Will Apple Add HomeKit App to iOS 10?

With all the industry buzz about home automation and the Internet of Things, it appears the nascent technology sector’s growth so far lies in industrial applications. Perceived cyber security risks and confusion about the technology have combined to hamper its consumer adoption rate over the past year.

Apple may be poised to give the digital smart home concept a boost if rumors hold true. Cupertino is expected to include a dedicated HomeKit app in the next version of their mobile operating system, iOS 10. HomeKit is Apple’s system for controlling lights, doors, cameras, and other devices at your residence.

HomeKit smart home app

Could you soon be using Siri or your iPad to control appliances in your house? Let’s take a closer look at the latest Apple iOS rumors.

Current HomeKit Users Want One App to Rule All

While HomeKit has been part of Apple’s mobile landscape since iOS 8, there has never been one HomeKit app dedicated for a residence’s entire home automation setup. Customers are currently forced to use vendor-specific apps to operate their compatible devices. If they own devices from multiple vendors, this quickly becomes a hassle.

While some iOS developers have created their own master HomeKit apps, one actually developed by Apple as part of iOS 10 promises superior integration as well as support for future devices. The success of the voice-controlled Amazon Echo, while not a home automation controller per se, is making Apple see the light on providing a HomeKit app.

The fact that Apple uses its own HomeKit app internally and recently trademarked a HomeKit logo, adds fuel to these rumors. Technology pundits speculate the new app will be known as simply “Home.”

The Most Useful Feature of a Home Automation System

“Scenes” are an important part of many established home automation setups, where a user can script multiple events to happen with a simple button press. For example, at bedtime one scene can turn off a home’s lights, lock its doors, and set the thermostat to a lower temperature. Current HomeKit users are forced to use third-party apps to get similar functionality or only purchase devices from one vendor.

This is arguably the most obvious use-case illustrating the need for a HomeKit app from Apple.

Internet Bandwidth Considerations for HomeKit App

Most home automation scenarios use a minimum of Internet bandwidth, as it doesn’t take much data to turn a light on or change a thermostat setting. One exception to this rule involves security cameras, so if you plan on multiple cameras in your setup, be sure to perform a speed test to ensure your current bandwidth will suffice.

Expect updated news on the HomeKit App once Apple announces iOS 10 features at next month’s Worldwide Developers Conference.

Comcast Foregoing the Cable Box

Industry giant, Comcast, recently announced a plan that would allow some customers to eschew the venerable set-top cable box in favor of a streaming video app. This is yet another example of how access to fast Internet speeds sees more users streaming content over the Internet instead of watching TV using their cable box.

Comcast TV app

This is essentially a new service aimed at owners of the Roku streaming device or a Samsung Smart TV model, with other manufacturers — including iOS and Android — to come. The new plan is arguably the result of a recent FCC ruling which will require pay-TV companies to make their content available to third-party providers of hardware and software used for streaming. Needless to say, expect other content providers to follow Comcast’s lead in foregoing the set-top box as a source of programming. Let’s look more closely at this soon-to-be growing trend.

Comcast’s “Xfinity TV Partner Program”

Comcast’s new service comes with the moniker of Xfinity TV Partner Program, so if you are a current Comcast customer, keep an eye out for marketing info with information on its availability in your city. Additionally, the company hopes other device makers include support for the service, which is offered as an app. HTML5 compatibility is the essential requirement according to Comcast vice president, Mark Hess.

Interested customers need to wait until later in 2016 for the new service to go online. Other rumored features include a Cloud-based DVR for storing your own recordings. Whether content streamed using the Comcast app counts against the company’s controversial data caps remains to be seen.

FCC Favors New Comcast Streaming Service

FCC chief, Tom Wheeler praised Comcast for the new Xfinity streaming program. “I think that what Comcast just did is proving our point that you can take a third-party device, put set-top box functionality into it, and protect copyright, protect the economic ecosystem, not have to rebuild the network, and all these other horrible things that the industry has [claimed would happen],” said Wheeler.

On the other hand, the company claims the genesis of its new service was innovation and not necessarily the FCC’s directive. Of course, if Net Neutrality rules are violated by not counting content streamed using the new service against a customer’s data cap, the FCC might take a different view.

For what it’s worth, the FCC ruling isn’t yet set in stone, with the final verbiage expected later this year. Cable companies would then have two years to fully implement the government agency’s requirements. As such, Comcast is definitely ahead of the game with the Xfinity streaming service.

With full implementation of the Comcast app still a few months away, keep an eye on this space for further developments in the rapidly changing world of streaming content. In the meantime, be sure to perform regular Internet speed tests to ensure your bandwidth is up for streaming HD quality video.

Facebook Wants to Improve Your Internet Speed

Not content to let Google enjoy all the fun, with their largely altruistic projects aimed at improving Internet speed and access all over the world, Facebook also has some efforts in the pipeline hoping to boost bandwidth without the added costs of putting fiber in the ground. Of course, both technology giants rely on Internet advertising to drive revenue, so they benefit from more people enjoying a faster online experience.

Face book on the Internet

Will Facebook’s new projects allow you to stream video with minimal stuttering? Read further to learn more about their Terragraph and ARIES initiatives — one slated to make urban Internet networks faster, and the other purposed to improve wireless access in underserved areas.

Speeding up the Internet in Densely Populated Areas

Terragraph is a Facebook project hoping to leverage high frequency radio wave technology to improve network throughput in areas with dense populations. It uses an array of radio antennas attached to streetlights and other similar pieces of infrastructure to cover an area with radio waves able to carry copious amounts of data.

These radio signals boast frequencies of around 60 GHz, which hampers their range, especially through the walls typical of any urban area. That’s the main reason behind Facebook’s “antenna blanket” strategy. The company expects Terragraph antennas will need to be located at intervals of around 200 feet.

Facebook currently uses Terragraph technology at its California headquarters. A trial is planned for San Jose, but no date for that test was available at the time of this writing.

ARIES to Spread Wireless Internet Access across Rural Areas

Project ARIES (which stands for Antenna Radio Integration for Efficiency in Spectrum) plans on leveraging some of the same technologies being slated for use in 5G wireless networks. The prime technical goals of ARIES include allowing more data to be transmitted across a wireless network at a much wider range. In addition to improving rural Internet access, Facebook hopes the technology also enhances connection quality for cars, smartphones and other devices.

This project is earlier in its lifecycle compared to Terragraph, so there is no additional news about a trial project. With both initiatives, Facebook expects to partner with ISPs and network carriers as opposed to building their own infrastructure. In the case of ARIES, they may want to increase their efforts, as some pundits predict 5G wireless technology to be commonplace by the end of the decade.

Terragraph offers the most promise to improve network performance in urban areas within the next two years, depending on the results their San Jose trial. Get your speed tests ready!

Time Warner Boosting Internet Speed for Free

With Google Fiber, AT&T GigaPower, and even Comcast all expanding the coverage areas of their own gigabit Internet services, traditional ISPs like Time Warner seem like they are being left behind. But not for long. Even without fiber optic cable in the ground, some Time Warner customers are expected to get a significant Internet speed boost, and at no additional charge to their monthly bill.

Time Warner Cable

If you are a current Time Warner subscriber, let’s see if you can you expect a faster Internet service at your home.

TWC Maxx Delivers Faster Internet Service

Time Warner’s new Internet speed boosting program is using the moniker of “TWC Maxx.” The company promises affected customers will see Internet downloads at six times the speed without any additional wiring. The only potential change is the replacement of your cable modem if you currently use an older model not supporting the faster speeds.

The ISP is also improving their digital TV service with expanded on demand offerings and an improved DVR, but make no mistake — the faster Internet speed is the true calling card for TWC Maxx. As noted earlier, customers can expect no rate increase on their monthly service.

Those who subscribe to TWC’s Ultimate tier will now see speeds upwards of 300 Mbps — so get your Internet speed tests ready! Standard tier subscribers can expect speeds of up to 50 Mbps, while Extreme tier customers will get speeds up to 200 Mbps.

Increased Competition Drives TWC Maxx Expansion

The Louisville Metro area is one region slated to receive the TWC Maxx expansion. This move from Time Warner isn’t surprising, considering Google Fiber and AT&T GigaPower are also expanding into the area. Not all local Time Warner customers are happy, however, as some subscribers in the rural outskirts of the region aren’t expected to receive TWC Maxx at the time of this writing.

Those worrying about the expected merger between Charter and Time Warner impacting TWC Maxx needn’t. Charter expects to maintain the TWC Maxx expansion plans, and remember the merged company is still competing with Google and AT&T over the long run.

Current customers should contact Time Warner about their eligibility for TWC Maxx. The company also expects to notify those subscribers needing to upgrade their modem to be able to receive the faster Internet service. TWC Maxx is expected to be in place by the end of the summer in most locations in the Louisville area and elsewhere across the country. Contact Time Warner for additional rollout schedule details.

Federal Regulators Approve Charter Time Warner Merger

The original attempt by Comcast to buy Time Warner didn’t gain acceptance for a variety of reasons, but another attempt at a merger between cable giants — this time by Charter Communications — recently earned approval from federal regulators. This new combined Charter Time Warner company brings with it the potential to shake up both the ISP and Cable industries.

Charter Time Warner Merger

The whopping $65.5 billion deal also includes Bright House networks. So, if you are a customer of any of those three companies, you are probably concerned about how this affects your Internet and/or Digital TV service. Let’s dive into the details and see if faster Internet speed is in your future.

FCC “Conditions” Support Streaming Video and the Spread of Broadband

The FCC placed special conditions upon approval of the Charter Time Warner merger aimed at maintaining competition in the growing online video business, as well as encouraging the continued spread of broadband networks into underserved areas of the country. Commission chief, Tom Wheeler, commented on the reasoning behind these conditions.

“The cumulative impact of these conditions will be to provide additional protection for new forms of video programming services offered over the Internet,” said Wheeler. An independent body will be charged with monitoring compliance of the added rules, which go beyond the typical FCC regulations for broadband services. The conditions are in place for seven years after the closing of the merger.

Charter isn’t allowed to leverage their large customer base — nearly 20 million users — to tempt content producers from leaving shows off of other video streaming services, like Netflix. The company also promised to forego data caps for at least seven years, and not charge content providers extra for streaming content to Charter’s customers.

Faster Internet Speed?

With Time Warner in the middle of rolling out their TWC Maxx program, where Internet speeds are increased by a factor of four at no extra charge, current customers probably wonder if Charter will maintain those new, faster service levels. Since Charter’s lowest Internet service tier sports a speed of 60 Mbps, customers aren’t expected to see any difference if they’ve been updated to TWC Maxx.

You may need to upgrade your modem to support those faster speeds, so contact your current provider to schedule a visit from an installer, if necessary. Time Warner is also encouraging customers to perform the upgrade even if Maxx isn’t yet available in your area. Performing an Internet speed test is about to become more rewarding!

California users need to note that the merger’s effect in your state is based on earning approval from the state’s own public utilities commission, which is expected soon. No matter your location, the results of the Charter Time Warner merger are slated to take effect later this year.

Flash Ransomware — the Latest Cyber Crime Scourge 

Over the past two years, we’ve documented how Flash has increasingly served as a conduit for nefarious cyber-criminals to hack into your computer, smartphone, or tablet device. Even with the growth of HTML5, and its superior technology and security, Flash still sees wide use among digital advertisers, online video purveyors, and older speed test providers. Now, a newer online threat — ransomware — is taking advantage of Flash to trick unwary users into spending cash to “fix” their hacked device.

ransomware cartoon

Adobe even released an emergency update to Flash aimed at thwarting this exploit. Do you need to worry about Flash giving hackers yet another way to invade your computer? Here’s a closer look at the details.

Ransomware is Simply another Type of Malware

Ransomware is similar to other types of malware, where a hacker takes advantage of a vulnerability in software — in this case Flash running on a webpage — to install a nefarious program to any computer. The user is typically confronted with a screen claiming their computer’s contents are encrypted and they need to make an online payment to release their system. This form of malware extortion has grown in the past couple years, a trend noted by Ryan Kalember, ProofPoint’s Senior VP of Cybersecurity Strategy:

“Organizations of all sizes are being targeted, with broad-based email campaigns — sometimes over 10 million messages in a day — malicious Web advertisements, and even malicious mobile apps. In general, ransomware targets Windows more often than other operating systems, but recent examples of ransomware have been found up for Mac OS X, which was taken down immediately, and Android.”

This latest Flash vulnerability affected the version of the program for desktop operating systems, including Windows, Mac OS X, Chrome, and Linux. For now, Android owners were spared — if any of them still use Flash on a mobile device. Adobe released an emergency security patch for Flash earlier in April.

When Running an Internet Speed Test — Don’t use Flash!

If you are worried about ransomware taking control of your computer, it is important to keep Flash turned off in your desktop browser even if you even still have it installed. Currently, more and more websites are using safer HTML5 technology to provide a robust and interactive web experience. If you encounter a website with Flash-based content, you can temporarily turn on the plug-in for that specific web page.

These days, running Internet speed tests in Flash is almost like using a rotary phone. There simply is no reason when a superior HTML5 speed test exists, giving you more meaningful test results, with no worries of a malware infection as part of the process.

Rural America Needs Faster Internet Speeds

With Google Fiber, AT&T GigaPower, and other gigabit services increasing their network footprint across the country, they tend to concentrate in urban areas where the majority of potential customers live. At the same time, the nation’s hinterlands struggle to get even basic Internet service based on the original definition of broadband, not the FCC’s new faster standard. Subsequently, performing Internet speed tests in Rural America only serves to bring disappointment.

Rural America's Internet

A variety of organizations, including the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), are taking steps to connect the entire country to broadband Internet service. The hope is to drive economic growth in these under-populated regions, while also allowing farmers and ranchers to make their operations more efficient by access to Internet-based technologies. Let’s take a closer look.

High Costs Stifle Growth of Rural High-Speed Internet Access

Considering the relatively low population of the country’s rural areas, it becomes difficult for private companies to justify the cost of building high-speed Internet networks for so few customers. The same logic applied earlier in the 20th Century, when access to electricity was slow-going for those living outside large and medium metropolitan areas. The FCC recently noted that only 39 percent of rural Americans enjoy access to high-speed Internet service.

Therefore, it stands to reason rural electric cooperatives are leading the charge to connect the non-urbanized portions of the country to broadband. The NRECA feels the Federal Government needs to support initiatives providing fast Internet access to underserved areas of the nation. The organization also notes many of their member cooperatives leverage their own infrastructures today to bring high-speed Internet to these regions.

Giving Farmers the Advantages of Internet Technology

While Americans living in the country stand to benefit from being able to enjoy video streaming and other perks of fast Internet access, rural businesses — most notably farmers and ranchers — can also take advantage of broadband to improve their yields. Terry Griffin, an assistant professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University, commented on the benefits of high-speed Internet for farmers:

“Internet connectivity is what I would consider an enabling technology. Without it, precision ag devices and other special technologies cannot be fully utilized until this infrastructure for wireless connectivity has been completed.”

Other related technologies offering benefits to farmers, like telematics and GPS-based navigation, rely on fast Internet speeds. Considering the entire nation depends on American agriculture, broadband in the rural portions of the country ultimately benefits everyone. Here’s hoping the rural hinterlands can soon experience the myriad benefits of a high-speed Internet connection — for both entertainment and economic purposes.

Internet Nutrition Labels for Broadband Shoppers

The myriad of information to sift through by customers shopping for Internet service can seem daunting at times. Download speeds, upload speeds, and those dreaded data caps all combine to confuse some consumers, especially when also considering bundles, two-year contracts, and early termination fees. Could the equivalent of a food nutrition label for the Internet make things simpler?

Internet Nutrition labels

Here at Bandwidth Place, we offer an easy to use web page where you merely enter your ZIP code to see deals from Internet providers in your area. Now the FCC hopes to make parsing through ISP information easier with voluntary labels similar to what you see on food products on a daily basis. Let’s take a closer look at these new Internet nutrition labels.

Internet Shopping Labels Still a Complex Read

A glance at a sample Internet shopping label from the following article reveals a relatively complex listing of information. The design of the label, including the font, reminds one of the nutrition label seen at the grocery store with about ten times the amount of information. The format is the result of a committee made up of consumer advocates and broadband industry groups, in addition to the FCC itself.

Under a top heading of “Broadband Facts,” similar to the “Nutrition Facts” heading on food products, the shopper is confronted with a range of information starting with monthly prices for the service, both month-to-month and two-year plans listed if relevant. Also included is the presence of a cap on monthly data and any associated overage charges or speed throttling. Other optional information can include modem and wireless router leases, installation and activation charges, as well as the presence of an early termination fee.

The “Performance” subheading contains information of interest for folks who like to run Internet speed tests before enjoying streaming rich media content using their broadband connection. Typical upload and download speeds, latency, and packet loss are detailed within. The rest of the label includes network management and privacy information as well as a number to call to complain about less than promised service levels.

New Labels Part of the FCC’s Transparency Requirement

The new labels are part of the transparency requirement instituted by the FCC in concert with their recent Net Neutrality ruling. Even though the Internet labels are voluntary, ISPs providing the labels are immune from regulatory action related to those transparency rules. The FCC noted it receives thousands of complaints each year from consumers frustrated with unexpected charges on their Internet service bills.

If it all sounds confusing Bandwidth Place is always a reliable source of information. But FCC head, Tom Wheeler, hopes the new labels help to mitigate customer complaints. “It is very straightforward. It’s very clear-cut. Hidden fees have no place to hide,” said Wheeler. Even with a large amount of information contained on the new label, the standardized look hopefully provides customers a more-informed ISP shopping experience.

Google Fiber Phone Now Part of Alphabet’s Gigabit Service

As the nationwide expansion of Google Fiber continues at a deliberate pace, the technology giant recently introduced Fiber Phone, a digital phone service option. While Google’s reasons for Fiber seem as much altruistic as competitive, enabling customers to bundle digital phone service along with Internet and TV makes perfect sense. Look no further than AT&T and Comcast, two companies also expanding their gigabit networks that typically offer bundles of the three major service offerings (Internet, TV, and Phone) to attract customers.

If your location is on the shortlist for Google Fiber, perhaps bundling Fiber Phone makes sense for your monthly budget.

Google Fiber phone

A Closer Look at Fiber Phone

Although Google hasn’t announced specific rollout plans yet, once “Phone” is added to existing Fiber markets, customers will be able to tack on the phone service to their existing package for an additional $10 per month. A glance at the feature list reveals a service not too different from Google Voice. Most importantly, you will be able to use your current landline phone (no rotaries!) and phone number, although you can get a new number if you want.

Other features include unlimited nationwide calling paired with inexpensive international rates, caller ID, call waiting, 911 service, and voicemail. The latter feature comes with transcription functionality that sends you a text or email of your messages. In short, it is a feature set typical of most digital phone services.

You are also able to use Fiber Phone both at home and when you are out, as it is able to either ring your landline or mobile phone per your request. The Cloud-based service can even call your laptop or tablet if desired. This added connectivity is a boon for those always on the go.

The Fiber Phone service comes with a small box-shaped device that resides next to your landline handset, similar to what’s provided by the digital phone over IP provider, Vonage.

How to Get in Line for Fiber Phone

As noted earlier, Fiber Phone won’t automatically become available in current Fiber cities. If you want to be notified by Google when their phone service is available in your location, simply fill out this online form. The company also promises a simple and seamless installation process whenever you subscribe.

Considering Fiber Phone shares many of same features as Google Voice, customers with the most interest in the service are probably current Fiber customers who get their landline service from another provider. Maybe Google is in it to win after all.

San Francisco Considering Municipal Gigabit Service

As many municipalities wait to be chosen as a Google Fiber city or get AT&T’s GigaPower service, some are actually going into the ISP business themselves. We talked about Chattanooga’s public gigabit service a while back, and now a similar initiative is on the drawing board in San Francisco.

San Fran

Local governments increasingly feel fiber-optic Internet service is a public utility offering many advantages to both residents and the business community. In short, they aren’t going to wait years for private sector providers to install fiber in their city. Let’s take a closer look at what’s happening in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s Hope for City Government Gigabit

Earlier in March, San Francisco announced the creation of a government panel charged with exploring the creation of a private-public partnership to build a gigabit fiber optic Internet network in the city by the bay. This announcement is hot on the heels of the February news of a potential Google Fiber installation built in partnership with the city. San Francisco remains one of the more conspicuous absences from the “Fiber City” listing.

City supervisor, Mark Farrell, commented on the gigabit network plans. “Low-cost, high-speed Internet is the utility of the 21st century, and as the innovation capital of the world, San Francisco’s leadership on this issue should be a no-brainer,” said Farrell. “When you turn on the faucet, clean water comes out. When you turn on the light switch, the lights come on. And when you open your laptop, everyone should have access to a fast Internet connection.”

At the heart of the municipal network question is whether Internet service is a utility or an on-demand service offered by a private company. Farrell believes the former to be true and hopes to create a private-public model to build the network in the city, with an expected baseline cost to residents of $26 per month. A partnership with Google Fiber makes a lot of sense in this scenario.

The Bay Area city is using Chattanooga, whose gigabit network is run by the city’s Electric Power Board, and Kansas City’s Google Fiber installation as models for its own service. Google is also entering into partnerships with local governments in Atlanta and Huntsville, Alabama. Expect these partnerships to be a growing trend, as municipalities forego waiting on the private companies to build gigabit networks on their own.

Tennessee Government Blocking Chattanooga’s Gigabit Expansion

Recently, Chattanooga began to offer a 10 Gbps Internet service to customers for a monthly price of $299. A plan to expand the city’s gigabit service to its suburbs was blocked by a law recently passed in the Tennessee state legislature. That law was overturned by a FCC ruling, which was then appealed by the state government.

A federal court is currently hearing arguments on the case. Tennessee feels these public Internet networks make it difficult for private ISPs to compete. Ultimately, maybe the private-public partnership model works best for everyone concerned.

Stay tuned to Bandwidth Place for more news about the expansion of gigabit Internet service across the country.