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Fast, reliable broadband … it’s now a key selling point for house hunters | Broadband

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It used to be that demand for homes centred on the proximity to good schools, or how close they were to a nice restaurant or pub. Now, before they sign on the dotted line, homebuyers want to ensure they can download a film quickly, or check their work emails without interruption.

Access to reliable and fast broadband is one of the key priorities as working from home looks set to become a more permanent arrangement for many. And a surge of interest in people wanting to move to the country has been coupled with demand for good internet in areas that might otherwise have weak connections.

“One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is related to the speed of the broadband,” says Julia Robotham, of Knight Frank’s country department.

“We have even seen a number of telecoms companies arrange to visit properties, prior to exchange, to discuss ways in which they can make working from home more effective.”

The big shift: working from home makes it new priority

Research from online estate agency Purple Bricks found 41% of people rank internet speed as an important priority when buying a home, more than how close they are to a school, or being near somewhere good to eat, up significantly since 2016.

Separate research by Knight Frank found that almost two thirds of people think it is even more important than having outdoor access, being near a tube station or having the ability to extend.

Ernest Doku of comparison site uSwitch says: “The shift has seen broadband repositioned in the homeowner’s mind as being an essential utility – as one would view gas or electricity, due to the fact that we need to work from home.”

But getting access to proper functioning broadband is not always simple, especially the further away from urban centres you get.

Making next-generation gigabit broadband available across the country by 2025 was a key promise of Boris Johnson’s election manifesto, but the ambitions were watered down to 85% coverage.

Last year, the telecoms regulator Ofcom said there were almost 200,000 “forgotten homes” across the UK, left behind in the government’s digital revolution, and unable to get broadband speeds deemed the minimum to meet a modern family’s needs.

Of these, 119,000 were in England, 34,000 in Scotland, 18,000 in Wales and 19,000 in Northern Ireland.

While most of the country has access to high-speed broadband in theory, the reality is that available speeds vary considerably between areas and even on the same street, and are dependant on how close a home is to a broadband cabinet.

Dan Howdle from comparison site Cable.co.uk says that once a property is about 800 metres away from a cabinet, the speed deteriorates. Up to that point, homes will be able to get the average advertised speed.

He says: “The further you are from the nearest cabinet with the current technology, the less speed you are going to get,” he says. “That is why you get a lot of situations where you have villages or towns served by fibre broadband, but those who live further out from the centre, or where the nearest exchanges are, still have slow broadband, regardless.”

There can even be significant differences in houses on the same street because some parts may be serviced by one cabinet and another by a different unit which is further away, says Howdle.

Figures from Ofcom show the fastest average speeds are in Molescroft, near Kingston upon Hull in Yorkshire and the Humber, where almost 98% of homes received over 30Mbps. The slowest were in Braintree, Essex where just under 50% of households have been found to have speeds under 10 Mbps.

If you are buying a home, you can work out how good the broadband connection is using an online speed checker. These are available through uSwitch, Ofcom and Cable.co.uk, among others. Entering a postcode on one of these websites will quickly reveal the area’s broadband speed.

Beware of running a speed test on your phone when connected to wifi in a property, as this may be interfered with by other wifi connections in the area and will not give the full picture as to how fast a land connection will be.

How do I improve my connection?

“You are at the mercy of the line going into your house,” says Howdle. But that is not to say that all is lost if you have a slow connection. Look around to see if other providers can give a better performance. Doku says that some people may be stuck on a “stock product” but that there will be alternatives, possibly faster.

Another option is to use a 4G or 5G router. This way you can be connected via a mobile phone signal.

Some areas with poor broadband may have a good mobile signal. Three is advertising a 4G hub for £22 per month, and a 5G for £29, and promises next-day delivery.

EE has a 5G router for £50 a month with a £100 upfront cost and a 4G option from £13 a month.

If your dream new home is on a hillside in the Highlands, with no options for broadband or mobile connection, you could opt for satellite broadband. This involves the installing a dish, similar to those used for satellite TV. This will connect to a satellite that will send a broadband signal.

Comparethemarket puts the price at between £20 and £87 a month with steep set-up costs that can come to £600.

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An Cosán wants to help tackle the digital skills gap with suite of new tools

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The CEO of the non-profit told attendees at a community webinar that almost one in two adults in Ireland has low digital literacy levels.

Dublin-based education non-profit An Cosán is introducing a new suite of digital tools in an effort to tackle Ireland’s digital skills shortage.

Several An Cosán team members addressed the issue and the centre’s plan to tackle it at a recent webinar on digital inclusion the organisation hosted for its community partners.

Heydi Foster, CEO of the non-profit, called for a “whole of society approach” to increasing digital literacy, which, she said is an essential requirement to participate fully in society and to thrive in the 21st century.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

Foster said: “Almost one in two adults in Ireland has low digital literacy levels, according to the Digital Economic and Society Index 2018. This is something that we all have a responsibility to address as a matter of urgency.”

She told the webinar attendees that a “collaboration between community, state and corporate sectors is urgently needed to ensure every adult has the necessary literacy, numeracy and digital skills to fully engage in society.”

Foster reminded the community partners of An Cosán’s founding principle “to leave no one behind” when it was first set up 35 years ago by co-founders Dr Ann Louise Gilligan and Dr Katherine Zappone.

The non-profit’s digital inclusion co-ordinator, Mark Kelly, then spoke about how An Cosán had been working with its partners to address digital exclusion in Ireland. Measures taken include a ‘Digital Stepping Stones’ tool developed with Accenture that allows people to evaluate their digital level competency. First rolled out in 2020, the tool identifies where people may need to upskill to fix any gaps in their digital skillset.

Kelly said the tool had been used by more than 5,300 people across the further education and training sector, including education and training boards, regional community training centres, local development companies, family resource centres and other community organisations.

To complement the success of the digital skills assessment tool, Kelly announced the development of a new suite of digital learning methods, using DigComp, the European digital competence framework.

Ariana Ball, corporate citizenship lead at Accenture, spoke during the webinar about the need for a growth mindset when it comes to teaching digital skills. The professional services company last year published a report on the digital skills shortage.

The report found that at least a quarter of the Irish population is excluded from an increasingly digital society because of socioeconomic reasons. This is leading to a “two-speed digital economy”, the report warned. It highlighted, in particular, the need for increased digital skills help for older people.

Recently, Vodafone Ireland partnered with charities Alone and Active Retirement Ireland to launch a new training programme to help those over the age 65 improve their digital skills. The Hi Digital programme aims to support 230,000 older Irish people as they overcome digital disenfranchisement.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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The death of Charles Babbage, mathematician and inventor – archive, 1871 | Computing

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The death is announced of Mr Charles Babbage, who has long held high rank among the mathematicians of the day. He was born on 26 December 1792, and having been privately educated, proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge where he took his BA degree in 1814; but, curiously enough, his name does not appear in the mathematical tripos. In the course of his mathematical studies he found fault with the logarithmic tables then in use as being defective and unfaithful; and in order to improve them visited the various centres of machine labour in England and on the continent, and on his return directed the construction of a “difference engine” for the use of the government.

Another result of this tour was the production of his work on the Economy of Manufactures. By 1833 a portion of his machine (popularly known as “the calculating machine”) was prepared, and its operations were entirely successful. It was, however, never completed. He next prepared his Table of Logarithms of the Natural Numbers from 1 to 108,000, a work which was so highly esteemed that it was very soon afterwards translated into almost all the European languages.

A scaled-down version of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, constructed in the 1860s.
A scaled-down version of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, constructed in the 1860s. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

In 1811 Mr Babbage was elected Lucasian professor of mathematics, an office which had been filled by Sir Isaac Newton, Dr Isaac Barrow, Bishop Turton, Professor Airey, and other eminent persons. This post he resigned in 1811. Among his most prominent works may be mentioned A Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, the design of which was to show the error of a supposition implied in the first volume of that celebrated series, that ardent devotion to mathematical studies is unfavourable to religious faith.

Mr Babbage once, and it is believed once only, sought political honours, having become in 1832 a candidate for the borough of Finsbury, in the advanced Liberal interest, but was not successful. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society and a member of a large number of literary institutions.

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How to keep a support contract • The Register

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On Call Let us take a little trip back to the days before the PC, when terminals ruled supreme, to find that the more things change the more they stay the same. Welcome to On Call.

Today’s story comes from “Keith” (not his name) and concerns the rage of a user whose expensive terminal would crash once a day, pretty much at the same time.

The terminal in question was a TAB 132/15. It was an impressive bit of kit for the time and was capable of displaying 132 characters of crisp, green text on a 15-inch CRT housed in a futuristic plastic case. Luxury for sure, unless one was the financial trader trying to use the device.

Once a day, at around 13:30, the terminal would hang. The user would have to reach behind it, power it off, wait a bit, and then fire it back up again. To placate the angry customer, a replacement was dispatched, and all was well. Until the problem started again. Another replacement was made. Another week or so went by with no complaints. And again, another call: the terminal was hanging. Same time. A few times a week.

“These terminals were in the thousand-dollar range,” Keith told us, so a monthly replacement cycle was not really an option. He even used one of the faulty units himself for a while and encountered no issues, which was odd in itself and, we reckon, planted a seed of suspicion.

As for the customer, he was raging by this point. “He was threatening to cancel our contract for his entire firm,” remembered Keith, which would hit the bottom line hard. A salesperson was sent out to see what was happening, but there was no failure.

A technician went out; again no failure. Was this a case of “Technician Syndrome”, where a problem cannot be replicated in front of service personnel? Maybe. Keith’s team were at their wit’s end while the customer had hit the end of his tether and gone beyond.

The solution to the problem was accidental. Keith was back on site, diagnosing an unrelated software issue, but could see the suspect terminal on the other side of the room. As he watched, the trader using the machine sat back for lunch, flipping through the pages of a financial newspaper. A phone call came through, and the trader slung the paper on top of the monitor, took the call, and then resumed work.

Oblivious to the newspaper.

A few minutes later there was uproar. The trader had stood and was slapping the side of the terminal, yelling all manner of not-safe-for-work oaths and casting aspersions upon the good name of Keith’s firm, the software, the programmers, and the computing industry in general. The cursing continued as the trader reached behind for the power switch, knocking the paper aside.

Keith had his solution. But was smart enough to know that a bland presentation of facts would probably not help. Instead, he arranged for his office to call the trader and tell him that a tech was on the way to help. He waited until the trader was distracted and sauntered over.

“Sure enough,” said Keith, “he said he was glad to see me but launched into a tirade again about the device’s many faults.”

He let the customer vent for a while, and surreptitiously placed the newspaper back on top over the heat vents on the terminal while pretending to examine the rear of the unit.

Now patience was needed. It wouldn’t take long – the terminal had, after all, only just recovered from its last overheating episode – and Keith encouraged the trader to unload all his woes and grievances.

The bug list was building as the screen suddenly flickered and locked up. “There! You see that?” exclaimed the user. Keith nodded and reached round the side of the terminal to cycle the power. Sure enough, it came back up.

Keith made a show of thanking the user for showing him the elusive bug and was staging a call with a co-worker, supposedly to prepare a replacement, when the terminal locked up again.

Keith wrinkled his forehead at the “mystery” before offering up an explanation.

“Ah!” he exclaimed, “Did you see how that flicker started from the top and moved to the down?”

Those familiar with the technology will know it was just following the raster pattern. The customer, on the other hand, did not.

“That is often a sign it is overheating,” said Keith, playing fast and loose with the truth, “but this office is cool?”

He pretended to be mystified until the penny dropped for the trader, who unleashed yet more expletives as he realised where he’d dropped his newspaper and snatched it away from the vents.

Feeling the volcanic heat spewing from the depths of the terminal, he turned to Keith, suddenly concerned: “Will it be OK?”

Of course it would. It had only been overheating for a short time every day. The apologies from the customer, who had “discovered” the problem, were profuse and copious. Keith excused himself, but not before rubbing a bit more salt into the wound by telling the user he needed to cancel the burn-in process of yet another expensive replacement.

As it turned out, rather than the customer cancelling the support contact, it ended up being extended.

“It was a good thing I’d let him ‘discover’ the fault,” said Keith. “If I had found it, he would have been very defensive and we still might have lost that contract.”

The minor bugs the user had reported while Keith had been waiting for the overheating to happen again were swiftly dealt with and the enhancement requests logged. Keith also reported back to his boss, who spent rather a lot of time laughing.

“It was a good day.”

Ever set the stage so the customer thinks they’re the hero of the hour? Or maybe you’ve wished all manner of unpleasantness upon your suppliers before realising the blame laid with you all along? Tell us about the time you picked up the phone with an email to On Call. ®

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