New “Watch Party” Feature For Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime subscribers can be part of 100-viewer “Watch Party” groups and enjoy access to thousands of movies and films as well as chat between group members.

Watch Party

The Watch Party feature, which is similar to that of Netflix, allows an Amazon Prime member to simultaneously stream and share their favourite movie or TV show with up to 100 friends and family members who are also Prime members.  The synchronised playback controls mean that the Prime Member can use live ‘live chat’ via text with the group and pause, play, and skip the action for the group.

Watch Party does not require a plug-in to download and can be used for anything included with Prime.

Netflix and Others

Amazon Watch Party is clearly a similar (and competing) offering to Netflix’s service. Netflix Party also offers synchronised video playback and adds group chat to Netflix shows so that Netflix members can link up with friends and host long-distance movie nights and TV watch parties.

Other streamers offering virtual viewing parties include Warner Media, Disney, and Disney Plus.

Desktop and U.S. Only

Amazon’s Watch Party is currently only available to those located in the U.S. and with a U.S.-based Prime subscription.  People can join in a web browser on their computer, and Watch Party is only for desktop browsers except for Apple’s Safari, although a mobile version is reported to be on the way.  Devices such as Fire TV, smart TVs, game consoles, connected media players, mobile phones, and tablets are currently not supported for Watch party.

How To Use

To launch a Watch Party, a user clicks on the Watch Party icon on their screen, browses titles and episode lists to choose what to watch, chooses a name to use while chatting and then shares their Watch Party link with up to 100 people (friends join by clicking on their link).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The pandemic has been good news for those companies offering streamed online entertainment services as millions of people have been spending a lot more time on those platforms and seeking entertainment while off work and having their movement outside restricted.

The fact that families and friends have been separated from each other and that people have been unable to have shared, public entertainment experiences e.g. cinema and concerts, has created more of an opportunity for shared online entertainment experiences such as Watch Parties.

For Amazon, Watch Party is a way that it can compete with other big streamers such as Netflix, and Amazon is in a good position to do so with the vast amount of entertainment titles that it offers.

Tech Tip – How To Keep Your Wi-Fi Connection Secure

A good, secure Wi-Fi connection is often the backbone of many peoples’ day-to-day online business and is a key component of data security, so, here are a few tips for making sure that your wireless connection is secure:

– Make sure that your router’s firmware is up to date and that you have replaced the router’s default password with your own secure one.

– Make sure that WPA-2 or higher encryption is enabled.

– Avoid using public Wi-Fi to send sensitive data unless you are using VPN.  It may also be sensible to limit your use of public Wi-Fi (which has been relatively easy to do anyway during the pandemic).

– Disable network name broadcasting to the public via your router.

– Make sure that your wireless router’s firewall is turned on, or, if your router does not have an effective firewall, install a good firewall solution on your system.

Internet Speed Record

Researchers from Australia’s Monash, Swinburne, and RMIT universities claim to have set a new Internet speed record of 44.2 Tbps.

Fibre Connection

The claim, which is featured in the ‘Nature Communications’ journal (https://www.nature.com/) refers to setting the bandwidth world record for ultra-dense optical data transmission over 75 km of standard optical fibre, with a single chip source.  It has been reported that the fibre connection was run between RMIT’s Melbourne City campus and Monash University’s Clayton campus in order to represent the infrastructure that is used by Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN).

Micro-Comb

The exceptional speed and bandwidth achieved in the test, enough to download the contents of more than 50 100GB Ultra HD Blu-ray discs in one second, has been attributed not just to the capacity and capabilities of fibre, but also to the addition of micro-combs to the cable fibres. 

Micro-combs are optical frequency combs based on micro-cavity resonators, and the researchers report that the ability to phase-lock, or mode-lock, these comb lines were key to breaking this speed record.

Micro-comb technology, therefore, appears to be a highly efficient way to transmit data and micro-combs offer the full potential of their bulk counterparts but in an integrated footprint.

Integrate With Existing Infrastructure

RMIT’s Professor Arnan Mitchell has been quoted as saying that the challenge will now be how to turn the micro-comb technology into something that can integrate with the existing cable infrastructure, and the that the long-term hope is to “create integrated photonic chips that could enable this sort of data rate to be achieved across existing optical fibre links with minimal cost”.

Data Centres First

Communications commentators have suggested that once the new technology is commercialised, data centres are most likely to benefit first from its introduction and that home and business users may have to wait years before they can use it, provided that it is affordable.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For communications infrastructure companies, this development means that they can augment the fibres that are already in the ground with this new micro-comb technology, thereby meaning that their existing networks are still good and scalable for the future.

This speed record and the new technology is also good news for the autonomous vehicles industry, gaming industry, medical fields, and other industries, segments, organisations, agencies and businesses that need greater speed and capacity to help them deal with increasing data demands.

Tech Tip – Background Change in Zoom

If you or anyone you know has used Zoom recently, perhaps to communicate during the lockdown, here is a way to change the background view to something a little more interesting than an overcrowded bookshelf:

– In the Zoom app, click your profile (top right), and click Settings. 

– On the left-hand menu, click Virtual Background. 

– Choose a default background (provided by Zoom) by clicking on it.  There is an option for a green screen. 

To upload a photo of your choice to use as your background:

– On the Virtual Background Page, click the + icon next to Choose Virtual Background.

– Choose the photo using the pop-up box and this photo will be featured alongside the other photos as an option for you to choose from.

– To remove any photos you upload, tap the X in their top left corner. 

– You could also choose Zoom video conferencing backgrounds from a number of websites including Storyblocks, Canva, Pixar, West Elm or Modsy.

Virtual Restart For Housing Market

The housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, has said in a speech about safely restarting the housing market that technology such as virtual viewings looks set to play an important part.

Hard Hit Housing

The housing market has been hit extremely hard by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and by the measures taken to curb the spread of the virus. Mr Jenrick highlighted how 450,000 property buyers had to put their plans on hold and 300,000 tenancies come up for renewal each month.  Also, the pandemic has meant that people have been unable to move, many people have been forced to take mortgage holidays or have struggled with rent payments and estate and letting agents around the country have been closed. Housing experts are now predicting a sharp drop in house prices this year.

The construction industry also ground to a halt as lockdown measures were introduced.

It is only now that some estate agents and housebuilding firms have begun to reopen as lockdown restrictions have been relaxed.

How Technology Is Helping

Technology is reported to be helping with the restart of the housing and construction industries in several ways including:

– Estate agents being encouraged to conduct virtual viewings rather than in-person visits to properties.

– Digital transformation projects under the Digital Street plan by HM Land Registry that should allow buyers to carry out parts of the property buying process digitally e.g. using blockchain for contracts and signing deeds online.

– The first-ever virtual hearings for the planning inspectorate which Mr Jenrick has said should take place “within weeks”.

– The UK government using video, phones, and computers to vote remotely on debates.

Measures

On 13 May Mr Jenrick announced the following other measures to help get the housing market and construction moving in the right direction again:

– The First Homes programme (later this year) will give a 30% discount on new homes for key workers including nurses and teachers and police officers as well as local first-time buyers.

– The opening of estate agents’ offices and show homes and allowing and removal companies and the other essential parts of the sales and letting process to re-start.

– Allowing house-building sites to apply to extend their working hours to 9 pm Monday to Saturday in residential areas and beyond that in non-residential areas.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The pandemic has forced many of those in government, business and other walks of life to use and realise the value of technology in order to carry out what work they can whether it is video conferencing, collaborative cloud-based working platforms, or other tech tools. The fact that aspects of the housing market and planning can be carried out in a ‘virtual’ way provides safe and effective ways to help to get things moving again and is making a positive contribution at an exceedingly difficult time.

Virgin Media and O2 Join Together To Compete Against BT

Virgin Media and O2 are merging in a £31 billion deal to create an entertainment and telecoms company that will provide some serious competition to telecoms giant BT.

Mobile & Broadband

O2, which is owned by Spain’s Telefonica, has around 34 million mobile phone customers, in addition to providing the network for Sky Mobile, Tesco Mobile and Giffgaff.  Virgin Media, owned by Liberty Global (the largest broadband internet service provider outside the US), has around 6 million broadband and cable TV customers and 3 million mobile users.  O2 operates in around 180 countries, has more than 9 million broadband customers (a 36% share of the Broadband market) and around 29 million mobile connections across the group.

It is thought that as well as potentially taking market share from BT, the merger will give Telefonica the opportunity to make some money out of its O2 acquisition, and Liberty Global the opportunity to combine fixed-line and mobile networks to create new areas of value.

O2 Says

O2 (Telefonica chief executive Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete) said about the deal, “Combining O2’s number one mobile business with Virgin Media’s superfast broadband network and entertainment services will be a game-changer in the UK, at a time when demand for connectivity has never been greater or more critical.”

Virgin Media (Liberty Global) Says …

Mike Fries, the Chief Executive Officer of Liberty Global, highlighted how Virgin Media has fast broadband speeds and an innovative video platform and how O2 is viewed as a reliable mobile operator.  Mr Fries said about the merger, “With Virgin Media and O2 together, the future of convergence is here today. We’ve seen the benefit of FMC first-hand in Belgium and the Netherlands. When the power of 5G meets 1 gig broadband, U.K. consumers and businesses will never look back. We’re committed to this market and are right behind the Government’s digital and connectivity goal”.

What About The Regulator?

With a merger of this size, bearing in mind that there has already been a substantial merger between BT and EE in this market in 2016, competition is clearly an issue.  However, many of the main telecoms commentators seem to think that the Competition and Markets Authority will allow the merger, but this will, of course, depend on how the deal affects consumers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Where each of the two merging companies are concerned, it seems that Telefonica gains access to Virgin’s broadband, cable and mobile, thereby giving it the opportunity to make more money out of O2 and Liberty Global gains access to O2’s vast and reliable mobile phone network so that it can combine fixed-line and mobile networks to create new value.  Both partners can leverage the synergies and new opportunities to diversify their products and services, thereby providing some serious competition to BT’s dominance and, hopefully, providing new and broader and broader ranges of products, better services, and faster connections to businesses.  It has been reported that both companies are looking to invest £10bn over the next five years to make sure that the merger delivers value and this kind of investment is likely to be welcomed by business customers.

Google Meet ‘Free For Everyone’

Google has entered the video conferencing market fight with the likes of Zoom and Facebook Messenger as it announces that its ‘Google Meet’ premium video conferencing service will soon be free for everyone.

Google Meet

Google Meet is a video conferencing service that, until now, has only been paid for as part of G Suite, Google’s collaboration and productivity solution for businesses, organisations, and schools.

Google says that Meet will be now available free to anyone on the web at meet.google.com and via mobile apps for iOS or Android (Meet apps can be found in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store). It is also possible to join Meet for free via Google Calendar.

100 Million+ Daily Meeting Participants

Google reports that, since January, Meet’s peak daily usage has grown by 30x and, as of April, Meet has been hosting 3 billion minutes of video meetings and adding approximately 3 million new users every day. Google also says that, as of last week, Meet’s daily meeting participants surpassed 100 million. A reported 6 million companies and organisations now use G Suite.

Limit

Even though Google will soon be offering Meet for free, meetings will be limited to 60 minutes for the free product after 30 September.

What’s Free

The services that businesses and organisations can expect to get for free with Meet include free access to Meet’s advanced features (for G Suite customers) including the ability to live stream for up to 100,000 viewers within a domain, free additional Meet licenses for existing G Suite customers and free G Suite Essentials for enterprise customers. 

Not Immediately

Businesses and organisations may have to wait a week or two to get free access to Meet as it will be rolled out gradually from next week.

Compared To Zoom

Although using Meet may be a little more demanding than simply clicking on a link (as with Zoom), Google is keen to point out that Meet users have the benefits of advanced security.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The current global need for people to work remotely and yet collaborate effectively has led to fierce competition among tech companies looking to gain large numbers of new users e.g. Zoom, Facebook Messenger (now offering a desktop app), and Microsoft wanting to release a consumer edition of Teams.  Google is the next to throw its hat into the ring and is in a good position to do so with a free version of an already popular premium service. Tech companies realise that if they can lead the remote, collaborative working race now they can gain large numbers of new users, many of whom may become loyal and committed to their platforms and could be monetised later. For businesses and other users, there is now a great deal of choice between the options available for free remote and collaborative working platforms and services, and those which are easiest, add the most value, are most effective and secure and are most compatible with existing resources and practices are likely to be favoured going forward.

Tech Tip – Setting A Background in Microsoft Teams

If you are using Microsoft’s Teams during the lockdown and would like to set up a more professional-looking or even a fun or custom background during your video calls, here’s how:

You can choose to use one of the backgrounds that are built-in to teams or, you can set up your own custom background (putting your image in the uploads folder) in the following way:

– Open File Explorer.

– Select Click This PC >> Windows (C:).

– Open the Users folder, select your user profile and click the View tab (top of File Explorer).

– Check the Hidden items checkbox and open the AppData folder (which should have appeared when you checked the hidden items box).

– Open the Roaming folder, open the Microsoft folder, and open the Teams folder within the Microsoft folder.

– Then, open the Backgrounds folder, open the Uploads folder, and place your chosen image in the uploads folder.

– Finally, right-click on the Uploads folder and select Pin to Quick access. You can also pin the Uploads folder to Quick Access to speed things up if you want to add more images.

To set your chosen (from the built-in images) or custom image as a background:

– Within a video call, select the More actions button (the three dots).

– Select Show background effects, scroll down and select your uploaded image.

– Select Preview and then select Apply (or Apply and turn on video).

Tech Tip – How To Speed Up Your Internet Connection

With most of us working from home and with a much bigger demand than normal being placed on our broadband connections, here are a few simple ways to try and speed your connection up:

– Move your home router away from other devices e.g. TVs, Bluetooth speakers, baby monitors, cordless phones, and consider placing the router on a table or raised position rather than on the floor.

– Try to stagger the number of family members using the internet at one time.

– Don’t use your microwave while online as this can interfere with your Wi-Fi signal.

– Consider using a homemade DIY ‘parabolic’ antenna e.g. shielding the back of the router in a beer can that’s had the top and bottom cut off, been flattened, and stood up in curved shape. Please note: be incredibly careful to avoid injury if attempting to make this.

– Get a signal booster.

– Set your router to reboot regularly to keep your Wi-Fi speed high.

Featured Article – 5G and COVID-19

Last week it was David Icke and this week it’s TV presenter Eamonn Holmes who’s given media momentum to the conspiracy theory that suggests a link between the emergence of COVID-19 and the use of 5G.  What’s going on, why, and how?

The Conspiracy Theory

This particular theory, which has led to attacks on 5G masts, Google’s YouTube banning any videos relating to it, self-styled truth-sayer (and former Coventry goalkeeper and TV presenter) David Icke and TV presenter Eamonn Holmes being slammed in the media for their comments focuses on a suggested link between new phone technology and the emergence and spread of a real-life virus.

The theory quite simply suggests that the roll-out of 5G has, in some way, triggered the emergence of (and helped the spread of) a brand-new type of coronavirus, COVID-19.  Also, some allege that 5G phone signals may be suppressing human immune systems, thereby helping the virus to get a wider grip. 

To those who are most taken with (and most willing to act in relation to) this theory, attacking and destroying/disrupting 5G infrastructure appears to be a way to try and stop the spread of the virus. This has led to 5G masts being damaged.

What Did David Icke Say?

David Icke recently took part in a live-streamed interview, watched by a reported 65,000 people. In the interview, Mr Icke alleged a possible link between 5G and the COVID-19 health crisis, appeared to say that a continuation of 5G would lead to the end of human life, and alleged that when a vaccine is developed, it will somehow contain small microchips that will allow those who have been injected with it to be controlled.

This led to YouTube banning all videos promoting this theory from its platform.

What Did Eamonn Holmes Say?

In a recent daytime ITV programme, Eammon Holmes appeared to have said that no one knows whether the conspiracy theory that 5G masts help spread the novel coronavirus was true or not.

This led to Ofcom receiving 419 complaints and Mr Holmes being widely criticised in the media. Mr Holmes later said that there is no connection between the NHS crisis and 5G and that it is wrong and possibly dangerous to make the suggestion.

Equipment Attacked

Some believers in the theory are thought to have been behind arson attacks on 22 EE (BT) mobile network sites and 20 Vodafone sites over the Easter holiday.

“Complete Rubbish,” Says Expert

In a recent press release from Reading University, Dr Simon Clarke, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology said that “The idea that COVID-19 is caused by 5G mobile phone signals is complete rubbish” and went on to say, in relation to the electromagnetic waves that make up 5G radio signals,  “Electromagnetic waves are one thing, viruses are another, and you can’t get a virus off a phone mast.  Similarly, sensible studies have failed to corroborate the claim that the signals emitted by 5G masts are able to suppress our immune systems.”

Who Believes In Conspiracy Theories and Why?

According to many scholars and experts, the reasons why people choose to believe in conspiracy theories include:

– Some people in societies where there is a large gap between the governing and the governed classes and where there’s an oppositional culture create their own popular theories and don’t share those of the experts who are perceived to out of touch with ‘the people’.

– The need for easy answers and to see the world as simpler and more predictable than perhaps it is.

– Attempts by non-experts to make sense of information that doesn’t fit with their personal values, experience, and their own trusted beliefs, and evidence and the opinions of people they trust.

– Wanting to quickly make sense (and feel safe and in control) of your environment, and to maintain a positive image of ‘self’ and of the social group.

– Social proof – the fact that others who are perceived as important or influential appear willing to at least consider or even accept a theory.

– A preferred belief in things like intuition and truths of the heart rather than a simple acceptance of scientific facts.

– A gap between science and belief systems like religion which may go back hundreds of years and a rift between those who understand mathematics and science and those who don’t.

– Perceptions of a lack of convincing evidence to the contrary.  For example, back in 2013, more than one-third of Americans believed that global warming was a hoax (Swift), whereas 69% of Americans now believe it is happening.

Why Should Anyone Fear 5G?

Just as when mobile phones first became widely used, there were many popular theories linking serious health issues such cancer and brain tumours to prolonged exposure to low-energy, non-ionising electromagnetic radiation radio waves, like those in mobile phone signals.  It is interesting to note that this may not have been helped by, back in 2011, the World Health Organisation (WHO) classifying mobile phone radiation as a “possible” human carcinogen.

With 5G using 3 different Spectrum bands, including what some believe to be the potentially dangerous mmWave high-frequency spectrum, similar fears have been expressed, and some say that 5G signals could damage human cell DNA.

Not Enough Energy

In reality, this type of radiofrequency (RF) radiation does not have enough energy to ionise an atom or molecule, and therefore, is unlikely to have enough energy to damage cell DNA in a way that would harm it, for example by causing cancer. 

In fact, mmWave high-frequency spectrum technology appears to be quite some way from the maximum human RF absorption frequency of about 70MHz. Also, mmWave will mostly be deployed in a spectrum that suffers from high reflection rates – 24 to 29GHz.  This should mean that any absorption by the body will be confined to the surface layers of the skin rather than the deeper tissue that is reached by lower frequency radiation.

The science of radiation, and current evidence and limits relating to mobile phone use means that there’s nothing to directly suggest 5G mmWave poses any significant health risk.  That said, 5G is not in popular use yet, so more research will need to be done on the subject in future, and some critics still say that 5G technology appears to be getting introduced without enough pre-market safety testing.

Looking Ahead

The 5G and COVID-19 conspiracy theory has been frustrating and expensive for mobile operators and may be potentially dangerous for those who believe it, for those who come into contact with them, and for those people who need to communicate with loved ones at a time when they must be physically apart but may not be able to reach them due to damaged mobile phone infrastructure.

5G appears to represent a good opportunity for business.  Its increased speed and lower latency allows the downloading of films and games in seconds and watching them without any buffering, something which many people may at least have valued more in lockdown.  Also, many different types of businesses could benefit from improved connectivity with remote workers or with salespeople in remote areas.

O2 has also forecast that 5G could deliver time savings that could bring £6 billion a year in productivity savings in the UK and that 5G-enabled tools and smart items could save UK householders £450 a year in food, council and fuel bills. These things could be very important in supporting and strengthening recovering economies in future.