United Kingdom

UK to toughen telecoms security controls to shrink 5G risks

Posted by | 5g, broadband, Ciaran Martin, computer security, Conservative Party, Cyberwarfare, Europe, huawei, Internet of Things, jeremy wright, Mobile, mobile device, National Cyber Security Centre, national security council, ofcom, Security, supply chain, TC, telecommunications, telecoms infrastructure, UK government, United Kingdom, United States, us government, vodafone | No Comments

Amid ongoing concerns about security risks posed by the involvement of Chinese tech giant Huawei in 5G supply, the U.K. government has published a review of the telecoms supply chain, which concludes that policy and regulation in enforcing network security needs to be significantly strengthened to address concerns.

However, it continues to hold off on setting an official position on whether to allow or ban Huawei from supplying the country’s next-gen networks — as the U.S. has been pressurizing its allies to do.

Giving a statement in parliament this afternoon, the U.K.’s digital minister, Jeremy Wright, said the government is releasing the conclusions of the report ahead of a decision on Huawei so that domestic carriers can prepare for the tougher standards it plans to bring in to apply to all their vendors.

“The Review has concluded that the current level of protections put in place by industry are unlikely to be adequate to address the identified security risks and deliver the desired security outcomes,” he said. “So, to improve cyber security risk management, policy and enforcement, the Review recommends the establishment of a new security framework for the UK telecoms sector. This will be a much stronger, security based regime than at present.

“The foundation for the framework will be a new set of Telecoms Security Requirements for telecoms operators, overseen by Ofcom and government. These new requirements will be underpinned by a robust legislative framework.”

Wright said the government plans to legislate “at the earliest opportunity” — to provide the regulator with stronger powers to to enforcement the incoming Telecoms Security Requirements, and to establish “stronger national security backstop powers for government.”

The review suggests the government is considering introducing GDPR-level penalties for carriers that fail to meet the strict security standards it will also be bringing in.

First policy response will be ‘soft’, common cybersecurity standards. Then regulations, with strict standards and #GDPR like fines. New powers allowing to compel telecoms to do something. And work to increase diversity. pic.twitter.com/nBLWneFUDK

— Lukasz Olejnik (@lukOlejnik) July 22, 2019

“Until the new legislation is put in place, government and Ofcom will work with all telecoms operators to secure adherence to the new requirements on a voluntary basis,” Wright told parliament today. “Operators will be required to subject vendors to rigorous oversight through procurement and contract management. This will involve operators requiring all their vendors to adhere to the new Telecoms Security Requirements.

“They will also be required to work closely with vendors, supported by government, to ensure effective assurance testing for equipment, systems and software, and to support ongoing verification arrangements.”

The review also calls for competition and diversity within the supply chain — which Wright said will be needed “if we are to drive innovation and reduce the risk of dependency on individual suppliers.”

The government will therefore pursue “a targeted diversification strategy, supporting the growth of new players in the parts of the network that pose security and resilience risks,” he added.

“We will promote policies that support new entrants and the growth of smaller firms,” he also said, sounding a call for security startups to turn their attention to 5G.

Government would “seek to attract trusted and established firms to the UK market,” he added — dubbing a “vibrant and diverse telecoms market” as both good for consumers and for national security.

“The Review I commissioned was not designed to deal only with one specific company and its conclusions have much wider application. And the need for them is urgent. The first 5G consumer services are launching this year,” he said. “The equally vital diversification of the supply chain will take time. We should get on with it.”

Last week two U.K. parliamentary committees espoused a view that there’s no technical reason to ban Huawei from all 5G supply — while recognizing there may be other considerations, such as geopolitics and human rights, which impact the decision.

The Intelligence and Security Committee also warned that what it dubbed the “unnecessarily protracted” delay in the government taking a decision about 5G suppliers is damaging U.K. relations abroad.

Despite being urged to get a move on the specific issue of Huawei, it’s notable that the government continues to hold off. Albeit, a new prime minister will be appointed later this week, after votes of Conservative Party members are counted — which may be contributing to ongoing delay.

“Since the US government’s announcement [on May 16, adding Huawei and 68 affiliates to its Entity List on national security grounds] we have sought clarity on the extent and implications but the position is not yet entirely clear. Until it is, we have concluded it would be wrong to make specific decisions in relation to Huawei,” Wright said, adding: “We will do so as soon as possible.”

In a press release accompanying the telecoms supply chain review the government said decisions would be taken about high risk vendors “in due course.”

Earlier this year a leak from a meeting of the U.K.’s National Security Council suggested the government was preparing to give an amber light to Huawei to continue supplying 5G — though limiting its participation to non-core portions of networks.

The Science & Technology Committee also recommended the government mandate the exclusion of Huawei from the core of 5G networks.

Wright’s statement appears to hint that that position remains the preferred one — barring a radical change of policy under a new PM — with, in addition to talk of encouraging diversity in the supply chain, the minister also flagging the review’s conclusion that there should be “additional controls on the presence in the supply chain of certain types of vendor which pose significantly greater security and resilience risks to UK telecoms.”

“Additional controls” doesn’t sound like a euphemism for an out-and-out ban.

In a statement responding to the review, Huawei expressed confidence that it’s days of supplying U.K. 5G are not drawing to a close — writing:

The UK Government’s Supply Chain Review gives us confidence that we can continue to work with network operators to rollout 5G across the UK. The findings are an important step forward for 5G and full fibre broadband networks in the UK and we welcome the Government’s commitment to “a diverse telecoms supply chain” and “new legislation to enforce stronger security requirements in the telecoms sector”. After 18 years of operating in the UK, we remain committed to supporting BT, EE, Vodafone and other partners build secure, reliable networks.”

The evidence shows excluding Huawei would cost the UK economy £7 billion and result in more expensive 5G networks, raising prices for anyone with a mobile device. On Friday, Parliament’s Intelligence & Security Committee said limiting the market to just two telecoms suppliers would reduce competition, resulting in less resilience and lower security standards. They also confirmed that Huawei’s inclusion in British networks would not affect the channels used for intelligence sharing.

A spokesman for the company told us it already supplies non-core elements of U.K. carriers’ EE and Vodafone’s network, adding that it’s viewing Wright’s statement as an endorsement of that status quo.

While the official position remains to be confirmed, all the signals suggest the U.K.’s 5G security strategy will be tied to tightened regulation and oversight, rather than follow a U.S. path of seeking to shut out Chinese tech giants.

Commenting on the government’s telecoms supply chain review in a statement, Ciaran Martin, CEO of the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre, said: “As the UK’s lead technical authority, we have worked closely with DCMS [the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] on this review, providing comprehensive analysis and cyber security advice. These new measures represent a tougher security regime for our telecoms infrastructure, and will lead to higher standards, much greater resilience and incentives for the sector to take cyber security seriously.

“This is a significant overhaul of how we do telecoms security, helping to keep the UK the safest place to live and work online by ensuring that cyber security is embedded into future networks from inception.”

Although, tougher security standards for telecoms combined with updated regulations that bake in major fines for failure suggest Huawei will have its work cut out not to be excluded by the market, as carriers will be careful about vendors as they work to shrink their risk.

Earlier this year a report by an oversight body that evaluates its approach to security was withering — finding “serious and systematic defects” in its software engineering and cybersecurity competence.

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Huawei 5G indecision is hitting UK’s relations abroad, warns committee

Posted by | 5g, 5g network, China, Conservative Party, Europe, european union, huawei, Internet of Things, Mobile, National Cyber Security Centre, national security council, Security, supply chain, telecommunications, Theresa May, UK government, United Kingdom | No Comments

The U.K.’s next prime minister must prioritize a decision on whether or not to allow Chinese tech giant Huawei to be a 5G supplier, a parliamentary committee has urged — warning that the country’s international relations are being “seriously damaged” by ongoing delay.

In a statement on 5G suppliers, the Intelligence and Security committee (ISC) writes that the government must take a decision “as a matter of urgency.”

Earlier this week another parliamentary committee, which focuses on science and technology, concluded there is no technical reason to exclude Huawei as a 5G supplier, despite security concerns attached to the company’s ties to the Chinese state, though it did recommend it be excluded from core 5G supply.

The delay in the U.K. settling on a 5G-supplier policy can be linked not only to the complexities of trying to weigh and balance security considers with geopolitical pressures but also ongoing turmoil in domestic politics, following the 2016 EU referendum Brexit vote — which continues to suck most of the political oxygen out of Westminster. (And will very soon have despatched two U.K. prime ministers in three years.)

Outgoing PM Theresa May, whose successor is due to be selected by a vote by Conservative Party members next week, appeared to be leaning toward giving Huawei an amber light earlier this year.

A leak to the press from a National Security Council meeting back in April suggested Huawei would be allowed to provide kit, but only for non-core parts of 5G networks — raising questions about how core and non-core are delineated in the next-gen networks.

The leak led to the sacking by May of the then defense minister, Gavin Williamson, after an investigation into confidential information being passed to the media in which she said she had lost confidence in him.

The publication of a government Telecoms Supply Chain Review, whose terms of reference were published last fall, has also been delayed — leading carriers to press the government for greater clarity last month.

But with May herself now on the way out, having agreed in May to step down as PM, the decision on 5G supply is on hold.

It will be down to either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, the two remaining contenders to take over as PM, to choose whether or not to let the Chinese tech giant supply U.K. 5G networks.

Whichever of the men wins the vote, they will arrive in the top job needing to give their full attention to finding a way out of the Brexit morass — with a mere three months til an October 31 Brexit extension deadline looming. So there’s a risk 5G may not seem as urgent an issue and a decision again be kicked back.

In its statement on 5G supply, the ISC backs the view expressed by the public-facing branch of the U.K.’s intelligence service that network security is not dependent on any one supplier being excluded from building it — writing that: “The National Cyber Security Centre… has been clear that the security of the UK’s telecommunications network is not about one company or one country: the ‘flag of origin’ for telecommunications equipment is not the critical element in determining cyber security.”

The committee argues that “some parts of the network will require greater protection” — writing that “critical functions cannot be put at risk” but also that there are “less sensitive functions where more risk can be carried”, albeit without specifying what those latter functions might be.

“It is this distinction — between the sensitivity of the functions — that must determine security, rather than where in the network those functions are located: notions of ‘core’ and ‘edge’ ate therefore misleading in this context,” it adds. “We should therefore be thinking of different levels of security, rather than a one size fits all approach, within a network that has been built to be resilient to attack, such that no single action could disable the system.”

The committee’s statement also backs the view that the best way to achieve network resilience is to support diversity in the supply chain — i.e. by supporting more competition.

But at the same time it emphasizes that the 5G supply decision “cannot be viewed solely through a technical lens — because it is not simply a decision about telecommunications equipment.”

“This is a geostrategic decision, the ramifications of which may be felt for decades to come,” it warns, raising concerns about the perceptions of U.K. intelligence sharing partners by emphasizing the need for those allies to trust the decisions the government makes.

It also couches a U.K. decision to give Huawei access a risk by suggesting it could be viewed externally as an endorsement of the company, thereby encouraging other countries to follow suit — without paying the full (and it asserts vitally) necessary attention to the security piece.

“The UK is a world leader in cyber security: therefore if we allow Huawei into our 5G network we must be careful that that is not seen as an endorsement for others to follow. Such a decision can only happen where the network itself will be constructed securely and with stringent regulation,” it writes.

The committee’s statement goes on to raise as a matter of concern the U.K.’s general reliance on China as a technology supplier.

“One of the lessons the UK Government must learn from the current debate over 5G is that with the technology sector now monopolised by such a few key players, we are over-reliant on Chinese technology — and we are not alone in this, this is a global issue. We need to consider how we can create greater diversity in the market. This will require us to take a long term view — but we need to start now,” it warns.

It ends by reiterating that the debate about 5G supply has been “unnecessarily protracted” — pressing the next U.K. prime minister to get on and take a decision “so that all concerned can move forward.”

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No technical reason to exclude Huawei as 5G supplier, says UK committee

Posted by | 5g, Asia, Australia, China, cyber security, Ericsson, Europe, huawei, human rights, Ian Levy, Internet of Things, jeremy wright, Mobile, National Cyber Security Centre, national security, Nokia, privacy, Security, TC, telecommunications, United Kingdom, United States, zte | No Comments

A UK parliamentary committee has concluded there are no technical grounds for excluding Chinese network kit vendor Huawei from the country’s 5G networks.

In a letter from the chair of the Science & Technology Committee to the UK’s digital minister Jeremy Wright, the committee says: “We have found no evidence from our work to suggest that the complete exclusion of Huawei from the UK’s telecommunications networks would, from a technical point of view, constitute a proportionate response to the potential security threat posed by foreign suppliers.”

Though the committee does go on to recommend the government mandate the exclusion of Huawei from the core of 5G networks, noting that UK mobile network operators have “mostly” done so already — but on a voluntary basis.

If it places a formal requirement on operators not to use Huawei for core supply the committee urges the government to provide “clear criteria” for the exclusion so that it could be applied to other suppliers in future.

Reached for a response to the recommendations, a government spokesperson told us: “The security and resilience of the UK’s telecoms networks is of paramount importance. We have robust procedures in place to manage risks to national security and are committed to the highest possible security standards.”

The spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport added: “The Telecoms Supply Chain Review will be announced in due course. We have been clear throughout the process that all network operators will need to comply with the Government’s decision.”

In recent years the US administration has been putting pressure on allies around the world to entirely exclude Huawei from 5G networks — claiming the Chinese company poses a national security risk.

Australia announced it was banning Huawei and another Chinese vendor ZTE from providing kit for its 5G networks last year. Though in Europe there has not been a rush to follow the US lead and slam the door on Chinese tech giants.

In April leaked information from a UK Cabinet meeting suggested the government had settled on a policy of granting Huawei access as a supplier for some non-core parts of domestic 5G networks, while requiring they be excluded from supplying components for use in network cores.

On this somewhat fuzzy issue of delineating core vs non-core elements of 5G networks, the committee writes that it “heard unanimously and clearly” from witnesses that there will still be a distinction between the two in the next-gen networks.

It also cites testimony by the technical director of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Dr Ian Levy, who told it “geography matters in 5G”, and pointed out Australia and the UK have very different “laydowns” — meaning “we may have exactly the same technical understanding, but come to very different conclusions”.

In a response statement to the committee’s letter, Huawei SVP Victor Zhang welcomed the committee’s “key conclusion” before going on to take a thinly veiled swiped at the US — writing: “We are reassured that the UK, unlike others, is taking an evidence based approach to network security. Huawei complies with the laws and regulations in all the markets where we operate.”

The committee’s assessment is not all comfortable reading for Huawei, though, with the letter also flagging the damning conclusions of the most recent Huawei Oversight Board report which found “serious and systematic defects” in its software engineering and cyber security competence — and urging the government to monitor Huawei’s response to the raised security concerns, and to “be prepared to act to restrict the use of Huawei equipment if progress is unsatisfactory”.

Huawei has previously pledged to spend $2BN addressing security shortcomings related to its UK business — a figure it was forced to qualify as an “initial budget” after that same Oversight Board report.

“It is clear that Huawei must improve the standard of its cybersecurity,” the committee warns.

It also suggests the government consults on whether telecoms regulator Ofcom needs stronger powers to be able to force network suppliers to clean up their security act, writing that: “While it is reassuring to hear that network operators share this point of view and are ready to use commercial pressure to encourage this, there is currently limited regulatory power to enforce this.”

Another committee recommendation is for the NCSC to be consulted on whether similar security evaluation mechanisms should be established for other 5G vendors — such as Ericsson and Nokia: Two European based kit vendors which, unlike Huawei, are expected to be supplying core 5G.

“It is worth noting that an assurance system comparable to the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre does not exist for other vendors. The shortcomings in Huawei’s cyber security reported by the Centre cannot therefore be directly compared to the cyber security of other vendors,” it notes.

On the issue of 5G security generally the committee dubs this “critical”, adding that “all steps must be taken to ensure that the risks are as low as reasonably possible”.

Where “essential services” that make use of 5G networks are concerned, the committee says witnesses were clear such services must be able to continue to operate safely even if the network connection is disrupted. Government must ensure measures are put in place to safeguard operation in the event of cyber attacks, floods, power cuts and other comparable events, it adds. 

While the committee concludes there is no technical reason to limit Huawei’s access to UK 5G, the letter does make a point of highlighting other considerations, most notably human rights abuses, emphasizing its conclusion does not factor them in at all — and pointing out: “There may well be geopolitical or ethical grounds… to enact a ban on Huawei’s equipment”.

It adds that Huawei’s global cyber security and privacy officer, John Suffolk, confirmed that a third party had supplied Huawei services to Xinjiang’s Public Security Bureau, despite Huawei forbidding its own employees from misusing IT and comms tech to carry out surveillance of users.

The committee suggests Huawei technology may therefore be being used to “permit the appalling treatment of Muslims in Western China”.

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‘World’s first Bluetooth hair straighteners’ can be easily hacked

Posted by | Apps, Bluetooth, Gadgets, hardware, pen test partners, Security, technology, telecommunications, United Kingdom, wireless | No Comments

Here’s a thing that should have never been a thing: Bluetooth-connected hair straighteners.

Glamoriser, a U.K. firm that bills itself as the maker of the “world’s first Bluetooth hair straighteners,” allows users to link the device to an app, which lets the owner set certain heat and style settings. The app can also be used to remotely switch off the straighteners within Bluetooth range.

Big problem, though. These straighteners can be hacked.

Security researchers at Pen Test Partners bought a pair and tested them out. They found that it was easy to send malicious Bluetooth commands within range to remotely control an owner’s straighteners.

The researchers demonstrated that they could send one of several commands over Bluetooth, such as the upper and lower temperature limit of the device — 122°F and 455°F respectively — as well as the shut-down time. Because the straighteners have no authentication, an attacker can remotely alter and override the temperature of the straighteners and how long they stay on — up to a limit of 20 minutes.

“As there is no pairing or bonding established over [Bluetooth] when connecting a phone, anyone in range with the app can take control of the straighteners,” said Stuart Kennedy in his blog post, shared first with TechCrunch.

There is a caveat, said Kennedy. The straighteners only allow one concurrent connection. If the owner hasn’t connected their phone or they go out of range, only then can an attacker target the device.

Here at TechCrunch we’re all for setting things on fire “for journalism,” but in this case the numbers speak for themselves. If, per the researchers’ findings, the straighteners could be overridden to the maximum temperature of 455°F at the timeout of 20 minutes, that’s setting up a prime condition for a fire — or at very least burn damage.

It’s estimated that as many as 650,000 house fires in the U.K. are caused by hair straighteners and curling irons left on. In some cases it can take more than a half-hour for these heated devices to cool down to safe levels. U.K. fire and rescue services have called on owners to physically pull the plug on their devices to prevent fires and damage.

Glamoriser did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication. The app hasn’t been updated since June 2018, suggesting a fix has yet to be put in place.

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Huawei says two-thirds of 5G networks outside China now use its gear

Posted by | 5g, Alphabet, Android, Asia, carrier, ceo, China, Companies, finland, hardware, huawei, india, Nokia, operating system, president, Rajeev Suri, Ren Zhengfei, shenzhen, smartphone, south korea, spokesperson, switzerland, telecommunications, Trump administration, United Kingdom, United States | No Comments

As 5G networks begin rolling out and commercializing around the world, telecoms vendors are rushing to get a headstart. Huawei equipment is now behind two-thirds of the commercially launched 5G networks outside China, said president of Huawei’s carrier business group Ryan Ding on Tuesday at an industry conference.

Huawei, the world’s largest maker of telecoms gear, has nabbed 50 commercial 5G contracts outside its home base from countries including South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Finland and more. In all, the Shenzhen-based firm has shipped more than 150,000 base stations, according to Ding.

It’s worth noting that network carriers can work with more than one providers to deploy different parts of their 5G base stations. Huawei offers what it calls an end-to-end network solution or a full system of hardware, but whether a carrier plans to buy from multiple suppliers is contingent on their needs and local regulations, a Huawei spokesperson told TechCrunch.

In China, for instance, both Ericsson and Nokia have secured 5G contracts from state-run carrier China Mobile (although Nokia’s Chinese entity, a joint venture with Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell, is directly controlled by China’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission).

Huawei’s handsome number of deals came despite the U.S’s ongoing effort to lobby its allies against using its equipment. In May, the Trump administration put Huawei on a trade blacklist over concerns around the firm’s spying capabilities, a move that has effectively banned U.S. companies from doing businesses with the Shenzhen-based giant.

Huawei’s overall share in the U.S. telecoms market has so far been negligible, but many rural carriers have long depended on its high-performing, cost-saving hardware. That might soon end as the U.S. pressures small-town network operators to quit buying from Huawei, Reuters reported this week.

To appease potential clients, Huawei has gone around the world offering no-backdoors pacts to local governments of the U.K. and most recently India.

Huawei is in a neck and neck fight with rivals Nokia and Ericsson. In early June, Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri said in an interview with Bloomberg that the firm had won “two-thirds of the time” in bidding contracts against Ericcson and competed “quite favorably with Huawei.” Nokia at the time landed 42 5G contracts, while Huawei numbered 40 and Ericsson scored 19.

Huawei’s challenges go well beyond the realm of its carrier business. Its fast-growing smartphone unit is also getting the heat as the U.S. ban threatens to cut it off from Alphabet, whose Android operating system is used in Huawei phone, as well as a range of big chip suppliers.

Huawei CEO and founder Ren Zhengfei noted that trade restrictions may compromise the firm’s output in the short term. Total revenues are expected to dip $30 billion below estimates over the next two years, and overseas smartphone shipment faces a 40% plunge. Ren, however, is bullish that the firm’s sales would bounce back after a temporary period of adjustment while it works towards self-dependence by developing its own OS, chips and other core technologies.

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UK’s first 5G network taster goes live in six cities tomorrow

Posted by | 4G, 5g, 5g network, Bristol, broadband, BT, Edinburgh, EE, Europe, Internet of Things, Liverpool, London, manchester, Mobile, newcastle, United Kingdom | No Comments

The UK’s first 5G consumer mobile network is launching tomorrow in six cities.

Mobile network operator EE will switch on the next-gen cellular connectivity in select locations in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester — promising “increased speeds, reliability and connectivity”. Though of course consumers will also need to have a 5G handset and 5G price plan, as well as being in the right location, to see any of the touted benefits.

EE says it expects customers to experience an increase in speeds of around 100-150Mbps when using the 5G network — “even in the busiest areas” where network coverage extends.

“Some customers will break the one gigabit-per-second milestone on their 5G smartphones,” it adds.

Ten other UK cities are set to get a taste of EE’s 5G later by the end of this year, also in select, busier parts — namely Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol — with more cities planned to come on stream in 2020.

While rival mobile operator Vodafone has said it will began its own rollout of a 5G network in July.

Among the advantages for 5G that EE is pushing on its website to try to persuade users to upgrade are better connections in busy places (such as festivals or stadiums); faster download speeds to support movie downloads and higher quality video streaming; and a gamer-friendly lack of lag — which it bills as “almost instant Internet connection”.

Whether those additions will convince masses of mobile users to shell out for an EE 5G device plan — which start at £53 per month — remains to be seen.

Earlier this month the network operator, which is owned by BT, launched its first 5G Sim-only handset plans, and began ranging 5G handsets — from the likes of Samsung, LG, OnePlus and Oppo.

Though not from Huawei. Last week it told the BBC it would pause on offering any 5G smartphones made by Chinese device maker Huawei — saying it wanted to “make sure we can carry out the right level of testing and quality assurance” for its customers.

Huawei remains subject to a US executive order intended to dissuade US companies from doing business with it on national security grounds. And Google has been reported to have taken a decision to withdrawn some Android-related services from Huawei — raising question-marks about the future quality of its smartphones. (The Chinese company’s involvement in building out core UK 5G networks is also subject to restriction, with the government reportedly intending to impose limits.)

EE says the 5G network it’s launching tomorrow is an additional layer on top of its existing 4G network — dubbing it “phase 1”. So this switch on is really a toe in the water. Or, well, a marketing opportunity to claim a 5G first.

It describes it as a “non-standalone” deployment, saying it’s combining 4G and 5G to “give customers the fastest, most reliable mobile broadband experience they’ve ever had” — saying it’s planning to upgrade more than 100 cell sites to 5G per month, as it builds out 5G coverage.

It will also expand its 4G coverage into rural areas and add more capacity to 4G sites — as 4G will remain the fall-back option for years to come (if not indefinitely).

Phase 2 of EE’s 5G rollout, from 2022, will introduce the “full next generation 5G core network, enhanced device chipset capabilities, and increased availability of 5G-ready spectrum”.

“Higher bandwidth and lower latency, coupled with expansive and growing 5G coverage, will enable a more responsive network, enabling truly immersive mobile augmented reality, real-time health monitoring, and mobile cloud gaming,” EE adds.

A third phase of the 5G rollout, from 2023, is slated to bring Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications, Network Slicing and multi-gigabit-per-second speeds.

“This phase of 5G will enable critical applications like real-time traffic management of fleets of autonomous vehicles, massive sensor networks with millions of devices measuring air quality across the entire country, and the ‘tactile internet’, where a sense of touch can be added to remote real-time interactions,” EE suggests.

As we’ve said before, there’s little call for consumers to rush to upgrade to a 5G handset, with network coverage the exception not the rule, even as building out the touted benefits of so-called ‘intelligent connectivity’ will be a work of years.

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Xprize names two grand prize winners in $15 million Global Learning Challenge

Posted by | Android, bangalore, california, carnegie mellon, carnegie mellon university, cci, Education, Elon Musk, Google, kenya, machine learning, musk, New York, pittsburgh, Seoul, south korea, Speech Recognition, Tanzania, TC, technology, transhumanism, United Kingdom, United States, XPRIZE | No Comments

Xprize, the nonprofit organization developing and managing competitions to find solutions to social challenges, has named two grand prize winners in the Elon Musk-backed Global Learning Xprize.

The companies, KitKit School out of South Korea and the U.S., and onebillion, operating in Kenya and the U.K., were announced at an awards ceremony hosted at the Google Spruce Goose Hangar in Playa Vista, Calif.

Xprize set each of the competing teams the task of developing scalable services that could enable children to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills within 15 months.

Musk himself was on hand to award $5 million checks to each of the winning teams.

Five finalists, including New York-based CCI, which developed lesson plans and a development language so non-coders could create lessons; Chimple, a Bangalore-based learning platform enabling children to learn reading, writing and math on a tablet; RobotTutor, a Pittsburgh-based company, which used Carnegie Mellon research to develop an app for Android tablets that would teach lessons in reading and writing with speech recognition, machine learning and human computer interactions; and the two grand prize winners all received $1 million to continue developing their projects.

The tests required each product to be field-tested in Swahili, reaching nearly 3,000 children in 170 villages across Tanzania.

All of the final solutions from each of the five teams that made it to the final round of competition have been open-sourced so anyone can improve on and develop local solutions using the toolkits developed by each team in competition.

Kitkit School, with a team from Berkeley, Calif. and Seoul, developed a program with a game-based core and flexible learning architecture to help kids learn independently, while onebillion merged numeracy content with literacy material to provide directed learning and activities alongside monitoring to personalize responses to children’s needs.

Both teams are going home with $5 million to continue their work.

The problem of access to basic education affects more than 250 million children around the world, who can’t read or write, and one-in-five children around the world aren’t in school, according to data from UNESCO.

The problem of access is compounded by a shortage of teachers at the primary and secondary school levels. Some research, cited by Xprize , indicates that the world needs to recruit another 68.8 million teachers to provide every child with a primary and secondary education by 2040.

Before the Global Learning Xprize field test, 74% of the children who participated were reported as never having attended school; 80% were never read to at home; and 90% couldn’t read a single word of Swahili.

After the 15-month program working on donated Google Pixel C tablets and pre-loaded with software, the number was cut in half.

“Education is a fundamental human right, and we are so proud of all the teams and their dedication and hard work to ensure every single child has the opportunity to take learning into their own hands,” said Anousheh Ansari, CEO of Xprize, in a statement. “Learning how to read, write and demonstrate basic math are essential building blocks for those who want to live free from poverty and its limitations, and we believe that this competition clearly demonstrated the accelerated learning made possible through the educational applications developed by our teams, and ultimately hope that this movement spurs a revolution in education, worldwide.”

After the grand prize announcement, Xprize said it will work to secure and load the software onto tablets; localize the software; and deliver preloaded hardware and charging stations to remote locations so all finalist teams can scale their learning software across the world.

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The Google Assistant can now tell you a story on your phone

Posted by | Android, Assistant, Australia, Canada, computing, Disney, Google, india, operating systems, TC, United Kingdom, United States | No Comments

For the last year or so, you could ask the Google Assistant on your Google Home device to read your kids a story. Today, just in time for National Tell a Story Day, Google is bringing this feature to Android and iOS phones, too. It’ll be available in English in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and India.

When you asked the Assistant on your phone to tell you a story before, you’d get a short inspirational quote or maybe a bad joke. Having two different experiences for the same command never really made much sense, so it’s good to see Google consolidate this.

The available stories range from tales about Blaze and the Monster Machines to more classic bedtime stories like “Sleeping Beauty” and “Little Red Riding Hood.”

That’s in addition to other story features like “read along,” which automatically plays sound effects as you read from a number of Disney Little Golden Books. That’s obviously the cooler feature overall, but the selection of supported books remains limited. For longer stories, there’s obviously audiobook support.

Or you could just sit down with your kids and read them a book. That’s also an option.

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Google Home’s Philips Hue integration can now wake you up gently

Posted by | Australia, Canada, Companies, consumer electronics, Gadgets, Google, google home, hardware, home appliances, Home Automation, india, lighting, Philips, philips hue, Singapore, United Kingdom, United States | No Comments

Maybe you love the sound of your alarm clock blaring in the morning, heralding a new day full of joy and adventure. More likely, though, you don’t. If you prefer a more gentle wake-up (and have invested in some smart home technology), here’s some good news: Google Home now lets you use your Philips Hue lights to wake you up by slowly changing the light in your room.

Philips first announced this integration at CES earlier this year, with a planned rollout in March. Looks like that took a little while longer, as Google and Philips gently brought this feature to life.

Just like you can use your Home to turn on “Gentle Wake,” which starts changing your lights 30 minutes before your wake-up time to mimic a sunrise, you also can go the opposite way and have the lights mimic sunset as you get ready to go to bed. You can either trigger these light changes through an alarm or with a command that starts them immediately.

While the price of white Hue bulbs has come down in recent years, colored hue lights remain rather pricey, with single bulbs going for around $40. If that doesn’t hold you back, though, the Gentle Sleep and Wake features are now available in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Singapore and India in English only.

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Roblox hits milestone of 90M monthly active users

Posted by | Europe, France, Gaming, Germany, online games, online safety, Roblox, United Kingdom, video games, video gaming | No Comments

Kids gaming platform Roblox, most recently valued at over $2.5 billion, has reached a new milestone of 90 million monthly active users, the company said on Sunday. That’s up from the 70 million monthly actives it claimed at its last funding round — a $150 million Series F announced last fall. The sizable increase in users is credited to Roblox’s international expansion efforts, and particularly its more recent support for the French and German languages.

The top 150 games that run on the Roblox platform are now available in both languages, along with community moderation, customer support and parental resources.

The gaming company also has been steadily growing as more kids join after hearing about it from friends or seeing its games played on YouTube, for example. Like Fortnite, it has become a place that kids go to “hang out” online even when not actively playing.

The games themselves are built by third-party creators, while Roblox gets a share of the revenue the games generate from the sale of virtual goods. In 2017, Roblox paid out $30 million to its creator community, and later said that number would more than double in 2018. It says that players and creators now spend more than a billion hours per month on its platform.

Roblox’s growth has not been without its challenges, however. Bad actors last year subverted the game’s protections to assault a child’s in-game avatar — a serious problem for a game aimed at kids, and a PR crisis, as well. But the company addressed the problem by quickly securing its platform to prevent future hacks of this kind, apologized to parents, banned the hackers and soon after launched a “digital civility initiative” as part of its broader push for online safety.

Months later, Roblox was still surging.

International expansion was part of the plan when Roblox chose to raise additional funding, despite already being cash-flow positive.

As CEO David Baszucki explained last fall, the idea was to create “a war chest, to have a buffer, to have the opportunity to do acquisitions,” and “to have a strong balance sheet as we grow internationally.”

The company soon made good on its to-do list, making its first acquisition in October 2018 when it picked up the app performance startup, PacketZoom. It also followed Minecraft’s footsteps into the education market, and has since been working to make its service available to a global base of users.

On that front, Roblox says Europe has played a key role, with millions of users and hundreds of thousands of game creators — like those behind the Roblox games “Ski Resort” (Germany), “Crash Course” (France) and “Heists 2 (U.K.).

In addition to French and German, Roblox is available in English, Portuguese and Spanish, and plans to support more languages in the coming months, it says.

But the company doesn’t want to face another incident or PR crisis as it moves into new countries.

On that front, Roblox is working with digital safety leaders in both France and Germany, as part of its Digital Civility Initiative. In France, it’s working with e-Enfance; and in Germany, it’s working with Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle (USK). Roblox also added USK’s managing director, Elisabeth Secker, to the company’s Trust & Safety Advisory Board.

“We are excited to welcome Roblox as a new member to the USK and I’m honored to join the company’s Trust & Safety Advisory Board,” said Elisabeth Secker, Managing Director of the Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body (USK), in a statement. “We are happy to support Roblox in their efforts to make their platform not only safe, but also to empower kids, teens, and parents with the skills they need to create positive online experiences.”

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