So, Labour has pledged that they’ll bring free broadband for everybody by 2030 if elected on the 12th December. They’re re-nationalise parts of BT and take over the infrastructure that’s currently being run by OpenReach. The cost of all of this will be met by taxing the big tech giants such as Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon.

It’s a lovely idea – the internet has become part and parcel for many of us, and it can be very costly (I won’t reveal how much I pay monthly across my broadband and mobile, but it’s not a pretty sight – but for me, it’s essential for my job, is a hobby, and a method of learning new skills).

But:

  • Who pays for the extra capacity required to support every single home and business? This is a HUGE investment. And what about the equipment? Will the UK government stick with using Huawei, or side with the US (and in turn angering the Chinese who have invested substantial sums in UK businesses and infrastructure)?
  • Will we see costs associated with services operated by the “big tech” companies increase substantially if they’re taxed heavily? After all, Apple famously defended their $1=£1 conversion by saying, “That’s the cost of us doing business in the UK”. I fully expect the costs of AWS and Google’s Computing Platform to increase for London points of presence (PoPs), which in turn will affect businesses that use cloud computing. Netflix which uses the AWS platform probably serves video content via a local PoP, so their operating costs will increase, which will probably be passed to the consumer. I’d also imagine the likes of Amazon Prime and Prime Video going up too. And what about the UK government itself, which also relies on Big Tech in its day to day operations? Their costs would surely go up as well?
  • How does this affect existing ISPs? I’m very happy with Zen which uses G.Fast to deliver 300Mbs down/50Mbs up. That said, it uses the OpenReach infrastructure – there is no alternative. To be free of OpenReach requires changing to Virgin Media. And surely if the UK government takes over OpenReach, you’re just replacing one monopoly with another? Is the UK government competent enough to understand the technical implications of doing so?

Let’s take a look at the UK film and TV industry as an example of what could happen if they ever were found their tax cuts are reduced or even withdrawn (let alone making them pay their tax). US studios would have major hissy fits. This has already happened when Labour were in power:

  • During the production of the Harry Potter film series, Gordon Brown (then PM) was forced to introduce better tax cuts for the likes of Warner Bros. due to uncertainty over what would happen to them. Had Brown not done this, Harry Potter’s production would have moved to Eastern Europe. When New Zealand also bulked at reducing tax credits for New Line’s (owned by Warner Bros.) Lord of the Rings – a similar threat was made.
  • An email was sent around work to say that this threat was serious enough that it could cause problems of the business if Brown and his chums didn’t capitulate. Now, imagine this being the case if Corbyn pisses off the likes of Microsoft, Google and Amazon. All these companies have employees and offices in the UK.

A better option at this time would be the discussion of the possibility of re-nationalising BT and OpenReach – the implications of doing so (including technical). How will this affect the current employees of BT and OpenReach, their pensions, etc.? What are the alternatives – better regulation?

I recently swapped all my Amazon Alexa devices for Google’s equivalent. I signed up for a family Spotify Premium account for one month just to get a Google Home Mini (RRP £49.99, I got it for £14.99 along with a month’s Spotify Premium).

It’s small, cute and stupid as hell – but I like it!

But I was keen on replacing Amazon’s Echo Show which was about as much good as a donkey parade on the moon. It couldn’t play YouTube videos (in fact it was practically restricted to its own Prime Video service), and I had to remember to ask Alexa to ask Hive if I wanted to perform any Hive related functions. You should NOT have to remember syntax with these devices at all. As I had it in my kitchen, I tried to use it to help me with cooking and recipes. That was a disaster. So Echo Show went away.

With the Nest Home Hub, it’s much smaller than the Echo Show. It’s extremely small and cute, in fact. With the just the power cable trailing at the back, the Home Hub is barely there. But you’ll soon notice it – especially as it can work with Google Photos to display a photo album when the Home Hub isn’t doing anything.

Getting my photos from Apple’s Photo service into Google Photos was a bit of a pain, but with the Backup & Sync app for MacOS, I disabled RAW files and other things and just let it do its stuff. And it seems to work well enough. So every time I take a photo with my iPhone XS, it’ll be uploaded to iCloud Photo Library and then downloaded to my Mac when I next use it. Google will then detect the change and upload any new photos or videos to Google Photos.

Controlling smart devices with the Home Hub is a much more pleasant experience than Alexa. I can just ask it to turn the living room lights on or off and it’ll do it. Or ask it to set a temperature and it’ll instruct my Hive thermostat to turn the heating on or off as appropriate. The only problem I stumbled across is that I had the smart plug for the Hive controller in my living room. If I instructed Home Hub to turn off Living Room, it’ll turn EVERYTHING off in the living room – including the plug – and there goes the Hive system. So I moved the smart plug out of the Living Room category and it sits by itself where I can’t accidentally turn it off.

As for other things, watching YouTube is fine. All4 is supported, so I can watch Channel 4 TV shows too. And Channel 5. It’s like having a very small TV in the kitchen. If I were to get to the Nest Hub Max, it’d make for a much better kitchen TV with its 10 inch screen, but for the moment this is fine.

Radio is fine too – just ask Home Hub to play X channel and it’ll do so. The biggest problem I have with the Home Hub is G Suite integration. I’m using the beta integration right now, but like its consumer cousin, the Home Hub is not able to inform you of all-day events.

As for other things, it either works or it doesn’t. I’ve found that the Google Assistant is not intelligent enough to figure out many things and you do need to be very specific in the commands you give it. In that sense, it is at the same level as Alexa’s comprehension. Google Assistant also misunderstands me from time to time and there have been some quite hilarious “conversations” as a result. A simple “hello” translated into “Get You” for some reason.

I’ll give you an example of trying to find information. My dad recently told me the origin of the phrase “time immemorial”. Now, we know this to be something so long past that people have forgotten. But the origin of that phrase comes from 1275 by the first Statute of Westminster, the time of memory was limited to the reign of King Richard I, beginning 6 July 1189, the date of the king’s accession.  Since that date, proof of unbroken possession or use of any right made it unnecessary to establish the original grant under certain circumstances. Wikipedia can tell me that, but Google Assistant can’t.

I think Digital Assistants have got a loooooooooong way to go before they can be considered truly useful. But I have faith in Google. Their Duplex technology looks intriguing (even if restaurants aren’t taking Google identified calls) and they’re going to be making the Google Assistant small enough to work from a mobile phone, so data is never transmitted back to Google. I only hope that the same is going to be said with these devices too – privacy is everybody’s right and processing on the device would go some way to prove Google is being consumer conscious.

On the other hand, I can see how great a device like the Nest Home Hub would be in the office. Assuming limitations are removed by the type of calendar entries it can process, the Nest Home Hub would make a very good personal desk assistant. The Nest Hub Max will feature a very cool video conference system through Google Duo – but I hope Google will also consider supporting Google Meet (for G Suite) as well.

If like me, you’re using Google’s business level G Suite for personal use, you need to be aware that if you want to add any of the Google Voice options to your “organisation” – you can’t.

Tax status within Google’s G Suite billing system

Specifically, Google won’t let you because unless you have established yourself as a Business for tax purposes within G Suite billing system, the system will just throw an error. So if your account type is set to Individual and UK tax info is set to Personal, no G Suite Voice for you.

Apparently, the reason this is all happening is an internal thing to Google. It could possibly change, but I doubt that’ll happen for a long while. I’d rather hoped to make use of this so I could set-up a UK number for work – to avoid having to give out my personal mobile number to vendors.

Google’s really needs to work towards a better solution that would allow their business product, G Suite, to function with consumer products such as the Google Home Hub and Google Home Mini as they are, by and large, incompatible.

I understand why – businesses are not going to want potential confidential data being leaked out to consumer devices (which Google definitely see these devices as being). Yet as the admin for my G Suite domain, surely I should make that decision? Surely Google should be thinking about the option to allow calendar data from G Suite accounts to be allowed with the Google Home Hub and

We use Joan at work. And it’s useful for letting people know who is using a meeting room. And they’ve just added functionality to customise a button on the screen which would allow anybody to connect to a guest Wi-Fi network. If we tried something similar with Google, well, there isn’t anything that Google offers that could do similar.

Joan caught napping on the job

I wasn’t very keen with Amazon’s Echo Show, so I sold it. It doesn’t integrate well into the stuff I use, and when it does, getting it to do anything useful requires having to remember syntax. Google’s home assistants are – when I’ve tried them – much better. But G Suite is hindering my use of them – and thus I can’t buy any of their products until they work on a system that allows G Suite (or a organisation unit of it) to be able to share data with these devices.

I love G Suite. I really do. I’ve been using it since 2006 when it first came out in beta. I’ve been a Top Contributor on their forums for a while, and ended up as a paying customer for well over 12 years. It gives me business grade email using only a web client. It does away with many of the problems email clients and email servers suffer from, and the overall experience is just delightful. And the number of features it offers (and supports) is fantastic. We have G Suite at work too, and the experience of using it in a proper business environment has been nothing short of miraculous versus the old clunky IMAP email clients that I used to use in all my previous places of employment.

But I really do want to use G Suite with Google’s consumer range of products. I’d even be willing to try moving back to the Pixel range of phones again (though I’ll have to wait until September next year as I have an Apple Watch which cannot be used without an iPhone).

Come on, Google, let’s find a solution to this!