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Unicef promotes open source in fight against poverty

Unicef logoUNICEF, the United Nations’ Children’s Fund, has launched a US $9 mn. fund to promote technology start-ups.

The conditions for the programme include the following:

  • The project must be able to improve the living conditions of young people;
  • There must must a working prototype of the technology available;
  • Everything must be made available under an open source licence.

In addition, the start-ups must be registered in a country with an active UNICEF programme. This therefore excludes start-ups based in developed economies in North America and Europe.

The sponsorship is being targeted from the outset solely at smaller companies and the maximum capital injection will usually amount to a maximum US $100,000 per company. UNICEF has no intention of taking a stake in the successful start-ups in return for its funding; the fact that the technology will be open source will be sufficient reward for UNICEF. Networking possibilities and technical support are also promised in addition to funding.

The projects should focus on new possibilities for training and social participation, optimising management by making real-time data available or improving infrastructure in the fields of transport, network access or finance. Everything is possible from blockchain applications to drone hardware via 3D printing. Candidates for funding must apply by 26th February.

See UNICEF’s website for more details of the Innovation Fund.

MEPs for more public sector open source use

FSFE logoThe European Parliament adopted its report “Towards a Digital Single Market” in response to the European Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy in mid-January, the Free Software Foundation Europe FSFE) reports.

The FSFE is pleased the Parliament took an affirmative attitude towards the increased use of free software and its importance to digital single market.

In particular it was pleased with the following:

  • Paragraph 89 considers that software providers “should better promote the security advantages of open source software”.
  • Paragraph 110 urges the European Commission and the Council to “increase the share of free and open source software and its reuse in and between public administrations as a solution to increase interoperability”.
  • Paragraph 125 calls for “the increased use of free and open source software, particularly in educational establishments and public administrations”.

However, at the same time the report notes that the ability to license standard-essential patents under FRAND licensing terms fosters innovation and preserves research, development and standardisation incentives, even though these licensing practices are harmful to free software.

The FSFE nevertheless welcomes the report’s adoption and calls on the Commission to follow the Parliament’s recommendations when pursuing the Digital Single Market initiatives.

Joint effort to produce first 100% open source, enterprise-grade cloud office suite

Kolab Systems, creators of Kolab, the leading open source groupware and collaboration framework, today announced a partnership with Collabora Productivity, the architects behind LibreOffice Online, the cloud-based office productivity suite.

The first version of Kolab with integrated CloudSuite functionality is due to appear around the middle of 2016.

CloudSuite in action
CloudSuite in action

Collabora’s CloudSuite web-based document product will be available as an integrated component in Kolab. The integration of CloudSuite into Kolab will allow users to work on documents simultaneously using a fully-featured online office suite from within the Kolab collaboration suite. Users will be able to create text documents, fill in spreadsheets and design presentations together, even when they are in different locations. Documents can later be saved in popular formats, including Open Document Format (ODF) and MS-compatible formats. The CloudSuite offering also comes with Collabora Office, a professional LibreOffice distribution, for offline use on the desktop.

CloudSuite complements Kolab’s integrated editor, which is also gaining collaborative editing capabilities. Users will be able to collaborate in real-time composing emails, setting agendas for meetings or adding contacts to distribution lists before sharing their work with colleagues and clients.

“For too long, closed and insecure solutions have been the industry standard for office and groupware productivity,” said Kolab System’s CEO, Georg Greve. “With this partnership Collabora and Kolab are taking the lead, not only with bleeding edge technological innovation and an office stack with full, user-friendly and comprehensive collaborative features, but also with a product that respects users’ freedoms, protects their privacy, and guarantees their work will not be locked away in proprietary formats.”

“Collabora Productivity is delighted to provide a key building block in Kolab’s comprehensive, new offering,” said Michael Meeks, General Manager at Collabora Productivity. “Kolab Systems have been a leading light in open source for many years and we look forward to supporting their ambitious growth plans in the enterprise sector and beyond.”

France: draft Digital Law overwhelmingly adopted by deputies

photo of Axelle LemaireAxelle Lemaire can breathe freely again. As a matter of fact, the Secretary of State for Digital Affairs has something of which to be proud: her draft Digital Republic Law, which she submitted to the French Council of Ministers on 9th December, has just been adopted by the National Assembly on its first reading, Le Monde Informatique reports. This was an adoption with the support of a very large majority of deputies (= MPs) with 356 votes in favour, only 1 vote against and and 187 abstentions, as outlined on the French National Assembly website.

Although socialist deputies voted overwhelmingly for this draft law (272 voting and 2 not voting), the majority (184) of their right-wing counterparts The Republicans abstained; one voted against and only 4 in favour, including backdoors for encryption advocate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (news passim).

A proposed law put out to public consultation on the internet

The draft Digital Republic Law (PDF) hinges on three axes: stimulating the flow of data and knowledge (strengthening and expanding the opening up of public data, creating a public data service, introducing to notion of general interest data to enable its reuse by everyone and developing the knowledge economy), working for the protection of people in the digital society (stimulating an open environment by affirming network neutrality and data portability, establishing a loyalty principle for digital service platforms and introducing new rights for people in the digital world in respect of personal data and access to digital services) and finally to guarantee digital access for all (by stimulating accessibility to public digital services, access to digital services for the disabled and maintaining internet connections for the most deprived people).

This proposal for a Digital Republic Law was put out to public consultation on the internet and 5 new articles and more than 90 amendments to the draft law presented to the Council of Ministers were the direct outcome of this online consultation.

After its adoption by the National Assembly, the draft law will be examined by the Senate in the spring.

Bristol open networking solutions company receives major investment

Zeetta Networks logoZeetta Networks, a spin-out company from Bristol University’s High Performance Networks group (HPN), is an internationally renowned team for their expertise in software-defined networking and network virtualisation, which has now received £1.25 mn. to commercialise the University’s software-defined networking technology to smart enterprises and Internet of Things (IoT), the University reports.

Zeetta breaks vendor-lock-ins using a unique open networking platform based on industry-standard hardware and powerful orchestration software – named NetOS®– which manages, automates and monitors the whole network while significantly reducing its costs. Zeetta markets NetOS® to service providers and enterprises to help them reduce their network costs while improving network scalability and flexibility.

NetOS® offers a “USB-like”, plug-n-play management of different types of connected network devices and enables the construction of virtual “network slices”, for example separate logically-isolated sub-networks for the deployment of business-to-business or business-to-consumer services, such as Ultra HD wireless video distribution, city-wide Wi-Fi, IoT and other applications.

The funding, which is being provided by existing investor IP Group plc and new investor, Breed Reply, means that Zeetta can accelerate its growth plans significantly, enabling the company to expand its commercial and technical teams and to target new markets.

The future of the internet – at the speed light

fancy image of brain as circuit diagramNew research has found a scientific solution that enables future internet infrastructure to become completely open and programmable while carrying internet traffic at the speed of light, the University of Bristol writes.

This research by High Performance Networks (HPN) group of Bristol University’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering has been published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A and bears the title: Optical network democratization by Reza Nejabati, Shuping Peng and Dimitra Simeonidou.

The current infrastructure of the internet is incapable of supporting independent development and innovation at physical and network layer functionalities, protocols and services, whilst simultaneously supporting increasing bandwidth from increasingly diverse applications.

This research addresses this problem with a new high performance network infrastructure that is open and programmable and uses light to carry internet traffic (is it like Ronja? Ed.) It introduces new concepts of an open source optical internet enabled by optical white box and software-defined network technologies.

Dr Reza Nejabati, Reader in Optical Networks in the HPN group, said: “Hardware and software technologies reported in this paper can potentially revolutionise optical network infrastructure the same way that Google Android and Apple iOS did for mobile phones. These technologies will hide complexity of optical networks and open them up for traditional programmers and application developers to create new type of internet applications taking advantages of speed of light.”

Dimitra Simeonidou, Professor of High Performance Networks and HPN group leader, added: “New internet technologies frequently emerge, but most of them rarely result in new and revolutionary internet applications. The technologies suggested could pave the way for the creation of new internet services and applications not previously possible or disruptive. The technologies could also potentially change the balance of power from vendors and operators that are monopolising the current internet infrastructure to wider users and service providers.”

The High Performance Networks (HPN) group is the forefront of world research and development in the fields of:

  • Next generation optical transmission networks;
  • Optical packet and burst switching;
  • Optical data centre solutions and architecture;
  • Grid and cloud networking;
  • Software-defined networking (SDN) and optical network virtualisation;
  • Hybrid-network domains orchestration and service management;
  • Smart City ICT solutions.

Cross-party group of MPs: BT should be forced to sell Openreach

image of fibre-optic cableThe British Infrastructure Group (BIG), a cross-party group of 121 Members of Parliament dedicated to promoting better infrastructure across the entire United Kingdom has today released a report (PDF) entitled “Broadbad“, which has determined that some 5.7 million broadband customers (of whom 3.5 mn. live in rural areas0 and 400,000 businesses experience “dire” connection speeds despite quasi-monopoly supplier BT having received £1.7 bn. from the taxpayer to improve services.

In the view of the report “dire” speeds mean that connections do not reach Ofcom’s “acceptable” minimum speed of 10Mbit/s.

Since the UK economy now so reliant on its internet infrastructure, the BIG report contends that the country’s future is being held back by systemic underinvestment stemming from the ‘natural monopoly’ of BT and its Openreach subsidiary. The report concludes that the current situation is stifling competition, hurting ordinary people and in the process limiting Britain’s business and economic potential, costing the UK economy up to £11 bn. per year.

The report calls on the regulator Ofcom to take radical action over the ‘natural monopoly’ too long enjoyed by BT Openreach.

BIG members believe that Britain should be leading the world in digital innovation, yet instead the country has a monopoly company clinging to outdated copper technology with no proper long-term plan for the future. A start needs to be made on converting to a fully fibre network so Britain is not left behind other nations. However, according to the report, this will only be achieved by taking action to open up the sector. Given all the delays and missed deadlines, BIG believes that only a formal
separation of BT from Openreach, combined with fresh competition and a concerted ambition to deliver, will create the broadband service that the country so rightly demands.

According to The Guardian, BT’s response was that it took any criticism seriously, but described the BIG report as “misleading and ill-judged”, claiming the proposal to break the business up was “wrong-headed”. Furthermore, a government spokesman labelled the figures in the BIG report as “entirely misleading”.

Some of the scepticism about the report could be because the BIG group is chaired by former Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps MP, a man with an alleged dubious business record (ably assisted by Michael Green and Sebastian Fox, pechance? Ed. 😉 ).

Other prominent members of the group include the Liberal Democrat former Scottish secretary, Alistair Carmichael, Labour MP Helen Goodman and Douglas Carswell, Ukip’s lone Member of Parliament. A cursory glance of the committee’s membership also revealed 6 local(-ish) parliamentarians: North Somerset’s right-wing former minister Liam Fox (no sign of Adam Werrity. Ed. 😉 ), Cotswolds Tory Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Chippenham’s Michelle Donelan, Yeovil’s Marcus Fysh, Bath’s Ben Howlett (not to be confused with the Aussie rules footballer of the same name. Ed.) and the eccentric member for Bridgwater, Ian Liddell-Grainger.

Bristol academic – working quantum computing system a reality by 2020

Professor O’Brien, Director of the Centre for Quantum Photonics at the University of Bristol and Visiting Fellow at Stanford University, is giving a talk today (Thursday) at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, at which he’ll announce that a working quantum computing system is expected to be developed by 2020.

Professor Jeremy O'BrienProfessor O’Brien is part of a European Research Council (ERC) Ideas Lab delegation who have been invited to address the suits in Switzerland to discuss the future of computing and how new fields of computer science are paving the way for the next digital revolution.

Quantum computing has the capability to unlock answers to some of humanity’s most pressing questions that cannot be solved with current computing technologies. In 2014, the UK government invested over £270 mn. in the development of quantum technologies. Professor O’Brien has been leading the development of quantum computing using light in its quantum state – the photon- as the key ingredient.

Professor O’Brien said: “In less than ten years quantum computers will begin to out-perform everyday computers, leading to breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, the discovery of new pharmaceuticals and beyond.

“The very fast computing power given by quantum computers has the potential to disrupt traditional businesses and challenge our cyber-security. Businesses need to be ready for a quantum future because it’s coming.”

In his talk, Professor O’Brien will outline the current status of quantum computing and its potential applications and will reveal his blueprint for a manufacturable photonic quantum computer.

EU broadband prices down, but speeds still lagging

image of optical fibre cableThe European Commission has just published three broadband studies examining speed, price and coverage.

The first study, on broadband quality, concludes that subscribers are getting 75% of advertised download speeds. The second study, on prices, shows that broadband access has continued to become more affordable, whilst the third report, on broadband coverage, confirms substantial deployments of high speed fixed as well as 4G (LTE) mobile infrastructures.

Broadband speeds

This study covers all EU Member States, plus Iceland and Norway. It shows that on average, EU fixed broadband customers are only getting 75% of the advertised download speed, the same as they were getting in 2013. The difference between advertised and real speeds remains constant in spite of investment in broadband networks, which raised the average actual download speed significantly from 30 Mbps in 2013 to 38 Mbps in 2014. However, download speeds throughout the EU are higher than in the United States. By way of example, xDSL services averaged 8.27Mbps in Europe and 7.67Mbps in the US.

broadband speeds graphic

The EU is asking operators to be more transparent and giving users more rights through its new rules for a Telecoms Single Market, the text of which will be formally adopted by the European Parliament next Tuesday.

Broadband prices

The key findings of the second study on broadband retail prices are as follows:

  • Despite a stabilisation in price between 2013 and 2014, broadband prices in the EU28 fell by about 12% between 2012 and 2015; the decline was particularly strong in the 30-100 Mbps speed category (by about 20% during the same period).
  • Prices vary significantly and they could be up to 300% higher for a similar service depending on the location.
  • 12-30 Mbps offers seem to offer the best value for money, while offers with speeds over 100 Mbps remain in general still relatively expensive (by 40-60% higher than 30-100Mbps offers).
  • The least expensive offers per country are, in around 80% of cases, provided by new entrants, which, however, are generally not available to all customers, because they have lower coverage than the incumbents.
  • The EU28 is less expensive than the US for broadband above 12Mbps, however South Korea and Japan are cheaper than the EU28 for broadband above 30Mbps.

Broadband coverage

The third study – on broadband coverage – found that, excluding satellite, over 216 mn. EU households (99.4%) had access to at least one fixed or a mobile broadband technology at the end of 2014. High speed mobile broadband (4G based on LTE) coverage went up from 59.1% in 2013 to 79.4% in 2014. Next Generation Access (NGA) technologies capable of delivering at least 30Mbps were available to 68.1% of households up from 61.9% a year ago. The map below illustrates NGA deployment at regional level.

EU NGA broadband coverage
EU NGA broadband coverage

Ubuntu to withdraw sponsored search

Ubuntu logoUbuntu signed an agreement with Amazon for sponsored searches within the distribution. When it was signed in 2012, Richard Stallman labelled it “spyware and polemics became inevitable. Ubuntu now seems to be backtracking.

It’s official. This functionality will be dropped from the next version of Ubuntu – 16.04 LTS – which will be released in April, Toolinux reports.

It was in 2012 that this new feature appeared and it wasn’t to the taste of everyone in the community; far from it. Richard Stallman called it nothing less than “spyware”. This function will be disabled by default in the forthcoming release.

As Will Cooke, one of the Ubuntu managers at Canonical explained in a blog post: “On Unity 8 the Scopes concept has evolved into something which gives the user finer control over what is searched and provides more targeted results. This functionality cannot be added into Unity 7 and so we’ve taken the decision to gracefully retire some aspects of the Unity 7 online search features.”

This is a decision that’s come late in the day and brings to mind how difficult it is for the likes of Ubuntu to find viable financial models for its free distribution.