telco space applying. That said, we remain pessimistic considering the government’s ability to make a glorious mess of most things associated with progress and creative thinking.

If you do fancy applying for this position, we’ve copied some of the other essential criteria with our take on what the descriptions actually mean.

  • Seeing the big picture (As long as not looking past end of current government)
  • Delivering at pace (Ignoring public sector tendencies, you don’t have long so work fast)
  • Collaborating and partnering (Ignoring the UK’s divorce from EU)
  • Leading and communicating (Through documents which are at least 25,000 words and incomprehensible to the general public)
  • Making effective decisions (Ignoring UK Government tendencies, you don’t have long so made good choices)

Apple slows, Snowdon secures and RCom saved – what you missed over Xmas

For those who couldn’t find time to check up on the news in between bites of leftover turkey sandwiches, here’s a wrap up of some of the stories you might have missed.

apple windfallApple admits it puts a speed-limit on older smartphones

While some might claim this is not news, it is perhaps the first time the iLeader has admitted to doing something a little dodgy. Of course, it is for your benefit however.

Just after Christmas, Apple admitted and apologized for slowing down performance of some of its devices, but its intentions were good. The reason was down to battery life. The slower your phone, the longer between charges, and therefore it is a move which is entirely for the good of the consumer. Naturally, any benefits of upgrading your phone to a newer (and more expensive) model are purely coincidental.

Getting the iChief to admit it has done something wrong is a monumental achievement, but it would appear this rare instance of humility is starting to bite back. As Apple did not seek authorization from users to slow down performance, it is now facing several lawsuits around the world.

In France, consumer rights group Halte a L’obsolescence, has filed a complaint against Apple on the grounds of scheduling obsolescence, a crime which can be punishable with a two-year prison sentence in the country. Similar complaints have also been filed in the US and Israel.

In response, Apple has announced it will drop the price of replacement batteries from $79 to $29, more in line with standard prices across the industry. After all, the iBoss wouldn’t want to get a reputation of holding its customers to ransom. That’s not very Apple-like is it.

Woman praying and free birds enjoying nature on sunset backgroundReliance Communications offered a lifeline

Reliance Communications has seemingly be circling the drain for a lifetime, but there light be a glimmer of hope for the punch-drunk Indian telco.

Over the last couple of weeks two separate bits of news have emerged. Firstly, a restructuring of its mountain of debt, which has been agreed with its lenders, many of whom have been trying to force a winding-up order. As part of the restructuring deal, according to the FT, much of the retail business will be sold off, while it will redefine itself as a smaller, B2B player.

The second bit of news indicates there may well be some loving feelings between the Ambani brothers. Mukesh Ambani, CEO of the disruptive Reliance Jio, has emerged as the highest bidder for Reliance Communications spectrum holdings, 43,000 telecom towers and national optical fibre network.

How much of the $7 billion debt this auction will resolve is unknown for the moment, though Anil Ambani might be relieved his Reliance Communications business will be able to continue living, albeit as a much smaller organization.

data spy security hackEdward Snowden lends out security reputation

erhaps the worlds’ most famous whistle-blower, Edward Snowden, has backed a new app which notifies the user when there has been some sort of snooping on their device.

Known as Haven, the app has been designed for ‘investigative journalists, human rights defenders, and people at risk of forced disappearance’, according to the team, and is designed to trap those who want to access user data without notification.

2017 was a big year for the snoopers and peepers in government agencies, as new regulations were brought out and the head-butting against the technology industry intensified. The tech industry, while not completely innocent of data privacy poking, has generally resisted the intrusion of governments and sticky fingered spies, and the release of this app is perhaps evidence the argument will not be left in 2017.

Beautiful railway station with modern red commuter train at sunsUK Gov says everyone deserves to watch cat videos on the train

As part of its 5G strategy, the UK Government has unveiled its first step to making the digital world a reality for citizens; better connectivity on trains.

Minimum standards for on-board mobile and wifi connections are in the process of being introduced, but the latest announcement outlines steps to be taken to improve connectivity by 2025. Just in case you were getting a bit excited by a bit of ambition from the UK Government, the public sector has done what it does best, paced itself.

Rail passenger connectivity is largely delivered through mobile phone networks operating from remote masts, most of which are not trackside, meaning coverage can be patchy at best. Upgraded trackside infrastructure will be a priority to ensure the improved connectivity. Some might break into a smile at the news, though others might realize this will possibly be used as another reason to justify another painful hike in ticket prices.

We’re sceptical to say the least. If railway operators are unable to get the trains to run on time, what chance to they have at delivering gigabit speeds, even if they do have the help of our ‘digital-savvy’ government.

Location India. Red pin on the map.IDC forecasts decline of cash in India

India, one of the world’s fastest growing digital economies, is set to see digital payments to supersede cash and non-digital payments by 2022.

The country has long been one which has relied on cash, though the last couple of years have seen various government initiatives to improve the penetration of digital payment methods and business models which are more suited to the connected economy. These initiatives have been very successful, with the Indian population happily converting, perhaps fuelled by the smartphone revolution inspired by the Reliance Jio disruption.

Over the course of 2016-2017, the volume of digital payment transactions doubled, though cash still remains king. The popularity of digital payment methods, as well as mobile banking, is gaining notable momentum however, with IDC predicting the transition to a digital majority economy by 2022.

UK gov says nothing much about 5G in 23 page document

The UK government has released another update to its 5G strategy which, once again, doesn’t really say anything of value or that we didn’t know already.

Coming from the aptly named Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the report essentially summarises all of the existing developments, without adding anything revolutionary, and, once again, emphasises the need for the 5G rollout to begin in 2020. This is of course assuming auctions can take place after Three and EE have stopped bickering with Ofcom.

“We want the UK to be a global leader in 5G so that we can take early advantage of the benefits that this new technology offers,” said Minister for Digital, Matt Hancock. “The steps we are taking now are all part of our commitment to realising the potential of 5G ,and will help to create a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone.”

Is anyone particularly surprised the government is once again crowing about the benefits of better technology without offering any contribution to the digital economy? Your correspondent often looks out of the window and comments on the weather to anyone who will listen, which adds pretty much the same amount of value as this report.

Work which has been undertaken so far includes a £25 million competition to fund an initial series of 5G testbeds and trials (starting next year), Ofcom’s work to revitalise spectrum policy (on-going), a meeting to discuss whether existing regulatory frameworks adequately support commercial investment in 5G infrastructure and services (it doesn’t), a Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (is this the seventh or eighth edition?), and also a call for evidence to understand what makes investing in fibre and 5G attractive (faster internet).

The update to the 5G strategy follows political posturing from PR point-scoring bureaucrats, as Ofcom and  Lord Adonis, the Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, decided to have a moan about mobile coverage across the UK. The reports were seemingly nothing more than a stick to beat the telcos, as the evidence supporting claims is questionable.

Ofcom has said there are more not spots in the UK than previously thought or claimed by the telcos. A not spot is measured as one where a user cannot complete a 90 second call interrupted, or stream a mobile video (needing 2 Mbps throughput). The coverage statistics and not spots are here for you to have a look at, but you have to question whether Ofcom has the personnel to cover every inch of the UK and test out this connectivity. Unless it has done this, how does it know whether you can watch a good cat video or not?

The 5G strategy might go some way to address these concerns, planning to extend mobile coverage to 95% of the UK, while simultaneously ensuring that mainline rail lines, major road routes and connectivity hotspots are 5G-ready. This is a very bold ambition, but considering trains are unable to run on time right now (or even turn up in some cases), we wonder whether 5G on these routes is an achievable aim, or even an affordable one. Consumers are constantly subjected to increasing prices on the railways of the UK, how much will the price increase when you start to make everything 5G ready?

As with most areas it doesn’t understand, the UK government has made another set of generic, shallow statements, which say nothing much in a couple of thousand words, but promise the world for a penny. Is it any wonder no one trusts politicians?

UK government lays out £190 million for FTTH connections

The UK government has launched the Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) Challenge Fund, a £190 million initiative to stimulate commercial investment in full fibre networks across the UK.

The aim here will be to demonstrate approaches that encourage additional private investment and by making sustainable commercial deployments viable. Key public buildings will be open to gigabit capable connections with the expectation that this leads to broadband providers creating additional connections to local homes and businesses.

Most connections in the UK would only be considered part-fibre, with fibre trenched to the cabinet and the last mile being copper. Penetration of full-fibre connections in the UK is roughly 2%, which is obviously a disastrous number when compared countries like Spain, which has FTTH connections north of 50%. Obviously the government would like to fix this.

“World class connectivity is increasingly essential to people at work and at home” said Matt Hancock, Minister for Digital. “It’s vital to ensure the UK’s future competitiveness in the global market and our ability to attract investment. Full fibre is fundamental for fashioning a Britain fit for the future.”

The funding itself will be available through the £31 billion National Productivity Investment Fund which, as you can imagine, is aimed at improving productivity. In the £31 billion, there has already been £740 million earmarked specifically for improving Britain’s digital infrastructure, though where else this funding has been promised remains to be seen.

The money itself will be available any public sector body, or group of public bodies in the UK, which includes all tiers of local government and other public sector bodies. That said, there are the traditional hoops to jump through before you can get your hands on the funding. Firstly, you have to have a viable plan using delivery methods which clearly support the Programme’s aims, while also demonstrating funding such connectivity projects would not be possible without help, and showing that you have support from the local politician and your management team.

That said, if you already have support from the management team, you would presumably have some sort of budget allocated towards the project, therefore you would not qualify for the grant because you have money. It’s all a little bit complicated.

What we have here is another bit of government posturing. £190 million certainly sounds like a lot of money, and it certainly is, but realistically it is spare-change when you look at the total bill of fibre connectivity throughout the UK. Assuming the local authorities figure out how to get hold of the cash, it is a step in the right direction, but let’s not get too carried away.

What does the UK Autumn Budget mean to the telco industry?

5G, artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles; the UK government hasn’t missed a single buzzword in its mission to re-establish its position as a heavyweight in the global economy.

Earlier this week we were given a preview to the budgets impact on the tech and telco space, as Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond spoke proudly over UK ambitions, and now it has been confirmed. The message here is clear from the government, spend money in the emerging tech spaces to reignite interest in a post-Brexit Britain and improve productivity as a result. Whether this action will help achieve these goals we’ll leave up to you.

“Over the long term, improving productivity is vital to building an economy fit for the future,” the statement reads. “This is the best way to boost wages, improve living standards and enhance prosperity. The UK’s productivity lags behind other advanced nations: this is both a challenge and an opportunity. Closing the gap between the UK’s productivity and Germany’s would increase the size of the UK economy by a third.”

So what does this actually mean? We’ll try to break down each area for you, starting with 5G.

As part of the budget, Hammond has made £160 million available for 5G mobile networks. While this might sound very promising, you have to question how far £160 million will actually get you. It also sounds very familiar to previous budget announcements.

During previous budget announcements, the government has stood tall and proud declaring millions will be invested into the development of 5G, though we have seen little to date. Back in September, the government said it was throwing £10 million at six pilot schemes, to be taken out of the Spring budget, which promised £200 million to the development of full-fibre networks. Considering so little of the money which has been previously promised has actually been spent, we wonder whether this is new investment, or just a shuffling of the cards.

That said, Mark Evans, CEO of Telefonica UK is relatively positive:

“The Government’s investment in technology is welcomed and reflects the UK’s intent to become a world-leading digital economy,” said Evans. “Mobile connectivity is one of the UK’s most powerful opportunities to strengthen and grow our economy while also improving the lives of the British public. Our own research tells us that 5G will contribute an additional £7 billion to the UK economy each year by 2026.

“However, to truly realise this ambition we need greater and urgent collaboration between operators, national and local government, enterprise and communities. We need a framework that facilitates the efficient and effective deployment of improved mobile networks which will deliver a better connected experience for everyone. Only then we will be able to become a world-leading digital economy.”

On the artificial intelligence front, Hammond and his cronies feel this is an area which could contribute significantly to the UK economy, 10% to GDP by 2030 was a figure quoted, and there does seem to be some useful work going on here.

The creation of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation will set standards for the use and ethics of AI and data, as well as plans to invest at least £75 million into the field of AI, build ‘data trusts’ to help advance AI algorithms, fund 450 PhDs and also create various AI fellowships to mentor talent in the UK. An additional £30 million will also be used to retrain individuals in roles which will utilise AI.

As mentioned earlier this week, autonomous vehicles will also play a notable role. The government believes the driverless car industry will be worth £28 billion to the UK economy and employ 27,000 people, and it thinks it can get a jump start on the industry.

The ambition of having driverless vehicles on the road by 2021 without a safety attendant have been confirmed, though we still have our reservations about this. The technology might be progressing, but all the rules and processes that underpin a successful industry are not. Parallel verticals such as Insurance still haven’t been addressed, and until they are, progress in the real world will be almost non-existent.

That said, there has been a nod to the rules. Although details are relatively thin on the ground,  Hammond and his buddies have stated intentions to rewrite rules to set out how driverless cars can be tested without a human safety operator. We’ll keep an eye out for progress here, but at least there is already precedent with more relaxed regulations in places like Milton Keynes. The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) will also launch a new innovation prize to determine how future roadbuilding should adapt to support self-driving cars.

“This presents an exciting challenge for those investing in the transportation sector,” said Russell Goodenough, Client Managing Director, Transport Sector at Fujitsu.

“Driverless cars throw up serious questions, including how we ensure a safe environment for their operation, does road infrastructure need to be updated to accommodate increasingly sophisticated vehicles, who is liable for insurance claims, and how can we ensure autonomous cars are not vulnerable to hacking or cyber-attack.”

Overall, it does seem to be a step in the right direction, albeit a very tentative one. Perhaps another indicator which should be considered is government spend on its own departments. To date, digital has been the ugly step-sister of UK politics, though at least it is getting a little bit of love, as you can see below with budget increases over the next couple of years.

 

Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Resource budget (billions)
2017-2018 1.4
2018-2019 1.5
2019-2020 1.5
Capital budget (billions)
2017-2018 0.4
2018-2019 0.5
2019-2020 0.6

UK government continues quest to ruin the reputation of encryption

Amber Rudd is a woman on a mission, and that mission is to mutilate the reputation of platforms like WhatsApp in the pursuit of the destruction of end-to-end encryption.

It isn’t new. Rudd must have been wronged by an online troll at some point and has taken it very personally. She is leading the charge to have WhatsApp and other social media platforms end dark and dirty practices of encryption, irrelevant to the consequences. And the offensive has now taken a different strategy.

“But we also know that end to end encryption services like Whatsapp, are being used by paedophiles,” said UK Home Secretary Rudd in her speech at the Conservative Party Conference (thank you Spectator for the transcript).

“I do not accept it is right that companies should allow them and other criminals to operate beyond the reach of law enforcement. There are other platforms and emerging trends that are equally worrying.”

It is a tactic which we have become used to, but Rudd is seemingly trying to use an association with the lowest form of human to destroy reputations of the messaging platforms. A couple of months ago it was terrorists and now it is paedophiles. And to be honest, it is a clever tactic. If she can get the public onside with a campaign of negative PR, the tech companies might be a bit more willing to come to the negotiating table.

If enough people believe WhatsApp is the home of paedophiles, then soon enough anyone who is seen using the platform could be considered a paedophile. It is PR at its finest. Negative association at its best. Who would use such a platform if everyone is going to think this about you?

In truth, it probably isn’t going to work. Rudd tried her best to use the fear as a motivator to get the public on her side with the idea that WhatsApp is the hiding ground of terrorists, now she is making an appeal to our ethical side and the protection of children. She is manipulating the instincts of parents for her own ambitions.

But what Rudd doesn’t seem to understand is that a removal or weakening of encryption software would make us less safe. Our personal information would be on a platter for any hacker who knows what they are doing. And any paedophile who has this skillset would be able to find out a wealth of information about your children. Fortunately, few politicians are respected enough to turn public opinion, and Rudd seems to sit firmly in this camp.

The British Intelligence services has some of the finest minds in the world, and the fact they are not able to crack the encryption algorithms is a good sign. It means our information is safe hidden behind the security features of platforms like WhatsApp. Rudd’s attacks on the platform are for short-term objectives, with no eye on the long-term consequences.

Yes, there will be paedophiles using WhatsApp for nefarious means, just as there will be terrorists. But these people will be in the minority. Should the vast majority of the population suffer because intelligence services haven’t adapted to the digital society?

Think about it this way, would you ban alcohol because there are alcohol related diseases? Would you outlaw cars because they can be used as getaway vehicles for criminals? Would you get rid of sex because it has led to divorces? We didn’t think so, because it is a backwards approach to the progression of technology.

Rudd’s narrow minded view on technology is not making her many friends and it will fail.