What’s up with… The Dutch government, Three Ireland and Comreg, Azure

  • Dutch government to enshrine the right to WFH
  • Ireland in the midst of a spectrum squabble
  • Azure hits supply chain issues

A boost for 5G and residential access networks? The Netherlands parliament is in the process of approving a ‘right’ to work from home, as long as the nature of the work in question allows it (obviously train drivers and pilots are exempt). The Dutch lower house has approved the bill, but it still needs an OK by the Dutch upper house before it’s adopted. Once approved, the Netherlands will become one of the first countries to grant remote working flexibility by law, according to Bloomberg, which says the move will force employers to consider employee requests and have a good reason to say no. The Dutch move is a significant step beyond the sort of guidance issued by the UK government, say, as a Covid-control measure. Never entirely behind the idea of home working, outgoing prime minister Boris Johnson was itching to end any work from home regulation or instruction – often before expert opinion declared it safe to do so. At the end of 2021, for instance, with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the disease in the UK, the  guidance – as expressed by Johnson – was: "Go to work if you must, but work from home if you can," a typically two-faced response. Of course, post-Covid it’s been hard to get people who were working from home back into the office, as Apple and Google can both attest. Making working from home an actual right, even with caveats, clearly pushes the power balance towards employees by several notches so is likely to be opposed vigorously by employers, even though most studies show productivity and well-being are generally improved by the option. 

Ireland, the combinatorial clock is ticking. Mobile operator Three Ireland is petitioning the Irish High Court to issue an injunction that would prevent the country’s telecoms regulator, Comreg, from pursuing a new system for auctioning wireless spectrum, which was due to be introduced later this month. Three’s argument is that the new auction process should be stayed pending a final ruling on Three’s earlier legal challenge to Comreg’s decision, made in December 2020, to award spectrum across four bands for the next 20 years. Comreg contends that there should be no delay to this month’s auction because it would severely impact the rollout of 5G technology across Ireland, to the disadvantage of both enterprises and consumers, and cause the Irish state to miss long-set and agreed EU targets for the provision of 5G. Three’s main bone of contention is that Comreg’s 2020 decision would see new spectrum rights allocated in the 700 MHz, 2.1 GHz, 2.3 GHz and 2.6 GHz bands, via a mechanism known as a combinatorial clock auction (CCA) whereby interest parties bid for generic lots of spectrum rather than individual lots. The CCA is an important recent innovation in auction design and has been adopted for many spectrum auctions worldwide. Three Ireland says this method puts it at a competitive disadvantage. Brian Kennelly, senior counsel for Three, submitted that should a stay not be granted, the judgement on the main appeal “could land” in the middle of the auction process itself, which would result in “great uncertainty in the market”. He added that both Vodafone and Eir (formerly Eircom) support the application for the stay despite being Three’s major competitors. Brian Kennelly added that if the auction goes ahead as planned on 25 July, “strategic bidding” by others would prejudice Three’s ability to compete in the Irish market and thus harm consumers by denying them a better competitive environment. He branded as “insufficient” Comreg’s system to compensate Three for any losses found to have been incurred during the process. In response, Margaret Gray, senior counsel for Comreg, argued that the status quo should remain and the auction proceed to meet the EU timetable for the introduction of 5G. She added that, for Comreg, “the issue stands or falls” on whether there would be serious irreparable harm to Three, and there wouldn’t be any given that the only possible harm, the loss of money, would be compensated for in full. For its part, Comreg reiterated that the auction will take place on 25 July, and that the entire bandwidth allocation and licensing process will be over by the end of October this year.

Microsoft Azure is being hit by global supply chain issues, which have allegedly caused the cloud provider’s datacentres to operate with limited server capacity. It goes to show that even huge virtualised operations, such as Azure, are subject to old-fashioned physical supply chain issues. At the end of the day, a server still needs to be transported from one place to another to expand capacity in a particular data centre and an operative with a screwdriver must be summoned to attach it to the cloud. Various reports claim that more than two dozen Azure datacentres are currently feeling the pinch, just as the business demand for capacity continues to soar. And the squeeze is unlikely to ease in the short term as there simply isn’t enough server and component  inventory in the system to accelerate capacity supply. It’s probable that similar issues are affecting other cloud providers. The industry expects it may be years before the supply chain issues and component shortages fully sort themselves out.

Among the myriad of not so manifold benefits of Brexit was the UK being summarily booted-out of the EU’s Galileo sat-nav system, despite having contributed handsomely to its development. Since 25 June 2021, the UK has also been precluded from using the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (Egnos) safety-of-life (SOL) services, which enable the use of GPS for airport approach and landing operations for aircraft. But fear not because Inmarsat, our very own and very successful satellite telecommunications company, is trialling an overlay system to improve GPS signals in the UK. In Britain’s increasingly ‘smart’ agricultural industry, more of the grain harvest is being brought home by unmanned vehicles, meaning it is important that errors in sat-nav positioning are minimised.  Speaking to the BBC, Todd McDonell, president of global government at Inmarsat, commented, “An autonomous platform cannot know where it is to 25 metres, it has to know at the very least where it is to just centimetres. People seem to think this is only about aviation, and that's an obvious need, but land-based transportation, the maritime sector and agriculture have important needs as well.” Inmarsat’s trial is of an “augmentation” system that will improve a basic sat-nav positioning by checking signal accuracy and warning users when it has detected inaccuracies or other anomalies. The UK Space-Based Augmentation System generates an overlay test signal to the US GPS, compliant with International Civil Aviation Organisation standards, to enable assessment of more precise, resilient and high-integrity navigation for maritime and aviation users in UK waters and airspace. Positioning accuracy is improved to within a couple of centimetres rather than several metres. “Repurposing a transponder on a long-serving satellite to deliver a new capability to the UK, potentially a vital and enduring one, certainly lives up to that core Inmarsat ethos. Working with our fellow British companies Goonhilly and GMV NSL to deliver such a capability for the country is very rewarding, and we look forward to reporting on the results,” added the BBC’s McDonell. Goonhilly, on the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall, provides the signal uplink, while software from Nottingham-based GMV NSL generates navigational data. Since departing the EU, the UK has been looking to create a sovereign technology service to benefit the UK economy while, simultaneously, providing other apps and services for export. With space-borne positioning and timing data (PNT) now commonplace, it is hoped that the UK will build a technology providing  primary PNT signals that will be launched on satellites integrated into the OneWeb low-Earth-orbit internet broadband network, which the UK government and Bharti Global bought out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy back in 2020. By the way, the EU’s Egnos system was also trialled at Christmas in the US a few years ago, where it was called the Emergent Global Geostationary Navigation Overlay Gizmo (Eggnog), for short. Not many people know that.

An international team of scientists has developed flexible near-field communications (NFC) extenders that permit a wearer to interact with NFC tags at a greater distance than ever before. NFC technology allows two wireless devices, such as a mobile phone and a payments terminal, to communicate with one another and conduct transactions over a very short distance – usually no more than four centimetres. NFC allows contactless payments and the technology is generally safe and secure, and is certainly convenient and quick to use. It is a subset of radio-frequency identification (RFID) and NFC uses a specific RFID frequency (13.56MKz). The UK-based NFC World website reports that smart clothing fitted with body-centric NFC extenders can enable functions, such as hands-free access control to buildings, via tags or other devices either embedded in gloves or the elbows, knees, thighs and shoulders of smart clothing or simply dropped into a pocket. It also brings a whole new dimension to the concept of backing-up your data.

- The staff, TelecomTV

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