No-win-no-fee company fined by ICO for illegal text messages

By John Leonard | News | 13 December 2018
Stop the spam

ICO: 'Generic third-party consent is not enough and companies will be fined if they break the law'

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has fined Tax Returned Limited, a company specialising in reclaiming overpaid tax, £200,000 for sending out millions of text messages without first acquiring consent.

Tax Returned Limited (TRL) is a no-win-no-fee company that takes a cut (28 per cent plus VAT) of any overpaid taxes refunded to its clients by HMRC.

The ICO ruled that the company broke the law by sending 14.8 million marketing text messages between July 2016 and October 2017 without first obtaining valid consent. The messages were sent via a third-party service provider.

"As the instigator of the direct marketing text messages, it was the responsibility of TRL to ensure that valid, albeit indirect, consent to send those messages had been acquired," the ICO said in its ruling.

The regulator found TRL to be in breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation (PECR), which includes getting specific, prior consent from people receiving the messages.

For its part, TRL said that some users had consented to receiving communications by accepting the privacy policies on certain websites, a defence rejected by the watchdog.

"The ICO found that the wording of the policies was not clear enough and that neither Tax Returned nor the third party service provider were listed on most of those privacy policies," it said in a statement.

As well as the fine, the ICO has also served an enforcement notice on TLR, ordering the firm to stop its illegal marketing activity.

"Spam texts are a real nuisance to people across the country and this firm's failure to follow the rules drove over 2,100 people to complain," said Steve Eckersley, director of investigations.

"Firms using third party marketing services need to double-check whether they have valid consent from people to send promotional text messages to them. Generic third-party consent is also not enough and companies will be fined if they break the law."

Intel unveils Sunny Cove 10nm architecture slated for 2019 - late 2019

By Computing News | News | 13 December 2018
Intel chief architect Raja Koduri presenting at Intel's Architecture Day

Sunny Cove architecture will sit at heart of 10nm Core and Xeon Intel CPUs

Intel has unveiled its forthcoming Sunny Cover architecture, which will debut in 10nm Core and Xeon processors from late 2019.

The details were revealed at the company's "Architecture Day", last night. However, the company did not disclose basic information, such as clock speeds, although Intel did promise that Sunny Cove will enable more operations to be carried out in parallel and that latency will be improved. The chip maker also touted Gen11 integrated graphics, which it claimed is "designed to break the 1 TFLOPS barrier".

However, Intel did not go into a great deal of depth about its plans, aside from adding: "Architectural extensions for specific use cases and algorithms. For example, new performance-boosting instructions for cryptography, such as vector AES and SHA-NI, and other critical use cases like compression and decompression."

Intel also revealed its "Foveros" technology, which will enable 3D stacking of logic chips. This basically means that Intel will be able to make chips that are effectively built out of "chiplets", essentially constructing slices of silicon in a manner one might layer a cake.

This is, the company continued, a "radical re-architecture of systems-on-chips" as it would be the first time logic chips have been stacked, and could enable processors to be specifically built for certain tasks.

"The transistor that's best for a desktop gaming CPU is not necessarily the best transistor for a GPU. Similarly, you need different transistors for running 5G and interconnectivity," Intel's graphics boss Raja Koduri, Intel's chip architect told Wired.

"Before, we used to just take the best compromise of all of the silicon. Now, we can take processes that are best for the function and put them all together on a single package. And because we have very high bandwidth between these chips, they will function exactly as if they are a single chip."

Whether Intel's forthcoming stacking technology will help the company to finally get its 10nm process node working in volume remains to be seen. But such stacking could usher in some interesting next-gen chips, and might see Intel drive forward some innovation in its Core CPU line up.

Blockchain update: Hyperledger adds 12 new general members

By John Leonard | News | 13 December 2018
Hyperledger: growing

Dozen joiners include a strong showing from China

There's a lot going on in the world of decentralised networking and not just the daily rollercoaster ride of the cryptocurrency markets. A decade after the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto first unleashed Bitcoin on an unsuspecting world, the blockchain has grown and branched out and now a thousand flowers blossom, some of them rather peculiar blooms indeed.

Look around and you'll see that blockchains are apparently the answer to every problem. From replacing the global banking system to guaranteeing the provenance of diamonds to paying your dentist - there's a blockchain for that.

Overhyped they may be, but blockchains actually are a big deal and they will get bigger. Their potential for secure 'trustless' interchange is too great to ignore and once the silliness has died down inevitably some serious use cases will emerge.

Indeed that's already starting to happen, hence this blog. We'll be updating this page every few days to reflect the serious innovations bubbling up in this most interesting and volatile of spaces. (Also check out our rolling 5G coverage.)

13/12/2018 Hyperledger adds 12 new members

Hyperledger, the open source permissioned blockchain project, has announced 12 new general members including some major banks, consortia and cloud firms. General members have certain marketing and recruitment opportunities as well as bing able to participate in members-only committees.

The latest general members feature a strong showing from China. They are: Alibaba Cloud, BlockDao (Hangzhou) Information Technology, Citi, Deutsche Telekom, Guangzhishu (Beijing) Technology Co. Ltd, Guangzhou Technology Innovation Space Information Technology Co. Ltd, KEB Hana Bank, HealthVerity, MediConCen, Techrock, we.trade and Xooa. These additions bring the total number of general members to 256.

Four new associate members also joined Hyperledger this month: Association of Blockchain Developers of Saint Petersburg, Business School of Hunan University, Sun Yat-sun University and Wall Street Blockchain Alliance.

Associate membership is limited to pre-approved non-profits, open source projects, and government entities. There are now 16 associate members.

The new members were announced at the Hyperledger Global Forum in Basel, Switzerland.

"The growing Hyperledger community reflects the increasing importance of open source efforts to build enterprise blockchain technologies across industries and markets," said executive director Brian Behlendorf. "The latest members showcase the widening interest in and impact of DLT and Hyperledger."

A number of blockchain projects are based on Hyperledger; some of them like we.trade and the Walmart food supply chain system are featured elsewhere in this blog.

23/10/2018 Blockchain too immature for government use, finds Australia's DTA

The Australian government's Digital Transformation Agency has cast doubts over the validity of blockchains for governmental purposes.

The DTA, which was granted AUS$700,000 to investigate the technology, has concluded after initial research that in almost every case examined existing technologies are more suitable than blockchain.

The agency has been working with a number of government agencies to develop prototypes for the use of blockchain to deliver services, including with the Department of Human Services for welfare payments and cargo settlement.

Peter Alexander, CDO at the DTA said the technology is worth keeping an eye on but as yet is too immature.

"Our position today, and this is an early write-up, is that blockchain is an interesting technology that would be well worth being observed, but without standardisation and a lot more work, for every use of blockchain that you would consider today there is a better technology," Alexander told a Senate hearing on Tuesday, as reported by InnovationAus.com.

Alexander said that one of the defining features of blockchains, the potential for anonymity, is among the biggest stumbling blocks.

"Generally speaking when the government is engaging with someone, we want to have a trusted relationship with them. We want to know who they are and give them a personalised service," he said. "Blockchain is good for low-trust engagement, you don't know who you're dealing with but have a series of ledgers that can give some validation and support."

According to Alexander, blockchain is at the "top of the hype cycle", with demand driven by the industry.

"It would be fair to say that a lot of the big vendors are pushing blockchain very hard and internationally most of the hype around blockchain is coming from vendors and companies, not from governments and users and deliverers of services," he said.

23/10/2018 China mulls anonymity ban

China is another nation that finds blockchain's anonymity a problem. Earlier this year Chinese students encoded allegations of sexual harassment against a prominent professor on the Ethereum blockchain to evade the country's censors, all social media posts on the issue having been blocked. The same technique was used to spread news about low quality and counterfeit vaccines, another scandal the government sought to cover up.

But the Chinese government has drafted a new regulation that would require users to provide their real names and national ID card numbers when registering for a blockchain service, reports The Verge. The policy would also demand that blockchain services remove 'illegal information' before it can be spread among users. And under the proposed legislation, service providers would also be required to retain backups of user data for six months and to hand it over to the police on request.

China has been bullish on blockchain for the last few months, with one commentator recently claiming it is worth ten times as much as the internet. The countries tech giants are pouring significant resources into its development citing smoother trade and anti-fraud possibilities. But without the possibility of anonymity, a permanent ledger could also be a powerful tool in the authoritarian regime's surveillance and control systems.

China also banned cryptocurrency trading earlier this year, although apparently this has been less than effective. The Ethereum Hotel recently opened in the country, accepting payment in cryptocurrencies.

Next page: UK leads in blockchain deployments says Capgemini; Microsoft's strategy for decentralised identity; Gary Cohn joins fintech startup Spring Labs; Horizen's privacy platform; Zone and Icons launch ledger to authenticate and track sports memorabilia; Nick Szabo, inventor of the smart contract, on its evolution; Real-world use cases emerging; Blockchain-based driving licence trial rolled out by Australian state

19/10/2018 UK leads the way in blockchain deployments for supply chain, finds Capgemini

A survey by consultancy Capgemini of 450 organisations implementing blockchain in their supply chain has found that only three per cent have so far taken initial experiments into production at scale.

The respondents, drawn from the consumer products, retail and manufacturing sectors, said that establishing return on investment was the biggest challenge to ramping up their deployments, with compatibility with existing legacy infrastructure cited as another barrier.

Across the sample, three per cent were deploying blockchain solutions at scale, 10 per cent had pilot projects in place, while 87 per cent were still at early stages of experimentation with the technology.

The main drivers for the experiments were found to be cost saving (89 per cent), enhanced traceability (81 per cent) and enhanced transparency (79 per cent), although these varied widely from sector to sector.

While adoption and the technology itself are at an early stage, the Capgemini report identifies a number of current use cases, ranging from low complexity / high adoption scenarios such as the prevention of counterfeits and tracking asset maintenance, to more ambitious but complex uses including loyalty programs, contract labour procurement and regulatory compliance.

The UK (22 per cent) currently leads the way with production and pilot implementations of blockchain projects in the supply chain, while the USA (18 per cent) leads in terms of funding blockchain initiatives.

In the UK specifically, the consumer products vertical is the biggest adopter among those surveyed, followed by manufacturing and then retail. However, globally manufacturing  is in the lead.

Sudhir Pai, CTO financial services at Capgemini commented: "There are some really exciting use cases in the marketplace that are showing the benefits of blockchain for improving the supply chain, but blockchain is not a silver bullet solution for an organisation's supply chain challenges."

Pai continued: "Blockchain's ROI has not yet been quantified, and business models and processes will need to be redesigned for its adoption. Effective partnerships are needed across the supply chain to build an ecosystem-based blockchain strategy, integrated with broader technology deployments, to ensure that it can realise its potential."

Capgemini has been working with blockchain technology since 2016 when it began developing solutions for the financial services industry. The report predicts that experimentation with blockchain will peak in 2020, before entering mainstream supply chain usage by 2025.

15/01/2018 Microsoft's strategy for decentralised identity

Microsoft might seem an unlikely champion of decentralised IDs. After all, decentralised identifiers (DIDs) represent an important decoupling of identity from generated data and applications that use it, and Microsoft, in many minds, is still associated with monopolistic powergrabs. But last week the company published a new decentralised identity portal and released a whitepaper explaining the benefits of individuals being able to create, own and manage their online identities independent of any third-party.

"Over the past 18 months, Microsoft has invested in incubating a set of ideas for using blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies to create new types of digital identities - identities that are designed from the ground up to enhance personal privacy, security, and control," the whitepaper says. "We aspire to make DIDs a first-class citizen of the Microsoft identity stack."

Actually, it should not come as a surprise that Redmond should be interested in this area. Microsoft was one of the early major tech company backers of blockchain technology after all, and decentralised identifiers, where a user controls his or her online identity or identities through cryptography, are a central feature of many of the emerging decentralised applications being built on blockchains and other decentralised platforms. And as we saw when Microsoft embraced Linux as a key part of its Azure cloud ecosystem, a 180-degree turnaround from its previous position, Redmond has proved adept of late at seeing which way the wind is blowing and moving with it. The whitepaper mentions integrating personal datastores controlled by DIDs into Azure.

IBM, the other big technology company leading the blockchain charge, has been active in this area for more than a year. Like Microsoft, IBM is a member of the Decentralized Identity Foundation (DIF). Critics point out, though, that while IBM has already been active in offering open standards for DIDs and related W3C projects, Microsoft has yet to lay any code on the table.

"I don't know what Microsoft has developed, I haven't seen any actual code," Wayne Vaughan, CEO of blockchain platform Tierion and DIF steering committee member, told CoinDesk.

"Microsoft has been soliciting input from the community, but their software development has largely been done behind closed doors, and now they are releasing it publicly. With that being said, it's much better than nothing."

UPDATE 15/10/18: Twitter user @csuwildcat has pointed out that Microsoft developers are contributing to the DIF's GitHub repositories. The strapline to this article has been changed accordingly.

12/10/2018 Former Trump aide and Goldman Sachs chief Gary Cohn joins fintech startup Spring Labs as advisor

Gary Cohn, chief economic advisor to Donald Trump until April and before that president and COO of Goldman Sachs, has become an advisor to Spring Labs, a blockchain startup that aims to take on consumer credit companies like Experian and Equifax.

Unlike some of his investment banking brethren Cohn has never rejected the idea of cryptocurrencies, saying in May that a global cryptocurrency is coming.

"I'm not a big believer in Bitcoin, I am a believer in blockchain technology," Cohn told CNBC. "I do think we will have a global cryptocurrency at some point where the world understands it and it's not based on mining costs or costs of electricity or things like that."

Cohn told the FT he believes blockchain's teething issues will be overcome and that blockchains have obvious potential in the financial arena, particularly for smart contracts and currency settlements.

"We all know all the inefficiencies of the existing currency world and blockchain clearly helps to eliminate them at some point in the future," he said.

Spring Labs, which has offices in Los Angeles and Chicago, boasts a high-powered board, which as well as Cohn includes Bobby Mehta, formerly CEO of credit company TransUnion, and Brian Brooks, chief legal officer at cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase.

Spring Labs' website says its technology will create "the foundation for a credit system that is more transparent and secure for consumers".

It continues: "The Spring network will allow users to view all attestations about their credit and identities for free, and enables functionality for open alerts and notifications."

Cohn said he would be assisting with getting the firm's technology adopted in the marketplace.

11/10/2018 Horizen's privacy platform

One of the biggest selling points of decentralised technology is privacy, believes Rob Viglione, co-founder of Horizen, a privacy-oriented blockchain platform.

Horizen was forked from ZCash, one of the leading privacy-focused cryptocurrencies. "We wanted to take it beyond currency," said Viglione.

Like most such projects, the Horizen platform does have a cryptocurrency (Zen) to power its internal market, but it was the key innovation of ZCash's founder crypto-pioneer Zooko Willcox that was the primary focus of attention, Viglione said. zk-SNARKs provide a practical cryptographic method of verifying that a computation such transaction between two parties is "correct" without having to know anything about the computation or the parties involved.

"Where ZCash is focused on currency we are actually building an application platform. That was the point of forking from ZCash - to grab the SNARK library so we could start with that base technology and cryptography. Now we are building things on top of it."

One of those things is what Viglione claims is "the most secure messaging protocols in the world". He admits it's "kind of clunky" at this stage, and because zk-SNARKs are computationally heavy it's not instant. "But if you're a reporter in Syria or China, you might want to use our app."

Viglione insists Horizen retains "very good relations with Zooko" despite having forked his code, and said the two companies collaborate on bug reporting and the like.

Asked about Horizen's potential "killer app" Viglione said the combination of a large number of nodes (there are currently 22,000 in the network) and zero-knowledge cryptography makes virtual private networking a strong candidate.

"If we can build the world's best VPN service, one that is fully anonymous and secure that could draw millions of potential users, not because they care about blockchain, but they want a service that is valuable. That's where we need to go were working very actively on those sorts of projects."

Another USP of decentralised systems is the possibilities for equality regarding decision making. The company is working on a treasury voting system that will enable Zen holders to make decisions on proposals for the network's development and allow transparency into the allocation of funds.

As for enterprise use cases, Viglione cites the simplicity of developing applications on sidechains that plug into the main network via an API. That way, they can make use of the network's privacy and security features without needing to have blockchain skills in-house.

One possible fly in the ointment is the current reliance on the Ethereum blockchain, although Viglione insists migration to another backbone would be possible. Ethereum has recently struggled to scale in the face of increased demand. "They hit the limits of natural growth in my opinion," he said, adding: "But I never discount them because they have a collection of brilliant people and I think they will overcome the issues as they come up."

02/10/2018 Zone and Icons launch ledger to authenticate and track sports memorabilia

The sports memorabilia market began with fans trading footballs and baseballs signed by their sporting heroes and expanded to an industry worth US$370bn globally, according to Forbes. These days no charity auction is complete without a signed shirt from a current or bygone star, but how can punters tell it the item is genuine when signatures written by robots are pretty much indistinguishable from the real thing particularly when many counterfeit goods are traded online?

Enter b-locked, a blockchain-based ledger designed to track the provenance of signed sports memorabilia. B-locked was developed jointly by Icons Shop Limited, which holds official merchandise licences from the FA, UEFA and FIFA World Cup and has exclusive contracts with players including Lionel Messi, Dele Alli and Eden Hazard, and Zone, a London-based customer experience agency which is part of professional service firm Cognizant.

To combat fraud, every Icons product comes with a certificate of authenticity and details of the player signing. This information can now be stored on b-locked so that future buyers can check its authenticity by typing a code or scanning a hologram via a web application.

The Zone team had originally chosen Ethereum as its blockchain platform of choice but, changed tack after the Cryptokitties debacle which showed up problems with its scalability.

"Ethereum transaction costs would have been too high for the project to be economical. So we used alpha code and ideas from Chainspace to build our prototype. We'll likely go ahead either with Chainspace or Cosmos, both of which make it easy to build the kind of logic and interactions we need," said Jon Davie, chief client officer at Zone.

Davie explained that the Zone team used an Agile methodology of short sprints to deliver the ledger. "We didn't seek to solve every challenge at the outset - rather to identify the key features and then learn by testing with customers and the Icons team," he said.

"Our next challenge is scaling the authentication process to cover every item in the Icons warehouse - it's an operational challenge as much as a technology challenge."

The system will be launched this month, with FC Barcelona star Lionel Messi signing 100 products which will be uploaded to the b-locked blockchain at an event in that city. Davie said the firm's short time to market was due in part to focusing on a specific use case.

"Unlike many blockchain ventures, we created this project to solve an existing problem for an existing business," he said, adding that it could be expanded to suit "any industry where authenticity is important - from art and antiques to whisky and wine."

28/09/2018 Nick Szabo, inventor of the smart contract, on its evolution

Nick Szabo, the computer scientist who came up with the idea of smart contracts in 1995 and coined the term, discussed the evolution of his invention during a keynote at blockchain live in London this week.

The basis of his talk was the fact that trust does not scale. Advanced societies have laws and institutions to mitigate the fact that we often have to deal with people and organisations that we know nothing about, including courts to enforce the fulfilment of agree contracts, but these are frequently ill-suited to the digital age.

The concept of smart contracts has moved on from the simple vending machine model which doles out a bar of chocolate provided you put the right money in, as defined in the program, to that embodied by distributed applications (dApps) on programmable blockchains such as Ethereum. But these are at an early stage, Szabo said.

"An Ethereum contract controls assets and typically gives some performance incentives, but it's not the full smart contract. The full smart contract involves user interfaces, it involves other features such as search and negotiation and performance monitoring, and it will also often happen off-blockchain." he said.

"For example, if you're doing logistical contracts and you want to track a package in time and space that's an off-blockchain oracle that is part of the smart contract that is fed into the Ethereum contract on chain."

Rather than the binary yes-no model, smart contracts will be negotiable, he said.

"Right now they are take-it-or-leave-it deals, but a true smart contract can be negotiated. So Alice makes an offer and Bob can accept or reject that offer, and if Bob has neither accepted or rejected the offer then Alice can revoke it. We [presumably referring to Szabo's company Global Financial Access] are working on smart contract negotiations of this nature."

They will also be customisable, and fully on-chain with parties able to make a counter offer in a "very trust minimised, environment" with the programming element eliminated via an intuitive user interface, he went on.

Szabo predicted a "win-win" scenario through the interfacing of smart contracts with what he calls "wet code": traditional contracts based on law. Each has strengths that can overcome the weaknesses of the other, he argued. Traditional contracts tend to be localised and rather subjective and unpredicatable and their enforcement is coersive, but they are based on expertise, experience and decades of case law, while smart contracts are globally scalable, predictable and enforceed through cryptography but immature and rigid.

"In many cases you want to use both together as complimentary. So now there's a contract between wet code traditional contracts and dry code smart contracts."

The low hanging fruit is financial contracts, he said "loans, bonds, derivatives". This sector he envisages a "spontaneous network of contracts formed from other smart contracts that is globally scalable."

26/09/2018 Real-world use cases emerging

A panel debate at the Connected World Summit in London this week dealt with the vexed question of blockchain hype. Yes, the panel agreed. Most blockchain projects are heavily oversold, driven on by crypto currency ICOs, but that's not to say it's all scams and vapourware. Genuine use cases, where a blockchain can do things that a distributed database can't, do exist, although most are still in the early stages.

Calvin Weise, founder of the Universal Patient Index and CEO of Kalibrate Blockchain, pointed to the health sector, in which surgeons have been occasionally known to chop off the wrong leg or doctors to deliver the wrong drug having been sent erroneous patient records. His company is working on a universal patient index stored on a blockchain that would reduce this problem considerably, he suggested.

Alfonso Delgado De Molina, analyst at Silver 8 Capital, brought up the smart bike locks marketed by Slock.IT where anyone with the right key on their smartphone can unlock the bike for a certain amount of time via a smart contract. This functionality also is being applied to cars by a startup in Berlin he said.

Alexandra Cheung, associate director of Cruxy & Co. spoke about systems to track the provenance of diamonds and also Floral Chain, which she says allows smaller growers and smaller shops to have a greater presence in the marketplace for cut flowers.

Using blockchain to help establish a presence was also mentioned by Darren Oliviero-Priestnall, CEO of Atlas City. He pointed to a project in China run by charity World Vision in which small farmers are encouraged to document themselves and their farms on a blockchain. Such evidence can help them obtain finance and establish their ownership rights. Elsewhere, undocumented refugees can start building an identity to help them in future dealings with the authorities.

The biggest current use case though is in the supply chain where goods can change hands a hundred times before reaching their destination, each transfer requiring additional paperwork. Assigning responsibility for any loss or damage is expensive and time consuming, delaying insurance payouts. This is the sort of scenario where an immutable, trustless record of events can really streamline processes - a significant caveat being that all players in the chain must be on board.  

11/09/2018 Blockchain-based driving licence trial rolled out by Australian state

The Australian state of New South Wales is to extend its trial of blockchain-enhanced digital driving licences.

Changes to NSW state law in May allow drivers to use their digital licence for proof of identity and proof of age in place of a physical document for renewing fishing licences, buying alcohol, as proof of responsible gambling behaviour - and for police checks.

The licences already incorporate a number of methods to protect against ID fraud; these will soon be joined by a blockchain-based system called TrustGrid developed by Australian firm Secure Logic, an incumbent supplier to Australian government.

"The Digital Driver Licence has a range of security technologies protecting the integrity of the system and privacy of a customer's identity," a NSW spokesperson told iTNews.

The aim of the scheme is to use a blockchain-based system to secure and authenticate the information held on the licences, allowing users to validate themselves via a smartphone app without requiring further checks. The app also allows users to renew their licence or amend their details without recourse to the authorities.

The blockchain trial started last year in the town of Dubbo. 1,400 volunteers signed up for a three-month trial, using their digital licence as proof of identity and age in pubs and clubs. It will soon be expanded to 140,000 users in Sydney before an expected statewide rollout by the end of 2019.

Secure Logic CEO Santosh Devaraj is (understandably) keen to push the wider implications of the trial for government services.

"The era of standing in line to file government paperwork is coming to an end, as is our reliance on physical identification cards to establish your identity or proof of age with law enforcement or at licensed venues. These are mistake prone, time-consuming, expensive, and impractical ways to offer services," he said.

Next page: Soluna plans clean energy option for crypto-miners; UEFA's blockchain powered ticketing app; The security risks of  smart contracts; Has the blockchain bubble burst?

24/08/2018 Soluna plans clean energy option for crypto-miners

Blockchain has a big energy problem. To remain secure, blockchains such as Bitcoin rely on the Proof-of-Work (PoW) consensus mechanism must burn a colossal amount of energy. Just a decade old, Bitcoin already consumes as much energy as Ireland and will hit Austrian levels by the end of this year

Bitcoin miners tend to hunker down where energy is cheap. This means Iceland, where cryptocurrencies are already using more of the country's geothermal supplies than consumers, or places like China where electricity comes from cheap but highly polluting coal.

There are less energy-intensive alternatives to PoW such as Proof-of-Stake, Proof-of-Capacity and Proof-of-Resource, but the blockchain that powers Bitcoin and related currencies is the big one and will remain so for the foreseeable future. And of course blockchain's potential is far wider than cryptocurrency - as use cases increase so will power consumption.

Now an energy and technology firm is looking to provide a dedicated renewable resource for crypto-mining. Soluna plans to build a windfarm in one of the windiest onshore locations in the world in the Moroccan Sahara. It predicts the 15,000-hectare site will generate up to 900 megawatts - or about a third of the current energy demands of the Bitcoin blockchain. Electricity will be supplied to a high-density data centre dedicated to cryptocurrency mining at a price equivalent to or even lower than cheap Chinese coal, around US $0.03 per kilowatt-hour.

"Soluna's mission is to power the crypto-economy with clean, low-cost renewable energy. To do this, we are building a blockchain infrastructure and cryptocurrency mining company that owns its own renewable energy resources," the company says in its brochure.

Money generated from the crypto-mining will pay for further renewable development including supplying Morocco's electricity grid, the firm says. It anticipates connectivity to the main grid to be available next year.

"Soluna will provide computing power for whatever is most beneficial for its business, whether that's cryptocurrency mining, distributed graphics rendering, file storage, machine learning, AI or other services of the decentralised cloud of blockchain technologies that have yet to be invented," says Soluna. "We are prepared to foster this future innovation. Green, renewable, low-cost power will serve as a key component."

Soluna has partnered with German wind power firm Altus AG and has approached vendors of chipsets and ASICs to equip its modular data centre ‘pods'. The windfarm and the data centres will be built using a phased approach, adding additional modules as capacity increases. The firm aims to have 36 megawatts of capacity operational by 2020 with the full 900 megawatts ready in five years.

Sounds promising, but a possible downside could be the exacerbating the problem of centralisation of mining power to a small number of locations thereby making the blockchain more vulnerable to attack.

20/08/2018 UEFA's blockchain powered ticketing app

All of the tickets for the August 15th UEFA Super Cup final match between Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid in Tallinn, Estonia were distributed through a mobile app connected to a blockchain.

"UEFA chose a blockchain-based ticket distribution system combined with mobile Bluetooth devices at the stadium entrances," says UEFA on its website.

Tickets for major football matches have long been subject to touts and fraud, and this is UEFA's attempt to tackle the problem. The Bluetooth devices installed at the gates to the Le Coq Arena to were used to validate the tickets held on Apple and Android phones.

This is the first time that all publicly available tickets have been distributed this way. UEFA [Union of European Football Associations] piloted the system at a number of events, including most recently the 2017/2018 UEFA Europa League final between Atlético de Madrid and Marseille in Lyon, France in May. Half of the tickets sold for that match were distributed by the blockchain-based system, which has since undergone some fine tuning.

UEFA says it will "continue to develop the system further, with the aim of using it at future events."

The Super Cup final finished 4-2 to Atlético, with Costa netting two.

15/08/2018 The security risks of  smart contracts

Blockchain-based smart contracts present a unique risk, and companies should be wary of deploying them for anything with serious real-world repurcussions. That's according to code verification and programming language expert Grigore Rosu, professor of computer science at the Univerity of Illinois.

Smart contracts are small programs coded on top of a blockchain that run automatically as soon as conditions are right. An example might be an insurance payout after extreme weather, or a machine ordering its own consumables once stocks decline to a certain level.

Nothing new in that, you might say, but smart contracts have the potential for automating such conditions-based transactions on a massive scale, removing the need for a trusted human third party, even in white collar sectors such as law and finance.

Smart contracts are immutable; they're validated by multiple parties and can't be changed or corrupted. This is at once their strength and their weakness.

"There are two big problems with smart contracts," said Rosu. "One is that the code is public so you can work out how to attack it. Secondly, once you have a smart contract - that's it. It deploys and you cannot change it. So if you find a bug you can't fix it, you have to deploy a different version of the contract in a different account and exchange it with the old one which is a very heavy process."

He points to the example of the now-defunct cryptocurrency Beautycoin (BEC), which was killed off by a so-called batch overflow attack in April.

Two attackers, presumably having studied the code and spotted an eventuality the designers hadn't thought of, initiated simultaneous transactions using input parameters chosen to create a sort of feedback loop. Unprepared, the smart contract went beserk, generating tokens that were ostensibly worth more than five octodecillion dollars (five and eighty zeros). While no-one had to pay back that impossible sum, the coin was dead and worryingly it took two days for the hack to even be discovered.

Blockchain enthusiasts, it seems, suffer from a form of myopia; because of all that energy burned in proof of work they believe their beloved innovation is all but impregnable. But it turns out cryptocurrencies - which are after all basically just transactions stored on a blockchain - are plagued by glitches, as the number of crypto exchange hacks makes clear.

Recently, MIT researcher Corey Fields discovered a flaw in the signature verification code that would have been fatal to Bitcoin Cash had it been exploited. "The threat of software bugs is severely underestimated in the cryptocurrency world," he said.

Bugs and vulnerabilities can pop up all over the place, including the code of the smart contract itself, the programming language it's written in and the compiler that translates that code into machine-readable language.

Smart contracts tend to be coded in specialised languages such as Solidity which are modified versions of general purpose languages like JavaScript. Rosu declined to single out a particular language for criticism, but said they all have flaws when it comes to smart contracts.

"I'm scared because these languages are not very well designed. If a language is poorly designed then as a developer of smart contracts on a blockchain you may struggle to understand what your program actually does, and then the compiler can add its own bugs, and then the program itself may have bugs such as buffer overflow and all sorts of programming language-specific errors," Rosu said.

"Compilers also have bugs, and if you understand how the compiler works as a hacker you can exploit those."

Human verifiers are are worthless in this regard since a flawed compiler produces corruptions in the bytecode, which is only really readable by machines.

However, there are proven mathematical means of verifying the ‘correctness' of the machine code. While time-consuming, these techniques can be applied to smart contracts since they tend to consist of just a couple of hundred lines of code. Indeed, for the sake of us all, they should be said Rosu, who came up with the K-framework described as a 'rewrite-based executable semantic framework in which programming languages, type systems and formal analysis tools can be defined using configurations, computations and rules", fifteen years ago (It should be pointed out that Ruso has a vested interest here. His K-framework has been monetised via a business spun out of the University of Illinois called Runtime Verification).

While a smart contract might take two weeks to audit mathematically at the bytecode level and more complex code such as the CASPER consensus algorithm six months, most of that time is spent in specifying what the code is meant to do, said Rosu.

"If you make a mistake in the specification level then no matter what you do the proof is meaningless because the specification was wrong."

Given the complex mix of ethical and technical considerations, the specification of algorithms will require intensive human input for the foreseeable future. Coding, on the other hand, could perhaps be better done by machines. For safe smart contracts, the ultimate aim should be schematic-based compilation, or code that generates itself automatically based on what it's supposed to do, Rosu said.

"The question that many people in the blockchain space should ask themselves is why should we even write code at all? We should generate code that's automatically correct by construction, from the formal specification. This is feasible, and we are working on it."

06/08/2018 Has the blockchain bubble burst?

Have we reached peak blockchain hype? How much further can the bubble of expectations continue to inflate? Calling the top of any hype cycle is a finger-in-the-air exercise at best (unless you happen to be holding a pin behind your back), but there are signs that rationality may be taking hold.

Analyst firm Forrester reports that many blockchain pilot projects are being wound down having failed to come up with any persuasive use cases. Early adopter Nasdaq, which had high hopes for blockchain for managing shareholder meetings and issuing stock has not seen ideas come to fruition as quickly as it had envisaged two years back, according to Bloomberg.

"The disconnect between the hype and the reality is significant - I've never seen anything like it," said Gartner analyst Rajesh Kandaswamy. "In terms of actual production use, it's very rare."

Certainly, the number of organisations actively adopting blockchain is vanishingly small - just one per cent of CIOs surveyed by Gartner put themselves in that category, while 80 per cent had no interest whatsoever.

This could spell bad news for platform providers such as IBM and Microsoft which made most of the early running, although one would suspect they would have factored the hype cycle into their strategies.

The biggest hurdle is compatibility between alternative blockchains. Companies don't want to be locked into one platform at this early stage of development and are playing a game of wait-and-see. Then there are the familiar problems of scalability and throughput - all of which are being worked on but with few mature solutions to show for these efforts as yet.

That said, blockchain investment in the first half of this year has already exceeded that for the whole of 2017 with fintech applications a particular focus of that investment, according to a report by KPMG. The closed pilots may simply demonstrate a growing understanding that blockchain is not the answer to every problem after all, but could be a game changer for some.

Next page: Google joins the party; Accenture and Thales create aerospace and defence supply-chain blockchain; European banks' we.trade platform; the Stratis sidechain; Microsoft and EY track rights and royalties; Walmart's food supply system.

 

24/07/2018 Google joins the blockchain party

Google Cloud is nailing its colours to the blockchain mast, partnering with a couple of startups, Digital Asset and BlockApps. More details will be revealed today at the Google Cloud Next 18 event in San Francisco in a session covering Google Cloud's approach to distributed ledger technology (DLT) partnerships. 

"Customers can now explore ways they might use distributed ledger technology (DLT) frameworks on GCP [Google Cloud Platform] with launch partners including Digital Asset and BlockApps, and try open-source integrations for Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum later this year in our GCP Marketplace," Google says in a perfunctory paragraph in its cloud partnerships blog.

Google has been slower off the mark than rival cloud vendors. Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS and IBM have had blockchain partnerships for a couple of years now and are beginning to boast of real-world projects.

Google doesn't go into a lot of detail in its blog, presumably not wanting to spoil the fun for paying delegates, but its chosen partners are more effusive. "Google's entrance into the blockchain space is a landmark event for the growing blockchain ecosystem and cements the continued investment in blockchain solutions for Enterprises," says BlockApps on its website.

"As GCP adoption grows, the developer-friendly BlockApps STRATO platform enables more enterprises the ability to test and implement blockchain application solutions across any business sector,"

STRATO is a blockchain-as-a-service platform which the company claims lowers the barriers to creating decentralised applications (dApps) as it offers a RESTful API to communicate with the blockchain backend. The company is based in New York.

Digital Asset is also headquartered in New York. It provides a distributed ledger platform and smart contract modelling language called DAML.

"In collaboration with Google Cloud, Digital Asset has expanded its developer program to include the DAML Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) on Google Cloud Platform. The DAML PaaS is a fully-managed solution that developers can use to test and deploy DLT applications, accessible through Google Cloud's Orbitera application marketplace technologies. Combined with the DAML SDK, developers now have an end-to-end toolkit to build and deploy sophisticated distributed applications," the company says in a press release.

17/07/2018 Consortium-based efforts to rationalise supply chains are perhaps the main real-world use cases for blockchains to emerge so far, outside of the world of cryptocurrencies. Another such venture was unveiled this week when consultancy Accenture and defence firm Thales announced a blockchain-based system to secure and improve the efficiency of aerospace and defence (A&D) supply chains at the Farnborough Air Show on Monday.

The system, which is based on the Linux  Foundation's Hyperledger blockchain framework, also uses Thales's "physically unclonable function (PUF) solution for silicon chips and Chronicled's tamper-proof cryptoseals" in order to keep track of parts and materials  used in aircraft manufacture, where counterfeit components have been a cause for concern, according to Accenture's website.

"Identifying counterfeit and grey-market goods in the A&D supply chain can be challenging," said Gareth Williams, vice president for secure communications and information systems at Thales UK.

"Using blockchain in combination with cryptoseals and physically unclonable functions allows you to build a trusted history behind parts. This demonstration builds on the strong relationship Accenture and Thales have created developing innovative digital solutions for a variety of industries."

Like similar systems being developed by the likes of FedEx and Maersk, the system is designed to provide transparency to all participants in the supply chain, as well as creating an immutable record of all transactions in the supply chain.

"The aerospace and defence industry has one of the world's most vast and complex supply chains. Blockchain technology offers a new, elegant and secure way for the industry to track and trace myriad components while deterring counterfeiting and improving maintenance capabilities," said John Schmidt, the head of Accenture's A&D unit.

"Used in combination with technologies like digital twins and digital threads, blockchain could ultimately be a game-changing innovation for this sector."

03/07/2018  A consortium of European banks has announced the first commercial trades on its blockchain-based we.trade platform.

The we.trade platform is a collaborative effort that was kicked off by a consortium of seven banks: Deutsche Bank; HSBC; KBC; Natixis; Rabobank; Societe Generale; and UniCredit. They were later joined by Santander and Nordea. we.trade is headquartered in Dublin.

The consortium announced Tuesday that seven commercial trade transactions have now been completed by 10 companies on the platform across five countries.

"We are delighted to have launched for the first time in the world, a blockchain-based platform that enhances the overall customer experience, when trading internationally. The next step will be getting buy-in from additional banks and their customers in Europe and further afield", said we.trade COO Roberto Mancone in a statement.

By directly connecting all the parties  - the buyer, the buyer's bank, the seller, the seller's bank and transporter - in a domestic or transnational transaction in a way that covers all of the governance rules and regulations that apply to the individual banks, we.trade aims to make trades more straightforward. Presently it covers 11 European countries: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

we.trade is built on the IBM Blockchain Platform and based on Hyperledger Fabric, the open-source blockchain framework implementation hosted by The Linux Foundation.

Hyperledger Fabric is designed to simplify the act of developing blockchain-based applications and smart contracts by allowing components such as consensus and membership services to be plug-and-play. Originally introduced by IBM and Digital Asset, many of the banks that make up the we.trade consortium are also members of the Hyperedger project.

"As we.trade has moved from pilot applications to conducting live transactions across borders, it has demonstrated the power of blockchain technology in an enterprise setting," said Parm Sangha, GBS blockchain leader at IBM.

"To convene a large network of regulated banks and demonstrate how blockchain technology can help them gain efficiencies and provide greater transparency in live transactions is a disruptive model that has the potential to reshape the future of global trade finance."

The consortium aims to move outwards from its base of founding members, offering the service to other banks by making we.trade available on a licence-type basis in order to expand the platform as quickly as possible.

29/06/2018 UK blockchain-as-a-service firm Stratis has unveiled programmable sidechains as an alpha release.

A sidechain is a blockchain that's based on the core code of the main chain and is interoperable with it, but which allows for bespoke operations without affecting the main branch. This allows companies to experiment with creating blockchain applications without risk of adversely affecting the main chain or compromising privacy by making data public. At the same time, any updates to the main blockchain code are propagated down to the sidechains.

"Stratis sidechains have been designed so that in the future enterprises can run smart contracts on sidechains, opening up a wide range of use case such as exchanging documents between a range of companies within an industry, for example invoices or order forms," lead developer Jeremy Bokobza told Computing, adding that the sidechain can be customised by changing parameters like block interval and block size.

"One of the main advantages of sidechains are the ability to improve scalability for applications like payments and IoT, which could be hundreds of thousands of transactions."

The Stratis blockchain runs on the Microsoft .Net framework and is written in the familiar C# rather than using a specialist language and environment, a decision the company took to make creating decentralised applications and smart contracts more accessible to enterprise developers. It says it will soon provide support for Microsoft's functional programming language F# which is particularly popular in the financial sector, the main area of focus for the London-based firm.

Stratis is based on the Bitcoin blockchain but with the Proof-of-Work consensus mechanism (essentially security through burning electricity) replaced by Proof-of-Stake (decision-making powers dished out according the stake - e.g. number of coins - held by each player) to increase scalability in the enterprise setting. It is designed to support smart contracts, enabling actions to be undertaken without human intervention once predefined conditions are met.

Among the use cases for the programmable blockchain, the company lists auctions and peer-to-peer lending to investment funds, insurance settlements, real estate transactions, domain name registries and digital copyright.

The sidechains will increase the flexibility of deploying smart contracts and decentralised applications, according to CEO Chris Trew.

"As an example, if an enterprise wants to improve efficiency by moving invoicing or asset tracking to a blockchain solution, it's likely that they will not want to publicise that data. That's when a private sidechain becomes a flexible solution that's quick to test and deploy, as well as easy to maintain," he said.

"Sidechains are a critical step in making blockchain accessible to enterprises wanting to benefit from blockchain while retaining full control of their business processes and privacy."

As essentially restricted private blockchains, each sidechain would be overseen by those using it, said Bokobza.

"Sidechains are governed by a foundation which is made up of say a group of banks or a group of automotive firms that wish to collaborate on a blockchain cross-industry project. Or more simply, a collection of senior managers from an individual organisation that make decisions on the direction the sidechain takes."

26/06/2018 Some of the world's biggest food producers have come together to build a blockchain-based system for tracking the provenance of food items.  

The ability to trace food through the supply chain is particularly important in the event of contamination. An outbreak of E. coli in the US involving romaine lettuce that began in April has killed five people to date with almost 200 cases reported across 35 states. The source has been tracked down to an area of Arizona, although no individual farm has yet been identified.

The complex nature of the supply chain makes it very difficult for the authorities to trace dangerous or contaminated food quickly. Each company in the chain is required to record only a small fraction of the overall steps and the authorities must reproduce the full picure from a disjointed and often incomplete set of records. In cases such as the above such delays can be fatal.

Ten companies Walmart, Nestlé, Dole Food, Driscoll's, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick, McLane, Tyson Foods and Unilever have come together to create a consortium called the Food Trust which aims to reduce the product recall time using a blockchain architecture. It should also improve the efficiences in other areas of the supply chain.

Built in partnership with IBM, the system has been in development for a year and is still pre-release. The blockchain currently contains information about one million food products, and initial tests have been encouraging, reports the WSJ.

"You're capturing real-time data at every point, on every single food product," said Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, adding: "It's the equivalent of FedEx tracking for food."

Yiannas said that in tests, a consignment of Mexican mangos sold in a US Walmart store was traced back to its supplier in 2.2 seconds. Using the traditional method with barcodes and paper receipts it took a week.

22/06/18 London-based professional services giant EY and Microsoft have teamed up to launch a blockchain that's designed to simplify the fiddly and time-consuming business of managing digital rights and royalties.

Intellectual property (IP) owners such as authors, songwriters, artists, production houses, developers and others will be able to track how their creations are used and monitor revenues coming in from partnerships and licencing arrangements in near real-time.

Built on the Quorum blockchain developed by investment bank JP Morgan, the EY press release says it's designed to increase efficiencies in the system. Calculations about what is owed to whom currently tends to be a manual process, it notes, and generally managed via offline data sources.

Since it will provide visibility of sales transactions as they happen, content providers will be able to react quickly to market demand, claims EY. This is made possible by smart contracts that are written into the blockchain.

"The embedded smart contract architecture is designed to enable accurate and real-time calculation of each participant's royalty position, providing enhanced visibility for recording and reconciling of royalty transactions," the blurb says.

JP Morgan's Quorum is based on Go Ethereum, an implementation of the Ethereum blockchain written in the Go language, but with a few tweaks. The first is that it's permissioned (private), meaning that only approved nodes can join it. Because of this, it can use a simplified consensus mechanism that relies on a majority vote, which also makes transactions significantly faster than Ethereum, which is a public or unpermissioned blockchain. And since it is designed to manage financial transactions more privacy is built in.

The new rights and royalties management solution runs on Microsoft Azure cloud. It has already been rolled out to a few games producers that use Microsoft's platform, among the first being Ubisoft, which is currently testing the system. It will later be extended to other gaming companies and eventually to authors and musicians and other creative types too.

While the EY press release doesn't actually give the new system an official name, Redmond seems to have already dubbed it the 'Microsoft Rights and Royalties blockchain network' with no mention of EY in the title. Now, how to manage who gets naming rights?

Next page: Blockchain doubts voiced by bankers; Microsoft's BaaS customers; EOS mainnet launch; China bigs up blockchains; Maidsafe's PARSEC consensus algorithm

18/06/2018 Blockchain came into being as a way of supporting a new currency, Bitcoin, in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008. By cutting out the middleman (i.e. the banks and central authorities that had got us into the mess) a more just and trustworthy monetary system could be created, its founders reasoned.

The limitations of Bitcoin in this regard have been apparent for some time, and its proponents have generally downgraded its use case from ‘the new money' to more a 'store of value', like digital gold. Nevertheless, banks and central authorities have been setting up blockchain pilots to see if the immutable ledger can be utilised for their benefit.

They may be wasting their time, says Switzerland-based Bank for International Settlements (BIS) - an institution that provides banking services to central banks and international organisations. In its annual report it says that cryptocurrencies are too untrustworthy to act as a replacement for fiat currencies and that blockchains cannot scale sufficiently and are too energy intensive.

"Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin promise to deliver not only a convenient payment means based on digital technology but also a novel model of trust. Yet delivering on this promise hinges on a set of assumptions: that honest miners control the vast majority of computing power, that users verify the history of all transactions and that the supply of the currency is predetermined by a protocol," it says.

"Understanding these assumptions is important, for they give rise to two basic questions regarding the usefulness of cryptocurrencies. First, does this cumbersome way of trying to achieve trust come at the expense of efficiency? Second, can trust truly and always be achieved?"

BIS concludes that the answer to both of these questions is no.

The report criticises the enormous energy use of the current generation of blockchains, noting that Bitcoin has the same electricity consumption as Switzerland.

"Put in the simplest terms, the quest for decentralised trust has quickly become an environmental disaster," it says.

Other shortcomings include its lack of scalability and throughput. Blockchains are simply too slow to manage large-scale financial transactions efficiently and throughput decreases with the number of transactions. Moreover, with each new transaction the blockchain grows ever larger.

BIS points out that cryptocurrencies are unstable, putting this down to more than the current speculative nature of the market. A central bank has a duty to stabilise the currency, as well as being a lender of last resort - something not possible in a decentralised system.

"In a decentralised network of cryptocurrency users, there is no central agent with the obligation or the incentives to stabilise the value of the currency: whenever demand for the cryptocurrency decreases, so does it's price."

Then there's the lack of trust as to when payments will be made - if at all. Proof-of-work blockchain consensus on transactions never reaches 100 per cent certainty and trust may be further undermined by the very real prospect of projects being forked.

And there are issues about money laundering and regulation. Their global nature means that global legislation is needed to regulate cryptocurrencies, BIS points out.

A minor plus: blockchain can provide some benefits for the global financial system, however, BIS said. Permissioned blockchains can make cross-border payments and international supply chains can be made more efficient. The latter was recently discussed by FedEx boss Fred Smith.

So, a pretty damning report with many valid criticisms but none that are new, at least on the technical side. Most people accept that the Bitcoin blockchain is very much decentralised network mark 1, and many of the scalability, sustainability and trust problems are being worked on by other systems (see earlier in this blog).

Nevertheless, the question of whether a fully decentralised currency can ever be stable enough to be a trustworthy alternative is an interesting one, and probably not best dismissed as just central bankers hitting back.

15/06/18 Microsoft Azure CEO Mark Russinovich has been talking about a couple of customers who run blockchain based applications on the cloud platform. The first one he mentioned was chemicals corporation 3M which has implemented a system to increase trust in its supply chain.

"3M is doing it to track the provenance of sensitive pharmaceuticals to make sure when the customer gets it they can verify it actually came from a reputable source. There's so much fraud in the pharmaceutical industry with lots of fakes and tampering," Russinovich told Yahoo Finance.

The second customer he talked about was Webjet, an Australian travel company that, among other things, sells hotel rooms online.

"A single transaction of an item like a hotel room to an end user might involve five transactions, and they found that roughly one in 10 of those required some sort of manual intervention because of problems on the way," Russinovich said, adding that in one in 25 transactions "somebody in the chain doesn't get paid so there's a lot of loss and a lot of fraud".

Webjet has created a a data reconciliation service for the travel industry called Rezchain which is based on the Ethereum blockchain running on Azure. Russinovich claimed this has reduced the need for internal interventions by more than 90 per cent.

Microsoft first started experimenting with blockchains on Azure about four years ago prompted by rising interest from enterprises as bitcoin started to make headlines.

"Cryprocurrencies were on top of everyone's mind and everyone was wondering how they could make use of it, and we saw many companies looking with concern at whether they will be disrupted by somebody else that might get to a blockchain solution before them," Russinovich said.

Microsoft has moved quickly to try to corner what is still a very new market. A couple of years ago it announced a partnership with startups Blockstack and ConsenSys to develop a blockchain-based identity system on Azure.

11/06/18 The EOS mainnet, a blockchain designed as a platform for smart contracts to rival Ethereum, went live over the weekend, although it's not yet open for business.

Voting is currently underway among holders of EOS cryptocurrency tokens to decide on the first 21 block producer candidates which will manage the blockchain and mine the blocks, for which they will earn EOS tokens.

EOS is designed to support decentralised applications (dApps) and smart contracts. It is expected that it will be able to handle a much higher throughput than Ethereum - 5,000 per second compared with the latter's 15 - and at a lower latency. EOS uses a proof-of-stake consensus mechanism rather than Ethererum's proof-of-work (PoW) which is harder to scale. Transactions in Ethereum's currency the ether (ETH) also incur relatively high charges while fees to secure the EOS blockchain are managed through inflation - tokens produced to pay the miners mean there are more in circulation.

On the other hand, the EOS model is more centralised with just a few miners controlling the governance of the blockchain - and only one running the election to decide the initial 21.

There can a total of only 21 EOS block producers at any given time. This would be a big problem were all the miners to be in one jurisdiction although the block producers will be continuously rotated to reduce this problem. Nevertheless critics point out that large miners may be able to influence this process by buying votes.

The launch of the EOS mainnet was postponed after critical vulnerabilities were discovered by a cyber security company a few weeks back.

The EOS project has raised approximately $4 bn through sales of its token over the last year making it by far the largest project of its kind in financial terms.

Update 15/06/18: the voting process has now finished.

04/06/18 Blockchain hype is not restricted to fintech startups and dubious cryptocurrency launches. The Chinese government and its supported tech companies now appear to be climbing on board the bandwagon too.

On Sunday, Chen Weihong a presenter on state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) - a channel widely seen as a mouthpiece of the government - claimed "the economic value of blockchain is 10 times more than that of the internet".

His statement came during a discussion about blockchain technology that featured well-known figures in the field such as Canadian author Don Tapscott, who claimed that "we're moving from an internet of data to an internet of value".

"No for the first time ever people and organisations can do transactions peer-to-peer," Tapscott said.

Also present were included Chen Lei, CEO of cloud network firm Xunlei, and Stanford University professor and investor Zhang Shoucheng.

As reported by Coindesk Zhang said: "While the real value of the internet is aggregating individual pieces of information into one place, which is exactly what Google and Facebook does, we are now entering an era where information is being decentralised so that individuals can own their individual data. And that's the real value of blockchain that makes it exciting."

Since programmes on CCTV generally reflect the views of the Chinese government the debate was unsurprisingly critical of many of the cryptocurrency ‘initial coin offerings' (ICOs) that have come up from nowhere to net billions, sometimes on the strength of a single white paper. China implemented a nationwide cryptocurrency ban in February. However, there are plenty of signs that China plans to become a big player in the underlying blockchain technology.

On Saturday Baidu  - the ‘Chinese Google'  - announced a protocol called Super Chain designed to reduce the energy requirement for the blockchain mining process.

Last November the firm unveiled a service called Baidu Jinkuang which would allow users to take advantage of unused computer resources in a peer-to-peer fashion. Baidu is also in the process of creating a blockchain-based photo store that protects owners' copyright and has a blockchain as a service platform in the offing.

25/05/18 Ayr-based MaidSafe (the inspiration, incidentally, for the 'new Internet' Pied Piper in the HBO series Silicon Valley) has come up with what it claims is the most efficient solution yet to the well-known Byzantine Generals problem: achieving consensus across a masterless distributed network in which no one node can be seen as the ultimate source of truth. It's a system the firm says could replace blockchain consensus for trustless data storage.

MaidSafe has been working on its blockchainless peer-to-peer autonomous data network for more than a decade. Unlike traditional client-server networks, the SAFE Network has no central point of control. Instead, it is made up of users' own machines which are used to randomly store encrypted chunks of the files uploaded to the network - a little like BitTorrent but without any central trackers and with everything encrypted. The idea is that it allows data storage (and eventually compute) with no single point of failure and in such a way that only the user has total control of his or her data. Only the user can grant access to people and applications that might want to share it. It also has its own integral cryptocurrency which is used to balance the give and take on the network.

Byzantine fault tolerance is a central issue for all decentralised distributed networks. In brief, how without a central point of authority can 'truth' be agreed upon? A particular node might be faulty or malicious but while another node nearby will see it as such a third node located in a far-flung part of the network might see it as perfectly fine because of the time taken for messages to traverse the infrastructure. Another way of looking at it is how can the network as a whole be sure of the order in which events happen on it?

This long-standing issue was finally solved by Bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto via the proof-of-work (PoW) consensus mechanism. Miners compete to be the first to solve a complex mathematical problem for which they are awarded Bitcoin and their particular version of the truth is put forward. The other nodes then come together to accept or reject this version and ultimately the network converges on the one true agreed state that will be used going forward. A key application is to prevent the problem of double-spend, where one might otherwise spend a Bitcoin simultaneously in two places.

But while Bitcoin has been highly successful in this regard the limitations of the blockchain regarding carrying capacity, scalability and throughput have become apparent. Moreover, the energy-intensive PoW consensus system has led to a high degree of centralisation since only large-scale professional miners with access to the latest ASICs and cheap electricity can now realistically earn Bitcoin in this way.

These issues make blockchains ill-suited as the basis for a data network - the equivalent of the internet or, looking further afield, the sort of heterogeous distributed networks represented by the IoT, the company says.

"The very design of blockchains means that their use case isn't suited to a global internet that deals with vast amounts of data that needs to be both private and secure," MaidSafe writes in a blog post.

The SAFE Network actually predates the Bitcoin blockchain by a couple of years but it is still at pre-release alpha stage. One of the key things that have held back progress is the difficulty in achieving a reliable consensus mechanism - the equivalent of PoW. However, this is a nut MaidSafe now claims to have cracked with PARSEC (Protocol for Asynchronous, Reliable, Secure and Efficient Consensus), a new algorithm based on a gossip protocol which the firm will open source under the GPL3 licence.

"It provides network consensus through maths and not through burning huge amounts of electricity," said CEO David Irvine.

The blog goes into more detail: "The concept of Byzantine fault tolerance is a crucial one. It means that it is mathematically guaranteed that all parts of the network will come to the same agreement at a certain point in time. Exactly what PARSEC achieves."

It continues: "With PARSEC, consensus is mathematically guaranteed as certain (as well as having a throughput that dwarfs blockchain tech). What's more, PARSEC is highly asynchronous. This means that there is no trusted setup nor any synchronous steps involved."

The company claims that PARSEC, a type of directed acyclic graph (DAG), offers significant advantages over other alternatives to PoW such as Proof of Stake. The nearest competitor would seem to be the Hashgraph DAG, but that has shortcomings when it comes to autonomous data network applications for the IoT, the firm says.

Got any breaking decentralised developments to tell us about? Let us know. (Mature projects with code published on GitHub or similar or a paper reproduced in an established journal please, rather than speculative stuff or coin news.)

'Ease of use and Innovation key to our success,' says Driver & Vehicle Agency

By Stuart Sumner | News | 13 December 2018
Driver & Vehicle Agency discusses winning the Workplace Transformation Project of the Year award

Northern Ireland's Driver & Vehicle Agency discusses winning the Workplace Transformation Project of the Year award at the UK IT Industry Awards 2018

The Driver & Vehicle Agency of Northern Ireland won the Workplace Transformation Project of the Year award at the prestigious UK IT Industry Awards 2018.

Discussing the win, a representative of the agency said: "Ease of use and Innovation were key to our success."

The awards were attended by over 1,500 of the UK IT industry's leading professionals, who enjoyed an incredible occasion in Battersea Park.

Computing has published a gallery of all the winners on the night, and a further sequence revealing all the best photos from the pre and post awards parties.

The UK IT Industry Awards will be back next year, so stay tuned to Computing to find out when it opens for entries.

With dozens of categories covering a broad range of projects, teams, individual and organisations, there truly is something for everyone

'Computing award shows that we've now become a truly global company', says ServiceNow

By Stuart Sumner | News | 13 December 2018
ServiceNow.jpg

Computing catches up with ServiceNow after they won the Business IT Innovation of the Year at the UK IT Industry Awards 2018

ServiceNow won the Business IT Innovation of the Year award at the prestigious UK IT Industry Awards 2018.

Speaking to Computing as they walked off stage with the award, a ServiceNow representative said: "This award shows that we've now become a truly global company."

The awards were attended by over 1,500 of the UK IT industry's leading professionals, who enjoyed an incredible occasion in Battersea Park.

Computing has published a gallery of all the winners on the night, and a further sequence revealing all the best photos from the pre and post awards parties.

The UK IT Industry Awards will be back next year, so stay tuned to Computing to find out when it opens for entries.

With dozens of categories covering a broad range of projects, teams, individual and organisations, there truly is something for everyone

MIT develops new terahertz laser for chemical sensing and imaging

By Arthur Satchwell Robinson | News | 12 December 2018
New high powered laser selected by NASA for a 2021 mission to learn about our galaxy’s origins

New high powered laser selected by NASA for a 2021 mission to learn about our galaxy's origins

A team of researchers from the Massachusetts institute of technology has developed a new Terahertz laser for chemical sensing and imaging.

The new high powered laser has been selected by NASA for a 2021 mission to learn about our galaxy's origins. NASA will send a high altitude balloon-based telescope to detect the emissions of gasses from the ‘interstellar medium' the matter that exists in between the galaxy's star systems.

The information gathered will give scientists insight into the birth and evolution of stars and help map the nearby galaxies.

Terahertz lasers can send radiation into a material to extract the material's 'spectral fingerprint'. Each material absorbs different amounts of terahertz radiation, making it possible to measure how much is absorbed and how much is given off, to determine what the material is.

According to NASA many other designs have had these key features; continuous wave power/high beam quality and frequency tuning. But none have had all three and been integrated in this way.

Ali Khalatpour, the first author of the paper describing the laser, stated: "it's like ‘one ring to rule them all,"

The paper was co-written by Qing Hu, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT who has helped pioneer terahertz quantum lasers, and John L. Reno of the Sadina National Laboratories.

The laser has a unique design which uses pairs of efficient wire lasers and syncs their oscillations.

Combining the output of the pairs produces a high power beam with minimum beam divergence (the angle the beam strays from its focus over distance). The individual coupled lasers can be tuned to improve resolution and fidelity in the measurements.

Interview: Natterbox, winner of Cloud Innovation Provider of the Year

By Stuart Sumner | News | 12 December 2018
Computing catches up with Natterbox after their big win at the UK IT Industry Awards 2018

Computing catches up with Natterbox after their big win at the UK IT Industry Awards 2018

Natterbox won the Cloud Innovation Provider of the Year award at the prestigious UK IT Industry Awards 2018.

The awards were enjoyed by over 1,500 of the UK IT industry's leading professionals, who enjoyed a glittering occasion in Battersea Park.

Computing has published a gallery of all the winners on the night, and a further sequence revealing all the best photos from the pre and post awards parties.

The UK IT Industry Awards will be back next year, so stay tuned to Computing to find out when it opens for entries.

With dozens of categories covering a broad range of projects, teams, individual and organisations, there truly is something for everyone.

5G news: 5G will contribute $565 billion additional world GDP between 2020 and 2034

By Tom Allen | News | 12 December 2018
A recent report released by the GSMA examines and measures the impact of the new 5G network on society

A recent report released by the GSMA examines and measures the impact of the new 5G network on society

5G is the latest networking technology for connected devices, promising speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G, and 10 times faster than home broadband.

It's not all about speed, though: a more ubiquitous and responsive (between 1ms and 10ms, compared to 4G's 40-60ms) network are also planned, enabling connected devices like autonomous vehicles, drones and even artificial limbs.

That network will be enabled by new infrastructure, which will need to be installed across the country over the next few years. This technology will operate at a higher frequency than existing networks, enabling the speed and bandwidth of 5G but limiting its range - requiring many more base stations to cover the same area as a single 3G or 4G mast.

5G phones won't be launched until next year, and the infrastructure isn't expected to be in place before 2020 at the earliest, although there are plenty of trials taking place, as well as a spectrum bidding war.

Check back here frequently for all the latest 5G news.

12/12/18 - It is predicted that 5G will contribute $565 billion additional world GDP between 2020 and 2034.

A recent report was released by the GSMA examining and measuring the impact of the new 5G network on society. 5G is set to be released to the public in late 2019 to early 2020 with some manufacturers announcing their 5G phones in preparation.

The new 5G network will be based around mmWave or millimetre wave spectrum which until now has been widely inaccessible to the public. Millimetre wave is the band of spectrum between 30 Gigahertz and 300 Gigahertz. Using the mmWave System the minimum 5G speed is set to be much faster than all other mobile data services.

The report states: "More than 5 billion people already rely on the mobile ecosystem to deliver services that are integral to their daily lives and fundamental to the economic sustainability of the communities they live in.

"These innovations will include enhanced remote healthcare and education, industrial automation, virtual and augmented reality and many others," it adds.

5/12/18 - Samsung has confirmed that it will release a 5G smartphone in the first half of 2019, using a Qualcomm Snapdragon mobile processor and X50 5G NR modem and antenna modules. The phone will be released with Verizon in the USA.

4/12/18 - Nokia and Qualcomm Technologies have achieved over-the-air (OTA) 5G NR data calls in both the mmWave and sub-6 GHz spectrum bands at Nokia's site in Oulu, Finland. The calls used Nokia's AirScale base stations and a test device with a smartphone form factor. The device used Qualcomm's Snapdragon X50 5G modem and antenna modules with integrated RF transceiver, RF front-end and antenna elements.

Durga Malladi of Qualcomm said that the trial represented "a significant step in making 5G a commercial reality in early 2019."

3/12/18 - SK Telecom CEO Park Jung-ho has made the first 5G video call on a commercial network, using his company's own network in South Korea and a prototype Samsung phone. Park placed the call from a control centre in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province to a staff manager in SK's Myeong-dong office in central Seoul.

The phone used in the demonstration looks more like a Galaxy S9+ that the leaks we have seen about the Galaxy S10, although Samsung has confirmed that it will be producing a 5G model of its next flagship phone.

27/11/18 - The 2019 Ericsson Mobility Report predicts that 5G will cover more than 40 per cent of the world's population by 2024, with 1.5 billion mobile subscriptions. That will make it the fastest-growing generation of cellular technology to be rolled out globally. 55 per cent of North American mobile subscriptions will be 5G at that time, along with 43 per cent of North East Asian and 30 per cent of Western European subscriptions.

12/11/18 - EE will extend its 5G rollout next year, turning on new sites in 16 UK cities. The first six will be London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and Belfast, with sites at the busiest parts, including Hyde Park and Birmingham's Bullring. The other cities are Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol.

7/11/18 - The GSMA has warned that governments, regulators and the mobile industry will all need to work together to ensure the success of 5G, by delivering widespread coverage. There is massive by-country variation in the speed and reach of upcoming services, and adoption will be dependent on operators gaining access to more spectrum. The GSMA, which expects 1.3 billion 5G connections by 2025, recommends wider frequency bands for 5G (80-100MHz per operator in the crowded mid-bands like 3.5GHz and 1GHz per operator in the more open mmW bands (above 24GHz).

7/11/18 - UK operator Three is investing 'more than £2 billion' into its 5G rollout. As part of its ongoing network upgrade, Three has already agreed to work with O2, SSE Enterprise Telecoms and Huawei in various 5G schemes.5G is the latest networking technology for connected devices, promising speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G, and 10 times faster than home broadband.

7/11/18 - EE has switched on nine 5G trial sites in East London. To-date the trial has encompassed many elements of building a new network from scratch, including obtaining planning permission and access agreements to managing power outputs. The trial will go on to assess the customer experience of new 5G spectrum.

5/11/18 - Juniper Research predicts that annual operator billed revenues from 5G connections will near $300 billion by 2025, up from $894 million in 2019 (expected tp be the technology's first year of commercial service): an average annual growth of 163 per cent in the first 6 years. Total 5G data traffic will reach 955 exabytes by 2025: equivalent to 143 billion hours of 4k video streaming. Juniper has said it is important for operators to invest in technologies that minimise the cost-per-bit of 5G data.

2/11/18 - A survey in the USA has found that people are unwilling to pay more for 5G services - and even those that are want to know more about the technology before making the switch. PwC found that 92 and 87 per cent of mobile and home internet users, respectively, are 'pretty' satisfied with their existing services; and 36/51 per cent feel that they already pay too much.

Fewer than half (46 per cent) of respondents were familiar with the term 5G, but 98 per cent said that they found it 'more appealing' after learning more about it. About a third said that they would pay more for 5G internet services; on average, these respondents said that they would be willing to pay an extra $5.06 (£3.90) for 5G home internet and $4.40 (£3.40) for 5G mobile internet per month.

25/10/18 - Video will be the biggest consumer of 5G usage, a council of the world's largest mobile operators have agreed. Up to 90 per cent of traffic on these future networks could be video, companies including EE, KPN, MTS, Orange, Telefonica, Telus and Vodafone said at Openwave Mobility's Mobile Video Industry Council (a first-year event)

18/10/18 - Samsung is acquiring Spanish network analytics firm Zhilabs to enhance its 5G capabilities. Zhilabs' work is based on artificial intelligence, which analyses traffic, classifies applications used and takes steps to improve service quality. The company will continue to operate independently, says Samsung.

11/10/18 - A report into the future media landscape predicts that 5G experiences will generate almost $1.3 trillion for media companies by 2028 - almost half of the cumulative $3 trillion wireless revenue to be generated over the next decade. The report, by Intel and Ovum, names 2025 as the 'tipping point' at which 5G and 5G devices will generate more than half of wireless media revenues.

9/10/18 - The City of London corporation and London boroughs are using money from the business rates retention scheme to fund investment in the city's digital infrastructure, awarding nearly £47 million to local councils. The plans include the installation of fibrebroadband connections in strategic locations; developing an Open Data Standard for planning applications; and establishing a multi-purpose IoT platform.

5/10/18 - Following its earlier announcement this June, EE has launched a live 5G trial in London's Canary Wharf: specifically in the high-traffic Montgomery Square. EE is using the 3.4GHz spectrum and hardware from China's Huawei in the test, and plans to extend the work to 10 more sites in the capital this year.

3/10/18 - IBC, the group behind the annual International Broadcasting Convention, has released a whitepaper exploring future uses and challenges facing 5G. The main topic is the potential for indoor- and outdoor-only networks using sub-6GHz and mmWave technologies. The paper also displays charts showing how impediments like modern windows and foliage effect 5G signals.

1/10/18 - Verizon has turned on what it claims to be the world's first commercial 5G network, known as Verizon 5G Home, in the USA. Built on the open 5G TF network standard, the network is live in parts of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento.

Of course, 5G devices are still very few and far between, which throws the necessity of the network into question. Future-proofing or marketing stunt? Let us know in the comments.

28/9/18 - Rival operators Three and O2 are working together, with SSE Enterprise Telecoms, to use fibre to connect sites in London. Much of the cabling, which will be used to provide a fast backhaul to the operators' core networks, will be laid through sewers across the capital to save the expense and time of digging new routes.

26/9/18 - Ontix Limited has announced plans to deploy small cell nodes on street furniture (like lamp posts) around Westminster, in preparation for 5G. The new networking technology relies on these small cells due to its higher frequencies, which have higher speed but lower range than 3G or 4G. The first stage of the 10-year deal will be the launch of a trial network in Trafalgar Square this November, as well as a fast, carrier-neutral 'Metrohaul' network later on.

20/9/18 - Vodafone has completed a 'holographic' call over 5G. The hologram effects required special equipment, but the low latency of 5G made the call possible. A hologram of England and Manchester City Women's Football captain, Steph Houghton MBE, was projected onto the stage during an event at Vodafone's Manchester office, where she gave some footballing tips to an 11-year old fan.

17/9/18 - 5G might mean a return to carrier-locked devices, at least in the short term, says AT&T. Gordon Mansfield, VP of radio networks and device design, told PCMag that the first wave of 5G phones will not be transferrable between networks.

That is because 5G, as a launch technology, is still very fragmented, with carriers using a variety of frequencies for their signals. Unless two networks use the same frequencies, or early smartphones support multiple bands (unlikely), then customers won't be able to leave a carrier and take up with a rival using the same device.

Thankfully, Mansfield doesn't expect that situation to last long.

12/9/18 - EE is switching its 3G signal in more than 500 mobile towers to 4G, mainly in cities like London, Birmingham and Edinburgh. 5G sites will be built on top of the converted sites, preparing the way for the company's launch of 5G services next year.

EE says that 3G use is falling ‘rapidly', with customers now making more calls on 4G than 3G for the first time.

12/9/18 - Orange Poland and Huawei have launched a station in Gliwice that supports 5G technology. The station will be used for 5G tests - the first to be done in Poland outside lab conditions.

4/9/18 - The West Midlands is to host the UK's first large-scale 5G test-bed, with connectivity hubs planned for Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton as part of the government's Urban Connected Communities Project. The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), which will oversee the work along with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), said that the trials will support the work of organisations in the health, construction and automotive sectors.

29/8/18 - Juniper Research predicts that there will be 1.5 billion 5G connections worldwide by 2025, with initial growth driven by fixed wireless access to replace or complement current broadband connectivity.

The firm expects almost half (43 per cent) of 5G connections to be in Japan and South Korea, whose oprators are leading in testing, partnerships and innovation, by 2025

28/8/18 - The European Union has granted Nokia a €500 million loan to work on 5G R&D. The money comes from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI).

Nokia has not yet announced what it will use the money for. However, EIB president Alexander Stubb told Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that Europe must stay level with China and the USA: the world's other major 5G players.

21/8/18 - The UK government is looking for companies that will take part in a trial of 5G in the transport sector. Specifically, the Trans-Pennine Initiative (TPI) will evaluate use of the technology on the Manchester-Leeds rail route. Companies that take part will be able to install their radio equipment on the route without investing in track-side infrastructure.

The government wants connectivity on all trains in the UK to be above 1Gbps by 2025.

20/8/18 - Nokia and Verizon have successfully completed a trial of 5G NR mobililty call technology in a vehicle. The call, on the 28GHz spectrum, was sent from a Nokia building to a receiver on a moving vehicle, which travelled between two 5G radios on the building using the 3GPP New Radio standard. The companies say that the trial was 'seamless'. 

6/8/18 - Three is preparing for its 5G rollout, with plans for trials later this year in partnership with Huawei. In its recent financial results, the company said that it had invested £125 million into upgrading its network and IT systems in the first half of 2018. Based on the company's current growth rate and Ofcom's predictions about mobile data use in the UK, Three is going to need to increase its capacity 20-fold by 2025.

2/8/18 - Audi and Ericsson have agreed on plans to work on 5G for automotive production. The companies have signed a Memorandum of Understanding and experts from both companies will run field tests in a technical center of the Audi Production Lab in Gaimersheim, Germany, over the coming months.

As well as the 'smart factory' using 5G, Audi and Ericsson are exploring the use of the technology at other plants.

31/7/18 - The AutoAir project, by Airspan Networks, is deploying 'advanced' 5G networks at the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedford to test connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs). Airspan says that the work will deliver pervasive 4G and 5G  through a network of base stations and will focus on issues such as cell tower handoffs for CAVs.

The project was one of six to receive funding from the government earlier this year. 

27/7/18 - Nokia is confident that 5G will save its financial bacon. The company has said that its poor Q2 results (with operating profit down 42 per cent YoY) will recover following accelerating 5G network rollouts in the USA later this year.

26/7/18 - O2, through its parent Telefonica UK, has invited every company in the FTSE 100 to take part in its 5G Testbed trials. O2 wants to understand the processes and use cases where these firms could use 5G - and, of course, it would help the operator manoeuvre them towards its own 5G network. Sky is the first company to accept the offer.

23/7/18 - Huawei has claimed that continuous large bandwidth (100MHz per operator) is the "golden spectrum" for 5G business success. It says that countries with insufficient C-band spectrum can allocate 100 MHz of continuous large bandwidth on TDD 2.6/2.3 GHz to each operator, which will 'improve investment efficiency, while helping to prepare for an evolution towards high bandwidth 5G'.

The company was speaking at the fourth annual Asia-Pacific Spectrum Management Conference.

19/7/18 - Orange has extended its practical 5G trials to the . As part of the trials, Orange will install a demo area in its Opéra megastore in Paris; give its partners an opportunity to test 5G services like 4k video streaming in Châtillon; and work with 5G in vehicles at a facility in Linas-Montlhéry.

9/7/18 - Three has signed an agreement with SSE Enterprise Telecoms to connect its network to 170 BT exchanges, and an additional 270 in the future. This will mean that Three's mobile network reaches thousands more masts, and lays the groundwork for a future 5G rollout.

3/7/18 - Orange Romania, with technology partners Samsung and Cisco, is performing a 5G multi-vendor Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) test in real environment conditions in Floreşti, Cluj county. 15 residential customers, plus Carrefour Market Floresti and in the Florești City Hall, are using Samsung 5G terminals (with 26GHz mmW technology) and Cisco routers  for internet access. The results have been 'similar or better' than the existing installed systems.

2/7/18 - Dave Dyson, CEO of Three UK, has said that he wants to focus on providing a reliable and high-quality service to customers, rather than a fast 5G rollout.

"Being first doesn't matter to me," he said to City A.M. "What matters is that when we do launch 5G we give customers a reason to join us. We won't be out this year making claims about a 5G launch, which some operators have done.

"But we will spend between now and the middle of next year making sure whatever we launch has the right quality of service."

He dismissed 5G trials by other operators as "a PR exercise."

29/6/18 - Huawei will launch a 5G phone in 2019, it announced at MWC Shanghai this week. The company will use its own modem and processor in the handset, which will be launched before the end of June next year, instead of one made by an external firm like Qualcomm.

29/6/18 - Finnish carrier Elisa is launching the 'world's first commercial 5G network' - joining Qatar's Ooredoo, which claimed the same thing last month.

There are, however, a couple of differences between Elisa and Ooredoo's implementations. Elisa is already selling subscriptions and used a Huawei device to make a 5G phone call between Tampere and Tallinn; the two locations where the network is active. Ooredoo is offering 5G broadband hardware now and mobile devices next year.

27/6/18 - Qualcomm and Chinese phone maker Vivo are working together on new 5G antenna technology, integrating both sub-6GHz and 28GHz (mmWave) antennas into a commercial smartphone. They tested performance at Qualcomm's antenna lab in San Diego.

Low frequencies (such as sub-6GHz) provide wide coverage, while high frequencies enable higher speed and lower latency.

20/6/18 - Vodafone has announced that it will start 5G trials later this year, at more than 40 sites in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Manchester. The company is also talking to enterprise customers, to test 5G applications like AR and VR in offices, factories and hospitals. The trials will begin between October and December.

19/6/18 - Only just over half (53 per cent) of UK users of mobile internet users in the UK are satisfied with the speed that they are getting, a survey by IHS Markit company RootMetrics has shown.  These findings 'counter industry cynicism about the need for 5G investment', says the firm.

Almost 80 per cent of respondents said that they would pay more for higher speeds and reliability.

14/6/18 - 3GPP has approved the standalone (SA) specifications for 5G Release 15, complementing the non-standalone release last from November. The SA release enables independent deployment for 5G New Radio, but does not include the extremely low 0-5ms latency that has been hyped as one of the technology's main draws.

13/6/18 - Scientists at the Tokyo Institute of Technology have developed a tiny 28GHz transceiver, designed to be capable of establishing a stable high-speed 5G connection. The device, in a 4mm x 3mm circuit, uses beam steering to guide the main lobe of the radiation pattern, instead of RF phase shifters.

12/6/18 - Ericsson, in its new Mobility Report, claims that 5G networks will be launched this year, but that Europe will lag behind the rest of the world. Half of all mobile connections in the US will be 5G by 2023, it says, along with a third in North East Asia - but only a fifth in Western Europe.

The company says that regulation and competition will hold 5G back in Europe, while others have blamed market fragmentation and a prolonged focus on 4G.

Also today, Ofcom has announced the radio spectrum bands that it thinks should be prioritised for global 5G use. They are the 26GHz, 37-43.5GHz and 66-71GHz bands, as well as potentially 32GHz. The issue will be discussed at the WRC-19 conferene next year.

6/6/18 - Deloitte has released its report, conducted for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, on the economic and social impacts of 5G. The report concludes that mobile broadband, especially at 5G speeds, has provable economic and transformative benefits, but also that the technology needs further development.

6/6/18 - EE will launch a live trial of 5G services this year. The company will push the scheme live at 10 locations in London's Tech City area this October. Mark Allera, CEO of EE owner BT's consumer business, said that the trial will be "a big step forward in making the benefits of 5G a reality for our customers".

31/5/18 - EE has responded to O2's claims, below, calling them "misleading". Head of network communications Howard Jones told us that the telco's 5G network will feature much faster speeds and lower latency than existing 4G, but will need further development to reach the speeds and 0-5ms latency necessary to enable applications like driverless cars.

29/5/18 - An O2 UK spokesperson has warned that any version of 5G launched prior to 2020 would lack essential capabilities. This is because it would be based on an earlier version of the standard (Release 15, due in June), with the final version (Release 16) not scheduled until December 2019.

"Any UK operator launching ‘5G' before 2020 would be using a ‘lite version' of 5G," the spokesperson told 5G.co.uk. Release 15, for example, does not include super-low latency or the capabilities to support autonomous driving.

24/5/18 - Qualcomm has announced what (it says is) the industry's first 5G New Radio solution for small cells, which are expected to be important to 5G networks. OEMs can use the FSM100xx solution to reuse their soft- and hardware designs across new sub-6 and mmWave products. Qualcomm will begin sampling next year.

23/5/18 - ComSenTer, a US-based multi-university research project, is looking at a successor for 5G, despite the industry insisting that a sixth-generation standard will not be needed.

The group is examining very high frequency transmissions: up to 330GHz, much higher than the 3.4-3.8GHz used for 5G. That means more speed, but even more pronounced problems with range, signal blocking and packet loss. Speeds, though, could reach up to 10Tbps.

21/5/18 - A consortium of 20 companies have completed the EU's Horizon 2020 project: a three-year effort to develop an integrated 5G backhaul and fronthaul transport network called 5G Crosshaul.

The network is able to flexibly interconnect distributed 5G radio access and core network functions, hosted on in-network cloud nodes. It has been trialled in experiments across Europe and Taiwan.

17/5/18 - A trial by BT, Verizon, Ericsson and King's College London has shown how 5G technology can be used in emergencies. In the first test, a drone was sent instructions over a 5G connection using Ericsson's network slicing technology between BT and Verizon's networks; it then proceeds to the supply drop location, guided by a software control system and ground-based markers.

In a second demonstration, the drone was shown providing real-time video surveillance to a remote location, enabling people at that location to make more informed decisions. The drone uses the same 5G radio connection as the first demo, but connects to Verizon's US networks to receive mission details. This demonstrates the possibility of temporarily deploying networks abroad in emergency situations.

15/5/18 - BT CEO Gavin Patterson plans to get the drop on rivals by launching 5G in 2019, a year ahead of the government's commercial rollout plans. He told analysts in an earnings presentation, "We will look to have a commercial 5G product launched in the next 18 months."

BT's owner EE had an early start in 4G, but UK competitors like Vodafone are unlikely to want a repeat of that situation in 5G; so we may see a revision to their plans, too.

14/5/18 - UK cities are competing to win a £100 million infrastructure investment from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as part of its 5G Testbed and Trials Programme.

Recently discussed at the 5G Summit in Glasgow (see below), the fund will be used to install infrastructure to support 5G trials. Applications close on the 5th of June, with a winner chosen by the end of July.

14/5/18 - The University of Surrey's 5G Innovation Centre has announced its first seven SME technology partners, chosen through their involvement in its testbed programme. The University says that the move aims to widen the 5G opportunities available to smaller enterprises.

The companies are Blu Wireless, CBNL, Cardinality, Eptomical, Estatom, Lime Microsystems and Paramus.

9/5/18 - As part of a consortium investigating autonomous vehicles in Leeds, the city will begin testing self-driving pods in the South Bank area later this year. Consortium member Aql, which holds 5G test licences in the UK, will build the required communications infrastructure. Other members include Gulf Oil, the University of Leeds and Leeds and Bradford city councils.

The pods will be based on the Westfield POD, which Heathrow Airport has used since 2011.

8/5/18 - While England was languishing in sunny Bank Holiday weather, 5G progress continued on the continent. Deutsche Telekom has turned on 5G mobile data in Berlin, deploying six antennae in the city centre using the New Radio (NR) standard. An additional 70 cells are planned to be added over the summer.

In France, Nokia has been testing 5G calls on the 3.5GHz frequency band with telco SFR. The trial was also accomplished using the NR standard, with Nokia technology like the AirScale radio platform.

3/5/18 - The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) has announced that it will hold its 5G Summit in Glasgow on the 14th of May, where delegates will discuss the potential and challenges of the technology. Speakers will focus on the latest trials, standards and deployments, as well as how 5G can be used in verticals like farming and health.

Cisco, Nokia, Vodafone, Qualcomm, University of Strathclyde, Surrey 5GIC (5G Innovation Centre), the DCMS and Ofcom are among the attending speakers.

China blamed for Marriott International data breach

By Graeme Burton | News | 12 December 2018

Hacking tools used to purloin 500 million records point to China's Ministry of State Security, claim US officials

The finger of blame for the data breach at the Marriott International hotels group has been pointed at China's Ministry of State Security.

That's according to officials cited by the New York Times, which claims that it was part of an intelligence gathering exercise.

The attack revealed at the end of November targetted the Marriott's Starwood Hotel brand, with details of some 500 million customers affected, including their passport details.

The link was made, the article suggests, via the kind of tools and techniques used by the attackers to compromise Marriott's systems, although the newspaper didn't provide much in the way of firm evidence to back-up its claims.

The New York Times claimed that both the US government and security companies believed from the start that the attack was part of a broader spy campaign, either to glean US citizens' personal data or data about Chinese nationals in the US.

"The Chinese regard intrusions into hotel chain databases as a standard kind of espionage. So does the US, which has often seized guest data from foreign hotels," claimed the New York Times.

However, it is not the first time that Marriott has displeased China's increasingly authoritarian government, headed by supreme-leader-for-life President Xi Jinping.

In January 2018, the hotel chain was forced to issue a statement that it did not "support separatist elements" in China. That came after it sent out a customer survey listing Tibet, which has been occupied by China since 1951, and Taiwan, which emerged as an independent country following China's Communist revolution in 1949, separately from China.

However, China, has always refused to recognise Taiwan's de facto independence, while enforcing an especially repressive regime on Tibet, as well as the region of Xingjiang in north-western China.

Patch Tuesday: Microsoft issues fixes for 39 vulnerabilities, including a zero-day already being exploited by hacking groups

By John Leonard | News | 12 December 2018
Update Windows asap, admins advise

Hacking groups FruityArmor and SandCat have already made use of the privilege escalation bug

Microsoft has issued patches for 39 vulnerabilities, including a zero-day bug that has already been exploited by hacking groups.

This vulnerability in kernel image ntoskrnl.exe was reported to Microsoft on 29th October by security vendor Kasperky Lab. Listed as CVE-2018-8611 and classified as 'important', it is a local privilege escalation bug. Kaspersky Lab researchers say it has already been exploited by hacking groups FruityArmor and SandCat.

"CVE-2018-8611 is an especially dangerous threat - a vulnerability in the Kernel Transaction Manager driver. It can also be used to escape the sandbox in modern web browsers, including Chrome and Edge, since syscall filtering mitigations do not apply to ntoskrnl.exe system calls," the company says.

Kasperky continues: "This vulnerability successfully bypasses modern process mitigation policies, such as Win32k System call Filtering that is used, among others, in the Microsoft Edge Sandbox and the Win32k Lockdown Policy employed in the Google Chrome Sandbox. Combined with a compromised renderer process, for example, this vulnerability can lead to a full Remote Command Execution exploit chain in the latest state-of-the-art web-browsers."

All versions of Windows from Windows 7 to Server 2019 are affected by the bug. Microsoft has released a Patch Tuesday service update to mitigate the issue. The zero-day is the fourth such vulnerability to be patched by Microsoft in recent weeks.

Another Windows flaw is also fixed in the update. CVE-2018-8517, is a remote execution bug which could allow an attacker to execute a DoS attack by issuing certain commands to the .Net framework.

The update also includes patches for critical Adobe Flash Player remote code execution vulnerabilities CVE-2018-15982 and CVE-2018-15983 which were also being exploited in the wild.

In addition to the zero-day and ten other issues, the update fixes 29 vulnerabilities affecting Windows, Edge, Internet Explorer, ChackraCore, Office and Microsoft Office Services and Web Apps, .NET and other Microsoft products.