Thursday, 26 March 2009

To view or not to view? That is the question for Google’s Street View

Since its release a week ago, Google’s Street View service has taken a lot of criticism in the press. Google Street View, an expansion of the currently existing Google Maps application, street-mapping service which gives users a ground-level view of locations on Google Maps. The service can currently be used to view streets in 25 British cities, including London, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and Edinburgh. Other major UK towns will become available for viewing in the coming months. Unfortunately you won’t be able to find Plum on Street View as the application doesn’t go as far as Oldham. You are able to browse around Manchester City Centre, as these photos show here.

The imagery available consists of video taken along 22,369 miles of UK streets by customised camera cars. Google say that this technology is suitable for personal and business use, allowing users to plot driving routes, look up restaurants and meeting venues, and view holiday destinations. From having a go myself, it certainly does appear useful for those who are trying to find a particular building, or students wanting to trying to get to know their way around a new city for University, for example. Still a bit confused by it? Let these Google and BBC videos explain more:

Google has been forced to remove dozens of photos from this service after numerous complaints from individuals who have found themselves in these photos, as they saw it as an invasion of their privacy. Google have confirmed that anyone could have their images removed if they asked.

Such has been the opposition to Google Street View, that there have already been calls for the service to get closed down. A formal complaint against the service, consisting of more than 200 reports from members of the public identifiable via the service, has been drawn up by the lobby group Privacy International (PI) and sent to the Information Commissioner (ICO). The ICO are now investigating the service. Watch this BBC broadcast to find out more

Have you used Google UK's Street View? What have you seen on it that caught your attention? Is your house featured and did you spot anything on your street or elsewhere that concerned - or amused you?

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Monday, 23 March 2009

Oldham will be one of the first cities to get super-fast broadband

BT’s local network business Openreach has today announced the first 29 locations where, from early 2010, substantial numbers of customers will have access to fibre-based super-fast broadband via BT’s network, bringing high speeds within reach of 500,000 homes and businesses. The announcement is the next stage in the UK's biggest ever investment programme, some £1.5 billion, in super-fast broadband. This super-fast broadband is to be piloted this summer in Muswell Hill, north London, and Whitchurch, South Wales, prior to the wider roll-out in 2010. Amongst the locations announced today, areas of Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Greater Manchester have all been chosen as the first set of customers. Most of these areas are urban, but two of them (Calder Valley, near Halifax, West Yorkshire, and Taffs Well, near Cardiff) are smaller so BT intend to learn lessons from deploying fibre technology in such environments.

6 out of the 29 locations are in Greater Manchester: Bury, Didsbury, Failsworth, Heaton Moor, Oldham, and Rusholme. This means that initial broadband speeds of up to 40Mbps will become available to more than 41,000 homes and businesses in Oldham, and more than 23,000 in Failsworth. Mike Blackburn, BT’s regional director for the North-West, said: “Super-fast broadband is essential to this region’s future, so it is great to announce this initial set of locations”. A full list of the 29 locations can be viewed by clicking here.

A further announcement regarding the next set of locations, which will serve a further million homes and businesses, will be announced in the autumn.

Plum are keeping tracks on the progress of super-fast broadband. Click here in order to sign up and find out when super-fast broadband comes available, please start yout message with SFB.

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Friday, 20 March 2009

EU to cap roaming charges of data downloads

Last Monday in Strasbourg, France, a panel of EU lawmakers voted 21-8 in favour of capping the costs of web browsing and data downloads on mobile phones and laptops, meaning that those on holiday, travelling or working abroad would pay a lot less for their telecoms bills. Subject to a further vote between 21st-24th April, starting 1st July roaming charges would be lowered, with the transfer of data to be capped at 50 cents (approx. 36p) per Mb and text messages to be capped at 11 cents (approx. 8p) per text, and by 2010 telephone calls would be capped at 40 cents (approx. 28p) per minute (Financial Times). The EU Telecoms Commissioner, Viviane Reding, believes that this bill is, “very good news for consumers all over Europe, …[especially] in view of the current economic downturn…which will encourage them to make more use of their mobile phones”. This is especially good news for those who check their emails abroad, and those who update their social networking sites (e.g. Twitter, blogs, Facebook) whilst abroad.

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Thursday, 12 March 2009

BBC to help fund super-fast broadband?

Lord Carter, the man behind the ‘Digital Britain’ report, has spent time this week answering questions from the House of Commons Business and Enterprise Committee. He was answering questions regarding his plans for all British households on at least 2Mbs speed broadband by 2012, amongst other issues, such as super-fast broadband and YouTube’s UK music video block.

Speaking about recent developments in super-fast broadband, he expressed his view that with half the population not being able to take advantage of BT’s and Virgin’s fibre optics broadband, other organisations needed to contribute funds in order to establish nationwide super-fast broadband, in particular the BBC. He explained that, “More and more people get their media from the internet and that usage is doubling every two years. Would the nation's state-funded content provider have a role in this? It would seem to me it would,” It appears that his view is based upon the fact that many people use BBC iPlayer and the BBC website as a means of watching television, so the BBC already relies on good broadband connections to offer these services, so it would make business sense for the BBC to help fund such a project, in order to allow more people to benefit from these online services.

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Friday, 6 March 2009

FSA's new rules on Call Recording

On 3rd March 2008, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) published new rules, stating that FSA-registered firms, as of today (6th March 2009), will be required to record all telephone conversations and electronic communications, which relate to client orders and the conclusion of transactions in the equity, bond, and derivatives markets (view the press release here). Such rule changes were first discussed in the previous year’s publication. To read about the new rules in full, view this report here. This means that all financial firms who deal with the equity, bond, and derivatives markets, and are registered with the FSA, will have to obtain call recording services on their phone systems, in order to comply with new regulations. Plum offer call recording solutions to customers, along with our numerous other telephone services, at low prices. You can find out more about our call recording services by clicking here, or alternatively contacting us by clicking on the ‘Contact Us’ link to the left of this blog entry.

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Thursday, 5 March 2009

Interest rates reduced to 0.5% with £75 billion being pumped into the economy

At midday today the Bank of England announced that interest rates were to be lowered from 1% to 0.5%, the 6th reduction in interest rates since October 2008 (see a breakdown of these reductions below). The Bank of England added that it is going to pump £75 billion into the British economy in an attempt to boost bank lending, through a policy called ‘quantitative easing’. Unsure what ‘quantitative easing’ is? Read on to find out.

When interest rates are lowered people are encouraged to spend money not save it. However when interest rates can go no lower, as became the case today, money has to then be pumped directly into the economy to encourage people to lend and spend. Japan undertook this policy in 2001, but economists still question whether this was successful or not. This policy is similar or dissimilar (depending on your views) to ‘money printing’, which occurred in 1920s Weimar Germany and modern-day Zimbabwe, and inevitably led to hyperinflation. This process electronically, not physically, credits the money to banks’ accounts. Still confused? Click here for a BBC video explaining it.

Quantitative easing can be broken down into 7 stages:

  1. The Bank creates new money electronically in its accounts.
  2. The Bank buys bonds (companies’ IOUs) and gilts (Government IOUs) from commercial banks.
  3. The value of the bonds and gilts bought is now credited to banks that sold them.
  4. The commercial banks can make new loans against the increased funding.
  5. Extra lending boosts cash and credit flowing in the economy.
  6. Extra demand for bonds and gilts from the Bank drives down interest rates for business and consumer borrowers.
  7. Flows of extra and cheaper money stimulate growth.
Such a process could help resolve the current economic depression, but this strategy is of very high risk so it has its critics. If it is not done aggressively enough, banks will remain unwilling to lend, causing the crisis to continue. Similarly to money printing, the process also runs the risk of going too far, in that it could pump too much money into the economy thus causing high inflation, making money worthless. The main concern though, is that High Street and commercial banks will not lend on the Bank's extra money and will instead use the money to improve their liquidity, meaning more risk is being taken on by not just the Bank, but also the taxpayer.

Here is a breakdown of the 6 interest rate reductions (shown in a chart here) since October 2008:

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Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Ofcom give a thumbs-up for super-fast broadband

Ofcom has announced it will not stand in the way of companies and organisations investing in super-fast broadband services for UK homes and businesses. For UK homes, this will mean that different members of a household will be able to access a variety of high-bandwidth services simultaneously, e.g. TV programmes, online games, music downloads. For UK business, this will mean that businesses will have improved data retrieval, remote access and video conferencing. The 2 main investors in super-fast broadband will be Virgin (who already offer a 50Mb broadband speed) and BT (who aim to offer a 100Mb broadband speed). This Ofcom video shows the benefits of super-fast broadband.

Ofcom’s CEO, Ed Richards, has said "We want to promote investment to support the widespread adoption of superfast broadband but we want to balance that with the need for competition," He added that this would be done in 3 steps:

1. provide the current conditions for investment in fibre
2. look at how to reach the areas not covered by this market-led approach
3. consider the evolution to even faster technologies

This Channel 4 video shows Richards and and Steve Robertson, CEO of BT Openreach, talk about their plans to roll out super-fast broadband across the UK.

Plum are keeping tracks on the progress of super-fast broadband. Click here in order to sign up and find out when super-fast broadband comes available, please start the message with SFB.

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