View from India: Draft National Telecom Policy aims for digital sovereignty

May 2nd, 2018 no comment

NTP – also referred to as National Digital Communications Policy 2018 – aims to create four million additional jobs in the Digital Communications sector, as well as attracting investments of $100bn to the sector. Digital sovereignty is a dream to be fulfilled through the various initiatives of the policy.

With over a billion mobile phones and digital identities, plus half a billion internet users, India’s mobile data consumption is already the highest in the world. Over 200 million Indians regularly use social media and in the last year alone over 200 million Indians took to mobile banking and digital payments.

At the current pace of digitisation/digitalisation, the Policy estimates that India’s digital economy has the potential to reach $1trn by 2025. With the new policy in place, the contribution of the digital communications sector should be enhanced from 6 per cent in 2017 to 8 per cent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP). It should also propel India into the top 50 nations in the ICT (information, communication and technology) Development Index of International Telecommunication Union (ITU), up from 134th place in 2017.

One of the highlights of the NTP is its vision to harness the power of emerging digital technologies, including 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), the Cloud and Big Data to enable the provision of future-ready products and services and to catalyse the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) by promoting investments, innovation and intellectual property rights (IPR). Industry 4.0 can be accelerated through a roadmap that facilitates this transition by 2020 by closely working with sector specific industry councils. In the process, a market will be developed for IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity services in sectors such as agriculture, smart cities, intelligent transport networks, multimodal logistics, smart electricity meters and consumer durables, among others.

It’s also intended to optimise satellite communications (satcom) technologies in India by reviewing satcom policy for communication services, in tandem with the Department of Space. Of course, this will take into account the international developments and social and economic needs of the country, as well as the licensing and regulatory conditions that limit the use of satellite communications, such as speed barriers. Band allocation will be revised. In order to develop an ecosystem for satcoms in India, the thrust is to streamline the administrative processes for assignment and allocations, clearances and permissions related to satcom systems.

Digital inclusion will happen through a national digital grid that will bring the uncovered areas and digitally deprived segments of society into the mainstream. Connectivity for all uncovered areas in the north-eastern states, Himalayan region, left-wing extremism areas, islands and border areas is on the cards.

A 2022 goal is to achieve universal broadband access by establishing a ‘National Broadband Mission – Rashtriya Broadband Abhiyan’. The universal broadband coverage at 50Mbps should be made available to every citizen. Apart from that, all the Gram panchayats of India should be provided connectivity, to the par of 1Gbps by 2020 and 10Gbps by 2022. Gram panchayats, incidentally, are the local self-government institutions at the village level, whose head is the focal point of contact between government officers and the village community.

The intent is to maximise India’s contribution to the global value chain by focusing on domestic production, increasing exports and reducing the import burden. Taxes, levies and differential duties need to be rationalised in order to incentivise local manufacturing of equipment. Product segments along the telecom manufacturing chain need to be identified and a phased manufacturing program needs to be introduced to cater to the demand-supply scenario. One million employees will be trained to build a workforce to meet new requirements.

A complete domestic ecosystem needs to be put in place, whereby small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs and big companies need to be encouraged to manufacture local products, which are on par with the global market.

Even better, if these products have globally recognised intellectual property rights (IPRs) in India. Design-led manufacturing in India requires a thrust and this can happen by leveraging indigenous software, along with R&D capabilities. This should lead to the creation of innovation led start-ups in the Digital Communications sector.

Laser-frequency combs tap terahertz source for ultra-fast Wi-Fi

May 1st, 2018 no comment

Wi-Fi and cellular data traffic are increasing exponentially but, unless the capacity of wireless links can be increased, all that traffic is bound to lead to unacceptable bottlenecks.
Upcoming 5G networks are a temp…

Laser-frequency combs tap terahertz source for ultra-fast Wi-Fi

May 1st, 2018 no comment

Wi-Fi and cellular data traffic are increasing exponentially but, unless the capacity of wireless links can be increased, all that traffic is bound to lead to unacceptable bottlenecks.
Upcoming 5G networks are a temp…

Predictive repairs to elevators rolled out worldwide by Thyssenkrupp

May 1st, 2018 no comment

The idea of being stuck inside a broken-down lift halfway up a shaft and between floors is surely the stuff of nightmares for many people, but it could soon be consigned to history thanks to predictive analytics. 

Engineering giant Thyssenkrupp has so far connected 120,000 elevators worldwide to its cloud-enabled ‘predictive maintenance’ platform, allowing repairs to be scheduled proactively before faults ever occur.  

Andreas Schierenbeck, chief executive of Thyssenkrupp Elevator, said that the set-up – known as Max – allows data about the performance of the machines to be collected from sensors in real time and then crunched to calculate the remaining lifespan of key components and estimate when maintenance will be required.

The system is being applied to the German multinational’s cable-hauled lifts as well as escalators.   

Schierenbeck told E&T that he and his colleagues had decided that “in the 21st century… there should be a better way of dealing with this [repairs]” than simply reacting after a fault has occurred by summoning a technician while passengers wait for help. 

“We said, look, why not provide the information coming out of the elevator and send it to the cloud, and use modern technology with machine learning and predictive analytics to do some tests,” he said. “[That will] first of all tell us when an elevator is stopped, and then secondly – and before the customer notices – just automatically tell us what the most probable reasons are for that.

“You can compare the data. You can learn. You can predict things. That’s the first or second phase. In the third phase, when you have learnt enough, you can forecast when an elevator will stop and why – and then, of course, schedule in a service repair before something happens. That’s what we’ve done.”

Thyssenkrupp worked with Microsoft to create what the company says is the world’s first-ever Internet of Things-based predictive service solution for elevators.

As part of a pilot scheme, the company has been collecting data for the project since 2015. Its bosses say they are now confident Max can reduce elevator downtime by 50 per cent.

Elevator faults most commonly involve damage to the doors. “If a lift needs service, you have to block it and then it’s not available anymore,” Schierenbeck said. This slows down movement to and through office buildings, denting productivity and causing untold aggravation, particularly for those unable to use the stairs.

‘Peopleflow’ is the watchword in the elevator industry – and it will become ever more important as populations swell. As E&T reported last year, Thyssenkrupp recently developed a fully ropeless elevator system that it says is less prone to shutdowns and could allow taller skyscrapers to be constructed to accommodate growing cities.

Christened the ‘Multi’, the machine is expected to be unveiled in fully operational mode in 2021. The new breed of lift could potentially have applications on the London Underground, where it could be used as a viable mode of transportation connecting nearby stations.

Schierenbeck acknowledged that the Max system could not anticipate every eventuality that might befall an elevator.  

“We never said we will be able to predict everything that in the future could happen to an elevator,” he explained. “Of course, if somebody is using brute force on an elevator, that cannot be predicted.”

He added: “If you can predict 70 per cent of the call backs because 30 per cent are probably ones you can’t predict, well that’s still enough. It’s better than nothing.”

Schierenbeck said elevator sales are holding up well around the world.

Asked if Brexit would affect Thyssenkrupp’s business in the UK, he replied: “Yes and no. If Brexit is happening – and it depends how – we will probably see less construction in the UK.

“At the moment, of course, everybody is finishing what was started, but I get the impression that not many projects are getting started at the moment.

“But this will definitely affect our market one way or another. If Brexit is coming, probably construction will dim down a little bit. If Brexit isn’t happening, probably then it’s kicking in again because that is a different situation.”

Aluminium battery potential boosted by new materials

April 30th, 2018 no comment

Researchers are constantly on the search for materials and techniques to improve battery technology, particularly as high-capacity batteries are increasingly required to store electricity generated by solar and wind power.

One field of battery technology generating interest concerns aluminium batteries, which produce electricity as aluminium reacts with oxygen in the air. Aluminium batteries are mostly made from cheap and naturally abundant materials. They have extremely high energy density, although have so far failed to reach mass market appeal, in part due to corrosion of the battery components in the highly aggressive electrolyte fluid.

Solving this problem could set aluminium batteries on the road to widespread usage and to compete with lithium batteries. Despite considerable interest surrounding lithium battery technology, this type of battery contains costly, toxic and rare materials.

Materials scientists based at ETH Zurich and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa), who have been long involved with aluminium battery research, have identified new materials which could help advance aluminium battery technology. One of the materials – a corrosion-resistant material – could be used in the conductive parts of the battery, while the other could be used as an adaptive material for the battery’s anode.

Titanium nitride – which is a conductive ceramic – is easy to manufacture and is resistant to corrosion by electrolyte fluid. The researchers tried using this material in the form of thin films to create aluminium batteries; they believe that it could also be possible to use thin films of titanium nitride to coat existing conductors. This could even be printed onto plastic in tracks.

“The potential applications of titanium nitride are not limited to aluminium batteries. The material could also be used in other types of batteries; for example, in those based on magnesium or sodium, or in high-voltage lithium-ion batteries,” said Professor Maksym Kovalenko, an ETH Zurich materials scientist.

The second material, the hydrocarbon polypyrene, could be used for the anode – the positive pole – of aluminium batteries. At present, aluminium batteries tend to have aluminium cathodes (negative poles) and graphite anodes. Experimentation with polypyrene demonstrated that it allowed an aluminium battery to store a similar amount of energy as a graphite anode, but had the advantage high of adaptability. Polypyrene electrodes could be adjusted by scientists such that their properties, such as porosity, are changed to best suit the application.

“In contrast, the graphite used at present is a mineral,” said Kovalenko. “From a chemical engineering perspective, it cannot be modified.”

As both the ceramic and hydrocarbon share the property of flexibility, the researchers suggest that they could be suitable for use in soft batteries designs, such as in ‘pouch cells’.

Theatres could go dark under EU eco-lighting proposals

April 25th, 2018 no comment

Theatres and concert venues face extinction if ‘mad’ rules proposed by the body that runs the EU become law, eminent figures from the British entertainment industry have warned.

The European Commission’s Eco-design Working Plan and its associated proposed regulations would impose a minimum efficiency of 85 lumens per watt and a maximum standby power of 0.5W on all light sources, according to the Save Stage Lighting campaign.

This could have a dire impact on the performing arts since no tungsten fixtures and many LED-based entertainment fixtures apparently do not meet these requirements.

The Association of Lighting Designers, which has analysed the EU documents in depth, is warning that exemptions previously created for the stage lighting industry have been removed by the Commission.

The group’s petition, which has so far been signed by more than 12,000 people, warns: “The entertainment industry will have almost no tools whatsoever with which to light plays, musicals or concerts.”

Speaking to the BBC yesteday, Patrick Woodroffe, who has lit Abba and Lady Gaga concerts and worked on the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, said the proposal seems like “madness”.

He added that: “the provisions that are allowed for us for LED in the new EU legislation mean that even those LED lights that we’ve used to save a huge amount of energy wouldn’t be allowed to be used – or if we have to build to light to [the EUs] strictures, the light would [need to] be as big as a refrigerator […] I cannot believe that anybody would actually want this to happen.”

Paule Constable, a lighting designer who has worked on dozens of hit London plays, told the BBC: “If I think about a show like Follies, for example, at the National Theatre, or War Horse, there is no equipment that could create any of the images that you see in those productions that would be allowed under the new legislation.

“We have been developing new technologies and working with different technologies, using less energy all the time, and the shows we make are a mixture of elements that we work with – but all of those would be banned.”

On Twitter, meanwhile, illusionist Derren Brown branded the move “bizarre”.

The proposed measures, which would come into force in 2020 and would apply to all EU member states, are currently the subject of a consultation. The European Commission says its aim is to meet climate goals agreed in the Paris Agreement, and to contribute to a more sustainable economy. The Commission stressed that respondents’ views will be taken into account before a final decision is reached and said that any changes would need to be passed into national law by the relevant parliaments of EU member states.

Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty, one of the core documents of the EU, states that the EU ‘shall respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity, and shall ensure that Europe’s cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced.’

Brexit app for EU nationals does not work on iPhones

April 25th, 2018 no comment

The Home Office is being subjected to ridicule after its officials admitted that the current iteration of its app designed for registering EU citizens’ residency applications post-Brexit does not work properly on iPhones – the type of device with a 52 per cent market share in the UK.

The embarrassing admission came at a meeting in Brussels to discuss EU citizens’ rights in the UK post-Brexit. It will prove awkward for Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who had previously suggested that registering online via the app would be “as easy as setting up an online account at LK Bennett [a luxury fashion brand]”.

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder called yesterday’s admission regarding technical glitches with the app “just incredible” and “beyond belief”. She said Home Office officials had suggested any EU citizens who found that they were unable to use the app because they had iPhones could borrow an Android device from a friend.

I cannot understand why the Home Office is creating an easy to use app which cannot even be used fully on an iPhone. It’s beyond belief @SophieintVeld

— Catherine Bearder (@catherinemep) April 24, 2018

FFS, get a grip @ukhomeoffice.

— Julia Hartley-Brewer (@JuliaHB1) April 24, 2018

After saying that EU citizens who want to stay in UK would find applying as easy as buying shoes online Rudd admits it won’t work on iPhones Home Office to be renamed Couldn’t Make It Up department.

— Paul Lewis (@paullewismoney) April 24, 2018

According to The Guardian, MEPs were late for the meeting because of problems with the Eurostar train service. As of this morning a video of the meeting was unavailable on the European Parliament’s website, and site’s multimedia player was having trouble loading EU Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt’s statement about the iPhones issue.

In a written statement to the press, Verhofstadt said MEPs had “raised a number of concerns and asked many questions about the proposed online app which is being developed by UK authorities, as well as the procedure more generally.”

The European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group is to write to Amber Rudd stipulating its recommendations for making the app fit for purpose. The Home Office has said it is already in conversations with Apple in an attempt to resolve the issue.

The row comes at a highly sensitive moment for the Home Office, which is being derided after days of negative headlines over the scandal concerning threatened deportations of people from ‘Windrush generation’ families – Caribbean nationals who arrived in Britain immediately after the Second World War to help rebuild the bomb-blitzed country.

Cases, including those of a man who arrived as a boy from Jamaica in 1964 and was warned that he faced removal from the UK despite having official paperwork dating back decades, have prompted public outrage and harmed relations between the UK and its Commonwealth counterparts.

Rudd this week announced an emergency package of measures designed to fast-track applications for UK citizenship for people who arrived from the Commonwealth post-war. She is due to face a grilling about the fiasco from MPs today.

In his statement about the three million EU nationals currently living in the UK, Verhofstadt referred to the Windrush scandal, saying: “It remains a priority for the European Parliament to ensure that citizens, whether UK citizens in the EU or EU citizens in the UK, can continue to lead their lives as they do now, which was also the promise made by those campaigning for Brexit.  

“The treatment of the Windrush generation under UK immigration law has unfortunately created renewed anxiety among EU citizens in the UK and shows why we have to get this right.”

Graphene used to create stronger, greener concrete

April 24th, 2018 no comment

The team developed this new material by incorporating graphene into the conventional concrete production process, suspending it in water.

Graphene – an one atom-thick layer of carbon atoms – attracts considerable interest due to its extraordinary electrical, thermal and mechanical properties, which has led to innovations including non-damaging hair dye and a seawater sieve to produce drinkable water.

Lacing graphene into the concrete allowed for the production of a new type of graphene-reinforced concrete that is twice as strong (graphene is the strongest material ever measured) and four times as water resistant as existing concretes. It can be directly used on building sites in accordance with British and European standards. Perhaps most significantly, this concrete hugely reduces the carbon footprint of current concrete production methods.

“Our cities face a growing pressure from global challenges on pollution, sustainable urbanisation and resilience to catastrophic natural events, amongst others,” said Professor Monica Cracium, University of Exeter engineer and co-author of the paper describing the new material.

“This new composite material is an absolute game-changer in terms of reinforcing traditional concrete to meet these needs. Not only is it stronger and more durable, but it is also more resistant to water, making it uniquely suitable for construction in areas which require maintenance work and are difficult to be accessed.”

“Yet perhaps more importantly, by including graphene we can reduce the amount of materials required to make concrete by around 50 per cent, leading to a significant reduction of 446kg/tonne of the carbon emissions.”

The engineers behind the study hope that this research can be applied to industrial-scale manufacturing and construction, allowing for these projects to be carried out with far lower carbon emissions than before.

“Finding greener ways to build is a crucial step forward in reducing carbon emissions around the world and so [helping] protect our environment as much as possible,” said Dimitar Dimov, a PhD student at Exeter and lead author of the study. “It is the first step, but a crucial step in the right direction to make a more sustainable construction industry for the future.”

Cambridge Analytica scandal could thwart efforts to tackle ivory trade on Facebook

April 24th, 2018 no comment

Fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal could have dire implications for a project to tackle online sales of ivory, a conservationist working with police and tech companies fears.

Enrico Di Minin, a research fellow in conservation science at the University of Helsinki, told E&T stricter rules around sharing social media data with researchers could inadvertently stymie his work on algorithms that can scan Facebook pages and automatically spot attempts to sell illicit items like rhino horn, tiger teeth and ivory trinkets.

Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg was asked by a US politician at his Senate hearing earlier this year about American conservation groups’ claims that his Silicon Valley firm was contributing to the extinction of African elephants owing to the high volumes of ivory apparently being sold via the social network.

“I’d not heard that,” was Zuckerberg’s response to the senator’s question. He later pledged to step up efforts to review material and bolster security on the platform.

A committee of MPs in the UK Parliament is this morning hearing evidence from Cambridge academic Aleksandr Kogan, who is accused of having created a quiz app that collected data from as many as 87 million Facebook users. The data was then allegedly passed to the controversial analytics firm Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook this week took its first steps towards complying with new privacy rules designed to give users more control over their data – but Di Minin, who is part of an alliance between academics, law enforcement and tech firms aimed at countering wildlife crime, said he fears one unintended consequence of tighter privacy will be to frustrate efforts to purge Facebook of illegality.

He told E&T he could foresee problems as Facebook becomes “stricter and stricter, in terms of accessing data… if the platform doesn’t recognise the importance of sharing its data with academics”.

Large volumes of ivory are allegedly being sold via Facebook and other online platforms. Conservation groups want artificial-intelligence-type tools to be deployed that can combine computational image recognition with natural language processing to flag up content relating to ivory so it can be purged from the web before too many people view it.

“In answer to the question of how much ivory is sold out there, we don’t know yet. We are trying to develop tools that can tell us automatically what, roughly, would be the quantities,” Di Minin said. He added: “Most of the selling is done within closed groups. I’ve seen pictures and posts on Facebook groups, particularly where they were selling ivory trinkets and other things like that.

“As soon as someone has got the feeling they are being checked, they will change venue, create a new profile and a new group. The most promising way forward, which we are involved with, is this global coalition between the NGOs and social media and other web-based platforms.

“They are trying to get together to bring together academics such as myself, and law enforcement and the platforms like Facebook, to try and identify this trade immediately using some of the tools we are developing, and to try and shut it down.”

Di Minin said the algorithmic tools he has developed “access social media platforms via the API and download all the open development information that there is there, and instead of going through the content manually, we then basically use the algorithms to tell us what there is in there in a much more efficient way.”

Tens of thousands of African elephants are butchered annually to feed demand for ivory in the Far East and among investors in illegal commodities.

John Sellar, a former police detective who was head of enforcement at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) for 14 years, said: “This is a law enforcement issue but also a development issue. In some places in Africa you’ve got endangered species sitting in reserves or national parks, and the people living on the edge of those reserves or national parks are living in abject poverty.

Dr Richard Thomas, global communications director at UK-based organisation TRAFFIC, said demand for ivory had risen as parts of China and the Far East had become wealthier. 

He said: “It’s a luxury item, and now people have got money in their pockets, they can afford to buy it. This is a repeating cycle that has taken place over a number of years.”

The Associated Press news agency this month reported that a secret complaint had been filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the USA alleging that Facebook’s failure to stop illicit traders violated the site’s responsibilities as a publicly traded company.

Facebook did not respond to the news agency’s request for comment about this.

An in-depth feature on new tactics for stopping the illegal ivory trade will appear in the next print issue of E&T.

Roman Empire’s vivid colours revealed on ancient Scottish wall

April 20th, 2018 no comment

The work was led by Dr. Louisa Campbell, a materials scientist based at the University of Glasgow, whose research is focused on developing new techniques to analyse historical artefacts. Her recent research has looked into the pigments applied to Ancient Roman sculpture.

Dr. Campbell turned her attentions to the Antonine Wall, built across the Central Belt of Scotland over 12 years in the mid-second century CE to fortify the north-western frontier of the Roman Empire. The turf and wood of the wall has largely worn away over the years and it is less well-known than Hadrian’s Wall, which has been preserved in stone.

Campbell applied X-ray fluorescence (in which an object is excited with an X-ray and the resultant X-ray radiation is measured) and Raman spectroscopic analysis (which uses scattering of light from a laser to determine information about a system) to the distance stones of the Antonine Wall, which appeared in prominent positions on the wall.

The analysis revealed that the wall was once decorated with colours, mostly bright reds and yellows.

According to Campbell, these bright colours would have been used as ‘propaganda’ against local communities. During this time, the colour red was associated with war, due to red military cloaks, military standards and the appearance of blood.

“These sculptures are propaganda tools used by Rome to demonstrate their power over these and other indigenous groups; it helps the empire control their frontiers and it has different meanings to different audiences,” said Campbell in a statement.

“The colours would have been a very powerful addition to bring these scenes to life and aid in the subjugation of the northern peoples.”

Many of these distance stones contained carves scenes depicting practices such as fighting and worship, and architecture.

“The public are accustomed to seeing these sculptures in bland greys, creams, white (for marble) and don’t get the full impact that they would have had on the Roman and indigenous audiences 2,000 years ago.”

“Knowing how colour was used by the Romans to tell stories and create impact is a huge leap forward in understanding these sculptures,” said Patricia Weeks, who is Antonine Wall co-ordinator at Historic Environment Scotland.