Music

Apple Will Release Its $349 HomePod Speaker On February 9th (theverge.com) 53

After it was delayed in mid-December, Apple finally announced the availability of its new smart speaker. The company announced it will release the HomePod on February 9th and that preorders for the device will start this Friday, January 26th. The smart speaker will initially go on sale in the U.S., UK, and Australia. It'll then arrive in France and Germany sometime this spring. The Verge reports: The company's first smart speaker was originally supposed to go on sale before the end of the 2017, but it was delayed in mid-December. That meant Apple missed a holiday season where millions of smart speakers were sold -- but the market for voice-activated speakers is clearly just getting started. And at $349, Apple's speaker is playing in a very different market than Amazon's and Google's primarily cheap and tiny speakers. The HomePod is being positioned more as a competitor to Sonos' high-end wireless speakers than as a competitor to the plethora of inexpensive smart speakers flooding the market. Despite the delay, Apple doesn't appear to have made any changes to the HomePod -- the smart speaker appears to be exactly what was announced back in June, at WWDC. The focus here continues to be on music and sound quality, rather than the speaker's intelligence, which is the core focus of many competitors' products. The speaker will still have an always-on voice assistant, but Apple's implementation of Siri here will be more limited than what's present on other devices.
The Internet

Ajit Pai's FCC Can't Admit Broadband Competition Is a Problem (dslreports.com) 108

An anonymous reader quotes a report from DSLReports: While the FCC is fortunately backing away from a plan that would have weakened the standard definition of broadband, the agency under Ajit Pai still can't seem to acknowledge the lack of competition in the broadband sector. Or the impact this limited competition has in encouraging higher prices, net neutrality violations, privacy violations, or what's widely agreed to be some of the worst customer service of any industry in America. The Trump FCC had been widely criticized for a plan to weaken the standard definition of broadband from 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up, to include any wireless connection capable of 10 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up. Consumer advocates argued the move was a ham-fisted attempt to try and tilt the data to downplay the industry's obvious competitive and coverage shortcomings. They also argued that the plan made no coherent sense, given that wireless broadband is frequently capped, often not available (with carrier maps the FCC relies on falsely over-stating coverage), and significantly more expensive than traditional fixed-line service.

In a statement (pdf), FCC boss Ajit Pai stated the agency would fortunately be backing away from the measure, while acknowledging that frequently capped and expensive wireless isn't a comparable replacement for fixed-line broadband. "The draft report maintains the same benchmark speed for fixed broadband service previously adopted by the Commission: 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload," stated Pai. "The draft report also concludes that mobile broadband service is not a full substitute for fixed service. Instead, it notes there are differences between the two technologies, including clear variations in consumer preferences and demands." That's the good news. The bad news: the FCC under Pai's leadership continues to downplay and ignore the lack of competition in the sector, and the high prices and various bad behaviors most people are painfully familiar with.

Businesses

Buying Headphones in 2018 is Going To Be a Fragmented Mess (theverge.com) 272

Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge: At CES this year, I saw the future of headphones, and it was messy. Where we once had the solid reliability of a 3.5mm analog connector working with any jack shaped to receive it, there's now a divergence of digital alternatives -- Lightning or USB-C, depending on your choice of jack-less phone -- and a bunch of wireless codecs and standards to keep track of. Oh, and Sony's working hard on promoting a new 4.4mm Pentaconn connector as the next wired standard for dedicated audio lovers. It's all with the intent of making things better, but before we get to the better place, we're going to spend an uncomfortable few months (or longer) in a fragmented market where you'll have to do diligent research to make sure your next pair of headphones works with all the devices you already own.
Wireless Networking

Google Releases Fix For Chromecast Wi-Fi Crashes (zdnet.com) 32

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: Google on Wednesday said it will release an update Jan. 18 to fix a bug in Cast software on Android phones that dramatically slows down WiFi networks. Reports have been circulating this week that the Google Home Max speaker can knock the TP-Link Archer C7 router offline. In a support page, Google explains a bug caused the Cast software that connects with Chromecast devices to send a large amount of network traffic routers can't handle. Google said the update will roll out via a Google Play services update. Until the update is released, Google advises users to try rebooting their Android phone, and check that their WiFi router is updated with the latest firmware. Google didn't list specific routers impacted by the bug, but reports have indicated routers from Linksys and Synology are seeing network crashes as well.
IOS

Apple Is Blocking an App That Detects Net Neutrality Violations (vice.com) 258

dmoberhaus writes: Apple isn't allowing a new app developed by a university professor that detects when your internet is being throttled by ISPs from being listed on the app store. The company claimed the app contained "objectionable content" and "has no direct benefits to the user."
The reporter, who tested the app through the beta channel, writes: The app is designed to test download speeds from seven apps: YouTube, Amazon, NBCSports, Netflix, Skype, Spotify, and Vimeo. According to the app, my Verizon LTE service streamed YouTube to my iPhone at 6 Mbps, Amazon Prime video at 8 Mbps, and Netflix at 4 Mbps. It downloaded other data at speeds of up to 25 Mbps. UPDATE: Slashdot reader sl3xd has made us aware of an update to the story. "After this article was published, Apple told Dave Choffnes that his iPhone app, designed to detect net neutrality violations, will be allowed in the iTunes App Store," reports Motherboard. "According to Choffnes, Apple contacted him and explained that the company has to deal with many apps that don't do the things they claim to do. Apple asked Choffnes to provide a technical description of how his app is able to detect if wireless telecom providers throttle certain types of data, and 18 hours after he did, the app was approved." "The conversation was very pleasant, but did not provide any insight into the review process [that] led the app to be rejected in the first place," Choffnes told Motherboard in an email.
Wireless Networking

Google Home and Chromecast Could Be Overloading Your Home Wi-Fi (theverge.com) 129

Google Cast products could be to blame for your wonky internet connection. According to TP-Link, "The Cast feature normally sends packets of information at regular intervals to keep a live connection with products like Google Home," reports The Verge. "However, if the device is awakened from a 'sleep' mode, it will sometimes send a burst of information at once, which can overwhelm a router. The longer a Cast device has been in 'sleep' mode, the more information it might send at once." The engineer says that could exceed over 100,000 packets, an amount that "may eventually cause some of [the] router's primary features to shut down -- including wireless connectivity."

TP-Link has reportedly fixed the issue in its C1200 router, but a broader fix from Google's end has not been found.
AT&T

US Lawmakers Urge AT&T To Cut Commercial Ties With Huawei and Oppose China Mobile Citing National Security Concerns (reuters.com) 60

U.S. lawmakers are urging AT&T, the No. 2 wireless carrier, to cut commercial ties to Chinese phone maker Huawei Technologies and oppose plans by telecom operator China Mobile to enter the U.S. market because of national security concerns, two congressional aides told Reuters. From the report: The warning comes after the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump took a harder line on policies initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama on issues ranging from Beijing's role in restraining North Korea to Chinese efforts to acquire U.S. strategic industries. Earlier this month, AT&T was forced to scrap a plan to offer its customers Huawei handsets after some members of Congress lobbied against the idea with federal regulators, sources told Reuters. The U.S. government has also blocked a string of Chinese acquisitions over national security concerns, including Ant Financial's proposed purchase of U.S. money transfer company MoneyGram International.
Google

Why Uber Can Find You but 911 Can't (wsj.com) 199

Accurate location data is on smartphones, so why don't more wireless carriers use it to locate emergency callers? From a report, shared by a reader: Software on Apple's iPhones and Google's Android smartphones help mobile apps like Uber and Facebook to pinpoint a user's location, making it possible to order a car, check in at a local restaurant or receive targeted advertising. But 911, with a far more pressing purpose, is stuck in the past. U.S. regulators estimate as many as 10,000 lives could be saved each year if the 911 emergency dispatching system were able to get to callers one minute faster. Better technology would be especially helpful, regulators say, when a caller can't speak or identify his or her location. After years of pressure, wireless carriers and Silicon Valley companies are finally starting to work together to solve the problem. But progress has been slow. Roughly 80% of the 240 million calls to 911 each year are made using cellphones, according to a trade group that represents first responders. For landlines, the system shows a telephone's exact address. But it can register only an estimated location, sometimes hundreds of yards wide, from a cellphone call. That frustration is now a frequent source of tension during 911 calls, said Colleen Eyman, who oversees 911 services in Arvada, Colo., just outside Denver.
Intel

Researcher Finds Another Security Flaw In Intel Management Firmware (arstechnica.com) 87

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Meltdown and Spectre are not the only security problems Intel is facing these days. Today, researchers at F-Secure have revealed another weakness in Intel's management firmware that could allow an attacker with brief physical access to PCs to gain persistent remote access to the system, thanks to weak security in Intel's Active Management Technology (AMT) firmware -- remote "out of band" device management technology installed on 100 million systems over the last decade, according to Intel. [T]he latest vulnerability -- discovered in July of 2017 by F-Secure security consultant Harry Sintonen and revealed by the company today in a blog post -- is more of a feature than a bug. Notebook and desktop PCs with Intel AMT can be compromised in moments by someone with physical access to the computer -- even bypassing BIOS passwords, Trusted Platform Module personal identification numbers, and Bitlocker disk encryption passwords -- by rebooting the computer, entering its BIOS boot menu, and selecting configuration for Intel's Management Engine BIOS Extension (MEBx).

If MEBx hasn't been configured by the user or by their organization's IT department, the attacker can log into the configuration settings using Intel's default password of "admin." The attacker can then change the password, enable remote access, and set the firmware to not give the computer's user an "opt-in" message at boot time. "Now the attacker can gain access to the system remotely," F-Secure's release noted, "as long as they're able to insert themselves onto the same network segment with the victim (enabling wireless access requires a few extra steps)."

Wireless Networking

FCC Undoing Rules That Make It Easier For Small ISPs To Compete With Big Telecom (vice.com) 98

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: The Federal Communications Commission is currently considering a rule change that would alter how it doles out licenses for wireless spectrum. These changes would make it easier and more affordable for Big Telecom to scoop up licenses, while making it almost impossible for small, local wireless ISPs to compete. The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum is the rather earnest name for a chunk of spectrum that the federal government licenses out to businesses. It covers 3550-3700 MHz, which is considered a "midband" spectrum. It can get complicated, but it helps to think of it how radio channels work: There are specific channels that can be used to broadcast, and companies buy the license to broadcast over that particular channel. The FCC will be auctioning off licenses for the CBRS, and many local wireless ISPs -- internet service providers that use wireless signal, rather than cables, to connect customers to the internet -- have been hoping to buy licenses to make it easier to reach their most remote customers.

The CBRS spectrum was designed for Navy radar, and when it was opened up for auction, the traditional model favored Big Telecom cell phone service providers. That's because the spectrum would be auctioned off in pieces that were too big for smaller companies to afford -- and covered more area than they needed to serve their customers. But in 2015, under the Obama administration, the FCC changed the rules for how the CBRS spectrum would be divvied up, allowing companies to bid on the spectrum for a much smaller area of land. Just as these changes were being finalized this past fall, Trump's FCC proposed going back to the old method. This would work out well for Big Telecom, which would want larger swaths of coverage anyway, and would have the added bonus of being able to price out smaller competitors (because the larger areas of coverage will inherently cost more.)
As for why the FCC is even considering this? You can blame T-Mobile. "According to the agency's proposal, because T-Mobile and CTIA, a trade group that represents all major cellphone providers, 'ask[ed] the Commission to reexamine several of the [...] licensing rules,'" reports Motherboard. The proposal reads: "Licensing on a census tract-basis -- which could result in over 500,000 [licenses] -- will be challenging for Administrators, the Commission, and licensees to manage, and will create unnecessary interference risks due to the large number of border areas that will need to be managed and maintained."
Windows

Microsoft Announces First Mobile Carriers To Support Always Connected PCs (zdnet.com) 109

An anonymous reader shares a report: The push behind the Always Connected PC vision has been ramping up in recent weeks, with manufacturers like HP, ASUS, and Lenovo all joining the fray with their own LTE PCs based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform. Now, Microsoft and Qualcomm have announced the first batch of mobile operators that will actively support Always Connected PCs around the world. These initial carriers will help to bring "easy and affordable connectivity plans to consumers on advanced LTE wireless networks," Microsoft and Qualcomm said in a press release. Throughout the first half of 2018 and beyond, the companies say, mobile operators in China, Italy, the UK, and the U.S. will officially support Always Connected PCs. Here's a look at the carriers you can expect to roll out support in each region: China -- China Telecom, Italy -- TIM (Telecom Italia), U.K. -- EE, U.S. -- Sprint, Verizon. In addition to supporting connected PCs on their LTE networks, you can expect each operator to stock Always Connected PCs in their retail store, Qualcomm and Microsoft say.
Wireless Networking

With WPA3, Wi-Fi Security is About To Get a Lot Tougher (zdnet.com) 121

One of the biggest potential security vulnerabilities -- public Wi-Fi -- may soon get its fix. From a report: The Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry body made up of device makers including Apple, Microsoft, and Qualcomm, announced Monday its next-generation wireless network security standard, WPA3. The standard will replace WPA2, a near-two decades-old security protocol that's built in to protect almost every wireless device today -- including phones, laptops, and the Internet of Things.

One of the key improvements in WPA3 will aim to solve a common security problem: open Wi-Fi networks. Seen in coffee shops and airports, open Wi-Fi networks are convenient but unencrypted, allowing anyone on the same network to intercept data sent from other devices. WPA3 employs individualized data encryption, which scramble the connection between each device on the network and the router, ensuring secrets are kept safe and sites that you visit haven't been manipulated.
Further reading: WPA3 WiFi Standard Announced After Researchers KRACKed WPA2 Three Months Ago
Power

Wireless Charging Nears Unification As Powermat Cedes To Qi (engadget.com) 37

Powermat, the only contender to the dominant format Qi, has joined the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) and now backs its rival. "Qi has become the dominant wireless charging standard on the market and the recently launched Apple iPhone lineup is evidence of this success," Powermat said in a statement. "[We] will share technology innovation to further unlock wireless charging potential, and will expedite the growth of the wireless charging infrastructure." Engadget reports: Powermat was barely hanging on as a standard, but as it mentioned, Apple's favoring of Qi for its upcoming chargers pretty much sealed its fate. The company was forced to upgrade its chargers to support Qi at Starbucks locations, for instance, so that Apple's Qi-supported iPhone X- and 8-owning clients could juice up. Until a few years ago, there were essentially three standards, the Alliance for Wireless Power, the Power Matters Alliance (no joking), and Qi, which was already the dominant player. The first two merged to form the Airfuel alliance in 2015, of which Powermat was the main player.
Networking

Can Mesh Networks Save a Dying Web? (thenextweb.com) 201

From an anonymous reader: "The web is dying, but mesh networks could save it," writes open source hacker Andre Staltz. He warns that Facebook, Google, and Amazon plan to "grow beyond browsers, creating new virtual contexts where data is created and shared," and predicts the next wave of walled gardens will be a "social internet" bypassing the web altogether. "The Web may die like most other technologies do, simply by becoming less attractive than newer technologies."

He wants to build a mobile mesh web that works with or without internet access to reach the four billion people currently offline, adding that all the tools we need are already in our hands: smartphones, peer-to-peer protocols, and mesh networks. His vision? "Novel peer-to-peer protocols such as IPFS and Dat help replace HTTP and make the web a content-centered cyberspace... Browsers can be made to work like that, and although it's a small tweak to how the web works, it has massive effects on social structures in cyberspace... Now that we have experience with some of the intricacies of the social web, we can reinvent it to put people first without intermediate companies... We can actually beat the tech giants at this game by simply giving local and regional connectivity to people in developing countries. With mobile apps that are built mesh-first, the smartphones would make up self-organizing self-healing mobile ad-hoc networks... In internet-less regions, there is potential for scaling quickly, and through that, we can spawn a new industry around peer-to-peer wireless mesh networks."

He cites mega-projects "to rescue the web from the internet", which include progress on peer-to-peer and mesh networking protocols, followed by adoption on smartphones (and then a new wave of apps) -- plus a migration of existing web content to the new protocols, "to fix the overutilization of the wirenet and the underutilization of airnets, bringing balance to the wire-versus-air dichotomy, providing choice in how data should travel in each case...But it can only happen if the web takes a courageous step towards its next level."

Advertising

Your Car May Soon Start Serving You Ads (siliconbeat.com) 310

An anonymous reader quotes SiliconBeat: Santa Clara auto-tech firm Telenav has just announced an "in-car advertising platform" for cars that connect to the internet. Telenav wants to sell the system to major auto manufacturers. And although it's probably the last thing many consumers want, vehicle owners will pay more for connected-car services if they decline the ads. "This approach helps car makers offset costs related to connected services, such as wireless data, content, software and cloud services," a spokeswoman for Telenav said Jan. 5. "In return for accepting ads in vehicles, drivers benefit from access to connected services without subscription fees, as well as new driving experiences that come from the highly-targeted and relevant offers delivered based on information coming from the vehicle."

Auto makers including Toyota, Lexus, Ford, GM and Cadillac already use the company's connected-car products, the spokeswoman said. Telenav CEO H.P. Jin in a press release called the ad platform "an exciting new opportunity" for vehicle manufacturers to "monetize connectivity to cover service costs and even drive healthy profits while enriching the consumer experience with safely delivered, engaging and relevant offers"...

To prevent driver distraction, "ads only appear when the vehicle is stopped, such as at car startup, traffic lights and upon arrival," Telenav said... Of course, driver distraction won't be an issue in self-driving cars, and this technology suggests the captive audiences in those vehicles will likely be subjected to an ad barrage in robotic ride-sharing vehicles and automated cars whose owners decline to pay more to avoid in-car advertising.

Cloud

New US Customs Guidelines Limit Copying Files and Searching Cloud Data (theverge.com) 71

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency has updated its guidelines for electronic border searches, adding new detail to border search rules that were last officially updated in 2009. The Verge reports: Officers can still request that people unlock electronic devices for inspection when they're entering the U.S., and they can still look through any files or apps on those devices. But consistent with a statement from acting commissioner Kevin McAleenan last summer, they're explicitly banned from accessing cloud data -- per these guidelines, that means anything that can't be accessed while the phone's data connection is disabled. The guidelines also draw a distinction between "basic" and "advanced" searches. If officers connect to the phone (through a wired or wireless connection) and copy or analyze anything on it using external devices, that's an advanced search, and it can only be carried out with reasonable suspicion of illegal activity or a national security concern. A supervisor can approve the search, and "many factors" might create reasonable suspicion, including a terrorist watchlist flag or "other articulable factors."
Government

The FCC Is Preparing To Weaken the Definition of Broadband (dslreports.com) 217

An anonymous reader quotes a report from DSLReports: Under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, the FCC is required to consistently measure whether broadband is being deployed to all Americans uniformly and "in a reasonable and timely fashion." If the FCC finds that broadband isn't being deployed quickly enough to the public, the agency is required by law to "take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market." Unfortunately whenever the FCC is stocked by revolving door regulators all-too-focused on pleasing the likes of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast -- this dedication to expanding coverage and competition often tends to waver.

What's more, regulators beholden to regional duopolies often take things one-step further -- by trying to manipulate data to suggest that broadband is faster, cheaper, and more evenly deployed than it actually is. We saw this under former FCC boss Michael Powell (now the top lobbyist for the cable industry), and more recently when the industry cried incessantly when the base definition of broadband was bumped to 25 Mbps downstream, 4 Mbps upstream. We're about to see this effort take shape once again as the FCC prepares to vote in February for a new proposal that would dramatically weaken the definition of broadband. How? Under this new proposal, any area able to obtain wireless speeds of at least 10 Mbps down, 1 Mbps would be deemed good enough for American consumers, pre-empting any need to prod industry to speed up or expand broadband coverage.

Network

Asus Is Turning Its Old Routers Into Mesh Wi-Fi Networks (theverge.com) 30

Asus' new AiMesh system lets you repurpose your existing Asus routers as part of a mesh network, potentially saving you lots of money since you won't have to replace your whole network with a bunch of new devices. The Verge reports: For now, the mesh support is coming to a few routers today in beta, including the ASUS RT-AC68U, RT-AC1900P, RT-AC86U, RT-AC5300, and the ROG Rapture GT-AC5300, with additional support planned for the RT-AC88U and RT-AC3100 later this year. The setup looks pretty simple, too. Once your main router is set up and updated to the latest firmware, just take your other routers that are going to be the mesh nodes, plug them in near the main router, and run a factory reset, after which they'll automatically pop up in the Asus Router app to add to your mesh.
Wireless Networking

Roombas Will Soon Build a Wi-Fi Coverage Map While They Clean (techcrunch.com) 58

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: The feature is arriving later this month on the iRobot app, making it possible for WiFi-enabled Roombas to create a map of indoor signals. The map exists alongside the existing Clean Map feature, letting users toggle between the two, like they would, say, satellite and standard imagery in Google Maps. The maps themselves won't go into too much detail -- no upload and download speeds like you see on many mobile speed test apps. Instead, the information will show up as decibel readings. Really, it's intended as a handy way of showing off where you might want to toss a range extender, to help get rid of dead spots. All of Roomba's vacuums, save for the lowest-end model, will support the feature. The beta program launches January 23rd and appears to only be available for U.S. users.
Communications

Postcard From Pyongyang: The Airport Now Has Wi-Fi, Sort of (apnews.com) 141

Eric Talmadge, writing for AP: North Korea is one of the least Wi-Fi-friendly countries in the world. Having a device that emits Wi-Fi signals can result in detention and a major fine. Worse, if you are a North Korean. Public use of the internet is a concept that just makes North Korean officials really nervous. But here's a sign that might be changing. North Korea's main internet provider appears to have put up a Wi-Fi trial balloon at the international departure area of Pyongyang's airport. It's a logical place to start. The service is only available, or even visible, to travelers who have already cleared customs, which included me last week. The reporter was unable to actually get the Wi-Fi to work, however.

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