Archive for IT Infrastructure

$35 Billion Takeover of Worldpay Boosts Value of Euro Payments Tech Companies

The recent £35 billion takeover of Worldpay by US company FIS has boosted the share value of other European payments technology companies including Worldline, Ingenico and Wirecard.

Worldpay

Worldpay, formerly known as Streamline, was set up as a subsidiary of NatWest bank back in 1989.  It was then bought by RBS in 2002 and re-christened ‘RBS Worldpay’.  Unfortunately for RBS, EU state aid rules meant that Worldpay had to be sold for £2 billion back in 2010 to Advent International and Bain Capital, although RBS Group still retained a 20% stake in the newly independent business.

Worldpay was able to become a big player in payment processing after several moves including buying UK credit and debit processing company Cardsave, launching a mobile card processing terminal which connects to smartphones (Worldpay Zinc), and acquiring SecureNet Payment Systems from Sterling Partners.

Worldpay was listed on the London Stock Exchange until 16 January 2018 after which it was acquired by Vantiv to form Worldpay, Inc.

Worldpay processes 40+ billion payments per year across 146 countries, in 126 currencies.

Largest Ever Deal

The £35 billion takeover of Worldpay by US-based FIS is the largest ever deal in the electronic payments industry and has created a consolidated company with combined revenues of over $12 billion.

Shares Boost

Following the announcement of the takeover, not only were shares in Worldpay up by 13% at one point, but the deal prompted a boost in the value of other payment technology companies. For example, Worldline share value was up 3.1%, and software company Atos, which owns half of Worldline was up 1.2%. The share values of Ingenico (based in France) and Wirecard (based in Germany) also received boosts with the takeover news.

FIS Says

FIS chairman and chief executive Gary Norcross said that the two companies would “combine forces to offer a customer-driven combination of scale, global presence and the industry’s broadest range of global financial solutions”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Market analysts have noted that this acquisition is the latest move in consolidation in the financial software and payments technology sectors where key existing companies are trying to increase their scale in order to compete with new entrants to a market where scale appears to be a necessary requirement to win at payments processing. The deal should also provide new business opportunities for both FIS and Worldpay.

Some commentators have noted the obvious compatibility of the two companies, and the hope is that deal may mean that businesses will have access to a wider portfolio of services that Worldpay can now provide.

The Web @ 30

It was back in March 1989, 30 years ago, that the World Wide Web as we know it was created by a computer scientist at the CERN particle physics lab near Geneva, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

From Proposal To Reality

Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote a proposal in March 1989, entitled “Information Management: A Proposal” which was based upon his vision of having a unifying structure for multiple computers, which by 1991 had developed into the World Wide Web.

The proposal, which was mainly focused on how information could be easily stored, shared, and accessed by CERN staff (and scientists, universities and institutions) expressed concern about “the problems of loss of information about complex evolving systems” and how “a solution based on a distributed hypertext system” could be used to help.  It was envisioned that a web of notes with links (like references) between them could be more useful than the existing fixed hierarchical system.

The Internet, rather than the Web, had existed for quite some time but had been developed for military purposes so that communications in a country could be retained even when some hubs may have been damaged or destroyed.  This early Internet was also used by researchers and computer scientists, but did not have the user-friendly, hyperlinked structure that Sir Tim Berners-Lee created, which he based upon his experience of writing a linked, hotspot-based program for keeping track of software (back in 1980) called ‘Enquire’.

First Website

The first website was hosted on Sir Berners-Lee’s NeXT computer.  This was the computer built by the company set up by Steve Jobs after being ousted from the early Apple company.  The website was dedicated to the World Wide Web project itself.

Public Domain

The first World Wide Web software was introduced to the public domain on April 30th 1993.  With the next release available with an open licence, CERN was able to help provide a huge boost to the growth and popularity of the Web.

Celebrations at CERN

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web, CERN hosted an event on 12th March 2019 in partnership with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and with the World Wide Web Foundation at which Sir Berners-Lee was the key speaker.

Web Memories

With the web being a relatively new, and constantly evolving part of modern life, many people reading this may have similar memories of using the Web from the 90s onwards.  These memories of the early Web include:

  • Being able to access library archives and records digitally for the first time, rather than actually having to go to a physical library and being able to copy and print off results rather than using a library photocopier (as was the pre-Web way).
  • The popular introduction of ‘chatrooms’ in the early 1990s – the forerunners of social networks.
  • In the late 90s bookshops stocked pocket-sized web directories, which were like mini phone books for the best websites.
  • Very slow dial-up modems using the telephone line, and CD-ROM disks to provide (relatively expensive) connections to the Internet.  Popular paid-for early service providers were AOL and Compuserve, but many people still used paid-for slots in Internet cafes. British ISP Freeserve opened up Internet access to the wider market in 1998 by providing free connections in the UK.
  • Lycos, Ask Jeeves and AltaVista (pre-Google days) were popular search engines in the late 90s, and the popular browsers in the UK were Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and Netscape Navigator which could also be used as an early website builder.
  • Early animated Gifs were succeeded by the introduction of Flash.  This enabled animation to be incorporated into websites, flash games were created, as were whole cartoon-like websites in Flash. In the beginning, the only problem was that search engines couldn’t read Flash files, and therefore, Flash websites tended to suffer in the search engine results.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The evolution of the Web, originally envisioned and brought into being by Sir Berners-Lee, has revolutionized business, not least with email, and the ability to trade and shop online, globally.  In opening up the business world it has created many often unforeseen opportunities but has also opened businesses up to threats e.g. global competition and security issues.

In recent interviews, as well as expressing pride in his creation, and how it was mainly a force for good in the first 15 years, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has also expressed concern about how the Web has recently been used in a negative way to influence election results (the Cambridge Analytica / Facebook scandal), and that it has also shown how it can be used effectively to spread misinformation.  Sir Tim has also acknowledged, however, that the access that young people have had to information (in countries where Web use is not restricted) has created a generation who are more like online activists who are able to challenge and question the decisions of those in power.

Could 5G’s High Frequency Be Dangerous?

5G may be the next generation of mobile internet that could provide new and innovative opportunities and boost to new industries, but there have been some concerns that its high-frequency mmWave spectrum could pose new health risks.

Long-Held Concerns

Ever since there have been mobile phones, there have always been concerns that prolonged exposure to low-energy, non-ionising electromagnetic radiation radio waves, the type used by current mobile phones, could increase a person’s risk of health problems such as developing cancerous brain tumours. This radio frequency (RF) radiation does not have enough energy to ionise an atom or molecule, and therefore, is unlikely to have enough energy to damage cell DNA in a way that would cause cancer.  This is the reason why recent research has shown that it is now believed to be unlikely that radio waves from mobile phones or base stations could increase the risk of any health problems.

Even though it is now generally accepted that normal use of current generation mobile phones is relatively safe, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has still given a cautious classification of RF radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.

What’s Different About 5G?

5G is different because it will use 3 Spectrum bands, low-band spectrum (LTE), mid-band spectrum, and what some believe to be the potentially dangerous mmWave high-frequency spectrum.

The mmWave spectrum, however, is still not close to the kind of ionising wavelengths that can cause damage to DNA.  In fact, mmWave high-frequency spectrum technology appears to be quite some way from the maximum human RF absorption frequency of about 70MHz. Also, mmWave will mostly be deployed in a spectrum that suffers from high reflection rates – 24 to 29GHz.  This should mean that any absorption by the body will be confined to the surface layers of the skin rather than the deeper tissue that is reached by lower frequency radiation.

So, Is It Safe?

Based on the science of radiation, and current evidence and limits relating to mobile phone use, there’s nothing to directly suggest 5G mmWave poses a significant health risk, but 5G is not here and in popular use yet, so more research will need to be done on the subject in future.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

5G represents a great opportunity for business.  Its increased speed and lower latency allow the downloading of films and games in seconds and watching them without any buffering, and this kind of speed will allow all kinds of new opportunities for presentation media e.g. in advertising, on social media and on websites.

Many different types of businesses could benefit from improved connectivity with remote workers or with salespeople in remote areas.

Also, the news from an O2 forecast is that 5G could deliver time savings that could bring £6 billion a year in productivity savings in the UK and that 5G-enabled tools and smart items could save UK householders £450 a year in food, council and fuel bills.

Safety, however, is a major concern for all businesses, but even though 5G will use a higher frequency, there is no compelling evidence to date to show that it would pose new health risks to users.  In the UK, it will be some time before 5G networks are up and running to any significant level, and this means that there will be time for research to be conducted in areas where 5G use is at a more advanced stage.

Large Rises in Amazon’s Web Services (AWS) Revenues, Fuelled By Public Cloud Demand

A massive 45% growth in the revenue of Amazon’s Web Services (AWS) in the fourth quarter has been fuelled by big profits in Amazon’s public cloud arm.

Beats Microsoft & Google In Cloud Infrastructure

The $7.4 billion cloud revenue, which is a jump 45% compared to the previous year, means that AWS is beating competitors Microsoft and Google in the market for cloud infrastructure.  These are the services that businesses and organisations use to outsource their computing and data storage needs.

To give some idea of the scale of the jump in revenue for AWS, these figures mean that it generated more operating income during 2018 than its North American retail operations, and that AWS generated the revenue through $25.65bn in sales (compared with the $141.3bn from North American retail operations).

Central To Success

The operating income for AWS in the quarter was $2.18 billion, accounted for 58% of Amazon’s overall operating income, although there was a slight decrease in AWS’s operating margin.

This means that the cloud business has become central to Amazon’s success in terms of revenue and profits.

More Cloud Regions

Amazon purchased two more new cloud computing regions online in 2018, and it says that it plans to open four new regions and 12 new availability zones within those regions by the first half of 2020.

The company widened its base of cloud customers last year, including some big-name sign-ups such as Santander, Korean Air and Amgen.

Not Fastest Growing

Even though AWS has seen significant growth in revenue, Microsoft’s cloud business is growing even faster.  For example, Azure cloud revenue grew by 76% in the latest quarter.

It is, however, perhaps to be expected that the revenue growth rate of a fast-growing company drops off as their revenue base swells e.g. AWS’s has dropped from 78% in 2015 to 42% during the third quarter of 2017.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Amazon is clearly a company that has grown very quickly and has diversified (far) beyond its online roots into many areas, including bricks-and-mortar stores (groceries and books), self-service stores in the US, and healthcare, as well as experimenting with innovative new ways to gain an edge in its core business e.g. drone and robot parcel deliveries.  Amazon’s Alexa virtual personal assistant technology and Echo voice-controlled devices have also proven to be very popular in the marketplace.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing though, with the company’s business practices coming under more scrutiny from UK, US, and EU regulators, as well the UK government.

In the business cloud market, AWS is showing strong growth in what is a highly profitable sector as more businesses look to outsource to the cloud, but many market analysts now predict slowing growth and higher spending for Amazon as it tries to compete and fight competitor challenges on many diverse fronts.

02 Outage – What Happened

After last week’s major O2 4G mobile network outage which left millions of customers with no network data access has been blamed on an expired software certificate that 3rd party supplier Ericsson had installed for some customers at business-critical part of the network.

What Happened?

On Thursday last week, O2 smartphone users were unable to use their mobile phone data for 24 hours.  O2, which is owned Spanish communications company Telefonica, has the UK’s second-largest mobile network, which is part of BT, and as well as having 25 million users, it provides services for the Sky, Tesco, Giffgaff and Lycamobile networks (whose networks were also affected).  It is estimated, therefore, that the outage affected around 35 million users in the UK and other parts of Europe (and even Japan’s SoftBank).

As well as the considerable disruption and inconvenience caused to individual customers, there were knock-on disruptive effects for organisations that run connectivity services on O2’s network, including Transport for London (TfL), Shropshire Council and a number of NHS trusts. In the case of TfL, bus information display boards, part of the Countdown Systems network, stopped working at approximately 5 am. Shropshire Council reported problems with its car park payment machines, which use O2 data connections.

£Millions In Damages + Compensation Expected

The scope, severity and duration of O2’s data network outage, and the impact on the company’s reputation as well as on its users have led to reports that 02 looks likely to seek up to £100 million in damages from Ericsson.

Also, O2 has already made announcements about how it plans to compensate customers.  For example, Pay As You Go customers look set to get 10% extra when they top up their phone in the new year or 10% off when they buy data for mobile broadband devices.

Both O2 and Ericsson have apologised.  It has been reported that Telefonica’s UK chief executive Mark Evans has promised a full audit of the problem across both organisations, and Marielle Lindgren, chief executive of Ericsson UK and Ireland has said that the software that caused the issues will be decommissioned.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Modern businesses now rely heavily on stable and reliable broadband connections and data network services.  Any disruption to these can be very disruptive and costly to businesses with potentially disastrous consequences.  In this case, a whole day was lost, and the true cost to UK businesses  (and their customers) may be difficult to calculate. For O2 and Ericsson, the incident appears to have caused some damage to their reputations.

As several tech commentators have since pointed out, the incident has illustrated how complex IT infrastructure has become and how, despite this complexity, organisations must stay on top of matters relating to software certificates, particularly those in business-critical systems. This incident also illustrates how problems with machine identities at critical nodes can have a wide-reaching impact on business and the economy.

Some commentators have also highlighted how operators picking up more IoT traffic and the introduction of 5G could mean that businesses are likely to experience more outages of this nature in the future.  The incident with O2 may also make some businesses take another look at their mobile strategies, feel less comfortable putting all their communications through a mobile operator, and take steps to reduce their dependence on any single external point of failure.

5G Explained

Whereas most carriers use low-band spectrum or LTE, which offers great coverage area and penetration, it is getting very crowded, and peak data speeds only top out at around 100Mbps.

5G, on the other hand, offers 3 different Spectrum bands, which are:

  • Low-band spectrum or LTE.
  • Mid-band spectrum.  This gives faster coverage and better latency than low-band but isn’t as good at penetrating buildings. Mid-band spectrum will offer peak speeds up to 1Gbps.
  • High-band spectrum /  mmWave .  This spectrum can offer peak speeds up to 10 Gbps and has very low latency, although it has a low coverage area and building penetration is poor.
  • In the UK, it is likely that there will be 2 different, location-based frequencies. Sub-6GHz (gigahertz) is likely to be the first offered to users, and the (expensive) high-band spectrum / mmWave for use in densely populated areas. This could mean limitations on where an owner can use their 5G phone (when they eventually get one).

What Can We Expect From 5G?

More frequencies, faster speeds and less latency should mean big improvements in broadband (particularly commercial) and an end to slowdowns during busy times of day that have been experienced due to the overcrowding of the current limited LTE.

Also, the frequency spectrum needed for 5G is finite, and even with additional spectrum that has been auctioned to the UK’s mobile networks, more will be needed. This may mean some crowded traffic in the first wave, with things not improving until more auctions have taken place.

It is also likely that other technologies will need to be developed and trialled in order to help 5G live up to its promise. Lessons learned about 5G in other countries (e.g. China) will take time to be noted and incorporated in the UK network to help it deliver maximum benefits.

Real-Life Business / Life Applications

Anticipated ways that 5G could improve things in our lives and for businesses include:

  • Improvements to health care.  Communications and sensor networks in health care are likely to be improved, therefore, benefiting patients, doctors and other staff.
  • Improvements in the IoT as devices require fewer resources, and huge numbers of devices can connect to a single base station, making them much more efficient. IoT improvements could help with all kinds of services e.g. public services such as smart bins and smart lighting, remote healthcare services, and CCTV / surveillance services.
  • A boost to virtual and augmented reality.
  • Benefits for the growing autonomous vehicle market as 5G provides the constant, guaranteed connection that they need.
  • Advantages for companies operating delivery drone / robot services e.g. Amazon may also get a boost from reliable and powerful 5G connections.
  • The low latency of 5G offering allowing more remote device control e.g. reducing risk in hazardous environments and allowing technicians with specialized skills to control machinery from anywhere in the world.

What About 5G Phones?

For phone manufacturers, manufacturing 5G phones will be a slightly different and more complex proposition. For example:

  • 5G phones are more complex e.g. they need a more complex antenna. These mean extra production costs which are likely to be passed on (with first-wave prices) to customers. It is thought that 5G compatible phones will be priced between £450-£540, with higher prices for leading brand models e.g. Samsung, Apple and Huawei.
  • Miniaturisation of a more complex 5G phone presents challenges. The first generation of 5G phones may, therefore, be a little larger than a normal smart-phone.
  • Launching new handsets before the new network has been rolled out could simply annoy buyers and damage brand reputation, and many customers may simply delay buying a 5G anyway until they are confident that 5G is performing well and will offer them all the benefits.
  • The first 5G smart-phones will need two modems, one standalone 5G modem, and one that still works on 4G and older networks (for when 4G isn’t available).

When?

5G has taken nearly10 years to develop and although some companies may already be rolling out fixed 5G to some cities in the developed world, mobile 5G won’t start making appearances in cities around the world until later in 2019.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The same increased speed and lower latency of 5G that allows downloading films and games in seconds and watching them without any buffering, is also likely to provide many new and innovative opportunities, and could help provide a boost to new industries

Many different types of businesses could benefit from improved connectivity with remote workers or with salespeople in remote areas.

Also, the news from an O2 forecast is that 5G could deliver time savings that could bring £6 billion a year in productivity savings in the UK, and that 5G-enabled tools and smart items could save UK householders £450 a year in food, council and fuel bills.

We will, however, have to wait for 5G networks and services to be operating and offering all the predicted benefits, and as well as being somewhat expensive, purchasing a 5G phone may be something that many people will hold-off doing until they’re confident they’ll get the promised value from it.

Automatic Broadband Compensation Is Nigh

After Ofcom announced back in November 2017 that broadband and landline customers will automatically be able to get compensation from their providers when things go wrong without the need for a claim, it appears that an £8-per-day deal agreement has finally been reached between Openreach and five of the UK’s internet service providers.

Agreement

The voluntary agreement, which will only apply only if a fault takes longer than two days to fix, is between BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, and Zen. Plusnet and EE had indicated previously that they would be prepared to sign up.

This should now mean that the new automatic compensation system will, from early 2019, bring automatic compensation to consumers (home, small and medium business customers) for a total loss of fixed broadband and phone connectivity.

Although Openreach, which looks after the infrastructure, is keen to point out that it has been offering compensation for broadband failures since 2008 and would pay compensation even when others prevented it from accessing its network, it has said that it is not prepared to pay-out for measures beyond reasonable control / force majeure events e.g. flooding. Openreach also has another exclusion under its Service Level Guarantee (SLG) arrangements.

The new agreement, which was reached after more than 6 months negotiations, and is subject to a 12-month review of Cancelled Provisions, will mean £8 compensation per-day, £25 compensation if an engineer does not arrive on schedule, or cancels within 24 hours, and an offer of £5-per-day for new services not starting on.

What Happened?

The voluntary, automatic compensation agreement only came about because of a review and intervention in the broadband market by regulator Ofcom, which introduced a voluntary Code of Practice.

It was found that compensation was only paid in approximately one in seven cases (15%) where landline or broadband customers suffered slow repairs, delayed installations or missed engineer appointments. The actual amount of compensation paid in these cases was also widely recognised to be small.

Considering that BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Zen Internet, collectively serve around 90% of landline and broadband customers in the UK, it was thought that an automatic compensation agreement that reflects the harm consumers suffer when things go wrong would help consumers and the industry alike as well as satisfying Ofcom.

Openreach

Openreach has been set its own set of tough Quality of Service (QoS) standards by Ofcom, but Openreach’s position of not paying out for force majeure-type events, and Ofcom expecting retail ISPs to cover those costs themselves has led to ISPs perhaps feeling that they will end up paying for Openreach’s failures.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For retail ISPs, although the agreement may go some way to making them improve their quality standards (which is good for customers), the regulator estimated in 2017 that such an agreement could mean that 2.6 million UK customers could receive up to £142 million per year in automated compensation payments.  This could represent a significant extra service cost to the ISPs, and hopefully one that won’t end up being passed on to customers in raised prices.

Ofcom’s research shows that nine in ten adults report going online every day and three-quarters of internet users say it is important to their daily lives. For businesses, a fast and reliable broadband connection is now vital for them to operate and compete effectively in today’s marketplace. Problems with broadband services can be very costly and frustrating for businesses, and many businesses feel that they shouldn’t have to fight for compensation on top of the problems caused by poor broadband services, and that current levels of compensation are too low, and don’t come close to reflecting the harm caused. Automatic compensation at higher levels is, therefore, good news, and it is good news that an agreement has finally reached and the (voluntary) scheme can start operating as soon as early 2019 (we hope).

The new automatic compensation scheme is particularly good news for small businesses because one-third of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) choose residential landline and broadband services, and around half (49%) of SMEs don’t know if they’re entitled to compensation when service falls short (Ofcom figures).

Superfast Broadband Boosts Business and Jobs

Among the findings of a recent government report about superfast broadband in the UK are claims that superfast broadband rollout so far has led to job creation and a £12.28 benefit for firms for every £1 invested by central and local authorities.

Measurable Benefits

The Evaluation of the Economic Impact and Public Value of the Superfast Broadband Programme report, by The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), covering 2012 to 2016, claims that the fact that superfast broadband has now reached almost five million homes and businesses (Openeach puts the figure at 10 million) has provided noticeable, measurable and business and economic benefits.

Fewer Jobseekers, More Jobs

For example, according to the report, superfast broadband has driven a reduction of almost 9,000 jobseekers allowance claims, and the creation of 49,000 local jobs.

What Is Superfast Broadband?

Superfast broadband refers to connections with broadband speeds of 24 megabits per second and above.

Where?

Superfast broadband is more available in some parts of the UK than others. For example, the highest rate of superfast broadband availability is in North East England (97.19%). Also offering high rates of superfast broadband availability are South East England (97.07%) and the West Midlands (96.56%).

Unfortunately, those who live and work in Northern Ireland are currently treated to the lowest rates of availability in the UK at 87.74%.

Boost

The growth in the levels of superfast broadband availability has been given a boost by factors such as Openreach, the firm that runs the vast majority of the UK’s telecoms infrastructure, reducing the wholesale price of broadband.

This is thought to have helped take-up for superfast and fibre broadband services by homes and businesses, and given competitors e.g. Sky and TalkTalk the opportunity to reduce the cost of using the network, provided that they can get enough sign-ups.

Back in March last year, Ofcom (the telecoms regulator) announced that BT has agreed to legally separate from Openreach, which owns and operates the UK’s broadband infrastructure. This move was intended to enable greater competition among broadband providers and greater investment in the network infrastructure.

Fibre

Fibre has offered greater broadband speeds and reliability, but at the moment, most connections have fibre-optic lines up to the local street cabinet, but then copper phone lines from the cabinet to the house.

The government says that its aim is to give all of the UK full-fibre broadband (fibre to and from the cabinet) – rather than rely on broadband delivered over copper networks, by 2033.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Broadband is now an essential service for business, and businesses would obviously welcome any improvement in broadband speeds in the UK as it would undoubtedly help UK companies to become more competitive, and would boost the economy.
Unfortunately, while those who are able to benefit from superfast and (full) fibre broadband are clearly reaping the benefits, this is not the case in many areas of the UK. For example, in April this year, a survey by consumer watchdog ‘Which?’ has revealed that more than half of UK customers across 12 providers, are having problems with their broadband service or price.

Although this latest government announcement paints a positive picture of superfast broadband in the UK, the UK is now only at 35th place in the global average broadband speed league tables. This is because it has been too late in embracing a full-fibre solution – FTTP (fibre to the premises). Many critics have pointed to UK infrastructure provider Openreach shying away from FTTP because of the perceived costs and level of difficulty of large-scale rollouts.

For the time being then, UK businesses have to rely on the slower FTTC (fibre to the cabinet), and this has put UK businesses at a competitive disadvantage with businesses in many other European countries.

Major improvements to broadband speeds for UK businesses in most areas are still a long way off as the UK may only actually have 7% full fibre coverage by 2020, with full coverage unlikely for another 15+ years.

Microsoft Launches Free Version of Collaborative Chat App ‘Teams’

Microsoft has announced the launch of a free version of its collaborative chat app ‘Teams’ which doesn’t require an Office 365 subscription.

What Is Teams?

Introduced back in November 2016, ‘Teams’ (as the name suggests) is a platform designed to help collaborative working, and combines features such as workplace chat, meetings, notes, and attachments. Described by Microsoft as a “complete chat and online meetings solution”, it normally integrates with the company’s Office 365 subscription office productivity suite, and Teams is widely considered to be Microsoft’s answer to ‘Slack’.

Slack is a popular, multi-channel collaborative working hub that offers chat channels with companies and businesses you regularly work with, direct voice or video calls and screen-sharing, integrated drag-and-drop file sharing, and an App Directory with over 1,500 apps that can be integrated into Slack.

Teams is now believed to be used by around 200,000 organizations.

Free Version

The free version of Teams, which does not require an Office 365 account, offers the same basic features as regular Teams to anyone who wants to try it out. The hope is, of course, that this will increase user numbers, and tempt users away from Slack. Microsoft is also extending 365 cloud suite with the free version of Teams to try and bridge Microsoft 365 with Office 365.

Space and Features

The free version of Teams offers 10GB of team storage plus an additional 2GB for each user, with up to 300 people supported. Also, users have unlimited messages and search, there is guest access, as well as audio and video calls and screen sharing.

Within the Teams app, users can collaborate with colleagues on Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.

What’s Missing?

Even though the free version offers quite a lot of storage space, the full version would offer users a massive 1TB. Also, unlike the full version, the free version doesn’t come with Yammer, Planner, SharePoint and OneDrive, plus the free version lacks some of the security features of the full version. This could make it less attractive to enterprises that are also looking to maximise compliance.

Warning To Help With Team Etiquette

One interesting aspect of Microsoft’s approach to the collaborative working platform is to build-on features that warn a user when they are doing something that goes against good practice and etiquette within teams. One key example of this is, with MyAnalytics, which works as an intelligent collaboration assistant in Outlook, is where users are warned / alerted if they are sending emails to co-workers outside their normal working hours.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

One good way to increase user numbers quickly, gain some ground in a battle with competitors, and to entice people to try and perhaps switch to a new service is to offer a good, usable, value-adding version of that service for free. That’s exactly what Microsoft is doing with its version of Teams.

Although larger enterprises may already be a long way down the road with their chosen collaborative working platform, and might be a bit put off by the idea of using a free version of a platform that is not quite on a par with the full version in terms of security features, a free version of Teams may be very attractive to SMEs looking to move into collaborative working with a low risk, trusted, scalable solution.

UK Slips To 35th Place In Global Broadband Speed Table

A recent comparison of 163 million broadband speed tests across 200 countries shows that the UK has slipped from 31st to 35th place in the global average broadband speed league tables.

Lagging In Europe

This latest result means that, even though average speeds in the UK have risen in the past year and, at 18.5Mbps, are above the global average, the UK is now lagging behind 25 other European countries.

Although the UK’s ranking is now actually above 165 other countries, it is still in the bottom third of EU member states.

Top Speeds

Globally, Singapore tops the average broadband speed table with 60 Mbps. In Europe, the Scandinavian countries are top of the league with Sweden at 46Mbps, Denmark at 43.9Mbps, and Norway at 40.1Mbps.

To give some idea of the gulf between broadband speeds at the top and bottom of the table, the lowest average broadband speeds can be found in Yemen (0.3Mbps), East Timor (0.49Mbps), and Turkmenistan (0.56Mbps).

Why The UK Fall In The Rankings?

It is widely believed that the UK is starting to drop further behind many of its European neighbours in average broadband speeds because it has been too late in embracing a full-fibre solution – FTTP (fibre to the premises). Many critics have pointed to UK infrastructure provider Openreach shying away from FTTP because of the perceived costs and level of difficulty of large-scale rollouts.

At present, many UK homes and businesses, therefore, have to rely on the slower FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) alternative, which uses copper wires to carry broadband from street cabinets to homes.

Openreach

Back in November 2016, partly because of its slowness to move to super-fast broadband but mainly because of a perceived monopoly, BT-owned Openreach was ordered by Ofcom to become a legally separate entity.

Hope

As well as Openreach’s competitors such as Hyperoptic moving forward with plans to offer FTTP to 2 million urban premises by 2022, the UK government has also recently updated its plans to bring FTTC to the UK. For example, the UK government’s National Infrastructure Commission (Nic) is now pushing for FTTC to be deployed around the UK by 2033, and hopefully, to be available to 15 million homes by 2025.

At the end of last year, the UK government announced that six regions of the UK would host trials of full fibre broadband for businesses, schools and hospitals as part of a £200m scheme by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). The regions are Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, West Sussex, Coventry and Warwickshire, Bristol and Bath & North East Somerset, West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This latest drop down the table of average broadband speeds is bad news, but not a surprise for UK businesses. Broadband is now an essential service for business, and businesses know from their own experience that broadband services in the UK can sometimes be slow, patchy, and often expensive. A recent survey by watchdog ‘Which?’, for example, revealed that more than half of UK customers across 12 providers, are having problems with their broadband service or price.

At the moment, better broadband services, particularly for businesses in rural locations, still seem a very long way off as the reality is that the UK ranks only 35th in the world for average broadband speeds, and we may only actually have 7% full fibre coverage by 2020, with full coverage unlikely for another 15 years. This could affect the competitiveness of UK companies compared to their European neighbours and other global competitors for a long time to come.